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Written Statements

Volume 684: debated on Thursday 20 July 2006

Written Statements

Thursday 20 July 2006

Airports: Policing

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Douglas Alexander) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

In his Statement on 21 November, the then Secretary of State for Transport announced the Government's intention to commission an independent, wide-ranging review of policing at airports. He subsequently appointed Stephen Boys Smith, a former senior civil servant, to lead the review.

The review was tasked with identifying a sustainable approach to the policing of airports which takes account of the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders and, in particular, addresses the need for funding arrangements that are objective and transparent.

The review was about airport policing not airport security, which had already been considered by Sir John Wheeler's review in 2002. Wheeler recognised that the “designation” of airports for policing purposes was an issue and saw the implementation of a multi-agency threat and risk assessment (MATRA) process as fundamental in modernising that process. MATRA is in place at over 40 UK airports and the present review has considered whether the process of designation should now be replaced, given the changes implemented following the Wheeler review.

The review report has now been submitted to both my department and the Home Office. We welcome its broad thrust and will be working closely with key stakeholders to consider the recommendations in detail.

The review has identified areas where we can build on the good work already being done by all stakeholders at our airports. It makes recommendations in a number of areas:

it endorses the principle of joint accountability for airport security and the concept of airports as “communities” where stakeholders must work together in full partnership to protect against a range of threats;

it recommends continued and enhanced liaison between key stakeholders, including government departments, the Police Service and airport operators at both national and local level to maintain a consistent understanding of and response to threats and risks;

it endorses the current multi-agency threat and risk assessment (MATRA) approach already in place at UK airports and recommends that it is strengthened further; and

it recommends that the system of “designation” is discontinued and that policing costs should generally be met by the industry on the basis that policing forms part of an agreed airport “community” response, that costs are clear and transparent, and that policing at airports is brought within the mainstream policing agenda.

Although this review has not focused on aviation security measures, it is concerned with a key element in the wider protection of our airports against a range of threats including from terrorism and serious and organised crime. Given these considerations, it is naturally not a report for public circulation. I intend to make a further statement in due course.

Allergy Services

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Ivan Lewis), has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

We have today published the report of the Department of Health review of services for allergy, which the Government undertook to carry out in its response (Cm 6433, January 2005) to the Health Select Committee report on the provision of allergy services (November 2004). The report has been placed in the Library and is available on the Departmentof Health website at AndStatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAnd Guidance/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidanceArticle/fs/en?CONTENT_ID=4137365&chk=/Z3Wtj.

Armed Forces: Northern Ireland

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Adam Ingram) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement:

On l August 2005, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced the start of the normalisation programme outlined in the Joint Declaration. Stage l of that programme will be complete by 31 July 2007 and, at that time, Operation BANNER will end. An allowances and charges package specific to the operational, security and welfare circumstances of Operation BANNER is currently in place. With the end of Operation BANNER, however, Northern Ireland will no longer be classed as an operational theatre and, as a result, there will be a number of changes to the package.

On 1 August 2007, personnel serving in Northern Ireland will commence payment of food and accommodation charges and contributions in lieu of council tax on the same basis as those elsewhere in the United Kingdom and overseas. Other provisions associated with operational status will also cease, such as operational telephone allowance, welfare entertainment, free e-blueys and the award of operational medals. Other Northern Ireland-related allowances, including: Northern Ireland resident's supplement, which is paid to all personnel serving on permanent assignment in Northern Ireland, in recognition of the impact of the security situation on them and their families; Northern Ireland journeys, which allows personnel and their accompanying families to return to Britain regularly to obtain respites from the pressures of living in Northern Ireland; and other lesser provisions will be retained for the time being, but will be kept under review as the normalisation programme progresses.

Benefit Fraud Inspectorate

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Statement.

On behalf of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) has today announced its phase 17 programme of work.

The authorities that will be inspected are: Caerphilly County Borough Council, City of Edinburgh Council, Glasgow City Council, London Borough of Hounslow Council, Sheffield City Council, South Bedfordshire District Council, Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, and Watford Borough Council.

I am pleased to announce that the planned focused inspections of the claims administration in Braintree District Council, London Borough of Newham Council and Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council will not go ahead as all three councils have shown significant improvements in their performance.

BFI is an independent unit within the Department for Work and Pensions that inspects and reports directly to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the standard of benefit administration and counter-fraud activity in local authorities and the department itself.

British Transport Police

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Douglas Alexander) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

On 11 October 2005, my predecessor, the right honourable Member for Edinburgh South West, announced his decision to review the role of the British Transport Police (BTP). The review, which has been carried out in consultation with interested parties including rail operators, passenger representative groups, the BTP, the BTP Authority and other policing organisations, has now concluded.

The review has examined a range of options in relation to the future policing of the railways, including transferring the function to local police forces and various options for expanding or refocusing the role of the BTP. It has also considered the relationship between the work carried out by the BTP and the requirements of the rail industry.

I have concluded that there remains a strong case for retaining a national specialist police force for the railways. The BTP plays an important role in combating crime and helping to deter potential terrorist activity on the rail network. The review has confirmed the effectiveness of the force in its key role and, in particular, that its specialist knowledge of the operation of the railway is an important asset. I have therefore decided not to make any structural changes to the way in which the policing of the railways is carried out.

However, the review has identified a need for greater clarity in detailed aspects of BTP’s operation in relation to its responsibilities to the rail industry, the rail industry's own duties and the role of local police forces.

I therefore propose to write to the chairman of the BTP Authority and the chief constable of the BTP asking them to ensure that the force's resourcesare focused on areas where the BTP can provide maximum added value to the fight against crime on the railway. I will be asking them to establish how the role and responsibilities of the BTP relative to those of other forces can be clarified and, where necessary, revised and incorporated into current protocols between BTP and local forces.

I will also be asking them to develop a more structured partnership approach between the force and the rail industry focused on agreed needs and priorities. This will require all stakeholders to interact more effectively at all levels, in particular at the local level to ensure that local issues and concerns are addressed. Bespoke neighbourhood policing for the railway community and enhanced communication between the train companies and the BTP will help ensure that the policing service is tailored more effectively to meet local needs.

I have also decided to increase the membership of the British Transport Police Authority to enhance scrutiny of the force's resource requirements and to strengthen the industry's input to the authority's management and oversight of the efficiency and effectiveness of the force. I will be appointing two additional industry members.

The review has also considered the arrangements for funding the BTP. I have concluded that the BTP should remain largely funded by the rail industry. The Government will continue to consider providing additional central funding for specific projects and initiatives undertaken by the BTP which provide benefits beyond the railway environment.

Civil Aviation Authority: Reviews

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Douglas Alexander) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has today published the recommendations of its two reviews in the general aviation sector. Ministers are grateful to the CAA for taking the initiative to review general aviation and to the teams involved for their contribution to the process. We believe these are the first reviews of their kind in the EU and will improve understanding of the general aviation sector and its value to the UK economy. It is, however, only the beginning. It is now for Government, the CAA and general aviation to continue to work together and build upon the recommendations in these reports.

The reviews clearly demonstrate that general aviation is an important and integral part of the UK aviation sector and that it makes a not insignificant contribution to the UK economy, both in terms of direct economic value (approximately £1.4 billion per annum) and numbers employed (approximately 11,600). As a direct result of the reviews, the Department for Transport has made a commitment to participate in a new general aviation strategic forum with CAA and general aviation representatives, which will meet quarterly to discuss strategic issues facing the sector.

Additionally, the department has also established a focal point for general aviation matters with in its Aviation Airspace Division. We will consider the other recommendations in due course. Copies of the full reports are available on the CAA's website and have been placed in the Libraries of the House.

Department for Work and Pensions: Annual Reports

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (John Hutton) has made the following Statement.

I am pleased to announce that the Department for Work and Pensions has today laid the 2005-06 annual report and accounts for two of its executive agencies: the Pension Service (HC 1531) and the Rent Service (HC 1289). Copies are available in the Printed Paper Office and the Vote Office.

Department for Work and Pensions: Mesothelioma Cases

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (John Hutton) has made the following Statement.

On 16 May I announced that my department and the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), and the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) had agreed to work together to identify urgently ways in which we can speed the settlement of claims for those suffering from mesothelioma. I said that I would report on progress before Parliament rises for the Summer Recess.

More stakeholders have also been involved in this work, such as the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) and we have kept other interested parties informed.

Since then, the Government have introduced amendments to the Compensation Bill to reverse the effects of the Law Lords’ ruling on Barker v Corus. This would have caused delays in resolving claims and made it more difficult for mesothelioma sufferers to recover full compensation. We are changing the law to make it easier for them to get full compensation as quickly as possible.

These new provisions would also enable certain changes to be made to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which should considerably speed up payment of claims to mesothelioma victims and produce a fair outcome for insurers.

Today I announce interim measures to speed up current claims handling for mesothelioma sufferers. I am also confirming that we will put in place a long-term solution. This work will start now and I will provide a further update on progress in the autumn. We are committed to having a full dialogue and we will invite comments from all interested parties.

Looking forward, we have identified a number of interim measures that can be implemented relatively quickly and will speed up the settlement of claims across the UK:

our partners are developing a Standard Claim Letter that should be in place by October;

we are drafting a leaflet for those diagnosed with mesothelioma to explain the help available to them and where to find it;

in July, the DWP will clarify with claims handlers best practice for ensuring priority for industrial injuries disablement benefits for those with mesothelioma;

also in July, the DWP will work with Revenue and Customs to address tracing employer records more quickly;

to support the code of practice for tracing employers' liability compulsory insurance (ELCI) policies, the ABI will introduce a phone inquiries helpline in the autumn and will issue guidance on how to get the best out of the code;

we will review the code of practice for tracing ELCI policies to ensure that the code is comprehensive and has the confidence of users;

the ABI will spread best practice within the wider insurance industry with a claims handling best practice guide; and

partners will consider further public awareness activity to encourage claimants to use qualified, experienced legal practitioners when making a claim.

We will continue to work with our partners to ensure that these short-term outcomes are delivered quickly as we develop options for future change.

Double Taxation Convention with Poland

My right honourable friend the Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

A new double taxation convention with Poland was signed on 20 July 2006. After signature, the text of the convention was deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs’s website. The text of the convention will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.


The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr Gordon Brown) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

At its meeting on 11 July 2006, the Economic and Financial Affairs Council took note of a presentation from the Finnish presidency on its work programme for the Council during the second half of 2006. Priorities include addressing the challenges of globalisation, efficient functioning of the internal market and further economic and structural reforms.

ECOFIN adopted a 104(12) Decision abrogating Cyprus’s Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) and Council Conclusions on Portugal’s progress in addressing its EDP.

Council adopted a Decision allowing Slovenia to adopt the euro as its currency from 1 January 2007.

ECOFIN adopted a set of Conclusions regarding the first year of the revised Stability and Growth Pact.

Council discussed the renewal of the EIB’s external lending mandates, which will set the amounts and strategic priorities of the EIB’s operations outside the EU. The council requested the Economic and Financial Committee to oversee further work on the proposal and will discuss this again at its meeting on 10 October.

ECOFIN was briefed by the Commission on economic dialogues with third countries and held an exchange of views. The UK welcomed the economic content of the EU-US Vienna Declaration as well as further ECOFIN discussion on the key issues for these dialogues.

ECOFIN adopted Council Conclusions on a Commission proposal for the funding of the International Accounting Standards Board.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mr John Healey MP, represented the UK.

Environmental Pollution

I have today published the Government's response to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) report, Crop spraying and the health of residents and bystanders. This response sets out the Government's views on the recommendations made by the Royal Commission and indicates how we intend to address them. I have placed copies of the response in the Library of each House.

First, I would like to thank the Royal Commission for producing this report, which was requested by the right honourable Alun Michael MP when Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environment Quality to examine the science on which the current pesticide approvals system is based and the reasons for people's concerns about possible adverse health effects from pesticide spraying.

The Government recognise the clearly genuine concerns of some residents and bystanders about the spraying of pesticides. The Government can, and will, do more to address these concerns.

I firmly believe that these concerns are best addressed at the local level through dialogue between residents and farmers to identify and understand the issues and to develop mutually agreeable solutions. I also believe that this can be achieved most rapidly through a voluntary approach that allows for innovative and flexible solutions.

Existing voluntary schemes, such as Farm Assurance and the Voluntary Initiative, have demonstrated how effective non-statutory approaches can be in changing behaviour. I want to see schemes such as these playing a crucial role in ensuring that both farmers and the public can have a greater mutual understanding of the problems they each face. These schemes have the potential to provide farmers both with the practical support and the incentive to be good neighbours in this regard, and I will be discussing with these organisations and others how this might be achieved.

I believe that the proposals set out in the Government's response, a number of which are already under way, can achieve the majority of outcomes envisaged by the Royal Commission without the need for additional burdensome regulation on the agricultural sector.

The Government have also noted the concern of both the Royal Commission and some members of the public about how the risks to residents and bystanders are considered in the approvals process. To address that concern, I have requested a complete review of the model used to assess resident and bystander exposure as part of the pesticide approvals process.

The current approvals process is adequate with clear safety margins built in. However, I recognise that it needs to be more clearly demonstrated to the public that approvals are based on high quality underpinning science. To address this, the revised exposure model will give more explicit consideration to a wider range of possible exposure routes and will reflect modern farming practices. The research to develop this model has already begun. A former member of the Royal Commission was one of the peer reviewers for the proposal before it was approved, and Defra's chief scientific adviser will ensure the development of the model meets acceptable scientific standards.

The UK is also taking a primary role on this issue in Europe, taking the lead in revising the guidance on acceptable exposure limits, including the assessment of resident and bystander exposure, for the European Commission.

The Government have considered the findings of the report very thoroughly alongside additional independent scientific advice. The Department of Health has sought the views of the Committees on Toxicity and on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment on the report's health recommendations, and Defra has additionally considered advice from the chief scientific adviser and the Advisory Committee on Pesticides on the wider recommendations of the report. In addition to this scientific advice we have also considered the views of interested parties from all sides of the debate.

The scientific advice we have received is clear that there is insufficient evidence to support the Royal Commission's recommendations for additional regulatory measures on safety grounds. Introducing regulations for other reasons, such as perceived nuisance from spraying, would be incompatible with the Government's better regulation policy. We have therefore decided against introducing any new regulations at this time.

EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (Margaret Beckett) and Sir John Grant (UK Permanent Representative to the EU) represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Brussels on 17 July.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

General Affairs

Presentation of Presidency Priorities: The council took note of the presidency priorities which included the Middle East, enlargement, energy, Central Asia, human rights and relations with Russia.

Migration: The council adopted Conclusions: welcoming the outcome of the Euro-Africa Ministerial Conference on Migration and Development in Rabat on 10 to 11 July; expressing its concern about the increasing illegal migratory flows in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic; and underlining the need to address the situation, including further work on East African routes.

External Relations

World Trade Organisation/Doha Development Agenda (WTO/DDA): Commissioner Mandelson briefed the council on developments in the current round of trade negotiations.

Procedural Conclusions were adopted allowing the council to meet in special session in July or August if a WTO Ministerial were called.

Sudan/Darfur: High Representative Solana stressed the need for the international community to continue support for the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) until UN transition, as well as putting pressure on the Sudanese Government to accept the UN mission. The High Representative hoped that a high-level conference in Brussels on 18 July would make progress on both these issues.

The council adopted Conclusions: reiterating EU support for the Darfur Peace Agreement; emphasising the importance of an effective AMIS; and urging the Sudanese government to agree to UN transition.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): The council discussed the forthcoming elections in DRC on 30 July. External Relations Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner said that the EU's election observation mission in DRC, working with other international delegations and with MONUC (UN mission in DRC) and EUFOR (EU force in DRC) on security issues, should help ensure a smooth election process.

The council agreed Conclusions urging the Congolese to seize the opportunity offered by the elections and the authorities to fully comply with democratic principles and noting the ongoing deployment of the EUFOR and the EU election observation mission.

Western Balkans: The Council was briefed by UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari on the state of play of the Kosovo status process. The EU would have a key role to play in Kosovo post-settlement.

The council adopted Conclusions on Kosovo reiterating its full support for Ahtisaari and his efforts in conducting the political process to determine Kosovo's future status and welcoming the joint report by High Representative Solana and the Commissioner for Enlargement Rehn on the future EU role and contribution in Kosovo.

Conclusions on Macedonia welcomed the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe's preliminary assessment that overall parliamentary elections on5 July met international standards, despite some isolated incidents.

The council also adopted Conclusions recognising Montenegro as a sovereign state and highlighting the importance of regional co-operation in the framework of the stabilisation and association process.

An Extended Troika (the presidency, incoming presidency, Enlargement Commissioner Rehn and High Representative Solana) met Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica after the GAERC on 17 July to discuss Serbia's co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the action plan that Serbia had drawn up on how to deliver on its ICTY commitments.

The presidency stressed that Serbia must begin to implement the action plan immediately with full co-operation with ICTY being a condition for restarting stabilisation and association agreement negotiations.

Middle East Peace Process: High Representative Solana briefed the council on his trip to Lebanon on 16 July.

The council adopted Conclusions: expressing concern at the situation in the Middle East, particularly the deteriorating humanitarian situation and the destruction of civilian infrastructure; supporting the idea of a possible international monitoring presence in Lebanon; and calling for international engagement, especially through High Representative Solana, to de-escalate the crisis.

Iran: High Representative Solana briefed the council on his 11 July meeting with Iranian chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani.

The council adopted Conclusions covering the nuclear file, Iran's approach to the Middle East Peace Process, terrorism and human rights.

EU: Structural Funds Programmes

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Industry and the Regions (Margaret Hodge) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 28 February 2006, the Department of Trade and Industry published a consultation document on a draft National Strategic Reference Framework for future EU Structural Funds programmes.

The consultation document invited stakeholders to comment on three main issues: the methodology for allocating future competitiveness funding between the UK's regions, the administrative arrangements for delivering future programmes and the strategyfor future spending set out in the draft national framework.

The Department of Trade and Industry is currently analysing the 320 responses to the consultation, received from stakeholders across the UK. The Government intend to publish a full response to the consultation as soon as possible after the Summer Recess.

Government Assets

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

The Chancellor stated in his Budget 2006 announcement that the Government would be prepared to consider selling part of their stake in British Energy. I confirm that the Government will actively consider a sale of part of their stake in British Energy via a capital markets transaction.

Government Indemnity Scheme

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (David Lammy) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 26 January 2006, I made a Statement to the House regarding the Government Indemnity Scheme. In that Statement, we reported a figure of £1,286,220,279 as the contingent liability of non-national museums as at 30 September 2005.

It has since been brought to my attention that the non-national museums’ contingent liability figure, produced by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, should have been £1,292,909,094.

Highways Agency: Annual Report

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Stephen Ladyman) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The Highways Agency Annual Report and Accounts for 2005-06 is published today under Section 7 of the Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000. Copies of the report will be placed in the House Library and will be available from the Vote Office.

Home Office Departmental Report 2006

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

We have today published the Home Office's 2006 departmental report. Copies are available in the House Library and on the Home Office website. The report describes the work of the Home Office during 2005-06, in particular as reflected in its strategic objectives and key targets as delivered by our three key business areas: policing, security and community safety; offender management and criminal justice reform; and immigration, citizenship and nationality.

Identity Cards

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

Section 37 of the Identity Cards Act 2006 requires a report to be laid before Parliament every six months, following Royal Assent, setting out the Secretary of State's estimate of the public expenditure likely to be incurred on the ID cards scheme during the 10 years beginning with the laying of the report. The first six-monthly report on the costs of the identity card scheme is due on 30 September but, because of the dates of Recess, it will be laid before Parliament on its return on 9 October 2006.

Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance

My right honourable friend the Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Chief Secretary made a Statement on 12 July 2005, at col. 723 of the Official Report, on timing of the phased transfer on to child tax credit (CTC) of the remaining families with children receiving family support through income support/jobseeker’s allowance.

Following further consideration of the proposed timetable, I have decided that the transfer should be deferred until 2007. My decision reflects the fact that it is extremely important to safeguard continuity of support for children among this particularly vulnerable group. The postponement will allow a number of planned tax credits measures, which I announced at the Pre-Budget Report, some of which require system changes, to be introduced before support for these families’ children is transferred to child tax credit.

I will make a final decision next year on whether the transfer should go ahead in 2007 as currently planned. My decision will again be taken in the light of the importance I attach to ensuring the continuity of support that these families receive for their children. Families will continue to receive financial support through their benefits until they are transferred on to child tax credit.

It remains the Government's firm intention to migrate all income-based support for children into a single, seamless system of support delivered through child tax credit.

Informal Competitiveness Council

I attended the informal meeting of the Competitiveness Council on 10 to 11 July, hosted by the Finnish presidency in Jyväskylä. The meeting focused on innovation policy, with discussion of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Development over lunch on the first day.

On the morning of 10 July, a number of speakers gave presentations on their views of the challenges for European innovation policy. Presentations were given by:

Jorma Ollila, chairman of the board of Nokia;

Michael Worley, president of the GEEF, a group representing family-run businesses in Europe;

Juliana Garaizar, managing director of IFEX;

Gordon Murray, professor at the School of Business and Economics, University of Exeter; and

Esko Aho, former Finnish Prime Minister and president of the Finnish National Fund for Research and Development.

Commissioners McCreevy and Verheugen both welcomed the presidency's focus on innovation policy, and stressed the importance of better regulation, an effective intellectual property regime, public procurement, R&D, structural funds, cluster policy, dialogue with industry, and modern financing instruments in promoting innovation.

Over lunch, Commissioner Potocnic updated Ministers on the current state of play of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Development. An additional Competitiveness Council has been called on 24 July, at which it is hoped that political agreement on a common position can be reached.

In the afternoon, Ministers split into breakout groups to discuss a number of questions about innovation policy posed by the Finnish presidency. I chaired one of the groups. We reported back on our discussions in a plenary session on Tuesday morning.

All Ministers supported the presidency's paper on a broad-based innovation strategy and its focus on demand-side policies. I emphasised the need for development of the intellectual property and state-aid regimes, outcome-focused regulation, innovation oriented public services and public procurement, and support for research and entrepreneurship. There was scope for EU action in some areas, but member states must take the lead in others, with the EU ensuring that it did not discourage national or private initiatives.

The Commission welcomed member states' comments and the presidency's work, and confirmed its intention to produce a communication on innovation policy in September, in advance of the Informal Summit in Lahti in October.

Insolvency Service: Performance Targets

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Jim Fitzpatrick) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Insolvency Service plans to deal with some 72,000 new insolvencies in the year to 31 March 2007 including a significant increase in personal bankruptcies. Its planning assumption for the level of redundancy payments and other insolvency-related claims is 95,000.

In support of the policy that bankrupts who can make a contribution for the benefit of their creditors should do so, official receivers have been asked to ensure that, as last year, at least 17 per cent of bankrupts agree or are ordered to make such payments. Action will continue to be taken against bankrupts and company directors in respect of financial misconduct or dishonesty and Companies Investigation Branch, part of the agency from 1 April 2006, will continue to investigate the affairs of companies in the public interest.

The service's new financial regime, put in place by the Enterprise Act 2002, will be reviewed in this, its third year and it is likely that new targets relating to unit costs and fees will be agreed as a result. The service is required to balance its case administration costs and income over the three-year period.

I have also set the Insolvency Service the following targets for the year 2006-07:


Increase the level of the user satisfaction index to


Increase the level of public confidence in the service's enforcement regime to


Ensure the average time for concluding disqualification proceedings is no longer than

26 months

Complete internal Section 447 investigations

within 90 days of commencement

within 180 days of commencement



Reduce the unit cost of redundancy payment processing by 31 March 2007 from the 2005-06 baseline; and


Process redundancy payment claims for payment within

3 weeks


6 weeks


In addition to these targets, the service is required to meet centrally promulgated targets relating to replying to correspondence from honourable Members, making payments to suppliers and reducing sick absence levels.

Partnerships Law: Reform

My right honourable friend the Minister for Trade Investment and Foreign Affairs (Ian McCartney) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission published a report on partnership law reform in November 2003 (Law Com No 283; Scot Law Com No 192). It included recommendations in respect of general partnership law and limited partnership law, together with a draft Bill designed to replace both the Partnership Act 1890 and the Limited Partnerships Act 1907. I am very grateful for the Law Commissions’ detailed and thorough work.

The DTI followed this with a consultation document on the economic impact of reform of partnership law. Respondents to the consultation were divided on the economic benefits of the proposed reforms to the business community. A summary of responses is being published on the DTI website at corpgovernance/partnership/page25911.html. Copies are available in the Libraries of the House.

The Government have carefully considered the report from the Law Commissions and the consultation responses, and intend to bring forward proposalsfor the reform of limited partnership law based onthe Law Commissions' recommendations. The recommendations for limited partnership reform have been widely supported and there is a strong economic case for taking them forward. The reforms are not dependent on the proposed reforms for general partnership law, which the Government have decided not to take forward at this time.

The Government aim to take forward the reforms to limited partnership law by means of a regulatory reform order when parliamentary time allows, and to publish a consultation document containing draft clauses shortly.

National Identity Scheme: Procurement Strategy

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

Feedback from industry on the procurement strategy for the national identity scheme has reinforced the importance of avoiding a big-bang implementation and supports the incremental approach to the scheme. The Home Office report on the feedback will be published in August. Intellect, the trade association for the UK hi-tech industry, has also produced a report on the procurement strategy as part of its concept viability process. Copies of both reports will be placed in the Libraries of the House on publication. The documents will also be made available via the Identity and Passport Service website,

Northern Ireland: Liquor Licensing

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Northern Ireland (David Hanson) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

This Statement sets out my plans to reform liquor licensing law in Northern Ireland. The last review of the law governing liquor licensing and registered clubs took place some 10 years ago. Since then the social and economic climate in Northern Ireland has changed and improved immensely. The peace dividend has altered the shape of the tourism and hospitality sectors and of town and city centres. There is great potential for further growth, and liquor licensing law must keep pace with these developments and with modern expectations.

Coupled with that is the need for a more transparent, accountable and better regulated framework for the licensed trade. There are clear anomalies in the current licensing system and a requirement for greater enforcement powers for the Police Service of Northern Ireland to deal with breaches of licensing law.

The consultation on proposed changes to the existing legislation was launched in November 2005. Since then I have had a number of discussions with political representatives and other interested parties. There has been support from both local political parties and the licensed trade for many of my proposals. Concerns have been expressed by politicians and parts of the licensed trade regarding two of the proposed changes. These are the transfer of responsibility for liquor licensing from courts to district councils and the abolition of the “surrender” principle. I welcome the views that have been put and now confirm that my plans for the reform of the law on liquor licensing and registered clubs in Northern Ireland are as follows:

The introduction of six new objectives to underpin licensing policy, legislation and regulation. These are: promotion of public health; promotion of public safety; prevention of crime and disorder; prevention of public nuisance; protection of children from harm; and fair treatment of all stakeholders.

New, more effective enforcement measures, including immediate temporary closure powers for the police, a penalty points system for licensees who break the law and new council liquor licensing officers.

Moving responsibility for granting and renewing licences and certificates of registration from courts to district councils, leading to a more accountable, transparent system.

Replacing the current 12 categories of licences in favour of a dual system of personal and premises licences.

Abolishing the provision which requires an existing licence for a pub or off-licence to be “surrendered” to a court before a new one may be granted. This will be subject to an assessment of the business impact of my proposal which will help to decide how this is addressed in the second stage of reforms. I hope it will be the Northern Ireland Assembly that will consider these matters.

A voluntary proof-of-age scheme and more flexibility to allow under-18s in certified licensed premises and registered clubs when accompanied by responsible adults.

A modest extension of current opening hours for licensed premises and registered clubs, creating scope for opening up to 2 am Monday to Saturday. Sunday opening hours will remain unchanged as will opening hours for off-licences.

Revoking the financial controls and accounts formats for registered clubs, prescribed in the Registration of Clubs (Accounts) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1997, in favour of best practice guidance.

The proposals will give police the powers they need to crack down on irresponsible drinkers and rogue traders and make the licensing system more transparent and accountable, giving communities more information and a louder voice in decision-making.

Allowing licensed premises and registered clubs to apply to the courts to extend their opening hours up to 2 am is the result of careful consideration of the changes in people's social habits and the opportunities available for developing the night time economy. I have listened very carefully to the arguments made by the licensed trade, the police, health interests and others, and balanced the economic and social advantages of extending opening hours with the public interest and public safety. Accordingly, I have decided that opening to 2 am will be available to those licensed premises entitled under existing law to apply for later opening but not to off-licensed premises.

Transferring responsibility for granting liquor licences and club certificates from a court-based system to district councils will create a more accountable system where pubs, off-licences, registered clubs and other licensees will have to explain in detail how their businesses will support the six licensing objectives. There have been concerns expressed about the ability of councils to administer a new liquor licensing system. However, councils already operate a number of regulatory systems including entertainments licensing and street trading, and their range of responsibilities will be greatly enhanced under the Review of Public Administration. The capacity of new councils to undertake these new responsibilities is an issue that is being addressed in the period leading up to the full implementation of the Review of Public Administration. I wish to reassure those concerned that responsibility for liquor licensing will move to councils only once they have built the capacity to administer the new system.

The new system will operate under clear guidelines that will be issued to councils. They will be required to produce a Statement of Licensing Policy that clearly articulates how they plan to control liquor licensing in line with the six licensing objectives. There will be further safeguards. Before councils reach a decision they will have to seek the views of responsible authorities and interested parties such as the Police Service of Northern Ireland, local residents and local businesses. All applications for a licence will be open to objection and a licence may be reviewed, revoked or suspended at any time if there is cause for concern. Those seeking a premises licence will be required to produce an operating plan setting out the nature of the business for approval by councils, and the need for any new licence will have to be clearly demonstrated.

I am replacing the current 12 categories of licence with a dual system of personal and premises licences. This will result in a more robust licensing regime. Personal licences are being introduced for the first time to ensure that those managing licensed premises have accredited qualifications and demonstrate clean backgrounds. This will improve operating standards across the licensed trade and protect against infiltration by those involved in organised crime.

The surrender provision has created anomalies in the licensed trade. At present only pubs and off-licences are required to surrender a licence before being granted a new one. This has capped the overall number of such premises in Northern Ireland, but it has not prevented the growth of alcohol sales in other premises such as large hotels, nor the clustering of pubs and off-licences in particular areas. It is also an artificial barrier to entry to the market and its abolition will create a more equitable commercial environment.

I have listened to the views of local politicians and parts of the licensed trade about the implications of the abolition of surrender. In response to their concerns, I will commission an assessment of the business impact of abolition before making any further decision on the way forward.

I intend to implement some of the proposals as soon as possible. Those relating to enforcement, opening hours, children and registered clubs' accounts should come into effect by Christmas 2007, and draft legislation will be consulted on in Autumn 2006.

With regard to the move to councils, I intend to defer the consideration of this aspect of the legislation, along with some of the other proposals that depend on the new system being operational, to a second, later legislative vehicle. The Review of Public Administration is due for completion in 2009 and the target date for making legislation to transfer responsibility for licensing from courts to district councils and for the introduction of new licensing objectives will be linked to this. This tranche of legislation will also see the abolition of the existing categories of licence and, subject to an impact assessment, the surrender provision. The final decisions on this will, I hope, be taken by a devolved Assembly, should it be successfully restored.

I believe this is a balanced package of measures that weighs up the rights, needs and demands of the various interested parties. They will bring licensing law in Northern Ireland up to date, both to deal more effectively with the alcohol-related problems we currently face and to meet modern day expectations. They will result in a more democratic approach that allows local people to have greater influence in how and where the licensed trade operates. They will promote a safe, welcoming environment in town and city centres where the evening and night-time economy can flourish and will encourage investment, variety and high standards of service in the hospitality, tourism and entertainment sectors.

Parental Compensation Order

My honourable friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Tony McNulty) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Parental Compensation Order (PCO) is provided for by Sections 13A to 13E of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (CDA 1998) which were inserted bySection 144 of and Schedule 10 to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.

The PCO powers will be commenced initially in 10 local authority areas (Gateshead, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Nottinghamshire, Worcestershire, Wandsworth, Southwark, Leicester, South Tyneside and York). The use, impact and cost of the PCO will be evaluated as part of the wider use of early intervention.

Attempts to secure voluntary reparation should always be made. The PCO should be used only where that approach fails and when its use would be desirable in the interests of preventing a repetition of the behaviour in question. However, we hope that the existence of the PCO will encourage reparation and wider behavioural change on a voluntary basis.

By requiring the parent(s) or guardian(s) to pay compensation, the PCO is designed to provide compensation to those affected and to prevent further behaviour by the child of the type which caused the order to be made. The PCO will therefore encourage parents and their children to understand their responsibilities and to take responsibility for behaviour.

A PCO is designed to be used as part of a wider strategy to increase the parents' skills and improve their child's behaviour, to address risk factors and underlying problems experienced by the child and family, to steer the child away from involvement in anti-social or offending-type behaviour, to keep the child safe and to encourage positive outcomes.

A magistrates’ court may make a PCO on application from a local authority when it is satisfied:

that the child (who must be under 10) has taken, or caused loss of or damage to property in the course of

(a) committing an act which, if he had been aged 10 or over, would have constituted an offence; or

(b) acting in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household as himself; and

that it would be desirable to make the order in the interests of preventing a repetition of the behaviour in question.

Before making an order, the court must consider:

(a) the views of the person affected by the damage, loss etc. about whether an order should be made in his favour; and

(b) the child's family circumstances and the likely effect of the order on those circumstances.

It follows that local authority practitioners should form a view about the suitability of a PCO following assessment of the child, parents and family circumstances and in light of experience of trying to resolve the dispute on a voluntary basis. The PCO would be a viable option only with the support of the person affected by the damage, loss etc.

The effect of a PCO is to require the parent(s)/guardian(s) of the child to pay compensation to the person affected. Compensation is limited to £5,000. In deciding the level of compensation the court must take into account:

(a) the value of the damage etc. caused to property by the child;

(b) any further loss which flowed from the taking of or damage to the property, or from its loss;

(c) whether the child or parent has already paid any compensation, and if so how much;

(d) whether the child or parents have made any reparation, and if so what it consisted of;

(e) the means of the parents; and

(f) any lack of care on the part of the person(s) affected by the taking of the property or its loss or damage.

The court is responsible for enforcement of the order and has the same enforcement powers as it does for fines.

The court can make a parenting order when making a PCO provided this would be desirable in the interests of preventing a repetition of the kind of behaviour which led to the PCO being made.

Guidance on the PCO is being completed with DfES following limited consultation with key stakeholders including the Welsh Assembly Government. Feedback from practitioners will help inform the improvement of the guidance. It is intended that there will be a wider consultation exercise on the guidance before implementation of the PCO across England and Wales.

Patient Power Review Group

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

As recommended by Ofcom in its report1 of January 2006, the department set up a patient power review group (PPRG) in February 2006 to explore whether communication services could be offered to hospital patients without charging as high a price for incoming calls. The PPRG has been considering:

all aspects of the charging structure;

the requirement to install, with limited clinical exceptions, units at every bedside within a hospital site, irrespective of use;

the requirement to offer services through a combined unit, offering television and telephone and capable of offering added value services; and

the need to clarify guidance on use of mobile phones in hospitals.

Further work is needed to provide a considered response to the recommendations made in the Health Select Committee’s report on NHS charges published on 18 July. A final report will be published by December 2006.


1 Ofcom own-initiative investigation into the price of making telephone calls to hospital patients.

Plutonium and Uranium: UK Civil Stocks

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

The department will be placing the figures for the United Kingdom's stocks of civil plutonium and uranium as at 31 December 2005 in the Libraries of the House. In accordance with our commitment under Guidelines for the Management of Plutonium, we have also sent the figures to the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who will circulate them to member states. The figures will be available on the department's and the IAEA's websites.

The figures show that stocks of unirradiated plutonium in the UK totalled 104.9 tonnes at the end of 2005. Changes from the corresponding figures for 2004 are a consequence of continuing reprocessing operations (e.g. as reflected in the increased quantity of unirradiated separated plutonium in product stores at reprocessing plants). HEU stocks decreased mainly as a result of down-blending. The increase in the civil depleted, natural and low enriched uranium figures reflects the increased stocks at the UK enrichment plant.

Post Office Card Account

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Statement.

The Department for Work and Pensions ran a number of small-scale Post Office card account pilots between 13 February and 10 March 2006. The pilots tested various approaches to moving people, from having their benefit or pension paid into a Post Office card account to payments into a bank account, and they have provided us with some useful information on how customers react.

We have already shared the key findings with Post Office Ltd to help it identify customer needs as they develop new savings and banking products which are likely to be more attractive to many of their customers than the current Post Office card account. Post Office Ltd plans to start a three-month trial next week when it will be writing to 10,000 existing Post Office card account customers to encourage them to open one of its new Instant Saver accounts.

Among the key findings from the DWP pilots were:

many customers were not aware that they could use their bank account at the Post Office. This is not just an issue for those receiving a benefit or pension. There are around 20 million people who could access their bank account at a Post Office, but only around 10 per cent (2 million) per week actually do so. This is a huge untapped market which could bring vital new income into Post Office branches. DWP will work with Post Office Ltd and support it in its efforts to increase this market;

once customers had moved from the Post Office card account and become used to their new routine, the vast majority (85 per cent) were happy using a bank account rather than a Post Office card account. Customers like the additional features of bank accounts and the flexibility to get their money when and where they want; and

there are opportunities for Post Office Ltd to respond positively to customer demand by providing new products which offer more features than the Post Office card account. Customers need to be properly informed of all of their options and the services that the Post Office offers.

We will continue to discuss with Post Office Ltd and other key stakeholders how the needs of customers can continue to be met after the Post Office card account contract ends in 2010. DWP officials will also be discussing the findings from the pilots and our future payments strategy with customer representative groups and other key stakeholders over the next few months.

Our commitment to allowing people to continue to collect their benefit or pension in cash at the Post Office if they wish remains unchanged. Around 25 different bank accounts can be accessed at Post Office branches now, and we hope there could be more in the future, as well as new Post Office products.

I am placing a report of the pilot findings in the Library of the House.

Public Bodies: Chairmen

In my Answer of 6 July (Official Report, col. WA 76) to a written parliamentary Question about public bodies, the figure given for the salary of the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority erroneously gave salary details for 2004-05. The correct salary for that position at 31 March 2006 is £124,649.

Railways: Regional Planning Assessments

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

Today the Department for Transport has published the West Midlands regional planning sssessment for the railway (RPA), the third in a series of 11 RPAs covering England and Wales. The West Midlands RPA covers the whole of the West Midlands region.

RPAs are the key link between regional spatial planning (including preparation of regional transport strategies) and planning for the railway by both government and the rail industry and are designed to inform the development of the Government's strategy for the railway. They look at the challenges and options for development of the railway in each region over the next 20 years, in the wider context of forecast change in population, the economy and travel behaviour. An RPA does not commit the Government to specific proposals. Instead it sets out the Government's current thinking on how the railway might best be developed to allow wider planning objectives for a region to be met, and identifies the priorities for further development work.

The area covered by the West Midlands RPA hasa population of just over 5.3 million of which2.5 million live in the West Midlands conurbation centred on Birmingham. While population levels are not expected to grow significantly, structural changes in the type of employment available and greater prosperity are expected to lead to more trips being made. Growth in rail passenger journeys is forecast for the region and it is expected that there will be particular growth in longer distance journeys, especially to London, and commuting to central Birmingham.

Planning for railways in the West Midlands needs to take into account a changing economic and social context set out in the regional spatial strategy and regional economic strategy. I am particularly grateful for the contribution made to the development of the RPA by the regional assembly, Advantage West Midlands, local authorities and others.

The RPA clarifies the role of the railway in the region, its contribution to the economy and its place in the overall transport system, setting out where greater rail capability and capacity will be needed over the next 20 years, and the options for responding to that need. The focus of the RPA is making better use of the existing network but it also draws attention to the need to improve access to stations, including interchanges, and the expected need to increase train capacity to meet forecast growth in demand.

Copies of the document have been placed in the House Library.

Roads: M6

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Stephen Ladyman) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

On the 19 July last year, I announced that I had asked the Highways Agency to carry out a detailed review to allow an informed decision to be taken on the case for building a new tolled Expressway to run parallel with the M6 between Birmingham and Manchester as an alternative to widening the existing M6 by one lane in each direction. This followed a consultation exercise undertaken in 2004 on the broad concept of an Expressway.

The Government have accepted the need for more road capacity in this corridor, as shown by the Midlands to Manchester multi-modal study (Midman), which reported in July 2002. The issue was how best that capacity could be provided. Given the high level of investment involved whatever option would be taken forward, it was clearly important that we properly considered the potential for the extra benefits that might be achievable from an Expressway.

The 2004 consultation document, M6: giving motorists a choice, suggested that the Expressway might be delivered more quickly than the widening, by avoiding the need to build new structures such as bridges, and avoid substantial disruption to traffic during construction. The evidence from the detailed development work undertaken by the Highways Agency has not borne this out.

The Highways Agency's modelling suggests that an Expressway would have a significant impact on both the levels and the mix of traffic using the Expressway and the M6. In particular, it is likely that the proportion of heavy freight traffic on the M6—which is already relatively high—would increase further, requiring additional infrastructure works at junctions to provide safely for traffic joining and leaving the road. This, together with providing for the appropriate range of access options at each junction between the Expressway and the existing M6, would require the demolition of many existing structures and reconstruction of 20 per cent of the existing carriageway. The Expressway would also have a much larger land take, requiring some 50 per cent more land than the widening. The Expressway and associated works would cause more disruption to existing traffic and would cost some 15 per cent more than widening.

Although on-line widening would necessarily involve some disruption to M6 traffic during construction, the phasing of works could mean additional capacity being provided sooner than an entirely new road, with efforts focused on the most heavily trafficked sections first.

The Highways Agency has held a series of seminars and meetings with stakeholders, to set out indicative plans for both options, and take feedback. On the basis of these more clearly defined propositions, few stakeholders regarded the Expressway as an attractive alternative to widening.

In the light of the further development work and stakeholder consultation, we have therefore decided not to pursue the Expressway alternative any further.

The Highways Agency has continued to progress the widening option and will now focus solely on that. This work will include examining the demand management measures needed to ensure that the benefits of additional capacity are locked-in.

A more detailed report on the options review has been placed in the Library of the House.

Social Fund: Annual Reports

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce publication of the annual report by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the Social Fund 2005-06 and the Social Fund Commissioner's annual report. The Secretary of State's annual report on the Social Fund for 2005-2006 (Cm 6856) was published today and has been laid before Parliament. Copies are available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office.

The report records that total gross expenditurein 2005-06, excluding winter fuel payments, was£917 million. That included more than 275,000 non-repayable grants and more than 2.2 million interest-free loans together worth over £742 million, and funeral and cold weather payments totalling more than£53 million. In addition, around 238,000 Sure Start maternity grants worth over £120 million were made, and over 8 million households benefited from a winter fuel payment at a cost of around £1.99 billion.

The report also confirms that reforms to the Social Fund loan scheme were introduced from April 2006, with extra net funding of £210 million over the next three years to support the changes.

The Social Fund Commissioner's report has also been published today, and copies will be available in the Libraries of both Houses.

UK Trade and Investment

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

UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) launched today its new five-year strategy entitled Prosperity in a Changing World. This strategy sets out how UKTI will respond to the enhanced role envisaged in the Budget.

The new strategy describes how UKTI will take the lead to maximise the UK's ability to attract foreign direct investment, win market share in the new high growth economies and help business internationalise in a globalised world. It will lead government efforts to:

market the UK overseas as a key business partner and as the preferred location for inward investment;

boost UK trade with, and secure investment from, emerging economies such as China and India;

promote the UK's financial services sector and the City of London as the world's leading international financial centre;

lobby overseas on regulatory issues and barriers to trade and investment; and

target innovative R&D-intensive companies both for inward investment and as potential exporters.

It outlines plans for UKTI to reform itself to become a more streamlined, entrepreneurial organisation, focusing on the ever-changing needs of its clients. UKTI will spearhead a more professional approach to marketing the strengths of the UK economy. It will allocate resources to front-line services where they can be most effective in adding value to the UK economy.

I am arranging for copies of the UKTI five-year strategy to be placed in the Libraries of the House.

Wilton Park: Annual Report

Wilton Park is an academically independent executive agency of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Its annual report and accounts for 2005-06 are laid before Parliament today.

Wilton Park celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2006. It continues to achieve high ratings from participants on the value of Wilton Park conferences. Building on last year's successes, nine overseas conferences are planned for 2006. There has been an increase in the number of participants from certain key areas, including international organisations and business.

Wilton Park's performance against agreed targets for 2005-06 is shown below.

05/06 Target

05/06 Performance

Total income



Excellent rating for programmes



Excellent rating for administration