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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Cabinet Office

"Making it Easier for Charities to Sell Land"

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): I have today published the Government's response to the consultation "Making it easier for charities to sell and make other disposals of land". Copies are available in the Libraries of both Houses and on the Cabinet Office website at: www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk.


Schools: The Single Level Test Pilot

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): Schools involved in piloting single level tests will today be informed of Ministers' decision to end the pilot on completion of the June 2010 test round. The pilot has now provided sufficient evidence on single level tests to be considered as we review how key stage 2 tests operate in the future.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Sewer Overflows (River Thames)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): In the 19th century Sir Joseph Bazalgette built a sewerage network for London with the capacity that he believed would meet all foreseeable needs. It has been updated and modernised but for some years has been coming under increased strain to the point that combined sewer overflows discharge raw sewage into the River Thames on around 50 occasions a year.

This figure is expected to increase. Recent Thames Water work has shown that the system is operating closer to its maximum capacity than previously recognised and, with population growth, increasing urbanisation and climate change, it is estimated that in 10 to 20 years time sewage will be overflowing into the Thames even when there is little rain.

Complete eradication of some spills of sewage into the Thames during periods of heavy rainfall is not feasible: this is the legacy of a sewerage system which carries both foul water and rainwater. But the frequency and volume of spills we face in future is unacceptable and should be reduced to ensure that environmental
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standards in the Thames continue to meet the standards set by the Urban Waste Water Treatment (England and Wales) Regulations 1994.

Since the 22nd March 2007 statement by the then Minister for Climate Change and the Environment and Member for Dudley, South (Ian Pearson), on the need to improve the water quality in the Thames by upgrading the sewerage infrastructure, Thames Water have started work on building a tunnel (known as the Lee tunnel) from Abbey Mills pumping station to an upgraded Beckton sewage treatment works at a total cost of around £0.8 billion. When complete these works should reduce the total volume of sewage overflows into the tidal Thames by around two thirds. However significant volumes of raw sewage will still continue to enter the Thames at times of heavy rainfall particularly in the higher reaches of the tidal Thames from Hammersmith through central London which will get less benefit from the Lee tunnel.

Mr Pearson's statement supported the construction of a second "Thames Tunnel" to address unsatisfactory overflows from Hammersmith to Beckton. Since 2007 Thames Water, the Environment Agency, and Ofwat have worked together to improve the evidence base, to take forward the design process including costings, and explore possible commercial arrangements. The then Government announced their intention to go forward with the scheme. Despite that the European Commission has continued to pursue infractions proceedings against us claiming we are failing to meet our obligations under the urban waste water treatment directive in the London area, and in Whitburn in the North East of England.

In 2007 the then Government judged the cost of the scheme to be at least £2 billion, with a peak annual increase in bills for Thames Water customers of £37. Since then greater analysis and study by Thames Water have led to a revised estimate of £3.6 billion, including contingency costs but excluding the Lee tunnel and other elements of the scheme which have already been contracted for. This could result in future peak annual bill increases of around £60-65 (£80-90 including the Lee tunnel and other elements).

I recognise that in the current economic context this represents a significant cost to Thames Water customers and, while we judge this to be a robust cost estimate for this stage of the process we cannot rule out further changes to the estimates as work progresses. However a Thames Tunnel continues to offer (by far) the lowest cost solution to the problem and I believe Thames Water should continue to press forward with this project working with Ofwat, the Environment Agency and DEFRA on the regulatory, commercial and planning processes. Thames Water intend to consult on options for the route of the tunnel shortly. We with Ofwat will continue to ensure that the costs are scrutinised and reviewed so that I can be assured before Thames Water sign a construction contract that the final proposal represents proper value for money. As we go through this process, I intend to update the 2007 impact assessment for the tunnel and place it on the DEFRA website.

I am also minded that development consent for the project should be dealt with under the regime for nationally significant infrastructure projects established by the Planning Act 2008. I consider that this project, with its unique scale and complexity, is of national significance, and therefore appropriate for this regime.

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I will be considering the appropriate mechanism under the 2008 Act to ensure the Thames tunnel project is considered under this national level regime and intend to include consideration of the Thames tunnel in the draft national policy statement for waste water. I plan to lay this before both Houses of Parliament later this autumn.


Adult Autism Strategy (Statutory Guidance)

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Paul Burstow): A national public consultation on statutory guidance for health and social care bodies to support the delivery of "Rewarding and fulfilling lives: The strategy for adults with autism in England (2010)", under section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 was launched on 29 July 2010. A copy has been placed in the Library and copies are available to hon. Members in the Vote Office.

The landmark Autism Act 2009 (introduced as a Private Members Bill by the now Secretary of State for Wales) marks a milestone in the drive to transform support and services for adults with autism in England. This Government have already made clear the commitment to drive forward work to tackle the disadvantage which people with autism and their families sadly so often face and to deliver the autism strategy published earlier this year by the previous Government.

This consultation on draft guidance for health and social services bodies to support the implementation of the autism strategy is a marker of that commitment. The draft guidance focuses on the seven areas highlighted in the Autism Act 2009 and is focused on achieving two key outcomes:

Throughout, the draft guidance underlines the importance of using existing processes and resources to achieve these outcomes.

The aims of the consultation are to:

The consultation will run to 18 October 2010, and we will publish final guidance, informed by the responses we receive, in December.

This consultation on statutory guidance for health and social care bodies is part of an ongoing programme of activity to ensure adults with autism will be able to
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enjoy the same rights and freedoms as the rest of society. This Government are committed to supporting people with autism to live independently as equal and included citizens. This means ensuring that programmes across the voluntary and public sectors that are aimed at improving care and transforming services address the needs of people with autism; and that mainstream public services especially become more inclusive of people with autism.

Home Department

Equality Act 2010

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): The Equality Act 2010 includes an integrated public sector Equality Duty. This will replace the existing race, disability and gender equality duties and is extended to cover age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity and gender reassignment in full.

Schedule 19 to the Act lists certain bodies which will be subject to the duty. The Act contains a power allowing a Minister of the Crown to add bodies to this list and it also contains a power for a Minister of the Crown to impose specific duties on listed public bodies to help them in better performance of the duty.

On 19 August 2010 the Government published a consultation document setting out draft regulations for the new specific duties and proposing which bodies should be added to schedule 19 and subject to the specific duties.

The consultation period will run until 10 November 2010.

I am placing copies of the consultation document in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available on the Government Equalities Office website at: www.equalities.gov.uk.


Parliamentary Written Answer (Correction)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I regret to inform the House that there was an inaccuracy in the answer I gave to parliamentary question UIN 11900 on 27 July 2010, Official Report, columns 1000-01. The accurate table is detailed below:

(ii) Separate training is also provided for staff working remotely on laptops. Formalised external training began in October 2009.

HoursCost (£)

2009-10 (from October)



2010-11 (to date)



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Heathrow Operations

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): In January 2009, the previous Government announced their decisions relating to the future of Heathrow Airport. In addition to supporting the construction of a third runway, a number of additional decisions were taken relating to operations at the airport.

This Government have already made their position clear in rejecting the case for a third runway, and opposing new runways at London's other main airports-Gatwick and Stansted. I now wish to outline the Government's position in relation to those additional operational decisions.

I can confirm that we remain firmly committed to retaining runway alternation and will not approve the introduction of mixed mode operations at Heathrow. This Government believe that any potential benefits mixed mode might bring to the airport are outweighed by the negative impact such operations would have on local communities.

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Operating procedures known as westerly preference, early morning runway alternation and night-time rotation of easterly/westerly preference have also all brought noise mitigation benefits to local communities. This Government do not intend to revisit previous decisions taken in relation to these procedures and they will continue to operate as they do now.

The previous Government's decisions in 2009 also included a commitment to end the Cranford agreement. This decision was based on the desire to distribute noise more fairly around the airport and extend the benefits of runway alternation to communities under the flight paths during periods of easterly winds. We support that objective and do not intend to re-open the decision. A number of infrastructure and operational changes by BAA and NATS are needed to implement this decision. The airport operator, BAA, is currently developing proposals for ending the Cranford agreement with a view to confirming the necessary works by the end of this year. I will look to BAA to ensure that proper consideration is given to appropriate mitigation and compensation measures for those likely to be affected by the proposals.

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