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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 5 June 2008

Communities and Local Government

Local Government

The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): On 7 May 2008, I set out to the House the approach that the Government intended to take to the transfer and appointment of local government employees in areas that are subject to local government restructuring. I also informed the House that we were circulating draft versions of the staffing regulations and a draft guidance document to key stakeholders—including the joint implementation teams established locally, all affected councils, the main local government trades unions and the local government employers—for their final comments.

Following consideration of the comments we received, and all the views expressed as part of our extensive discussions with interested parties over the past months, I am today laying the staffing regulations before the House. We are also today publishing the document “Guidance on Staffing Issues”. I have placed a copy of this document in the Library of the House.

This approach—a balance of regulation and guidance—establishes a clear and consistent framework to support the new unitary councils to manage the transition to become flagship new councils leading the way in empowering communities, promoting economic prosperity and modernising local service delivery.


Armed Forces Memorial

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): The armed forces memorial, dedicated to some 16,000 members of the United Kingdom armed forces killed on duty or as a result of terrorist action since the end of the second world war, was constructed at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire and dedicated by Her Majesty the Queen on 12 October 2007. The concept for the memorial was first announced in the House of Commons by the then Secretary of State for Defence, on 10 November 2000, Official Report, column 414W.

In May 2006, following parliamentary approval (via the departmental contingent liability minute dated 22 May 2006), the Ministry of Defence provided an indemnity of £3.3 million to the trust which provided for money to be loaned to underwrite the costs of the project that were not then covered by donations. This underwriting allowed the trustees to proceed with contractual arrangements to meet successfully the unveiling deadline of October 2007.

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The costs of the project are now expected to be in the region of £7.3 million and the trustees of the armed forces memorial trust have raised £6.7 million. This sum includes £1.5 million met from the proceeds of the sale of Trafalgar coins which the then Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 13 February 2006. The trust also secured a Millennium Commission grant of £2.417million. The remainder was raised from public subscription.

While there has been no call on the underwriting, the armed forces memorial trustees have recently advised the Ministry of Defence that there is no realistic prospect of significant further public contributions. Consequently, the trustees have sought payment, forecast at some £500,000 in total, to meet outstanding construction costs owed to contractors and expected construction costs. The Ministry of Defence now intends to meet these costs and the cost of inscription of names of those who died since 2007, as an unrecoverable charge to defence funds. These costs will be treated as special payments and recorded in the Ministry of Defence annual report and accounts. This expenditure will be authorised on the sole authority of the Appropriation Act. Provision for payments will be sought through the normal Supply procedures.

The Ministry of Defence also intends to provide an annual grant-in-aid to the armed forces memorial trustees to cover maintenance of the memorial and to fund the inscription of names of those who have died since the original inscriptions were made and those who die on duty or as a result of terrorist action in future. Annual maintenance costs and engraving is expected to cost some £120,000 to £150,000 per annum. Subject to negotiation with the trustees, the Ministry of Defence is therefore proposing to make a grant of some £120,000 to £150,000 per year to be reviewed by April 2010 and subject to uprating in the interim.

The payment of these costs is a departure from the established policy that the MOD does not fund military memorials from public funds, and a change from the statement made by the then Secretary of State for Defence on 10 November 2000, Official Report, column 414W. The Ministry of Defence considers that the unique circumstances warrant an exceptional departure from established policy to provide an element of funding for the armed forces memorial.

Defence Plan 2008

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I am today publishing “Defence Plan 2008-12”, which sets out in one place for the first time both our key targets for the coming year and the resources the Government are making available to deliver these.

As the plan makes clear, our highest priority remains operational success in Iraq and Afghanistan. Achieving this is down to the men and women who make defence happen, and who rise magnificently to the challenges they face. In this plan we set out much of the work that is underway to support them, including further investment in housing and accommodation. We also plan to deliver a very ambitious programme of behavioural and organisational change. We have set in hand work to streamline the management of defence,
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including the head office and its relationship with the front line commands. And building on the successful formation of defence equipment and support a year ago, we are taking forward the next step in the series of business improvement programmes that will improve the way the MOD acquires and supports equipment. Defence does not stand still. As the plan shows, we are a dynamic and complex organisation meeting the security challenges of today while preparing for an uncertain future.

Defence Relations

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): In my last statement to the House on the defence attaché network on 17 September 2007, Official Report, column 125WS, I said that the Ministry of Defence would continue to review the attaché network, as it has done regularly in the past. I can now announce some further changes. In spite of a very taut planning round for the MOD, I have been able to increase the Department’s funding of the network for the next four years to meet substantial and new external costs incurred by the attaché network from this financial year. To meet a remaining shortfall we will, however, be closing our defence sections over the next two years in Barbados, Bulgaria, Finland, Portugal and Sri Lanka and making a reduction in the defence section in India.

Our remaining attachés will focus increasingly on supporting the Government’s broad security objectives of building peace and stability, reducing the risk of terrorism and in securing support for operations. We are keen to sustain our conflict prevention work, assist more vulnerable states to develop appropriate security structures and to help those who may contribute to peace support operations.

We greatly value the work of our attaché network. At the same time, the investment we make in the network needs to be as cost-effective and as relevant to our international interests as possible. The results of the latest review are designed to achieve these objectives.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Pesticides Safety Directorate (Performance Targets 2008-09)

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): The Minister with responsibility for marine, landscape and rural affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw) announced on 26 March 2008, Official Report, column 9WS, that following a public consultation, Ministers had agreed that the Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD) should join the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) from 1 April 2008. Under this arrangement, strategic policy responsibility for pesticides remains with DEFRA Ministers with the operational responsibility for pesticides delegated to the HSE.

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In retaining ministerial responsibility for pesticides, I have set PSD the following performance targets for 2008-09.

Further details are given in the “Pesticides Safety Directorate Three-year Business Plan 2008-11: Year 2008-09”, copies of which will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Animal Health Agency (Performance Targets)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): I have set the Animal Health agency the following performance targets for 2008-09.

Further details are given in the “Animal Health Business Plan for 2008-09”, copies of which will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.


Titan Prisons

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): In December 2007 the Government announced their response to Lord Carter of Coles’ review of prisons. In January 2008 we published an update on specific developments in prison policy, including the prison building programme. That update included a
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commitment to consult on the development of the Titan prison programme recommended by Lord Carter and the place of these large prisons in the wider strategy for the prison estate.

Reducing reoffending and protecting the public lies at the heart of the Ministry of Justice’s work and is a key priority for the Government. We have a strong package of measures in place to ensure we achieve our objectives. Our strategy remains that the most serious and dangerous offenders should be in prison, with less serious offenders managed in the community through sentences which can often be more effective in terms of reducing reoffending than short prison sentences.

Both in custody and in the community the Government are focused on matching resources to need. Interventions that will help an offender to change should reflect the seriousness of his or her offence and the risk he or she poses. This is true for the most serious offenders in the high security estate, whose risk of harm to others is high, through to less serious offenders serving their sentence in the community.

For many offenders a custodial sentence is necessary to protect the public and reduce reoffending, and that means providing sufficient places to meet the volume of sentences handed down by the courts. In addition, there must be sufficient places for those remanded in custody pending trial.

Since 1997 the Government have provided an extra 20,000 prison places. In December we announced plans for a further prison building programme, including three new Titan prison complexes, each housing 2,500 prisoners.

Titan prisons have a part to play in ensuring that we have sufficient capacity to continue to achieve our objectives, of which the most important is protecting the public. We will aim to use the most up to date technology to make them as secure as possible—both in terms of external security but also through the design of the blocks the aim will be to give prison officers every opportunity to manage a safe environment.

We will also intend them to provide value for money for the taxpayer. Sending an offender to prison is expensive and we have a duty to work as hard as possible to use taxpayers’ money efficiently and effectively. Titan prisons will offer efficiencies and better use of technology, shared services and, we intend, will provide for the overhaul of old and inefficient parts of the prison estate.

The complexes will also provide the opportunity to “build in” rehabilitative functions, to ensure that prisoners get the treatment and work programmes they need in order to give them a chance to change their ways and reduce the risk of reoffending when they return to the community.

The Ministry of Justice has introduced end-to-end offender management, for serious and prolific offenders. Titan prisons will allow individual offenders to spend more of their sentence in one place, rather than being moved round the prison estate through their sentence and so reduce costs and disruption to rehabilitation.

These improvements in offender management will therefore help the Ministry of Justice to protect the public and reduce recidivism, but also to do so at a reduced cost to the taxpayer.

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I have today placed in the Libraries of both Houses, and published on the Ministry of Justice website, a consultation document as the first step in a broad consultation process designed to help shape the development of this innovative approach to prison design and operation. http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/cp1008.htm. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. The consultation document:

Lord Carter did not recommend, and the Government do not intend to develop, monolithic 2,500 bed prison “warehouses”. The consultation document describes the kind of approaches we wish to encourage in pursuing the Titan model. That is, prisons that provide prisoner accommodation to an appropriate standard, which deliver good value for money and which maximise opportunities to reduce reoffending.

Titans are just one component of Lord Carter’s package of recommendations. In particular, the Government look forward to receiving the findings and recommendations from Lord Justice Gage and his working group which is examining the advantages, disadvantages and feasibility of a structured sentencing framework and Sentencing Commission.

While it has already accepted Lord Carter’s recommendations, including Titan prisons, the Government want to hear from all who have views and experience that could help shape the development and operation of these important new establishments.


Crossrail Bill

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): I am today placing in the House Libraries a copy of the “Promoter of the Crossrail Bill’s response to the First Special Report of Session 2007-08” published on 27 May by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill (“Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill 1st Special Report 2007-08: HL Paper 112-I”).

The Promoter’s response welcomes the Committee’s Special Report, and thanks the Committee for their careful and considered work, which was concluded with a comprehensive Special Report.

The Promoter also provides a response to specific sections of the Committee’s Special Report, which I hope will be of assistance to petitioners, the House, and other stakeholders and interested parties.

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