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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Communities and Local Government

Building Regulations Part G

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): I am today publishing a consultation document on options for revising part G of the building regulations addressing sanitation, hot water safety and water efficiency in buildings.

This consultation follows a wide-ranging review of part G of the building regulations and delivers on two Government commitments:

The consultation package, which includes an impact assessment of options, seeks views on a number of changes to the regulations and supporting guidance, and invites consultees to provide us with information on other options. The main areas we are consulting on are, in summary:

The Government would like to support a provision that would help reduce the risk of scalding incidents from sanitary appliances, and we are aware of the support this would have from many hon. Members and other stakeholders. However, our initial analysis of such a provision suggests that the costs of such measures are considerably out of proportion to the benefits they would deliver. Unfortunately, this means it is not currently possible for us to bring forward a definite proposal for consultation. However, as part of this consultation we are inviting more information to be provided to inform our analysis.


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The consultation is accompanied by impact assessments and can be accessed via the Communities and Local Government website at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/partgconsultation.

The consultation closes on 5 August 2008.

Defence

Spring Performance Report

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I have today placed in the Library of the House copies of the Ministry of Defence’s spring performance report. This shows that the armed forces, supported by their civilian colleagues, have consistently and reliably continued to make progress towards their military strategic objectives, including a secure environment and security sector reform in Iraq and Afghanistan. In so doing they are also making a significant contribution towards the Government’s wider conflict prevention goals, where we have made some encouraging progress. The Department is also on course to exceed the efficiency goals set in the 2004 spending review, and over the spending review period has continued to deliver against almost all of the targets for equipment acquisition, although we do not expect to have achieved the 2007-08 target for average in-year slippage in forecast in-service dates.

The continuing high operational tempo means that the armed forces cannot simultaneously be ready for the full range of potential contingent operations provided for in planning assumptions, and we do not now expect to have met the readiness target. And although overall activity levels have fallen, the operational tempo is also still preventing achievement of harmony guidelines in parts of the Army and the Royal Air Force. The challenge of implementing the changes in service personnel numbers announced in the July 2004 White Paper while sustaining the high operational tempo means that we have also not made as much progress as we originally planned towards achieving manning balance across all three services, and we therefore do not now expect the Royal Navy or Army to have achieved manning balance by April 2008.

RAF Hercules ZH876 Board of Inquiry

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I am able to inform the House today of the findings of the Royal Air Force board of inquiry (BOI) into the loss of the RAF C130J Hercules ZH876 in Iraq on 12 February 2007.

The purpose of a board of inquiry is to establish the circumstances of the loss and to learn lessons from it; it does not seek to apportion blame.

The board of inquiry was convened on 13 February 2007 and considered a mass of evidence. The board established that, on 12 February 2007, Hercules C130J ZH876 was on a routine operational passenger flight to conduct a roulement of troops, landing at a tactical landing zone (TLZ) in Maysaan province, South East Iraq. As the aircraft was about to touch down, it was subjected to an improvised explosive device (IED) attack
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which damaged the aircraft. The captain brought the aircraft to a stop and ordered the aircraft’s evacuation. All passengers and crew evacuated successfully, only slight injuries having been sustained.

A second RAF Hercules aircraft was in the vicinity of the TLZ on another task, and offered to provide assistance. It subsequently landed to recover the crew and passengers who were due to depart on ZH876. This second aircraft sustained minor damage on landing as a result of running through some debris from ZH876. This damage was later repaired at its detachment base and the aircraft was quickly returned to service the next day.

Due to operational considerations, ZH876 was judged to be unrecoverable. Consequently, it was destroyed by coalition forces on 13 February 2007, in order to deny enemy forces any exploitation opportunities.

Following extensive investigation, the board concluded that the cause of the accident was the detonation of two arrays of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) buried along the edge of the landing strip at the TLZ. The board of inquiry commended the crew on its handling of the immediate aftermath of the explosion and the successful evacuation of the aircraft. Further, the board stated that, even if the aircraft had been fitted with explosion suppressant foam, it would not have reduced the damage sustained by the aircraft in the IED attack.

The BOI report and a military aircraft accident summary are being placed in the Library of the House and on the MOD’s public internet site. As you will appreciate, the safety of our people is a principal consideration and we have therefore removed from both documents any information that might endanger the security or capability of UK and coalition personnel, or be of use to an enemy. We have, however, tried to be as open as possible and have carefully considered the public interest arguments for and against disclosure of the information in the report. We have ensured that each redaction is justified by an appropriate exemption in the Freedom of Information Act.

I remind the House that the purpose of the Inquiry is to identify those factors which contributed to the loss and indicate lessons for the future. The board made a number of recommendations that we are studying closely. Indeed, we have acted on many of them already. The main recommendation was that TLZ search procedures must be revised prior to the resumption of TLZ usage in Op TELIC. Furthermore, once cleared, a TLZ must be constantly monitored prior to use. The National Search Centre, in conjunction with relevant units, has further developed the force protection search section of RAF Regiment procedures. These are now being used by force protection teams on operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The board of inquiry into the loss of Hercules ZH876 is now complete. I express my gratitude to the president of the board and his team for their painstaking work.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

CEFAS

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): I have set the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) the following performance targets for 2008-09:


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Service Delivery

Value for public money

Capacity and capability

Further details are given in the CEFAS business plan 2008-09, copies of which will be placed in the Libraries of the House.

Innovation, Universities and Skills

HE Student Support (Annual Uprating)

The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Bill Rammell): The level of support for loans, grants and fees that will be available to eligible higher education students in the 2009-10 academic year will be broadly 2.6 per cent. higher than for 2008-09, in line with forecast price increases.

For students who have entered higher education on or after 1 September 2006 and are being charged variable fees, the maximum fee payable will increase from £3,145 to £3,225 in 2009-10. The increase to the fee will be matched by a corresponding increase to the loan for fees that students can take out.

For students who are not being charged variable fees (primarily students who entered higher education before 1 September 2006), the maximum fee contribution payable will increase from £1,255 to £1,285.


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The increased fee amounts will be authorised by the Student Fees (Amounts) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2008, which will be laid before Parliament in due course.

For students who are eligible for the maintenance grant, or the equivalent alternative special support grant, the maximum amount of grant available will increase from £2,835 to £2,906.

For most students, the maximum amount of the basic maintenance loan will increase from £4,625 to £4,745. For students studying in London, the maximum amount will increase from £6,475 to £6,643, while for students continuing to live at home while studying, the maximum amount will increase from £3,580 to £3,673.

I am placing a memorandum in the Library which gives full details of the increased loan, grant and fee rates for 2009-10. All these rates are being incorporated into the Education (Student Support) (No. 2) Regulations 2008, which will also be laid before Parliament in due course.

Justice

Appointment to the Boundary Commission for Wales

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): I should like to inform the House
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that I have, under Schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, appointed Mr David John Bader as a member of the Boundary Commission for Wales. The appointment is effective from 1 May 2008 until 30 April 2013.

Wales

Legislative Competence Order (Housing)

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I am pleased to inform the House that the proposed National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Housing) Order has been laid today, as Command Paper (7379). Copies of this can be found in the Vote Office and will be placed in the Library from 12 noon. I have written to the Chairmen of the Welsh Affairs Committee and the House of Lords Constitutional Committee to request they undertake pre-legislative scrutiny.


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