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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 26 November 2009

Business, Innovation and Skills

UK Composite Strategy

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Ian Lucas): My noble Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Lord Mandelson, has today made the following statement.

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Walker Review (Bank Governance)

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ian Pearson): The Government welcome the publication today of the final report of Sir David Walker's independent review of the corporate governance of UK banks and other financial institutions.

The corporate governance failures identified by the review contributed significantly to the financial crisis. Improvements in board practice, risk management, control and disclosure of remuneration, and the exercise of investors' ownership rights are required to address these fully.

Sir David's comprehensive recommendations are a world-leading response to the governance failures identified and will ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of improving corporate governance in the banking sector.

The Government will move quickly to implement the review recommendations, working closely with other bodies to which the review has directed recommendations for implementation.

The Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills has today written to Sir Christopher Hogg, the chairman of the Financial Reporting Council, asking the FRC to take responsibility for a new stewardship code for institutional investors, which was recommended by Sir David.

The FRC, which is currently reviewing the combined code, will consider how it intends to address the recommendations directed to it. Similarly, the FSA will be considering how to take forward the recommendations applying principally to financial institutions. The Government are seeking powers in the Financial Services Bill to permit it to make regulations implementing the review's remuneration disclosure recommendations.

The detail of the recommendations and the specific means of implementation may be subject to further development or consultation as appropriate.

The Government will continue to work with their international partners to ensure an appropriate and consistent global response to bank corporate governance failures.

Copies of the final report have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Communities and Local Government

Rural Economy and Affordable Housing

The Minister for Housing (John Healey): The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and I are today publishing a prospectus for a £1 million Rural Masterplanning Fund. I am also publishing a consultation on guidance to incentivise landowners to bring forward additional land for affordable housing in rural areas and the Matthew Taylor Review Implementation Plan. These documents are being published following
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commitments made in the Government's response to the Matthew Taylor review published on 25 March 2009.

In September 2007, the Prime Minister asked the hon. Member to undertake a review on how land use and planning can better support rural businesses and deliver affordable housing and to report to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Minister of State for Housing and Planning. The final report of the review, with detailed recommendations, was published in July 2008.

Our response welcomed the review and set out our proposals to take forward most of the review's 48 recommendations to continue to encourage a prosperous rural economy and improve the delivery of affordable rural homes.

The Rural Masterplanning Fund prospectus invites rural local planning authorities to bid for expert technical support to assist them in masterplanning to achieve the sustainable expansion of small or medium-sized settlements, and sets out the terms of the competition.

The consultation paper seeks views on our draft guidance to local authorities on how to encourage landowners to bring forward land for affordable housing in rural areas. The guidance proposes: either allowing landowners the ability to refer family members or employees for tenancies to a percentage of the homes provided on their land, as long as they meet housing need and local connection criteria; or allowing them to keep the freehold of the land while leasing it to a housing association.

The Matthew Taylor Review Implementation Plan provides an update on progress in implementing each of the recommendations of the Matthew Taylor review.

I have placed a copy of these documents in the Libraries of both Houses.

Finance Settlement (England) 2010-11

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Barbara Follett): I am today publishing the Government's formal proposals on distribution of formula grant to English local authorities for 2010-11, together with information on the allocations of all specific and special grants that can be announced in advance.

The proposed figures for formula grant allocations that I am publishing today are unchanged from those that were first proposed in January 2008. That is in line with the Government's policy on three year settlements, which is that we will not change the proposals for formula grant first published in January 2008, except in entirely exceptional circumstances.

The importance of maintaining that commitment is twofold. First, central and local government work together, with other local partners, in service delivery. It is vital to give local government a settled financial platform on which to build those relations and those services. Secondly, this is continued recognition of the importance of the services delivered by local authorities and the pressures on those services, such as social care and waste management.

Total formula grant for 2010-11 will be £29 billion, of which redistributed business rates will be £21.5 billion, RSG £3.1 billion and police grant, £4.4 billion. Formula grant will be £747 million or 2.6 per cent. higher than in 2009-10 on a like for like basis.

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In addition, specific grants, which include the dedicated schools grant, will total £47.2 billion and will bring the overall Government grant increase to 4 per cent. in 2010-11.

In the 10 years up to 2007-08 we increased total Government grant to English local authorities by 39 per cent. in real terms, with an above inflation increase for local government in each year. There will be a further total increase over this three-year settlement of £8.6 billion.

I am pleased that the average band D council tax increase this year was 3.0 per cent.-the Government expect to see it fall further next year while authorities protect and improve front line services.

We expect the average band D council tax increase in England to fall to a 16-year low in 2010-11. We remain prepared to take capping action against excessive increases set by individual authorities and requiring them to rebill for a lower council tax if necessary. We are already capping the police authorities of Cheshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire in advance of 2010-11 because of previous excessive increases set by these authorities. My officials are today writing to the three police authorities setting out their proposed maximum budget requirements for 2010-11.

Today's announcement on the final year of the first ever three-year settlement delivers on the Government's promise to provide financial stability to local government and recognises the important role of councils in providing real help now to communities in the current economic climate.

Today also marks the start of a period of statutory consultation with local government on formula grant distribution and I welcome their responses. Consultation closes on 6 January 2010.

I will be making available full supporting information on the Communities and Local Government website at: http://www.local.communities.gov.uk/finance/1011/grant.htm

I have placed copies of the consultation paper, tables of formula grant allocation by local authority and other supporting material in the Vote Office and the Library of the House.

Culture, Media and Sport

Education, Youth and Culture Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Siôn Simon): The Education, Youth and Culture Council will be held on 26-27 November in Brussels. I will be representing the UK on 27 November when culture and audiovisual issues will be taken. Michael Russell MSP, Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution for Scotland, will also attend the Council.

The first item on the agenda concerns the Council conclusions on promoting a creative generation. These conclusions are part of a range of initiatives, suggested in 2007 by the Commission Communication on a European agenda for culture in a globalising world, which call for culture to be considered in broader aspects of the Council's work-in this instance education and digitisation. The UK has been broadly supportive of this approach and I intend to endorse the adoption of these conclusions.

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The presidency will then seek to reach a general approach on the proposal for the European year of voluntary activities promoting active European citizenship (2011). The year would promote volunteering and encourage and support the efforts of member states to develop favourable conditions for volunteering in Europe. The proposal for the year will fit well with the UK Government's aims of increasing the proportion of the population that volunteer.

The year falls helpfully just before the 2012 Olympic Games in London. I intend to support the adoption of this proposal.

The Council will be invited to adopt conclusions on media literacy in the digital environment. These conclusions encourage the promotion of media literacy through formal and informal education, while recognising member state competency on educational policy. They demonstrate our commitment to policies which will support ways of containing the risks of the internet without excessive regulation and which will help realise the creative, educational and economic potential of the internet. The UK welcomes these conclusions and I intend to support their adoption.

There will then be a discussion of a presidency paper on the digitisation of cultural content in Europe. The paper asks a series of questions on the main challenges faced by Europe in making its cultural heritage better available online. I will intervene to outline the UK view on the main issues that need to be addressed by European initiatives to encourage the digitisation of cultural works, how Governments and the EU can help facilitate private initiatives and public-private partnerships for making cultural works digitally available and what can be done by member states and national institutions to make important digitised material widely available.

Under any other business the Commission will provide information on the Google Books settlement. There will be an information point from the French delegation on the digitisation of cinemas in Europe. There will also be an information point from the Slovenian delegation on improving the position of publishers who issue books in languages with small numbers of speakers. The Austrian delegation will raise an issue concerning the protocol amending the Council of Europe convention on transfrontier television. I do not foresee a need to intervene on any of these.


Duke of Connaught Unit

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): As part of the announcement of normalisation made by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath, (Mr. Hain), on 1 August 2005, the Government undertook to reduce the number of military bases in Northern Ireland to the 14 core sites named in the updated Security Annex to the Joint Declaration. We have since reported that only eight of those 14 core sites would be required in the future.

However, a review of the requirement to retain a military hospital to provide secondary healthcare for service personnel in Northern Ireland has concluded that a commercial contract for Commissioned Care
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with an Independent Service Provider (ISP) for routine elective secondary healthcare represented the most effective and efficient means of providing quality secondary healthcare for regular military personnel. Therefore, I am announcing today our intention to close the Duke of Connaught Unit (DCU), the military hospital facility based at Musgrave Park Hospital, South Belfast, by 1 April 2010.

There will now be a period of consultation with the trade unions. We recognise the impact this decision will have on the civilian staff currently employed at the DCU, and we will make every effort to support them through this period of change.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Climate Change Report

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): The meeting in Copenhagen next month is our chance to make a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and avoid dangerous climate change. But even if we secure a new global deal, some change is inescapable because of historic and projected emissions, and we need to take action to adapt to it or the consequences could be severe. The earlier we start adapting, the better equipped we will be to cope with the risks to our society, our environment and our economy. Homes and buildings, transport infrastructure and hospitals all need to be resilient to the impacts we face.

The UK climate projections that I launched earlier this year showed many of the likely impacts of climate change for the UK which include warmer, wetter winters, hotter, drier summers, sea level rise and more severe weather including storms, floods, heat waves and droughts. Climate change will affect almost every aspect of our lives and means that we will need some new infrastructure to cope. Action now will reduce costs for individuals, businesses and the public purse later.

The Government are taking the lead. Government Departments will be producing adaptation plans by spring 2010, setting out how they are assessing and managing the risks from climate change across their programmes and estates. The Government are also identifying, assessing, and where possible calculating the cost of climate change risks and opportunities at UK, national and regional level through the UK climate change risk assessment which will be produced by 2012.

In addition to this, the Climate Change Act 2008 gave the Government the power to require certain public bodies and statutory undertakers to assess and report on current risks from climate change and their plans for dealing with these risks.

The Act requires me to lay before Parliament a report on how the Government propose to exercise this power within one year of Royal Assent (by 26 November 2009), setting out the circumstances in which directions are likely to be given (the strategy for using the power) and the kinds of organisation which I consider should be directed as a matter of priority.

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