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Written Statements

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 11 July 2006

Written Statements

Tuesday 11 July 2006

Energy: Winter Preparations

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Alistair Darling) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The National Grid winter 2006-07 consultation update document, published by Ofgem today, continues to indicate the possibility of a tight supply/demand balance for gas for winter 2006-07. This situation has led to concerns about high prices. The Government recognise the impact of high prices on domestic and industrial users and are therefore keen to ensure that early action is taken to maximise supplies of gas to the UK for next winter.

Production of gas from the UK continental shelf, although lower than last winter, will continue to be by far the most important source of supply to the UK. The balance of demand will need to be met through imports and release of gas from storage.

The market is already responding by delivering further new import infrastructure, which is due to be available for this winter. This includes the completion of the Langeled pipeline from Norway and the further expansion of the Belgian interconnector. There are also plans for the Balgzand-Bacton pipeline from the Netherlands to be in place this winter, as well as the new Excelerate LNG ship import facility in Teesside.

The LNG import facility at the Isle of Grain will be available for the full duration of the winter, and the Humbly Grove storage facility is also available to start the winter at full capacity. The Rough storage facility has started injecting gas and should be refilled by the end of October and be available for storage withdrawal, if needed, at the beginning of October.

As reflected by the National Grid update, however, there is uncertainty around the overall position on supply/demand balance. This is partly a result of the risks associated with major infrastructure projects, and commercial uncertainties associated with the utilisation of the infrastructure.

The Government are monitoring closely the situation with regard to availability of import infrastructure, including the progress of these new major infrastructure projects. The Government are also working to ensure that imports through the interconnector and imports of LNG respond to demand from the UK. Interactions between theUK and other markets are growing and the Government are continuing their efforts withOfgem and the European Commission to pressfor greater transparency and liberalisation in continental European markets. The Government remain committed to the liberalised market as the means of delivering security of supply.

The Government are also seeking to encourage maximisation of UK production and are meetingkey gas production companies to emphasise the importance to the UK of maximising indigenous gas supply during the winter. The Government are also working to ensure that the UK market can respond effectively to market conditions, through supply-side and demand-side response. The availability of electricity generation capacity is expected to be similar to that last winter. We would expect that, during periods of high gas demand, coal generation would again become significant as the base-load generator and some gas-fired generators would switch from gas to distillate as an alternative fuel.

Working within the environmental regulatory regime, the Government are keen to ensure that industry and the power generation sector have the necessary flexibility for fuel switching and the use of alternative fuels. This recognises that, at times of high gas demand last winter, demand-side response and base-load coal generation in the power generation sector were important.

As part of proper contingency and emergency planning, the Government are reviewing energy emergency arrangements and consulting industry and other interested parties. The Government will shortly be carrying out a consultation on gas priority-user arrangements. The Government are also examining the role of the network emergency co-ordinator and reviewing energy emergency powers.

The Government are working to ensure that the best possible information on supply and demand forecasting is available to the industry and are working closely with National Grid, Ofgem, the Met Office and other key players.

The first meeting of the Business Energy Forum took place on 5 July. This is a high-level group jointly chaired by myself and Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI. Its members include representatives from industry bodies, including the Engineering Employers’ Federation, the Energy Intensive Users Group and the Chemical Industries Association, as well as representatives of gas producers and shippers, electricity generators and suppliers, and other user groups. The first meeting of the group was successful in bringing together key players and focusing on key issues at a strategic level. It was agreed that Government and the business organisations would work together to ensure that efforts are co-ordinated and that there is effective and regular communication in preparing for next winter.

Looking beyond next winter, the Government have also recognised the need for additional gas supply infrastructure. A regulatory environment to allow such infrastructure to be delivered to the marketin a timely fashion remains a priority for this Government. Therefore, I published in May a parliamentary statement of need for additional gas supply infrastructure, which set out the economiccase for our growing need for more infrastructureand clarified the Government’s policy context for planning and consent decisions on gas supply infrastructure projects.

The Government recognise that all participants in the market have a role to play, including the gas supply industry—including producers, transporters and suppliers—users, which include industry, power generators and other energy intensive users, and regulatory bodies. The Government remain committed to ensuring that the UK's strong energy market has the opportunity to deliver the UK's energy needs.

Family Courts

My right honourable friend the Minister of State (Harriet Harman) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to inform the House that I have today laid before Parliament and placed in the Libraries of both Houses the consultation paper Confidence and confidentiality: Improving transparency and privacy in family courts. It is also available on the department’s website at

Family courts make decisions that have important effects on people's lives and affect them for ever, and they make judgments in the most difficult of circumstances. Many more people are affected by decisions of the family courts than used to be the case—there are over 400,000 family court applications every year—and the comfortable certainties that used to be the context in which the family courts did their work have gone. Change in family structures, change in social attitudes, greater cultural diversity, new reproductive technologies and global mobility bring new challenges to the family courts. What has not changed is the need for the courts to protect children from cruelty and neglect and to make judgments when parents cannot agree about the care of the child.

The greater the importance of the work of the court, the greater the need for public confidence. The current operation of the family courts attracts criticism to the family justice system as a whole and lays it open to accusations of bias and injustice that cannot be satisfactorily refuted.

In order to ensure that the public can have confidence in the work of the family courts, we make proposals in the consultation document to make the family courts more open and accountable while ensuring that we protect the privacy of the personal lives of those involved in family proceedings, particularly children.

We make firm proposals on allowing the press into the courts and on how we plan to protect anonymity. We invite further consideration on whether the courts should be accountable to the children who are affected by their judgments by keeping a record of what the court decided, and why, for them to obtain, if they want, when they become an adult. We propose no change to the access to the courts by the inspectorates—HMICA and the Commission for Social Care Inspection—and for those who have democratic accountability for the family justice system, such as lead local authority members responsible for children's services and Members of Parliament. But we invite further consideration of that.

I believe that these proposals are a step forward towards our dual objective of confidence and confidentiality.

Identity Management

My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have appointed Sir James Crosby to chair the Public/Private Forum on Identity Management. The forum will examine the evolving technologies used for identity management and consider how the public and private sectors can work together to maximise efficiency and effectiveness. The forum will be a key part of the identity management architecture across Government and will build on work under way across Whitehall, which is being led by the Home Office. It will make proposals to me and the ministerial committee on identity management early next year. I proposed the creation of a forum on identity in my speech on security to the Royal United Services Institute in February of this year.

The forum's terms of reference are to:

review the current and emerging use of identity management in the private and public sectors and identify best practice;

consider how public and private sectors can work together, harnessing the best identity technology to maximise efficiency and effectiveness; and

produce a preliminary report for the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the ministerial committee on identity management by Easter 2007.

Intelligence and Security Committee

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has today laid before the House the Government’s response to the Intelligence and Security Committee’s annual report 2005-06. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Israel and Palestine

We have deep concerns about the current situation, its effects on the Palestinian and Israeli people, and the consequences for the Middle East peace process. The escalation in violence since the 25 June attack at the Kerem Shalom crossing has caused great suffering on both sides. The most violent day of the conflict since Israeli disengagement from Gaza last year was 6 July, with 21 Palestinians and one Israeli solider killed.We condemn the 25 June attack and call for the immediate and unconditional release of Corporal Shalit. We also condemn the continued rocket attacks on Israeli towns such as Sderot and Ashkelon, including the rocket that hit a school in Ashkelon on 4 July. We have called on the Palestinian Authority to prevent all terrorist attacks, including these rocket attacks, and to work for the release of Corporal Shalit. We welcome the work that President Abbas is doing to achieve this.

While Israel has the right to defend itself and to secure the release of Corporal Shalit, its actions should be proportionate and in accordance with international law, as we, the G8 and the EU have made clear. We call on Israel to exercise restraint and to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties. The Israeli Prime Minister has said that Israel has no intention of reoccupying Gaza.

We have serious concerns regarding the current humanitarian situation in Gaza. Israeli military actions have targeted key roads and bridges and have disabled the Gaza power station and water supplies. The UN reported on 28 June that 40 per cent of Gaza was without power and 130,000 people were without water. Restoring electricity and water supplies and access for humanitarian organisations is a vital priority. The Israeli Cabinet agreed on 2 July to take steps to ease the humanitarian situation, including by opening the Karni commercial crossing point between Gaza and Israel for 150 trucks a day carrying food, fuel and medical supplies, and by providing power through Israeli grids. We urge Israel to take further such action and to allow the full provision of basic services to the Palestinian people.

We also continue to have concerns about the detention of members of the Palestinian Government and Legislature on 29 June. Those detained should be accorded their full legal rights and be either charged or released.

Since the crisis began, we have been in close contact with the Israeli Government and with Palestinian President Abbas. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to Israeli Foreign Minister Livni and President Abbas on the first day of the crisis, 25 June, and again on 6 July. Our ambassador in Tel Aviv, consul general in Jerusalem and officials in London remain in close contact with both sides. We are also in close contact with the quartet members, as well as with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. We fully support Egyptian efforts to mediate between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the militants currently holding Corporal Shalit, and we have offered our assistance. Egypt plays a key role in the peace process and we will continue to work with it. We have also pressed Syria to use its influence on Hamas. I can assure the House that the UK will continue to work to resolve this crisis.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minster has made clear our commitment to continue helping the Palestinian people. Although donors have stopped direct budgetary support to the Palestinian Authority, we continue to provide other support directly to the Palestinian people.

On 17 June, the quartet endorsed the temporary international mechanism. The mechanism will ensure that basic healthcare continues to be provided in the Occupied Territories. It will also work to provide the poorest segments of Palestinian society with basic needs allowances and it should help to ensure the uninterrupted supply of utilities, including fuel. First payments through the mechanism should be made this month. The UK will contribute up to £12 million.

The UK has a strong record of support for the Palestinian people. On 25 April, the Department for International Development announced a £15 million payment to the UN Relief and Works Agency. The UK has given £147 million to the Palestinian people since 2001. We also contribute through the EU, which is the biggest donor to the Palestinian people.

While we need an urgent end to the current crisis, real peace can come only through a lasting settlement. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made clear, our priority is negotiations. These are manifestly the best way to move this process forward. It is the role of the international community to give negotiations the best chance of success. We welcome the commitment of Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas to negotiations and urge both sides to resume talks as soon as possible. This will require great effort and courage from both sides.

We were seriously concerned about the situation on the ground even before the current crisis. We hope that Israel can ease restrictions on movement and access to Gaza and the West Bank by implementing the15 November agreement. This includes dismantling checkpoints and road blocks.

We also have concerns about the routeing of the barrier and Israeli settlement activity. We understand why Israel wishes to build the barrier, but it needs to be on or behind the green line; it is illegal for it to be built on occupied land. We have raised our concerns on many occasions with the Israeli Government and we will continue to do so.

The road map is clear that Israel should freeze all settlement activity, including the natural growth of existing settlements, and dismantle all outposts built since March 2001. Settlement building is contrary to international law and is an obstacle to peace. We welcome the Israeli Government's commitment to dismantling outposts and hope that they will act as soon as possible.

We have also raised our concerns with the Government of Israel concerning Israeli policies in Jerusalem. These policies include the routeing of the barrier in and around Jerusalem; settlement activity in and around east Jerusalem; and, increasingly, restricted access to Jerusalem for Palestinian residents who have blue Israeli identity cards but who live east of the barrier. These practices fuel Palestinian anger, threaten to cut off east Jerusalem from the West Bank and make it more difficult for there to be a viable Palestinian state.

There is also much that the Palestinians need to do. It is essential that the Palestinian Authority makes every effort to prevent terrorism, as set out in the road map. We will continue to work with President Abbas to take the peace process forward. We welcome President Abbas’s recent efforts to improve the security situation in Gaza and to promote intra-Palestinian reconciliation through the national dialogue, and we welcome his commitment to negotiations. Our policy on Hamas remains unchanged. We recognise Hamas’s democratic mandate as a result of free and fair elections, but with this mandate comes responsibilities. It is essential that the Hamas-led Government commit to the 30 January quartet principles: renunciation of violence; recognition of Israel; and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the road map. Hamas needs to start implementing these principles and to make clear the path that it intends to take. If it does this, we are ready to take the peace process forward with it.

Our goal remains a negotiated two-state solution, which is best achieved through the road map. We must all work to find a way through the current crisis to achieve a just, viable and lasting peace.

Ministry of Defence: Pensions

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Tom Watson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The House will be aware that the Ministry of Defence has been engaged in correcting a number of Armed Forces pension awards to both ex-service personnel and widows. These exercises, known as Project Haven and Project Scribe, flowed from the uncovering in 1998 of a systemic pensions and tax error and from a Court of Appeal judgment in 2003 in the case of Hulme v MoD. My predecessors have made a number of statements to the House on these matters. I am pleased to report that the second of these projects, Project Scribe, is now nearing completion and that, as a result of both projects, some 5,500 corrections to pension awards have been made at a cost to date of £32.4 million, plus some £18.2 million in compensation.

However, I have to tell the House that, during this work, teams from the Armed Forces Personnel Administration Agency and the Veterans Agency have uncovered a further error. Our initial estimate is that this may mean that a number of awards—our initial estimate is about 1,800—to those invalided for causes due to service may not have been consistently uprated as they should have been in line with the acceptance by the Veterans Agency of deterioration claims. Widows’ pensions are not affected. I apologise unreservedly for this further error. Beginning next month, officials will identify and correct these pensions with the payment of any interest due. I will be considering, as a matter of priority, whether additional recompense is appropriate. I can assure the House that the cause of the error has been corrected and mechanisms put in place to ensure that it will not recur.

The proposed merger of the Armed Forces Personnel Administration Agency and the Veterans Agency would be a positive step, aimed at reducing the risk of further errors and at providing a better service to both current and former members of the Armed Forces, their families and dependants. I will provide more information to the House on this work soon.

NHS Litigation Authority

My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Andy Burnham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The annual report and accounts of the NHS Litigation Authority 2005-06 and any accompanying Comptroller and Auditor General reports have today been laid before Parliament pursuant to Section 98(1C) of the National Health Service Act 1977. Copies have been placed in the Library.

Northern Ireland Prison Service

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Paul Goggins) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I have placed copies of the Northern Ireland Prison Service’s annual report and accounts for 2005-06 in the Libraries of both Houses.

The annual report details that the service met 10 of its 11 key targets. It also outlines that, of the comprehensive programme of development objectives set for the service, 17 were achieved, 16 were partially achieved and substantial progress was made towards meeting the remaining five.

Key business area

Key targets



No escape for top and high-risk prisoners.

Not met—On 7 June 2005, a high-risk prisoner escaped from the custody of Maybin Security Services at Lisburn Magistrates’ Court (the prisoner has since been recaptured).

No more than three escapes per 1,000 medium and low-risk prisoners.

Met—No escapes in this category.


The number of staff assaulted by prisoners is less than a ratio of five per 100 prisoners.

Met—Outturn for the year was 0.5 per cent.

The number of prisoners assaulted by prisoners is less than a ratio of six per 100 prisoners.

Met—Outturn for the year was 0.4 per cent.

Regimes and reducing reoffending

An average of at least 18 hours’ constructive activity per week for each sentenced prisoner.

Met—20.3 hours per week achieved.

An average of at least nine hours’ constructive activity per week for each remand prisoner.

Met—13.5 hours per week achieved.

To ensure 82.5 per cent of prisoners serving six months or more are working to a resettlement plan and that 95 per cent of lifers work to a resettlement plan, including preparation of the plan, in the first six months from sentence.

Met—Outturn of 94 per cent for determinate prisoners and 98.9 per cent for life sentence prisoners.

Staff and developing the service

Deliver at least 85 per cent of the planned training days associated with the agreed corporate training priorities.

Met—The actual average training days delivered was 5.9 per member of staff.

Reduce the rate of absenteeism to an annual average of no more than 19 days per head.

Met—A total of 14.2 days per officer was achieved, bettering target of 14.5 days.

Finance, corporate governance and improving business performance

Ensure that the average cost per prisoner place does not exceed £86,290.

Met—The actual cost per prisoner place in 2005-06 was £85,900.

Lay the annual report and audited accounts before Parliament prior to the Summer Recess.

Met—Annual report and audited accounts laid before Parliament on 19 July 2005.