The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): During the passage of the 2004 Housing Bill the Government made commitments to consider whether it is possible to devise an approach to overcrowding that provides for some incremental improvement in standards over a period; and to consult on how the new section 216 powers could be used to amend the statutory overcrowding standards in Part X of the Housing Act 1985.
The Government are today publishing a discussion document on Tackling Overcrowding in England which sets out options for revising the outdated definition of overcrowding and developing long-term solutions. This document is designed to stimulate and garner ideas about how best we can tackle the problems of overcrowding. DCLG officials will be actively engaging stakeholders in discussions, which will conclude on 15 September 2006. Copies of the document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Government are also providing a £51 million package for tackling overcrowding and increasing the number of settled homes for people in temporary accommodation. The funding announced today is focused on two key areas:
£21 million will be made available for immediate action to tackle overcrowding, by increasing the supply of family homes in London. This could include converting existing homes to create extra bedrooms; adding extensions to existing council stock; building or purchasing additional homes, or buying back right to buy homes. Five coordinators will also be funded to work across London to tackle the most immediate problems of overcrowding.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne):
I am pleased to announce that I am today publishing the Ministry of Defence's Annual Report and Accounts
2005-06. It combines the Department's Annual Performance Report and Departmental Resource Accounts in a single document that provides a comprehensive overview of the MOD's financial and non-financial performance. For a third successive year the Comptroller and Auditor General has approved the accounts without qualification. For the first time, this year we have achieved this in time for publication before the summer recess.
The report shows that once again the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence delivered what they were required to do during a busy and challenging year. It reflects the broad and diverse range of operations and tasks undertaken during the year, including a number in support of the output of other Government Departments. It details the progress the Ministry of Defence has made towards achieving the Public Service Agreement and efficiency targets agreed with Her Majesty's Treasury in the 2004 Spending Review, and in delivering the capabilities and reformed force structure set out in the July 2004 Command Paper Delivering Security in the Changing World: Future Capabilities. It also sets out the defence contribution against the Government's wider sustainability goals.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Minister for Defence Procurement (Lord Drayson) has made the following written ministerial statement.
I wish to inform the House of developments in the Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) (LSD(A)) programme. The Ministry of Defence has reached a full and final settlement for the closure, by mutual agreement, of its contract with Swan Hunter (Tyneside) Limited in Newcastle for the design and construction of two of the vessels.
The programme is to deliver a new class of Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) to replace the ageing Landing Ship Logistic, used to deploy Amphibious Task Groups, vehicles and equipment directly into potentially hostile operational areas. Beyond their primary role to support amphibious operations, the vessels will provide wider support to joint operations by providing strategic sealift at high readiness, support to humanitarian and peace keeping operations and sea based support to deployed land formations. The total programme is for four vessels, two designed and constructed by Swan Hunter with a further two built by BAE Systems.
The LSD(A) programme is well advanced. RFA Mounts Bay, the first ship built by BAE Systems, has completed Sea Trials and been accepted by MOD. Cardigan Bay, the second BAE Systems ship, is due to be accepted in August. Largs Bay, the first of the Swan Hunter vessels, was accepted off contract in April but this was over two years later than the original contract schedule. Initial indications are that the vessels will deliver excellent capability once in service.
The major programme issue has been, however, the poor performance and cost growth at Swan Hunter, which has also impacted on the costs of the ships being built by BAE Systems. Swan Hunter were awarded the LSD(A) contract in December 2000. It subsequently became apparent that Swan Hunter had underestimated the complexity of the programme
and were unable to control costs effectively and, in December 2004, the contract value was uplifted by £84 million. Swan Hunter was also expected to improve their management performance. However, costs have continued to rise and this funding has been consumed without Lyme Bay, the second Swan Hunter ship being completed.
Although the construction of Lyme Bay is well advanced, we cannot predict her acceptance date nor her cost to completion with any confidence in the current contractual arrangements. Sustaining the current contract with Swan Hunter no longer provides value for money for the taxpayer, and to continue would be likely to lead to more delay and further cost overrun.
It has therefore been mutually agreed with the management of Swan Hunter that the contract should be closed. BAE Systems will instead provide Lead Yard Services and Design Authority until completion of the programme and will complete the construction of Lyme Bay at Govan on the Clyde. There has been significant cost escalation on this programme and we now expect the revised combined contract values to be approximately £600 million. The details of the commercial agreements currently remain confidential, but the relevant cost data will be released once it is possible to do so. The new arrangements bring far more certainty to the programme, both in cost and timescales.
Our priority has always been effective delivery of the required military capability, which we have attempted to achieve through successful completion of the contract with Swan Hunter. The company has been given every encouragement and opportunity to succeed, through additional funding and time. While the workforce itself has performed well, with excellent workmanship, we no longer have adequate confidence in the company's ability to complete the contract within an acceptable timescale or cost. We therefore have no choice left. It would be fundamentally incompatible with our obligations to the taxpayer, or indeed the principles of the Defence Industrial Strategy, for us to continue with this state of affairs.
We will be doing what we can to minimise the impact of this decision on the region. Discussions are underway with the Trade Unions, local MPs, and others regarding the way ahead. The Ministry of Defence is also working with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Regional Development Agency, One North East, to identify opportunities for the workforce including the apprentices currently employed within the company. We expect that a number of the main sub-contractors will be re-employed by BAE Systems to complete Cardigan Bay and Lyme Bay.
While the need for this decision has been unwelcome, we now look forward to introducing all four ships to service and providing our Armed Forces with the high level of capability and support they have the right to expect.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom Watson):
On 21 November 2000 the then Minister for Veterans Affairs (Dr Lewis Moonie) announced a package of measures intended to address emerging concerns that some Porton Down volunteers might have suffered unusual ill health because of their participation in trials at the Chemical Defence Establishment, Porton Down. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has sought to address these concerns through a number of measures. These include a Historical Survey of the Porton Down Service Volunteer Programme 1939-1989 (the period of most interest to volunteers) which is published today. It sets out a full description of the size and shape of the studies in which volunteers took part, and explores their ethical aspects. Also, the MOD is funding an independently run epidemiological
study, overseen by the Medical Research Council, to assess the incidence of cancer and mortality among former Porton Down volunteers. The study is expected to report in 2007 and it is hoped that the results will be published in peer reviewed literature shortly thereafter.
The Survey has been conducted by MOD officials who had no previous professional contact with Porton Down. No member of Porton Down staff was involved in determining the ground the survey should cover or the documents which were to be consulted. Porton Down's advice has been sought in order to clarify explanations of scientific matters (for example, the effect of agents and treatments on physiology and the metrics used to measure doses and exposures). They have not had any further editorial involvement.
I would like to place on record my deep appreciation of Professor Sir Ian Kennedy's contribution as the independent supervisor to this project. I know that the survey team appreciated his valuable guidance. Sir lan's assessment of Porton Down's conduct appears at the end of the survey. It draws on the descriptions of the trials conducted by the Chemical Defence Establishment, the information presented on how service volunteers were recruited, and on Dr Alasdair Maclean's analysis of ethics codes/guidelines and practice. No attempt has been made by the MOD to summarise Sir lan's assessment, to avoid any inadvertent changes in meaning or language.
Sir Ian identifies a small number of trials spread over several decades which he considers amount to serious departures from what should have been done. However, he is clear that they are few in number. Sir Ian also warns that these studies must be viewed in the historical context of both the Second World War and the Cold War. The MOD welcomes Sir lan's view that a very great debt of gratitude is clearly owed to those who volunteered to take part in the research at Porton and to those who carried it out'.
The MOD takes the health of veterans very seriously indeed. We are seeking to address the concerns of former volunteers who are worried about their health and it is for this reason that the MOD established an independent Medical Assessment Programme (MAP) at St Thomas' Hospital in London. Attendance at the MAP is free of charge but is conditional on the provision of details of participation in the Porton Down Service Volunteer Programme and access to individual NHS medical records. If volunteers have concerns about their health and are interested in attending the MAP they should contact Porton Down on their Helpline number (0800 7832521) in order to obtain their records of attendance. Volunteers also have the opportunity to inspect their own records relating to the trials in which they took part at Porton Down. Alternatively, they can contact the MAP direct on the MAP Helpline 0800 169 5401 or ask their GP for a referral. The MOD welcomes the publication of this Historical Survey today as being complementary to these existing resources.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom Watson): As part of the Government's continuing commitment to investigate Gulf veterans' illnesses openly and honestly, data on the mortality of veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict are published regularly. The most recent figures, for the period 1 April 1991 to 30 June 2006, are published today as a national statistic on the Defence Analytical Services Agency website.
The data for Gulf veterans are compared to that of a control group known as the Era cohort consisting of armed forces personnel of a similar profile in terms of gender, service, regular/reservists status and rank, who were in service on 1 January 1991 but were not deployed to the Gulf. As in the previous release, the Era' group has been adjusted for a small difference in the age profile of those aged 40 years and over, to ensure appropriate comparisons.
There have been 784 deaths among the Gulf veterans and 796 in the age-adjusted Era comparison group.
The 784 deaths among Gulf veterans compare with approximately 1,265 deaths which would have been expected in a similar sized cohort taken from the general population of the UK with the same age and gender profile. This reflects the strong emphasis on fitness when recruiting and retaining service personnel.
The Agriculture Commissioner will present the Commission's communication analysing the situation on the EU wine market and setting out various options for the reform of the current regime. Following the presentation, the Council will hold its first exchange of view on the communication structured around two questions posed by the presidency. I will intervene to welcome the initiative and stating the UK's views in response to the questions.
There will be a policy debate on the Commission's proposal laying down rules for voluntary modulation in light of the December 2005 European Council future
financing agreement for 2007-2013. This proposal sets out the terms by which member states can voluntarily modulate from pillar 1 of the Common Agricultural Policy (direct payments) to pillar 2 (rural development). I will welcome the proposal because of its vital importance for the UK given our reliance on the voluntary modulation mechanism since 2001. I will also touch upon the need for flexibility in the proposal to allow for voluntary modulation to continue to operate in a way which meets member states' needs.
Austria will draw attention to the Commission's proposed changes to the agricultural state aids rules. The UK supports many of the proposed changes but has concerns about some of the animal and plant health aspects of the proposal.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The 2005-06 annual report and accounts for the Central Science Laboratory will be laid before Parliament today.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 17 July in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will represent the UK.
The Finns will present their Presidency programme. They will cover a number of important areas over the next six months, including follow-up to the Hampton Court agenda initiated under the UK Presidency. Their informal European Council meeting in Lahti on 20 October will focus on innovation and energy. They also plan to take forward work in key areas such as climate change, enlargement, security, migration and emergency and crisis response. We welcome these priorities.
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