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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 14 July 2005


National Statistics

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (John Healey): The National Statistics annual report for 2004–05 is being published and laid before the House today. Copies are available in the Libraries of both Houses. The report can also be obtained free on the National Statistics website.


Departmental Evidence and Response to Select Committees

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Hutton): I have today placed in the Libraries of both Houses copies of updated guidance to officials from Government Departments and agencies on "Departmental Evidence and Response to Select Committees". The Government are grateful to the Liaison Committee for their contribution to the updated guidance.


Planning Inspectorate

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): I have today laid before the House a copy of the planning inspectorate's annual report and accounts for 2004–05. Copies of the report have been made available in the Libraries of both Houses.

The report gives an overview of the performance of the inspectorate and demonstrates the importance of a credible, accessible planning tribunal service which is open, transparent and impartial. It also highlights the ways in which it is contributing to the Government's planning reform agenda.

I have also agreed with Carwyn Jones that, for 2005–06, the Inspectorate's targets for its main areas of casework should remain unchanged.


New Maintenance Grant and Student Loan Rates

The Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning (Bill Rammell): Following the outcome of our financial modelling, I am now able to confirm household income thresholds for the new maintenance grant, which is to be introduced to help low income students enter and continue in higher education from 2006–07.
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Those students with household income of £17,500 or less will receive the full £2,700 maintenance grant. Students with household income between £17,501 up to £37,425 will receive a partial grant. We therefore anticipate that around 30 per cent. of new, full-time students will qualify for the full £2,700 grant, with 50–55 per cent. qualifying for a full or partial grant in 2006–07. Furthermore, the element of the new grant which is to be paid in substitution for the maintenance loan has now been set at £1,200.

I can also confirm that student loan rates in the 2006–07 academic year will be as follows:

This honours the commitment on loan rates made to the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South (Mr. Clarke), in his statement of 8 January 2004.

These arrangements will be enacted in Regulations which are expected to be laid before Parliament in January.


Laboratory Strategy

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): My noble Friend, the Lord Bach, has agreed to the future direction of DEFRA's laboratory strategy, which aims to deliver a long term sustainable future for DEFRA's laboratories: the Central Science Laboratory (CSL), the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS).

DEFRA's laboratories have an international reputation for excellence. They play an important role for DEFRA by providing scientific capacity and the evidence base for policy development. DEFRA will continue to rely on the support they provide, so it is important that the strategy delivers a sustainable future for their work. A new group, the "Laboratories Strategy Group" (LSG) has been formed to develop and oversee the programme of work necessary to take the strategy forward. The LSG is chaired by Lynton Barker (non executive) and reports to DEFRA's management board.

As part of the laboratory strategy, DEFRA is working with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) on a joint study to consider the future relationship between VLA and the Institute of Animal Health (IAH). Objectives of the study are to achieve financial sustainability, exploit synergies between the two organisations and ensure the continuation of critical research and other scientific services.
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Veterinary Medicines Directorate

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The 2004–05 annual report and accounts for the Veterinary Medicines Directorate will be laid before Parliament today. Copies will be available in the Library of the House.

Floods (Carlisle and the North)

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): I am pleased to place copies of the reports by the Environment Agency and that collated by the Government Office for the North-West in the Library of the House.

I welcome these reports on how the flooding in Carlisle and across the north of the country in January was handled. I hope that they will provide people in Carlisle in particular with a picture of how local services coped and the lessons they have taken away.

A major storm produced exceptional amounts of rain over a 36 hour period, leading to overtopping of defences and flooding of some 3,000 properties. Two lives were lost and many residents were evacuated. I had the opportunity to see for myself the floods' devastating effects.

These reports show how flooding came from both the rivers and from surface water routes. This combination can result from very heavy, localised rain falling over short periods of time—it was also a feature of recent flooding in North Yorkshire. In our new strategy for flood risk management, "Making Space for Water", we have announced our intention to undertake some integrated urban drainage pilots to investigate how these complex issues can be better managed in the future.

The conditions as experienced in January also make the provision of timely warnings extremely difficult, for example in some parts of Carlisle where flooding from surface water sources preceded overtopping of the river defences. Nevertheless, the Environment Agency is reviewing with other bodies involved what improvements can be made to warning systems.

For our part we are taking forward the recommendations in these reports on strengthening resilience to flooding events through improved cross government and agency co-ordination under a new flood emergencies capability programme, which will look at the key issues that local responders have identified as needing further attention. The reports identify a number of areas where the local emergency services and other responders can themselves build on the experiences of January this year and it is important that we should take on these lessons more widely, so building our overall capability for managing flood emergencies in the future.

It is also important that all services, utilities, business and householders who are at risk should do what they can to strengthen their resilience to flooding, especially as we are likely to see a greater frequency of such events in future years given the expected impact of climate change.

In addition, the Environment Agency has already announced plans to promote a flood defence scheme for Carlisle. The agency has revised the plans it had in mind
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before the flooding occurred in the light of the events of January, and start of work on the new defences is scheduled for spring 2006.

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