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Written Statements

Volume 587: debated on Tuesday 4 November 2014

Written Statements

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Communities and Local Government

Infrastructure Bill

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon), has made the following written ministerial statement:

I wish to update the House on an aspect of the Infrastructure Bill, on behalf of the Department for Communities and Local Government and my noble Friend, Lord de Mauley, of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Better use of previously used, brownfield land is at the heart of the coalition Government’s planning reforms. Our ambition is for there to be permissions in place to accommodate 200,000 new homes on suitable brownfield land by 2020. The Government are committed to playing their part, ensuring that where they own land that they no longer need, this land is returned to economic use more quickly and effectively, building homes and creating jobs. Better use of this type of land will support our desire to protect the green belt and amenity land, such as forests, woodlands and open spaces.

We are committed to continuing to improve and accelerate this programme, removing the internal Government bureaucracy that causes delays and impedes progress. From 2015, this will mean transferring a significant amount of land from Government Departments and their arm’s length bodies to the Homes and Communities Agency. These transfers will enable the Homes and Communities Agency to prepare that land for release to market, promoting house building and boosting economic growth.

Currently, land held by Government’s existing arm’s length bodies cannot transfer directly to the Homes and Communities Agency, and instead must transfer first to the parent department, before it can then transfer to the Agency. Clause 21 of the Infrastructure Bill which is currently working its way through Parliament, aims to simplify this process and reduce bureaucracy so that land owned by arm’s length bodies can be transferred directly to the Homes and Communities Agency without having to go through the parent department. The bodies that will be able to transfer land to the Agency are to be named in regulations.

There has been some suggestion that this minor adjustment to the Government’s existing powers to transfer land presents a threat to the future of the nation’s publicly-owned forests. It does not, and Ministers would like to make this crystal clear. The intention behind the clause is not to sell off socially or environmentally important publicly-owned land such as the nation’s forests. These forests are not surplus, they are in use and the new powers will not be used for this purpose.

The Government recognise the significant social, environmental and economic value of the public forest estate to the nation and made a clear public commitment, in their forestry and woodlands policy statement in 2013, to establish a new operationally-independent body to own and manage the estate, holding it,

“in trust for the nation.”

This commitment reflects the recommendations of the independent panel on forestry, which the Government established in 2011, under the leadership of the then Bishop of Liverpool, with a remit to advise on the future direction of forestry and woodland policy in England.

The Government have worked closely with partners to develop plans for the new body but it was not in the end possible to accommodate the necessary legislation within the current parliamentary programme. However, the Government remain fully committed to the objective of establishing the new public forest estate management body.

The Government have no plans to dispose of the public forest estate and the powers contained in clause 21 of the Infrastructure Bill do not present a threat to the future of the estate in public hands. The estate is not surplus, it is not owned by an arm’s length body and very little of the public forest estate would be suitable for housing development under the Homes and Communities Agency’s remit.

The Government recognise, however, the strength of people’s concerns about the future security of the public forest estate, and commit to:

Not transferring any part of the public forest estate to the Homes and Communities Agency while the land remains in its ownership; and

Not including the new public forest estate management body in any future regulations specifying which bodies can transfer land to the Homes and Communities Agency.

I hope this clear public commitment by the Government provides certainty and reassurance for noble peers and the wider public.

London Borough of Tower Hamlets

In my written statement of 7 April 2014, Official Report, column 2WS, I stated that my Department had received documents which made serious allegations about poor governance and financial management at the council of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. I also noted that Ministers had long been concerned about a worrying pattern of divisive community politics and alleged mismanagement of public money by the mayoral administration in Tower Hamlets.

On 4 April, I appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) to carry out an inspection of the local authority’s compliance with its best value duty and to report its findings to me by 30 June 2014. On 30 June, I told the House that PwC had informed me that the council had considerably delayed the investigation by delaying the provision of key information or simply not providing it at all, and that consequently I was extending the period for PwC to report.

PwC has now completed their inspection; I am today putting a copy of its report in the Library of the House and publishing the report on my Department’s website. As statute requires, PwC is now also sending a copy of the report to the council.

I have been carefully considering the report, and later today I will make an oral statement updating the House on the action I propose to take, having regard to the report and other relevant information available to me about the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. I hope this will provide an opportunity for hon. Members to read through the detailed and comprehensive report before my oral statement.


Defence Equipment and Support

In my statement of 14 May 2014, Official Report, column 24WS, I outlined plans for the Defence Equipment and Support organisation (DE&S) to procure a set of specific private sector skills through contracts for managed service providers (MSPs). We made good progress on this work over the course of the summer and I can confirm that on 3 November, we made formal offers of contract to three companies. I am announcing this development today, in anticipation of a final contract award. In line with standard commercial practice, the offer of contracts triggered a stand-still period which will last for at least 10 calendar days. Subject to the successful conclusion of this period, we expect contract signature to take place on 17 November.

The MSPs are being brought in to help DE&S with its transformation programme. Unlike the approach being followed under the last year’s competition for a Government-owned contractor-operated (GoCo) entity, we are not placing contracts with the MSPs to run the DE&S business. What we need is an injection of highly specialised advice to support some specific areas of the business. The MSPs will be working alongside the DE&S work force to achieve aligned transformation goals.

The project delivery MSP contracts have an initial term of three and a half years, with the option of two one-year extensions. They will be awarded in four lots covering each of the four DE&S domains. The commercial approach was designed to allow a maximum of two of the four lots to be won by any one company, and following a rigorous competitive process, we have offered the land and joint enabler domain contracts to CH2M Hill, and the air and fleet domain contracts to Bechtel.

The project delivery MSPs will be required to provide high-quality advice in the fields of project management and project controls over a defined period. They will support DE&S in driving the necessary organisational, behavioural and cultural change designed to establish enduring improvements in project delivery approach, systems and outcomes across the organisation in support of the equipment and support plans.

The human resources MSP contract has an initial term of three years with the option of two one-year extensions. It is a single lot and has been awarded to PricewaterhouseCoopers. This MSP will be required to help DE&S establish a bespoke and business-relevant HR function and deliver the required HR transformation. It will support DE&S to attract, develop, manage and retain high-performing individuals through a new performance management, incentivisation and career management system.

The competition for the third MSP, which will cover finance, management information and information technology is planned to begin in the next few months. Sequencing the procurements in this manner will ensure maximum coherence across all three MSPs, and will allow the assessment and application of early lessons identified through the first MSP contracts.

The House will recall that when DE&S became a bespoke trading entity on 1 April this year, it secured a range of freedoms, agreed by HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office, to allow DE&S to manage its work force better. This included the ability to pay 25 members of staff at a rate higher than the senior salary cap; and flexibility around how DE&S recruits, rewards and manages its staff to optimise its business needs. The MSPs are not party to these freedoms, and are being brought in to the business as external contractors, procured via standard commercial practices.

The offer of these contracts represents an important milestone in the transformation of DE&S. We are moving ahead at pace, and this development underlines our firm intent both to build on recent project successes and deliver genuine and sustainable improvement to defence acquisition. Once contracts are signed, the MSPs will play an important role in this, working with DE&S to deliver the substantial change programme, which is itself designed to deliver improved value for money for taxpayers, and the best possible support for the armed forces.

Libya (Update)

On 11 June this year, my predecessor informed the House, Official Report, column 49WS, that the UK had started training the first tranche of Libyan recruits at Bassingbourn Camp, as part of an international commitment with other G8 nations to train a general purpose force.

The UK has been providing a challenging training programme to Libyan troops since late June. The majority of recruits have responded positively to the training despite the ongoing political uncertainty in Libya but there have been disciplinary issues.

Training was initially expected to last until the end of November but we have agreed with the Libyan Government to bring forward the training completion date. The recruits will be returning to Libya in the coming days.

The UK remains committed to supporting the Libyan Government as they work to establish stability and security across the country. The immediate priority must be agreement to a political settlement and the Prime Minister’s special envoy to Libya, Jonathan Powell, is playing an active role in support of that process.

As part of our ongoing support for the Libyan Government, we will review how best to train Libyan security forces—including whether training further tranches of recruits in the UK is the best way forward.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

I represented the UK at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 13 October in Luxembourg. Richard Lochhead MSP was also present.


Agreement was reached on setting the TACs and quotas for the Baltic sea in 2015, established for the first time under the requirements of the reformed common fisheries policy. Preparatory discussions were also held ahead of the upcoming EU-Norway fisheries agreement negotiations, where I highlighted our priorities of North sea cod and continuation of our successful catch quota scheme. I also supported the Commission in the need to introduce further shark protection measures and follow the science in setting quotas for bluefin tuna at next month’s annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).

The Council discussed the impact of the Russian trade restrictions on EU fisheries products. I highlighted the impact on the Scottish pelagic fishing industry with Russia making up 18% of the UK’s mackerel exports in 2013. I was successful in securing agreement from the Council to increase quota banking rates from 10% to 25% for mackerel and herring as a temporary measure. This will allow UK fishermen to carry over more of their 2014 quota until 2015, thereby providing more time to develop alternative export markets.

Under AOB Lithuania also raised its concerns about the seizing of a Lithuanian fishing vessel by the Russian authorities. Commissioner Damanaki assured Lithuania that she was giving high priority to responding to this situation.


Europe 2020 strategy

Member states responded to a short presidency questionnaire on the Europe 2020 strategy mid-term review. I stressed that CAP contributes to jobs and growth through pillar 2 rural development programmes where it can be used to support agricultural innovation and competitiveness.

Europe 2030 climate and energy package

EU Ministers participated in a lunch discussion on the treatment of agriculture and the land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector under the 2030 climate and energy framework. I argued that we cannot have an informed discussion in the immediate term on the role of these sectors as there is insufficient data to fully assess the three options suggested by the Commission and outlined in the presidency’s paper. The Commission acknowledged that further work was required.

Agricultural trade issues

The Commission updated the Council on the progress of several trade negotiations, including the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP), the comprehensive economic and trade agreement (CETA) and Mercosur. Several member states accepted that open, global markets were necessary but many raised concerns. Focusing on TTIP, I acknowledged that there would be some difficult discussions ahead however none appeared insurmountable and we should not overlook the benefits for all parties from a successful deal.

African swine fever

The Council endorsed a Commission proposal in response to a request from Poland and the Baltic member states to increase the EU co-financing rate to 75% for measures to combat the spread of African swine fever.

Russian ban on agriculture products from the EU

The Commission stated that it wanted to provide direct compensation to dairy producers in the Baltic member states and Finland who have been impacted the most as a result of the Russian import ban. Commissioner Ciolos, however, was unable to provide further detail but acknowledged that it may need to be funded through the crisis reserve. I accepted the principle but argued that further detail was required and we needed to consider the precedent it would set. The Commission and presidency agreed to discuss this further at the special committee on agriculture on 20 October. I, along with several other member states, rejected Polish proposals for the reintroduction of export refunds in the dairy sector and a temporary increase in the intervention price.

International Olive Oil Council

The Commission updated the Council on action it was taking to prevent the current impasse in negotiations to extend the mandate of the International Olive Oil Council, and its efforts to persuade the Turkish chair to extend the current agreement for one year.

National Pollinator Strategy

I would like to update the House on the progress that my Department has made in developing a national pollinator strategy for England.

Bees and other insect pollinators play an essential role in our food production and are vital to the diversity of our environment. Evidence suggests that many species of our pollinators are less abundant and widespread than they were in the 1950s. Although it is difficult to be certain about the rates or the causes of change, we do know that pollinators face a wide range of environmental pressures—including intensification of land use, loss of habitat and food sources, pests and diseases, invasive species, and pesticides—and that some species are already threatened.

The Government are committed to taking action on a range of fronts to protect pollinators. The national pollinator strategy launched today, sets out a 10-year plan which commits to actions that will help protect the 1,500 or so insect species that fulfil an important pollination role in England. The strategy aims to deliver across five key areas, which are:

supporting pollinators on farmland particularly through the new countryside stewardship scheme;

supporting pollinators across towns, cities and the countryside;

enhancing the response to pest and disease risks;

raising awareness of what pollinators need to survive and thrive; and

improving the evidence on the status of pollinators and the service they provide.

Recognising that there are gaps in our understanding of the status of pollinators, the strategy provides a framework for evidence gathering action that will help improve our understanding of current trends, economic and social value, and impacts of pressures. Together with building our evidence base, the strategy outlines that there are policy actions that the Government and others can take now to protect pollinators. The strategy also reaffirms our pollinator call to action, “Bees Needs: Food and a Home”, that was launched in July this year and which provides a simple message for all land managers on the essential needs of pollinators and how to fulfil them, including five simple actions such as planting more bee-friendly flowers and cutting grass less often. Finally, the strategy includes a commitment to review and refresh the vision, aims and policy actions from 2016, as evidence emerges.

The strategy builds on current policies across DEFRA which support pollinators, including habitat and species conservation, the honey bee disease control programme, pesticides and environmental stewardship as well as initiatives and campaigns across many other organisations. Our conservation charities, beekeeping associations, scientists and many volunteers already make a vital contribution in protecting these species and the services they provide. Equally, farmers, landowners and local authorities have a central role to play in their stewardship. Many of these individuals and organisations have made important contributions to the drafting of the strategy, and we will continue to work with these partners towards producing an implementation plan over the following six months.

Given that our current understanding about the problems facing wild pollinators is patchy and incomplete, our approach to developing new policies will be iterative and adaptive. The strategy provides a framework for doing more as we find out more.


HS2 Safeguarding Consultation

Further to my statement of 27 October, Official Report, column 7WS, in which I welcomed the key recommendations in Sir David Higgins’ report “Rebalancing Britain”, I am today announcing to the House the launch of a consultation on safeguarding directions for the western leg of HS2 phase 2 between Fradley, near Lichfield, to Crewe.

Safeguarding is an established part of the planning system in the UK. It ensures that land which has been identified for major infrastructure is protected from conflicting development. The consultation will run for nine weeks, closing on 6 January 2015.

In Sir David’s “HS2 Plus” report of March 2014 he suggested opening the line to a new hub station in Crewe in 2027, six years earlier than planned. In response I commissioned HS2 Ltd to undertake a route consideration process, informed by feedback from consultation. While a decision has yet to be made on the phase 2 route, I can inform the House that the analysis we have undertaken to date, points towards an onward connection from HS2 phase 1 through to Crewe and that it is therefore appropriate to consult on whether I should make safeguarding directions for that part of the route.

HS2 Ltd has examined hundreds of options for the whole route for the western leg of phase 2 across five criteria: constructability, sustainability, journey time, cost, and demand. HS2 Ltd has refined these options into a number of recommendations through a sifting process that balanced these different criteria. Following a careful consideration of the suggestions put forward by consultees, including those put forward by Stoke-on-Trent city council, HS2 Ltd advice is that on the analysis done so far—and there is more to do—the Crewe route looks likely to be the right route choice.

A connection from the high speed line to the west coast main line at Crewe would allow towns across the north west to benefit from HS2 with trains running direct to Crewe, Liverpool, Carlisle, Lancaster, Preston, Wigan, Warrington, Chester and Runcorn. Crewe would also permit ready access to HS2 to north Wales. HS2 Ltd’s analysis recognises the importance of serving these areas too.

Other destinations served by the proposed HS2 phase 2 route, on both the eastern and western side of the country, should be reassured that we continue to be committed to a Y-shaped HS2 network delivered as quickly as possible. Decisions on the phase 2 route will be taken when the necessary analysis has been completed, and my Department continues to carefully review the material submitted by consultees and the further work undertaken by HS2 Ltd. While we work towards finalising a route for phase 2, I cannot rule out the possibility of needing to make changes to the route including from Fradley to Crewe. But in the interests of ensuring the timely and economic delivery of phase 2, I must consider protecting that part of the route from conflicting development in the meantime. Making safeguarding directions would also trigger the entitlement for affected owner-occupiers to ask the Government to buy their property under statutory blight arrangements.

Following a decision on the route of phase 2, HS2 Ltd will undertake a more detailed design study; and safeguarding directions made following this consultation would have to be reviewed. As with safeguarding for HS2 phase 1, updates are also to be expected as greater understanding of the engineering requirements will clarify whether or not the correct land is safeguarded or whether any changes need to be made.

I am placing copies of both the phase 2 (Fradley to Crewe) safeguarding consultation and the HS2 safeguarding maps (Fradley to Crewe): general notes on draft safeguarded area documents in the Libraries of both Houses.