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We report strong progress against our public service agreement to deliver a successful and inspirational Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012 that provide for a sustainable legacy and get more children and young people taking part in high-quality PE and sport. That is also one of our departmental strategic objectives.
We are maintaining decent progress against our other Departmental Strategic Objectives-the digital switchover programme is on track and more data is becoming available to assess enjoyment of and excellence in culture, media and sport. I expect to be in a position to report more fully on them next year.
We continue to maintain a strong track record of delivering value for money savings. We have significantly exceeded our Lyons relocation target and
maintain good progress towards our comprehensive spending review 2007 value for money target.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I am today announcing a new strategy that will see the Ministry of Defence deliver increased levels of helicopter capability for our armed forces. The strategy's priority is support to operations, and through it we will deliver, by 2016, an increase of some 40 per cent. in the number of helicopters suitable for deployment in hot and high conditions, such as Afghanistan.
At the heart of the strategy is the procurement of an additional 22 new Chinook helicopters, with a further two expected to replace those that were destroyed in Afghanistan this summer. The current Chinook fleet has seen continuous service on operations over the last 20 years, and it has performed superbly in Afghanistan. It is a proven capability that is highly regarded by those who fly it and troops who use it. Delivery of these aircraft will not only mean more aircraft able to operate in the kind of conditions seen in Afghanistan but also a significant increase in the overall lift capacity of our helicopter fleet. We anticipate delivery of 10 new build Chinook during the course of 2012 and 2013, including two to replace the aircraft recently lost in Afghanistan. The proposed investment in these new Chinook builds on the £400 million that the Ministry of Defence has invested this year to improve the operational performance of the existing Chinook fleet by delivering enhanced engines and cockpits.
Beyond increasing levels of capability, our other main focus has been on simplifying the delivery of helicopter capability. As the HCDC set out in its recent report, Helicopter Capability (HC434), the optimum means to achieve efficiencies is through reducing the number of different types of helicopter fleet; with each fleet type comes an associated support cost overhead and training cost. The new strategy will enable the Department to reduce the number of fleet types.
We aim to remove all marks of our Sea King fleet by 2016, with its roles to be delivered by our Merlin helicopter fleet or, in the case of UK peacetime search and rescue capabilities, by a joint private finance initiative service that we intend to provide with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. To enable this transition, we intend to capitalise on our past investment in Merlin and its over-water capabilities and safety features, including by modifying our Merlin Mk3/3a helicopters to enable them to operate effectively from amphibious shipping as well as continuing to contribute to our battlefield lift requirements.
The £300 million Puma life extension programme, which will deliver a step change in the aircraft's capability, will proceed, delivering vital battlefield lift capability for operations alongside Chinook until at least 2022. Beyond the retirement of Puma, we intend that the Ministry of Defence will operate four broadly equal-sized core helicopter fleets comprising Chinook, Apache, Wildcat
and Merlin, with much smaller niche fleets for specialised roles. As a result of the measures set out above, we do not intend to proceed with the future medium helicopter competition.
We anticipate that the reduction in fleet types will produce substantial through-life cost savings over the next decade and beyond. We are also exploring the possibility of further benefits that might arise through, for example, estate rationalisation and the more efficient delivery of training solutions.
Although the major components of this strategy will be subject in due course to separate investment decisions, the new approach represents excellent news for the overall helicopter capability available to our armed forces and provides industry with a clear vision of our investment priorities over the coming decade against which they can align their resources. While a significant percentage of the planned investment will be made on a US product (Chinook), we anticipate that much of the investment required to deliver other elements of the strategy will be made in the UK, supporting UK jobs, and sustaining essential onshore skills as well as delivering value for money.
I represented the United Kingdom at the EU Energy Council in Brussels on 7 December 2009.
The first item on the agenda was an update from the Swedish presidency on the energy efficiency package (made up of separate directives on the energy performance of buildings; the indication by labelling and standard product information of the consumption of energy and other resources by energy related products; and the labelling of tyres with respect to fuel efficiency). The presidency noted that the package was close to final agreement. The UK is happy with the progress made on these directives.
The Commission reported on progress on the proposal for a regulation on the security of gas supply. This was followed by a policy debate in which member states commented on the current draft of the proposal, in particular responding to questions about the roles and responsibilities of different actors in preparing for and during an emergency, of the need for mandatory infrastructure and supply standards; and the definition of protected customers. The UK raised concerns over some of the powers envisaged for the Commission.
There was also an exchange of views on the recent Commission communication on investing in the development of low-carbon technologies under the Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan. The UK indicated that it shared its support for the SET Plan but raised concerns over the sources of funding for the programme in the current financial climate.
In addition, the Commission updated Ministers on progress in a number of other areas, including implementation of the European economic recovery package, the Baltic Energy market integration programme and the regulation on the notification of investment projects in energy infrastructure within the European community. Some delegations used the opportunity to raise concerns about biomass sustainability criteria. Finally, the Spanish Minister outlined the energy priorities for Spain's forthcoming presidency. These included a new energy action plan for 2010-14, a focus on
renewables, energy efficiency, low-carbon technologies, relations with external energy suppliers and further progress on current legislation.
Over lunch, Ministers discussed a number of items on international relations in the field of energy including relations between Ukraine and Russia.
Separately, Ljubljana was selected as the seat for the agency for the co-operation of energy regulators, following a vote.
The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jim Fitzpatrick): The national contingency plan for exotic diseases of animals will be laid before Parliament today in accordance with Section 14a of the Animal Health Act 2002 which came into force on 24 March 2003.
This plan sets out the operational response arrangements DEFRA will put in place to deal with any occurrence of foot and mouth disease, avian influenza or Newcastle disease. The plan is also applicable to all other exotic diseases of animals. It is composed of two elements:
DEFRA's framework response plan for exotic diseases of animals, outlining the systems and structures which are established and detailing the key roles and responsibilities of Ministers and officials during an outbreak of disease; and
DEFRA's overview of emergency preparedness which provides details of our preparedness and operational response.
DEFRA's contingency plan is very much a "living document". It will be subject to ongoing revision taking on the latest developments in science, research, and epidemiological modelling together with lessons identified from outbreaks.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I am placing copies of the Government's second update report detailing the progress made in implementing the recommendations contained in Sir Michael Pitt's report on the 2007 summer floods in the Libraries of both Houses today.
We continue to make significant progress. We have introduced our Flood and Water Management Bill which implements Pitt recommendations that require legislation, and will strengthen co-ordination, improve accountability and reduce the impact of future floods.
Set up a £7.7 million Flood Forecasting Centre, jointly run by the Environment Agency and the Met Office, which is already
providing important services to local authorities and emergency responders, helping them to be better prepared for potential flooding;
Strengthened arrangements for local and national co-ordination in the event of an emergency, as recently tested in Cumbria-for example through publishing updated emergency response and recovery guidance;
Announced that local communities across England will benefit from £16 million funding to help them tackle surface water flooding, including £9.7 million made available to 77 local authorities for areas where the risk and potential impact of surface water flooding could be highest;
Issued guidance to regulators on protecting essential services; local action includes reinforced defences at Mythe water treatment works in Gloucestershire and flood defences at East and West Hull sewage pumping stations;
Invested in building capacity, including funding local authority places for the Environment Agency's flood management foundation degree and developing an NVQ level 2 and 3 course on flood risk management;
Delivered, through the Environment Agency:
106 flood defence schemes protecting over 63,800 additional homes in England.
140,000 additional people signed up to receive flood warnings in England and Wales: and the introduction of "opt out" telephone warning systems in February 2010 will significantly increase that number.
Doubled our overall investment in flood and coastal erosion risk management in the last ten years to a record £2.15 billion over the current three-year spending period.
The progress report explains the further steps we are taking to implement Sir Michael's recommendations. The risk of flooding remains and the recent events in Cumbria underline once again the importance of this work. The Government remain determined to enable us to better able anticipate and deal with the impact of flooding.
The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): The General Affairs Council (GAC) and Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) was held on 7/8 December in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary represented the UK.
On economic issues, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary emphasised that governance of the financial markets was a global issue, not just an internal matter for Europe. He stated that the EU should take account of the International Monetary Fund work on renewing the "social contract" between the financial institutions and wider society, including by ensuring that the financial
sector bear the full costs associated with its activities. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary congratulated the presidency for their help in resolving the financial supervision and regulation package.
On climate change, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary underscored the importance of tackling this issue against the backdrop of the Copenhagen conference of parties. He called for the European Council conclusions to reinforce the EU's commitment to the Kyoto protocol, and to be clearer and more specific on climate financing.
On external relations, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, with support from a number of member states, argued for a European Council declaration on Afghanistan, reflecting President Obama's 1 December announcement on troop reinforcements, and the London conference in January 2010. The presidency agreed to draft a declaration, which was discussed at the FAC on 8 December. We also requested conclusions language on development assistance.
Ministers adopted conclusions, which the Government broadly support, welcoming the Commission communication dated 14 October 2009 entitled "Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2009-2010". Broadly, the conclusions took stock of progress in accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia, while urging both countries to implement outstanding reforms.
On Turkey, the Council welcomed recent initiatives including on the Kurdish issue and recognised that Turkey is an important regional player, playing a key role in energy supply. However, it expressed disappointment that Turkey has not yet fulfilled its obligation to open its ports to trade with Cyprus under the additional protocol to the association agreement and agreed that further efforts are needed to accelerate the pace of Turkey's accession negotiations. On Croatia, the Council commended progress made but stressed further efforts are needed to meet accession criteria in order to be able to conclude negotiations in 2010.
On Croatia's cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) the Council welcomed the creation of a new investigative task force, noted that substantial progress had not been reported, and called on Croatia to take the necessary steps to complete a comprehensive and credible investigation into missing documents without further delay. On Iceland, the Council noted their application for EU membership in July and agreed to come back to the issue when the Commission presents its assessment on whether Iceland is ready to open accession negotiations.
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