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Written Statements

Volume 717: debated on Monday 1 March 2010

Written Statements

Monday 1 March 2010

EU: Trade Ministers’ Informal Meeting

Statement

I represented the United Kingdom at the Spanish presidency’s Trade Ministers’ informal dinner on 21 February. I welcomed the presidency’s constructive highlighting of the importance of external trade for the economic strength of member states, and the importance of open and fair markets globally as the world emerges from the current economic crisis. I pointed to the importance of trade and exports to help tackle unemployment, currently at 10 per cent across the EU-27 member states. The EU needed an open, fair trading system for our global competitiveness. I was pleased that my comments were reflected well in the new Commissioner, Karel de Gucht’s response, and I look forward to the UK working closely with the new Commission to deliver this critically important agenda.

I emphasised the importance of reaching a balanced conclusion to the Doha development round. Only through the multilateral trade structures can we address the unfair and unbalanced array of trade barriers which prevent growth, particularly in developing countries. But I also said that the United Kingdom welcomed EU progress on reaching free trade agreements, which were a stepping stone to a multilateral agreement. I welcomed the initialling of the agreement with Korea—with potential value of €19 billion for the EU—and stressed the importance to the UK and EU of free trade agreements with India and Singapore. On a free trade agreement with Andean countries currently under negotiation I was clear that we would need reassurances of adequate and appropriate human rights provisions.

I warmly welcomed a renewed focus on economic co-operation with our major trading partners, and the contribution this could make to EU competitiveness. We needed to prioritise relations with the US, Japan and China. We should focus on regulatory co-operation, on international standards, and an intellectual property framework that reflected emerging new technologies and supported greener economic growth.

I pointed to the importance of addressing trade barriers at the EU’s external borders. DG trade in the Commission needed to work with other directorates-general, in particular tax and customs, health and consumers, and energy and transport, on a risk-based approach to trade regulation and to improve or remove disproportionately bureaucratic measures.

I strongly argued that we had to modernise our trade defence rules and ensure a transparent, economic and business-focused system that recognised the realities of global supply chains.

International trade and investment have the potential to bring benefits not only to our own economies, but also to developing countries. I therefore applauded the overall EU member state provision of more than 40 per cent of the global aid for trade. But I argued that the Commission needed more effective and more flexible systems for spending it. On economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries I encouraged the Commission to press forward with negotiating full regional agreements that were truly development-friendly. We also needed mechanisms to implement and monitor existing EPAs. I pressed the Commission to make progress on the review of the general system of preferences (GSP). We needed increased transparency around the effective implementation of GSP+. I drew all member states’ attention to the plight of Pakistan. I argued that there was an overwhelming moral and political case to support the Pakistan economy at this time, and that an adjustment of rules within GSP+ could bring trade benefits that would have wider, mutually beneficial social and political impact. Finally I emphasised the importance of decent work. I argued that working more closely with the ILO we could make important progress to ensure that standards were raised and secured without creating artificial barriers to trade.

Food: Public Sector Procurement

Statement

My honourable friend the Minister for Food, Farming and Environment (Jim Fitzpatrick) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have today deposited copies of the report giving the proportion of UK produce supplied to government departments and the Armed Forces, as well as the proportions supplied to prisons and hospitals under contracts negotiated by HM Prison Service and NHS Supply Chain. A copy of the report is available on the PSFPI website at http://www.defra.gov.uk/farm/policy/sustain/procurement/index.htm.

Government: 30-year Rule

Statement

My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Jack Straw) made the following Written Ministerial Statement on Friday 26 February 2010.

I yesterday laid before each House a copy of the Government’s response to the 30 Year Rule Review (Cm 7822). Copies of this document are available in the Libraries of both Houses and also in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

This publication will further the Government’s plans to increase the accessibility of public information to improve the culture of openness and transparency in public life.

The right to access information has become a cornerstone of our democracy. On 25 October 2007, my right honourable friend, the Prime Minister, announced an independent review of the 30-year rule. The review, chaired by Paul Dacre, published its findings in January 2009. The Government have carefully considered those findings.

As my right honourable friend, the Prime Minister, announced on 10 June 2009 (Official Report, Commons, 10 June 2009 col. 797) the Government plan to reduce the rule to 20 years via amendments to the Public Records Act 1958 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Government believe that a 20-year rule offers the best balance between openness, affordability and the protection of the public interest in good government.

The new information access arrangements set out in the Government’s response to the 30-year rule review will provide earlier access to a wide range of public documents, while also ensuring that we are able to protect the most sensitive information and the constitutional relationships that underpin our system of government.

In order to bring forward these important proposals the Government yesterday tabled amendments to the Constitutional Renewal and Governance Bill. Those amendments also provide protection to Royal records.

I would like to express my gratitude to Paul Dacre, and his two colleagues on the review Sir Joseph Pilling and Professor Sir David Cannadine for all their work on the review.

Health: Autism

Statement

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

I am today announcing the Government’s intent to publish Rewarding and Fulfilling Lives: The Strategy for Adults with Autism in England (2010) on 3 March. A copy will be placed in the Library and copies will be available to honourable Members from the Vote Office.

The Autism Act 2009 was a unique and groundbreaking piece of legislation which signalled this Government’s commitment to improve the lives of people with autism and their families—and it has been reinforced by a range of action across government to boost the profile of autism across public services.

The Autism Act committed the Government to publishing a strategy for adults with autism in England no later than 1 April 2010. We are indebted to the honourable Member for Chesham and Amersham (Cheryl Gillan) and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism for its work in bringing forward this legislation.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability and although some people can live relatively independently, others will require a lifetime of specialist care.

There are approximately 400,000 adults with autistic spectrum conditions (ASC) in England, around half of whom have a learning disability.

Service-engendered barriers to education, employment and the wider community bring economic disadvantage, social isolation, and mental and physical ill health for adults with ASC. Therefore addressing social exclusion for adults with autism is an issue which demands a collective response from services across the public sector.

The autism strategy will set out very clearly what we want for people with autism, and indeed what they should expect from public services and their communities. This new national strategy is an ambitious statement of intent focusing on five core elements:

increasing awareness and understanding of autism;

developing a clear, consistent pathway for diagnosis in every area, which is followed by the offer of a personalised needs assessment;

improving access for adults with autism to the services and support they need to live independently within the community;

helping adults with autism into work, and

enabling local partners to plan and develop appropriate services for adults with autism to meet identified needs and priorities.

Each of these areas has its own chapter in the strategy.

They have been chosen to reflect the findings of the consultation, the themes emerging from the external reference group which supported the strategy’s development and the conclusions of important studies such as the NAO report.

Last year’s National Audit Office report (5 June 2009) Supporting People with Autism through Adulthood reveals widespread evidence of services not meeting need and made a case that investment in services, particularly to support people with high-functioning autism (including Asperger’s syndrome) into employment would deliver substantial savings to the public purse.

The strategy is a practical document. It starts with a long-term vision, but its core is in laying the foundations for long-term change. The overall approach is shaped by existing policy, in particular:

tackling social exclusion;

personalisation of public services as articulated in Putting People First; and

the emphasis on local solutions to meet local needs; and above all the emphasis on fair chances and opportunities for all.

These form the backdrop to the strategy and give much of its underlying direction. More specifically the strategy recognises the breadth of existing policy and programmes that should deliver better for adults with autism. The strategy focuses on how to make these existing policies work better for adults with autism.

The strategy is reinforced by a range of actions across government:

we are funding a study giving better data on the prevalence of autism in the adult population;

we will publish before end March a first year delivery plan to set out in more detail the timescale for implementation in 2010-11;

we will launch in early summer consultation on statutory guidance for health and social care bodies to support delivery, and publish that guidance before the end of the year;

there will be a new national programme board to oversee delivery;

we will develop delivery plans for years two and three of the strategy to maintain momentum; and

we will review the strategy in 2013.

I am confident that the strategy marks a key milestone on the journey towards full inclusion and equality for people with autism. But real success will depend ultimately not only on transforming services, but on changing attitudes across our society. This is not going to happen overnight. We need to work together to achieve our common goal of full inclusion and equality for people with autism.

Iraq

Statement

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

The Armed Forces served with distinction in Iraq in successive Telic operations. A number of allegations of abuse of Iraqi citizens by British service personnel have been brought to our attention by public interest lawyers and more are anticipated. Many of them are sketchy and incomplete in their details; all relate to events that occurred a long time ago; we are no longer in Iraq in significant numbers; we do not have access to the claimants; and the seriousness of the behaviour alleged varies considerably. Investigating these allegations thus presents a huge challenge. Over 120,000 British service personnel have served in Iraq and the vast majority have conducted themselves to the highest standards of behaviour, displaying integrity and selfless commitment. The uncertainty created by these allegations risks unfairly undermining their reputation and achievements and we owe it to them, and to the claimants, that these allegations are properly investigated.

We are therefore determined to ensure that such investigations are carried out thoroughly and expeditiously, so that—one way or another—the truth behind them is established. We firmly believe that open consideration of the issues will establish once and for all that the vast bulk of British forces behaved professionally and responsibly in Iraq in the most challenging of circumstances.

The Special Investigation Branch (SIB) of the Royal Military Police (RMP) has made progress in investigating the claims. To date we have been treating these allegations on a case-by-case basis, but as more have been brought to our attention we have decided to devote even more resource to this work. We are therefore looking to set up a dedicated team—the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT)—to concentrate on these allegations, so that these can be addressed as soon as possible.

Some argue that the Government should hold a public inquiry into these allegations: we disagree. We do not believe that a public inquiry would uncover criminal behaviour, but in the unlikely event that it did, a public inquiry would unable to investigate it fully, even less impose punishments: that would be wrong. Instead we want the court to be assured that, so far as possible, the facts will be investigated—and that this will be done transparently, fully and in a reasonable timescale. The additional resource which the IHAT represents will help to bring matters to as swift a conclusion as is possible. And with this assistance the independent service justice system, including the independent Director of Service Prosecutions (analogous to the DPP) will be able to take appropriate action against anyone who might not have behaved in accordance with the standards which the MoD and the Armed Forces expect of them.

Setting up this new team is not an admission of fault. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather it is a demonstration of the continuing commitment of the MoD and the Armed Forces to transparency and our respect for proper investigation. The time has come to deal with these unproven allegations once and for all. We have nothing to fear and everything to gain by this approach, because the truth is important for the vast majority of British troops who behaved to the highest standards in Iraq.

Migration

Statement

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

I am pleased to announce the joint publication by the UK Border Agency and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of International Challenges, International Solutions: Managing the Movement of People and Goods. The document represents the close partnership that exists between our departments and our close co-operation on the international stage to secure our border and control migration for the benefit of our country.

Today’s publication updates on progress since our 2007 international strategy and sets out how the UK Border Agency and the FCO will strengthen existing partnerships and develop new ones to continue to deliver our objectives overseas. It also shows how the Government plan to do more to help developing countries to maximise the development benefits of migration and to mitigate the negative effects where they occur.

We have made impressive progress towards the goals we set out in 2007. Our overseas border controls have been strengthened through the increased use of risk and intelligence tools. The introduction of the points-based system has delivered a transparent system which allows us to adapt entry criteria based on economic or labour market conditions in the UK. We have also worked closely with international partners to improve co-operation on the return of migrants who are not entitled to be in the UK.

While our priority is to pursue the interests of the UK, the impacts of migration on other countries cannot be ignored. We are determined to keep improving our migration policies so that we do more to facilitate overseas development. We are considering policies that aim to contribute towards this goal.

Today’s publication sets out proposals to use our overseas networks to better manage migration and protect Britain’s borders. Copies will be made available in the Vote Office and the Library of the House.

NHS: Foreign Nationals

Statement

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

On 20 July 2009, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Ann Keen) announced the outcome of the joint Department of Health and UK Border Agency review of the rules on overseas visitors’ access to the National Health Service in England, and the Government’s intention to consult publicly on the change proposals. Today, on her behalf, I am fulfilling that commitment by launching the consultation.

The proposals in the consultation strike a balance between public health needs, managing migration and upholding humanitarian principles, ensuring that we continue to deliver high-quality care to all those with a legal right to it while protecting our NHS from those who would take advantage of it.

The consultation includes proposals to increase the time that UK residents can regularly stay outside the UK before losing automatic entitlement to free NHS hospital care, and to protect unaccompanied children who arrive in the UK. We propose to exempt from charges failed asylum seekers who are co-operating with, and are supported by, the UK Border Agency prior to returning to their own country, but to charge all other failed asylum seekers.

In my honourable friend’s earlier Statement (Official Report, col. 97WS) she said that the Government were attracted to the principle that some visitors should be required to pay for their NHS treatment through personal health insurance, as is already the case in some other countries. Although developing a scheme that is fair and effective will be challenging, we are determined to take this forward. We will now seek views on the merits and feasibility of key principles and mechanisms for making this work, which have the potential to both increase the income that the NHS receives from overseas visitors, and to act as a deterrent to those seeking to abuse the NHS.

We have also taken the opportunity to consolidate the current regulations that underpin the policy on the charging of visitors, and to improve the supporting guidance that we provide for the NHS. Neither of these updates reflects any change in entitlements or operating practices, but they are provided in draft form for people to examine and comment on prior to them being launched.

The Minister of State for Borders and Immigration is today also launching a consultation on the proposal to refuse entry to the UK to those who have significant outstanding debts for NHS treatment. This will help the NHS to recover debts and discourage further those visitors who travel to the UK to seek treatment without paying.

The period for responding to the consultation will run until 30 June 2010. I have placed the consultation document in the Library and copies are available to honourable Members from the Vote Office.

Office of the Public Guardian: Key Performance Indicators

Statement

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

The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) supports the Public Guardian in discharging his statutory duties under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

The following list sets out the key performance targets that have been set for the Office of the Public Guardian for the year 2010-11.

KPI 1: Lasting Power of Attorney/Enduring Power of Attorney

Register and return 90 per cent of applications for registration of attorneyship within nine weeks of receipt.

Target time for the registration of applications is 90 per cent in nine weeks. This takes into account the increased numbers of LPAs OPG expects to receive and develops the aim from 2009-10 of 80 per cent in eight weeks of receipt. Ninety per cent in nine weeks is more challenging and provides a better service for a larger number of customers.

KPI 2: Supervision of Deputies

All deputyship cases require the allocation of a supervision regime based on risk assessment.

The timescale to notify new deputies within 20 working days remains the same as last year. However, we have increased the target percentage from 90 per cent to 95 per cent. This will improve service to more of our customers.

KPI 3: Supervision of Deputies—case review

A full case review of all deputyship cases subject to supervision will be carried out at least every three years, and this year the target is to review a minimum of 40 per cent of cases. A case review could be a combination of: review of annual report; carrying out a visit; review of supervision level following short-term intervention.

Last years target to review 10,000 cases that require intermediate and light-touch supervision will be subject to a case review during 2009-10. The reviews in the coming year will be more specific to the individual issues within the case, and we see this as a key element to helping deputies understand and appreciate the PG supervisory function.

KPI 4: Investigations

Where concerns are raised about actions of an attorney or deputy we will assess risk in 95 per cent within two working days. Upon receipt of an investigations case in the relevant team it is allocated to a specific caseworker. We will conclude 75 per cent of investigations within three months and 95 per cent of investigations within six months.

The new element in this KPI is to conclude 95 per cent of investigations within six months. This provides a challenge to ensure the large majority of cases are concluded within a reasonable timescale.

KPI 5: Finance

Based on the statutory instrument for fees approved by Parliament, we will aim to achieve 100 per cent full cost recovery.

Full cost is defined as:

The total cost of carrying out the provision of services to the taxpayer, less social subsidy/fee remission; financial losses over and above a yearly notional premium; in year bad debts write off and exceptional items.

KPI 6: Customer Satisfaction

Achieve 70 per cent customer satisfaction with OPG service delivery.

This is a new measurement to ensure the OPG maintains and improves the quality of service to its customers.

Copies of the Office of the Public Guardian business plan have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses. It is also available from the OPG website (www.publicguardian.gov.uk).

Questions for Written Answer: Correction

Statement

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

In answer to a Question following my Statement to the House on 9 February 2010 (Official Report, col. 764), I stated as understood at that time that on “on 21 April, Dr Ubani was convicted, received a four-month suspended sentence and made a payment, although it is disputed whether it was a cost or a fine”.

It has come to light that proceedings in Germany against Dr Ubani were finalised on 15 April 2009 where he received a suspended sentence of nine months and made a payment of €5,000. The CPS understands the sum was a fine, rather than costs.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

Railways: Rolling Stock

Statement

In order to replace Britain’s ageing fleet of InterCity 125 trains and to invest in capacity and passenger journey improvements on the east coast and Great Western main lines, the Government began the InterCity express programme procurement in 2007. The programme’s key objective has been to achieve value for money across the lifetime of the trains, taking account of costs right across the rail industry.

Good progress has been made, including the announcement of Agility Trains as preferred bidder in February 2009. Over the course of the procurement, however, there has been a reduction in the capacity of the debt market to support the transaction as originally envisaged, and passenger growth has also slowed. In addition the Government and Network Rail have committed to electrify the Great Western main line from 2016. The Government have identified appropriate adjustments to the original programme to take account of these developments. This has inevitably extended the contractual negotiations, which are not yet complete and would not be so until mid-March at the earliest.

The negotiations are for a contract of nearly 30 years, a multi-billion pound spend over the course of many Parliaments. In all the circumstances, the Government do not believe it would be appropriate to enter into this particular contract in the immediate run-up to a general election. To ensure that a decision is taken at the beginning of the next Parliament on the basis of the fullest evaluation, the Secretary of State has today asked Sir Andrew Foster, former controller of the Audit Commission, to provide an independent assessment of the value for money of the programme and the credibility and the value for money of any alternatives which meet the programme’s objectives. It is critical for rail passengers that the right long-term decision is made about the next generation of intercity trains, which will have a life of 30 years or more.

The existing rolling stock dates back to the 1970s and needs to be replaced. If Sir Andrew Foster reaffirms that the Intercity express programme is better than the alternatives, the Secretary of State’s intention would be to proceed with the project in the next Parliament, subject to satisfactory resolution of all the contractual issues.

Sir Andrew Foster will consult Agility Trains, the department, the relevant train operating companies, the Office of Rail Regulation, Network Rail, passenger groups and the devolved Scottish and Welsh Administrations.

Sir Andrew Foster will report within three months. The report and the Government’s response will be published and reported to Parliament. A copy of the letter from the Secretary of State to Sir Andrew Foster has been laid in the Libraries of the House.

Regional Development Agencies: Northwest

Statement

My right honourable friend the Minister for Regional Economic Co-Ordination (Rosie Winterton) has today made the following Statement.

I am pleased to announce that I have decided to appoint three new board members to Northwest Regional Development Agency. These are Clive Elphick and David Goldie to fill the two vacant business positions and Frank Hont to fill the trade union vacancy.

Regional development agencies are playing a crucial role in addressing short-term issues as well as maintaining a long-term vision to help build a resilient economy for the future. The appointees to Northwest Regional Development Agency Board bring a wealth of experience and knowledge which will be extremely valuable to the contribution that the board can make towards the region’s economic recovery.

The appointments will commence on the 1 March 2010 and expire on 13 December 2012.

I have placed further details of these appointments, including biographies, in the Libraries of both Houses. I can confirm that the appointments were made in accordance with the Commissioner for Public Appointments code of practice.

Thames Tunnel

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State (Hilary Benn) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The building of the Thames tunnel is vital for the future health of Londoners and for the environment and reputation of our capital city. I would like to inform the House that I am minded to direct applications for the tunnel to the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) under Section 35 of the Planning Act 2008 because I believe that this is likely to be the most appropriate and effective way of reaching a decision on this unique and complex project.

Around 32 million cubic metres of untreated sewage and rainwater pollute the River Thames tideway every year from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) when stormwater capacity is exceeded. A CSO is a feature of a combined system, introduced for the purpose of relieving the system of flows in excess of a selected rate, the excess flow being discharged to a local receiving water. A combined system is a system that takes in both rainwater and sewage. The discharges occur, on average, once a week and have a significant environmental impact on the river. These discharges can increase the likelihood of fish kills, create a higher health hazard for users of the river and damage the aesthetic appeal of the Thames. Following the Thames tideway strategic study the Government identified the tunnel, which will intercept around 30 million cubic metres of the average annual discharge, as the best solution to protect the River Thames and to ensure that the capital has a sewerage system able to cope with the impact of population growth, more intense rainfall patterns and the reduction of green space available to soak up rainfall.

I believe the project to be of national significance and I am minded to direct it to the IPC for the following reasons:

it is essential to meet the ecological water quality objectives of a major river;

it is essential to reduce the risk to human health and prevent negative aesthetic impacts;

the unsatisfactory intermittent discharges cause reputational risk to the UK, detracting from the appeal of the river in the nation’s capital, which is otherwise a great asset to residents and visitors alike;

the unique scale and complexity of development will lead to an equally large and complex planning process and the Government have a clear interest in ensuring that the planning process goes as smoothly as possible, to ensure that there are not significant delays in addressing the problems caused by these sewage overflows, while ensuring the process is transparent and that all interested points of view are given a proper opportunity to be heard; and

these improvement works are needed to enable us to continue to meet our obligations under the urban waste water treatment directive. The urgency of the works is increased by the infraction proceedings being pursued against the UK by the European Commission for an alleged breach of the directive.

I believe that a Section 35 direction is likely to offer the most efficient route for a decision on development of the Thames Tunnel. The announcement that I am minded to direct the project to the IPC will allow Defra to work with the directly affected London boroughs, Thames Water and other London stakeholders to discuss what a Section 35 direction is likely to involve. It will also allow us to include consideration of the Thames tunnel in the national policy statement for waste water.

The ongoing input of local planning authorities and local stakeholders will be vital. Under the Planning Act, scheme promoters have a duty to consult, and local authorities can make representations if they think promoters have not adequately consulted with local authorities on how they carry out their consultation with local communities. This can result in an application not being accepted as valid by the IPC. Local authorities will also be invited to submit local impact reports as part of the IPC’s consideration of applications.

A final decision on whether to direct the project to the IPC will not be made until after planning applications are submitted under the Town and Country Planning Act. I do not expect Thames Water to submit these applications before the autumn of 2011.

Further information on the Thames Tunnel and Defra’s involvement is available on Defra’s website at http://defraweb/environment /quality/water/waterquality/ sewage/overflows/index.htm.