Thursday 7 May 2009
Armed Forces: Helicopters
My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Bob Ainsworth) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I wish to inform the House today of the decision to close Programme Belvedere—the study into possible rationalisation of the Joint Helicopter Command’s Battlefield Helicopter Estate.
During this complex study, the main bases under consideration were Royal Air Force (RAF) Odiham, RAF Benson, Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Yeovilton, Wattisham Station and Dishforth Airfield. Some other airfields were also considered including RAF Lyneham, in light of the previously announced decisions to relocate C130 aircraft from there to RAF Brize Norton.
Programme Belvedere has been a complex and lengthy study taking into account a large number of factors including:
operating issues including aircraft numbers, command and control and flying hours;
environmental issues including noise;
availability and standard of domestic and technical accommodation;
accessibility for aircraft and vehicle types;
aircraft capacity of the airfield;
opportunities for efficiencies and rationalisation;
airfield location—low flying areas, training areas and local communities;
future requirements; and,
affordability and value for money.
It is now apparent that efficiencies that could be achieved from a major rationalisation programme would not produce the necessary return on the significant investment that would be required to implement change. We have therefore decided that to continue Programme Belvedere does not represent best value for money for the department and the programme is to close with immediate effect.
This means that there is no change at this stage to the current arrangements whereby Chinook helicopters are based at RAF Odiham; Puma and Merlin helicopters are based at RAF Benson; Apache helicopters are based at Wattisham; the Joint Helicopter Command operates the Lynx helicopter from Dishforth; and its Commando Helicopter Force, comprising Sea King and Lynx helicopters, operates from RNAS Yeovilton.
This decision also means that RAF Lyneham is no longer under consideration as a basing option for the Joint Helicopter Command. The then Minister for the Armed Forces announced on 4 July 2003 (Official Report, col. 38WS) that following movement of the C130 fleet to RAF Brize Norton, “if no further Defence use is identified for Royal Air Force Lyneham, the station will be closed and disposed of”. On current plans the C130K and C130J fleets will move from RAF Lyneham to RAF Brize Norton in summer 2011. The transfer is planned to enable the Royal Air Force to vacate RAF Lyneham by the end of 2012. It now seems unlikely that a further use will be identified for the site.
It is too early to say exactly what the impact will be for civilian staff at the station but the trades unions have been kept informed and my officials will engage with them and the local authorities around RAF Lyneham to ensure we do everything possible to support our people and to manage the drawdown sensitively. Meanwhile, RAF Lyneham continues to play a key role in supporting current operations through the provision of strategic and tactical airlift, and I am deeply grateful to staff at the station for their service, and to the local population for their support.
Further work is being undertaken to determine the optimum basing arrangements for the future Lynx helicopter, and I shall keep the House informed about progress.
EU: Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council
My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 30 April to discuss the influenza A/H1N1 infection. I represented the United Kingdom.
At the meeting Ministers received reports on the situation from the director of the European Centre for Disease Control and the World Health Organisation (WHO). The EU Health Commissioner, Androulla Vassiliou, stressed the importance of continued co-operation at the EU and international level.
The council unanimously adopted conclusions welcoming the effective response to the outbreak so far and reaffirming member states’ commitment to continue their co-operative work through existing EU structures. The member states agreed to continue to act together to respond to the threat, under the guidance of the WHO, including taking appropriate measures to protect public health.
The conclusions noted the council’s willingness, with the Commission, to engage with, and assist, non-EU countries most affected by the virus.
Thanks to the leadership of the WHO and due to our established emergency preparedness structures at EU level, we are well prepared to act in response to this outbreak.
Independent Monitoring Commission
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Shaun Woodward) has made the following Ministerial Statement.
I have received the 21st first report of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC). This report has been made under Articles 4 and 7 of the international agreement that established the commission and it reports on levels of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. I have considered the content of the report and I am today bringing it before Parliament. I have placed copies in the Library of the House.
Although falling outside their reporting period, the IMC comment on the murders of Constable Stephen Carroll, Sappers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar, and the wounding of others at the beginning of March. They note the involvement of dissident republicans in these murders and attribute the current ongoing violence to an attempt to destroy the peace process. They will comment on these cases in their next report, due in October 2009.
Dissident republicans do pose a serious challenge. They are small but dangerous criminal factions who are determined to drag Northern Ireland back to the past. Their actions have no significant support in the community. There is an overwhelming common purpose against them. The political process continues to work for the benefit of Northern Ireland through the Assembly and Executive. Dissidents will not be able to derail the progress made. The completion of devolution will do more than anything to undermine the dissidents and will provide a firm foundation for Northern Ireland to move forward.
The IMC report also comments on Loyalist organisations. They report that there are some signs that the UDA are now facing the challenge of the decommissioning of weapons, and that some of the leadership of the UVF increasingly recognise that the organisation must tackle decommissioning.
I made clear in February this year that I have asked the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning for a further report on progress towards decommissioning in August this year. If there has not been substantial progress I will return to Parliament and bring an end to the decommissioning amnesty period earlier than the current February 2010 deadline.
National DNA Database
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
On 16 December 2008, I announced that I would bring forward proposals to implement the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of S and Marper.
I am pleased to announce today the commencement of the public consultation exercise to keep the right people on the DNA database through the retention, use and governance of DNA and fingerprints. Copies of the consultation paper will be placed in the Vote Office and the Libraries of both Houses.
The European Court found that the “blanket and indiscriminate” retention policy for DNA and fingerprints breached Article 8. We, of course, accept the judgment of the court. But we also accept the court’s recognition of the importance of using DNA and fingerprints to tackle and prevent crime, terrorism and ensure public protection. Public protection has been our key priority in developing these proposals. The proposals focus on achieving a proportionate balance between allowing the police to effectively detect, investigate and deal with offenders whilst ensuring that appropriate safeguards and protections are available to the individual. To achieve that balance, I am proposing changes in five key areas.
First I am proposing that all samples are destroyed. This involves both existing samples held by the police and, in future, a requirement that samples must be destroyed no later than six months from the date on which they were taken.
Secondly, profiles for persons arrested but not convicted may only be retained for a maximum period of six years. Thereafter they must be automatically removed. The profile of a person arrested for an offence in relation to violent, sexual or terrorist offences would be retained for 12 years and thereafter automatically removed. Any offending or further arrest within that timeline will result in a new period of six or 12 years as appropriate being applied. These timescales are based on groundbreaking research by the Jill Dando Institute.
Thirdly, young people aged under 18 years old may be involved in crime during their developing years, but for many it is an isolated incident. That is why I am setting out proposals which would allow the DNA of a person arrested and convicted of a minor offence to be removed from the database on reaching 18 years old. For those arrested and not convicted of any further offences, the profiles will be deleted after six years or on their eighteenth birthday, whichever is sooner. I have already requested those under 10 to be removed from the database. That has been done.
Fourthly, in terms of openness and transparency, I am proposing that the criteria for destruction of profiles and fingerprints before expiry of the six-year or 12-year period should be set out in regulations, and not just police guidance as at present. This would enable people to know whether or not they would qualify to make such an application to their local chief constable. People would also be able to judicially review the decision of the chief constable if they disagreed with his/her decision. I am also proposing that an independent advisory panel be established to monitor implementation of the regulations.
Lastly, I indicated in December 2008 that we need to make sure that those who should be on the database, are on the database. That is why I have included proposals extending police powers to take samples and fingerprints following conviction. The proposals also outline powers to change the law to include those serious violent and sexual offenders who are now back in the community and so that UK citizens or residents who commit offences overseas involving violence or sexual matters have their DNA taken upon return to the UK.
The approach I am putting forward for consideration is about implementing the judgment and applying the scope provided for in the judgment to ensure public protection and enhance individual safeguards.
My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Gerry Sutcliffe) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I have written today to the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group to respond to the Community Pub Inquiry and have placed copies of the response in the Library of the House.
The response has involved careful consideration by nine government departments and other bodies such as the Local Better Regulations Office (LBRO) and the Government are pleased to have been able to accept in full, in part or in intent, 23 of the 31 recommendations for Government. The Government believe that the response is a good start in responding to the concerns highlighted by the inquiry, the wider campaign and the public support for the community pub. The Government will continue to work with the industry, local communities and their representatives on the full range of issues and hopes that the APPBG will continue to press the case for community pubs inside Parliament.
Hard copies of the report are available in the Vote and Printed Paper Offices and will be available on the DCMS website at www.culture.gov.uk/reference_library/ publications/6137.aspx.