Monday 11 May 2009
Armed Forces: Joint Warrior
My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Bob Ainsworth) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Joint Warrior is a biannual tri-service major exercise with invited NATO and allied nations and usually takes place over a two-week period in the spring and autumn. Its aim is to provide high-quality joint collective training and pre-deployment training in a multithreat environment for participating units and their staffs. Each unit will operate from various bases in the UK and abroad but specifically there is an increase in air and land activity across Wales, Scotland and the border regions of England, as well as an increase in maritime activity in the north and west of Scotland.
These exercises have now become routine and I therefore wish to update the House that, with immediate effect, it is my intention to write only to individual Members who have raised specific concerns. I have also written to the First Ministers for Scotland and Wales to advise them of this decision.
Joint Warrior is a complex exercise which requires careful planning and co-ordination to minimise the possibility of environmental damage. I would like to reassure the House that, in order to achieve this, the exercise planning teams will continue to work closely with local authorities, various national rural agencies, landowners and other interested parties.
Collective training is a key priority for defence. It is a vital component of the UK Armed Forces’ ability to generate forces at the right time, with the right skills and in the right numbers and Joint Warrior has the additional benefit of giving UK forces the ability to train and operate with other coalition countries. The next exercise, Joint Warrior 091, commences on 11 May 2009 and a press release will be issued for public information.
My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Alistair Darling) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
As indicated in both the Pre-Budget Report and the Budget, the Government are conducting a detailed review of the arrangements surrounding the insolvency of investment banks. Today I am publishing the Government’s first consultation document on this issue. This document sets out the Government’s preliminary thinking on possible market, regulatory or legislative changes that may be considered in respect of future insolvencies in the investment banking sector. The paper covers issues relating to trading, clearing and settlement, to client assets and moneys, and to the resolution of investment firms in difficulty. Copies of the document, which is entitled Developing Effective Resolution Arrangements for Investment Banks, have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and will be available on the HM Treasury website.
EU: Competitiveness Council
An informal meeting of EU Research Ministers took place in Prague on 4 May. The two main topics for discussion were links between higher education, research and innovation policies and the mobility and career development of researchers. Professor Adrian Smith, director-general for science and research in DIUS represented the UK.
The meeting began with a session on the knowledge triangle (a concept referring to the links between higher education, innovation and research policies as being central to the creation of a strong knowledge-based economy). There were presentations from the vice-chair of the Czech Research Council and from three organisations representing major investors in R&D from the three sides of the knowledge triangle: EUROHORCs (the heads of national research councils in Europe), the European University Association (EUA) and BusinessEurope.
This was followed by a discussion focusing on relevant initiatives being implemented in member states and at European level. The UK stressed the need to address the culture of university-business relations alongside looking at the structures designed to forge links between these two groups and noted action taken in the UK to this effect.
The second session, on developing human resources for research, examined a paper circulated by the Portuguese and Luxembourg Ministers setting out the conditions required to make Europe a more attractive place for researchers to work. The UK referred to the importance of national action plans on researcher careers and mobility currently being developed in member states and the need to respect national competence which applied in key areas. It was also important to examine the specific needs of mobile researchers in the wider context of mobile workers as a whole and to maximise the use of existing European consultative groups in taking this agenda forward.
EU: Education, Youth and Culture Council
My honourable friend the Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism (Barbara Follett) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Education, Youth and Culture Council will be held on 11 and 12 May in Brussels. Andy Lebrecht, UK Deputy Permanent Representative, will be representing the UK on 12 May when culture and audiovisual issues will be taken.
The first item on the agenda concerns the council conclusions on culture as a catalyst for creativity and innovation. The conclusions successfully draw the link between culture and the Lisbon objectives and reflect the role of creativity in responding to the economic crisis. This year also celebrates the European Year of Creativity and innovation. I intend to support the adoption of these conclusions.
The council will be invited to adopt a decision on the selection of two member states with a view to the nomination by the council of two experts in the selection panel for the European Capital of Culture Community action 2010-12. The presidency will also seek the adoption of decisions on the selection of cities to host the European Capital of Culture events for 2012 and 2013. Portugal and Slovenia are the EU member states nominating cities for 2012 and have put forward Guimarães and Maribor respectively. France and Slovakia are nominating cities for 2013 and have put forward Marseille and Košice respectively. I intend to support each of these proposals.
There will then be a discussion of a presidency paper on creative content online. The paper asks a series of questions around the prevention of intellectual property theft and the need to promote media literacy: what steps have member states taken to help develop legal offers and tackle the problems of piracy? How effective have these steps been and are there any lessons that can be learnt from the experience gained? In particular: (i) how far is it possible to take government action without risking the creation of new obstacles to the development of new innovative services; and (ii) how far is it possible to develop solutions which promote greater variety and better accessibility of legal offer while protecting the interests of rightholders? On media literacy, the presidency asks: how can member states achieve greater awareness on the importance of media literacy, and where do they see added value in possible initiatives at EU level? Our contribution to the exchange of views will outline current UK actions where we think that these are relevant to other member states and the Commission.
Under any other business, the presidency will provide information on the state of play of the Commission proposal establishing MEDIA Mundus, an audiovisual co-operation programme with professionals from third countries. The programme has a budget of €15 million and will run for a three-year period from 2011. The aims of the programme include increasing information exchange, competitiveness and transnational distribution worldwide. It also aims to improve circulation and exposure of audiovisual works, increasing public demand for culturally diverse audiovisual content. The presidency will present a paper outlining the current status of this proposal and will invite discussion and comments from member states. The UK is supportive of the principle of this programme and I do not foresee the need to intervene on this item.
Also under any other business the presidency will provide feedback on the conference held on the responsibilities of content providers and users and the Forum for Creative Europe. There will be an information point on the Work Plan for Culture 2008-10. There will also be an information point from the Greek delegation on the inauguration of the New Acropolis Museum. The Government do not foresee any need to intervene on any of these items.
Northern Ireland Prison Service: Corporate and Business Plan
My honourable friend the Minister of State for Northern Ireland (Paul Goggins) has made the following Ministerial Statement.
I have placed copies of the Northern Ireland Prison Service’s Corporate and business plan for 2009-12 in the Libraries of both Houses.
The corporate and business plan contains key performance targets I have set for the service for 2009-10. These are:
no escape for category A prisoners;
no more than three escapes per 1,000 category B, C or D prisoners;
the number of staff assaulted by prisoners is less than a ratio of 2.5 per 100 prisoners;
the number of prisoners assaulted by prisoners is less than a ratio of 3 per 100 prisoners;
an average of at least 20 hours of constructive activity per week for each sentenced prisoner;
an average of at least 10 hours of constructive activity per week for each remand prisoner;
to ensure 87 per cent of prisoners serving six months or more are working to a resettlement plan and that 97 per cent of lifers work to a life sentence plan, including preparation of the plan, within the first six months of sentence;
each member of staff should receive an average of five training days;
reduce the rate of absenteeism to 11 days by 2009-10;
lay the annual report and audited accounts before Parliament prior to the Summer Recess; and
ensure the average cost per prisoner place does not exceed £78,750.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am today publishing Transforming Places; Changing Lives: Taking Forward the Regeneration Framework. This follows the consultation document I launched last July which looked at the way regeneration is carried out in England.
Since that time the economic downturn has had a significant impact on regeneration activity. This is having an impact not just on physical developments but also on the lives of people living across the country through jobs and homes that have been lost and the strain that that places on communities.
This document responds to these challenges and sets out a strategic framework for regeneration, supported by measures to target investment; deliver increased flexibility for front-line agencies; and provide clear leadership—setting out a vision of the outcomes we expect regeneration to deliver now and in the future.
The framework aims to ensure that regeneration investment is:
more tightly focused on economic outcomes and worklessness;
driven at the right spatial level—and as close to communities as is practicable, making the most of opportunities that already exist; and
targeted—not trying to transform everywhere—but investing where it will have most impact by supporting those communities where the most severe poverty and worklessness persist and where there is the opportunity to deliver long-term change.
The framework sets out three success measures, against which all regeneration should be judged in future. These are:
improving economic performance, particularly in the most deprived areas;
creating the right conditions for business growth though improved infrastructure, and use of land and a better public realm; and
creating places where people want to live and can work and businesses want to invest.
The framework is accompanied by an impact assessment. Copies are available in the Libraries of the House or it can be accessed via the Communities and Local Government website at www.communities.gov.uk/citiesandregions/.
Schools: Safer Schools
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Today my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Office (Jacqui Smith) and I are announcing the publication of Safer School Partnerships Guidance.
In the Youth Crime Action Plan published in July last year, we said that we wanted to encourage the foundation of more safer school partnerships (SSPs), so that they become the norm rather than the exception. SSPs, an important part of neighbourhood policing, have a central role to play in supporting the triple-track approach of enforcement, prevention and support on which the action plan is based. Taking early action to ensure pupil safety and to prevent young people from being drawn into crime or anti-social behaviour is important for all pupils and for all schools. And every school—not just those in high crime areas or which have serious issues of anti-social behaviour or offending among their pupils—should consider establishing an SSP.
This publication provides guidance to support that aim. Copies of the guidance have been placed in the Library.
My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs has made the following Statement.
The Government firmly believe that the blacklisting of trade unionists has no place in a modern system of employment relations. Individuals should not be systematically and secretly victimised for their trade union membership and for engaging in the activities of a trade union.
Section 3 of the Employment Relations Act 1999 contains a power for the Secretary of State to introduce regulations prohibiting the compilation, dissemination and use of lists of trade union members or activists which are drawn up with the purpose of discrimination in relation to their recruitment and treatment by employers or employment agencies.
We consulted on draft regulations in 2003 but they were not implemented. We took that decision because it was then widely believed that blacklisting of this type had been eradicated in the UK. Following the investigation of the Information Commissioner into the affairs of the Consulting Association (TCA), renewed evidence has come to light. The investigation showed that, within the construction industry, a covert vetting system has operated. My officials have worked closely with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) during its investigation and they have examined the detailed information which the ICO seized from TCA. We have discovered that much of the information held by TCA concerned the trade union activities of individuals and gave a very unfavourable account of their suitability for employment.
In the light of these developments, the Government are minded to introduce regulations under Section 3 of the 1999 Act. To ensure we have drafted them correctly and taken account of subsequent developments, BERR will launch a short public consultation early this summer seeking views on revised regulations. We will then seek parliamentary approval of the final draft regulations this autumn, bringing them into effect at the earliest opportunity thereafter. This abuse needs to be addressed as a matter of priority and our aim is to ensure that suitably drafted regulations are implemented with the minimum of delay.