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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 6 October 2008

Defence

RAF Machrihanish

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): The former RAF Machrihanish, near Campbeltown in the west of Scotland, is surplus to defence requirements and will be disposed of.

In considering the way forward in regard to this large but relatively remote site, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has been very aware of the sensitivities that attach to it, not least the impact of change on the local community and the presence of transport links provided by Highlands and Islands Airport Ltd (HIAL), which currently leases areas of the site for use as Campeltown airport. To that end, before making the announcement, we have engaged closely with the Scottish Executive (SE), Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), Argyll and Bute council as well as with other stakeholders.

Having publicly announced our intention to dispose of the site, we will now take the disposal forward in partnership with other Government stakeholders via a joint steering/focus group. We will engage and consult with the local community, businesses and other stakeholders to help determine the best way to dispose of the site balancing departmental, Scottish and local interests (including both the requirement to achieve best value for the public purse and maximising the long-term development potential of this site).

It is also our intention, with the full understanding of the SE, to discuss the way forward with HIAL to ensure that its future is both secure and sustainable under new ownership and to ensure that the transport link will continue.

The relatively remote location of Machrihanish means that the impact of a change of use could be greater than elsewhere.

Twenty people currently work for MOD at Machrihanish including facilities management staff and security guards. It is our intention that the termination of employment and maintenance contracts will be handled sensitively. The other MOD establishment in the travel to work area, the oil fuel depot (OFD) at Campbeltown, will remain open.

MOD will also do all it can to ensure that the interests of tenants other than HIAL, are also protected in the sale process.

On water and waste water services supplied by MOD to its tenants, former MOD housing and local farmers, the Department will do everything possible to ensure that a responsible purchaser will discharge those responsibilities for the future.

This announcement brings to an end a long period of speculation about the future of the former RAF Machrihanish. It is hoped that the disposal will end uncertainty and allow a new era of development and long term prosperity to begin that will benefit both the site and the local community.


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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Georgia

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement on 10 September on the conflict in Georgia.

Since then, the Government have been actively engaged in multilateral efforts to resolve the conflict, both in supporting the Georgian Government and people as they try to recover, and in making it clear to Russia that we expect it to abide by its agreement with President Sarkozy. We have supported efforts by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the UN and EU to establish mechanisms that will provide independent monitoring of the situation on the ground in Georgia. I have made clear in discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov that we reject unilateral Russian recognition of the breakaway territories and continued Russian military presence in Georgia. I have also visited both Georgia and Ukraine and assured them that the UK stands by their rights as sovereign countries to determine their own futures. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I met the Georgian Prime Minister during his visit on 19 September and discussed specific measures to help the Georgian economy. On 27 September, I met with President Saakashvili in New York and discussed the international peace talks to be held in Geneva on 15 October, reconstruction efforts and the importance of Georgia continuing its domestic reform programme.

We have engaged in intensive discussions with international partners, including through the UN, EU, NATO, G7 and OSCE, in order to help bring peace and stability to the region, to achieve a settlement based on recognition of and respect for Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as to address critical humanitarian needs, which includes the voluntary return of over 100,000 people displaced by the conflict. Whatever the wisdom of Georgian actions on 7 August, Russia’s response was entirely disproportionate. It has been widely condemned by EU, NATO and G7 Foreign Ministers. The encroachment of Russian military forces deep into Georgian territory beyond South Ossetia and Abkhazia during the fighting violated Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russian actions, including recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, breach a number of UN resolutions that Russia has itself signed. The most recent was UN Security Council Resolution 1808, adopted with Russian support in April 2008, which explicitly “Reaffirms the commitment by all member states to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders”.

In the EU, the comprehensive review of EU-Russia relations has begun and will continue up to the next EU-Russia summit in Nice on 14 November. Negotiations on a new EU Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) with Russia also remain suspended.

The agreement reached on 8 September between Presidents Sarkozy and Medvedev secured Russia’s commitment to withdraw its troops from Georgian territory outside the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in line with the six-point ceasefire plan brokered with the parties to the conflict on 12 August. Russia committed also to international discussions on future
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security modalities. On 15 September EU Foreign Ministers agreed to deploy an EU monitoring mission to the region adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. That mission is now on the ground. The UK has contributed 19 monitors, two headquarters personnel and four armoured vehicles. The mission has a one year mandate to operate throughout Georgia. Its purpose is to monitor compliance with the ceasefire plan, with the aim of supporting efforts to ensure lasting peace and security in the region. More specifically, the mission will help to ensure the free movement of people and goods, as well as monitoring the human rights situation in Georgia and progress on the return of those displaced by the conflict. As such, it is vital that international monitors are afforded the access they need in order to enable them to carry out their mandate.

This mission meets the EU’s commitment to provide at least 200 unarmed civilian EU monitors to deploy to zones adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia by 1 October. We expect Russia to meet its commitment to withdraw its forces to their pre-conflict positions by 11 October. The UK is committed to the EU-led conference process due to start in Geneva on 15 October and which will examine ways to ensure security and stability in the region, to ensure protection of civilians, and to settle the issue of refugees and internally displaced persons on the basis of internationally recognised principles and established post-conflict resolution practice.

The UK will continue to work with international partners to ensure that effective support is given to Georgia and towards a lasting, peaceful solution.

I will continue to keep the House informed of developments.

Zimbabwe

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The House will have seen news of the political agreement reached between the parties in Harare on 15 September to form an interim coalition Administration. Three weeks have passed since that moment and still no cabinet has been appointed. The positive momentum generated by the signature is fast evaporating, Zimbabwe’s economic and political situation is deteriorating, inflation continues to mount and the people of Zimbabwe are still suffering.

That is why there must be no further delay in the appointment of a Zimbabwean Government. The people of Zimbabwe have made their choice. They had the courage to vote on 29 March in spite of the threats and political violence they faced then. They wanted a Government that represented change and reform. Robert Mugabe and ZANU(PF) spent five weeks suppressing the results of that vote. Time was used as a weapon to drag out the election and avoid the transfer of power. The same tactic is being employed now and it is unacceptable.

We and other donors are continuing to provide vital humanitarian relief to the people of Zimbabwe. The UK remains the second largest bilateral donor. We are providing seeds, fertiliser and other agricultural inputs. Via the Department for International Development, we have already given an additional £9 million to the World Food Programme over the summer. The cruel and inhuman ban on the operation of NGOs has been lifted and so our aid is now finally reaching the most vulnerable in
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Zimbabwe. But some local restrictions remain in place and the situation for ordinary Zimbabweans remains precarious.

Humanitarian relief is vital but it is not the long-term solution in Zimbabwe. We and others want to help the people of Zimbabwe and a new inclusive Administration deal with the root causes of those problems. For that to happen a new and genuinely representative Government must be put in place and they must commit themselves to reform and change. Evidence of that commitment will be simple to see, in the first instance: full and equal humanitarian access without any political or other restrictions; an end to all political violence and the threat of violence; independent media being allowed back in to Zimbabwe and permitted to report freely; freedom of association for all; and a new Government that shows itself committed to macroeconomic stability and reviving the economy.

Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC have already said they are committed to taking these kinds of steps. They are no more than the Zimbabwean people deserve and need. In New York at the UN General Assembly, Robert Mugabe said that his party will abide by the spirit and letter of the agreement he had signed. We and others are prepared to help and to judge a new Government by their actions, not by their history. The process of development and reform must be Zimbabwean-led and owned and must come out of Harare. A Government who demonstrates by their actions that they are committed to the rights and welfare of its people will attract substantial assistance from the UK and the international community.

Former President Mbeki worked hard to bring the political parties together. Follow-through on the agreement reached in Harare depends on the parties themselves but South Africa, the region and the African Union can all play a positive role in resolving the current impasse and in overseeing the implementation of the agreement. We continue to encourage them to do so. Zimbabwe’s problems are far from over. The agreement may mark a step forward but without fair and even-handed implementation it will not be the decisive step needed by the people of Zimbabwe.

Until a new Zimbabwean Government are appointed and that Government show by their action their commitment to reform, EU targeted measures will remain in place. I will discuss the situation in Zimbabwe again with EU Foreign Ministers when we meet on 13 October. We will continue to work within the EU and UN and with African partners to help resolve Zimbabwe’s crisis and to support a positive transition to reform on the ground.

Our commitment to the people of Zimbabwe has never been in question and remains constant. What matters now is whether Robert Mugabe and ZANU(PF) can support an agreement that will bring those people relief.

Attorney-General

Fraud Review

The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): My right hon. Friend the Attorney-General has made the following written ministerial statement:

The authority’s key priorities will include the delivery of:

Work and Pensions

Lone Parent Obligations

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Purnell): The Government are committed to eradicating child poverty by 2020 and helping individuals reach their full potential by helping those who can to move
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from welfare to paid work. We set out our intentions in the command paper “Ready for Work: Full Employment in our Generation” published in December 2007.

Helping more lone parents into work is vital if the Government are to eradicate child poverty by 2020. Paid work for those who can, is the most sustainable route out of poverty. The Government are committed to the principle that once children are older, lone parents who are able to do so and are claiming income support should be expected to look for paid work. In return, the Government have increased the level of assistance and support that they provide to help lone parents move into, and progress in, paid work.

Since 1997 considerable progress has been made in increasing the lone parent employment rate to 56.3 per cent. but we still face major challenges to eradicate child poverty. Over half—58 per cent.—of children in non-working lone parent families live in poverty, compared with 19 per cent. of children of lone parents working part-time and 7 per cent. of those working full-time.

The draft Social Security (Lone Parents and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2008 are intended to help lone parents move into paid employment. From 2010, lone parents with a youngest child aged seven or over will no longer be entitled to income support solely on the grounds of being a lone parent. Instead, those able to take up paid employment may claim jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) and those with a disability or health condition may claim employment and support allowance (ESA). The draft regulations recognise that some lone parents face circumstances that need special consideration and provide additional flexibilities to accommodate their individual needs.

The draft Social Security (Lone Parents and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2008 were referred to the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) on 7 May 2008 for consultation in accordance with section 172(1) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992. I have noted the Committee’s concerns and carefully considered their views. I consider there are strong safeguards in the proposed regulations and Jobcentre Plus operations to protect the most vulnerable lone parents. I have also reconsidered the timetable for ending income support for existing lone parent customers. The draft regulations have been amended to accommodate changes so that roll out for lone parents with older children can better inform delivery for subsequent customer groups.

I am now announcing my intention to lay these regulations in draft before Parliament. These regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure.


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