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Written Statements

Volume 691: debated on Monday 16 April 2007

Written Statements

Monday 16 April 2007

Balkans: Reserve Forces

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Adam Ingram, has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

A new call-out order has been made under Section 56 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 so that Reservists may continue to be called out into permanent service to support military operations in the Balkans. The order took effect on 2 April 2007.

Some 190 Reservists were mobilised during the 12-month period ending 31 March 2007. Although the number of UK personnel in the Balkans is reducing, we expect to continue to call out Reservists to support operations in that theatre.

BBC: Chairman

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I wish to announce formally the appointment of Sir Michael Lyons as the new chairman of the BBC. Her Majesty the Queen approved his appointment in Council on 4 April and it will take effect from 1 May for a period of four years. Sir Michael brings a very wide range of experience and skills to the task of leading the BBC Trust in its role of representing the interests of licence fee payers, and in holding to account the Executive Board, which is responsible for the day-to-day management of the BBC. He and his colleagues on the trust have a unique part to play in the future of public service broadcasting through their continued delivery of the new model of governance at the BBC and I am confident that, in Sir Michael, the BBC will have a chairman of whom it can be proud.

The process by which Sir Michael was appointed followed the guidance of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments (OCPA), and was scrutinised by an OCPA independent assessor throughout. The post was advertised in the national press and on the DCMS and Cabinet Office websites, shortlisted candidates were interviewed by a selection panel that made recommendations to DCMS Ministers, who then made recommendations to the Queen through the Prime Minister. I am delighted that this rigorous open competition has resulted in the appointment of a very able and enthusiastic chairman who will help to ensure the BBC continues to thrive and adapt to new challenges in a changing environment.

I should also take this opportunity to express my tremendous gratitude to Dr Chitra Bharucha, who has, as acting chairman of the BBC, successfully overseen the launch of the new trust. She will continue to support the trust and its new chairman in her capacity as vice-chairman.

Companies House: Targets

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

I have set Companies House the following targets for the year 2007-08:

to ensure that Companies House Direct, WebCHeck and Web-Filing are available for 99 per cent of the time between the hours of 7 am and midnight, Monday to Saturday;

to achieve 55 per cent take-up for electronic submission of documents by the end of 2007-08;

to achieve, on average, a monthly compliance rate for accounts submitted of 95.3 per cent;

to ensure that 99.5 per cent of images placed on the Companies House image system are legible;

to achieve for 2007-08 a reduction, in real terms, of 10 per cent compared to 2004-05 in the unit cost of the range of transactions covering registration, company search and active register size;

to achieve a score of more than 86 per cent in each quarterly Companies House customer satisfaction survey;

to resolve 97 per cent of complaints within five days;

to achieve, taking one year with another, a 3.5 per cent average rate of return based on the operating surplus expressed as a percentage of average net assets;

to pay all bills within 30 days, or on other agreed credit terms, on receipt of goods or services or a valid invoice, whichever is later; and

the chief executive is to reply within 10 days to all letters from Members of Parliament delegated to him for reply.

Court Fees

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

The Department for Constitutional Affairs has published Civil Court Fees, a consultation paper, which sets out proposals to:

reform the system of fee exemptions and remissions;

increase fees for civil business in magistrates' courts; and

re-balance the fee structure in the other civil courts.

The purpose of the consultation is to identify in the package of proposals whether:

the new system of fee concessions is well targeted, simple, transparent and consistent;

the rebalanced structure of civil fees provides a closer match between income and cost drivers within the system; and

the particular increase in an individual fee might have specific untoward consequences.

Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and can also be obtained free on the department's website at the following web address: www.dca.gov.uk/consult/confr.htm#full.

The closing date for consultation is 25 June 2007.

Debt Management Office

My honourable friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Ed Balls, has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The UK Debt Management Office (DMO) has today published its business plan for the year 2007-08. Copies are available in the Library and from DMO's website at www.dmo.gov.uk.

Landmines

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn, has made the following Statement.

On 4 April, the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, I announced that the UK will commit £30 million to mine action over the next three years.

It is now eight years since the UK ratified the Mine Ban Treaty (the Ottawa convention). Since 2001 the Department for International Development has contributed at least £10 million per year on global mine action. Much has been achieved by the international community during this period: mine casualties continue to decline; there is virtually no trading of anti-personnel mines anywhere in the world; over 30 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines have been destroyed; and large areas of land have been cleared of mines and rendered productive again. The UK has made a significant contribution to this in a number of badly affected countries. For example, since 2002 DfID has spent over £6.5 million on demining projects in Afghanistan; during that time the number of casualties has more than halved. Similarly, DfID has provided over £2 million in Cambodia where the number of casualties has dropped from over 1,500 per year in the early 1990s to under 500 in 2006. More recently, following the conflict in Lebanon last year, DfID provided over £2.5 million for rapid response to remove cluster bombs and other unexploded ordnance from residential and agricultural areas.

Despite this, there remains much to be done. Casualty rates in the worst affected countries remain unacceptably high, as does the social and economic impact. Many countries are still heavily dependent on the support of the international community to deal with mines that contaminate their land.

Over the next three years, we will focus our assistance on direct mine action, and building developing country capacity to carry out mine action while continuing to encourage countries to ratify the Ottawa convention. We will aim to reduce the impact of mines in developing countries through support to well established and effective demining organisations. And we will help mine affected countries develop the means to manage and deal with the remaining problems themselves.