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Written Statements

Volume 694: debated on Wednesday 25 July 2007

Written Statements

Wednesday 25 July 2007

Armed Forces: ABRO and DARA

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

On the 22 May 2007, (Official Report, Commons col. 67WS), the MoD announced its intention to create a new defence support group by merging together ABRO, retained DARA business units and certain other defence support facilities. I can now confirm that, following the successful conclusion of trade union consultation, the MoD will proceed with implementation of this merger. The new support group will begin formal trading by April 2008, subject to securing the necessary parliamentary approval.

I can also confirm that work continues to progress the sale option for DARA's rotary wing and components businesses. Vector Aerospace has been selected as the preferred bidder, and I hope to be able to make a definitive announcement on the way forward later this year, subject to trade union consultation, completion of due diligence, and the satisfactory conclusion of negotiations that demonstrate the sale provides best value for defence.

Armed Forces: Mental Health

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Derek Twigg) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement:

I advised the House on 19 June 2007 (Official Report, Commons, col. 1752W), on 30 January 2007 (Official Report, Commons, col. 155W) and on 8 January (Official Report, Commons, col. 91W) that the department has been reviewing its methods of collating figures on service personnel diagnosed with a mental health disorder. I am pleased to be able to inform the House that the review process has now been completed and that the Defence Analytical Services Agency (DASA) will today be publishing its first quarterly report based on an improved method of collecting information on its website, www.dasa.mod.uk. Copies will also be made available in the Library of the House.

The department has moved from a system of recording and reporting mental health statistics relating solely to Operation TELIC (Iraq) to a new system covering all in-service personnel assessed with a mental health disorder at the Ministry of Defence’s out-patient departments of community mental health (DCMH). The report also includes a return for new in-patient admissions under the MoD’s contract with the Priory Group. The new reporting system has several advantages over the old:

it is more comprehensive, because it covers all service personnel;

it is more robust, because it verifies individual records of mental disorder against other data sets, such as deployment databases; and

there is less potential for subjective bias, because individual staff members in the DCMHs are no longer being asked to make a judgment as to whether a mental disorder is attributable to a specific operation.

The findings to date show that the numbers of service personnel assessed with a mental disorder in the first quarter of 2007 are low—around 5.8 per 1,000 strength, or 0.58 per cent of the total Armed Forces population. The numbers of service personnel assessed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during the same period are around 0.3 per 1,000 strength, or 0.03 per cent of the total Armed Forces population. The actual numbers of individuals affected is 41 from Iraq and 13 from Afghanistan.

Any casualty of combat is clearly a matter of regret and we are committed to helping those whose mental health suffers. The publication of the first results of our new method of collecting and analysing data demonstrates our continuing commitment to understanding the true relationship between service on deployed operations and mental ill health and to making the results available to inform Parliament and the public.

In recent years, the department has developed pre- and post-deployment briefing and training to all personnel, but in particular to medical staff and the chain of command, to increase awareness of mental illness and to mitigate the development of PTSD and other stress-related disorders occurring among service personnel. It has configured our mental health services to provide community-based mental health care in line with national best practice, establishing 15 military departments of community mental health across the UK (plus satellite centres overseas). It has introduced a reserves mental health programme to assess and, if appropriate, treat recently demobilised reserves. It has expanded the scope of its medical assessment programme (MAP) at St Thomas’s Hospital to provide assessments by an expert in military mental health for any veterans suffering from mental health problems since 1982. It has also been working with UK health departments and clinical experts to establish a new community-based arrangement that will make available to NHS health professionals expertise in the assessment and treatment of veterans’ mental health problems; pilots to trial this arrangement will be launched shortly.

I am confident that the more comprehensive quarterly reports will offer an increased understanding of mental health statistics as the data set grows over the coming years.

Armed Forces: Operation Banner

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

On 31 July, Operation Banner will come to an end; the Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy having delivered continuous support to the police and civil authorities in Northern Ireland for 38 years. It will have been the longest continuous deployment of UK Armed Forces in their history.

As we move into a new era with fewer than 5,000 troops resident in Northern Ireland, trained and available for deployment worldwide, the military will retain some limited but specific responsibilities with the capability to deploy in situations of extreme public disorder in support of the Police Service of Northern Ireland under a new operation to be known as Operation Helvetic. The troops deployed in such circumstances would come from wherever they are available at the time. In addition, provision of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) will continue.

Across the UK the Armed Forces can provide support to the civil authorities during emergencies under normal military aid to civil authorities tasking arrangements. Where there is an imminent threat to life, such as a major accident or natural disaster, the authorities can call upon local military commanders for support. After 1 August the vast majority of military support in Northern Ireland will be broadly comparable to the assistance that is currently provided in Great Britain, tailored for the particular circumstances in Northern Ireland. Additionally, while the Armed Forces are not responsible for maintaining national security in the UK, that does not mean that they would not and could not provide specific support in this area to a civil authority when requested to do so. Again, the approach in Northern Ireland will be brought more closely into line with that on the mainland.

As indicated in the Good Friday agreement, military helicopters will continue to be based in Northern Ireland, but with a worldwide deployable role. As a consequence, essential flying training will continue in order to maintain the skills of the aircrew and, with Northern Ireland designated as Low Flying Area 19, the training emphasis will be similar to other areas within the UK. Helicopters will also continue to be used in Northern Ireland in support of the civil authorities. It is important to note that the civil authorities in Northern Ireland do not have access to large numbers of civilian helicopters and we will continue to provide support to them.

1 August marks the beginning of a new era for the UK Armed Forces in Northern Ireland when, as with other parts of the country, the military will become very much part of the community. The impact of the commitment since 1969 has been considerable on both the military themselves and the MoD civilians supporting them. They and the community at large have suffered both death and injury. We should take this opportunity to remember the commitment, bravery and sacrifice of all those who have served over so many years in helping to deliver the current, more settled and more optimistic circumstances. Our recognition will culminate in a commemorative service to be held in the spring of 2008 as announced by my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence in his Statement of 9 May 2007 (Official Report, Commons, col. 11 WS).

Child Maintenance

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

The Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill currently before this House provides for a non-departmental public body, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, to administer the statutory scheme of child maintenance in place of the Child Support Agency. Schedule 1 to the Bill states that the commission will be headed by a chair and a chief executive.

The recruitment process for the chair has already begun. This is in anticipation of Royal Assent in spring 2008: by commencing the recruitment process at this stage, we intend that a chair will be in place when the commission comes into being as a legal entity following Royal Assent. This will ensure that the commission has the clear leadership, direction and accountability that it requires in place from day one.

Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £300,000 for this new service will be sought in a supplementary estimate for the Department for Work and Pensions. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £300,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.

Children: Common Assessment Framework

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am announcing today the support that the Government will provide to front-line professionals in children’s services by implementing a single national IT system to support the common assessment framework (eCAF).

The common assessment framework (CAF) is a key element of the Every Child Matters programme to transform children’s services by supporting more effective prevention and early intervention. Its goal is to provide a standardised approach for practitioners in the holistic assessment of a child’s needs and the design of an integrated service to meet those needs.

By facilitating a greater number of early interventions, eCAF will shift the focus from dealing with the consequences of difficulties in children’s lives to preventing them from happening in the first place. By facilitating better collaboration between practitioners and encouraging needs-led intervention, eCAF will directly improve the experience of service provision for children and families.

Any given case with a child can involve multiple agencies working across borders, both geographic and organisational. It is, therefore, essential that any supporting mechanism for CAF provides practitioners from different sectors with easy access to key information concerning the assessment to allow them to plan, monitor and review a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of the most appropriate services. eCAF is the response to this need.

eCAF will allow a practitioner to create electronically, store and share a CAF securely. Completion of CAFs by different agencies and the subsequent exchanges of data between relevant agencies promote multi-agency working and early interventions. The complexities of cross-border work are removed, as eCAF provides a consistent approach for all practitioners working in different agencies and locations, thus facilitating the effective and efficient delivery of a co-ordinated service.

eCAF will hold information about only some (not all) children, with consent and for a limited period of time. It will offer a systematic means of capturing:

details of the child/young person being assessed (ie name, gender, date of birth, contact details, ethnicity and immigration details);

details that might be useful for the practitioners working with the child (ie child’s first language, parent’s first language, disability and whether an interpreter or any other special requirements are needed);

people present at the assessment;

details of parent/carer (ie name, relationship, contact details);

family structure, described by the practitioner using free text;

details of person undertaking assessment (ie name, organisation and contact details);

name and contact number for the lead professional if applicable;

details of other services working with the child/young person (ie school, GP);

assessment summary, appropriately captured by the practitioner using free text; and

consent-based, planned actions, reviewing progress and a summary of the outcomes, all summarised appropriately by the practitioner using free text.

Children, young people or, where appropriate, their parents or carers will be able to ask to see their records and to challenge any inaccuracies, in accordance with data protection legislation.

Using eCAF, the assessment process will be enhanced through the removal of unnecessary administration and inherent business issues, allowing practitioners to focus on activities that have the greatest impact. Business issues that eCAF will reduce include unnecessary repeat assessments, inappropriate referrals and inappropriate interventions. Efficiency gains from the reduction of these business issues are expected to yield savings estimated at £150 million over the first eight years from the inception of the national system. We do not intend to reduce funding for children’s services, but instead we intend to enable savings realised to be reinvested in more and better services for children and more effective use of staff time. We anticipate that this will enhance staff satisfaction with their jobs.

Using proven technology, the system will be built and implemented on a single nationally hosted infrastructure that all practitioners will use. Data will be held in a single physical location enabling practitioners easily to work together, accessing the most up-to-date information. The system will have the ability to share data with other case management systems in order to avoid duplication of input when specialist assessments are created. Locally owned systems can be modified to take advantage of this functionality.

The Government will ensure that the eCAF system is secure and will therefore ensure that it complies with rigorous security standards. Access to it will be granted only to authorised users who have undergone appropriate checks, including those provided by the Criminal Records Bureau. Practitioner use of the eCAF system will be audited to ensure that information is accessed only where it is necessary for practitioners to do so, and so guard against inappropriate access by authorised users.

Our decision to provide a single national eCAF system has been arrived at using input from stakeholders, the lessons learnt from five local eCAF pilot systems and a comprehensive analysis of eight options, covering a range of variants, from devolved responsibility to a more central approach.

The Government are planning to commit one-off implementation costs estimated to be £44.5 million in total across the next six financial years (including VAT)—this includes funding to roll out the system nationally and to ensure that practitioners are trained to use the system properly. Operating costs, thereafter, will be £6.4 million per year (including VAT). Both set-up and running costs will be funded by central government so that the costs to local authorities do not form a pressure on the council tax.

Implementation will be led by a dedicated project team within DCSF. The project team will work closely with stakeholders across local authorities to ensure that developments continue to be relevant and lead to more effective practice.

Comprehensive Spending Review

My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr Alistair Darling) has made the following Written Statement.

I propose to present the Pre-Budget Report and the conclusions of the Comprehensive Spending Review in a single Statement to the House in October.

Courts: Fees

My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing the outcome of the recent consultation on civil court fees. The consultation paper was published on 2 April and the consultation closed on 25 June. Some 77 responses were received from the judiciary, legal professions and other stakeholder bodies.

After careful consideration of these, I have, with some adjustments, decided to proceed with the changes proposed. Three statutory instruments containing the new civil, family and non-contentious probate court fees will be laid before the House tomorrow and will take effect on 1 October.

A further statutory instrument containing the new fees for magistrates’ courts is still being drafted and will be laid during the Recess. However, this should not affect the implementation date. A report analysing the responses to consultation will be published on 1 October.

The current system of exemptions and remissions has been replaced with a new system of concessions that will apply to all the fees orders. The scheme will be based on two distinct tests.

The first test will determine whether the applicant is automatically entitled to a full remission of the court fee. This will apply if the applicant is currently receiving a prescribed means-tested benefit or, failing that, can demonstrate that their gross household income is below a threshold that probably entitles them to such a benefit.

The second, more detailed, test will consider both gross income and fixed outgoings to assess the applicant’s net or disposable income. The applicant may then be required to pay a contribution towards the fee based on a fraction of their disposable income. This system is a simplified version of the means test for legal aid.

In light of the responses received, we have reconsidered the original proposals and have adjusted some of the fees accordingly, putting together a package of solutions that positively and affordably addresses the majority of concerns. Those are as follows.

A majority agreed that the new concession should have a residual discretion to grant remission in exceptional circumstances not covered by the means test. A clause has been added to allow this. Full training will be given to staff to understand what can and cannot be considered exceptional to maximise consistency.

Vexatious litigants who would normally be exempt from paying court fees due to financial hardship will be required to pay the full fee of an application for permission to bring a case.

Some of the proposals for downstream civil fees have been adjusted to better reflect the cost of the stages concerned; for example, the fee for allocation questionnaires and listing questionnaires has changed. This has created scope to make larger reductions to some of the higher-issue fees than originally proposed, meeting the criticism that these were too low.

In the magistrates’ courts, a fee of £400 was proposed for appeals against the decisions of public authorities, mainly licensing decisions. Some respondents objected that this proposal was likely to deter those individuals from appealing to the granting of liquor licences in their neighbourhood. As a consequence, the definition has been amended so that it applies only to an appeal against a decision by a local authority to refuse a licence. The general fees that apply to miscellaneous magistrates’ civil proceedings will apply to an appeal against the granting of a licence.

Many consultees disagreed with the scale of proposed increases to fees for ancillary matters such as oaths, copying and searches. As a consequence, a number of detailed adjustments have been made.

The proposal to pilot daily hearing fees in the specialist commercial jurisdictions in 2008 was met with opposition from respondents representing the views of legal practitioners and the judiciary of those courts. We therefore propose to review the scope proposed, to then be the subject of a target consultation. As a result, any introduction of a scheme is unlikely to take place before 2009.

Crime: DNA Database

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Identity (Meg Hillier) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Further to the Written Ministerial Statement made by my right honourable friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) on 16 February 2006, on the subject of the National DNA Database, I am pleased to announce that we are establishing an ethics group to provide Ministers with independent ethical advice on the operation and practice of the National DNA Database (NDNAD).

The ethics group will be chaired by Professor Peter Hutton, professor of anaesthesia at the University of Birmingham. Its membership will be as follows:

Mrs Wendy Coates;

Ms Madeleine Colvin;

Mr Michael Menlowe;

Dr Andrea Pearson;

Dr Clive Richards;

Dr Sarmeer Sarkar;

Ms Sarah Thewlis; and

Dr Suzy Walton.

The ethics group is being established as an advisory non-departmental public body. Its role in relation to the NDNAD will include:

reviewing the appropriateness of policy and practice;

ensuring the maintenance of high ethical standards in decision-making; and

ensuring that the public interest is properly served in relation to the way in which DNA samples and profiles are provided and stored.

The ethics group will also provide advice on:

research applications that involve access to NDNAD samples or data;

operational services provided by suppliers that rely on access to NDNAD samples or data; and

matters referred to it by Ministers; by the NDNAD strategy board or on its own initiative.

The ethics group will submit a formal report by the end of April each year and this will be published by the Home Office.

I am arranging for the protocol that will govern the operation of the ethics group to be placed in the Library.

Criminal Records Bureau: Annual Report and Accounts

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Identity (Meg Hillier) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement:

I am pleased to announce that copies of the annual report and accounts for the Criminal Records Bureau 2006-07 have been placed in the Library of the House today. Arrangements are now in hand for their publication.

EU: Economic and Financial Affairs Council

My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Alistair Darling) has made the following Written Statement.

The Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held on 10 July in Brussels. The items on the agenda were as follows:

Presidency Work Programme

The Portuguese presidency presented its work programme for the next six months. This includes: economic policy, in particular the enlargement of the euro area, the implementation of the stability and growth pact, improving the quality of public finances, the Lisbon strategy for jobs and growth, and the mid-term review of the European growth initiative; the EU’s better regulation initiative; completion of the EU’s internal market; and the EU’s budget for 2008.

Implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact

Ministers agreed Council opinions on the stability programme for Austria and the convergence programme for the Czech Republic. Euro-area member states are required every year to present stability programmes, and non-euro-area member states convergence programmes under the terms of the stability and growth pact. Ministers agreed a decision that the Czech Republic has not complied with the terms of its excessive deficit procedure, and examined a communication from the Commission that concludes that Hungary is taking sufficient action in response to its excessive deficit procedure.

The Euro

Ministers adopted decisions allowing Cyprus and Malta to join the euro on 1 January 2008 and regulations setting permanent conversion rates for the Cypriot pound and the Maltese lira against the euro.

Public Finances in 2007

Ministers held an exchange of views on the Commission report, which contained proposals aimed at strengthening the functioning of the preventive arm of the stability and growth pact. Ministers expect to return to the topic at ECOFIN in October.

International Accounting Standards Board: Governance and Financing

Ministers agreed conclusions emphasising the importance of international financial reporting standards for EU financial markets and the need for strong governance and stable funding of the International Accounting Standards Board.

Global Navigation Satellite System (Galileo)

Ministers held an exchange of views on the possible additional public financing of Galileo, the EU’s global satellite navigation system. The UK continued to push for full clarity on costs and a solution that avoids any reopening or revision of the financial perspective.

IMF Managing Director

Following the resignation of the IMF director, Rodrigo de Rato, ECOFIN also discussed the appointment of a successor. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was suggested as a European candidate. Whilst the Chancellor stressed that he would be a strong and credible candidate, he said that it was important for the IMF to run an open and competitive process for the managing director post.

Highways Agency: Annual Report and Accounts

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Tom Harris) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The Highways Agency annual report and accounts for 2006-07 are published today under Section 7 of the Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000. Copies of the report are available in the Libraries of both Houses.

Identity and Passport Service: Annual Report and Accounts

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Identity (Meg Hillier) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) annual report and accounts 2006-07 have been laid before Parliament today. Copies have been placed in the House Library and are available on the IPS website.

Immigration: Removal Centres

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration and for the West Midlands (Liam Byrne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Following the disturbances at Harmondsworth immigration removal centre last November and Campsfield House immigration removal centre in March this year, Mr Robert Whalley CB was asked to carry out an inquiry into the circumstances leading to both events. I can announce that the inquiry is now complete and that the resulting report has been published today.

I am grateful to Mr Whalley and his team for carrying out the inquiry and can confirm that the report has been submitted to Lin Homer, the chief executive of the Border and Immigration Agency. I have put a copy of the report in the House Library, together with a copy of the agency’s action plan responding to recommendations made by the report for both Harmondsworth and Campsfield House.

I have accepted Mr Whalley’s recommendations in full. Action plans have been prepared and combined with an ambitious strategy for increasing deportations of foreign nationals who are in the UK illegally. I commenced this action plan yesterday by breaking the ground on the new Brook House immigration removal centre at Gatwick. Alongside this, I can announce that I have approved plans to strengthen and expand Harmondsworth immigration removal centre. We will incorporate lessons learnt from Harmondsworth and Campsfield in the new designs. The Brook House development, along with our plans to redevelop the Harmondsworth site, will boost projected detention space by 23 per cent.

The removal of failed asylum seekers was at its highest level in 2006. The increased capacity of the new wings at Harmondsworth and the new Brook House will provide a major contribution to our plans for doubling resources for immigration policy.

Land Registry: Electronic Conveyancing

My honourable friend the Minister of State (Michael Wills) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

On Friday 10 August 2007, Land Registry will launch a formal consultation exercise to seek views on proposals to create electronic legal charges (a form of mortgage) and other services that it proposes to make available on the Land Registry network during 2008.

Proposed new land registration rules would, among other things, prescribe an electronic charge as the first kind of electronic disposition of registered land in England and Wales. Once an electronic legal charge has been created, a customer will be able to apply, using the Land Registry network, for it to be registered.

It is proposed that the Land Registry network will also be used to provide an enlarged and enhanced electronic lodgement service in respect of applications for certain entries in the register and an enhanced chain matrix, an information tool that allows conveyancers and others to view the status of linked conveyancing transactions.

Subject to the outcome of the proposals and the advice and assistance of the Rule Committee, it is anticipated that the new rules would come into force during 2008.

Local Government: Future Unitary Structures

My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government (John Healey) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 27 March 2007, my honourable friend the then Minister for Local Government announced that 16 of the 26 proposals from local authorities for the creation of unitary local government would proceed to stakeholder consultation. These proposals were in response to our invitation to councils issued on 26 October 2006.

The stakeholder consultation ended on 22 June. Since then, we have reassessed the 16 proposals against the five criteria in our original invitation, having regard to all the further material and representations received as a result of that consultation and to all other currently available relevant information.

These five criteria are that change to future unitary structures must be affordable, and be supported by a broad cross-section of partners and stakeholders; and that the future structures must provide strong, effective and accountable strategic leadership, deliver genuine opportunities for neighbourhood flexibility and empowerment, and deliver value for money and equity on public services.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has now decided to proceed as follows.

She is minded to implement the nine unitary proposals listed in Table 1 below, if and when the necessary legislative provisions in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, which passed this House on 22 May and is currently being considered in the other place, are enacted.

Her judgment is that there is a reasonable likelihood that all these proposals, if implemented, would achieve the outcomes specified by the five criteria, and we believe that we can afford to implement them all. We do not therefore need to prioritise these proposals in order to decide which ones to implement, as explained in the Written Statement on 27 March.

These new unitaries, as they move towards implementation, will need to take into account our developing agenda for empowering citizens and communities and for stronger economic leadership, as set out in the Government’s Green Paper Governance of Britain, published on 3 July, and in the Review of Sub-national Economic Development and Regeneration, published on 17 July. Implementation will also need to take into account the recommendations of our Councillors Commission when it reports in November.

We recognise on the basis of the available information that in four cases—the proposals from Bedford Borough Council, Chester City Council, Exeter City Council, and Ipswich Borough Council—there are risks to their achieving the outcomes specified by the affordability criterion. Accordingly, we are asking these councils to undertake further work and submit additional information on the financial viability of their proposals. We will have regard to this information along with all other relevant available information before taking final decisions, if and when the Bill is enacted.

Implementing Bedford Borough Council’s proposal means that we must consider the future local government structures for the remaining county area. We are satisfied that this area needs unitary local government and we intend formally to invite all the other councils in Bedfordshire to propose a unitary solution that would meet our five criteria for that remaining area.

Once implemented, these nine proposals, on the basis of councils’ current estimates, will save over £150 million annually, giving councils opportunities for improved services and lower council taxes. The proposals open the door to creating new flagship councils that can lead the way on meeting today’s challenges of promoting prosperity, empowering citizens and communities, and modernising local service delivery.

Table 1—Proposals that we are minded to implement

Councils submitting proposals

Proposed unitary structure

Bedford Borough Council

Bedford Unitary

Chester City Council

2 Unitary Cheshire

Cornwall County Council

County Unitary

Durham County Council

County Unitary

Exeter City Council

Exeter Unitary

Ipswich Borough Council

Ipswich Unitary

Northumberland County Council

County Unitary

Shropshire County Council

County Unitary

Wiltshire County Council

County Unitary

In addition, the Secretary of State is minded to request the Boundary Committee of the Electoral Commission to advise on Norwich City Council’s proposal, if and when the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill is enacted. She intends to specify in her request that the matters on which the committee’s advice is sought include whether for the areas affected by this proposal—Norwich city and the remaining Norfolk area—there could be alternative unitary solutions involving boundary changes that would meet the five criteria set out in the original invitation.

She judges that there is not a reasonable likelihood of Norwich City Council’s proposal, based on the city’s current boundaries, if it were to be implemented, achieving all the outcomes specified by the five criteria, particularly the affordability criterion. We believe, having regard to the circumstances of Norwich, that alternative proposals based on revised city boundaries would achieve these outcomes.

Further, the Secretary of State is minded not to implement the six unitary proposals that were subject to stakeholder consultation and are listed in Table 2 below.

Table 2—Proposals that we are not minded to implement

Councils submitting proposals

Proposed unitary structure

Bedfordshire County Council

County Unitary

Cheshire County Council

County Unitary

Cumbria Council

County Unitary

Northumberland Districts

2 Unitary Northumberland

North Yorkshire County Council

County Unitary

Somerset County Council

County Unitary

For two of these proposals—from Bedfordshire County Council and Cheshire County Council—we judge that there is a reasonable likelihood that, if implemented, they would achieve the outcomes specified by the five criteria. However, these proposals are alternatives to unitary proposals that the Secretary of State is minded to implement as we believe that these latter proposals are likely to deliver to a greater extent the outcomes on leadership, neighbourhood empowerment and public services than the proposals from the county councils. For the remaining four proposals, we judge that there is not a reasonable likelihood of them, if implemented, achieving the outcomes specified by all the five criteria.

I also confirm that we remain minded not to implement the 10 proposals that my honourable friend announced in March would not proceed to stakeholder consultation.

In all cases where unitary proposals are not proceeding, all the councils involved now need to put in place new collaborative ways of working together to promote the prosperity of their local areas, empower their citizens and communities, and modernise local service delivery. In such areas, we will look to the councils together to achieve the same level of outcomes and efficiency gains as the highest-performing unitary councils.

The five pathfinder proposals from councils in Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Hertfordshire, Lincolnshire, and Suffolk should, as they are taken forward and develop, lead the way for all councils in remaining two-tier areas to deliver better services and achieve efficiency gains.

Accordingly, I am today informing the pathfinder councils that we wish to work with them with a view to their pioneering new and innovative models of two-tier working as explained in our White Paper Strong and Prosperous Communities: The Local Government White Paper (Cm 6939-1). As indicated in the White Paper, we intend these pathfinders to be subject to independent long-term evaluation. This evaluation, reporting at regular intervals, will look both at the processes of changing to new governance models and at the results that the new models are delivering.

Missile Defence

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 5 February 2003, the then Secretary of State for Defence announced the Government’s agreement to a request from the US to upgrade the ballistic missile early warning system radar at RAF Fylingdales. The UK already makes a contribution to US capability in the area of missile warning, through our operation of the radar at RAF Fylingdales. That upgrade process is now complete and we expect that the radar will switch its operations to the new equipment from August 2007. There is no change to the existing UK-US mission for the radar, and the station remains under full UK command. Its primary mission is to warn of ballistic missile attack, with secondary functions of space surveillance and satellite warning. The radar will contribute to the US ballistic missile defence system, alongside a global network of other US-owned sensors based on land, at sea and in space, and the data that it produces are shared between the UK and US military authorities. The UK will have full insight into the operation of the US missile defence system when missile engagements take place that are wholly or partly influenced by data from the radar at RAF Fylingdales.

Also, at RAF Menwith Hill, equipment will be installed and operated by the US Government to allow receipt of satellite warnings of potentially hostile missile launches and will pass this warning data to both UK and US authorities. The data will also be fed into the US ballistic missile defence system for use in its response to any missile attack on the US. This will guarantee the UK’s continued access to essential missile attack warning data, as well as enhancing the ability of the US to deal with any attack aimed at that country.

The Government welcome US plans to place further missile defence assets in Europe to address the emerging threat from rogue states. We welcome assurances from the US that the UK and other European allies will be covered by the system elements that it proposes to deploy to Poland and the Czech Republic and we have been exploring ways in which the UK can continue to contribute to the US system as well as to any future NATO missile defence system.

These developments reflect the Government’s continuing commitment to supporting the development of the US missile defence system. We continue to regard this system as a building block to enhance our national and collective security. NATO has made no decisions about acquiring missile defence for the alliance and we want to examine how the US system can be complemented and built on to provide wider coverage for Europe. We have no plans to site missile interceptors in the UK but will keep this under review as the threat evolves. We also want to reassure Russia about the defensive nature and intent of the US system as it develops and to take forward alliance co-operation with it in the field of missile defence.

NHS: Pharmaceutical Services

My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo), has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

My right honourable friend the former Minister of State (Andy Burnham) announced the outcome of a departmental review of the progress made in reforming market entry arrangements for community pharmacies in England (Official Report, Commons, col. 19WS). This report found that, while still early days, those reforms had had a modest albeit uneven impact and identified a number of concerns.

To address these, my right honourable friend therefore announced a review of National Health Services pharmaceutical contractual arrangements. This would meet the commitment in paragraph 4.47 of Our Health, Our Care, Our Say to develop pharmaceutical contractual arrangements in line with the wider ambitions of that White Paper. He appointed Anne Galbraith, former chair of the Prescription Pricing Authority, to lead the review.

Anne presented her report to Ministers in the spring. We have been considering and continue to consider Anne’s findings and conclusions carefully. The Pharmacy All-Party Group also recently completed its own inquiry into pharmacy services, published on 26 June at www.appg.org.uk/inquiry.htm.

I believe that it is important that we reflect further on these reports in the context of wider developments that are taking place in the NHS and in particular the wide-ranging review that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health (Alan Johnson) announced to the House on 4 July (Official Report, Commons, col. 962).

We have therefore decided to defer responding formally to Anne’s review until later this autumn. We will come forward with a White Paper, which will set out our future proposals for developing pharmacy services and any legislative reform necessary. We remain committed to pharmacy, its place in the NHS and its role in delivering quality services to patients and consumers.

In advance of this, we are launching today a departmental consultation on proposals to transfer to primary care trust allocations residual money still held centrally at the department to support NHS pharmaceutical services.

This money, known as the “global sum”, covers a range of fees and allowances that are payable to community pharmacies under the national contractual framework for the provision of dispensing and other essential pharmaceutical services. Central funding also similarly pays appliance contractors, who supply patients with items such as stoma and incontinence care aids.

This proposal, subject to parliamentary approval, would not come into force earlier than April 2009. It would bring this funding stream into line with other funding, which already pays pharmaceutical contractors for the costs of the drugs and appliances that they dispense, and align funding systems with those of other primary care professionals such as general practitioners and dentists.

Although this is a small change to the legislation, it is important that the NHS and other organisations are given the opportunity to consider it in full prior to our introducing the necessary legislation.

The consultation document has been placed in the Library and copies are available to honourable members from the Vote Office. It is also available on the department’s website at: www.dh.gov.uk/en/Consultations /Liveconsultations/index.htm.

Consultation will end on 16 October 2007. We look forward to hearing the results. Subject to the outcome of this consultation, we expect to include these proposals in the forthcoming Health and Social Care Bill.

Northern Ireland: Scott Review

In January 2006, Mrs Brenda Downes commenced judicial review proceedings in the High Court in Belfast relating to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland’s appointment of Mrs Bertha McDougall as interim victims commissioner. At the conclusion of the proceedings, the trial judge, Girvan J, raised a number of issues relating to the way in which the Government have complied with their duty of candour in the proceedings and listed 68 questions that he considered needed investigating. He referred the matter to my predecessor in office, Lord Goldsmith.

Lord Goldsmith told this House on 23 November 2006 that he had decided to appoint an independent reviewer to investigate the concerns raised by Girvan J and to report to him. On 4 December 2006, he announced that he had appointed a very experienced counsel, Peter Scott QC, to carry out the review. His terms of reference were, further to the referral of papers to the Attorney-General by Girvan J and in the light of his judgments of 9 November and 20 November 2006:

to examine the concerns raised by the judge;

to examine in particular the way in which the Government carried out their obligation of candour in the judicial review proceedings relating to the appointment of an interim Commissioner for Victims and Survivors; and

to report to the Attorney-General with recommendations to prevent a recurrence of any shortcomings identified.

Mr Scott completed his review and reported to the Attorney-General on 25 June 2007.

In the course of carrying out a thorough investigation, Mr Scott has said that he received prompt and helpful responses from all those involved and that he believed that he had access to all the material that he required. He found no evidence that warranted police investigation. Nor was there any intention on the part of the individuals involved to mislead or obstruct the court.

Mr Scott has, however, concluded that there were serious shortcomings in the handling of a request under the Freedom of Information Act that preceded the litigation and, in some respects, in the litigation that followed, and he concludes his report by making a number of recommendations aimed at preventing a repetition of the issues that have arisen in this case. The recommendations are in three key areas—the handling of freedom of information requests, the handling of judicial review applications and, finally, on Northern Ireland court procedures. He recommends that, while FoI requests and judicial review proceedings create handling difficulties, both would benefit from greater strategic control and more effective controls over processing, these to be strengthened by regular review to identify and address problems arising. In respect of court procedure, Mr Scott suggests that consideration be given to the adoption of a pre-action protocol, similar to that in use in England and Wales.

I have placed copies of report in the Library. In order to protect the identity of civil servants cleared of any intention to mislead or obstruct the court, with the exception of the most senior officers, the report has been anonymised.

Nuclear Energy: Plutonium and Uranium 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 2006 in the Libraries of both Houses. In accordance with our commitment under the Guidelines for the Management of Plutonium, we will also send 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 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the IAEA websites.

The figures show that stocks of unirradiated plutonium in the UK totalled 106.9 tonnes at the end of 2006. Changes from the corresponding figures for 2005 are a consequence of continuing reprocessing operations (eg as reflected in the increased quantity of “unirradiated separated plutonium in product stores at reprocessing plants”). High enriched uranium (HEU) stocks decreased mainly as a result of down-blending material recovered during decommissioning of the UK’s gas diffusion enrichment plant. The increase in the civil depleted, natural and low enriched uranium figures reflects the increased stocks at the UK enrichment plant at Capenhurst.

Appendix

United Kingdom—Annual Figures for Holdings of Civil Unirradiated Plutonium

National Totals

As of 31 December 2006 (previous year’s figures in brackets). Rounded to 100 kilograms plutonium with quantities less than 50 kilograms reported as such.

Tonnes

Tonnes

1. Unirradiated separated plutonium in product stores at reprocessing plants.

102.9

(101.1)

2. Unirradiated separated plutonium in the course of manufacture or fabrication and plutonium contained in unirradiated semi-fabricated or unfinished products at fuel or other fabricating plants or elsewhere.

1.2

(1.2)

3. Plutonium contained in unirradiated MOX fuel or other fabricated products at reactor sites or elsewhere.

1.9

(2.0)

4. Unirradiated separated plutonium held elsewhere.

1.0

(1.0)

Total

106.9

(105.2)

Note

(i) Plutonium included in lines 1 to 4 above belonging to foreign bodies.

26.5

(26.5)

(ii) Plutonium in any of the forms in lines 1 to 4 above held in locations in other countries and therefore not included above.

0.9

(0.9)

(iii) Plutonium included in lines 1 to 4 above that is in international shipment prior to its arrival in the recipient state.

0

(0)

Estimated Amounts of Plutonium Contained in Spent Civil Reactor Fuel

National Totals

As of 31 December 2006 (previous year’s figures in brackets). Rounded to 1,000 kilograms plutonium with quantities less than 500 kilograms reported as such.

1. Plutonium contained in spent fuel at civil reactor sites.

6

(7)

2. Plutonium contained in spent fuel at reprocessing plants.

28

(27)

3. Plutonium contained in spent fuel held elsewhere.

Less than 500 kilograms

(Less than 500 kilograms)

Note

(i) The treatment of material sent for direct disposal will need further consideration when specific plans for direct disposal have taken concrete form.

Definitions

Line 1: covers estimated amounts of plutonium contained in fuel discharged from civil reactors.

Line 2: covers estimated amounts of plutonium contained in fuel received at reprocessing plants but not yet reprocessed.

United Kingdom—Annual Figures For Holdings of Civil High Enriched Uranium (HEU)

National Totals

As of 31 December 2006 (previous year’s figures in brackets).

1. HEU stored at enrichment plants.

0 kilogram

(0 kilogram)

2. HEU at fabricating plants or at other reprocessing facilities.

350 kilograms

(395 kilograms)

3. HEU at civil reactor sites.

0 kilogram

(0 kilogram)

4. HEU at locations other than civil reactor sites, enrichment fabricating and reprocessing plants (eg laboratories, research centres).

948 kilograms

(953 kilograms)

5. Irradiated HEU at civil reactor sites.

10 kilograms

(10 kilograms)

6. Irradiated HEU at locations other than civil reactor sites.

132 kilograms

(132 kilograms)

Total

1,441 kilograms

(1,490 kilograms)

The definition of high enriched uranium (HEU) is uranium enriched to 20 per cent or more in uranium 235.

Annual figures for holdings of civil depleted, natural and low enriched uranium (DNLEU) in the civil nuclear fuel cycle: 93,000 tonnes (86,400 tonnes).

# To nearest 100 tonnes.

Office for Judicial Complaints: Annual Report

My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

With the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice, I will today publish the first annual report for the Office for Judicial Complaints (OJC).

I welcome the publication of this report, which provides details of the OJC’s first year of operation and the complaints that it has dealt with. The OJC undertakes a key role in supporting the Lord Chief Justice and me in our joint responsibility for the system of judicial complaints and discipline.

The publication of this report marks the first occasion on which comprehensive details of complaints received about judicial office holders have been made available to the public in this way.

I believe that the report reflects the significant work undertaken by the staff of the OJC under the leadership of the head of the OJC, Dale Simon, during its first year of operation. I am sure that the office will build on this solid foundation in the coming years.

Copies of the report are available in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. Copies of the report are also available on the internet at: www.judicialcomplaints.gov.uk/publications/publications.htm.

Pensions

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Pensions Reform (Mike O’Brien) has made the following Statement.

On 9 March this year, James Purnell, the former Minister for Pensions Reform, announced that Chris Lewin and Ed Sweeney, who had been appointed as external reviewers to the deregulatory review, had published their consultation paper. I am pleased to advise the House that I am today laying a copy of their report in the Library of the House.

I am grateful to Chris Lewin and Ed Sweeney for all their hard work over the last seven months and for their thorough and thoughtful report.

The purpose of the deregulatory review is to simplify the private pensions regulatory framework and to reduce regulatory burdens, bearing in mind the need to strike a balance between protecting members’ benefits and encouraging employer provision of pensions. The review was initially announced in the May 2006 pensions White Paper.

We will carefully consider the recommendations and look forward to discussing them with key stakeholders. We expect to produce a full response in the autumn outlining our decisions.

The report will be available on the department’s pensions reform internet site later today.

Pensions: Personal Accounts Delivery Authority

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

I am pleased to announce the appointment of Paul Myners as the chair designate of the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority. His appointment will take effect as from 1 August. Paul Myners brings extensive experience to this role from his time as a director of NM Rothschild and Sons Ltd and National Westminster Bank, in addition to non-executive positions at Marks & Spencer and Orange. This knowledge will be invaluable to the delivery authority in its initial advisory role to the Government and later when, subject to parliamentary approval, it faces the challenging task of implementing the personal accounts scheme.

Subject to parliamentary approval, personal accounts will be set up as a trust-based occupational pension scheme. The scheme will be set up in accordance with a framework set out in legislation and will be aimed at people on low to middle incomes. It will feature low charges and will use automatic enrolment, fulfilling one of the key recommendations of the Pensions Commission report.

Implementing such a major occupational pension scheme, with the potential for up to 10 million members, is a sizeable task requiring particular skills and experience. Consultation with stakeholders across the financial services industry, employers, the Trades Union Congress and customer representatives highlighted the need to establish an independent body, staffed by professionals in the field, to be responsible for delivering personal accounts.

The Government are absolutely committed to making personal accounts a success. That is why they are setting up an independent body with the necessary skills and experience to get the policy design of personal accounts right and to ensure that the interests of members remain at the heart of the scheme. As chair designate of the delivery authority, Paul will bring a proven track record and a wealth of experience in the financial sector. One of his first tasks will be to take part in the selection of the authority’s chief executive.

Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005

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

In accordance with Section 14(3) and Section 14(5) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, Lord Carlile of Berriew QC prepared a report on the operation of the Act in 2006, which the Minister for Security, Counterterrorism and Police laid before the House on 19 February 2007.

I am grateful to Lord Carlile for his detailed report and I have given close consideration to his recommendations. Following consultation within my department and with other relevant agencies, I am pleased to place my response to Lord Carlile’s recommendations in the House Library today.

Public Money

My right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Andy Burnham) has made the following Written Statement.

Today the Treasury publishes Managing Public Money. Formally it will replace Government Accounting from October. It is part of a suite of documents of which the Code of Good Practice on Corporate Governance in Central Government Departments is the apex. It can be found on the Treasury website. Copies are available in the Library of the House.

The new document makes no significant change to the high standards of stewardship expected of those responsible for handling public resources. Rather, it brings out clearly and concisely how important it is that public money is well managed and achieves good value. At the same time it emphasises that Parliament expects these standards to be honoured and will hold public servants accountable against them.

Questions for Written Answer

As an experiment last year, Members were allowed to table six Questions for Written Answer on two days during the Summer Recess. On 5 June this year, the House agreed to a recommendation of the Procedure Committee (Third Report, HL Paper 104) to make permanent limited provision for tabling Questions for Written Answer in the Summer Recess.

This year, Members are reminded that they will be able to table Questions on two dates: Monday 3 September and Monday 1 October. The 14-day deadline will continue to apply and Answers will be published by Hansard online as they come in. A paper Hansard will be published after the second tabling day.

RAF Hercules XV206

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

I am able to inform the House today of the findings of the Royal Air Force board of inquiry into the loss of the RAF Hercules XV206 in Afghanistan on 24 May 2006.

The purpose of a board of inquiry is to establish the circumstances of the loss and to learn lessons from it; it does not seek to apportion blame.

The board of inquiry was convened on 25 May 2006 and has considered a mass of evidence. The board has established that on 24 May 2006, an RAF Hercules C 130K on a routine operational passenger and freight flight landed at Lashkar Gar tactical landing zone. On landing, the aircraft suffered significant damage to the front port main landing gear, resulting in debris puncturing the port wing fuel tanks, which in turn caused an uncontrollable wing fire leading to the loss of the aircraft. The board has concluded that these events followed the detonation of an explosive device buried under the surface of the tactical landing zone. Following extensive investigation the board concluded that the device was an anti-tank land mine.

A military aircraft accident summary is being placed in the Library of the House and on the MoD’s website. In addition, a redacted version of the main body of the board of inquiry report will be available on the website. As you will appreciate, the safety of our people is a principal consideration and we have removed from the report any information that might endanger the security or capability of UK and coalition personnel or be of use to an enemy. We have, however, tried to be as open as possible and have carefully considered the public interest arguments both for and against disclosure of the information in the report. We have ensured that each redaction can be justified by an appropriate exemption in the Freedom of Information Act.

I remind the House that the purpose of the inquiry in identifying those factors which contributed to the loss is to identify lessons to be taken forward, rather than to apportion blame. The board made a number of recommendations that we will study closely. Indeed, we have acted on many of them already. The main recommendation was that we review the force protection procedures at tactical landing zones. Air Command and Permanent Joint Headquarters have developed revised force protection procedures and tactics to be employed at tactical landing zones in operational theatres. These are now being used by force protection teams on operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The board of inquiry concluded that, had the aircraft been fitted with explosion suppressant foam, it would not have prevented the loss, as explosion suppressant foam does not prevent fuel leaking if the tank is punctured.

I express my gratitude to the president of the board and his team for their painstaking work.

Railways: Gospel Oak to Barking

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

The Department for Transport has today announced a contribution of £18.5 million from the productivity section of the transport innovation fund (TIF) to enhance the Gospel Oak to Barking line, which is an important rail artery through east and north London. The improvements will deliver a number of benefits:

they will enable the line to carry more goods and larger containers from the important and growing ports in the south-east, including the new development at London Gateway (Shell Haven), to other parts of the rail network, including the west coast main line; and

they will provide rail freight customers with an alternative route during future maintenance works on the north London line.

TIF was established by the Future of Transport White Paper (July 2004). Productivity TIF is one part of this fund. It supports packages and schemes that are expected to make a major contribution to the UK’s economy.

Further productivity TIF schemes are still under consideration for funding. Announcements will be made on these on a case-by-case basis.

Regulatory Reform

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (John Hutton) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government are today publishing the document Next Steps on Regulatory Reform, which sets out a range of initiatives that will help to realise the benefits of better regulation for businesses, third sector organisations and the public sector front line.

I have placed copies in the Libraries of both Houses.

Real progress has been made on regulatory reform in the UK over the past 10 years. The UK is taking forward an ambitious and wide-ranging regulatory reform agenda. Delivering on this is central to our overall economic aims—meeting the challenges of globalisation, improving productivity and promoting innovation—in a modern and fair society.

Major improvements include:

improving the stock of regulation with plans for £2 billion savings leading to a 25 per cent cut in administrative costs by 2010; and

progress towards a risk-based culture in regulators.

The new Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) leads the Government’s drive on better regulation. The Next Steps on Regulatory Reform document sets out how the new department will continue to improve its own regulatory performance, plus the steps that the Government as a whole will take to drive improvement.

Action will be taken forward in three principal areas:

Targeting simplifications to improve the effectiveness of regulation

BERR’s own simplification plan:

Rethinking consumer protection legislation—BERR is launching a review of the consumer protection regime in the UK. This will:

examine the scope for simplification of existing legislation and enhancing flexibility and future-proofing;

explore avenues to simplify and rationalise enforcement, allowing greater targeting of action on higher-risk sectors or businesses; and

investigate the options for improving consumer empowerment and redress.

Working to make employment law more straightforward for all parties—BERR will be working to implement the Gibbons review of employment tribunals and has an ambitious programme to improve the use of guidance and tools to give business more confidence in dealing with employment issues.

Relieving the burden of health and safety risk assessment in small and lower-risk businesses—The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is launching a widely applicable set of concise, practical and sector-specific example risk assessments for a convenience store/newsagent, an estate agent and a general office cleaning contractor. These bring together in one document a sensible response to all their health and safety risk assessment requirements. Example assessments for dry cleaning, hairdressing, cold storage warehousing and catering are planned for launch in November.

Health and safety: improving outcomes, easing the burden on low-risk businesses—The Government, with support from HSE, are launching a review to consider, from the perspective of low-risk businesses (especially small firms), what more can be done to deliver strong health and safety outcomes in a modern working environment while minimising the burden on business and maintaining the confidence of society. The review is to report by spring 2008.

Helping people understand regulation

High-quality and timely guidance—The Government are announcing that they will improve their performance in producing good-quality and timely guidance for complying with regulation that has an impact on business. This would be achieved through a package of changes including developing a code of practice for guidance and working to give greater prominence to guidance in the regulatory process.

Better communication of change—For the next common commencement date in October 2007, the Government will pilot a new approach to providing businesses with information on regulatory change. It will produce a summary document highlighting the most important changes and ensure that this is seen by as many businesses as possible.

Holding government and regulators to account

Working with Parliament—The Government would like to work together with key members of both Houses on how Parliament can play an even fuller part in scrutinising its work to deliver regulatory reform.

Creating a statutory duty on regulators to address burdens—The Government will work with regulators to frame a power that would allow such a duty to be introduced through secondary legislation at a future date. It would require those regulators whose focus is primarily on business to keep burdens under review and take action to minimise unnecessary burdens.

Applying the principles of the regulators’ compliance code to public service inspectorates—For regulators whose primary work is with business, the Government are developing a compliance code that puts risk-based enforcement on a statutory footing. The Government will review the case for applying the principles of the code to those regulators whose principal responsibility lies in the public sector.

Roads: Traffic Officers

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

In June 2003, the then Secretary of State for Transport committed the Government to establishing the traffic officer service on England’s motorways, reflecting the Highways Agency’s change of focus to become a network operator. Since then, the service has been rolled out in phases across the motorway network, supported by a strong partnership with the police. The Highways Agency has recently reported on the progress made during the period from April 2006 to March 2007. I am pleased to report that the agency has now completed the full transfer of traffic management functions from the police and the traffic officer service is now fully operational.

Starting in April 2004, the traffic officer service has developed from the initial pilot in the West Midlands to a position where it is performing the full range of traffic management functions formerly undertaken exclusively by the police. The agreement with all 39 police forces that routine traffic management functions are now fully transferred to the agency, leaving the police to focus on criminal activity, is the final milestone in establishing the service.

The traffic officer service is providing a valuable service to the public. Traffic officers are now clearing incidents more quickly, reducing the impact of incident-related congestion and reducing the risk of secondary incidents. There is increasing recognition of the service by road users and their experience of the service is very positive.

Information gathered from the police confirms that the service is enabling the police to redeploy resources on to core policing activities, and they are attending fewer minor incidents.

Now that the traffic officer service is fully established, the agency will measure the effectiveness of the service through a performance framework and will publish the results in its annual report. The performance framework will be kept under review to ensure that the measures used are appropriate and support the objectives of the agency to provide a safe and reliable strategic road network.

Royal Navy: Nuclear Steam Raising Plants

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

I am pleased to announce that a 10-year partnering contract worth up to £1 billion has been signed with Rolls-Royce for the in-service support of nuclear steam raising plants, which power the Royal Navy’s submarines. This contract is a key deliverable under the defence industrial strategy published in December 2005.

This landmark 10-year contract marks a significant departure from former practices and will transform Rolls-Royce’s relationship with the department in this sector. It will sustain the UK capability in the long-term, enable the risks and rewards to be managed jointly and is a further example of partnering in action. Rolls-Royce and MoD will work together as a single, high-performing team to improve performance and drive down costs. Savings of over £120 million are anticipated over the term of the contract.

The nuclear steam raising plant drives not only our current submarines but will also power the new Astute submarines. Rolls-Royce has been supplying nuclear steam raising plants to the Royal Navy for almost 50 years from its production site at Raynesway in Derby and this new contract will help to secure the future of staff working in this part of the business.

The contract sustains the UK’s capability to support nuclear steam raising plants, as stated in the defence industrial strategy, and uses the principles of the MoD’s procurement reform programme to develop more effective relationships with one of our top 10 major industrial partners.

Today marks a significant achievement in securing the UK’s capability to support submarines in the future.

Shipping: MSC "Napoli"

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

This Statement is to update the House on the progress of the salvage operation for the MSC “Napoli”. Since the ship was beached in Lyme Bay on 20 January, an effective salvage operation has removed almost all of the fuel oil and all of the containers from the ship. The final container was removed on 17 May 2007. Only very small amounts of fuel oil, located in hard-to-reach sections of the ship, remain.

The most significant remaining task is the disposal of the ship, and work on this is already under way. We were aware that our options for disposing of the ship would be dependent on the condition of the ship itself and this could not be assessed properly while the ship was beached. Accordingly, the MSC “Napoli” was refloated on 9 July. A subsequent dive survey revealed that the hull was in an extremely fragile state. To reduce the risk of the ship breaking up in an uncontrolled manner, the Secretary of State’s representative for maritime salvage and intervention (SOSREP) took the decision to rebeach the ship.

A small amount of oil leaked from the ship during this operation. Clean-up procedures were put into operation immediately and, while a number of birds are reported to have been oiled, we believe that the environmental impact was not severe.

Once it was apparent that the entire ship could not be removed from Lyme Bay, SOSREP’s advice was that the best course of action was to separate the ship into two parts. The bow section of the ship is relatively intact and retains buoyancy. On the other hand, the stern section, which contains the ship’s engines, cannot be floated. By separating the two sections of the ship, we would have the opportunity to reduce the impact on Lyme Bay’s natural environment that would result from dismantling the entire ship in its current position.

Accordingly, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, with assistance from the Ministry of Defence, carried out a series of controlled detonations, using cutting charges, on the ship on 17, 18 and 20 July, with the aim of cutting the ship in two as cleanly as possible. Following the final set of detonations, the ship was separated on 20 July.

The stern section of the ship will need to be dismantled in its current location. The ship owners are currently tendering a contract for this work and are drawing up a detailed timeline. Plans for this work will need to take into account the protection of the local environment of Lyme Bay.

We believe that it should be possible to dismantle the bow section of the ship in line with the UK’s strategy on ship recycling, with little or no adverse environmental impact. The bow section of the ship will initially be held in deeper water in Lyme Bay, while the owners identify a suitable location for recycling.

I would like to express my thanks to SOSREP and the team of salvage, counter-pollution and environmental experts for their ongoing efforts in this situation.

Small Firms Loan Guarantee: Annual Report

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Competitiveness (Stephen Timms) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today laying a copy of the first annual report to Parliament on the operation of the small firms loan guarantee (SFLG) scheme. SFLG is the Government’s principal intervention in the debt market, designed to help small and medium-sized enterprises with viable business propositions but insufficient collateral to secure a loan for debt finance.

An independent review, the Graham review, recommended changes to modernise and streamline SFLG in 2004. Those changes were implemented from December 2005. The new form of the scheme focuses on start-ups and young businesses under five years old, simplifies the eligibility criteria and enables participating lenders to take all operational decisions regarding individual loans, provided that their normal commercial lending criteria but for the lack of security are met. BERR has been engaging strategically with lenders to gain a better understanding of how the scheme is being used. While it is too early to assess the full impact of the new form of the scheme on the debt finance gap, the annual report highlights initial indications of progress against each of the benchmarks set by the Graham review. Going forward, the focus now will be to continue to build strategic relationships with existing lenders to ensure that the full potential of SFLG is exploited and to extend the lender base to further broaden availability of the scheme. Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Tax Credits

My right honourable Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jane Kennedy) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has identified an administrative problem with a number of older tax credit awards. It has come to my attention that officials did not follow the correct procedure when reopening some of these cases. This now needs to be remedied.

HMRC has estimated that it needs to review around 160,000 awards in total from 2003-04 and 2004-05, out of the 6 million households that are benefiting from tax credits. These are cases where information that reduced the households’ entitlement came to light after the award for that year had been finalised and closed.

HMRC will shortly be writing to these households to inform them that their case is being reviewed in order to correct this administrative error. HMRC will contact them again once it has completed the review.

Those affected will not need to take any further action themselves, and no household that have their case reviewed as a result of this issue will have their tax credit award reduced.

Although the revised award was an accurate reflection of the households’ new circumstances, the process by which HMRC took this into account was not correct. HMRC should have notified recipients in writing at the time that it was examining the award after finalisation, but did not do so in certain cases.

HMRC is now putting in place correct procedures for all subsequent cases, to make sure this problem does not arise again. As part of this, HMRC will also write to around 90,000 households about their 2005-06 awards to make sure they are finalised correctly.

Value Added Tax (Betting, Gaming and Lotteries) Order 2007

My honourable friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Angela Eagle) has made the following Written Statement.

The above order subject to the affirmative procedure largely maintains the status quo on the taxation of participation fees for gaming and extends the scope of taxation for charges made for games played against the operator and to gaming provided illegally. The measure also includes some minor changes resulting from amendments to social law. The provisions of the order are explained in the Explanatory Memorandum, which is available in the Vote Office and the Library of the House.

The order is being laid today and will come into force on 1 September 2007 because:

it is consequent upon secondary legislation, the Gambling Act 2005 (Operating Licence Conditions) Regulations 2007, coming into force on 1 September 2007 made under the Gambling Act 2005 and laid before Parliament in draft on 11 June 2007; and

the main provisions for remote gaming duty were included in the Finance Bill 2007, which received Royal Assent on 19 July 2007.

Time will be made available to debate the order as soon as possible after the House returns from the Summer Recess.

Wilton Park: Annual Report and Accounts

My honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Jim Murphy) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Wilton Park is an academically independent executive agency of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Its annual report and accounts for 2006-07 are laid before Parliament today.

Wilton Park has had a successful year, continuing to deliver high-value conferences contributing to our overall foreign policy effort. Wilton Park has significantly improved its financial performance over the past year and has met its financial targets.