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Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 9 March 2007

Communities and Local Government

Improving Resilience - Correction to Written Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Angela E. Smith): A written statement on 7 March 2007, Official Report, column 127WS contained a clerical error with regard to the identity of the preferred bidder. I apologise for any confusion this may have caused. The correct statement is as follows.

I am pleased to announce that following an open competition and an extensive evaluation process undertaken by Communities and Local Government, members of the fire and rescue service, LGA and CFOA, EADS Defence and Security Systems Ltd. has been selected as the supplier for the FiReControl infrastructure services (technology). The contract, worth an estimated £200 million, over eight years, underlines the Government’s commitment to invest in the nation’s resilience and supports a modern fire and rescue service which is equipped to deal with incidents of every size. Contract signature is expected to take place in the next few weeks.

At the heart of this project is the ability for the control centres to back each other up and to provide information direct to the Fire and Rescue Service, which some of the present systems cannot do. The choice of the right supplier for this project’s IT requirements is therefore vital.

EADS Defence and Security Systems Ltd. will be responsible for developing and running the IT systems that will deliver control services to the fire service—giving firefighters as much information as possible to help them tackle the incident they are attending—and ultimately aiming to further reduce deaths in fires. They and their partners have an excellent reputation for delivery and we are confident that they will provide a high quality solution for the fire and rescue services. Many elements of the proposed IT solution are already being used in a range of applications in the UK and elsewhere. A phased transition to the new system will ensure that the FRS will continue to provide a high quality service throughout.


Collocation of Attack Helicopters

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Following the review of the attack helicopter (AH) fielding plan, which sets out how the aircraft and its aircrew are organised and made ready for operations, to determine how best to deliver the Apache attack helicopter capability to the front line,
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within existing resources, I can today confirm our plans to locate all front-line Apache attack helicopter at Wattisham.

Currently, the front-line Apache Regiments are based at Dishforth in Yorkshire and Wattisham in Suffolk, where the depth maintenance for all Apaches is undertaken. It has been identified that instead of the front-line Apache squadrons being based at two different locations, it would be more effective and efficient to collocate all front-line Apaches at Wattisham. This will be achieved by swapping two Apache Squadrons from Dishforth (656 Squadron and 664 Squadron Army Air Corps) with two Lynx helicopter squadrons from Wattisham (659 Squadron and 669 Squadron Army Air Corps). The move is expected to occur between June and September 2007.

Collocation of all front-line AH at Wattisham will enable the technical expertise, logistic supply and maintenance of the aircraft to be managed more effectively, thereby improving aircraft availability. This, in turn, will lead to improvements in delivering AH capability to the front line. Collocation of three Lynx squadrons at Dishforth will yield similar benefits.

Dishforth will revert to a similar disposition of aircraft that it possessed prior to the introduction of Apache. It is not thought that the exchange of squadrons will materially change the environmental impact of training at Wattisham or Dishforth. It will also have no impact on civilian jobs. The existing infrastructure support arrangements at both sites will remain as they are now.

The move will affect military personnel to the extent that those posts currently located within the affected squadrons will be relocated. This means that some personnel will transfer between the two sites, although there will be no material impact on overall service personnel numbers at either site. The interest of our military personnel and their families are very important to us and as such, the moves will be managed to ensure minimal impact on them. Most of the relocation process will take place within the normal cycle of postings. All affected personnel are being kept fully informed of the move.

I have written to the MPs in whose constituency the move will impact.

Finally, we are reviewing, under Programme Belvedere, our long-term requirements for military helicopter bases in the UK. No decisions have yet been made on this. Further announcements will be made to the House once the programme concludes, to inform on its findings.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

General Affairs and External Relations Council

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, Sir John Grant (UK Permanent Representative to the EU) and I represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Brussels.

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The agenda items covered were as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the European Council

The Council discussed the European Council agenda, focusing on energy and climate policy, the Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs and the EU’s “better regulation” initiative.

There was broad support in the Council for an ambitious approach on climate and energy at the European Council. The Government believe that this is an important opportunity for the EU to take action on climate and energy security and expects the European Council to send a clear signal of EU leadership including on carbon capture and storage, internal liberalisation, and use of renewable energy sources.

External Relations


The presidency briefed the Council on negotiations with Uzbekistan on a human rights dialogue. The Government support the presidency’s attempts to engage the Uzbek Government in constructive discussion of human rights issues focused on results and underpinned by the EU’s human rights principles.

There was consensus in the Council reflected in the conclusions, which acknowledge Uzbekistan’s readiness to hold a further round of expert talks; stress the need for an early, meaningful and regular human rights dialogue; and urge Uzbekistan to fully implement its international human rights obligations.

Western Balkans

Discussion focused on Bosnia. The High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, briefed the Council on the decision by the Bosnian Peace Implementation Council, of which the UK is a member, to extend the term of the Office of the High Representative for Bosnia and to reduce the EU peacekeeping force in Bosnia from 6000 to around 2500 in response to the improved security situation. A number of speakers underlined the importance of Bosnian progress on the conditions set out by the Council in December 2005 which would allow negotiation on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU to be concluded.

The Council conclusions welcomed the formation of a new government in Bosnia and Herzegovina and encouraged the new authorities to ensure a swift and effective implementation of those conditions. The conclusions also took note of the Peace and Implementation Council’s decision to extend the term of the Office of the High Representative and confirmed the EU’s decision to reduce the troop numbers of the peacekeeping force in Bosnia (EUFOR).

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the armed forces made a statement to the House of 1 March 2007, Official Report, columns 1083-94 welcoming the draw-down in EUFOR numbers and announcing the UK’s consequent decision to withdraw the majority of its 600 troops.

Middle East Peace Process

The Council discussed developments on the formation of a National Unity Government (NUG) following the Fatah-Hamas agreement in Mecca on 8 February. The Council agreed to reserve judgment until a NUG was formed and the full details of its platform are known.

The Council looked forward to further work by the Quartet, including in co-operation with Arab
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partners and was briefed by External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, on Commission work on capacity-building support and co-ordination of assistance to the Palestinians, which the Government strongly support. The Council did not issue conclusions.


The presidency briefed the Council on behalf of the E3 (Germany, France, UK) on discussion of next steps following Iran’s failure to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737. A number of partners underlined the need for a firm international response while keeping open the door to further dialogue with Iran in line with the EU’s agreed twin track approach.

Following discussion the Council adopted conclusions deploring Iran’s non-compliance with Security Council Resolution 1737, underlining support for further measures by the United Nations Security Council and reiterating EU support for a robust international response while calling on Iran to open the way for a negotiated solution.


My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary wrote to her counterparts prior to the Council, underlining the seriousness of the humanitarian and security situation in Darfur and calling for clear EU support for urgent Security Council consideration of further measures against those responsible for the violence in Darfur. She also made clear the Government’s support for the presidency’s work to secure more funding for the African Union Mission in Sudan.

The Council discussed the situation in Darfur and adopted conclusions expressing concern at the deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation in Darfur, urging all parties to respect their ceasefire commitments and underlining support for consideration by the Security Council for further measures against those impeding the peace process. The conclusions also acknowledge the need to urgently address the funding of the African Union Mission in Sudan and urged contributions from international partners. A number of member states, led by the presidency, indicated that they would provide, or were considering providing, additional financial support to the African Union Mission.

Work and Pensions

Deregulatory Review - Consultation Paper

The Minister for Pensions Reform (James Purnell): On 13 December 2006 the Government appointed Chris Lewin and Ed Sweeney as external reviewers to the Deregulatory Review of private pensions legislation. The purpose of the review—initially announced in the May 2006 Pensions White Paper—is to simplify the private pensions regulatory framework and to reduce regulatory burdens, bearing in mind the need to strike a balance between protecting members’ benefits and encouraging employer provision of pensions.

I am pleased to advise the House that Chris Lewin and Ed Sweeney today published a consultation paper with an invitation for contributions by 6 April.

A copy is in the House Library. The document sets out the emerging issues and evidence presented so far,
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with the aim of encouraging further discussion and building consensus on the way forward. I encourage stakeholders to contribute: it is vital that any changes which emerge from the Deregulatory Review strike a balance between member protection and encouraging
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employer provision of pensions. The consultation paper will be available on the Department’s pensions reform internet site later today. Chris Lewin and Ed Sweeney will report to Ministers with recommendations by spring 2007.

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