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Written Statements

Volume 684: debated on Wednesday 12 July 2006

Written Statements

Wednesday 12 July 2006

Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr Gerry Sutcliffe) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today laying before Parliament, with the Comptroller and Auditor General, the annual report and accounts for 2004-05 for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. It is being laid before the Scottish Parliament by the Scottish Ministers jointly. The annual report and accounts will be published by 21 July.

The annual report and accounts describes the activities of the authority in paying financial compensation to victims of violent crime under the terms of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1995.

Publication of the annual report and accounts is later than usual because of the need to bring the accounting for the tariff scheme cases fully in line with the requirements of Financial Reporting Standard 12 (provisions, contingent liabilities and contingent assets). The accounts estimate the final settlement value of cases in progress and the predicted value of applications which have not yet been received in respect of crimes that have already occurred. As a result, the balance sheet at 31 March 2005 shows net liabilities of £1,257 million and an operating deficit of £46.5 million.

In 2004-05, the authority received 66,290 applications for compensation and resolved 66,898. The number of cases outstanding at 31 March 2005 was 84,581. The proportion of cases decided within 12 months was 73.4 per cent.

Diplomatic Immunity: Serious Offences

Following the Written Ministerial Statement of 12 December 2005 about serious offences allegedly committed by persons entitled to diplomatic immunity during 2004 (Official Report, col. WS 105), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has reviewed its policy relating to disclosure of the names of the missions whose diplomats have allegedly committed serious offences. I have today placed in the Library of the House a list of foreign missions whose diplomats allegedly committed serious offences and a list of the offences between 1999 and 2004. I shall place a further list in the Library of the House updating this information to cover 2005 in the autumn this year. From 2007, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will present this information to Parliament annually by means of a Written Ministerial Statement, laid by the end of June each year, covering the previous five-year period.

Hazardous Substances: Pipe Organs

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Energy (Malcolm Wicks) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive has the laudable aim of minimising the environmental impact of waste electrical and electronic equipment by restricting the amount of hazardous substances in any new equipment placed on the market from 1 July 2006.

The RoHS Directive draws its scope or coverage from the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, which was negotiated and adopted at the same time. The scope of both directives is very broad and was primarily intended to include consumer electronic and IT equipment, large and small domestic appliances and mobile phones. It was certainly never envisaged that the directives would apply to church and other pipe organs, although there was some legal uncertainty in the final text.

At the UK's instigation, the matter was raised at a meeting of EU member states (the Technical Adaptation Committee), chaired by the European Commission, on 26 June. Following this meeting, the Commission has clarified that pipe organs are outside the scope of the new rules. I am, therefore, very pleased to confirm that the legal uncertainties have now been resolved and pipe organs are considered to be clearly outside the scope of the RoHS and WEEE Directives.

Ministry of Defence: Swan Hunter Contract

I wish to inform the House of developments in the Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) (LSD(A)) programme. The Ministry of Defence has reached a full and final settlement for the closure, by mutual agreement, of its contract with Swan Hunter (Tyneside) Limited in Newcastle for the design and construction of two of the vessels.

The programme is to deliver a new class of landing ship dock (auxiliary) to replace the ageing landing ship logistic, used to deploy amphibious task groups, vehicles and equipment directly into potentially hostile operational areas. Beyond their primary role to support amphibious operations, the vessels will provide wider support to joint operations by providing strategic sealift at high readiness, support to humanitarian and peacekeeping operations and sea-based support to deployed land formations. The total programme is for four vessels, two designed and constructed by Swan Hunter, with a further two built by BAE Systems.

The LSD(A) programme is well advanced. RFA “Mounts Bay”, the first ship built by BAE Systems, has completed sea trials and been accepted by the MoD. “Cardigan Bay”, the second BAE Systems ship, is due to be accepted in August. “Largs Bay”, the first of the Swan Hunter vessels, was accepted off-contract in April but this was over two years later than the original contract schedule. Initial indications are that the vessels will deliver excellent capability once in service.

The major programme issue has been, however, the poor performance and cost growth at Swan Hunter, which has also impacted on the costs of the ships being built by BAE Systems. Swan Hunter was awarded the LSD(A) contract in December 2000. It subsequently became apparent that Swan Hunter had underestimated the complexity of the programme and was unable to control costs effectively and, in December 2004, the contract value was uplifted by £84 million. Swan Hunter was also expected to improve its management performance. However, costs have continued to rise and this funding has been consumed without “Lyme Bay”, the second Swan Hunter ship, being completed.

Although the construction of “Lyme Bay” is well advanced, we cannot predict her acceptance date or her cost to completion with any confidence in the current contractual arrangements. Sustaining the current contract with Swan Hunter no longer provides value for money for the taxpayer, and to continue would be likely to lead to more delay and further cost overrun.

It has therefore been mutually agreed with the management of Swan Hunter that the contract should be closed. BAE Systems will instead provide lead yard services and design authority until completion of the programme and will complete the construction of “Lyme Bay” at Govan on the Clyde. There has been significant cost escalation on this programme and we now expect the revised combined contract values to be approximately £600 million. The details of the commercial agreements currently remain confidential, but the relevant cost data will be released once it is possible to do so. The new arrangements bring far more certainty to the programme, both in cost and timescales.

Our priority has always been effective delivery of the required military capability, which we have attempted to achieve through successful completion of the contract with Swan Hunter. The company has been given every encouragement and opportunity to succeed through additional funding and time. While the workforce itself has performed well, with excellent workmanship, we no longer have adequate confidence in the company's ability to complete the contract within an acceptable timescale or cost. We therefore have no choice left. It would be fundamentally incompatible with our obligations to the taxpayer, or indeed the principles of the Defence Industrial Strategy, for us to continue with this state of affairs.

We will be doing what we can to minimise the impact of this decision on the region. Discussions are under way with the trade unions, local MPs and others regarding the way ahead. The Ministry of Defence is also working with the Department of Trade and Industry and the regional development agency, One NorthEast, to identify opportunities for the workforce, including the apprentices currently employed within the company. We expect that a number of the main sub-contractors will be re-employed by BAE Systems to complete “Cardigan Bay” and “Lyme Bay”.

While the need for this decision has been unwelcome, we now look forward to introducing all four ships to service and providing our Armed Forces with the high level of capability and support they have the right to expect.

NHS: Diagnostic Waiting Times

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

The Government are committed to ensuring that by 2008 no one will wait for more than 18 weeks from GP referral to hospital treatment. Reducing waiting times for diagnostics is central to delivering the 18-week pathway. The first step in eliminating diagnostic waits is to be able to measure them.

The following statistics are released today by the Department of Health:

NHS diagnostic waiting times: month ending 30 April 2006

NHS diagnostic waiting times: months ending 31 January, 28 February and 31 March 2006

NHS diagnostic waiting times: biannual census of diagnostic tests, end February 2006.

This first publication of diagnostic waiting times figures will become a regular monthly release. This information can be found on the department's website at www.performance.doh.gov.uk/diagnostics/index.htm. Measurement of diagnostic waiting times will enable the NHS and the department to identify bottlenecks in the system and solutions to deliver the 18-week pathway.

Planning

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The provisions of paragraphs 1 and 2 of Schedule 2 to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 require the Secretary of State to set and meet a timetable for the majority of planning cases decided by the Secretary of State where the inquiry closed on or after 1 April 2005 and to make a report to Parliament each year on performance. This is intended both to ensure that such cases are dealt with expeditiously and to enable the parties to any particular case to know when they can expect to receive a decision.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has accordingly today laid before Parliament an Act Paper reporting on all decisions where the inquiry, hearing or site visit ended on or after 1 April 2005 and the decision was made on or before 31 March 2006. During this period, 100 per cent of the 200 decisions made by the Secretary of State on cases other than appeals under tree preservation orders were made within their statutory timetables, as were 532 out of 545 decisions (98 per cent) on tree preservation order appeals.

These provisions relate to decisions on called-in planning applications; planning appeals recovered for the Secretary of State's decision; other cases “linked” to such decisions, including listed building consent, conservation area consent, advertisement consent and enforcement notice appeals; and tree preservation order appeals. They do not apply to cases decided by inspectors or to those decided by the Secretary of State jointly with a Minister of another department.