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Written Statements

Volume 692: debated on Thursday 24 May 2007

Written Statements

Thursday 24 May 2007

Assets Recovery

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Vernon Coaker, has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Seizing criminal assets delivers a wide range of benefits, from depriving criminals of capital to reducing the incentives for crime and the harm caused by crime, as well as promoting fairness and confidence in the criminal justice system. In 2006-07, the total amount recouped by all agencies involved in asset recovery in England, Wales and Northern Ireland was £125 million. This is a fivefold increase over five years. We want to build on this success. The Government are therefore publishing today an asset recovery action plan. The action plan has two purposes. First, it sets out robust proposals on how we are to reach our challenging target of recovering £250 million of the proceeds of crime by 2009-10. The plan goes on to outline, for consultation, policy proposals for taking things further, including some radical ideas to move towards the Government's long term vision of detecting up to £1 billion of criminal assets.

The consultation period will end on 23 November 2007. A copy of the action plan is being placed in the Library of the House.

Assets Recovery Agency

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Vernon Coaker, has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Assets Recovery Agency's annual report 2006-07 and annual plan 2007-08 have been laid before Parliament today.

The annual report covers the agency's fourth full year of operation and provides an assessment of performance against its annual plan 2006-07.

The agency has continued to build on its earlier successes in disrupting criminal groups and seizing their assets. In 2006-07, the total amount of realised receipts from assets recovered by the agency was a record £15.9 million. The agency disrupted a total of 114 criminal enterprises, 92 in England and Wales and 22 in Northern Ireland, exceeding the total minimum target of 90. It did so by the early restraint of assets to the value of £73.6 million which exceeded the stretch target of £65 million. The agency obtained civil recovery orders and tax assessments in 40 cases with a value of £16.6 million. It also adopted 45 cases for criminal confiscation investigation against a target of 15 cases.

The agency has delivered an extensive training and accreditation programme for financial investigators, again exceeding its targets.

The agency's annual plan 2007-08 has been prepared by the director of the agency and has been approved by Home Office and Northern Ireland Office Ministers. The plan focuses on the agency's aims, priorities and targets for the year ahead and sets out how it intends to exercise its functions in Northern Ireland.

The agency will continue to exercise its powers of investigation and asset recovery against criminals in support of the Government's commitment to taking the profit out of crime. The agency is committed to maintaining its efforts in the recovery of criminal assets during the transition period leading to the proposed merger with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, as provided for in the Serious Crime Bill.

Council of Europe and OECD: Tax

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

The United Kingdom signed the joint Council of Europe/OECD Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters on 24 May 2007. The text of the convention is published on the websites of both organisations. An Order in Council incorporating the provisions of the convention into domestic law will be laid before the House of Commons for approval in due course.

EU: Competitiveness Council

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Science and Innovation, Malcolm Wicks, has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The following Statement provides information on the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on 21 and 22 May 2007, at which I represented the UK.

Day one: Monday, 21 May

The council opened with a progress report on better regulation under the German presidency. There were also progress reports from the presidency on the mutual recognition (goods) regulation and on a common framework for the marketing of products (the new approach). The council noted progress on these dossiers without discussion.

Council conclusions on industrial policy were adopted. The main debate revolved around sectoral issues. Compromise wording regarding the financing of ship-building was agreed. Text was also agreed on plans to reduce CO2 emissions from cars, where member states called on the Commission to carry out a full impact assessment.

At the request of several member states, the Commission then presented its consumer policy strategy, which was published earlier this year. Member states did not intervene. A Council resolution is expected to be agreed at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council on 30 May.

The next item on the agenda was the consumer credit directive on which political agreement was reached. Discussion centred on the optional threshold below which those repaying a loan early should not have to pay compensation to lenders for the loss of agreed interest. Eventually, member states agreed to a compromise level of €10,000, thus enabling political agreement on a common position to be reached. The Netherlands and Greece voted against, and Belgium and Luxembourg abstained. I intervened to enter a minutes statement regretting the failure to carry out an impact assessment on this proposal and stressing that it should not set a precedent for other work in the field of financial services.

Day two: Tuesday, 22 May

The second day was devoted to research and space business. The fourth meeting of the Space Council was held between the Competitiveness Council and the council of the European Space Agency (ESA). I, along with a number of space Ministers, made brief statements about the importance of a European space policy (ESP). The council resolution on European space policy was unanimously adopted after Ministers' interventions.

Under the research items, the presidency reported on progress on negotiations on the European Institute of Technology on which I, and other member states, noted a number of outstanding issues which needed to be resolved, notably concerning financing.

The Commission presented its first two proposals for council regulations to establish joint technology initiatives, one on innovative medicines and the other on embedded computing systems.

A discussion took place on the European research area green paper, following the exchange at the informal meeting in Wurzburg in May. Member states emphasised the importance of the debate and welcomed the Commission's consultation process.

Linked to this discussion, council conclusions were adopted on research infrastructures, inviting member states to take forward the work of the European Strategic Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI).

Items covering other business were taken over the two days.

Luxembourg raised concerns about the impact of the proposal for a regulation on the law applicable to contractual obligations (Rome 1). I, supported by a number of other member states, echoed Luxembourg's concerns about its potential impact on the single market and regretted the lack of an impact assessment.

In addition, the council noted, without debate, information provided by the presidency on the following items:

the outcome of the Wurzburg informal Competitiveness Council on the internal market in global competition;

the state of play of the proposal for a directive on improving the effectiveness of review procedures concerning the award of public contracts;

the proposal for a directive amending directive 2003/87/EC so as to include aviation activities in the scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading within the Community;

the proposal for a directive laying down rules on nominal quantities for pre-packed products;

the European conference on innovation and market access through standardisation (Berlin, 26 and 27 March 2007);

the 4th European conference on craft industries (Stuttgart, 16 and 17 April 2007) (9095/07);

the European conference on tourism (Berlin/Potsdam, 15 and 16 May 2007);

the GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) Conference (Munich, 17 April 2007); and

the forthcoming Euro-Med research and education Ministers’ conference (Cairo, 18 June 2007).

The council noted the information provided by the Commission concerning the regulation on a globally harmonised system of classification and labelling.

The council also noted information from the Commission regarding forthcoming proposals to establish joint national research programmes under Article 169 of the treaty, to be presented during 2007 and 2008.

At Poland's request, the council took note of the information on Poland's proposal to organise the exhibition Expo 2012 in Wroclaw.

The council noted the information provided by the Italian delegation on Milan's candidacy to host Expo 2015 with the theme of “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”.

The council took note of the information provided by the Portuguese delegation on the work programme of the incoming presidency.

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority

My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health, Caroline Flint, has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The new edition of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's code of practice for infertility clinics has been approved and laid before Parliament today. The code has been placed in the Library and copies are available in the Vote Office for honourable Members.

Ministry of Defence: Royal School of Military Engineering

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Derek Twigg, has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Royal School of Military Engineering public/private partnership (PPP) project has for some time been assessing a range of options for the relocation of two units that fall within the scope of the project, the Defence Explosive Ordnance Disposal School (DEODS) and the National Search Centre (NSC) currently located at Lodge Hill/Chattenden in the Medway Towns, Kent.

These units were to have been relocated to the defence munitions centre at Kineton, Warwickshire, as part of the PPP solution. However, in late 2005 this move proved impracticable. In 2006, alternative sites, which were technically viable, were identified and costed by the contractor. These proposals have since been assessed by the MoD and following the conclusion of this work the MoD can confirm its intent to relocate the DEODS and NSC to Bicester thereby releasing land at Lodge Hill/Chattenden in the Medway Towns in Kent for the development of a new, sustainable mixed-use community.

Police: Grants

My honourable friend the Minister for Security, Counter Terrorism and Police, Tony McNulty, has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 19 February 2007, I announced the allocation to police authorities in England and Wales of an additional £25 million of capital for 2006-07, which came from money originally held back for restructuring.

The capital allocations to police authorities for 2007-08, which were announced in January 2006, had also been adjusted to take account of money which had been retained centrally for the capital costs associated with police force mergers.

I am pleased to be able to announce today that, as with last year, a further £25 million of capital is now available for distribution to police authorities for 2007-08. A breakdown of the allocation of this additional money is shown in the table attached. The money has been distributed in order to achieve the same outcome as would have been the case if it had been included in the original distribution.

As a consequence of this additional money, the total amount of capital grant allocated to police authorities in 2007-08 will be £195 million.

My officials are writing to police authorities and forces to inform them of this additional grant.

Police Capital Allocations 2007-08

Original Allocation £m

Extra £m

Total Allocation £m

Avon and Somerset Police Authority

3.712

0.554

4.266

Bedfordshire Police Authority

1.567

0.221

1.788

Cambridgeshire Police Authority

1.877

0.270

2.147

Cheshire Police Authority

2.361

0.374

2.735

City of London

1.362

0.190

1.552

Cleveland Police Authority

1.927

0.273

2.200

Cumbria Police Authority

1.364

0.192

1.556

Derbyshire Police Authority

2.305

0.344

2.649

Devon and Cornwall Police Authority

4.125

0.578

4.703

Dorset Police Authority

1.535

0.216

1.751

Durham Police Authority

1.853

0.265

2.118

Dyfed-Powys Police Authority

1.181

0.171

1.352

Essex Police Authority

3.402

0.549

3.951

Gloucestershire Police Authority

1.379

0.196

1.575

Greater Manchester Police Authority

8.645

1.267

9.912

Gwent Police Authority

1.684

0.236

1.920

Hampshire Police Authority

4.243

0.657

4.900

Hertfordshire Police Authority

2.067

0.385

2.452

Humberside Police Authority

2.612

0.369

2.981

Kent Police Authority

3.936

0.600

4.536

Lancashire Police Authority

4.081

0.594

4.675

Leicestershire Police Authority

2.546

0.358

2.904

Lincolnshire Police Authority

1.443

0.206

1.649

Merseyside Police Authority

5.103

0.720

5.823

Metropolitan Police Authority

44.973

6.552

51.525

Norfolk Police Authority

1.984

0.286

2.270

North Wales Police Authority

1.706

0.254

1.960

North Yorkshire Police Authority

1.570

0.249

1.819

Northamptonshire Police Authority

1.563

0.235

1.798

Northumbria Police Authority

4.676

0.703

5.379

Nottinghamshire Police Authority

2.754

0.407

3.161

South Wales Police Authority

3.654

0.513

4.167

South Yorkshire Police Authority

4.021

0.564

4.585

Staffordshire Police Authority

2.555

0.358

2.913

Suffolk Police Authority

1.636

0.231

1.867

Surrey Police Authority

2.163

0.384

2.547

Sussex Police Authority

3.294

0.530

3.824

Thames Valley Police Authority

5.479

0.789

6.268

Warwickshire Police Authority

1.491

0.260

1.751

West Mercia Police Authority

2.725

0.384

3.109

West Midlands Police Authority

9.173

1.344

10.517

West Yorkshire Police Authority

6.758

0.959

7.717

Wiltshire Police Authority

1.515

0.213

1.728

TOTAL

170.000

25.000

195.000

NB In line with the revenue grant increase in 2006-07, the capital grant announced in early 2006 was calculated as a flat rate reduction for all (the 2005-06 total was £210 million). The £25 million uplift has been applied similarly.

Allocations include supported capital expenditure (revenue). The £25 million grant increases have been applied to Police Grant (as they would if full allocation had been possible early in 2006) not to supported capital expenditure (revenue).

Regional Spatial Strategies

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

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government intends to publish on 29 May, for consultation, her proposed changes to the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy for the north-east.

The current regional spatial strategy, initially published as regional planning guidance (RPG1), became the regional spatial strategy in September 2004 with the enactment of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act. The regional spatial strategy is part of the statutory development plan and sets the framework for the production of local development frameworks and local transport plans.

A draft revision of the regional spatial strategy was submitted to the Government in June 2005 by the North East Assembly, and tested in an examination in public during March and April 2006. The report of the examination in public was published by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in August 2006. The next step is to publish the Secretary of State’s proposed changes for consultation, prior to finalisation and publication of the regional spatial strategy by the Secretary of State. On final publication it will supersede the current regional spatial strategy.

In proposing these changes, the Secretary of State has considered the recommendations of the independent panel that conducted the examination in public and has also taken into account all the representations made on the draft revision and changes in government policy since the draft revision was submitted.

The regional spatial strategy will set a framework for the development of the north-east region to 2021. It supports a continuing level of economic growth and a broad strategy for the location of new development. It includes proposals for the location of the main areas of housing and employment growth, and for improvements to the quality and management of transport infrastructure. It has policies to address climate change, waste management and environmental issues.

Also being published are the reports of a sustainability appraisal of the proposed changes and a draft appropriate assessment of the regional spatial strategy revision, in accordance with the European habitats directive.

At the start of the consultation, I will be writing to the North East Assembly with the proposed changes. Because a number of these changes involve new proposals by the Government, or the gathering of new information from the North East Assembly and other stakeholders, we have set in progress a two-stage consultation. During an initial 10-week period, we are requesting the North East Assembly and other stakeholders to provide additional information to help to finalise policies. After ministerial consideration of this, and all other representations, a further set of proposed changes will be published, for a further consultation lasting eight weeks. Whilst this will extend the overall timetable, we believe that this is justified in order to give all stakeholders a full opportunity to consider all the relevant material and the Secretary of State’s final proposals. Following consideration of responses to the consultation, the Secretary of State expects to publish the finalised regional spatial strategy for the north-east early in 2008.

Copies of the relevant documents, together with the reports of the sustainability appraisal and appropriate assessment, will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses at the end of May and will be provided to all of the region’s MPs, MEPs and local authorities.

Television: BSkyB and ITV

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

On 26 February 2007, I issued an intervention notice under Section 42(2) of the Enterprise Act 2002 in respect of British Sky Broadcasting Group's acquisition of a 17.9 per cent stake in ITV plc. This meant that, in accordance with Sections 44 and 44A of the Enterprise Act, on 27 April I received reports from the Office of Fair Trading on the competition effects of the transaction and from Ofcom on the effects of the transaction on the public interest consideration specified in the intervention notice. I am now required to take a decision under Section 45 of the Enterprise Act on whether to refer the transaction to the Competition Commission for fuller investigation. I have decided to refer the transaction to the Competition Commission under Section 45(2) of the Enterprise Act.

In reaching this decision I have had regard to the provisions of the relevant legislation and have given careful consideration to the reports I received from the Office of Fair Trading and Ofcom, including the summaries of the submissions made by the parties and by third parties that are contained in those reports. I have also considered carefully the additional representations my department subsequently received from British Sky Broadcasting and have obtained advice from Ofcom under Section 106B of the Enterprise Act on questions raised in those additional representations. In accordance with Section 106B(3) of the Enterprise Act, Ofcom will publish this further advice to me.

The Office of Fair Trading's report includes their decisions that:

it is or may be the case that a relevant merger situation has been created as a result of British Sky Broadcasting Group's acquisition of shares in ITV plc;

the creation of that merger situation has resulted, or may be expected to result, in a substantial lessening of competition such that further investigation by the Competition Commission is warranted; and

it is not appropriate to deal with the matter by way of undertakings in lieu of a reference.

I am bound by the Enterprise Act to accept these decisions. The report from Ofcom includes its conclusion that, as a result of the relevant merger situation, there may not be a sufficient plurality of persons with control of the media enterprises serving the UK cross-media audience for national news and the UK TV audience for national news. They advise that this may be expected to operate against the public interest and that a fuller investigation of the matter by the Competition Commission is warranted. In accordance with Sections 107(3)(b), 107(3)(ba) and 107(9)(a) of the Act, I am today publishing the reports I received from the Office of Fair Trading and Ofcom.

I consider the statutory thresholds for making a reference provided in Section 45(2) of the Enterprise Act are met in this case in that I believe that it is or may be the case that:

a relevant merger situation has been created;

the creation of that situation has resulted, or may be expected to result, in a substantial lessening of competition;

the public interest consideration mentioned in the intervention notice is relevant; and

taking account only of the substantial lessening of competition and the relevant public interest consideration, the creation of the situation operates or may be expected to operate against the public interest.

This decision to make a reference under Section 45(2) of the Enterprise Act 2002 means the Competition Commission will, in accordance with Section 47(2) of that Act, decide whether a relevant merger situation has been created, whether the creation of that situation has resulted or may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition and whether, taking account of the specified public interest consideration concerned, the situation operates or may be expected to operate against the public interest. Detailed investigation by the Competition Commission means the effect of the transaction on competition and media plurality will be examined in depth enabling substantive conclusions to be reached on the basis of all the relevant arguments and facts. Under Section 51 of the Enterprise Act, the Competition Commission is required to provide a report to me within 24 weeks of the date of the reference, although it may extend this deadline by up to eight weeks if there are special reasons why this is necessary.

Terrorism: Control Orders

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

I am today informing Parliament of an ongoing police operation to locate three British citizens who are believed to have absconded from control orders on Monday night.

It is believed that these individuals wanted to travel abroad for terrorism-related purposes. They are not considered at this time to represent a direct threat to the public in the UK. The control orders were therefore designed to prevent travel. Their control orders included obligations requiring them to surrender any travel documents and report each day to a local police station, and two of the individuals were required to phone a monitoring company each night. On the evening of 21 May, these two individuals failed to call the monitoring company. All three individuals failed to report to their local police station on 22 May.

Public safety is the top priority for the Government and the police. Locating these individuals is an operational matter for the police, and an active investigation is under way. On police operational advice, and to assist the investigation, I approached the High Court to lift the anonymity orders for these three individuals and this was agreed late yesterday afternoon. As a result, the police were able to make a public appeal as part of their ongoing investigation.

As I have consistently made clear, control orders are far from 100 per cent effective, but under our existing laws they are as far as we can go.

Unfortunately, within these limits, it is very difficult to prevent determined individuals from absconding. Nevertheless, I am already appealing to the House of Lords in several other control order cases about the interpretation of Article 5 ECHR (deprivation of liberty). We will consider other options—including derogation—if we have exhausted ways of overturning previous judgments on this issue.

Transport: Regional Funding Allocations

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Gillian Merron, has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The regional funding allocations (RFAs) process has, for the first time, given regions a say in decision-making about transport schemes that affect them at the regional and local levels. In July last year, the Government responded to the RFA advice submitted by regional bodies, welcoming the significant progress which each region had made. Following this, the Department for Transport launched a consultation inviting views on how the processes which were put in place to develop the transport aspects of the advice could be further improved. A summary of the responses to this consultation has been placed in the Libraries of the House and can also be found on the department's website at: www.dft.gov.uk.

The Government are considering the options for taking the RFA exercise forward as part of the wider sub-national review of economic development and regeneration, which will report to my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007.

Trust Ports

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

I am today announcing the publication of a report on future reform of the trust port sector. More than 50 ports in England and Wales are trust ports; independent statutory bodies, governed by unique local legislation and controlled by an independent board rather than shareholders. While many trust ports are no longer commercially active, the many that are include Dover and Milford Haven—two ports of prominent national significance—as well as other major ports such as the Tyne and the Port of London Authority with its vital conservancy duties in the Thames Estuary.

The department wished to understand better how to optimise the efficiency and accountability of the major trust ports, and to this end in January 2007 appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) to carry out a study of the sector, including an analysis of the ports' efficiency, accountability to stakeholders and options for voluntary corporate restructuring. While the study concerned primarily the six largest commercial trust ports, its findings will be of interest to all trust ports and to the wider ports industry.

In broad terms, the report concludes that the trust model retains a legitimate role within a mixed ports sector but that, in the absence of shareholders, trust ports should do more to identify, and account for, the use of their profits—what the report terms their “stakeholder dividend”. The report also concludes that, while the largest trust ports operate on a sound commercial basis, in some cases their financial performance falls short of that of their private sector comparators, and recommends a series of measures to ensure that these important pieces of national infrastructure are able to meet their potential. Levels of accountability among trust ports are also found generally to be good, but with room for improvement, and the resultant recommendations point towards enhanced reporting and updated governance arrangements. PwC explored various voluntary options for structural change including the creation of an operating subsidiary below the level of the trust board, which could involve private sector participation.

The study represents a valuable contribution to the debate on the trust port sector. The various recommendations contained in the report have been considered and the Government will bring forward refreshed guidance for trust ports in England and Wales later this year, following further discussion with the industry based on these recommendations. Copies of the report are available in the Libraries of both Houses.