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Written Statements

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 18 December 2008

Written Statements

Thursday 18 December 2008

Airports: Security

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Geoff Hoon) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

In her Statement of 16 July 2008, my predecessor, the right honourable Member for Bolton, in conjunction with the Home Office, announced the launch of a consultation on aspects of proposed legislation designed to deliver more effective policing and security planning arrangements at airports. 

The consultation sought views on the proposed new security planning process, which requires the majority of airports in the UK to agree a local airport security plan with their key stakeholders based upon threat and risk analysis.  The process also allows any agreed dedicated policing element of this plan to be charged to the airport operator.

I am grateful to our stakeholders from the aviation sector and police for their considered responses to the consultation.  I have carefully considered the views that were expressed and have consequently asked that legislative proposals be enhanced to provide for ministerial determination of disputes. The draft legislation has also been enhanced to ensure that it is sufficiently flexible and scalable to apply to airports whatever their size.

The new security planning process was also shaped by stakeholder views in other ways, in particular through a programme board which included senior representatives from our key stakeholder groups. Feedback provided at various local stakeholder events and the views aired at our national stakeholder event in November have also been important considerations. 

These proposals will now be taken forward in the Policing and Crime Bill, which will be introduced in the House today.

The response to the consultation will be published on the Department for Transport’s website shortly and copies will be placed in the Libraries of the House.

Consolidated Fund Bill

Statement

I have made a Statement under Section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998 that, in my view, the provisions of the Consolidated Fund Bill are compatible with the convention rights. A copy of the Statement has been placed in the Library of the House.

Energy: Energy Markets Outlook

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Ed Miliband) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today laying before Parliament the Government’s 2008 Energy Markets Outlook report. Copies of the report have been placed in the House Libraries.

Food and Environment Research Agency

Statement

My honourable friend the then Minister for Marine Landscape and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw) announced on 26 March 2008 the creation of a new Defra executive agency to be vested on 1 April 2009. The agency will be formed from merging the Central Science Laboratory (CSL), the Plant Health Division (PHD)/Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate (PHSI) and the Plant Variety Rights Office and Seeds Division (PVS). He explained that the new science agency would operate in shadow form from 1 April 2008.

I am pleased to announce that the new agency will be called the Food and Environment Research Agency. The role of the new agency is to provide robust evidence, rigorous analysis and professional advice to government, international organisations and the private sector, in order to support and develop a sustainable food chain, a healthy natural environment, and to protect the global community from biological and chemical risks. The Food and Environment Research Agency will be a key organisation within the Government’s strategic science capability and in supporting Defra’s strategic priorities to:

secure a healthy natural environment for us all and deal with environmental risks;

promote a sustainable, low-carbon and resource-efficient economy; and

ensure a thriving farming sector and a sustainable, healthy and secure food supply.

Food: Advertising

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government are committed to tackling childhood obesity and to supporting parents’ efforts to reduce the exposure of children to advertising of foods high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS). We have worked closely with Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority to significantly tighten the rules on broadcast food promotion to children.

Ofcom announced in November 2006 that it would begin to phase in restrictions on the advertising of HFSS foods to children. This began on 1 April 2007, and the final phase will be introduced on 1 January 2009. When making this announcement, Ofcom committed to reviewing the impact of the restrictions in late 2008. The Government subsequently asked Ofcom to bring forward that review to begin in July 2008. Ofcom has now published its review and copies have been deposited in the House Libraries.

The Government welcome Ofcom’s report and the progress made to date, which has shown that the restrictions introduced have already had a significant impact on reducing children’s exposure to broadcast HFSS food advertising.

Ofcom estimates that the amount of HFSS advertising on television seen by children aged four to 15 fell by an estimated 34 per cent over the review period. For younger children, the estimated reduction was greater, at 39 per cent; for older children, slightly less, at 28 per cent.

Ofcom has committed to further review the effects of the full HFSS restrictions in early 2010.

Gypsies and Travellers

Statement

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Iain Wright) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government have today published the Count of Gypsy and Traveller Caravans on 21 July 2008.

Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and can be accessed via the Communities and Local Government website at www.communities.gov.uk/housing/housingmanagementcare/gypsiesand travellers/gypsyandtravellersitedataandstat/.

Migrant Workers: Romania and Bulgaria

Statement

My honourable friend the Minister of State for the Home Department (Phil Woolas) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing the Government's decision in relation to restrictions on the labour market access of migrants coming to the UK from Romania and Bulgaria.

We have decided to maintain the closure of tier 3 of the points-based system, for unskilled migrant labour from outside the European Economic Area.

We have decided to retain the current restrictions on the employment rights applied to nationals of Bulgaria and Romania beyond the end of this year, subject to the following changes.

The current quota of 3,500 places under the sectors-based scheme for the food processing sector will remain unchanged but may be opened up to a wider range of occupations within the sector.

The quota for the number of Bulgarian and Romanian workers admitted under the seasonal agricultural workers scheme (SAWS) will be 21,250 places in 2009.

We will review these arrangements before the end of 2009.

We have previously made clear our intention to gradually open access to our labour market following the accession of Bulgaria and Romania on 1 January 2007. This decision is in line with that policy of gradual opening of the labour market.

We sought advice from the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on the labour market impact of relaxing restrictions, and whether it would be sensible to do so. The committee has produced an impressive and comprehensive report, which it is publishing today. I have arranged for copies to be placed in the House Libraries. In advising against lifting restrictions the committee pointed in particular to the impact of the current economic downturn, and the possible approach of other member states. We also sought views from members of the Migration Impacts Forum, which provides information to the Government on the wider impacts of migration on local areas and services.

Money: ATM Machines

Statement

My honourable friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ian Pearson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Following the March 2005 Treasury Committee report on ATM (automatic teller machine) charging, the Treasury invited the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, the right honourable John McFall, to chair a working group on ATMs to take forward work on key issues. The working group, which included banks, independent ATM operators and consumer groups, published its report on 13 December 2006.

The Government are pleased to report that the industry has, over the 24 months following publication of the ATM working group's report, made excellent progress towards its goal of placing around 600 non-charging machines across 1,707 low-income areas within the UK, which were identified as lacking convenient access. Around 2 million individuals on low incomes should stand to benefit. Since the publication of the working group report, LINK has assessed that around 10 per cent of the identified low-income areas are unsuitable for an ATM location as there is no centre of population.

As of 21 November 2008, sites for 560 of the 600 new ATMs required have been identified. Of these, 527 new free machines are already in use and issuing cash to the public. In March 2007, a market-based financial incentive, known as a financial inclusion premium, was introduced, to encourage ATM operators to place or retain free ATMs in deprived areas with a low expected volume of transactions. Sixty-seven per cent of these ATMs based in the target-deprived areas receive the financial inclusion premium. Encouragingly, 26 of these new cash machines have proved so popular that their level of withdrawals means that they have now graduated from the financial inclusion premium scheme, 17 more since the July 2008 Statement.

Banks, building societies and independent ATM operators have all contributed new free-to-use cash machines; and independent ATM operators have provided or are in the process of supplying around 34 per cent of the confirmed new non-charging ATMs. The UK ATM network, LINK, is continuing to work with its member banks and ATM operators to identify suitable sites in the remaining target areas, and is engaging closely in this exercise with Members of Parliament, local authorities, consumer councils and retailers.

The benefits in terms of financial inclusion are clear. Data from LINK suggest that the new ATMs currently in operation or under contract will enable over 1.4 million residents in the target low-income areas to access cash more conveniently and manage their money more effectively.

The working group further agreed to implement improved transparency rules for charging cash machines. Operators of cash machines that charge users for withdrawals and that can upload screens remotely have met the end-June 2007 deadline to improve the on-screen standards of at-a-glance signage. This means that it is clear to a consumer when a charge is applied for withdrawing cash. Good progress was also made by operators in enhancing external signage by the end of December 2007.

The ATM working group report of December 2006 further recommended developing a joined-up policy approach to planning permissions. On 24 November 2008, the final report of the government-commissioned independent Killian Pretty review, Planning applications: a faster and more responsive system, was published. The review put forward proposals to deliver a planning system that would be more customer focused, fair, proportionate and transparent. The Government have signalled that they support the broad thrust of the report. In the new year, the Department for Communities and Local Government intends to publish a fuller response to the recommendations, together with an implementation plan.

One of the recommendations in the report included revising and expanding the existing simpler consenting system for certain types of development, known as prior approvals. Research published alongside the Killian Pretty report proposed that the prior-approval process might include ATMs.

A review of information requirements for the validation of planning applications was also published alongside the Killian Pretty report. This review included consideration of design and access statements, which accompany planning applications, including those for externally located ATMs. The review recommended that existing guidance on design and access statements should be updated, in particular to provide advice on how crime should be addressed.

The Government are encouraged by the substantial progress achieved, and would like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved in extending free access to cash to those who need it the most.

Full details about progress made are available on the LINK internet website at www.link.co.uk/atm/access_to_cash_progress/index.html. Proposals for additional ATM sites can also continue to be made to LINK.

Northern Ireland: Intelligence

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Shaun Woodward) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I confirm that the Prime Minister has received Sir Peter Gibson’s review of intercept intelligence material available to the security and intelligence agencies in relation to the Omagh bombing, and how any material was shared.

As the Prime Minister made clear when Sir Peter Gibson was asked to carry out his review, a Statement to Parliament will be made as soon as possible after the Government have considered the report.

Taxation

Statement

My right honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Stephen Timms) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing the Government's intention to present to Parliament as part of the Finance Bill 2009 two specific tax changes which will ensure that tax rules, and in particular anti-avoidance legislation, do not apply unfairly in circumstances arising out of the current turmoil in the financial markets and will prevent companies suffering unintended or unforeseen tax effects as a result.

The first proposed legislative change will better identify who are the real equity holders in a business, for group tax purposes. This change to the group tax rules will apply to all companies. In particular, when banks and other financial institutions issue certain preference shares in order to boost their tier 1 capital base in the form approved by financial regulators, this change will ensure that their existing group structure, for tax purposes, is not broken. These preference shares are shares that carry a right to a fixed dividend or a dividend at a fixed rate, but to satisfy the regulatory requirements the issuer may have the right to pay a lower dividend in certain circumstances. The change will mean that such preference shareholders are no longer treated as equity holders for group tax purposes solely because that regulatory requirement is met. The change will apply retrospectively for accounting periods beginning on or after 1 January 2008 for all existing shares, but companies will have a right to elect for the changes to apply only to new share issues, to ensure that no businesses are unfairly affected.

The second proposed legislative change will allow companies that prepare their accounts in foreign currencies to carry any unused tax losses forward in the foreign currency instead of sterling. This change will apply to all companies preparing their accounts in a foreign currency. It will be of particular benefit, at this time, to foreign banks trading in the UK. It will ensure that the losses will offset the same measure of profits in future years without the companies and the Exchequer being exposed to foreign exchange risk on those losses. The change will apply to unused losses carried forward to accounting periods beginning on or after 1 January 2008, but with a right to elect for it to apply only to future losses to ensure that no businesses are unfairly affected by the change.

Transport: Integrated Transport Authorities

Statement

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

The effect of Section 96 of the Local Transport Act 2008 is to empower the Secretary of State to issue guidance on the carrying-out by local authorities of reviews of transport governance arrangements in their area and on the establishment of integrated transport authorities.

This guidance will be published shortly, and will be available on the Department for Transport’s website at www.dft.gov.uk. Copies will also be placed in the Library of the House.

Transport: Local Transport Plans

Statement

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

I am announcing today a consultation on draft guidance for local transport plans (LTPs). Local transport authorities in England, excluding London, are required to have regard to guidance when preparing such plans.

The guidance sets out how the Government expect local transport authorities to plan and deliver better transport from 2011 onwards. It enables local transport authorities to prepare LTPs that meet their own needs, integrating transport closely with wider local priorities and key services. It sets out the importance of regional and national transport goals, such as supporting the economy, reducing transport’s emission of greenhouse gases, and promoting greater health, equality of opportunity and quality of life.

The guidance explains the changes to the statutory framework for local transport plans brought about by the recent Local Transport Act 2008, which amends the Transport Act 2000.

Consultation will last 16 weeks, finishing on 9 April 2009. It is available at www.dft.gov.uk/ltp. Stakeholders will continue to be involved throughout the consultation period, and final guidance will be published in summer 2009.

I have placed copies of the new guidance in the Libraries of the House.