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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Terrorist Suspects (Rendition)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): On 21 February I made a statement to the House regarding new information we had been passed by the United States Government regarding rendition. Contrary to earlier assurances that Diego Garcia had not been used for rendition flights, United States investigations had revealed two occasions, both in 2002, when this had in fact occurred. Since February, I have corresponded with Secretary Rice on this issue and our officials have continued to work through the details and implications of the new information.

I promised the House that, as part of this process, my officials would compile a list of flights where we had been alerted to concern about rendition through the UK or our overseas territories. The list which they have compiled, containing 391 flights, reflects concerns put to us by hon. Members, members of the public, multilateral organisations and non-governmental organisations. Inclusion on this list does not represent an official endorsement of any allegations about a particular flight. On the contrary, US Government flights—as with other Government flights—occur regularly for a variety of purposes. Our intention was to collate in one place those concerns that had been put to us directly. The list was passed to the US on 15 May. I undertook in February to publish the list and have today placed a copy in the Library of the House and published it on the FCO website at

The US Government received the list of flights from the UK Government. The US Government confirmed that, with the exception of two cases related to Diego Garcia in 2002, there have been no other instances in which US intelligence flights landed in the United Kingdom, our overseas territories, or the Crown dependencies, with a detainee on board since 11 September 2001.

Our US allies are agreed on the need to seek our permission for any future renditions through UK territory. Secretary Rice has underlined to me the firm US understanding that there will be no rendition through the UK, our overseas territories and Crown dependencies or airspace without first receiving our express permission. We have made clear that we would only grant such permission if we were satisfied that the rendition would accord with UK law and our international obligations. The circumstances of any such request would be carefully examined on a case-by-case basis.

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Our intelligence and counter-terrorism relationship with the US is vital to the national security of the United Kingdom. There must and will continue to be the strongest possible intelligence and counter-terrorism relationship between our two countries, consistent with UK law and our international obligations.


Supreme Court

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): I wish to update the House on the construction costs of the Supreme Court for the United Kingdom.

The overall development of the Supreme Court is progressing according to plan and we expect to open the Supreme Court as predicted for the start of the legal year in October 2009.

At the beginning of 2008 some movement to the fabric of the building was found around the parapet and tower at Middlesex Guildhall. Over the years water penetration had reached structural steelwork embedded within the masonry at high level. The steel has corroded causing movement and cracking of the stone facing of the building.

The damage is, I am told, not a significant risk to delivery of the new Supreme Court. Repairing it will increase the overall cost of the building by around £2 million above those costs announced by my predecessor in June 2007.

In 2007, Lord Falconer reported estimated set up costs of £56.9 million (£36.7 million for building work, and £20.2 million for professional adviser fees, programme team costs, furniture, IT services and library costs).

We continue to work closely with Westminster city council and English Heritage to preserve and protect this important building for future generations.

In addition, the security provision at Middlesex Guildhall has been reassessed in line with other high profile central Government and Court buildings in Central London. We expect this to increase the overall construction costs to the programme and will inform the House when we have the final figure.

“Governance of Britain”

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): On 3 July 2007 (Official Report, column 815), the Prime Minister made a statement to Parliament publishing “The Governance of Britain” Green Paper. The Green Paper set out a route map for further constitutional reform, better to strengthen the relationship between Government, Parliament and the citizen, and to take steps towards a new constitutional settlement. This builds on fundamental reforms carried out by the Government since 1997 including devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the transformation of the role of the Lord Chancellor, the introduction of a Supreme Court, the Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

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Renewing our democracy is at the heart of our reforms, building a new relationship between citizens and Government and ensuring that the rights of individuals are fully respected.

One year on, much progress has been made against the Governance of Britain ambitions.

Limiting the powers of the executive

The Government committed to surrendering or limiting powers which it considers should not, in a modern democracy, be exercised exclusively by the executive. We have carried out consultations on Parliament’s role in decisions relating to the deployment of the armed forces into armed conflict and the ratification of treaties, the role of the Attorney-General, Government’s role in judicial appointments, protest around Parliament and the flying of the Union flag. Alongside the responses to the Government’s 2004 consultation on the civil service, these consultations informed the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill and White Paper, which is now being considered by a Joint Committee. The draft Constitutional Renewal Bill contains important measures to strengthen Parliament and make Government more accountable to the people it serves. It encompasses five areas of reform, and includes proposals to:

The Government also want Parliament to have the right to take the final decision about committing armed forces in to armed conflict.

Making the executive more accountable

The Government are committed to rebalancing power between Parliament and Government, and giving Parliament greater ability to hold Government to account. We have:

Re-invigorating our democracy

It is vital that our institutions are legitimate, trusted and responsive to the people they serve. We have:

Britain’s future: the citizen and the state

The Government believe that a clearer understanding of the common core of rights, responsibilities and values that go with British citizenship will help build our sense of shared identity and social cohesion.

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Constitutional renewal in the UK is a long-term dialogue and in the coming months:

Further details of the progress on the commitments in the Green Paper are set out in “The Governance of Britain Green Paper: one year on” table. Copies of this table have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.


London Congestion Charge

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Ms Rosie Winterton): I regret to inform the House that the answer I gave on 7 February to a parliamentary question (Official Report, column 1422W) about traffic signs for the central London congestion charging scheme was not sufficiently clear in respect of advance warning signs for the scheme.

The answer should read as follows:

Traffic signs (numbers)Date authorised


7 August 2002


29 November 2002


6 January 2005


14 November 2005


1 November 2006

Vehicle and Operator Services Agency

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): I would like to inform the House about the future of testing services provided by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) of the Department for Transport.

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VOSA plays a key role in the delivery of the Government’s road safety strategy through a combination of tests and enforcement to ensure that heavy goods vehicles and public service vehicles and their drivers comply with EU and national standards.

The Government have already announced (Official Report, 22 April 2008, column 1893W) an additional £24 million funding for enforcement, over three years, to boost VOSA’s efforts to crack down on those who fail to comply with these standards, following successful pilots which demonstrated what could be achieved by more focused and targeted enforcement activity.

I am announcing today parallel improvements in the agency’s testing services, which are broadly equivalent to the MOT requirement for cars—and equally vital to road safety—based around modernisation and flexibility. The aim is to improve access to good quality test centres, and reduce the time when vehicles are unavailable, so that the industry is helped to comply with road safety laws and operate more efficiently.

Operators can currently choose between presenting vehicles for testing at VOSA stations or—in nearly 20 per cent. of cases—arranging for VOSA staff to deliver the tests at operators’ own premises, where vehicles are maintained and run. The current structure of fees incentivises the use of VOSA premises, but the location of these predates the motorways, and many are no longer in the right place for customers. Most are also in need of investment.

My aim is to make both sides of this choice for customers better. First, I want to facilitate more VOSA tests at operators’ premises, and at more convenient times. This is a proven model of delivery, with recognised benefits in terms of reduced loss of productive time, and I believe industry will welcome removing constraints on its expansion. I also want to facilitate more VOSA tests at service and maintenance providers’ premises, to improve quality of service and choice.

Secondly, for VOSA’s own testing stations, the principle must be ‘fewer, but better’. I aim quickly to identify those sites for which there is a continuing requirement, so that we can get on with investing and upgrading the service that they can provide. To this end, I am making £28 million available to the agency this year, the greater part of which will go towards modernisation of testing facilities and IT support, and I can announce that up to a further £36 million will be available over the next two years to support the agency’s investment requirements.

Upgrading customer service is not just a matter of improving facilities. Work by the agency has also identified the scope for improving the way in which business is done, for example by extending opening hours and benchmarking between test stations. I intend to increase choice for customers not just about where testing is done, but also when. Customers should be more able to access testing at times that provide least disruption to the commercial scheduling of their vehicles.

My purpose in making this statement has been firstly to resolve the uncertainty that has existed about VOSA’s future while different organisational options were being reviewed. With that work now completed, I see a clear agenda to be taken forward by a public sector VOSA. There will be call on private sector skills to help with specialised tasks like estate refurbishment, but I am confident that the main changes are ones that VOSA has the flexibility and commitment to drive through.

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Having set out a clear direction, it is important now to have dialogue with the freight industry and others about the detailed implementation. The intention is to develop a more detailed and timetabled plan for these changes by the autumn, and I will invite industry views in taking that work forward.

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My aim, which is fully shared by the dedicated staff of the agency, is to create a testing service fit for the 21st century. Building on VOSA’s undoubted strengths, we will improve customer service, optimise delivery by investment and increasing flexibility, and so achieve better testing and lower costs of compliance.

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