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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 29 June 2010


Child Trust Fund Regulations

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): The Government have today laid draft regulations before both Houses, which would reduce Government contributions into child trust funds from August 2010.

The Government announced on 24 May 2010 that they intended to reduce and then stop Government contributions to child trust funds, as part of achieving £6.2 billion of savings from Government spending in 2010-11.

These regulations would reduce Government contributions into child trust funds at birth, and stop Government contributions at age seven, due from August 2010. They would also stop disability payments into child trust funds due from 6 April 2011, but the funding allocated to make disability payments in future years will be redirected to provide additional respite breaks.

The Government will separately introduce a Bill to stop all Government contributions to child trust funds at birth due from January 2011.

Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (EU-US Agreement)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): Following the conclusion of negotiations between the EU and the US, the Council yesterday signed an agreement with the United States that will allow financial messaging data stored in EU territory to be shared with the United States Treasury Department for its terrorist finance tracking programme (TFTP). The Government have opted in to the signing of this agreement.

The TFTP has brought significant security benefits to the EU and to the UK. Leads it has generated have provided valuable contributions to a number of investigations, including: the Bali bombing in 2002, the Van Gogh terrorist-related murder in the Netherlands in 2004, the plan to attack New York's John F. Kennedy airport in 2007, an Islamic Jihad Union plot to attack Germany, the attacks in Mumbai in 2008 and the Jakarta hotel attacks in 2009. This agreement will further increase its effectiveness by imposing a binding requirement on the US Treasury to search the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) data on request from EU member states that comply with the terms of the agreement. It also contains strict yet proportionate data protection provisions.

The Government believe that parliamentary scrutiny of European business is extremely important and regret that, on this occasion, it has not been possible to complete parliamentary scrutiny of this important decision through the appropriate mechanism, as the timetable for the adoption of the agreement was rapid and the
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parliamentary scrutiny committees in the House of Commons have not yet formed. However, if the UK had not opted in, it could have put the success of the whole agreement in jeopardy.

Treasury Ministers have, of course, provided a full explanatory memorandum on the document to both Houses, and will be taking this issue forward with the scrutiny committees as soon as possible.

Finance Bill 2010

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): The Finance Bill will be published on 1 July.

Explanatory notes on the Bill will be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office and placed in the Libraries of both Houses on that day. Copies of the explanatory notes will be available on the Treasury's website.

Business, Innovation and Skills

Local Enterprise Partnerships

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Vince Cable): I, together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, would like to inform the House that today we have jointly written to local authorities and business seeking outline proposals for local enterprise partnerships.

In the coalition's programme for government we set out that we will support the creation of local enterprise partnerships-joint local authority-business bodies brought forward by local authorities themselves to promote local economic development-to replace regional development agencies (RDAs). This letter is the first step in realising this commitment.

The rationale behind these proposals is to create a more effective economic development structure to drive growth and maintain recovery. The structures we put in place should ensure that the right conditions for growth exist throughout the country.

A copy of the letter has been placed in the House Library.

Communities and Local Government

Planning Reform

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Greg Clark): Infrastructure is vital to the health and well-being of our nation. It is the backbone of our economy and its proper maintenance and renewal is critical for growth. We need to generate power and deliver it to our homes and businesses. We need ports to import and export goods and modern transport infrastructure to sustain a dynamic and entrepreneurial economy and to improve our quality of life. Without new infrastructure networks we risk the economic recovery of the nation.

Because decisions on new major infrastructure are so important and affect so many people we will be making a number of changes to the way in which policy is
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established, applications are handled and decisions taken. We will include the necessary measures within primary legislation to be brought forward in the current session of Parliament.

Abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission

The Government want a planning system for major infrastructure which is rapid, predictable and accountable. But we do not believe it is right that decisions on major infrastructure applications be taken by an unelected quango. They should be made by Ministers. We will therefore be abolishing the unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission and reintroducing democratic accountability in line with the coalition agreement:

Our intention is therefore to establish a Major Infrastructure Planning Unit as part of the Planning Inspectorate-an existing agency of Communities and Local Government-which will retain the strengths of the streamlined processes and the experience of the Planning Inspectorate. The Government will put these changes into effect as soon as possible. In the interim, we have asked the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the Planning Inspectorate to consider now how they can work together and identify efficiency savings. Further transitional arrangements are set out below.

National Policy Statements

We are committed to openness and transparency and it follows that planning decisions should be taken within a clear policy framework, and within clear time limits, making these decisions as predictable as possible. The Government will therefore be pressing ahead with the development of national policy statements and will issue a more detailed statement on them later in the summer.

The Government also want to ensure that national policy statements, and the decisions that will be based upon them, are as robust as possible, thus minimising the risk of successful judicial review, particularly by those wishing to abuse the system. We believe therefore that the decision-making framework for major infrastructure should have the strongest possible democratic legitimacy. That is why we will be ensuring that national policy statements are ratified by Parliament. National policy statements are critically important documents and they should be subject to public consultation with appropriate local and community engagement, and both scrutinised and ratified by Parliament before designation.

Transitional arrangements

Until new legislation is in place the Infrastructure Planning Commission will continue in its present role until it is abolished. During this interim period, should an application reach decision-stage and where the relevant national policy statement has been designated, the Infrastructure Planning Commission will decide the application. If an application reaches decision stage and the relevant national policy statement has not been designated, the Infrastructure Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State, who will take the decision.

For those applications under active consideration by the Infrastructure Planning Commission when it is abolished, transitional provisions will enable the
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examination of such applications to continue without interruption, through a seamless transfer to the new Major Infrastructure Planning Unit. There is no question of applications having to restart the process and we intend that the statutory timetable for decision taking will be no longer than the current regime.

The Government want to have national policy statements in place as rapidly as possible. In particular, we intend to complete the process for making the energy (including nuclear) national policy statements, which are part-way through the scrutiny process, and will bring forward revised final texts and ask Parliament to ratify them. We are still considering how best to take forward the remaining national policy statements under development, and will be publishing a more detailed implementation plan -including transitional arrangements and a revised timetable-later in the summer.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Arm's-length Bodies

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): The delivery of public services is at the heart of DEFRA'S role. From flood defences to animal health, from making payments to farmers to conserving biodiversity, DEFRA protects our natural environment, supports British food and farming industries and promotes the green economy.

But DEFRA has a very big network, with over 80 arm's-length bodies. In my first month, I have made it my priority to examine the network critically. In line with the coalition Government's commitments, I am applying the "three Government tests" to each of our bodies: Does it perform a technical function? Does it need to be politically impartial? Does it act independently to establish facts?

I am announcing today the first results of this work.

The Government are committed to improving the quality of life for those living and working in rural areas and intend to put the fair treatment of rural communities at the centre of Government. Ministers will lead rural policy from within my Department; I have decided accordingly to abolish the Commission for Rural Communities as an independent body.

The Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) is a DEFRA-funded non-departmental public body that was established under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act on 1 October 2006.

The Government believe policy advice should be carried out by Departments, not arm's-length bodies. DEFRA will, therefore, reinforce its capacity to undertake rural work within the Department: a strengthened Rural Communities Policy Unit will work across Government to ensure that the interests of rural communities are fully reflected in policies and programmes.

In taking this action, I pay tribute to the commitment and quality of work undertaken by the Commission for Rural Communities, its staff, commissioners and its chairman, the Rev. Dr Stuart Burgess CBE, over the past four years. My Department will continue to work closely with the CRC during the transition to the new arrangements so that we build on its achievements.

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The Animal Health Agency and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, are the two principal DEFRA executive agencies which work to combat animal diseases. I intend to merge these two agencies. This will allow us to bring together services, expertise and scientific capability on animal health. It will improve our resilience in delivering important services, including our animal disease emergency response capability and science requirements for animal health. In resource-constrained times, the merger will enable the agencies to create more efficient ways of working, reduce the cost and bureaucracy needed to manage the interfaces between these agencies, DEFRA and the devolved Administrations, and their customers.

The merger of the executive agencies will go ahead shortly, with as little disruption to staff and customers as possible.

A single chief executive will be appointed for the new agency this summer, and will be tasked with working out how to achieve the full integration of the agencies, including structures and ways of working, by the autumn.

In the meantime, both agencies will continue to be led by their chief executives and senior teams. In implementing this change to our arm's-length bodies, the Department will work closely with the Responsibility and Cost Sharing Advisory Group, as well as devolved Administrations and other stakeholders.

Following the principle that Government should do only those things which only Government can do, we are examining how parts of the DEFRA network's assets could be marketed or be run better through the voluntary sector, while protecting key DEFRA outcomes. Further announcements will follow, against the principles outlined above.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Programmes

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): The House is aware that I have been conducting a full review of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's spending on programmes. I refer to the reply given by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) to the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) on 7 June 2010, Official Report, Column 24W.

My aim was threefold: to ensure that FCO programmes deliver the priorities of the new Government; to ensure that they focus on those areas where the FCO itself can make the biggest difference and offer the best possible value for money; and to establish where the FCO can make cuts as part of its contribution to the reduction in public expenditure to which this Government are committed.

I have decided that we will:

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These decisions will deliver over £18 million of savings this financial year out of total FCO programme spend of some £140 million. The money saved will help sustain the UK's front-line diplomatic work and our global network of posts, and contribute to the FCO's £55 million in-year cuts.

This is only a small part of the work I am leading to ensure that the FCO delivers the best possible service to the UK taxpayer at the lowest possible cost, and contributes to the Government's goal of reducing the budget deficit. Where there is scope for further cuts, efficiencies and reforms to deliver better for Britain, we will make them.

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