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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Cabinet Office

Civil Service Compensation Scheme

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Mr Francis Maude): The Government intend to limit the amount of benefit payable to civil servants under certain schemes made under the Superannuation Act 1972. In the light of the extremely difficult fiscal circumstances facing the national economy, the Government have no option but to take steps to ensure that any scheme for civil servants is affordable in the economic climate.

Earlier this year, the previous Government introduced a revised civil service compensation scheme that introduced a two-year cap on the payment of compensation for loss of office, or redundancy. The terms of this scheme were agreed with the FDA, Prospect, the GMB, Unite and the Prison Officers' Association. One union, however, the PCS, did not agree, sought judicial review in the High Court, and won. The revised scheme was accordingly quashed. The previous scheme is therefore once again in force. This scheme is prohibitively expensive-in some cases worth up to six and two thirds years of salary. We believe swift action to curb its excesses is essential. We take this step without relish. It has been made necessary by the unilateral action taken by PCS, acting on its own, to contest the previous Government's scheme.

I will therefore bring legislation to the House as soon as parliamentary time allows in a Bill to limit the costs of future compensation payments for both compulsory and voluntary civil service exits. Specifically, the Bill will propose that all departures on compulsory terms from the civil service will be capped at a maximum of 12 months salary and departures under any other voluntary arrangements will be capped at 15 months salary.

I am at the same time writing to the Council of Civil Service Unions, inviting them to begin immediate discussions to negotiate a sustainable and practical long-term successor scheme.

My letter will make clear that the Government wish, in discussion with the trade unions, a fair and practical settlement. Such a settlement will need to be fair, and in particular to provide a higher-level of protection for lower-paid workers. I have also indicated to the trade union side that I would be content (in the interests of reaching a settlement) for a discussion to take place on the most suitable terms for voluntary departures.

Having acted swiftly to limit the costs of future compensation payments I hope that the Government's invitation to the Council of Civil Service Unions will be received in the spirit it is offered and that they will engage speedily and constructively with a view to reaching an agreed, fair and sustainable long-term civil service compensation scheme. I believe that with goodwill and determination a new scheme could be in place by the time the Bill made necessary by the PCS action reaches the statute book.

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Communities and Local Government

Local Government Reorganisation

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): On Monday 5 July, the High Court decided to quash, in their entirety, the Structural Change Orders creating unitary councils for the cities of Exeter and Norwich. As a result the terms of office of one third of the members of Exeter and Norwich city councils, which had been extended by the orders, ended on the 5 July and there will be by-elections to fill these vacancies within 35 days as required by statute. Moreover, the decisions taken in March to implement the unitary proposals for Norwich and Exeter by the then Secretary of State, are now overturned.

I am today announcing to the House how I propose to respond to this situation, which quashing the orders has created.

I recognise that there will now be elections for one third of councillors in Norwich and Exeter within the next five weeks, and that this will involve the councils in additional costs. This is an unfortunate consequence of the previous Government's reckless move to drive through unnecessary unitary proposals which did not comply with their own criteria, and have now been found to be unlawful by the courts.

As to the future of the unitary proposals, on which decisions can now be taken afresh, the Secretary of State does not intend to take any such decisions. If Parliament enacts the Local Government Bill, which received its Second Reading in the other place on Wednesday 30 June, all uncompleted plans for unitary restructuring in Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk will end. The Bill provides that no order may be made for implementing a unitary proposal received by the Secretary of State before the commencement of the Act.

As a result of quashing the orders certain provisions currently in the Bill are no longer needed. These are clause 1(3) of the Bill, which currently revokes the Structural Change Orders for Exeter and Norwich quashed by the Court, and clause 2 of the Bill which made consequential electoral arrangements on the revocations of those orders. Accordingly we are considering on how to appropriately amend the Bill in the other place.

The Government welcome the Court's confirmation that the orders are unlawful. This decision along with the Local Government Bill currently before the other place will put an end to all the remaining costly and disruptive unitary proposals.

Regional Strategies

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): Today I am taking the first step to deliver our commitment in the coalition agreement to

by revoking regional strategies.

Regional strategies added unnecessary bureaucracy to the planning system. They were a failure. They were
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expensive and time-consuming. They alienated people, pitting them against development instead of encouraging people to build in their local area.

The revocation of regional strategies will make local spatial plans, drawn up in conformity with national policy, the basis for local planning decisions. The new planning system will be clear, efficient and will put greater power in the hands of local people, rather than regional bodies.

Imposed central targets will be replaced with powerful incentives so that people see the benefits of building. The coalition agreement makes a clear commitment to providing local authorities with real incentives to build new homes. I can confirm that this will ensure that those local authorities which take action now to consent and support the construction of new homes will receive direct and substantial benefit from their actions. Because we are committed to housing growth, introducing these incentives will be a priority and we aim to do so early in the spending review period. We will consult on the detail of this later this year. These incentives will encourage local authorities and communities to increase their aspirations for housing and economic growth, and to deliver sustainable development in a way that allows them to control the way in which their villages, towns and cities change. Our revisions to the planning system will also support renewable energy and a low-carbon economy.

The abolition of regional strategies will provide a clear signal of the importance attached to the development and application of local spatial plans, in the form of local development framework core strategies and other development plan documents. Future reform in this area will make it easier for local councils, working with their communities, to agree and amend local plans in a way that maximises the involvement of neighbourhoods.

The abolition of regional strategies will require legislation in the "Localism Bill" which we are introducing this session. However, given the clear coalition commitment, it is important to avoid a period of uncertainty over planning policy, until the legislation is enacted. So I am revoking regional strategies today in order to give clarity to builders, developers and planners.

Regional strategies are being revoked under s79(6) of the Local Democracy Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 and will thus no longer form part of the development plan for the purposes of s38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

Revoking, and then abolishing, regional strategies will mean that the planning system is simpler, more efficient and easier for people to understand. It will be firmly rooted in the local community. And it will encourage the investment, economic growth and housing that Britain needs.

We will be providing advice for local planning authorities today and a copy has been placed in the Library of the House.


Early Years Foundation Stage

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Sarah Teather): I have asked Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of Action for Children, to carry out an independent review of the early years foundation stage (EYFS). I
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have written to Dame Clare today to set out the remit of this review and I would like to take this opportunity to provide the House with further details.

I recognise that the EYFS has helped to promote a consistent approach to early learning and development of children aged 0-5, and has done much to raise standards, and keep children safe. However, I am concerned that the framework is too rigid and puts too many burdens on the early years workforce. I have asked Dame Clare to consider what the evidence tells us about how children can best be supported in their early learning, particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and how all children should be prepared to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by more formal learning in primary school. I have also asked her to consider how to reduce the burden of the EYFS on those who have to deliver it.

The review will cover four main areas:

We need a framework that raises standards and keeps children safe. But we also need framework which is responsive to the needs of parents and supports a diverse and flexible childcare market.

I am delighted that Dame Clare has agreed to lead this important review of the EYFS. Her knowledge of the needs of children and families, especially those from more disadvantaged areas, and the importance of early intervention means she is well placed to advise on how young children can best be supported, and how we can free up the system so that it works for both childcare workers and parents.

The review will start in September this year, and I have asked Dame Clare to produce her final report in spring 2011. We will be looking to implement any changes from September 2012 onwards.

I have placed a copy of the letter sent today to Dame Clare in the Libraries of both Houses.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

European Parliament Transitionary Protocol

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): The EU treaties, as amended by the treaty of Lisbon, provide for the allocation of 18 extra MEPs to 12 member states, including the UK which gains one extra MEP. The number of MEPs from Germany is also reduced by three. Last year's European Parliament elections were held under the provisions of the Nice treaty, given that the Lisbon treaty had not at that stage entered into force, and so these additional MEPs were not elected at that time. To allow the extra MEPs provided for to be elected in the current 2009-2014 European Parliament
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and without the three German MEPs having to stand down in the middle of a term of office, transitional arrangements are needed to enable the number of MEPs to exceed temporarily the limit of 750 plus the president which is laid down in article 14(2) of the treaty on European Union.

In order to make the required transitional changes, the member states of the EU agreed a protocol containing transitional arrangements concerning the composition of the European Parliament, via a very limited intergovernmental conference (IGC) in the margins of the 23 June meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives of EU member states.

As with all treaty changes, the protocol now requires ratification from all member states before it can enter into force. Any amendment to the EU treaties can only be ratified by the UK if it is approved by Act of Parliament. This is set out in section 5 of the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008. Parliament therefore needs to pass primary legislation before the protocol can be ratified in the UK and the Government intend to include the necessary provision in the forthcoming European Union Bill.

This is a technical change to the treaty relating to numbers of MEPs and does not transfer any power or competence from the UK to the EU. The additional numbers of MEPs are entitled to take their seats in 2014-this protocol simply means that they will be able to do so earlier than this date.

Details of the process to be undertaken to elect the UK's extra MEP will be announced in due course.

International Development

DFID's Programme (Nepal)

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): Today we are publishing by Command Paper the Government response to the former International Development Committee's report on DFID's programme in Nepal. The report was published on 28 March 2010.

The report was generally positive about DFID's programme in Nepal. The report also recognises the difficulties of working in Nepal, and the complexities and fragility of the peace process. The Minister of State for International Development visited Nepal on 26 to 28 May 2010. The visit deepened the UK Government's understanding of DFID's Nepal programme.


Data Protection Legislative Framework

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Jonathan Djanogly): My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Lord McNally, has made the following written ministerial statement:

Northern Ireland

Billy Wright Inquiry

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Owen Paterson): In anticipation of the publication of the report of the Billy Wright Inquiry, I have today asked a team of officials to commence the checking of the Inquiry's report in relation to human rights and national security matters, as outlined below. I intend to adopt the same approach as was used for the checking of the report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.

I am responsible for publication of the Inquiry's report, once it is delivered to me. I am advised that I have a duty, as a public authority under the Human Rights Act, to act in a way that is compatible with the European convention on human rights (ECHR). To fulfil this duty, I need to take steps to satisfy myself that publication of the report will not breach article 2 of the convention by putting the lives or safety of individuals at risk. I am advised that these obligations must be met by me personally, in my capacity as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Although the Inquiry is also a public authority under the Human Rights Act, I am not entitled to rely on the Inquiry to satisfy my article 2 obligations and I have a duty to assess this myself. I also have a duty to satisfy myself that publication will not put national security at risk, for example by disclosing details of sources of confidential information.

During the course of the Inquiry, the Government and security forces submitted to the Inquiry Panel some material that was relevant to its work but which was too sensitive to be disclosed publicly, sometimes because it contained information which had been provided to the security forces by individuals. If those individuals could be identified from the details they provided it would endanger their lives. I understand that the Inquiry Panel does not intend to refer to any material which would constitute a breach of article 2, or compromise national security, but I have a duty to satisfy myself before publication that none of this material has inadvertently been revealed in the report. The Inquiry Panel also agreed that the identities of a small number of individuals who were engaged on highly sensitive duties should not be disclosed and I need to be assured that these individuals have not been identified.

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I have established a small team of officials and legal advisers to assist me in carrying out this necessary exercise. The team will be led by the Northern Ireland Office's principal legal adviser, but will need to include members drawn from the Ministry of Defence, Security Service, and PSNI who are familiar with the sensitive material provided to the Inquiry Panel. They will be granted access to the report under strict terms of confidentiality and for the sole purpose of carrying out the necessary checks, and they will report directly to me alone. Lord MacLean has agreed that this team can carry out the necessary checks on the Inquiry's premises while the report remains in his custody, before it is submitted to me. I have confirmed to Lord MacLean that I am content with this proposal. I understand that the report will be made available for checking today.

I believe that these checks are absolutely necessary in order to meet the legal obligations on me. Following the approach used for the checking of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry report, I have sought Lord MacLean's permission to allow members of the Inquiry legal team to be present during the checking process, to which Lord MacLean has agreed. At all times, members of the Inquiry legal team will be acting as representatives of the Inquiry and not as advisers to me or the checking team.

I want to publish the report in its entirety. Should any concerns about the safety of any individual arise, my first course of action would be to consider whether these can be addressed through alternative means. Were I to reach the conclusion, on advice, that a redaction to the text might be necessary, I would consult Lord MacLean. In the very unlikely event that any redaction was deemed necessary, my intention would be to make this clear on the face of the report.

The report must be published first for this House, and I intend to publish the report as soon as possible once the checking process has been completed. However, I acknowledge the importance of this Inquiry's findings in the lives of a number of individuals. As with the publication of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry report, I intend to consider giving advance sight to those who were designated as Represented Parties by the Inquiry. I intend to discuss this with the Speaker of this House in due course.


Rolling Stock

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Philip Hammond): I am today announcing that a decision on the future of the intercity express programme (IEP) will be made at the same time as the spending review announcement in October. IEP would provide new trains for the east coast and Great Western main lines, and is separate from the high speed 2 proposal. IEP is a complex programme which has interdependencies with several other major rail projects, and as expenditure on rail projects will necessarily be reassessed in the context of the spending review, it would be irresponsible to make a decision on IEP in isolation at this time.

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Agility Trains was appointed preferred bidder to build and maintain the new IEP fleet in February 2009. In February of this year, the previous Government invited Sir Andrew Foster, former head of the Audit Commission, to provide an independent assessment of the value for money of the intercity express programme and the credibility and the value for money of any alternatives which meet the programme's objectives. Sir Andrew presented his report to me at the end of June, and I am publishing it today.

Sir Andrew suggests that the inter-city express proposition is "positive and attractive" in a number of ways. He suggests that the PFI-style funding arrangement is novel and well aligned in terms of financial incentives. The faster acceleration and longer carriages would have a positive impact on network and passenger capacity, and the specification has also taken network sustainability and environmental imperatives seriously.

Sir Andrew does express some doubts over the technical feasibility of the new bi-mode trains, but I see this as a lesser issue. While this is a clearly challenging project, I have been impressed by Agility's willingness to take on the commercial risk for the reliability and performance of the trains. In addition, Hitachi-Agility's major shareholder-has already demonstrated its commitment to delivering high quality products to the UK rail market through its development and deployment of the new Javelin trains for high speed 1.

While Sir Andrew's report acknowledges that the programme has exceeded the Department's value for money thresholds, the value for money has declined over time, and Sir Andrew suggests that he is not convinced that all of the viable alternatives to the programme have been assessed alongside it on an equal footing. Therefore the Government will use the period until the spending review announcement in October to give further consideration to the alternatives to IEP.

Sir Andrew also expressed some concern over the widespread scepticism of the programme within the rail industry. He suggests that the need for commercial confidentiality in the much delayed procurement process-that was run by the previous administration-has resulted in insufficient communication between the Department and the key stakeholders. Despite involving the rail industry in the procurement process, a sense of disengagement developed, which could have been avoided.

This Government fully recognise these concerns and we are already acting on them. In future, we will involve the rail industry more fully in decision making. We have already invited the industry to contribute to Sir Roy McNulty's review of costs in the rail sector. In addition, we have announced that we will consult widely on franchising policy, allowing the industry to suggest ways to improve the efficiency and value for money of rail franchises, for both taxpayers and farepayers. We will also work with the rail industry to consider how best, in future, to procure and implement major investments in rolling stock, as well as how best to implement the changes that follow from the spending review.

Finally, it remains for me to thank Sir Andrew Foster, Agility Trains and those from the across the rail industry who contributed to the review.

Copies of Sir Andrew Foster's report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and are available on the Departments website (www.dft.gov.uk).

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