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Written Statements

Volume 697: debated on Tuesday 18 December 2007

Written Statements

Tuesday 18 December 2007

Business Support

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

Tomorrow my department is publishing a formal response to the consultation on how government departments, regional development agencies, local authorities and non-departmental public bodies should support business in the future. This looks not just at the support my department provides, but much more broadly across the whole of government at a national, regional and local level.

The formal response document builds on the initial government response to the Simplifying Business Support consultation. It summarises responses received and provides further information on the future, shared framework for publicly funded business support that we are developing in the light of evidence and consultation feedback. This shared framework will enable government and the broader public sector to implement our vision for business support in 2010.

It sets out the principles for making the delivery of business support more efficient and builds on decisions taken in the light of economic analysis and the consultation on Simplifying Business Support on access to business support and business support interventions referred to in paragraphs 4.43 to 4.46 of the Pre-Budget Report. Business Link will continue to be developed as the primary publicly funded access channel to business support. In the spirit of simplification, Business Link will aim to build on best practice partnership working with local authorities, business support providers, business membership organisations and other key partners.

We are also publishing an early stage impact assessment.

We have consulted businesses, including social enterprises, business representatives, local authorities, organisations that support business and other interested parties. The consultation ran from 22 June to 14 September. Copies of the response to the consultation document will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses on 19 December 2007 and the document will be on the DTI website at www.dti.gov.uk/consultations/index.

Chinook Mk3

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

I announced in March our intention to convert the eight Chinook Mark 3 helicopters to a support helicopter role, in order to make them available to operations as quickly as possible. I am pleased to report that the Ministry of Defence has now signed a contract with Boeing to carry out the modification work. The most likely overall cost to the defence budget to modify the helicopters is £90.1 million, of which £62 million is taken up by the contract with Boeing.

We expect the first aircraft to be available for operations in 2009. These eight additional helicopters will represent a significant uplift to the UK's heavy lift helicopter fleet. As the Chinook fleet has proven on numerous occasions, these helicopters are a key battle-winning capability. The eight converted Chinook will join the existing fleet of 40 RAF Chinook helicopters and will be based at RAF Odiham.

Correction to Commons Written Answer

My right honourable friend the Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism (Margaret Hodge) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

An error has been identified in the Written Answer given to the right honourable member for Maidenhead at Official Report 26 November 2007, col. 12W. The full Answer given was as follows:

Mrs May: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, how many contracts were awarded by his department to Opinion Leader Research in each year since 1997; and in respect of each what was (a) the title and purpose of the project, (b) the cost to the public purse and (c) the dates on which the project was (i) put to tender, (ii) awarded to Opinion Leader Research, (iii) carried out and (iv) completed and its findings put to the department.

Margaret Hodge: “There have been no contracts awarded by my department to Opinion Leader Research since 1997.”

The correct answer should have been:

“In 2005 the Central Office of Information commissioned on behalf of the department a qualitative research project on the BBC Trust and the television licence fee from Opinion Leader Research, as part of the BBC’s Charter review. The resulting report, BBC Charter Review: Focus on the BBC Trust and the Enforcement and Collection of the Licence Fee, was completed in December 2005 and published by the department in March 2006. The department made a payment of £38,205.13 to the Central Office of Communication for this research.

The Central Office of Information operates a specific roster of accredited suppliers of market research and has the capacity and expertise to help identify the most suitable agency for a particular project. The department chose to rely on the Central Office of Information’s expertise and use its roster system to allocate the project, with the result that a formal tender procedure by the department was not necessary”.

France: State Visit

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce that Her Majesty the Queen has invited the President of the French Republic, M Nicolas Sarkozy, to pay a state visit to the United Kingdom from Wednesday 26 March to Friday 28 March 2008. The visit will further reinforce the close relations that exist between the United Kingdom and the Republic of France. The annual UK-France summit will take place during the state visit.

Health: Community Hospitals

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

Our Health, Our Care, Our Community, published in July 2006, set out our ambition for community hospitals. It announced the setting up of a £750 million capital investment programme over five years from 2006-07 to develop a new generation of community hospitals and services.

I am announcing today funding for a further nine schemes, which are supported locally by a broad cross-section of partners and other stakeholders:

£3 million towards the development a new town-centre primary care facility in Hartlepool;

£3.7 million to refurbish St Charles Hospital in north Kensington in London;

£5 million for a new health park at Keynsham in Bath and North Somerset;

£6.4 million towards a new health and social care campus at Dursley, Berkeley Vale;

£7 million towards a joint health and community campus development for Selby;

£13.2 million for the development of two community hospitals at Moreton and at Bourton in the north Cotswolds;

£17.1 to develop a community hospital on the site of St Mary’s Hospital in Portsmouth;

£19.3 million to provide a new community hospital facility at Malvern; and

£20 million to develop three community hospitals in East Riding at Beverley, Horsea and Driffield hospitals.

Approval is subject to clearance through the formal business case process.

The total value of these schemes is equivalent to approximately £132 million, of which £95 million will be funded from the community hospitals and services programme. Today’s announcement means that 23 schemes have now been approved, with a total value of roughly £272 million, bringing the investment from the community hospitals programme up to £190 million.

These schemes will change the face of the local NHS. They offer genuine opportunities to deliver better and more flexible primary care and community health services to local communities, providing better access and integrated services closer to home.

Homes and Communities Agency

My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Sir Bob Kerslake has been appointed the first chief executive of the Homes and Communities Agency.

The new agency will be key to delivering the 3 million new homes by 2020 pledged by the Prime Minister. The Homes and Communities Agency will bring together the current work and programmes of the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships. It will also take on delivery functions from Communities and Local Government. We will set out further detail on the Homes and Communities Agency functions to inform the Committee stage of the Housing and Regeneration Bill in January.

Sir Bob is currently chief executive of Sheffield City Council and will initially take responsibility for overseeing the development and implementation of the agency. He will then become its first chief executive when the agency begins operating on 1 April 2009.

Sir Bob has shown throughout his career a strong record of delivery in housing and regeneration. He was selected from a strong field of applicants for the position and is ideally suited to leading the agency in delivering the Government’s challenging housing and regeneration agenda.

Immigration: Visitors

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

I am today publishing a consultation paper on proposals to reform the visitor routes into the UK. This consultation fulfils the promise made in our strategy Securing the UK Border, published in March 2007, to consult on four main categories of visitor: tourist, business, short-term student and family. Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Over the next 12 months there will be sweeping changes to the immigration system. The points-based system will ensure that only those whom the UK needs will be able to come here to work, study or train. We are also consulting on new arrangements for marriage visas, including whether to introduce an English-language requirement. The time is now right to look at short-term routes into the UK.

Our visit visa system for those people wishing to travel to the UK is already changing. By next spring we will be taking everyone’s biometrics so that only the people of whom we are sure can come to Britain. We now want to make sure that the visitor system is robust against abuse while maintaining the UK’s position as a destination of choice for tourists.

The consultation contains a number of options to ensure that the system is fit for the 21st century. These include reducing the maximum leave available to tourists from six to three months, introducing a UK-based sponsor for visitors travelling to see family in the UK, requiring this sponsor to put up a financial deposit to guarantee that their family member will leave the UK at the end of their stay and reforming appeal rights for these visitors.

The consultation period will run for 12 weeks and the final date for responses is 7 March 2008. Once the process has concluded and views have been considered, we will report on the results of the consultation and any proposed changes to the Immigration Rules relating to visitors.

Local Government: Unitary Councils

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

On 5 December 2007 I announced to the House the five unitary proposals that the Secretary of State had decided to implement without modification, having considered all the information and representations available to her.

In the case of the unitary proposals for Cheshire, I announced on 5 December that there remained alternative proposals for the whole area concerned which, as I confirmed to the House in July, we judged reasonably likely to achieve the outcomes specified in the five criteria. I assured the House at the time that we would make final decisions as soon as we could.

Having now considered all the information and representations available to her, including the very large volume of additional material that she has received since July, the Secretary of State remains of the view that there is a reasonable likelihood that, if implemented, both proposals would meet the outcomes specified by each of the criteria set out in the invitation of 26 October 2006.

Overall, she has decided that it is more likely that the long-term outcomes around strategic leadership, neighbourhood empowerment and value for money and equity on public services would be delivered to the greater extent by the proposal for a two-unitary Cheshire. This is the process that we set out in the consultation document Means of Prioritising Proposals issued in June 2007. She has therefore decided to confirm her earlier “minded to” decision, and accordingly intends to implement the proposal for two unitary authorities in Cheshire by order made under Section 7 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007.

It is now for all the councils in Cheshire, their members and employees, to work constructively and imaginatively together to deliver two new unitary councils that will achieve their full potential for local residents. Local people will rightly expect nothing less than their successful delivery.

In the case of the unitary proposals from Bedford Borough Council and Bedfordshire County Council, I confirmed on 5 December that, on the basis of the information then available to her, the Secretary of State remained minded to implement Bedford Borough Council’s proposal subject to there being a satisfactory proposal for the rest of the county area. I notified the House on 19 November that the Secretary of State had invited the other councils in Bedfordshire by 17 December to make proposals for future unitary local government structures in the remainder of the county area.

We have now received a response to this further invitation from the remaining district councils in Bedfordshire—Mid and South Bedfordshire District Councils. In accordance with Section 7(3) of the 2007 Act, we will tomorrow be launching a consultation seeking the views of partners and stakeholders in the areas affected by the proposals for Bedfordshire. Partners and stakeholders include all local authorities, the wider public sector, the business community, and the voluntary and community sector. It will, however, be open to anyone to respond to the consultation document that we are issuing, copies of which will be placed in the Libraries of the House.

After the stakeholder consultation, we will consider very carefully all the representations that we have received. Any proposal or proposals will proceed to implementation if, and only if, when we take our final decisions, we remain satisfied that they meet all the criteria set out in the invitation.

NHS: Pensions

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

The report by the Government Actuary of the valuation of the NHS pension scheme at 2004 is published today. I am placing a copy of this report in the Library.

The principal purposes of the valuation are to assess the level of liability in respect of the benefits due under the NHSPS regulations, taking into account the demographic experience of the scheme since the previous valuation, and to recommend the contribution rate to be paid by the employers who participate in the scheme. This will be implemented from 1 April 2008.

The report shows that as a result of the changes to the NHS pension scheme being implemented from 1 April 2008, the recommended employer contribution rate has reduced from 15.3 per cent of pensionable pay (as would have been required) to 14 per cent of pensionable pay (the current contribution rate). This represents a saving of around £430 million in contributions.

Prisons: Northern Ireland

The Minister of State for Northern Ireland (Paul Goggins) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I am publishing today a report entitled, Options Appraisal Relating to the Long-term Accommodation Needs in the Adult Male Estate for the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

Following a review of the Northern Ireland Prison Service efficiency programme in June 2005, the Government asked the Northern Ireland Prison Service to prepare a strategic development plan aimed at drawing up a blueprint for the long-term development of the Prison Service. The estate strategy is a fundamental part of that process and in February of this year I commissioned the options appraisal.

I am proposing to retain the two current sites, Maghaberry and Magilligan, with an option for a third site should the prison population continue to rise.

I have decided that we will proceed with an 800-bed replacement prison for Magilligan delivered on a phased basis. The Northern Ireland Prison Service will recruit a programme manager and design team to take forward this work.

As the further detailed business case is worked up, the timing and phasing of the redevelopment at Magilligan will be informed by the availability of funding through the next spending round.

Over the next three years we will provide additional prison places in order to reduce doubling and meet shorter-term population pressures. Specifically, we will redevelop Mourne House at Maghaberry Prison as a 300-bed unit (240 new places), work on which has already commenced. There will be up to an additional 170 places at Magilligan, including the recently opened Alpha Unit.

I have placed copies of the options appraisal in the Library of the House.

Sanctions

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Kim Howells) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government are committed to informing Parliament annually of the sanctions regimes that the United Kingdom implements. Currently the United Kingdom implements United Nations sanctions in relation to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and terrorism.

The UK also implements sanctions regimes imposed autonomously by the EU in relation to Belarus, Burma, China, the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (in connection with individuals indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia or responsible for certain acts of violence at Mostar), Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe.

In accordance with a decision of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the United Kingdom implements arms embargoes on Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Government also take full account of the Economic Community of West African States moratorium on certain exports of small arms and light weapons to Economic Community of West African States members.

A full list of sanctions regimes and restrictive measures implemented by the UK is published on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website at www.fco.gov.uk/sanctions. Following a request from the right honourable Lord Wakeham during the 12 October Lords debate on the impact of economic sanctions, this document now includes objectives and lift criteria for each regime.

Skills Pledge

Today my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (John Denham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am drawing the attention of the House to a factual error of reporting in relation to the number of employers who have voluntarily made the Skills Pledge to support the upskilling of their employees.

On 12 December 2007 the House was informed by David Lammy, Minister for Skills within the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, that the number of employees covered by the voluntary pledge was 3.1 million, based on information from the Learning and Skills Council (LSC). Incorrect figures were used in a small number of other instances in reply to Members' Questions and in another place. However, I was informed on Friday 14 December by the LSC that the correct figure is 2.3 million and that the mistake was due to a computer programming error which has now been detected and rectified. The LSC has confirmed that the number of employers making the skills pledge (630) was correct. I apologise to the House unreservedly for this inadvertent error. I am also writing to Members who were given the incorrect figure.

The LSC's internal quality assurance processes identified this programming error. However, I have asked the LSC chief executive to ensure through a rigorous review of his organisation's information and reporting systems that there is no recurrence of this problem. This review will report to me in January 2008 as part on my ongoing considerations on the future leadership and management of the Skills Pledge and its contribution to making the skills of the workforce world class.