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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Communities and Local Government

North East 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 and Local Government is today publishing the North East of England plan, which is the final version of the North East regional spatial strategy. This is the latest in a series of comprehensive reviews of regional spatial strategies to be completed under the provisions of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

The plan reflects consideration of responses to the consultations on the Secretary of State’s proposed changes and further proposed changes which followed on from the independent examination in public carried out into the draft strategy in 2006.

The North East plan replaces the existing regional planning guidance (RPG1) which became the statutory RSS in September 2004, and the submission draft revision to that document called “View: Shaping the North East” which was published by the North East Assembly in June 2005.

One hundred and thirty people and organisations responded to the latest round of consultation which ended on 2 April 2008. Almost 1,300 representations were received with many of them expressions of support.

Careful consideration has been given to all of these responses and, as is required under appropriate legislation, a sustainability appraisal, a strategic environmental assessment and a habitats regulations assessment have been prepared and updated to help the plan deliver sustainable development.

The aim of the plan is to guide development in the North East to 2021 and also to set the direction of travel in the longer term. Key elements of the plan include:


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The plan represents a step change in addressing housing need in the North East and goes a long way to achieving what is likely to be required in the longer term to meet the Government’s Housing Green Paper target.

Copies of the North East of England plan and the supporting documents will be available in the Libraries of both Houses, are being sent to the region’s MPs and MEPs and will be available in local libraries and local planning authorities. They are also on the GONE website (www.go-ne.gov.uk) and can be purchased from The Stationery Office (TSO) either online (www.tsoshop.co.uk) or at TSO shops.

Defence

Complex Weapons

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I am pleased to inform the House that the Ministry of Defence has concluded a teaming agreement with the industrial grouping known as Team CW(1) to take forward, to the next stage, the Government’s intentions for the UK complex weapons sector. This agreement is underpinned by enabling contracts which we have placed with MBDA (UK) Ltd and Thales UK which, with the teaming agreement, will launch the assessment phase for the initiative as a whole and undertake specific concept and assessment work on six complex weapons programmes(2).

The assessment phase will assess further our ability to enter into a partnering arrangement and, through the programme activity, test an innovative way of developing weapons to meet the UK’s military requirements, including the use of modularity and families of weapons. The teaming agreement, which has been signed by all of the team CW partners, including the Ministry of Defence, links the two enabling contracts and formalises the governance arrangements for the duration of the assessment phase.

If successful, it is expected that the technologies developed to meet these initial military requirements will be adapted to meet the majority of our future weapons needs.

This approach has the potential to offer a greater level of capability to the front line while achieving value for money for the taxpayer and maintaining UK operational sovereignty over our complex weapons.


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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the Minister with responsibility for marine, landscape and rural affairs, Jonathan Shaw, will be representing the United Kingdom at this month’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels. The Scottish Minister for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead, will also be attending.

There are a number of items for discussion on this month's agenda relating to agriculture, covering the common agricultural policy health check, a proposal introducing a fruit and vegetable scheme in schools, and proposals authorising the placing on the market of products containing, consisting of or produced from genetically modified soyabean and cotton.

With regard to fisheries, the Council is due to agree the in-year TAC and quota adjustments for certain stocks, as well as the revised EU-Mauritania fishery agreement. The main fisheries item for discussion concerns the planned measures for coping with high fuel prices.

Under any other business, the Agriculture Commissioner will provide the usual update on the WTO-DDA negotiations.

Hungary and Romania have tabled AOB items respectively on non-recoverable VAT under the rural development regulation and on forestry policy.

2007-08 Annual Report and Accounts for Animal Health

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): The 2007-08 annual report and accounts for Animal Health will be laid before Parliament today.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Zimbabwe

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): Since the sham election on 27 June, conditions in Zimbabwe have deteriorated. International agencies estimate that 36,000 people have been displaced internally since the first round in March, at least 103 have been murdered and many thousands have received treatment for the injuries they have been dealt by the security forces. In spite of the promise of the authorities that the ban on their activities was temporary, aid agencies are still denied access to large swathes of the country, a restriction that means that 1.5 million people are still unable to access food aid and vital medicines that they need.

We have been clear that words are simply not enough, and that the international community as a whole must act. We have said openly that Zimbabwe’s crisis is one that the world has a responsibility to respond to. That is why we supported the United States in their decision to table a resolution at the Security Council and to take that resolution to a vote on 11 July. The draft resolution had the nine votes that it needed to pass into law. It was co-sponsored by two African states—Liberia and Sierra
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Leone. Burkina Faso—an African member of the council—also voted in favour of it. All European and South American council members and the USA were behind it. That it was vetoed by Russia and China despite this clear and broad majority is something that the ordinary people of Zimbabwe—the victims of that violence and those who are denied that food and medicine—will not be able to understand.

I believe that it is right when one believes in a cause that should push others to be clear on their attitude to it. That Russia agreed to a G8 statement calling for further measures, including precisely the targeted sanctions that we were advocating but then—the same week—chose to vote against that resolution is now for them to explain. The terms of the draft UN resolution were widely discussed within the Council. Sufficient opportunity was given to explain reservations and to table amendments. Russia chose not to engage in that debate. China’s decision to veto was deeply disappointing, too. We will continue to work with both states to persuade them to take a different course and to use their influence both in Zimbabwe and in the wider region to resolve the crisis.

The draft resolution did not cut across negotiations that the African Union had advocated in its own conclusions at its summit in Sharm el Sheik. We believe that dialogue between the parties can provide a way forward for Zimbabwe’s crisis. But we need to be clear about the basis on which dialogue can be developed. At present we have one party that won a popular mandate in the parliamentary elections of 29 March, but whose members and supporters have been intimidated by the violence unleashed on them by the state and by ZANU-PF militia. We have another party that has refused to cede power, and that has used the full force of the state security apparatus to intimidate its citizens and turn the presidential run-off into a farce. To turn this context into one in which credible negotiations might begin, pressure is needed and the threat of an alternative approach that demonstrates what is at stake, personally, for the very people who believe they have least to gain from engaging in a process leading to democratic reform. That is why we will continue to advocate further targeted sanctions that focus on not just the 14 who would have been affected by the draft UN resolution but those around them and those who depend on them.

The UN itself estimates that 5 million people will need food aid in Zimbabwe by the end of 2008 if conditions do not improve. Given the humanitarian situation on the ground, the incalculable hyper-inflation and the increasing violence, the end of 2008 may bring a greater catastrophe still—for both Zimbabwe and the region—if the international community does not act to prevent it.

At the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council on 22 July, we will press for EU Foreign Ministers to agree to extend the number of persons on the EU visa ban and asset freeze list, for the first time to target companies and entities owned by such persons, and to tighten further the exemptions which allow Zimbabweans on that list to travel to the EU. This first wave of targeted measures will aim to act as a stimulus on the regime to engage in meaningful dialogue with the opposition. The regime and some of its sympathisers try to portray the ‘talks about talks’ that have occurred in South Africa last week as a breakthrough. We will not regard those talks as a breakthrough until they lead
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not just to agreements on paper but to implemented changes on the ground, and in particular a transitional Government who reflect the will of the people as they voted on 29 March. Meanwhile, we shall work with like-minded partners to root out the sources of the regime elite’s foreign currency and target their personal wealth. With our partners, we shall work with banks and financial institutions to underline the unacceptability of harbouring the cash of those who are directing or profiting from Zimbabwe’s meltdown.

The opposition MDC and their leader Morgan Tsvangirai have been clear that basic preconditions must be met before any real negotiation can begin. Their demands are reasonable: the cessation of violence; the release of political prisoners; and the unfettered access of NGOs to the people who need them most and for whom the regime has long since forgotten its responsibilities. The onus now is on the region—the Southern Africa Development Community—and the African Union to demonstrate that they are serious about making dialogue work. We will also continue to advocate the appointment of a UN envoy to support President Mbeki’s efforts to negotiate, and to investigate and report on human rights abuses on the ground.

For the first time in the election on 27 June, we saw all three major African election observer groups underline their public dissatisfaction with the vote and the outcome. It is now for Africa and its leaders to show that it will not accept the 27 June result as the basis for any future settlement, and that its commitment to democracy and to reform is real. We will support them in that goal. But calls for space and for time for negotiation to work can be taken seriously only when the conditions on the ground are conducive to meaningful dialogue. The current violence makes that impossible. Newly elected MDC MPs today are in hiding in Harare and elsewhere and are afraid to take up their roles. They are right to be afraid, and Africa and its leaders have a responsibility to respond to their concerns and to their constituents’ concerns and remove the causes of that fear.

Robert Mugabe described his election campaign as a war. Morgan Tsvangirai was clear that the people of Zimbabwe did not want to join Mugabe’s war. Zimbabwe’s independence has been won long ago. No one is challenging its sovereignty or its right to be a nation. Our concern is that its people should have the right to choose who leads it and how it is governed, and that their choice be respected. Our twin-track approach of applying pressure on the regime elite via targeted sanctions and keeping the ordinary people of Zimbabwe alive through our contribution as the second largest bilateral donor of aid will continue. We will continue to meet our responsibilities on both, and we will press others to join us in that approach. The price of not doing so—in terms of the dead and the dying in Zimbabwe—means that we have no option but to continue.

Corruption Allegations (Turks and Caicos Islands)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, in its report “Overseas Territories”, published on 6 July, recommended
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amongst other things the appointment of a commission of inquiry into allegations of corruption in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

I wish to inform the House that on 10 July the Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands announced the appointment of a commission of inquiry. The commission will inquire into whether there is information that corruption or other serious dishonesty in relation to past and present elected Members of the House of Assembly (previously known as the Legislative Council) may have taken place in recent years. It is to report to the Governor within sixteen weeks its preliminary findings and recommendations concerning:

The Commission will be led by the Rt Hon Sir Robin Auld. He is undertaking a short initial visit to the territory from 13-16 July followed by a period of preparation in the UK leading to his main visit to the Turks and Caicos Islands in September/October. He will submit the preliminary report and recommendations to the Governor by 3 November.

The Commission will conduct such parts of its inquiry as it deems appropriate in camera, in the interests of confidentiality. In addition, the commissions of inquiry ordinance provides that anyone who attempts to interfere with this process is liable, on conviction, to a fine, imprisonment, or both. The Commission also has powers to summon any person in Turks and Caicos Islands to attend to give evidence.

In addition, a number of important steps have recently been taken or are currently underway to reduce the scope for corruption and to improve capacity in the Turks and Caicos Islands to deal with it should it occur. These include the establishment of an integrity commission, a human rights commission, a complaints commissioner, a ministerial code, a public service code of ethics and integrity and the appointment of a highly experienced Chief Auditor, and the adoption of a comprehensive proceeds of crime ordinance.

Home Department

Youth Action Plan

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): The Government have today published the Youth Crime Action Plan, the first ever cross-Government plan for dealing with the full range of issues around youth crime.

The plan focuses on three key areas: tough enforcement where behaviour is unacceptable or illegal; more non-negotiable support to address the underlying causes of poor behaviour, including more parenting orders and the new Youth Rehabilitation Order that can require young people to attend education, go to an attendance centre for group work or undertake treatment for drug and substance abuse; and better prevention to tackle problems before they become serious or entrenched.


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The plan sets out the Government’s aim to reduce by one fifth the rate of young people aged 10 to 17 entering the criminal justice system by 2020, and introduces a new national goal to reduce substantially the number of young victims by 2020.

The plan builds on the Government’s existing investment to support children, young people and families, with almost £100 million available over the next three years under the Youth Crime Action Plan for measures to cut youth crime in the short term and prevent it in the long term.

Copies of the action plan are available in the House Library, the Vote Office and on the Home Office website at www.homeoffice.gov.uk.


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