"In parallel with the Operation Gestalt investigation the Metropolitan Police have also provided advice on a number of other Customs and Excise investigations concerning money service bureaux (MSB). David Varney, Chairman has asked the police to extend their investigation to cover these additional issues."
The police are examining the preliminary material and will soon be ready to start the investigation. In order to progress the investigation most efficiently, the police have proposed using a joint team. This would mean a team of Customs investigators working with the police. Departmental accommodation will also be made available.
Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £5,000 for this new service has been sought in the spring supplementary estimate for HM Customs and Excise. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure of this £5,000 has been met by repayable cash advances from the contingencies fund.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie): My noble Friend the Baroness Ashton of Upholland, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, has made the following written ministerial statement:
"With the agreement of the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, I am pleased to inform the House that I have today placed in the Libraries of both Houses a copy of the Government's response to the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee's report of their inquiry into the operation of the family justice system".
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill):
I am announcing today the publication of a consultation document on draft regulations to amend the town and country planning regulations that give effect to the land use planning requirements of council directive 96/82/EC on the control of major accident hazards involving dangerous substances, as amended by directive 2003/105/EC. Amendments are proposed to the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 1992 (SI 1992
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No 656) and the Town and Country Planning (Development Plan) (England) Regulations 1999 (SI 1999 No 3280).
The main change is an amendment to schedule 1 of the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 1992 to reflect changes to some definitions and qualifying quantities of dangerous substances that fall within the ambit of the Seveso II directive and for which hazardous substances consent may now be required. A minor amendment is proposed to the Development Plan Regulations 1999. Similar, relevant changes have already been incorporated in the Development Plan Regulations made in 2004 for the new local and regional plan systems.
The consultation will run until 16 June 2005 and will apply to England only. Copies of the consultation document will be made available in the Libraries of both Houses and from The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's website www.odpm.gov.uk.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): I am announcing today my intention to prepare and consult on a revision of Planning Policy Guidance note (PPG) 25, development and flood risk, and a direction in respect of certain development in areas at risk of flooding.
PPG25 was published in July 2001. Its key aim is to ensure that flood risk is properly taken into account in the planning of new developments, so as to reduce the risk of flooding and the damage which floods cause. Since it was published it has succeeded in raising the profile of flooding matters in the planning process. A review of its working last year, after three years of operation, showed that its core policies remain valid, but that more needs to be done to implement them fully.
I therefore plan to issue a draft of a new Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 25 for consultation later in 2005. In particular, the new version will clarify the core sequential test that matches types of development to levels of flood risk. It will also strengthen the requirement for flood risk assessments to be prepared to inform the consideration of development plans and of individual development proposals in flood risk areas.
The consultation draft of PPS25 will be prepared on the basis that a standing planning Direction in respect of certain proposed developments in areas at risk of flooding will be made under article 14 of the General Development Procedure Order 1995. This would require an application for major development to be referred to the Government Office, to consider whether it should be called in for decision by the First Secretary of State, if the Environment Agency sustains an objection to it on flood risk grounds, after having been re-consulted following an initial objection.
This consultation forms an important component in the Government's wider response to their general consultation last year on their forward strategy for flood and coastal erosion risk management in "Making space for water". My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Environment and Agri-environment is making a separate statement on this today.
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The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I am pleased to announce that the Ministry of Defence has agreed a Heads of Agreement with Agusta Westland which commits us to working together towards a long-term partnering and business transformation arrangement. Although the details are subject to further negotiation with the company over the coming months, we expect this to provide significant efficiency and effectiveness improvements in how we support our helicopter fleet.
Competition remains the cornerstone of our procurement policy. This applies to our Future Rotorcraft Capability requirements, as elsewhere, in particular for the Land Lift (Medium) element. As the Defence Industrial Policy makes clear, however, value for money judgments can sometimes suggest different approaches. Since the Agusta Westland Future Lynx project has already benefited from extensive assessment work and de-risking, it would be our preferred procurement option for meeting the Land Find and Maritime (Surface) Attack element. This is, however, subject to continuing negotiations with the company to agree acceptable contract conditions and prices, which must meet clearly defined parameters.
This approach is excellent news for Agusta Westland, for the highly skilled staff at its Yeovil plant, and for the British defence industry. Other key partners include Smiths Industries in Cheltenham and Thales(UK) in Raynes Park and Taunton, GD(UK) in St Leonards-on-Sea and South Dorset Engineering Ltd. in Weymouth.
We believe that, subject to negotiating the precise commercial details, the Future Lynx represents a highly capable, value for money, solution to our requirement. We expect to make a final "Main Gate" procurement decision later this year. The contract is potentially worth over £1 billion.
This is a key first milestone for the Future Rotorcraft Capability programme, and is part of the commitment we made in last year's supplement to the Defence White Paper to invest some £3 billion in our helicopter fleet.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): With effect from 1 April 2005, the Defence Geographic and Imagery Intelligence Agency and the Defence Intelligence and Security Centre will both cease to have agency status. This change will facilitate improved management across current agency boundaries, enable simpler management and budgeting processes, reduce overheads, and enable a more effective response to customers' strategic and operational requirements.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin):
In my previous statement, 16 September 2004, Official Report, column 162WS, I gave an undertaking to keep the House informed of the progress with regard to the creation of the Ministry of Defence Medal Office.
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I am pleased to report that on 22 March I officially opened the MOD Medal Office which is now established at a single location within the Armed Forces Personnel Administration Agency (AFPAA) at Innsworth, Gloucester.
The change from separate offices for each service to the new office is affording the opportunity to adopt common procedures based upon best practice. The significant investment in personnel, laser engraving and computer technology has already led to a substantial reduction in the backlog of medals assessment and engraving and underlines the priority and commitment MOD attaches to the prompt delivery of medals to veterans, their relatives and serving personnel. Indeed, since the introduction of a new laser engraving facility at Innsworth, around 40,000 extra medals have been handed out to recipients.
AFPAA assumed full responsibility for the management of medal output, target setting and performance monitoring with effect from 1 October 2004 and has successfully filled all of the 61 medal-related posts. Whilst the introduction of the Suez Canal Zone and Iraq medals has resulted in unprecedented numbers of medal applications (117,425 since 10 April 2004), the backlog for the Canal Zone medal today is 13,275 compared with 21,371 as at 24 September 2004 and for the Iraq medal is 13,382 compared with 25,178.
The formation of the MOD Medal Office is already producing significant benefits and I should like to pay tribute to the staff of the single service medal offices and the MOD Medal Office for their part in bringing about this improvement.
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