Thursday 25 January 2007
House of Lords: Foreign Language Training
The House Committee agreed at its meeting on 18 July 2006 to establish a scheme for the provision of free foreign language training for Members. Details of the scheme appear in the new edition of the Members’ Guide to Expenses published today.
The scheme is similar to that provided by the House of Commons. Members may recover the cost of attending foreign language classes provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The language course consists of an initial registration followed by 10 consultations. Members seeking reimbursement must obtain prior approval from the Clerk of the Parliaments and indicate how the course would help the Member in the performance of their parliamentary duties. Members will be required to confirm that all classes have been attended before reimbursement will be made.
Africa: Gleneagles Implementation Plan
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn) has made the following Statement.
I have placed in the Libraries of both Houses, alongside this Statement, copies of the December update of the G8 Gleneagles Implementation Plan for Africa. This plan is updated monthly by the Department for International Development (DfID) on behalf of all departments.
A year ago, the Government set out 11 objectives that we hoped would be achieved by the end of 2006 (Annexe 1—Box 1). I am pleased to report that the majority of these have been met, although more progress is needed on the Africa Standby Force and donor support for 10-year education plans and significant progress is needed on trade.
Effective international monitoring mechanisms have been put in place. G8 leaders reviewed progress at the 2006 summit and will do so again at the 2007 summit in Germany. The Africa Partnership Forum produced its first three progress reports in October 2006, with four more expected in May 2007. The civil society, African Monitor, is gaining momentum. The UK has helped create the Africa Progress Panel, to be chaired by Kofi Annan, to complement these other mechanisms.
Global aid rose 32 per cent in 2005 to $106.8 billion—a record high. Preliminary aid figures for 2006 will be available from the OECD in April 2007, with the EU publishing a progress report for member states in May. Aid levels may fall back in 2006 and 2007 as debt relief declines, but the UK will continue to press donors to meet their 2005 pledges so we meet the overall target to increase global aid by $50 billion by 2010. The UK is on track to meet its target to provide 0.7 per cent of national income as aid by 2013. Future spending projections are being finalised as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review.
The first bonds for the International Finance Facility for Immunisation (IFFIm) were released in November 2006, raising $1 billion. In total, the IFFIm will raise $4 billion, and these additional resources should save more than 10 million lives including five million children before 2015.
The World Bank, International Monetary Fund and African Development Fund have implemented the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI) agreed at Gleneagles. Twenty-one countries (17 African) have reached “Completion Point” and had debts worth $36 billion cancelled under the MDRI.
The UN Peacebuilding Commission has been established and begun work on Burundi and Sierra Leone. The African Union is making progress towards its objective of a fully operational African Standby Force (ASF) by 2010. The ASF has around 15,000 troops pledged, and Brigade Headquarters have been established and are manned in three regions. But faster progress is needed on this.
The UN Convention Against Corruption has entered into force and international agreement has been reached on mechanisms for implementing and monitoring it, for tackling international asset recovery and co-ordinating technical assistance. Twenty-six countries have signed up to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Three countries (Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda) have completed the Africa Peer Review Mechanism process and are beginning to implement recommendations. South Africa and Algeria should be peer reviewed in 2007. We would like to see more countries with self-assessments under way.
The launch of a major new education initiative at the Financing for Development conference in Nigeria in May 2006, and the UK's pledge to provide £8.5 billion for education over the next 10 years, have helped to stimulate 25 African countries to begin work on long-term education plans. The Education Fast Track Initiative (FTI) is being expanded to 60 countries. Twenty-eight countries have FTI-endorsed education sector plans. Three further plans are likely to be approved in early 2007 with a further 15 likely by the end of 2007. A conference—to be convened by the EU and the World Bank in the spring—will encourage donors to make long-term commitment to fund these plans.
Supported by the UK, Zambia has now introduced a policy to remove formal user fees for health, with discussions under way elsewhere (e.g. Burundi). A group led by the World Bank, the World Health Organisation, the Netherlands and the UK is tackling access to health services by trying to improve co-ordination among donors, efficiency and resource availability.
The UK issued a global call for action on water and sanitation—linked to the 2006 UN Development Programme Human Development Report, which highlighted the urgency of the challenge and action the international community should take to meet this. Alongside this, the UK has increased its own efforts: DfID is focusing on 12 African countries, with Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo identified as top priorities.
The number of people receiving AIDS treatment in low and middle income countries rose from 400,000 to 1.6 million between 2003 and 2006, rising tenfold in sub-Saharan African alone to around 1 million. This represents around a quarter of those in need, so there is a long way still to go. Treatment has prevented around 250,000 to 300,000 premature deaths in developing countries in 2005. The international focus is firmly on achieving universal access to comprehensive prevention programmes, treatment, care and support by 2010. The UK is providing substantial funding for new initiatives like the International Drug Purchase Facility (UNITAID) and increasing its contributions to organisations like the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria (GFATM) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
The EU is developing an Action Plan on Recruitment of Health Workers to address training and retention, to strengthen developing country health services and to ensure EU member states' recruitment policies do not adversely affect developing country health services. This should be finalised shortly. The new secretariat of the Global Health Workforce Initiative is helping countries and regional institutions such as the African Union in areas like human resource planning and lesson learning across countries.
Important changes have been made to the international humanitarian system, to increase its ability to prevent and to respond to emergencies. The new Central Emergency Response Fund (CERT) has already demonstrated its value as a source of rapid-response funds for “neglected” humanitarian crises such as in Timor-Leste, where in April and May 2006 more than 135,000 became displaced overnight following the outbreak of fighting. The UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator (HC) system has being strengthened, with a new secretariat focused on training and deployment. Twenty-one experienced co-ordinators have been trained, providing a pool to respond to crises, most recently in Lebanon. The “Cluster Approach” has increased co-ordination among agencies. A joint World Bank/DfID programme is supporting integration of disaster risk reduction measures into development strategies, focusing on particularly vulnerable countries (including Malawi and Mozambique). Reform of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction is gaining momentum. DfID is supporting this, alongside other initiatives like the Pan-American Health Organisation's programme for emergency preparedness and disaster relief and the ProVention Consortium of international donors on disaster risk reduction.
The one area where progress has been very disappointing is trade. Informal talks on the Doha round of World Trade Organisation negotiations restarted in late 2006. The UK Government continue to push for early agreement on a deal that will substantially help poor countries, provide extra aid for private sector development, cut agricultural subsidies and end export subsidies.
The UK Government are delighted that Germany has identified Africa as a top priority for its G8 and EU presidencies this year. We will be working hard to ensure that this delivers further progress on Africa. As part of the Government's commitment to accountability, we have established 10 milestones which we believe need to be achieved by July 2007 (Box 2 in the Gleneagles Implementation Plan). I will provide a full report on these at that time.
Cross-Border Criminal Cases
On 1 November 2006, my noble friend Lady Scotland informed the House that I had opened discussions with the Attorney General of the United States of America on jurisdictional issues in criminal cases.
I am pleased to inform the House that the Attorney General of the US, the Lord Advocate of Scotland and I have agreed guidance for handling cross-border cases between the UK and US.
I believe that the guidance will improve communication by facilitating the early sharing of case information and consultation between prosecutors in those jurisdictions. International co-operation in fighting transnational crime is essential. Further, this guidance should assist prosecutors to have the earliest notice of cases that could be of interest to them for possible investigation and prosecution in the UK. The guidance retains the UK prosecutor's powers to decide that a case should be tried in the UK when this is possible and in accordance with the law and public interest.
The guidance agreed between the UK and US is augmented by domestic guidance for prosecutors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The domestic guidance will enable my office to ensure that each of my prosecuting departments is informed of cross-border cases in which it may have an interest.
Copies of both documents have been placed in the Library of the House.
Licensing Fees: Independent Review Panel
My honourable friend the Minister for Creative Industries and Tourism (Shaun Woodward) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am pleased to inform the House that the Government have today formally published the final report of an independent panel that was set up to consider whether the licensing fees are set at the right level.
The panel's terms of reference were to:
consider whether the fees cover the full cost to licensing authorities;
identify the scale, extent and nature of any problem(s) encountered by licensees/licence payers and licensing authorities;
make recommendations about how the existing fee structure and levels could be developed;
ensure best practice is being fully realised across all authorities; and
identify how the regime could be developed to address any other issues, including the impact of the fee scales on community amateur sports clubs, village and community halls.
The panel, which includes representatives from local government, rural communities and industry, has made a number of recommendations about the fees regime and related issues that deal with:
the model for calculating future fees;
the excess of costs over income for licensing authorities during the introduction and implementation of the Licensing Act 2003;
the level of future fees;
future enforcement and inspection activity;
future exemptions from licensing fees;
licensing of village halls and other community facility providers, including sports clubs, temporary event notices;
future fees for large events;
licensing of public spaces/land; and
a number of recommendations to simplify and shorten the application form processes.
I am very grateful to the independent panel for its commitment and hard work and pay tribute to it for the approach it has taken in the reviewing the fees regime over the past 18 months. We will now consider the implications of the panel’s recommendations in detail. Before reaching any final decision about the level of fees and related issues, there will be a full public consultation and an opportunity for stakeholder interests to inform our thinking and future policy.
Copies of the full report are available in the Vote Office and at www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/Alcohol_entertainment/monitoring_and_evaluation/ifeereview.htm.
Shipping: MSC Napoli
My honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Dr Stephen Ladyman) has made the following Ministerial Statement.
This Statement is to inform the House of the events surrounding the beaching of the MSC “Napoli” at Lyme Bay, east of Sidmouth. The chain of events began on the morning of 18 January. During severe weather conditions, the MSC “Napoli”, a UK registered vessel, experienced difficulties on the French side of the English Channel, 40 miles off Cornwall. The master of MSC “Napoli” made the decision that the danger was sufficient that the crew should abandon the ship. Despite the heavy seas, all of the crew were successfully rescued by UK helicopter from Royal Navy Air Station Culdrose.
In accordance with the Anglo-French Joint Maritime Contingency Plan (Mancheplan) the initial assistance to the ship was a French-led operation (conducted in close liaison with the UK Secretary of State's Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention—SOSREP). An on-scene assessment of the condition of the MSC “Napoli” was made, and the conclusion of this assessment was that the least environmentally risky option was to tow the vessel to a place of refuge in UK waters.
The need for a place of refuge and its location are always driven by the circumstances of an incident, including such event-specific data as the weather, the geographical whereabouts of the incident and the type of threat posed by the vessel and its cargo. On this occasion, the south coast of England provided better options for a place of refuge than the French coast. On the French coast, there were no suitable places of refuge within reasonable distance.
Accordingly, Portland Harbour was selected as the destination for the MSC “Napoli”, owing to the extent of its port facilities. A tow was attached on the evening of 18 January. However, in the early hours of 20 January, the condition of MSC “Napoli” began to worsen significantly due to continuing severe weather and it became clear that it would not be possible to reach Portland. Priority was given to giving the vessel shelter and to keeping it in one piece as there was real concern that the vessel might start to break up. The decision was made to turn the vessel towards an identified beaching site in the sheltered waters of Lyme Bay. Environmental groups and local authorities were consulted, and it was on this basis that the decision was taken to beach the ship just to the east of Sidmouth.
On the evening of 20 January, tugs attempted to pull MSC “Napoli” harder aground. At this time there was some leakage of oils into the water and a boom was deployed around the vessel to contain it. The oil leaking from MSC “Napoli” created an eight kilometre wide sheen.
The MSC “Napoli” was carrying approximately 2,300 containers, of which 157 are believed to contain hazardous materials, including perfume, pesticides and batteries. One hundred and three containers were lost overboard, and some have been washed ashore. Seventy-six of the containers have been found, many of which have been identified and have had their contents verified. The contents and positions of all but 27 containers have now been identified. Three of the containers washed ashore contained perfumes, small gas cylinders and battery acid.
Security around the Lyme Bay area has been a concern, with looting widely reported. A heavy police presence has been deployed in the area. The ship's owners have appointed a private security company to guard containers while the owners arrange for recovery. The beach at Branscombe has been fenced off and made secure. Footpaths down on to the beach are also fenced off, as Devon County Council temporarily closed the paths leading to the beach from Branscombe to Beer on Monday for health and safety reasons. Contractors appointed by the ship's owners to deal with any shoreline clean-up are setting up a compound by the beach to hold the waste and their equipment. Recovered material will be returned to the owner, recycled, or else will go to landfill.
SOSREP is leading the response to this incident. The national contingency plan has enabled us to take prompt and appropriate action in assisting the stricken MSC “Napoli” and there has been strong co-operation between SOSREP and all the parties concerned, including French authorities.
Because of the fast moving nature of this incident, I anticipate making a further Statement to the House next week.