"In my statement of 14 June 2004, Official Report, columns WS 2223, I undertook to inform the House by way of written statement when any further charges are laid against British servicemen arising from incidents in Iraq. The Army Prosecuting Authority has directed that four individuals should stand trial by court martial for the offence of the manslaughter of Ahmed Kareem, an Iraqi civilian.
The allegation against the servicemen relates to an incident in Basra, on 8 May 2003. It is alleged that the four servicemen detained four suspected looters of whom Mr. Kareem was one. The servicemen allegedly punched and kicked the looters before forcing them into the Shat Al-Basra Canal. Mr. Kareem could not swim and drowned.
The cases against all four servicemen were reviewed by prosecutors of the independent Army Prosecuting Authority who applied the evidential and public interest criteria set out in the code for crown prosecutors. The Army Prosecuting Authority, following advice from highly experienced counsel, is satisfied that there is a realistic prospect of convicting all defendants and that the prosecutions are in the public interest.
One serviceman, a Lance Corporal (21), with the Irish Guards, has yet to be informed of the charge against him. Once he has been notified, I will set out his name in a further written statement, which I will lay before the House at the earliest opportunity.
The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Alun Michael): I would like to draw the attention of the House to the explanatory statement that has been placed in both Libraries of the House on the subject of company law reform. This statement is also available at www.dti.gov.uk/cld/facts/clr.htm.
The Government's approach to the development of its proposals in this area has been extremely inclusive, and I am very grateful for the support and input of those who have contributed to the various consultation exercises. This is the final phase of our consultation process providing an opportunity for stakeholders to comment on some further aspects on our planned Company Law Reform Bill.
In addition to giving additional detail on how we will give expression to the policies set out in our White Paper "Company Law Reform" (March 2005) the explanatory statement explains how we will take forward elements of the proposed EC directive on audit and provisions for the oversight of the actuarial profession announced in the Budget.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): I am today setting out my position on the proposals submitted by P & O to develop a new container port at the old Shellhaven oil refinery site in Thurrock, Essex. I am minded to approve the proposals, subject to satisfaction on a number of outstanding issues including the provision of additional highway capacity in the area.
This position, and the reasons for it, are set out in the minded letter my Department has issued today. It follows a public inquiry in 2003 into the application for approval for the port development, and also into an application from P & O and Shell UK Ltd in respect of an adjacent commercial and logistics centre. The inquiry inspector recommended last year in favour of both proposals, subject to conditions including the provision of extra highway capacity in the area to accommodate traffic likely to be generated by the two developments in combination.
The Government fully recognise the nation's and industry's needs for additional container port capacity in order to meet future economic demand. However, it is important that any new development, particularly on this large scale, be sustainable in a manner consistent with Government policy. We need to be sure, in particular, that the impacts of the full development on the area's highway network can be accommodated, and that any measures proposed to mitigate those impacts are not only adequate but also likely to be carried out.
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The Government are therefore inviting the promoters over the next three months to discuss with the relevant highway authorities the means of addressing future highway capacity. We are hopeful that the relevant parties will then be able to agree on a way forward.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Ms Karen Buck): I am today publishing a consultation document setting out how I propose to allocate funding, other than for major schemes, to local transport authorities outside London during the second local transport plan period.
The document proposes a new formula for the allocation of the integrated transport block, together with transitional arrangements to safeguard authorities from sudden change. This formula has been developed in consultation with authorities and is designed to ensure that funding allocations are fair and transparent.
Two modifications are also proposed to improve the operation of the existing formula for distributing highway maintenance funds, and the document includes draft guidance on the reports which local authorities will be planning on their first local transport plans.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr Stephen Ladyman): Plans to upgrade the A303 trunk road passing Stonehenge and to improve the setting of this outstanding World Heritage Site have a long history. In July 1998, after extensive assessment of alternative options, the Government announced the inclusion in the targeted programme of trunk road improvements of the A303 Stonehenge improvement as an "exceptional environmental scheme". Following further studies and consultations, a preferred route was announced in June 1999 for improvements to 12.4 km of the A303 running from the countess roundabout in the east to Berwick Downs in the West. The scheme provided for dualling of the route and included a bypass of the village of Winterbourne Stoke and a 2km cut-and-cover tunnel past Stonehenge.
Following further consultations with English Heritage and the National Trust, a number of alternative tunnel options were evaluated and on 10 December 2002 the Government announced that they would proceed with further consideration of a 2.1 km tunnel (extending the tunnel by 100 metres compared with the preferred route announcement) and that the tunnel would be bored rather than cut-and-cover, thereby providing significant additional environmental benefits.
The public inquiry into this proposed scheme was held between 17 February and 11 May 2004. The inspector's report was received in January 2005 and the Government have been considering it carefully. The inspector, having considered all the representations and submissions from objectors, was satisfied that the case for the scheme had been made and has recommended
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that the scheme orders should be made, subject to a number of minor modifications. In particular, he was satisfied with:
However, there has been a material change in the estimated scheme costs since the scheme went to public inquiry and which was not part of the inspector's considerations. The Highways Agency's evidence to the public inquiry indicated that the construction cost of the scheme would be £192 million. After allowing for additional factors including land, preparation and supervision costs this translates into a total outturn scheme cost of £284 million, assuming a construction start date of spring 2005.
In addition, following the completion of the public inquiry, the Highways Agency has carried out further detailed assessments of the ground conditions through which the tunnel would be bored. These have confirmed the scale of two significant factors along the line of the proposed tunnel:
These factors would significantly complicate the tunnelling process and extend the overall construction period of the scheme. Together with certain other factors which serve to increase tunnel costs, including more rapid increases in construction cost inflation than had previously been anticipated, the Highways Agency's latest estimate of the outturn cost of the scheme has now risen to some £470 million. For consistency with earlier estimates, this figure also assumes a construction start date of spring 2005. Slippage in the start date beyond spring 2005 will have further increased the estimated cost in line with continuing inflation in construction costs.
This represents a significant change to the basis on which the Government originally decided to progress this scheme. Our recognition of the importance of Stonehenge as a World Heritage Site remains unchanged but given the scale of the cost increase we have to re-examine whether the scheme still represents value for money and the best option for delivering improvements to the A303 and the setting of Stonehenge. The Government therefore plan to carry out a detailed review of the options, consulting relevant environmental interests including, in particular, English Heritage and the National Trust, before taking a final decision on the inspector's report. The review will also consider the implications of delaying the Stonehenge scheme for the delivery of improvements proposed for other single carriageway sections of the A303 further to the west.