22 Feb 2007 : Column 57WS

22 Feb 2007 : Column 57WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 22 February 2007


Budget Statement

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): I propose to deliver my Budget statement to the House on Wednesday 21 March.

Constitutional Affairs

Criminal Justice

The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor has made the following written ministerial statement:

Mental Capacity Act 2005 (Code of Practice)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Vera Baird): My right hon. and noble Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, has made the following written ministerial statement:


Iraq: Roulement

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): On 21 February the Prime Minister set out our strategy and plans in Iraq, in particular, changes to the UK force levels and posture in Multi-National Division (South East) (MND(SE)).

These plans will see greater emphasis on the training of the Iraqi Security Forces and, in the view of progress they continue to make, the phased closure of a number of bases in MND(SE). This process will permit a reduction in UK force levels from its present level of 7,100 to approximately 5,500 by the completion of the next roulement of UK forces in June 2007.

The force package that we currently plan to deploy to Iraq for this roulement during May/June 2007 will see the lead formation, currently 19 Light Brigade, replaced by 1 Mechanised Brigade, which will take over the command of UK forces in early June. The other major units that will deploy are as follows:

Members of the reserve forces will continue to deploy to Iraq as part of this force package, and we expect to have eventually issued in the order of 300 call-out notices in order to fill some 260 posts. On completion of their mobilisation procedures, the reservists will undertake a period of training and integration with their respective
22 Feb 2007 : Column 59WS
receiving units. For the majority, their deployment to theatre will commence in May and most will serve on operations for six to seven months, although some may have shorter tours. The reservists will perform a wide range of activities including force protection duties, medical support and individual reinforcement to units. As part of this commitment, we expect up to 20 members of the sponsored reserves to be in theatre at any one time.

I emphasise that the force package we deploy in May/June will depend on conditions on the ground, in particular the security situation in the south and progress on handover of security responsibility to the Iraqi civil authorities over the months to come. I very much hope that continued positive progress in these areas will enable adjustments later in the year to the force package we deploy and we will continue to keep UK force levels in Iraq under review. I will, of course, inform Parliament of any changes to these plans at the earliest opportunity.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Single Payment Scheme

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): In my oral statement to the House on 7 November 2006, I announced that where full payments under the 2006 Single Payment Scheme (SPS) were not possible in the early part of 2007, partial payments for not less than 50 per cent. of claim value would start in mid-February for eligible claims above €1,000. The process was expected to take around three weeks.

I can confirm that, after successful testing, full payments began in January 2007, with a total of 40,697 such payments, with a value of £285.85 million, being made to date. Last week partial payments began and 43,270 partial payments with a value of £633.28 million had been made.

The combination of these full and partial payments has resulted in a total of £919.13 million representing 59 per cent. of the estimated total fund of £1.54 billion going to 83,967 (77 per cent.) claimants.

In combination with making partial payments to the small number of claimants in the eligible group who have yet to receive one, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) will now resume full payments and begin top up payments where a partial payment has already been made.

The claims that have yet to receive a full payment tend to be the more complex and require greater manual processing by RPA staff. Along with the fact that, in some cases, action on 2005 claims will need to be completed first, this presents continuing challenges for the RPA as it works towards meeting its target of making 96.14 per cent. of valid 2006 claims (by value) by 30 June. This means that while I would expect a steady flow of payments over the coming months, the pace will vary from week to week.

The current position in relation to the 2005 SPS is that some 87 SPS 2005 claims had not received any
22 Feb 2007 : Column 60WS
payment and 92 claimants were awaiting their balance payment having already received a partial payment. This is roughly equivalent to the position that applied at a similar stage under the old Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) schemes. The RPA continues to try and complete action on these claims and is also reviewing the possible need to adjust SPS entitlement details notified to claimants. Adjustments have been made for some 8,000 claimants to date and approximately 25,000 cases are currently under review. Due to the difficulties experienced during the introduction of the scheme, further cases requiring review continue to come to light and dedicated teams are taking this work forward. In order to protect the 2006 payment timetable as far as possible, only those adjustments estimated to be above €100 will be actioned before the 2006 payments are made.

Looking ahead, plans are well advanced for the 2007 scheme, with application forms, containing a greater degree of pre-population than in the last two years, expected to be despatched during March.

I would like to place on record my thanks both for the continued patience of the farming industry as we strive to improve delivery of the SPS and rebuild confidence in the RPA and for the staff of the agency for their hard work and commitment to making sure this happens.

I will continue to keep the House informed of progress.

Private Sewers and Lateral Drains

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): I am pleased to announce today that following an extensive review of the arrangements for private sewers and drains in England and Wales the Government have decided to transfer existing private sewers and lateral drains in England into the ownership of the nine statutory water and sewerage companies (WaSCs).

Existing private sewers and lateral drains (that part of the drain that extends beyond the property boundary) are currently the responsibility of the owners of the properties they serve, a fact that typically comes as a surprise to owners, who usually assume that the sewer and lateral drain serving their property are the responsibility of the local WaSC or local authority.

Private Sewers serve more than one property so ownership is shared and usually a large extent of the sewer will lie outside a property’s own boundary. Lateral drains serve one property but always lie outside the property’s boundary. Transfer provides the only comprehensive solution to a range of private sewer and lateral drain problems affecting householders, such as lack of awareness of their responsibilities and unwillingness or inability to coordinate or contribute to potentially high costs of maintenance and repair. It will bring simplification and clarity to owners, local authorities and WaSCs, all of whom typically become involved when these problems arise. Transfer will also significantly help address a lack of integrated management of the sewerage network as a whole, and provide much greater efficiency of effort, environmental stewardship and expenditure at a time when climate change impacts and
22 Feb 2007 : Column 61WS
housing growth may impose greater demands on urban drainage systems. Having a much greater proportion of the sewer network in the management of the water and sewerage companies means they will be able to plan maintenance and resolve problems more easily and comprehensively.

The costs of transfer will be met by an increase in the sewerage element of bills for the generality of customers. Although these are uncertain, preliminary estimates give a range of bill increases of between £3 and £11 across the nine water and sewerage companies in England to cover the costs associated with transfer.

The Government will now consult on a range of ways transfer can be implemented. The consultation will also be used to examine how to prevent the proliferation of new private sewers, in order to prevent the reoccurrence of existing problems.

Home Department

Forensic Science Service

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): In November 2006, officials and the police service brought to Ministers' attention an issue of which they had just been notified by the Forensic Science Service (FSS) about the use of a specialist DNA analysis technique known as Low Copy Number (LCN) which has been used by the FSS in a proportion of cases since 2000. This technique is designed to enable a DNA profile to be obtained from much smaller amounts of material than was previously possible.

Within 24 hours of becoming aware of this issue I agreed that the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) should set up a Gold Group to undertake an operational review of current forensic practices involving this technique, any remedial action and establish if there are any cases that might need reinvestigation. On operational advice from the police, the initial stage of this operation was kept confidential.

My top priority was to ensure that the methods now in use meet the necessary standards. Chief Constable Tony Lake, the ACPO lead on forensics, was appointed to run the review and put together a team of experts including scientists, police and others with a specialist knowledge of the issues including an independent DNA expert. CC Lake's first priority was to ensure current processes in use by forensic suppliers were adequate for purpose. ACPO is close to completing that work and has found no evidence that we should be concerned about procedures being used today.

His second priority is for the police and FSS to identify cases where there might be benefit in re-analysis. The CC is now moving to this next phase which is to inform forces and provide them with the information required to assess which should be prioritised. Therefore CC Lake wrote to all Chief Officers yesterday to explain the next steps in taking forward a co-ordinated programme of re-analysis. This is a complex, scientific process which is time and labour intensive and—depending on the number of cases identified—will take months rather than weeks.

22 Feb 2007 : Column 62WS

We need to establish what lessons can be learnt from the handling of this issue within the FSS. I have asked for a report from the FSS on how this issue arose, how it was handled and the lessons to be learned for the future operation of the FSS.

ACPO has been and will continue to keep Ministers regularly updated on progress. I will keep the House updated on substantive progress.

Leader of the House

Dover House: Costs (Correction)

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): In my written answer of 30 January to the hon. Member for Lewes, 30 January 2007, Official Report, vol. 456, col. l63W, I set out the costs incurred in moving my private office from 2 Carlton Gardens to Dover House, Whitehall.

The figure of £290,000 quoted for the costs of rental and associated charges paid to the Scotland Office was incorrect.

I am advised by the Scotland Office that the actual cost has now reduced to £138,973.

International Development

Floods in Mozambique

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): Rising flood waters have forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in the Zambezi valley in Mozambique. In 2001 similar flooding led to the loss of hundreds of lives. This time prompt action by the Government of Mozambique, with support from the international community, has averted a major catastrophe. Much remains to be done, though, to protect the lives and well being of those affected and to assist them in returning to normal life when the flood waters recede. We are also very concerned about the possible consequences of the imminent impact in Mozambique of tropical cyclone Favio, bringing potentially hurricane force winds and heavy rain.

So far an estimated 121,000 people have been displaced, of whom 71,000 are in emergency camps and the rest in resettlement areas set up by the government after the 2001 floods. The vast majority of those affected have moved to higher ground, where relief work is underway, though there are still concerns about smaller groups of people in remoter areas. Although water levels upstream have been subsiding in recent days, flood waters remain high downstream and further rainfall is expected.

Next Section Index Home Page