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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 20 March 2008

Communities and Local Government

Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre (Targets 2008-09)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): I am today announcing the key performance targets that have been agreed for the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre for the period 1 April 2008 to 31 March 2009.

The agency’s principal financial target for 2008-09 is to achieve a minimum dividend payment to the Department for Communities and Local Government of £1,340,000 with an additional dividend payment of £360,000 if trading revenues meet target. The agency will pay an exceptional dividend to the Department for Communities and Local Government in December 2008 of £2,800,000.

An operational target has been set to achieve room occupancy within the centre of 71 per cent. of capacity.

The agency also has the following quality of service targets:

Return on Capital Employed

HM Treasury set an annual return on capital employed of 6 per cent. for the centre’s trading fund activities.

External review

During the first quarter of 2008-09, the agency will conduct a strategic review to consider the following:

1. The opportunity to sustain and grow the existing conference business in its current marketplace. This will include:

2. The potential value of the site to a third-party developer on both a current use and a change of use basis.

3. To advise of any further strategic options that could create value to the taxpayer.


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Regional Spatial Strategy

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities is today publishing for consultation her proposed changes to the draft revision of the Regional Spatial Strategy for the north-west of England.

The Regional Spatial Strategy forms part of the statutory development plan for every local authority in the north-west, and sets the framework for the production of local development frameworks and local transport plans. It provides the spatial plan for the development of the region, and provides the policy framework for employment, housing, transport and the environment.

The current Strategy, initially published as regional planning guidance, became the Regional Spatial Strategy in September 2004 with the enactment of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act. A draft revision of the Regional Spatial Strategy was submitted to Government in January 2006 by the North-West Regional Assembly. It was subsequently tested in an examination in public between November 2006 and February 2007 and the report of the independent panel that conducted this examination was published in May 2007.

The Secretary of State has considered the recommendations of this independent panel which held the examination in public, and has taken into account the representations made on the draft revision, and also changes in Government policy since the draft revision was submitted.

Today’s publication of the Secretary of State’s proposed changes now represents the commencement of a public consultation until 23 May 2008. Also being published are the reports of a Sustainability Appraisal of the Proposed Changes and a Habitats Regulations Assessment.

Following consideration of the responses to the consultation, the Secretary of State hopes to publish the finalised Regional Spatial Strategy for the north-west of England in July 2008. On final publication it will supersede the current RSS.

Copies of the relevant documents are available in the Libraries of both Houses and have been provided for all of the region’s MPs, MEPs and local authorities.

Defence

Creation of the Centre for Defence Enterprise

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): The MOD is establishing a pilot Centre for Defence Enterprise to facilitate enterprise in the defence sector, continuing the pursuit of a broader supplier base for advanced technology to deliver a battle-winning edge to the UK armed forces, as set out in the defence industrial strategy, defence technology strategy and MOD innovation strategy.

The Centre for Defence Enterprise will bring together innovators and investors with an interest in potential defence technology. This will be a further incentive for
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individuals, small and medium-sized enterprises and academia to engage with the MOD and the established defence industry. It is also the opportunity for the UK investment community to enter the major business of supplying the UK armed forces.

The initial pilot will be focused on a physical centre at the Harwell science and innovation campus to allow for interested parties to come and understand the needs of the Department and align their ideas and energy to make a real difference to the frontline. The internet will be utilised to ensure that the whole of the UK can join this endeavour and further open defence to all UK innovators.

The initial pilot will test the level of engagement and needs of the innovators and investors to develop the business model for greatest effectiveness. Most products of this initiative are anticipated to take several years to mature, although some could deliver to the frontline much quicker if suitable.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Diplomatic Couriers (Visas)

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): In his oral statement to the House on 16 July 2007 on measures the Government would impose in response to Russia’s failure to answer satisfactorily our request for the extradition Andrey Lugovoy, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agreed that he would keep Parliament informed of any changes to our visa regime for Russian officials.

One of the measures imposed in July last year was to restrict visas for Russian officials to being single-entry and time-limited. This brought UK practice into line with Russian practice for issuing visas to UK officials. I wish to inform Parliament that, by agreement between the UK and Russia, official couriers will be issued with multiple-entry visas, which accords with recent Russian visa practice towards UK couriers. The change is aimed at maximising the efficiency and efficacy of our network of couriers, and will enable our couriers to support better our diplomatic posts in Russia.

All other visa arrangements remain unchanged.

Justice

Juvenile Secure Settings (Restraint Methods)

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): On 8 October 2007 my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children, Young People and Families and I announced the appointment of Andrew Williamson CBE and Peter Smallridge CBE as independent co-chairs of the review of restraint in juvenile secure settings (Official Report, Column 20WS). The Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families have joint responsibility for the review.

My right hon. Friend and I asked the chairs to report their recommendations to us by 4 April.

During their consultation on the independent review, the chairs have met a wide range of interested parties
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and have taken extensive written evidence. The chairs have also visited all secure training centres and a number of young offender institutions and secure children homes to learn first-hand about restraint and to hear of the experiences and views of both young people and staff. The chairs are grateful to all those who have provided evidence to the review.

The chairs have now moved towards a detailed consideration of their findings. The chairs have identified what they consider to be a significant remaining gap in the evidence base for their report. This concerns the use of restraint in secure children’s homes. Unlike the position in secure training centres and young offender institutions, there is a wide range of restraint methods available for commercial procurement in secure children’s homes. There is no central prescription of techniques and it is the responsibility of each local authority or provider to identify techniques appropriate to the secure children’s home for which they have responsibility, taking into account the framework for the use of restraint set out in regulations and national minimum standards. Consequently, this fragmented picture means that the information on restraint in secure children's homes has not been as readily available to the chairs as evidence on restraint in secure training centres and young offender institutions.

It was to help the chairs close this evidence gap that the Department for Children, Schools and Families commissioned the National Children’s Bureau to undertake thorough research on restraint in secure children’s homes. This important research, which began in January, aims to provide, for the first time, a systematic map of restraint methods, systems and processes in secure children’s homes. It will also help us to identify where there are remaining gaps in our knowledge. And it will look at the data to see if there is any evidence of harm to children and young people arising from these restraint methods.

The chairs have welcomed this research project and have been kept in touch with its early emerging findings. The main outcomes of the research, however, will not be available in time for the chairs to reflect its conclusions in their recommendations. Without this research, the chairs believe, the review may be a missed opportunity to examine restraint properly in all three secure settings and to make well-founded recommendations for its future regulation. Accordingly, the chairs wrote to my right hon. Friend and me on 28 February to propose that they should delay their report until 20 June to ensure that their report can reflect the results of the NCB research into secure children’s homes. We have placed a copy of the chairs’ letter in the Libraries of both Houses.

Having considered the arguments carefully, my right hon. Friend and I have agreed with the chairs’ request that they now defer their report to us until 20 June 2008 at the latest. We accept the chairs’ view that to be complete their report must take the NCB research into account. The restraint of young people is a highly important issue and we believe that, on balance, it is better for the report to be deferred for a short period than for a premature or incomplete report to be submitted to the original deadline.

Although this puts back the chairs’ submission of their report, my right hon. Friend and I have always been clear that the ongoing independent review would not prevent us taking urgent action on restraint where
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it is needed. In December 2007, my right hon. Friend and I, on medical advice, suspended two PCC restraint holds used by secure training centres, the Borders and Immigration Agency and in Northern Ireland. The Government will shortly be publishing its action plan to address issues raised by the Coroners of the inquests into the tragic deaths of Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood.

Cabinet Office

MPs' and Peers' Correspondence

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Tom Watson): I am today publishing a report on Departments’ and Agencies’ performance on handling Members’ and Peers’ correspondence during 2007. Details are set out in the attached table. Figures for 2006 were published on 28 March 2007, Official Report, column 101WS. Departmental figures are based on substantive replies unless otherwise indicated.

The footnotes to the table provide general background information on how the figures have been compiled.


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Correspondence from MPs/Peers to Ministers and Agency Chief Executives(1)2007
Department or AgencyTarget set for reply (working days)Number of letters receivedPercentage of replies within target

Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform(2)

15

7,502

74

Companies House

10

54

100

Insolvency Service

10

311

98

Cabinet Office

15

485

88

Department for Communities and Local Government

15

11,018

61(3)

Planning Inspectorate

10

186

93

Crown Prosecution Service

15

422

99

Department for Children, Schools and Families(4)

15

16,383

92

Department for Culture, Media and Sport

20

5,449

77

Royal Parks Agency

20

17

94

Ministry of Defence

15

6,682(5)

48(6)

Met Office

10

24

83

Service Personnel and Veterans Agency

15

645

98

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

15

14,068

73

Animal Health

15

61

94

Marine Fisheries Agency

15

33

96

Rural Payments Agency

15

645

40(7)

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

20

9,792

92

UK Visas

20

401

77

Department of Health

20

19,329

92

Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency

20

193

80(*)

20

31

100(**)

NHS Purchasing and Supplies Agency

20

12

80(*)

(*)Agency Ministerial cases

(**)Letters sent directly to Agency Chief Executive, where Agency Chief Executives responded on behalf of Ministers

Food Standards Agency

(*)Letters where Health Ministers have replied

20

279(*)

72(*)

(**)Letters where Chief Executive/Chairman has replied

20

75(**)

95(**)

(***)DH Campaign letters(8)

20

142(***)

17(***)

Meat Hygiene Service

20

15

80

Home Office(9)

15

6,567

95

Criminal Records Bureau

10

505

95

Identity and Passport Service

10

931

90

Border and Immigration Agency(10)

20

43,178

82

HM Prison Service(11)

20

182

100

Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills(12)

15

2,125

73

UK Intellectual Property Office

15

289

96

Department for International Development

15

3,888

78

Ministry of Justice(13)

20

4,777

90(*)

(*)Letters where Ministers have replied

HM Courts Service

15

28

100(**)

Land Registry

20

134

97(**)

HM Prison Service(14)

20

320

99(**)

Public Guardianship Office(15)

15

94

96(**)

Official Solicitor and Public Trustee

15

31

100(**)

Tribunals Service

10

1,969

99(**)

(**)Letters where Chief Executive/Director General or officials have applied

Legal Secretariat to the Law Officers

20

554

87

Northern Ireland Office

15

432

81

Compensation Agency

10

49

96

Northern Ireland Prison Service

10

69

59

Office of the Leader of the House of Commons

15

475

94

HM Revenue and Customs(*)

15(16)

4,779

70

(*)Local Office and “delegated” figures (where local tax offices have replied directly to MPs)

15

1,197

63(17)

Scotland Office

15

95

77

Department for Transport

15

8,406

80

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency

7

1,481

87

Driving Standards Agency

10

134

54(18)

Highways Agency

15

330

94

Vehicle and Operator Services Agency

15

69

100

HM Treasury

15

6,385

84

National Savings and Investments

15

18

78

Office for National Statistics

15

201

90

(*)Letters where the National Statistician replied on the Ministers’ behalf

10

161(*)

70

Valuation Office

18

26

73

Treasury Solicitor’s Department

10

22

100

Wales Office

15

72

90

Department for Work and Pensions

20

10,379

92

Child Support Agency

15

6,650

92

Debt Management

15

69

100

Disability and Carers Service

15

416

91

Health and Safety Executive

15

259

85

Jobcentre Plus

15

1,727

90

The Pension Service

15

1,186

97

The Rent Service

15

12

100

(1) Departments and Agencies which received 10 MPs/Peers letters or fewer are not shown in this table. Holding or interim replies are not included unless otherwise indicated. The report does not include correspondence considered as Freedom of Information requests.
(2) As part of Machinery of Government changes, The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform was formed from the Department of Trade and Industry on 28 June 2007. The statistics include correspondence handling figures from DTI up until 27 June 2007
(3) Communities and Local Government have improved performance substantially since 2006. Revision of their processes in February 2007 has led to continued improvement.
(4) As part of Machinery of Government changes, The Department for Children, Schools and Families was formed from the Department for Education and Skills on 28 June 2007. The statistics include correspondence handling figures from DFES up until 27 June 2007
(5) Database is unable to differentiate between letters from MPs/Peers and other correspondence, including FOI requests. Figures are therefore for all letters which received a ministerial reply.
(6 )Drop in performance caused in part by technical difficulties following the implementation of a new handling system. Arrangements have been introduced to improve performance, which has been made a priority by the Secretary of State. The figure for December 2007 was 69 per cent.
(7) The percentage of replies within target has increased from 23% in 2006, and performance has steadily improved throughout the year. Many of the letters that the RPA responds to involve complex casework and these take time to resolve effectively.
(8) The campaign correspondence exclusively concerned regulations relating to the marketing of infant and follow-on formula and a delay resulting from finalisation of those regulations.
(9) As part of Machinery of Government changes, the Respect Task Force moved to the Department for Children, Schools and Families on 28 June 2007. The figures include performance of the Respect Task Force up to and including 27 June.
(10) Former Immigration and Nationality Directorate prior to 1 April 2007
(11) As part of Machinery of Government changes, the Office of Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR) and the National Offender Management Service/HM Prison Service moved to the Ministry of Justice on 5 May 2007. The above figures include performance of the OCJR and the HM Prison Service up to and including 4 May.
(12) As part of Machinery of Government changes, The Department for Innovation, Universities and Science was formed from parts of the Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Trade and Industry on 28 June 2007. Figures are for 28 June 2007 onwards.
(13) The Ministry of Justice was formed from the Department of Constitutional Affairs and part of the Home Office on 9 May 2007
(14) Part of the Home Office until 4 May 2007; figures for only 9 May - 31 December 2007
(15 )Former Public Guardianship Office prior to 1 October 2007
(16) HMRC reduced response targets from 18 days to 15 days
(17 )Performance significantly improved in the last quarter of 2007 when the average clearance time was reduced to less than 10 days.
(18 )Drop in performance following changes in the way correspondence statistics are collected. The necessary measures have been implemented to improve performance.

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