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Written Statements

Volume 713: debated on Thursday 22 October 2009

Written Statements

Thursday 22 October 2009

Armed Forces: Compensation Scheme

Statement

My honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State and Minister for Veterans (Kevan Jones) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Ministry of Defence is entering the next stage of the review of the Armed Forces compensation scheme that was brought forward from 2010, as announced by the Defence Secretary in July of this year.

The terms of reference for the review are as follows:

to examine whether the fundamental principles of the scheme remain valid;

to evaluate how successfully the scheme in its current form gives effect to these principles; and

having regard to fairness, feasibility, sustainability and ease of administration, to make recommendations on any modifications that are required to ensure that the scheme is fit for purpose.

The review will be undertaken by the Ministry of Defence under the leadership of an independent chairman, Admiral the Lord Boyce, who will determine the review recommendations. It will report to the Defence Secretary and be published by him, with an indication of the steps which he intends to take as a result of the review.

An independent scrutiny group has been established with representatives of service and ex-service organisations, service families’ representatives, and medical, academic and legal experts, from whom the independent chairman and the department will take advice as the review progresses. It has already held its first meeting.

The aim is for the review to report within a few months.

The review will look at a range of issues including (but not limited to):

the fundamental principles underlying the compensation scheme;

the overall level of compensation, including for dependants;

what the compensation is for and its relationship with other state benefits;

comparisons with other compensation in the UK and internationally;

issues raised by the court of appeal judgment;

the circumstances of injury, illness or death;

the claims and adjudication process;

the burden and onus of proof;

the time limit on claims and the treatment of deterioration;

the compensation paid for mental illness; and

the compensation paid to individuals with multiple injuries.

The membership of the review’s independent scrutiny group is as follows:

Admiral the Lord Boyce GCB OBE DL

Former Chief of the Defence Staff

Major General Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter, KCVO OBE DL

Controller, Army Benevolent Fund

Jerome Church

General Secretary, BLESMA

Chris Simpkins

Director General, Royal British Legion

David Richmond

AFCS Beneficiary

Kim Richardson

Chair of the Navy Families Federation

Gill Grigg MBE

Chair of War Widows Association of Great Britain

Professor David Bonner

Professor of Law, University of Leicester

Simon Levene

Barrister

Professor Sir Anthony Newman Taylor, CBE FMedsci

Deputy Principal of the Faculty of Medicine, Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Imperial College, Consultant Physician at Royal Brompton Hospital

Dr David Snashall, MSc FRCP FFOM LLM

Clinical Director and Senior Lecturer in the Occupational Health Department at St Thomas’s Hospital

Professor David Alexander, MA (Hons) C.Psychol PhD FBPS FRSM (Hon) FRCPSych

Director of the Aberdeen Centre for Trauma Research and Professor of Mental Health in the Faculty of Health and Social Care

Armed Forces: Defence Estate

Statement

My honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State and Minister for Veterans (Kevan Jones) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The stewardship report on the defence estate 2008-09 will be published today. The publication of the report implements the commitment in “The Defence Estate Strategy 2006—In Trust & On Trust” to report annual performance across a range of estate-related strategic aims, and to demonstrate that the department is discharging its obligations properly and acting responsibly in meeting the needs of the Armed Forces. The report attempts to balance:

the substantial investment made in the estate, the successes over the year, the steps being taken to improve the effectiveness of management and the achievement of value for money; and

the commitment to provide an account of our stewardship to external stakeholders.

The report continues to set out the progress against the aims and objectives in the defence estate strategy 2006 and demonstrates how the estate is changing as a result. The report is published online and can be found at http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/AboutDefence/CorporatePublications/DefenceEstate andEnvironmentPublications/DefenceEstates/.

Benefits: Winter Fuel Allowance

Statement

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Helen Goodman) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce that, following advice from the Meteorological Office, the annual review of the cold weather payments scheme has now been completed. Amending regulations were laid on 5 October and will come into force on 1 November 2009, in time for the beginning of the winter period.

For winter 2009-10 nine new weather stations will be included as part of the scheme. Consequently, some postcodes from existing weather stations for winter 2008-09 will be redistributed and assigned to the following weather stations: Fylingdales, Gravesend, Leek, Little Rissington, North Wyke, Sheffield, St Bees Head, Stonyhurst, and Strathallan.

The alternative weather stations have been chosen to provide weather station-to-postcode linkages that are at least as representative as the previous arrangements—the changes are expected to have either a neutral effect or indeed provide a more accurate assessment for those eligible.

I am writing separately to each Member whose constituency will be affected by these changes. I am also writing to each Member who made representations last winter to inform them of the advice from the Meteorological Office.

The amending regulations also provide for the rate of a cold weather payment to remain at £25 for winter of 2009-10.

Cold weather payments are separate from, and in addition to, winter fuel payments which are paid to eligible people from age 60.

Courts: Magistrates' Courts

Statement

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

Local authorities use the magistrates’ courts to enforce non-payment of council tax. This process begins with an application (called a complaint) for the court to issue a summons informing the individual that the local authority is seeking unpaid council tax and asking the individual to attend court if they wish to challenge the court making a liability order for that amount. The issue of a summons for non-payment of council tax or non-domestic rates must be authorised by a justice of the peace or legal adviser with delegated powers from a justices’ clerk. Fees are chargeable and the decision of the court at the hearing must be recorded in a court register.

Investigations by HMCS staff have identified examples of a small number of magistrates’ courts failing to follow the correct procedures. In particular HMCS has identified examples of fees not being charged to local authorities for issuing proceedings and some examples of a failure at Salford magistrates’ court to enter the results of applications for liability orders on the court register. More seriously, two magistrates’ courts, Rochdale and Salford, permitted the local authorities to issue summonses requiring attendance at court without the authorisation of the court.

This was a clear procedural failing and was immediately stopped when it came to light. Individuals and the magistrates concerned in subsequently hearing cases would not have been aware of this irregularity.

In all such cases, individuals would have had ample opportunity to attend court if they wished to challenge the liability to have the non-payment enforced against them. However, they would not have been aware that the summons had not been properly issued. Had the summonses been correctly issued, there is no reason to think the consequences would have been any different in practice. Individuals should pay their council tax and this House would expect non-payment to be properly enforced.

Given the paucity of information available, it is not practicable to identify the individuals concerned. The issues identified in Rochdale and Salford have been fully investigated and I am satisfied that correct procedures are now in place. A national check was carried out that revealed no similar practices and all courts have been reminded of the importance of following the correct procedures.

Equality: Health and Social Care

Statement

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

In April 2009, the Secretary of State for Health asked Sir Ian Carruthers, chief executive of NHS South West, and Jan Ormondroyd, chief executive of Bristol City Council, to undertake a review of age discrimination and age equality in the health and social care sector, as announced in a Written Statement on 27 April 2009 (Official Report, col. 35WS).

The review was asked to consider what health and social care organisations should do to meet the age provisions of the Equality Bill, currently before Parliament. The Bill outlaws age discrimination against people aged 18 and over by those providing services and exercising public functions. The Bill also creates a new public sector equality duty which applies in relation to age as well as to seven other protected characteristics.

The review was supported by the National Advisory Group on Age Discrimination, chaired by John Dixon, deputy chief executive and director of social services at West Sussex County Council. The review has undertaken a comprehensive engagement process in the south-west with local authorities, the NHS, public groups and third sector organisations, focusing on the practical implementation of the Bill.

The review’s leaders published their report, Achieving Age Equality in Health and Social Carea report to the Secretary of State for Health on 22 October 2009. The report sets out the review’s recommendations and conclusions on what actions health and social care organisations need to take to tackle age discrimination and advance age equality. It includes a recommendation to implement the Equality Bill’s age discrimination ban in health and social care at the same time as in other sectors.

The Government are minded to accept the review’s recommendation on the timing of implementation. The department intends to consult on its response to the report in December of this year. This will take place in parallel with the further development of a resource pack designed to support implementation.

The report has been placed in the Library and copies are available to honourable Members from the Vote Office.

EU: Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

Statement

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

European Union Health Ministers met in Luxembourg for the EPSCO (Health) Council on 12 October 2009. Andy Lebrecht (Deputy Permanent Representative, UKRep) represented the UK.

EU Health Commissioner Vassiliou opened the meeting by announcing the latest information from the ongoing clinical trials on the vaccines for H1N1. It was looking increasingly likely that only one dose would be enough to ensure immunity, rather than two as previously thought. As requested by the council conclusions, the Commission would propose a mechanism whereby member states with surpluses of vaccines could make those vaccines available to other member states.

The Commissioner then noted that the joint procurement exercise for those member states without agreements with the pharmaceutical industry (Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Malta) was ongoing and might be extended to EU neighbourhood or candidate countries. She finished by remarking that had the EU had a common procurement agreement for vaccines, rather than differing national arrangements, then all countries could have had the right amount of vaccines at a lower price.

Commissioner Vassiliou praised the willingness to work together that member states had shown throughout the pandemic, but noted that there was room for improvement, particularly in the field of communication. She complained that the Commission and other member states had often heard about important announcements through the media, rather than beforehand from the member state(s) concerned.

The ministerial discussion focused on three main issues: communications with the public; work with developing countries; and cross-cutting multisectoral preparedness.

Most member states agreed that communications should be co-ordinated wherever possible, but noted that they would always have to be tailored to local circumstances. When policies or messages differed, it was important that authorities could explain to the public why this was. This was particularly true for the vaccination campaigns which will be launched in the near future. The UK, and other countries, emphasised the key role that the Health Security Communicator’s Network, which provides a forum for officials dealing with communications to liaise with each other, has to play here. The UK also noted that it would be important for any EU-level communications initiative to support member state initiatives.

There was also a clear consensus that work with developing countries should be led by the UN system, and the WHO in particular. Many member states noted that the question of aid was wider than only the supply of vaccines: the EU should consider how healthcare systems more generally could be strengthened. The UK encouraged other member states and the Commission to provide as much support as possible to the UN’s urgent needs identification and prioritisation process for developing countries, and looked forward to the discussions on this envisaged by the council conclusions.

The presidency received clear support for the work it had initiated on multisectoral issues in the Friends of the Presidency Group. In addition to transport, telecommunications, and energy, member states thought that business continuity in banking and food and water supplies should be considered. The UK said that it thought that this multisectoral work was essential and suggested two specific tasks this group could set itself:

in the short term, a report summarising the business planning assumptions each member state is using; and

in the long term, a piece of work examining the kind of flexibility that might be needed in Community legislation in the event of a crisis.

The presidency welcomed these suggestions and said that the group would indeed take forward the work suggested by the UK.

EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council

Statement

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

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 26 and 27 October in Luxembourg. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and I will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the 29 and 30 October European Council

The GAERC will discuss the presidency’s agenda for the October European Council, which will be dominated by three main topics: institutional issues, climate change and the economic and financial crisis. On institutional issues, the focus will be on how to follow up Czech President Klaus’s questions in relation to the Lisbon treaty. The presidency will look to make progress where it can on implementation of the Lisbon treaty. It is possible that this may include detailed discussion on the shape of the Commission.

Preparations for the Copenhagen summit on climate change will be a priority as the October European Council offers the last realistic opportunity for the EU to agree a mandate in advance of Copenhagen. The presidency has also scheduled a discussion of the Commission’s Larosiere proposals on European financial supervision and regulation, focusing on Commission proposals for the creation of a new European systemic risk body (ESRB). The other agenda items are illegal migration, the Baltic Sea strategy and external relations.

The Government broadly support the presidency’s agenda and look forward to a firm EU commitment on climate change ahead of Copenhagen.

Baltic Sea Strategy

There will be a short discussion of the EU strategy for the Baltic Sea region. Ministers are expected to agree conclusions on the strategy before it is formally adopted at the October European Council. The strategy aims to make the Baltic Sea region an environmentally sustainable, prosperous, accessible, and secure place, by bringing together a range of existing and planned measures into an integrated overall approach. The Government welcome the strategy as a means of delivering joined-up regional approaches to the issues facing Europe and will be interested to observe the development of actions and the lessons this may have for the management of regional seas.

AOB: Climate change

Following the launch of the Four Degree Map on 22 October, which involved senior scientists from the Met Office Hadley Centre, we will be interested to hear partners’ views. The map shows the most likely outcome from business-as-usual emissions and underlines the risk of a four degree rise to security and prosperity, and the need for a deal at Copenhagen that will keep warming to a maximum of two degrees. Ministers will also discuss the forthcoming EU summits with the US, India, Russia and China, where we want climate change to be a key agenda item.

External Relations

Iran

This will be the first EU ministerial discussion since the 1 October meeting in Geneva of the E3+3 and Iran. The presidency will look to the parties involved to update on developments since then; namely, attempts to schedule a follow-up meeting with the Iranians that addresses the nuclear issue; the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspection (scheduled for 25 October) of the recently disclosed enrichment facility at Qom; and the negotiations in Vienna on 19 October regarding the Tehran research reactor. We will also reiterate the need for the EU to maintain a robust united voice in condemnation of human rights violations arising from the ongoing post-election trials.

Enlargement

Ministers may discuss Albania's application for EU membership. The Government support prompt forwarding of the Albanian application to the Commission for an Avis (opinion) in line with normal practice.

Afghanistan/Pakistan

Discussion will focus on the joint presidency/Commission paper on enhancing EU engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Government welcome the paper, and look forward to its full and swift implementation.

We also expect discussion to focus on the outcome of the Afghan elections. We will underline the importance of maintaining co-ordinated EU support in the run up to the second round of the presidential elections, including through another European election mission. We will also aim to secure agreement to hold a second EU-Pakistan summit under the Spanish presidency.

Western Balkans

We expect the Swedish presidency to report on the joint EU-US initiative to make progress on blocked reform priorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The Government welcome this initiative, to which we are giving our full support. We are urging BiH's political leaders to engage fully and constructively in the talks.

Middle East Peace Process

Following a briefing to Ministers from the presidency and High Representative Solana, the GAERC is likely to reiterate EU support for: a two-state solution in accordance with previous agreements between the parties; the need for a comprehensive, regional approach; and urgent access to Gaza. We expect Ministers to review US efforts to launch negotiations between the parties and reaffirm the EU’s readiness to work in close co-operation with the US and other international partners towards achieving a sustainable and lasting peace.

Sri Lanka

We welcome this discussion, which we expect to cover our main areas of concern, in particular: the need for the Government of Sri Lanka to make urgent progress in returning the internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their homes as soon as possible; improving the conditions in the camps for the remaining IDPs and taking steps aimed at encouraging reconciliation between Sri Lanka's communities. This includes the need for an independent and credible process to address possible violations of international humanitarian law by both sides during the conflict.

AOB: Moldova

Ministers are likely to discuss recent political and economic developments. This may include the recent International Monetary Fund visit, the timing of EU macrofinancial assistance and other possible sources of funding. There may also be a short discussion about the outcome of the presidential parliamentary vote on 23 October. We support an ambitious programme of EU engagement and assistance with the new Government.

AOB: Somalia

Ministers are likely to discuss possible EU action, including a mission to train Somali security forces. They may also cover existing training initiatives undertaken bilaterally by some member states. We support the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) joint needs assessment, expected mid-November, believing that its outcomes will help to focus EU activities, and encourage co-ordination and buy-in from the Transitional Federal Government.

AOB: Guinea

We expect Ministers to discuss an EU arms embargo and sanctions against individuals deemed to be a threat to the transitional process in Guinea. The Government strongly condemn the violent repression by military forces of the demonstration on 28 September in Conakry, the massacre of unarmed civilians and gross human rights violations including rapes. We would support an EU decision on targeted sanctions against suggested individuals and an EU arms embargo.

EU: Justice and Home Affairs Council

Statement

The Justice and Home Affairs Council is due to be held on 23 October in Luxembourg. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs (Meg Hillier), the Scottish Minister for Community Safety (Fergus Ewing), and I, intend to attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed.

The council, beginning in mixed committee with non-EU Schengen states, will receive an update from the presidency on arrangements for the first milestone test for the second generation Schengen information system (SIS II). The UK welcomes the update and will press to ensure the test is well-planned and managed in line with the criteria set out in the June JHA council conclusions.

Next the presidency will present an update on the current state of play on the implementation of the regulation establishing the visa information system (VIS). The UK does not participate in that regulation.

Following mixed committee, the Commission will present their annual report on visa reciprocity, which is to be published soon. While the UK does not participate in the EU visa regime, we do maintain an interest in all visa issues, notably for full reciprocity with third country nationals. The council will then exchange views on Canada’s decision to reintroduce visa requirements for all Czech nationals. The UK believes the Commission should continue to engage with the Canadians to broker a solution.

The presidency will seek a general approach on the draft framework decision on accreditation of forensic laboratory activities, which aims to increase mutual trust in DNA and fingerprint data exchanged by requiring a minimum standard of accreditation. The Government fully support the measure, subject to the views of the parliamentary scrutiny committees.

The presidency will then invite the council to reach a general approach on the proposal for a council decision to establish the European crime prevention network. This instrument will strengthen the network’s ability to identify exchange and disseminate crime prevention information and actions targeted at traditional, or volume, crime. The UK is a co-sponsor of the initiative and supports the presidency in wishing to secure a general approach.

In the afternoon, Justice Ministers will be asked to adopt a council resolution on a road map for strengthening procedural rights of suspected or accused persons in criminal proceedings. The resolution encourages the European Commission to submit proposals, to be considered by the member states, for action to improve criminal procedural law standards across the European Union. The Government hope that this will help to enhance the operation of mutual recognition by increasing trust among member states. The Government fully support the measure, subject to the views of the parliamentary scrutiny committees.

The presidency will seek a general approach on a draft framework decision and an accompanying draft resolution on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings. Together they form the first of the measures that are to be proposed on the roadmap for strengthening procedural rights. They will ensure that there are common minimum standards with respect to the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings. The Government support the measures, subject to the views of the parliamentary scrutiny committees.

The council will then have a first exchange of views on the proposed framework decision on the transfer of proceedings in criminal matters. This is a member state initiative, which seeks to establish a common legal framework for the transfer of criminal cases between member states where this would improve the efficient and proper administration of justice. This proposal is a priority for the Swedish presidency, where it hopes to reach a general approach at the November council (30 November/1 December).

The presidency will lead a political discussion on the proposal for a framework decision on combating trafficking of human beings with a view to resolving some of the outstanding issues; for example, on jurisdiction for offences. The Government are generally content with the proposed framework decision, subject to the views of the parliamentary scrutiny committees.

Under any other business the Commission will present its review of visa facilitation in the western Balkans. The UK does not participate in the part of the Schengen acquis that covers visa liberalisation and will not be lifting visit visa requirements for western Balkan states when the Schengen zone liberalises its own requirements. The UK remains a strong supporter of the EU enlargement process and the aspirations of west Balkan states for eventual EU membership.

Faith Schools

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 9 March 2009, I informed the House that I had asked Ofsted to carry out a survey of independent faith schools’ work to promote pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development. The purpose of the survey was to gather evidence on current practice with a view to considering whether the independent school regulations on SMSC are fit for purpose. The survey focused on practice in faith schools in view of the particular context a faith ethos provides.

Ofsted has today published the results of the survey. It found that practice in all of the 51 schools visited was at least good with pupils demonstrating a strong sense of identity and belonging to their faith, their school and to Britain; and with a clear commitment to promoting the values of good citizenship. Ofsted has concluded that the current regulations are fit for purpose but recommends various ways in which we can work with the sector to improve pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development further and support consistently high standards across the sector.

I very much welcome the report. I asked Ofsted to carry out this survey because some concerns had been expressed about whether all independent faith schools were effectively preparing pupils for life in British society. While we will always take any specific allegations very seriously, this survey shows that the regulatory regime for independent schools is fit for purpose and that provision across the sector is good.

I would like to thank the schools and the representatives of different faith organisations who took part in Ofsted’s survey. I look forward to working with them and with other practitioners from across the sector to take forward Ofsted’s recommendations and promote excellent opportunities for all pupils.

Ofsted has made recommendations in three areas:

Provide greater clarity in the meaning of the five strands of the SMSC regulations

The independent school regulations are designed to offer flexibility to allow schools to provide a distinctive education in line with their faith ethos while at the same time preparing pupils to lead successful lives as responsible citizens in wider British society. While schools want to retain this flexibility, Ofsted has found that they would welcome greater clarity about what is meant by aspects of the regulations.

I will be setting up a new independent schools practitioners group to work with us on revised guidance to promote consistently high standards right across the sector. This will include encouraging schools to provide pupils with opportunities to learn about the different cultures and faiths practised in the UK, alongside developing a deep understanding and sense of belonging to their own community.

Encourage more interfaith and partnership working between independent schools and with the maintained sector

Ofsted has found that some of the best practice occurs where schools work in partnership with local communities and with other schools to support the professional development of staff and build mutual respect and understanding.

There are lots of excellent examples of good partnership working already taking place. I have asked Pat Langham, chair of the Independent-State School Partnership Group (ISSP) for that group to consider how the sector could encourage this further.

Around 70 faith schools from the maintained and independent sectors are already embarking on linking projects through the DCSF funded national Schools’ Linking Network (SLN). Last week I announced an additional £50,000 support for the national Schools’ Linking Network to work in partnership with the Three Faiths Forum to provide high quality advice and training for local authorities and schools to encourage successful interfaith linking projects and links between maintained and independent schools.

Ensure teaching resources are accurate and unbiased

Religious education (RE) has a very important role to play in promoting cohesion through developing understanding of different faiths and cultures and exploring the role faith plays in society, and it is important that teachers have access to high quality and accurate resources. In a minority of the schools visited, Ofsted found that while the pupils’ understanding was good, there were examples of inaccurate or biased materials being used to teach about religions

We know that the availability of high quality resources for RE is an issue in both maintained and independent sectors and I would urge all schools to review the resources they are using. As part of a drive to improve RE provision in all schools, we have commissioned Warwick University to carry out research to look at the RE materials that are currently being used. This work will help to inform work with the RE council, local RE curriculum advisers, teachers and schools to make sure that all pupils have access to high quality learning materials. We will publish this research in the New Year.

Health: Management Consultants

Statement

My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Mike O’Brien) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Following the publication on 4 June 2009 of a House of Commons Health Select Committee report on the use of management consultants by the NHS and Department of Health, I am today laying the Government’s response before Parliament (Cm 7683). The response is in the Library and copies are available to honourable Members from the Vote Office.

The Government have considered the committee’s report and welcome it as a helpful contribution. The Command Paper sets out the Government’s response to the report and outlines the steps already being taken to meet the recommendations of the committee.

The department is already working to meet the committee’s recommendations as part of a programme to improve the transparency of expenditure and to enhance the way in which management consultants are procured, managed and evaluated. Details on the department’s use of management consultancy have already been published and will be shared with the committee at the forthcoming public expenditure inquiry.

Our response also sets out how we plan to improve the accountability and ensure value in the use of management consultancy in the NHS. We have already set in place plans to collect details of the NHS’s overall expenditure by summer 2010. The Government have also committed to undertaking further work to improve the transparency of NHS expenditure. Through this work, the Government intend to continue to improve the level of detail we are able to provide to the Select Committee.

Iraq

Statement

My honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Bill Rammell) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am making a Statement on the UK’s bilateral agreement with the Government of Iraq on defence training and maritime support. Copies of the text of this agreement were placed in the Library of the House on 26 July.

The House will be aware that the UK concluded combat operations in Iraq on 30 April and that our combat forces were withdrawn by the end of July in accordance with our previous arrangement with the Government of Iraq.

As the Prime Minister announced on 18 December last year, the Iraqi Government have requested our continued military assistance, particularly in officer training, naval training and maritime support. The two Governments therefore concluded an agreement concerning naval training and maritime support to Iraqi forces in June. Since then, the agreement has been considered by the Iraqi Council of Representatives and received its Third Reading on 13 October. The agreement will now enter into force once both parties have completed their parliamentary procedures and exchanged diplomatic notes.

My right honourable friend the Defence Secretary wrote to Opposition spokesmen and the chair of the House of Commons Defence Committee last month to explain our intention to bring the agreement into force as soon as the Iraqi Government are ready. Training of the Iraqi Navy has been paused since June, and it is important to resume this activity as soon as possible to ensure that it quickly develops the capacity to protect its own territorial waters and the offshore oil platforms which are so vital to Iraq’s economic revival. A prompt resumption of training would allow our Royal Navy trainers, who have been held at readiness since June, to return to the task that they are so adept at delivering.

The agreement was published as a Command Paper and laid before both Houses on 25 September. However, due to our Summer Recess, it will not now be possible to allow the agreement to lay for the full 21 sitting day period before exchanging diplomatic notes. Since it is agreed that our training activity should resume as soon as possible, and having kept Parliament informed of progress throughout the recess, the Government intend to notify the Iraqi Government within the next few days that the UK is ready to bring this agreement into force.

Land Registry: Reorganisation

Statement

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

Land Registry is today announcing a five-year programme of reorganisation and transformation that will cut its costs and put it in the best possible position to continue to deliver effectively the service its customers need.

Land Registry believes that the proposals will help create an organisation that can meet the challenges of a developing property market, that can live within its means and that can continue to provide an outstanding service to its customers. Having looked at a range of possibilities it is proposing to close five local offices and to reduce staff numbers to reflect more efficient working practices. It also intends to embark on a programme of outsourcing some of its support functions and to decrease outgoings further by selling surplus property. These changes will be accompanied by a new customer strategy to ensure Land Registry continues to deliver services that make property transactions easier for all its customers and will also develop additional services to generate extra revenue.

The blueprint for Land Registry’s future published in 2006 recognised the need for it to change to become a smaller, leaner, more flexible organisation. Since then Land Registry has steadily reduced staff numbers but it now needs to move much faster.

Land Registry is proposing, in the first phase of its programme, the closure of its offices in Croydon, Peterborough, Portsmouth, Stevenage and Tunbridge Wells, outsourcing some of its support functions and the sale of surplus property, including its current head office building in central London. Combined with a redundancy scheme for some clerical staff, Land Registry aims to reduce its total staff numbers by a further 1,500 people over the next year and a half. Land Registry will review progress in 2011. Subject to the outcome of that review it envisages the need to reduce staff numbers further resulting in the closure of two further offices in the second phase of the programme.

The proposals announced today, which have been developed by the Land Registry working with the operational efficiency programme, have been accelerated by the property slump—which drastically cut Land Registry’s work and led to a £129.9 million loss including restructuring costs in 2008-09—but they are not a knee-jerk response to it. They will, however, allow Land Registry to respond faster and more efficiently to future fluctuations in the market. Building as robust and sustainable an organisation as possible will allow Land Registry to be proactive rather than passive in the face of market changes and to be in good shape for a recovery in the property market.

The proposed closure of the five offices will be very unwelcome news for Land Registry staff. Land Registry will do whatever it can to ameliorate the impact on its exceptionally loyal, dedicated and hardworking workforce. Unfortunately, however, compulsory redundancies will undoubtedly be necessary if the proposals put forward are confirmed.

Land Registry believes that the proposals will allow it to make far better use of its buildings and to create significant efficiency savings. Land Registry makes no call on taxpayers’ money but it expects cutting its costs to allow its fees to be significantly reduced over the next five years.

Looking ahead, Land Registry will continue to work with the operational efficiency programme to identify additional opportunities to involve the private sector in its business while recognising that the creation, recording and guaranteeing of registered titles should remain a responsibility of Government. There will be a further statement in the Pre-Budget Report.

Land Registry has today published Land Registry’s Accelerated Transformation Programme: Consultation on office closures, copies of which have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Northern Ireland: Decommissioning

Statement

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

At the start of September I received a report from the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD). I have placed a copy of the report in the Library.

The IICD reports that it has overseen a decommissioning event by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Red Hand Commando (RHC). The IICD believes that it has now completed the decommissioning of UVF/RHC arms.

The IICD also reports that it has overseen an act of decommissioning by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). It has received assurances that this is the first in a series of acts and that the UDA has committed to decommission the remainder of its arms before the expiry of the IICD’s mandate.

This is a significant report that confirms that substantial practical progress has been made on decommissioning loyalist paramilitary weapons. This is a tremendous achievement that reflects the hard work of the IICD. It is to be congratulated.

In February I committed to bring the decommissioning amnesty period to an early end if there had not been substantial progress within the six months that followed extension. In light of this report I have therefore decided to let the decommissioning amnesty period continue to run until February 2010. I urge all paramilitary groups to continue to show leadership and complete the decommissioning process.

Social Fund Commissioner

Statement

I am pleased to announce that Karamjit Singh CBE has been appointed the new Social Fund Commissioner for Great Britain and Northern Ireland following an open recruitment exercise. Karamjit will take up the post from 1 December 2009 for a three-year term.