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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 9 March 2009

Culture, Media and Sport

Television Licence Fee Increases

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): On 18 January 2007, Official Report, column 933, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell), announced the planned annual increases in the TV licence fee under the BBC’s six-year funding settlement, which began in April 2007. In line with that settlement, from 1 April 2009, the fee for a colour television licence will be £142.50 and the fee for a black and white licence will be £48.00. I have today laid before the House the regulations necessary to bring these new fees into force.

The regulations also extend the facility for cash payment schemes to the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey, to bring the availability of these facilities into line with the UK; and extend the facility for quarterly direct debit payments to Jersey and Guernsey, to bring the availability of these facilities into line with the UK and Isle of Man.



The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): The board of inquiry into the tragic loss of 14 personnel as a result of the Nimrod XV230 crash on 2 September 2006 made a number of recommendations to improve the safety of the fleet. Following on from this work the Nimrod fleet is currently undergoing modifications to replace a number of fuel seals and the engine bay hot air ducts. These programmes were due to complete by 31 March 2009 but, unfortunately, problems with the provision of replacement fuel seals mean that both programmes will be delayed beyond that date.

Our technical experts have advised that in order that the risks involved in operating the aircraft remain tolerable and as low as reasonably practicable, no Nimrods should fly after 31 March 2009, unless their hot air ducts have been replaced. Ministers and the Chief of the Air Staff accept this advice. Delays to the replacement of fuel seals will, however, have no impact on flying since our experts assess that the risk is tolerable.

For this reason, our priority now is to ensure that we modify the remaining aircraft as quickly as possible so we are temporarily withdrawing Nimrod aircraft from overseas operations until early summer. This will allow us to free up the maximum number of aircraft for the modification programme while also allowing Nimrod to continue with its critical homeland security tasks. During this period, we will use other UK and coalition assets to maintain an effective surveillance capability overseas.

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We are also allocating additional service engineering personnel from RAF Kinloss and RAF Waddington to the modification programme. The reallocation of these personnel will cause a temporary reduction in routine UK-based Nimrod flying but will not affect our ability to protect UK interests at home.

We have reassessed the situation in the light of these developments and concluded that the Nimrod fleet remains airworthy and safe to fly, subject to the measures outlined above.

Separately, QinetiQ has provided the second report on the Nimrod ageing aircraft systems audit. It does not identify any significant airworthiness issues and the findings of the report do not alter previous assessments that the Nimrod aircraft remains safe to fly. Copies of the report will be placed in the Library of the House and on the MOD website. A copy is also being passed to Mr Charles Haddon-Cave QC for inclusion in his review of Nimrod safety.

Home Department

Ending Violence Against Women and Girls

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): I am today publishing a consultation document, “Together we can end violence against women and girls”, which seeks views on how to prevent and combat violence against women and girls. Copies of the consultations will be available from the Vote Office and placed in the House Library.

Violence against women and girls is unacceptable, whatever the context, whatever the circumstances. This consultation is intended to raise awareness, discussion and debate on how together we can end violence against women, and overcome its debilitating impact on individuals, families and communities. Over the last 10 years this Government have worked alongside voluntary organisations to deliver a package of measures to protect women from violence and to support those who have suffered violence. Together we have made a real difference.

The number of incidents of domestic violence has more than halved since1997.

The rate of conviction in domestic violence cases has significantly increased. Now, the vast majority (72 per cent.) of perpetrators who have been charged and brought to court result in a conviction.

This is the first time we have consulted on how to combat violence specifically against women and girls. And it is the first time we have sought to take a cross-cutting approach to the offences that disproportionately affect women.

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My vision is that we can create a society in which women and girls feel safe and confident in their homes and in our communities, so that they can live freely, contribute to society, and prosper in their daily lives.

I am proposing that we need to take more action to prevent violence against women; help women feel safer when they are out, especially at night; further improve the help women get when it is needed; and act to catch and convict perpetrators.

I want this debate to engage with all sectors of society, with men and women, boys and girls. We need to identify what we can do collectively to overcome and end violence against women. As part of this consultation, we will be holding a series of regional events in every part of England over the next three months to enable everyone to tell us what they think. Discussion and debate are essential if we are to raise awareness of the scale of the problem, and to improve the confidence of women and girls.

Violence against women is an enduring social issue affecting women and their children. We have done much to address the problem already, but we can all do more. We can end violence against women and to do that we must harness all our energies across Government and within our communities.

Prime Minister

National Security Forum

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): On 19 March 2008, I informed the House about the United Kingdom’s first National Security Strategy. In that statement I announced my intention to form a National Security Forum. I can now inform the House about the Forum, its objectives and its membership.

The purpose of the Forum is to harness a wide range of expertise and experience from outside Government to provide independent advice on a wide variety of national security issues to the Government and the Committee on National Security, International Relations and Development (NSID). It will have an important role in contributing to the annual updates of the National Security Strategy, the first of which shall be published before the summer recess.

So that the Forum can begin work immediately, the Government are initially establishing an interim National Security Forum. This interim advisory body will have a life of no more than 24 months from its first meeting and will be supported by staff drawn from the National Security Secretariat in the Cabinet Office. The permanent Forum will be recruited by open competition in 2010.

The first meeting of the Forum, to be held in Downing Street today, will be chaired by Lord West of Spithead. Serving alongside Lord West I have appointed as members of the Forum:

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This group of distinguished people is drawn from the fields of diplomacy, counter-terrorism, the police, the military, science, business, economics and law.

At today’s meeting, the Forum will concentrate on two main issues: the national security implications of the economic downturn and the national security implications of competition for energy supply.

NSID—formed in 2007 and comprising heads of security services, the police, the armed forces and others, as well as the relevant Cabinet Ministers—considers and articulates national security priorities. NSID will commission advice from the National Security Forum when it meets. It is intended that the Forum will meet approximately six times a year.

Although the detailed work of the Forum will constitute advice to Ministers and as such will be confidential, the Government will report annually on its activity.

As well as informing National Security Strategy updates, it is likely that, in the future, the Forum may discuss other cross-cutting national security issues, including the UK’s approach to cyber security. Cyber security interfaces with almost all of the challenges highlighted in the National Security Strategy, and as such is the focus of a current cross-Departmental project led by the Cabinet Office.

Like the Strategy itself, the National Security Forum is part of our unwavering commitment to the safety of all British people.


Airports (Economic Regulation)

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I am today publishing a consultation document on proposals to reform the economic regulation of airports. Economic regulation plays an important role in ensuring that airports, particularly in the south east of England, make the best use of existing capacity, have regard to the environmental impact of their operation and deliver a responsive service to their customers, at an acceptable price.

There has been considerable criticism of the current legislation, which has remained essentially unchanged since the privatisation of the British Airports Authority over 20 years ago. I have listened carefully to the points made by the aviation industry, passenger representatives, airport operators, the Competition Commission, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and other interested stakeholders. I have also taken advice from Professor Martin Cave and a panel of regulatory experts, who have been undertaking detailed work over the last few months.

These proposals are designed to put the passenger at the heart of the regulatory regime. To demonstrate this, I am proposing a number of key changes.

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Firstly, I propose that the CAA should be given, in its role as the economic regulator for airports, a primary duty towards the passenger. Secondly, I propose to put the consumer representation for air passengers on a statutory footing for the first time. I intend to do this by transferring the functions and expertise of the Air Transport Users Council to Passenger Focus. Passenger Focus has a well established reputation as an effective advocate for rail passengers. It is also taking on a similar role for bus passengers. Giving it responsibility for air transport will enable a traveller’s end-to-end journey to be considered within a single organisation.

As further evidence of the Government’s commitment to air passengers, I am also publishing a report ‘Understanding the Airport Passenger Experience’, which gives more insight into the end-to-end airport journey and the types of improvements passengers actually want. Together with this, I am publishing advice from the CAA on improving the air passenger experience, and the results of a passenger survey. Copies of these reports and the consultation document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

I want economic regulation to be targeted, flexible and efficient. I am therefore proposing the introduction of a licence-based scheme of regulation, similar to that which exists already in other regulated sectors. Only the very largest airports—those with over 5 million passengers per annum or with significant market power—would require a licence. This will deliver greater certainty about the ability of airport operators to finance the necessary investment in airport and runway capacity needed to improve the passenger experience. In addition these proposals, while ensuring that passenger interests will continue to be safeguarded, will remove 42 smaller airports from economic regulation.

It is also essential that airports take fully into account the environmental consequences of their operations. I intend to give the CAA an environmental duty with respect to its economic regulatory functions. This will ensure that, when operating as an economic regulator, the CAA will consider the environmental consequences of its decisions.

I propose that all 13 airports with more than 5 million passengers per annum should be required to produce an
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annual report on the environmental impact of their operations, and their mitigation measures. This would happen alongside the publication of their annual report and accounts, and will give the airports and the communities which they serve important information.

I believe that these proposals are not only an important step forward in their own right, but that they are important enabling measures around which further environmental policy can be developed and implemented. These proposals are in addition to the Department’s work on aviation and the environment which were outlined to the House in my oral statement of 15 January 2009.

As part of our comprehensive environmental approach we will also be consulting later in 2009 on the operation of a proposed “green slots” arrangement at Heathrow airport and on the details of how to apply enforceable mechanisms—to which we are committed—ensuring that noise and air quality limits at Heathrow are met. We will also consult on proposals to implement Sir Joe Pilling’s recommendations to update the CAA’s overall strategic remit. I will inform the House in due course as we make progress on this work.

Local Transport Act 2008 (Quality Partnership Schemes)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): The Government are today publishing their response to the consultation on draft regulations and guidance to support the provisions in the Local Transport Act 2008 about quality partnership schemes (QPSs). Copies of the Government’s response to the consultation will be available on the Department for Transport’s website www.dft.gov.uk and in the Libraries of both Houses.

Regulations about QPSs will come into force on 6 April 2009, and statutory guidance to local transport authorities and metropolitan district councils under part 2 of the Transport Act 2000 will be issued shortly. Copies of the statutory guidance will be made available in the Libraries of both Houses.

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