The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Prime Minister has today announced a series of constitutional reforms set out in the Green Paper The Governance of Britain.
These include reforms to modernise the role of the Executive and increase its accountability to Parliament. Further to the Prime Ministers statement, I am announcing the reforms relating to the Treasury.
In 1997, the establishment of an independent Bank of England and Financial Services Authority (FSA) reflected the Governments commitment to transparency, credibility and accountability in economic policymaking. Last month, reforms were announced to increase the transparency of appointments to the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).
To further increase parliamentary accountability and scrutiny of appointments I am today announcing that, following their appointment, I will invite the Treasury Select Committee to convene pre-commencement hearings with all appointees to the MPC of the Bank of England and the chairman of the FSA.
These hearings will give the committee a full opportunity to discuss with the appointee their priorities and experience, and for external MPC appointments, coupled with the reforms announced last month, will allow the committee to evaluate their skills and qualities against the published criteria.
Furthermore, as part of the proposals for increasing the independence of Government statistics currently before Parliament, to further increase public confidence, I propose a vote in the House of Commons to confirm the Governments nominee for chair of the statistics board. I can also confirm today that, following the debate in Parliament, I propose pre-release access to national statistics will be reduced from up to five days for non-market sensitive and 40.5 hours for market sensitive statistics to 24 hours for all statistics.
In addition, in order to enable Parliament to better scrutinise public spending, I am proposing to simplify the planning, parliamentary approval and reporting of public spending by aligning estimates and accounts with budgets and the fiscal rules.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jane Kennedy):
A new double taxation agreement with the Faroes was signed on 20 June 2007 and a new protocol to the double taxation agreement with Switzerland was signed on 26 June 2007. The texts of the double taxation
agreement and the protocol have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and are available on HM Revenue and Customs website. The texts will be scheduled to draft Orders in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.
The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Mr. John Hutton): With my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, I am delighted to inform the House that the UK continues to be a world class business destination.
UK Trade and Investment has announced today, in its launch of the UK Inward Investment Results 2006-07, that there were 1,431 direct investments in the UK by foreign owned companies between 1 April 2006 and 31 March 2007 as reported by UK Trade and Investment and its partner agencies in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regional development agencies. This is an increase of 17 per cent. on the year before and this reconfirms the UKs position as the top investment location in Europe. Overall total jobs figures were down 12 per cent. to 78,357 of which new jobs were up 7 per cent. to 36,526.
This performance reflects the confidence which companies around the world continue to show in the business environment. The number of new projects has increased by 18 per cent. from 508 in 2005-06 to 600 in 2006-07 while confirming 334 expansions by existing investors which is down by just 1 per cent. from 337 expansions the previous year.
UK Trade and Investments five year strategy Prosperity in a Changing World has refocused and restructured to concentrate on the areas where Government can make the most difference to maintain and grow the UK economy. For inward investment, UK Trade and Investment is targeting high value, innovative inward investment and entrepreneurial talent, especially research and development projects that match and enhance the UK strengths. The UK has therefore positioned itself as a springboard for global growth for companies seeking to grow internationally from a UK base.
I am arranging for a copy of the UK Inward Investment Report 2006-07 to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg):
In 2003 Kings College London was commissioned by the Ministry of Defence , as part of its major health and wellbeing survey of Operation
TELIC personnel, to investigate the distribution and determinants of exposure to depleted uranium (DU) resulting from the use of DU munitions. Researchers visited bases in the UK and Germany and obtained urine samples from a total of 369 personnel who had taken part in the combat phase of the operation. Volunteers were sought in four categories, combat, non-combat, battlefield medical and vehicle clean-up personnel among which the last two groups were expected to have the greatest chance of exposure.
The findings of the study are today being published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. No evidence was found for DU contamination in UK forces exposed to DU munitions. Analysis of the urine samples indicated only traces of natural uranium from normal dietary sources at levels consistent with those in non DU-exposed populations.
I welcome publication of these results, which should further reassure our veterans and others that the risk of incidental contamination by battlefield use of DU munitions is very small.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): I have today published the Probation Board for Northern Ireland business plan for 2007-08. The plan sets out the boards key objectives and performance targets for the coming year.
Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.