The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): The EU informal Competitiveness Council took place in Louvain-la-Neuve (industry sessions) and Brussels (research sessions) in Belgium on 14 to 16 July. The UK was represented by myself on 14 July and by BIS officials when I was not in attendance.
The first day of the industry session focused on future EU industrial policy. EU Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani emphasised the importance of SMEs, a well run EU single market, the external dimension of EU industrial policy and a strong better regulation agenda. He also highlighted the importance of the EU space sector and tourism to European economies.
The UK called for a step change in the better regulation agenda and more efficient use of natural resources. He stressed that the EU single market was the EU's most effective industrial policy, but also that open trade on a global scale could create new opportunities for European companies. The Belgian presidency concluded that overall member states preferred a horizontal (rather than sectoral) approach to EU industry policy.
In discussion of the external dimension of EU industry policy, the UK and a few other member states focused on the importance of free trade, while a few other member states favoured the introduction of protectionist measures. At a morning session on the second day of the industry session, measures to help the integration of innovation by small to medium sized companies (SMEs) were discussed. The UK stressed the importance to SMEs of the single market, access to finance and making EU innovation programmes easier to use.
In the first research session on the afternoon of the second day, the EU Research and Innovation Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn outlined her plans for an EU "Innovation Union", one of the flagship initiatives under the Commission's Europe 2020 long-term economic strategy. She stated that she wanted the EU innovation strategy to address major societal challenges such as healthy ageing and creating carbon neutral cities. She stressed the need for the EU to broaden its approach to include innovation in services, business models, design, marketing and society. The UK welcomed the Commission's approach of looking beyond technological innovation and considering how innovation policy could address major societal challenges, stressing the need to ensure framework conditions for innovation were right in Europe.
The second research session on the final day focused on the simplification of the EU research and development (R&D) funding programme. There was general agreement that the current rules for applying for funding were too complicated, inconsistent and too slow. The UK stressed the importance of the simplification agenda but said that moves away from a cost-based funding regime to one more focused on results and outputs needed to be
treated with caution, as any new system would need to recognise the actual costs of the research and offer applicants a choice of funding methods. EU Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn said that the Commission intended to address these concerns through a radical overhaul of existing rules.
The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr John Hayes): Balanced and sustainable economic growth can only be driven by business and enterprise. Business in the UK cannot prosper while the risk of a debt crisis hangs over the economy. This Government have therefore put decisive action on the fiscal deficit at the centre of their agenda. Equally though, it is vital we recognise strong and continuing growth as a key route to getting this country back on track, including reducing our debts. Skills and training are a central component of this, contributing to employment, productivity and economic growth.
Today I am publishing "Skills for Sustainable Growth"-a consultation document which sets out our emerging vision for skills and explores some key areas where we would like to seek further views. This is complemented by a technical consultation document which seeks views on a simplified funding system.
We will publish a full strategy for skills after the spending review in October, informed by these views, which will set out in more detail how we intend to support our learning and skills priorities.
Provide a respected, credible vocational training offer that will provide people with a route into employment, help them progress in their careers or support them in starting their own business.
Tackle the needs of those who have poor work prospects or a high chance of spending long periods out of work.
Give learners and employers access to high quality, impartial information so they will be able to choose the learning that best suits their needs.
Realise the best returns on both Government investment and the increasing amount of learner and employer investment in the skills system.
Give greater freedom to colleges and training organisations to respond flexibly to employer and learner demand.
Empower communities to develop the informal life-long learning opportunities in which they want to participate.
Recognise that in the current fiscal environment, it is even more important that public funding is used where it is most needed and where it gives most value.
The spending review will provide an opportunity to transform the skills system so that informed and empowered learners are placed at the heart of provision. We want to ensure that our strategy for skills supports economic growth, encourages progression and promotes learning for wider cultural and community benefit.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): Today the Treasury has laid in both Houses of Parliament copies of the accounts for the Dunfermline Resolution Account for the year ending 31 March 2010.
The accounts have been prepared in relation to the operation of the Dunfermline Resolution Account established in accordance with article 6(1) of, and schedule 1 to, the Dunfermline Building Society Compensation Scheme, Resolution Fund and Third Party Compensation Order 2009 (S.I. 2009/1800) ("the Order").
The accounts have been prepared by the account holder for the Dunfermline Resolution Account, Eversheds LLP in accordance with paragraph 2(1) of schedule 1 to the order and the accounting direction issued by the Treasury.
The Treasury has also laid in both Houses of Parliament the report it has received from the Bank of England on the activities of the DBS Bridge Bank. Under section 80(1) of the Banking Act 2009, the Bank of England is required to report to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the activities of the DBS Bridge Bank and under section 80(4) the Chancellor of the Exchequer is required to lay this report before both Houses of Parliament.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): In our first two months in government we have demonstrated our commitment to localism, decentralisation and rolling back regional government in England. We have announced the abolition of Regional Development Agencies, abolished the Regional Strategies, ended funding for the Regional Leaders' Boards (the successors to the Regional Assemblies) and are closing the Government Office for London.
We have taken these steps because they are right in principle and as part of a fundamental transfer of power from central Government down to local councils and down further to local communities. We have done so to reduce spending on bureaucracy and protect front-line services against the backdrop of an unsustainable budget deficit and national debt.
We do not believe the arbitrary government regions to be a tier of administration that is efficient, effective or popular. Citizens across England identify with their county, their city, their town, their borough and
their neighbourhood. We should recognise that the case for elected regional government was overwhelmingly rejected by the people in the 2004 North East Referendum. Unelected regional government equally lacks democratic legitimacy, and its continuing existence has created a democratic deficit.
I am announcing today the Government's intention in principle to abolish the remaining eight Government offices, subject to the satisfactory resolution of consequential issues through the spending review.
The final decisions on the future of the Government offices, including arrangements for closure and for the transfer of on-going functions, will be made at the end of the spending review in the autumn.
The Government offices are not a legal entity. They act on behalf of 13 Government Departments and are staffed by civil servants from these departments. Communities and Local Government is the biggest contributor to Government offices providing 41% and 33% of funds and staff respectively in 2010-11. The Home Office; Departments for Education; Business, Innovation and Skills; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Transport are also employers of Government office staff.
We are making good progress with our programme of radical reform to reduce the burden of bureaucracy on local authorities and businesses, including removing the inflated local government performance regime and doing away with the unnecessary regional tier. Consequently many of the functions Government offices undertook are no longer necessary. By announcing our intention in principle now, we will further progress our programme of reform, allow staff, councils and departments to take account of this, and make an earlier start in the spending review on securing savings for the public purse.
I believe that the original intentions behind the establishment of the Government offices for the regions (to join up different departmental teams outside London into a "one stop shop") have been lost. Such functions are no longer necessary in an internet age and given the coalition Government's commitment to genuine decentralisation and devolution of power.
There are, however, some Government office functions, such as arrangements for resilience and civil contingencies, which will need to continue. The spending review process will be used to test which activities currently carried out by the Government offices should continue, and to decide the most cost-effective on-going arrangements.
The spending review will also consider arrangements for the redeployment or release of Government office staff, and for sharing as appropriate the savings, costs, assets and liabilities arising from the decision.
We should be clear: the Government offices are not voices of the region in Whitehall. They have become agents of Whitehall to intervene and interfere in localities, and are a fundamental part of the "command and control" apparatus of England's over-centralised state.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Peter Luff): With effect from 31 July 2010, the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency (DSDA) will cease to have the status of an executive agency of the Ministry of Defence (MOD).
DSDA was established as an agency in 1999 to store, maintain, issue, process and distribute materiel for the MOD and other designated users. In April 2006, DSDA launched a major efficiency programme under the future defence supply chain initiative (FDSCi). This completed in 2008 having successfully delivered savings of 35% in annual operating costs, reductions in staff levels of 37% and fundamental improvements in service levels.
Subsequently the operational efficiency programme (OEP) has been considering potential future operating models for DSDA post-FDSCi. It anticipated greater value for money may be achieved by pursuing a strategy of increased outsourcing and transfer of business and assets to third party providers for the majority of activities that can be delivered outside of MOD.
This does not require agency status. Moreover, the change of status will enable the restructuring of the joint support chain to improve and streamline the end to end support chain to be fully implemented and deliver significant improvements.
This Government are dedicated to the care and welfare of the men and women of our armed forces, particularly those on operations in Afghanistan. This is reflected in the commitments within the coalition programme for Government, including that we would rebuild the military covenant. One step in doing so is to optimise the rest and recuperation periods for those deployed to Afghanistan. We recognise that rest and recuperation is a key part of the morale and welfare of our people and their families so it is important we get it right.
But this is not an easy issue. There are very real limits in terms of the airbridge in and out of Afghanistan. In making any adjustments to rest and recuperation policy we must remain mindful of these constraints because, above all, any changes must not compromise the operational effectiveness of our forces deployed in Afghanistan.
I am delighted to announce today, however, that we are making changes so that in future no service men and women serving tours in Afghanistan (and on other qualifying deployed operations) will lose out on their two weeks rest and recuperation. Where flights home are delayed or circumstances dictate they cannot take all that rest and recuperation during their tour, as occurred, for instance, when flights were suspended because of the volcanic ash cloud, personnel will in
future receive additional post operational leave in compensation. So in future, no-one will lose out on rest and recuperation they would otherwise have received because of disruption to the airbridge.
We will also increase the resilience of the airbridge and prioritise the needs of those who serve the longest-six months or more-in Afghanistan. The chiefs of staff have recommended that the best way to achieve this improved resilience is to deploy those posted for short tours for less than four months so that they will no longer receive a week's rest and recuperation in the middle of their tour. This will affect a minority of the force, primarily from the RAF, but improved airbridge resilience will significantly benefit the 85% of the force, drawn from all services, who are serving on longer tours. Our feedback from families and personnel themselves also suggests that one week of rest and recuperation in a short tour does not allow time to transit, adjust, rest, prepare and return. I have therefore agreed the chiefs of staffs' recommendation which will come into effect for those deploying on or after 1 January 2011.
"the Government will make an announcement shortly about how we will deliver on our pledge to end child detention and to close the Yarl's Wood detention centre for good."-[Official Report, 21 July 2010; Vol.514, col. 349].
I understand that this statement inadvertently caused some confusion. I am very happy to clarify that my statement related to child detention. Yarl's Wood detention centre family unit will be closed for child and family detention, but the centre will continue to function as an immigration removal facility for adults.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Tim Loughton): I am today confirming arrangements for closing down the ContactPoint children's database, in line with the Government's long-standing commitment. Instead of a database containing millions of children's details, accessed by hundreds of thousands of practitioners, we are examining the case for a more proportionate approach to supporting front-line professionals to help protect vulnerable children from harm.
I recognise the problem that the previous Government were trying to solve in establishing ContactPoint, and the well-intended efforts that many hard-working practitioners and managers have put into improving the quality and use of data on vulnerable children. Front-line practitioners need to be able to provide support for our most vulnerable children when they move across local authority boundaries or access services in more than one area. Experience shows the potential value of a
quick and reliable means of discovering whether another professional has worked with such a child. It is worth considering a national approach to that issue.
However, we have never agreed that ContactPoint was the answer. It has always been our view that it was disproportionate and unjustifiable to hold records on every child in the country, making them accessible to large numbers of people. Accordingly, we are exploring the practicality of a new national signposting service which would focus on helping practitioners find out whether another practitioner is working, or has previously worked, in another authority area with the same vulnerable child. Social workers in particular, and potentially other key services like the police or accident and emergency departments, may need this information very quickly. Such a service must aim to ensure that these children are not "lost" to social care services when they move. We are working closely with our partners to assess the feasibility and affordability of such an approach.
In the meantime, we have considered carefully whether it is necessary to keep the existing ContactPoint database operating in order to move towards a more targeted approach. It is now clear that it is not and in the light of the coalition Government's clear pledge to end ContactPoint as soon as practicable we will now proceed to shut it down. On 6 August, we will switch the database off and we will subsequently decommission it, safely removing and destroying the existing data.
We are today writing to local authorities and other partners to provide them with the necessary guidance to ensure that ContactPoint is closed down in a managed, safe and controlled way. A copy of this letter will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. As we do so, we shall take all necessary steps to ensure that the investment made to date in developing ContactPoint can so far as possible contribute to the task of protecting our most vulnerable children from harm. We will continue to draw on views, experience and expertise of front-line staff and managers. Critical to the success of any service must be that it provides a modern, effective tool that supports the front line and that it supports the broader aims of Eileen Munro's review to improve child protection and social work practice. It is also important that we keep any development and implementation costs to a minimum and that the service can demonstrate value for money. We shall provide a further update in due course.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): This Government are committed to sustainable development and to becoming the greenest Government ever, promoting economic development, environmental protection and an improving quality of life for everyone in the UK.
to support and develop British farming and encourage sustainable food production;
to help to enhance the environment and biodiversity to improve quality of life; and,
to support a strong and sustainable green economy, which is resilient to climate change.
I am committed to increasing the transparency and accountability of DEFRA'S public bodies, to playing my part in reducing public spending and to reducing the burden of regulation. Following my written ministerial statement of 29 June 2010, Official Report, column 36WS, I am today announcing the next series of reforms to DEFRA'S network of arm's length bodies.
On sustainability-together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change-we are determined to play the lead role across the whole of Government. We will mainstream sustainability, strengthen the Government's performance in this area and put processes in place to join up activity across Government much more effectively. I am not willing simply to delegate this responsibility to an external body. I have accordingly decided that I will withdraw DEFRA funding from the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) at the end of the current financial year, and instead take a personal lead, with an enhanced departmental capability and presence.
The SDC was founded in October 2000 and recently became an executive non-departmental public body (NDPB). It is jointly owned with the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each of them has to decide on the best future arrangements to meet their needs and over the next few months my Department will work very closely with them to ensure a smooth transition.
The SDC has made a positive contribution to sustainable development across Government and society over the past 10 years, and I pay tribute to their work and to their current and previous chairs, Will Day and Jonathon Porritt.
I am also announcing today that I intend to abolish the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in 2011, subject to the necessary processes and ongoing discussions with devolved Administration Ministers. When the RCEP was set up in 1970, there was very little awareness of environmental issues, with few organisations capable of offering relevant advice. The situation now is very different, and the Government have many such sources of expert, independent advice and challenge. Protecting the environment remains a key Government aim, and DEFRA intends to draw on the full range of expertise available, including Foresight, the research councils, the Living With Environmental Change programme (in which DEFRA and DECC are partners with the research councils) the Royal Society and other academies. In making this decision, I pay tribute to the work of the Royal Commission and its current chair, Sir John Lawton. Over the last 40 years the commissioners have made a significant contribution to raising the profile of environmental issues in the UK.
A range of public bodies affiliated to DEFRA was established by the 1948 Agricultural Wages Act. Over time, this piece of legislation has become outdated,
inflexible and burdensome for farmers and workers. So today I am announcing that we will be seeking agreement with the Welsh Assembly Government to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board. In England, we will be taking measures to bring agricultural workers within the scope of the National Minimum Wage Act and my Department will be working closely with BIS to make the necessary amendments to the Act itself. We are discussing with the Welsh Assembly Government the arrangements they wish to propose in respect of Wales, and will agree with them measures for the abolition of the Committee on Agricultural Valuation and, separately, the Commons Commissioners. The 15 Agricultural Wages Committees and the 16 Agricultural Dwelling House Advisory Committees will also be abolished. Appropriate measures for effecting these changes will be brought forward as part of the Public Bodies (Reform) Bill. The cumulative effect of these changes will allow the agricultural industry to adopt flexible and modern employment practices in order to help ensure a vibrant and sustainable industry for the future.
I have decided that DEFRA should have a stronger role in developing policy for inland waterways and have already signalled our preference for moving British Waterways to a civil society model. Today I am announcing that I also intend to abolish the Inland Waterways Advisory Council. DEFRA will lead on developing future policy in this area by consulting all interests directly, by making full use of the evidence which can be provided by the navigation authorities and by forming a closer relationship with stakeholders. This decision highlights the importance I attach to the effective management of inland waterways and my determination to place them on a more sustainable long-term footing.
The changes I am announcing today will help streamline and modernise DEFRA'S network of arm's length bodies and enhance accountability and transparency. I am continuing to look closely at DEFRA'S other arm's length bodies and will make further announcements at the appropriate time.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): The House will be aware that the first six months of 2010 have been the driest since 1929-this is partly attributable to more of our winter and spring wind coming more from the north than is usual (bringing with them the ash cloud earlier in the year), rather than the usual winds from the west which bring us much of our winter/spring rain. This has had a broad impact on the availability of water in rivers, reservoirs and canals, and on the environment and agriculture, with the lack of rain reducing grass growth and stressing other crops.
The problem has been particularly acute in the North West which has received only 60% of its average rainfall in the first half of this year. Public water supplies in this region are more reliant than most on reservoirs which are quick to replenish when it rains but also quick to empty when there is a long dry period as now. As a consequence United Utilities, the water company in the region, has encouraged consumers to be careful how they use water and on 9 July they imposed a hosepipe ban to reduce consumption.
I have been following developments closely and receive full briefing weekly from the Environment Agency, which has responsibility for managing our water resources. In addition, I recently met Philip Green, CEO at United Utilities, who updated me on the actions the company is taking to help protect supplies of water to its customers. Since the last drought in the North West in 1995-96, leakage has halved and is now operating at its economic level of leakage; this has contributed to a drop of almost a quarter in the total demand for water over the same period; United Utilities is increasing resilience of supplies through a new west to east link that is nearing completion. Other water companies are also taking positive action, as I saw for myself in a recent visit to Yorkshire Water; this company has improved resilience of its water supply since 1995-96 through creation of a network to redistribute water taken from rivers, reservoirs and groundwater across its supply area.
All water companies plan for secure supplies through their 25-year water resources management plans. These set out how a company will provide for a sustainable supply and demand balance taking into account pressures such as population growth and climate change. But that does not mean that they can avoid introducing restrictions in times of water shortage: typically they plan for restrictions once every 20 years. To plan for resources that would meet demand in any circumstances would build in significant additional costs, which would fall to their customers, and would have impacts on the environment too. And so all companies take a risk-based approach, balancing a planned level of service, to include measures such as hosepipe bans, against the costs customers are willing to pay for a secure supply.
None of us can predict what the weather will bring over the coming year and, while I am advised by the Environment Agency that no other part of England is anticipating imposing hosepipe bans at present, after such a dry six months we should all take care to protect the resources available for essential uses and not let it run to waste unnecessarily. Householders can get good advice on how to make best use of water from their water supplier, and from Waterwise (www.waterwise.org.uk).
Looking more broadly at the UK situation we must recognise that the United Kingdom has finite water resources, with some parts of England having less water per person than many hotter and drier countries. Using our water supplies wisely so that we have what we need for essential domestic and industrial purposes, while minimising the impact on the natural environment at a time of climate change and population growth is the challenge for the future. It is now 20 years since the current regulatory regime was put in place and the White Paper I plan to publish next summer will examine the options for reforming the industry to drive greater efficiency and improving the way we value and use our water resources.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman):
My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Agriculture and Food represented
the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 12 July, the first under the Belgian presidency.
Belgium's Federal Agriculture Minister (Laruelle) and Flemish Minister-President (Peeters-who will chair fisheries items at Council), gave an overview of their priorities for the next six months. On agriculture, there will be a continuation of discussions of future CAP in advance of the forthcoming communication; and legislative proposals on dairy, food for the needy and quality policy. There would also be other discussions on the transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) roadmap, animal health strategy and the regulatory framework on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). On fisheries there would be the annual cycle of decisions on total allowable catches (TACs) and quotas, but also discussion on CFP reform, in particular on the link between science and fisheries.
Commissioner Ciolos introduced the dairy high level group recommendations as a means to enable the EU to achieve market stability for the milk sector and pave the way for a future without quotas. There will be a legislative package at the end of the year concentrating on the first three recommendations on contractual relations, bargaining power of producers and the role of producers (POs) and interbranch organisations (IBOs).
Council was divided between those calling for more regulatory and market management intervention, and those urging more competitive responses, using the full scope of existing provisions. Some called for mandatory contracts between producers and milk purchasers, but others, led by the UK, wanted these kept voluntary.
The UK and the Netherlands argued that no changes were needed to competition law to allow better functioning of the milk supply chain, but a number of others urged relaxations of competition rules to allow producers more scope to manage sales.
Origin labelling also featured, with a number of member states against compulsory labelling, whilst others preferred voluntary labelling, especially for imitation products. On market measures there was broad consensus that reform should continue, but still a need for some form of safety net.
The UK stressed the need for rebalancing producer power, but noted that there was already scope to do so under current rules and that it should not interfere with free market principles. The UK also underlined the clear differences in market organisation between member states-one size solutions would not fit all, and any legislation would have to minimise burdens.
Next, Ciolos noted the derogation from the state aid rules which allowed the German alcohol monopoly to buy spirits from certain distillers at guaranteed prices. The German authorities accepted that the derogation could not continue and therefore it was proposed that
this be phased out by 2013, although Germany would be able to continue paying state aid to the sector up to 2017. Germany concurred and in order to allay concerns about distortion to the market, highlighted that the monopoly only represented less than 1% of the EU market of ethyl alcohol and that there was free access to its market for spirits produced elsewhere in the EU. The special Committee on agriculture (SCA) would continue discussions on the proposal in September.
Under any other business, Lithuania (with some support) requested that it be allowed to make advance direct payments (from 16 October rather than 1 December) to farmers due to the exceptionally harsh winter which had led to the loss of winter crops in many areas. The Commissioner said his services would deal with any individual request made, but stressed that member states must demonstrate that the circumstances were truly exceptional.
The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): As required under the Animal Health Act 1981 (as amended by the Animal Health Act 2002) the Government will publish today a review of controls on the import of animal products for the financial year 2009-10. As the new Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, I welcome the opportunity to report on the efforts of DEFRA and other Government Departments and agencies during the past year to reduce the risk of disease entering the country via imports of animal products.
Imports of animal products from outside the European Union (EU) bring with them the risk of animal diseases which, as we know, could potentially introduce disease to our livestock and crops and to the environment. The risk can also be to public health-diseases such as highly pathogenic avian influenza type H5N1 can infect humans and are of serious public concern-and also be high economic cost as we know from the outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in 2001 which is estimated to have cost £3 billion relating to agriculture and the food chain.
Controls are already in place to carry out veterinary checks on legally imported animal products from non-EU countries. UK Border Agency (UKBA) delivers a flexible, risk based enforcement strategy to prevent illegal imports including using information from DEFRA on the entry routes that pose the greatest threat of introducing animal disease.
DEFRA with UKBA and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) have undertaken a focused publicity campaign as part of the overall communications strategy-inland within GB, at the border and also overseas. During this last year we have seen the re-launch of the personal food imports campaigns for general travellers in October 2009 and for the black and minority ethnic (BME) communities in November 2009.
The changes to the EU personal import rules in May 2009, in particular an increase to the personal concession amount allowed for fish, has enabled UKBA to refocus
deployments to target the high risk routes for illegal meat and dairy products carried by incoming travellers more effectively. The number of seizures of illegal imports of animal products have therefore shown a 3% increase this year with seizures of meat and dairy products up by 14% and 45% respectively.
We can never have a zero risk but we monitor and assess the changing threats from around the world (such as the evolving FMD situation in South East Asia), and work with UKBA and other enforcement partners to ensure that our enforcement activity is targeted at the current risks.
Copies of the review will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses, on the DEFRA personal food imports website (http://www.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/food/personal- import/index.htm), and sent to DEFRA customers for information giving them the opportunity to provide their feedback. Hard copies will also be available on request.
The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): The General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council will be held on 26 July in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will represent the UK. I will also attend.
Chairing his first GAC under the new Belgian presidency, Foreign Minister Vanackere will present the presidency's programme for the next six months programme. Other Ministers will have an opportunity to question him on Belgium's priorities. We believe there are number of areas in which we can work well with the Belgian presidency including on trade and free trade agreements (FTAs), particularly with countries such as India and Korea.
Ministers will discuss the EEAS decision, which was passed by the European Parliament on 8 July, and has been scrutinised by both Houses of Parliament. The decision provides a framework for the establishment of the EEAS, as provided for in the treaty of Lisbon. It sets out a framework for the nature and scope of the service, its functions, its central Administration, and the management of its staffing, budget and programming.
There remain a number of implementation-related issues to be worked through over the coming months. We shall support the Baroness Ashton in establishing the EEAS as a body which enables the EU to pursue agreed common positions in a cohesive and effective way. We shall be both vigilant and determined to ensure that the EEAS respects the competences of member states for foreign and security policy as set out in the treaty, and that it provides value for money. We will keep Parliament updated regularly on progress.
The GAC will agree the EU's general position on the negotiating framework for Iceland's accession negotiations. Official opening of the negotiations will take place on
27 July. The negotiating framework reflects UK objectives that stipulate that Iceland implements its EEA obligations, including those identified by the EFTA surveillance authority (i.e. Iceland's breach of the deposit guarantee directive).
We expect there to be a short review of the key conclusions from the June European Council: Europe 2020 strategy, the G20 summit, millennium development goals (MDGs), and climate change. There may also be a discussion about the frequency of European Councils and the role of the GAC in preparing for them.
Ministers will discuss the forthcoming September European Council (16 September), which will be themed around foreign policy and attended by both Leaders and Foreign Ministers. Baroness Ashton or Herman Van Rompuy may outline their understanding of the scope of discussion in September, and solicit views. Ministers may seek to debate the EU's strategic relations with emerging powers.
On Brazil, Ministers will discuss the recent EU-Brazil summit, and the longer-term vision of the High-Representative/Vice-President for this important strategic partnership. Ministers are likely to discuss the relaunch of EU-Mercosur free trade agreement negotiations, and the potential benefits of increasing trade with this large and dynamic region.
On India, Ministers will assess the prospects for delivering more from the EU's relationship with this emerging power. We would like to see the EU-India free trade agreement finalised this year, though this will not be easy given some of the difficult issues to overcome, particularly on migration and EU political clauses. Ministers may also discuss other areas highlighted by the November 2009 EU-India summit, including counter terrorism. Ministers will look ahead to the 2010 EU-India summit, on 21 October in Brussels.
the upcoming referenda processes in South Sudan and Abyei through substantial technical and financial assistance;
peaceful implementation of the CPA, reaching an agreement on post-referendum issues and working towards long term regional stability;
the work of the African Union high-level implementation panel;
capacity building and assistance to meet the challenges faced by South Sudan;
efforts to address insecurity and reach a lasting peace settlement for Darfur;
the work of the International Criminal Court; and,
continued development and humanitarian assistance across Sudan.
On international coordination, we expect Ministers to agree to coordinate closely with the Sudanese parties, the African Union (AU), the United Nations (UN), IGAD, the United States and other national, regional and international partners.
Ministers are expected to agree to a Council decision setting out a comprehensive package of EU sanctions against Iran in response to the challenges posed by Iran's nuclear programme, and in line with the dual track strategy of engagement and pressure.
Ministers will discuss the response from Israel and the international community to the situation in Gaza following the flotilla incident. Baroness Ashton will give an update on her recent visit to Gaza and discussions about how the EU could assist with the opening of Gaza. Ministers will also discuss the wider peace process including the American-led proximity talks and their progress. Depending on the outcome of the discussion, the Council may issue a conclusion statement.
Ministers are expected to discuss the ongoing crisis in Kyrgyzstan and adopt conclusions welcoming the successful conduct of the 27 June constitutional referendum. Foreign Ministers Kouchner and Westerwelle visited Kyrgyzstan on 16 July and tabled a joint paper at the OSCE Informal Foreign Ministers meeting in Almaty, which we understand they are likely to raise at the FAC.
On Georgia the aim is to ensure continued EU focus as we approach the second anniversary of the Russia-Georgia war. The Council will not have to take any decisions and discussion is likely to focus on a debriefing by EUHR Catherine Ashton on her recent visit to Georgia. If time allows, Ministers might discuss Georgia's relations with the EU following the launch of negotiations on an association agreement on 15 July and the recent signature of a visa facilitation agreement. There may also be discussion of the Georgian Government's action plan for engagement with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Ministers are expected to discuss Kosovo, given the forthcoming advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Kosovo's declaration of independence. The Government firmly support Kosovo's independence and believe that both Kosovo and Serbia should use the ICJ outcome to reinforce and not undermine stability in the Western Balkans region. Ministers will also discuss the EU's policy towards Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The Government strongly support BiH's ambition for future EU membership but are very concerned about the current reform blockage and nationalist rhetoric. We believe that the EU military force, EUFOR Operation Althea, continues to play an important role in underpinning stability in BiH.
The Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos may update the Foreign Affairs Council on the recent release of a number of political prisoners in Cuba, and Cuban Government assurances that 52 in total will be released over the next few months. Discussion may then touch on the EU common position on Cuba.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Jeremy Browne): The "British Council Annual Report" will be laid before Parliament this afternoon. The report covers the work of the British Council in the period 2009-10. Copies will be made available in the Vote Office (and Printed Paper Office in the House of Lords). A copy of the report is also available on the British Council website (www.britishcouncil.org). I commend the report to the House.
The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Andrew Lansley): Today I am publishing two further supporting documents to the national health service White Paper, "Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS", which was published on 12 July. The documents have been placed in the Library, and copies are available to hon. Members in the Vote office. The documents are also available at: www.dh.gov.uk/liberatingtheNHS.
The documents, "Commissioning for Patients" and "Local Democratic Legitimacy in Health" provide further detail on the principles of the policies set out in the White Paper, and seek views from the public and external partners on some of the questions arising out of them.
One of the central features of the proposals in the White Paper is to devolve commissioning responsibilities and budgets as far as possible to those who are best placed to act as patients' advocates and support them in their healthcare choices. "Commissioning for Patients" sets out my intended arrangements for general practitioner (GP) commissioning and the role of the NHS Commissioning Board.
Through our world-renowned system of general practice, GPs and other primary care, professionals are already supporting patients in managing their health, promoting continuity and co-ordination of care, and making referrals to more specialist services. In empowering GP practices to come together in wider groupings, or "consortia", to commission care on their patients' behalf and manage NHS resources, we are building on these foundations. We are also empowering primary care clinicians to work more effectively alongside the full range of other health and care professionals and, where appropriate, to work collaboratively to combine their commissioning power and influence. The NHS Commissioning Board will provide overall leadership on commissioning for quality improvement. It will have a duty to ensure comprehensive coverage of consortia and hold them to account for the outcomes they achieve and for their financial performance.
"Local Democratic Legitimacy in Health" is a joint publication between my Department and the Department for Communities and Local Government. It sets out proposals to increase local democratic legitimacy in a way that is consistent with national accountability for a national health service. Local authorities will become responsible for local public health improvement functions.
They will have a new role in shaping NHS commissioning activities and a new role promoting integration. Local authorities will lead in assessing the needs of their populations and co-ordinate local strategies to address these needs. This will promote integration and partnership across the NHS, social care, public health and wider services such as housing and disability services. Local HealthWatch organisations, acting as independent consumer champions, will also be funded by and accountable to local authorities. To reinforce local accountability, local authorities will be responsible for ensuring that local HealthWatch are operating effectively, and for putting in place better arrangements if they are not.
The document also outlines how local authorities may choose to work with their partners to implement the arrangements and how the new public and patient involvement and local authority health improvement functions will be taken forward.
The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): The immigration rules specify that the detail of how certain requirements will be applied will be set out in UK Border Agency guidance rather than in the immigration rules themselves. This is essential best practice as it enables the UK Border Agency to have the flexibility it needs to make minor changes while staying within the framework set out in the immigration rules.
However, on two particular points successful legal challenges have been brought to the extent to which requirements must be set out in the immigration rules rather than in UK Border Agency guidance. The first is the minimum levels of courses that may be studied under tier 4 (general). The second is the periods of time that applicants must have held available funds for.
In the light of the court judgments I am bringing the detail of these requirements within the immigration rules. The requirements themselves are not changing, although in the case of English language courses, I am using this as an opportunity to reintroduce the minimum level for such courses which was in place before the judgment was handed down. By doing this, if the requirements do change in future, those changes will need to be laid before Parliament.
I am also making a further change to the tier 4 (general) category today to make it a requirement for some students studying below degree level to provide evidence of having passed a UK Border Agency-approved secure English language test at a minimum of B1 level on the common European framework of reference for languages. This change builds on the previous position where the sponsors of such students were required to make their own assessment of the English language level of the student. The use of an independent test is an advance on this as it should help ensure that sponsors are not duped by students offering false or fake documents to prove their English language ability.
It is right that under the points-based system, all students now need to apply to the UK Border Agency to vary their leave before being able to change institutions. This is essential so that the UK Border Agency can maintain accurate records of where migrants are studying and check that the institutions to which they wish to move are bona fide and are willing to take on the sponsorship of their new students under tier 4. Consequently, tier 4 students are unable to start studying at their new sponsor institution until they have received a positive decision on their application.
The principle of sponsorship-whereby those who benefit most directly from the contributions migrants make to the United Kingdom (employers and education institutions) are expected to play their part in ensuring the UK's migration system is not abused-is an integral part of the points-based system. The new highly trusted sponsor licence introduced for tier 4 sponsors on 6 April 2010 provides a further segmentation of the existing sponsor rating system designed to identify those sponsors who are achieving the highest levels of compliance with their sponsor obligations and whose students are showing the greatest compliance with the terms of their visa or leave. Those holding a highly trusted sponsor licence are granted additional freedoms and offered new services to recognise their previous track record of good compliance.
In recognition of the high levels of student compliance among highly trusted sponsors; I have agreed an additional freedom for their students which is being introduced by the change to the immigration rules for tier 4 (general) and tier 4 (child) students today. The change will allow the students of highly trusted sponsors to commence their studies with them before receipt of UKBA's decision on their application.
In addition, for the avoidance of doubt, I am also making changes today to our general grounds for refusing applicants, (for example on the basis of submitting false documents), to make it absolutely clear that these provisions also apply to applicants who have overstayed their previous permission to be here.
Because of the urgent nature of some of these changes, it has not been possible in respect of some of them to follow the usual convention of laying them before the House for 21 days before they come into force. I regret that this has not been possible in this instance. The changes permitting students to change sponsors where their new sponsor is a highly trusted sponsor and those made following successful legal challenges will come into force tomorrow, on 23 July.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I want to place on record the Government's support for the work of the Hillsborough Independent Panel under the chairmanship of the Right Reverend James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool.
What happened at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989 was a tragedy of national and international significance. The Government recognise that despite the various examinations of the circumstances which have taken place over the years, important questions remain to be resolved. With this in mind, the Hillsborough Independent Panel has been created to oversee the disclosure of the
records relating to Hillsborough; to report on how the disclosed material adds to public understanding of the tragedy and its aftermath, and to make recommendations for a permanent archive.
The panel has the Government's full support in achieving maximum possible disclosure of the records, initially to the Hillsborough families and then publicly. No changes are to be made either to the panel's terms of reference or to its membership, which both remain as previously published.
I am well aware of the significance of the Hillsborough disaster, which had a profound impact on Liverpool as well as people in Sheffield, Nottingham and beyond. My meetings with the Bishop of Liverpool have confirmed to me both the importance of the panel's work and the diligence and professionalism with which it is carrying out its duty, and I am happy to confirm it will continue with our full support.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice and I attended the Justice and Home Affairs Informal Council on 15 and 16 July in Brussels.
During the first session, the presidency posed a couple of questions asking whether priority should be given to the negotiations on the Dublin and Eurodac regulations and qualification and long-term residence directives while allowing additional time to consider the appropriate way forward on the procedures and reception conditions directives and whether Ministers supported the inclusion of a temporary suspension clause in the Dublin regulation for countries under pressure.
I underlined that asylum required an international response and that the UK had taken in the highest number of individuals in Europe last year. However, the UK did not believe the directives resolved the challenges facing member states: they increased the rights of asylum seekers, at the expense of providing protection quickly for those in need and return for those who were not in need. I underlined the need for practical co-operation to build the capacity of member states' asylum systems including via the European Asylum System Office and Frontex. On Dublin I said that the UK remained very sceptical of a suspension mechanism, which would address the symptoms not the cause of the problems and risked making them worse.
During the second session, the presidency posed a number of questions on crime prevention, calling for implementation of the EU internal security strategy to focus on practical co-operation and prevention, identification of a methodology for prioritising threats and identified two areas where work might begin on firearms trafficking and itinerant groups.
I welcomed the presidency priority given to the internal security strategy and the Commission's analysis of the link between organised crime and local crime, particularly efforts to tackle illegal firearms but on itinerant groups I would want more information on how they were to be
defined. I noted the role of passenger name records in fighting organised crime and expressed disappointment at the Commission's recent information that the directive would not be published until next year. Other delegations also called on the Commission to bring forward plans to publish an EU passenger name records directive
Discussions on the Justice day centred on the role of Eurojust and the launch of the e-Justice portal. The Justice Secretary stated that the UK valued Eurojust and felt that the EU should wait until the Eurojust council decision had been fully implemented and evaluated before looking to legislate in this area again. The Justice Secretary reinforced the UK's position that it would not be participating in the European Public Prosecutor Office.
The European e-Justice portal was launched by the Belgian Justice Minister with Commissioner Reding. The portal is a website that functions as a point of access to a range of information on justice matters across the EU. This first release of the portal concentrates on the provision of information-for example how the legal systems in each member state work and links to websites of most relevant interest to citizens and lawyers.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I am pleased to be able to inform the House that Lord Carlile of Berriew QC has completed his report on the operation in 2009 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and part 1 of the Terrorism Act 2006, which will be laid before the House today. Copies of the report will be available in the Vote Office.
I will carefully consider his views and recommendations. Given a number of Lord Carlile's key recommendations relate to powers that are being considered in the review of counter-terrorism and security powers that I reported to the House on 13 July 2010, I intend to respond to his report after that review has been completed.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Lynne Featherstone): I am pleased to announce that the annual report 2009-10 and accounts of the Security Industry Authority (SLA) will be laid before Parliament today and will be published on 26 July 2010.
The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green):
e-Borders is the electronic collection and checking of individual passenger details against UK police, security and immigration watchlists. It is a key element of our strategy to deliver robust border controls and it supports our national counter terrorism strategy. It helps to reduce the threat of terrorist attacks, to disrupt cross border
crime and to prevent abuses of the immigration system. That is why we made clear in the coalition programme that we support the idea of e-Borders.
It has been clear for some time that the way the existing programme was developing gave rise to serious concern. Over recent weeks we have been examining the progress of the programme and it has been extremely disappointing. While some elements have been delivered, they have not been delivered on time. Delivery of the next critical parts of the programme are already running at least 12 months late. On top of this there remain risks of further delays, and there is no confidence in the current prime supplier-Raytheon Systems Limited-being able to address this situation.
The efficiency reform group has looked at the project as part of its major project assessment review and their view was that the history of the programme was a succession of missed milestones coupled with issues of quality. Since July 2009 the supplier has been in breach of contract and there have been extensive negotiations about a remedial plan; no agreement has been reached.
The supplier's performance to date has not been compliant with their contractual obligations. As a consequence I have taken the decision to terminate the e-Borders contract. The supplier is required to ensure a smooth handover of services to a new supplier.
The decision has not been taken lightly, but after much consideration. We will now seek alternative providers to secure the key benefits that the contract has so far been unable to deliver. This work will be undertaken as a matter of urgency.
What we currently have in place is the software for the collection of data in advance of travel and their subsequent storage; the technology to enable carriers to feed information into a central hub and a National Border Targeting Centre which opened earlier this year and where the information is checked against watchlists and reviewed by the police and border force officers.
Going forward, the e-Borders programme remains a priority. The termination of this contract does not change this. The Government are determined to get value-for-money from its major contracts, and requires the highest standard of performance to be delivered.
e-Borders is part of a wider activity with our partners to check passengers against watchlists before they travel. Security and immigration checks carried out by the UK Border Agency will continue as normal before individuals travel and at the UK border.
The Government are committed to enhancing e-Borders capabilities and to ensuring that we can progress this project in a timely and cost-effective way. Those parts of the e-Borders programme that have already been delivered should continue to run as normal.
We need to know who is coming to the country and who has left so that we are able to stop those who are not allowed to come here. A working e-Borders programme will help us perform all those vital tasks. That is why we have taken this decision, and why we will ensure that the benefits of e-Borders are delivered through a programme that meets its targets, so that everyone in this country is made safer.
The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): The Government recognise their special responsibilities and international obligations towards their overseas territories, and are committed to supporting their economic development. We want to provide a permanent, economically viable solution to the problem of access to St Helena. This is in the long-term interest of both the British taxpayer and the citizens of this overseas territory.
St Helena is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world and is currently accessible only by sea. In 2005, the previous Government committed themselves to building an airport. They put the project out to tender in 2007. In October 2008, they appointed a preferred bidder and commenced contract negotiations. Two months later they "paused" the project. In 2009 the Government set up a further consultation on "whether an airport is the most appropriate option for access to St Helena in the current economic climate".
Should an airport not be built, HMG would have to spend an estimated £64 million on a new ship, because the current vessel is reaching the end of its economic life, and continue to subsidise its operating costs. St Helena would stand little chance of becoming financially independent, meaning it would permanently rely on substantial annual budgetary and other support from HMG (currently in excess of £20 million every year). A new ship would provide a costly service but not a solution to St Helena's stagnation and perpetual dependence on UK-aid support.
It also appears that airport cost reductions can be achieved by reducing the length of the runway run-on using an Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS). This shorter run-on still allows planes to stop safely after reaching the end of the runway itself. This is a technological advance in air safety, which is already in use in airports around the world but which has yet to be approved by Air Safety Support International, the regulator for the UK overseas territories.
Since taking office, the Government have reviewed the economic costs and benefits of a new ship compared to the construction of an airport. Further independent analysis has concluded that, provided certain conditions are met, the best long-term solution from an economic and financial perspective for both HMG and St Helena is to construct an airport. This would allow us over time to eliminate the cost to HMG of servicing access to the island, to create the potential for St Helena to develop a self-sustaining economy (hence, eliminating the need for budgetary support from HMG) and to provide a permanent solution to economic isolation.
I have therefore reached the provisional conclusion, following careful discussion with Her Majesty's Treasury and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that the additional short-term costs of constructing an airport are outweighed by the long-term benefits. So, I believe that this option is likely to represent the best value-for-money for the British taxpayer.
an acceptable contract price is achieved;
the risk of cost and time overruns after the award of the contract is addressed;
the airport design using EMAS is approved by Air Safety Support International: and
the St Helena Government undertake to implement the reforms needed to open the island's economy to inward investment and increased tourism.
The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): The 2009-10 resource accounts and annual report for the Department for International Development have been laid before Parliament today.
The Reports will be available online on DFID's website ( www.dfid.gov.uk ).
The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): The United Kingdom has asserted universal jurisdiction over war crimes under the Geneva Conventions Act, and over a few other offences of exceptional gravity, because of our international obligations and our commitment to ensuring that there is no impunity for those accused of such crimes. That commitment is unwavering.
It is important, however, that universal jurisdiction cases should be proceeded with in this country only on the basis of solid evidence that is likely to lead to a successful prosecution-otherwise there is a risk of damaging our ability to help in conflict resolution or to pursue a coherent foreign policy. It is unsatisfactory that, as things stand, an arrest warrant for these grave offences can be issued on the application of a private prosecutor on the basis of evidence that would be insufficient to sustain a prosecution.
The Government have concluded, after careful consideration, that it would be appropriate to require the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before an arrest warrant can be issued to a private prosecutor in respect of an offence of universal jurisdiction. This would interfere as little as possible with the existing rights of private prosecutors, and would not prevent them from initiating prosecutions for these offences where the evidence justified that course.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Jonathan Djanogly):
My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces and I think it right that we continue the previous Government's practice of issuing quarterly statements to the House detailing inquests of service personnel who have died overseas. There was,
however, no written ministerial statement in late April because of the general election. This is the first of these statements that we have made.
Like our predecessors, we too cannot express enough how highly we regard all of our service personnel who are or have been involved in the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. We send our deepest condolences to the families of those personnel who have been killed serving their country. It is also with particular sadness that we note that, since the previous Government gave their last statement on 2 February, 71 further servicemen and women have died.
The tables which accompany this statement include information about those cases which involve a board of inquiry or a service inquiry. It is encouraging to see that steps are being taken to reduce the average period of time from the date of death to the inquest. We very much hope that this trend will continue, as it greatly benefits the bereaved families primarily, but also other parties to the inquests. In some cases a coroner may choose not to hold their inquest until the completion of a service inquiry, or it may be delayed for other logistical reasons. It is important that the coroner has all possible information about the death, and that all witnesses are able to attend the hearing.
Since the last statement a further 71 inquests have been held into the deaths of service personnel in operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. This makes a total of 325 inquests held into deaths of service personnel in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since June 2006, when additional resources were first provided to the Oxfordshire coroner.
Since operations commenced in 2001 there have been a total of 376 inquests into the deaths of service personnel who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, including six service personnel who died in the UK of their injuries. In two further cases, no formal inquest was held, but the deaths were taken into consideration during inquest proceedings for those who died in the same incident.
We would like to express our gratitude for the efforts of all of the coroners who are involved in conducting these inquests. We also wish to state that we are committed to continuing the Government's support for these coroners.
Since 1 April 2007 fatalities have been repatriated via RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire and since October 2007 additional resources were provided by the previous Government to ensure that a backlog of inquests did not build up in the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner's district. The coroner, David Ridley, transfers inquests for service personnel to a coroner closer to the bereaved family, where possible.
There are, at present, 101 open inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel who died in Iraq and Afghanistan whose bodies were repatriated after 1 April 2007 (56 involving deaths in the last six months).
Of these, Mr Ridley has retained 34 inquests, while 67 inquests are being conducted by coroners closer to the next-of-kin. At 16 July two recent fatalities had been repatriated but the inquests were yet to be opened. Six recent fatalities awaited repatriation and inquest opening. Hearing dates have been set in 13 cases.
We shall keep the House informed about progress with the remaining inquests. I have placed tables in the Library of the House which outline the status of all cases and the date of death in each case. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): With the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice, I will today publish the fourth annual report of the Office for Judicial Complaints (OJC). The OJC provides support to the Lord Chief Justice and myself in our joint responsibility for the system of judicial complaints and discipline.
The past year has seen significant change within the OJC with the appointment of Sheridan Greenland OBE as the new Head of the Office for Judicial Complaints in August 2009. I am pleased to see that, under new leadership, the OJC continues to build upon the firm foundation set down during the previous three years.
I note the progress which has been made in identifying efficiency and performance improvements through a "LEAN" review process and look forward to further improvements as the same principles are applied more widely throughout the OJC. I am similarly pleased to record the successful launch of the OJC's online complaint service, providing greater accessibility and access to the OJC's services to members of the public.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Philip Hammond): I have today published my Department's resource accounts for 2009-10. Copies have been laid before Parliament and placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): In a written statement of 17 June, I informed the House that the Department for Transport would shortly begin a consultation exercise on the future of rail franchising policy. That consultation has been published today.
The reforms presented for consultation include longer more flexible franchises aimed at incentivising private sector investment in the railways to benefit passengers. The consultation will provide industry partners, local authorities, passengers and other groups with the opportunity to comment on the Government's approach to rail franchising. In particular, we would welcome responses on the best way to ensure that the proposed reforms improve the efficiency and value for money of rail franchises, for both taxpayers and fare payers.