13 July 2006 : Column 73WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 13 July 2006


Office for National Statistics

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (John Healey): The National Statistics Annual Report and the Office for National Statistics' Annual Report and Accounts for 2005-06 are being published and laid before the House today. Copies of both documents are available in the Library of the House and can be accessed free on the National Statistics website.

Communities and Local Government

Greater London Authority

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Ruth Kelly): The Government are today publishing a statement setting out final proposals for additional powers and responsibilities for the Greater London Authority (GLA)—the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

In November 2005 we launched a consultation exercise which looked at options for giving the Mayor a greater say in the planning and delivery of London's strategic services. The consultation exercise stimulated a great deal of interest and debate about the future strategic governance of London. We have carefully considered all the responses to consultation in deciding the final package of new powers published today.

The Mayor will have new lead roles in housing and adult skills in London, a strengthened role in planning in the capital, a stronger strategic role on waste, and additional strategic powers in a wide range of policy areas including culture and sport, health, energy and climate change, and appointments to the boards of the GLA's functional bodies.

On housing, the Mayor will prepare and publish a London Housing Strategy and a strategic Housing Investment Plan, setting out the priorities to meet the housing needs of all Londoners. The Mayor will decide the broad allocation of the affordable housing part of the Regional Housing Pot in London in line with the strategy.

On skills, the Mayor will chair a new Skills and Employment Board, in partnership with London's key business leaders, which will prepare an Adult Skills Strategy for London. The Board will be supported by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) for London,
13 July 2006 : Column 74WS
which will sit within the national LSC structure and spend its adult skills budget in line with the priorities set out in the strategy.

The Mayor's planning powers will be enhanced to give him a greater strategic say in planning in London. He will be able to direct changes to boroughs' programmes for the local development plans they produce. The Mayor will also have a stronger say in whether draft development plan documents are in general conformity with his London Plan. Furthermore, the Mayor will have discretion to determine planning applications of strategic importance.

The Mayor will work closely with the boroughs in a new, London-wide waste and recycling forum, which will manage a new fund to improve performance and promote collaboration in waste and recycling.

The Mayor will make appointments to the boards of key London cultural organisations. His health role will be enhanced. He will promote the reduction of health inequalities in London, and prepare a strategy to tackle those inequalities.

Finally, the Mayor will have a new, lead role in tackling climate change. The GLA will be subject to a new duty to take action to mitigate the effects of climate change and adapt to its unavoidable impacts. The Mayor will publish a Climate Change and Energy Strategy setting out his plans for minimising emissions of carbon dioxide caused by the use of energy in the capital, helping to eradicate fuel poverty and harnessing economic opportunities for London from investment and innovation in energy technologies and energy efficiency. He will also publish a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy setting out how the capital should adapt to the effects of climate change.

We are strengthening the London Assembly's role. The Assembly will be able to set its own budget, publish an annual report highlighting its work and achievements and hold hearings with candidates for key appointments that the Mayor proposes to make. The Mayor will be required to have specific regard to the views of the Assembly and the GLA's functional bodies when preparing or revising his statutory strategies.

Arrangements for appointing GLA employees will change so that most appointments will be made by the Head of Paid Service. The Mayor and Assembly will jointly appoint the Authority's three statutory posts.

This package devolves powers from Whitehall to London wherever feasible. In specific cases it strengthens the Mayor's powers in relation to the boroughs where we are convinced that this will deliver better co-ordinated strategic services. It provides a robust and coherent set of strategic powers for the Mayor and Assembly, fulfilling the Government's manifesto commitment. It ensures that the capital has the strong leadership it needs as a successful world city to meet future challenges, including hosting the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It builds on the success of the GLA to date, providing the Authority with additional powers to make a real difference to the quality of Londoners' lives.

We plan to implement the changes as quickly as possible. We will introduce a GLA Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows, to enact any changes
13 July 2006 : Column 75WS
requiring primary legislation. Other changes will be made through secondary legislation or by agreement.

Copies of the Policy Statement, an accompanying Regulatory Impact Assessment, a Summary of Responses to Consultation and the responses to the consultation exercise have been placed in the Library of the House.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Afghanistan: Counter-Narcotics

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): Following the launch of the National Drug Control Strategy at the London Conference on Afghanistan in January, the UK continues, as partner nation, to support the Government of Afghanistan’s counter- narcotics effort. This year’s planting season pre-dated the launch of that strategy and, although last year saw a 21 per cent. decline in opium poppy cultivation across Afghanistan, this year it is likely that there will be a significant rise in cultivation. This is worrying and is due, in part, to a substantial increase in planting of opium poppy in the south of Afghanistan, including in Helmand province. But in areas where governance, security and levels of development have improved, there are signs that last year’s cultivation reductions will be sustained. At the same time, the Government of Afghanistan’s eradication effort has been more effective than in previous years.

The Government of Afghanistan’s National Drug Control Strategy offers the best means to tackle the opium trade at its source. We are determined to work with the Government and people of Afghanistan to sharpen delivery in order to achieve sustained impact on the ground. In particular they will be focusing their efforts on targeting the traffickers and their accomplices who profit most from the trade. We will be assisting by helping to establish the rule of law across Afghanistan, which is essential to counter-narcotics efforts and to the success of the broader reconstruction process. The UK is working with the Government of Afghanistan and with other donors to develop new intelligence structures and to build the capacity of counter-narcotics law enforcement and criminal justice agencies. These efforts are starting to show results. Since August 2005 we have seen the conviction of over 190 traffickers, and a significant increase in drugs- related seizures and the destruction of laboratories. These actions are helping to disrupt the trade, forcing traffickers to move and store drugs in smaller quantities.

The Department for International Development also continues to support Afghan national programmes focused on strengthening and diversifying legal rural livelihoods, including in Helmand province where my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development recently announced that the UK would contribute £30 million to livelihoods activity over the next three years. Since April 2003 over 12 million labour days have been provided and over 8,000 km of roads rehabilitated. Almost US $70 million micro-finance loans have been disbursed over the last two years and US $180 million in grants approved to some 10,000 community development
13 July 2006 : Column 76WS
councils. In addition, since September 2005, over 500,000 farmers have been provided with seeds and fertiliser.

On 5 September last year I announced, in a joint press conference with Afghan Counter Narcotics Minister Qaderi, that the UK would spend a total of £270 million in support of the Afghan National Drug Control Strategy between 2005-08. This includes £130 million of DfID funding. In 2005-06 the UK spent the following in support of the eight pillars in the National Drugs Control Strategy:

The UK also contributed £9,000,000 to the Government of Afghanistan’s Counter Narcotics Trust Fund and a further £1,500,000 to the Law and Order Trust Fund established to cover the cost of police salaries and equipment. A further £2,970,000 was spent on strategy, research and reviews, including support to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s annual poppy survey.

Northern Ireland

Life Sentence Review Commissioners/Sentence Review Commissioners

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): I have today arranged for the Annual Reports of the Life Sentence Review Commissioners and the Sentence Review Commissioners to be laid in the House. Copies of the reports have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Trade and Industry

OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): The All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region and Genocide Prevention (APPG) reported in February 2005 on the effectiveness of the application of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (Guidelines) to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

13 July 2006 : Column 77WS

It made a number of recommendations, and in response the Government committed themselves to consulting on possible improvements to the UK National Contact Point's promotion and implementation of the guidelines.

The Government received 10 written responses to the consultation document by the deadline of 6 January 2006. In addition, a Joint Working Group (JWG), established under the aegis of the APPG to explore the scope for common ground between businesses and non-governmental organisations on frameworks for business conduct in areas of conflict and weak governance, requested and was granted further time to submit a response. It did so on 23 June 2006.

The Government are grateful to all interested parties who took the time and effort to meet the NCP and/or submit written responses to the consultation document. They are particularly grateful to the members of the JWG for their willingness to discuss and make recommendations that commanded broad support from both the businesses and the NGOs involved. The Government believe that the similarities between its own evolving considerations since the publication of the consultation document and the views expressed by businesses and NGOs reflects an emerging consensus over practical and effective steps that can be taken to improve the promotion and implementation of the guidelines.

I have today published the Government's response to the consultation. A copy will be made available in the Libraries of both Houses and will be accessible on the DTI website. Among a number of commitments, the Government will

The Government will review the effectiveness of the changes, in consultation with stakeholders, in a year’s time.

The Government want the new NCR to work with businesses, employees and other parties to deal with issues raised under the guidelines. I believe that this approach, allied with the changes set out in the Government’s response, will deliver a more open and transparent system in which all organisations can put their faith in encouraging responsible business activities overseas.

Work and Pensions

Buncefield Explosion

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire): My hon. Friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath has made the following written ministerial statement:

Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire): The Government’s Office for Disability Issues (ODI) has today published its first annual report to the Prime Minister, which details the progress that is being made towards realising the Government’s ambitious vision for real equality for disabled people by 2025. Copies of the report are available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office.

The ODI was launched in December 2005 to deliver the strategy set out in the Prime Minister’s strategy unit report “Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People”. Since then, the ODI has successfully formed
13 July 2006 : Column 79WS
partnerships with internal and external stakeholders and driven forward an ambitious programme of work.

This first report highlights a broad range of initiatives that are starting to address the barriers disabled people experience in accessing services, including housing, transport, justice and leisure. For example, through the individual budgets pilots, we are testing new ways of giving people more choice and control over the way in which they are supported. Three pilot sites in Oldham, Essex and West Sussex are already testing this new way of working, with the remaining ten sites to come on stream this month.

The report provides an update on action on all the recommendations in the ‘Life Chances’ report and makes clear what further activity is necessary to deliver improved outcomes for disabled people. One key area in which Government need to do much more is the involvement of disabled people in the design and delivery of services which impact on their lives. The GDI’s report provides information on our progress in developing a UK Advisory Network on Disability Equality, which will be established later this year.

I commend this report to the House.

Next Section Index Home Page