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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 16 September 2010

Business, Innovation and Skills

Foreign Affairs Council (10 September 2010)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): The Foreign Affairs Council was held on 10 September in Brussels. I represented the UK.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

Economic Partnership Agreements

This was an opportunity for the Commission to discuss the disappointing progress made on economic partnership agreements (EPAs), with a number of options explored to help increase momentum. I reinforced the UK position that EPAs should be development-friendly and we should avoid any negative implications of the agreements wherever possible. The UK will work closely with the Commission in developing thinking and approach going forward.

South Korea Free Trade Agreement

The presidency sought Ministers' approval and signature of this free trade agreement.

Italy called for provisional application of the FTA to be delayed by at least 12 months, arguing that the current agreement was not balanced, particularly in the automotive and textiles sectors, and a proper understanding should be reached with the European Parliament on the safeguard regulation before the FTA is implemented.

I emphasised that the EU needed to defend its credibility and avoid any damaging read-across to other multilateral and bilateral negotiations. I also highlighted the benefits of the FTA to many Italian business sectors.

No agreement was reached on 10 September. On 15 September, Korea stated it would accept Italy's request to delay provisional application of the FTA until 1 July 2011. The signature of the agreement is scheduled to take place on 6 October 2010.


The Commission outlined the approach in its communication on the future of the European Union's international investment policy, stressing the need to prioritise countries for new EU-investment agreements. Despite widespread criticism of the regulation, particularly on the need for certainty for businesses, several member states supported the overall approach to investment policy as set out in the communication.

AOB: Pakistan

Following the catastrophic flooding which continues to cause considerable devastation in Pakistan, we had the opportunity to discuss plans for a comprehensive package of measures to assist Pakistan's recovery, including substantive measures on trade. The UK has been at the forefront of negotiations pushing to improve Pakistan's
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market access to the EU with immediate effect. I personally spoke to my EU counterparts and the Commission in the margins of the meeting, and will continue to push strongly for the EU to play a leading role in Pakistan's recovery.


Finance (No.2) Bill 2010

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): The Finance Bill will be published on Thursday 30 September.

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

Investment Firms

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): Today the Government are publishing a consultation document on a special administration regime for investment firms. Copies of the document entitled, "Special Administration Regime for Investment Firms" have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and will be available on the HM Treasury website at:


Culture, Media and Sport

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): The BBC Trust has proposed forgoing the planned rise in the licence fee in 2011-12. The Government welcome the proposal and have decided that there will be no increase in the licence fee on 1 April 2011.

A decision about 2012-13 will be taken as part of the next funding settlement.


Unsolicited Mail (Christmas)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Andrew Robathan): I wish to inform the House about the unsolicited mail campaign Ministry of Defence (MOD) will be running in the lead-up to Christmas (which is 100 days from today).

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 first class deployed welfare package which is constantly being improved to maximise the support we give to our armed forces on operations. A vital part of that package is ensuring the safe and timely delivery of personal mail from family and friends. To that end, we have a policy in place which encourages the generous British public to support our troops in ways other than by sending unsolicited goodwill parcels through the mail system.

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By way of background, during the build-up to Christmas 2007, the volume of unsolicited goodwill parcels overwhelmed the in-theatre postal and logistic capacity, resulting in a considerable delay to personal mail. British Forces Post Office (BFPO) estimates it will handle around 19,200 unsolicited parcels over Christmas this year (the eight-week period between mid-October and mid-December) as opposed to 6,400 over a "normal" eight-week period. In addition to the impact on personal mail, delivering unsolicited packages over the "final mile" to forward operating bases and patrol bases puts increased pressure on essential in-theatre resources. Additional helicopters and road convoys are required, both of which take essential transport assets away from their primary task and place our personnel at increased personal danger.

It is for these reasons that the MOD will be encouraging the British public to show their support through one of the recognised MOD service charities rather than sending unsolicited goodwill parcels. All service personnel on operations over Christmas will receive a seasonal gift box from the MOD endorsed charity, "uk4u Thanks!". The charity works closely with the MOD, using free space in the existing supply chain to deliver the boxes over a period of time, so without impacting on the normal mail system. Other charities which help to support our troops include Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA), Afghan Heroes, Support our Soldiers and Operation Shoebox.

This is not an easy issue and will seem counter-intuitive to many, but I ask for your full support in directing the public towards MOD recognised charities rather than sending unsolicited mail as a means of expressing their much valued support to our deployed personnel.

Mull of Kintyre Accident (Independent Review)

The Secretary of State for Defence (Dr Liam Fox): On 26 May this year, during the debate on the Queen's Speech, I confirmed that we would be honouring the pledge we made in opposition to hold an independent review of the evidence relating to the tragic accident on 2 June 1994 when a Chinook helicopter crashed at the Mull of Kintyre, killing all 29 people on board.

I am pleased to announce that the right hon. Lord Philip has agreed to conduct the review. Lord Philip, who retired in 2007 as a Lord of Session and Member of the Inner House and is a Privy Counsellor, brings a wealth of judicial experience to the task. He will be assisted in his work by a panel of three Privy Counsellors, all distinguished Parliamentarians: the Rt Hon Malcolm Bruce MP, the Rt Hon the Lord Forsyth of Drumlean and the Rt Hon the Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke.

The terms of reference of the review will be:

The review will be primarily an examination of the written record of the board of inquiry and of any other related evidence which it considers may throw light on the findings of the board. Lord Philip will, however, be happy to receive representations from individuals and groups with knowledge of the issues involved. Any person wishing to make contact with the review should
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write in the first instance to its Secretary, Mr Alex Passa, at The Mull of Kintyre Review, 1 Melville Crescent. Edinburgh EH3 7HW.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Executive Agency Performance Targets (2010-11)

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): I have set Animal Health (AH) the following performance targets for 2010-11:

Value for money

Increased operational efficiency.

Customer Impact

As part of the wider Animal Health compliance and enforcement strategy, encourage end user behavioural change through the development of more accessible, effective advice and guidance and through more direct and consistent relationships with key stakeholders.

Capability and capacity

Improve preparedness and resilience for responding to outbreaks of disease.

Further details are given in the AH business plan for 2010-11, a copy of which has been placed on the AH website.

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I have set the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) the following performance targets for 2010-11:


Value for Money Measures & Financial Performance Efficiency

Capacity & Capability

Conduct one table top notifiable disease simulation exercise to test current laboratory response capability, identify gaps and implement action plan.


Sustainability/Greener Society

Further details are given in the VLA business plan for 2010-11, a copy of which has been placed on the VLA website.

I have set the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) the following performance targets for 2010-11:

Value for Money

Achieve cost recovery and demonstrate progress in the three elements of value for money-economy, efficiency and effectiveness.


Operations/Policy Delivery

Capacity and Capability

Ensure the VMD utilises its funding streams efficiently to ensure that it maintains capability and capacity to deliver its business objectives and is fit for purpose.


Further details are given in the VMD business plan for 2010-11, a copy of which has been placed on the VMD website.

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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Ministers and General Affairs Council (September 2010)

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): The informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers "Gymnich" was held in Brussels on 10 and 11 September. The UK was represented by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I represented the UK at the General Affairs Council (GAC) held in Brussels on 13 September.

The agenda items covered were as follows:


The meeting was chaired by the EU High Representative and Vice President of the Commission Baroness Ashton. The Gymnich is an informal meeting and, as such, no conclusions were adopted.


Baroness Ashton stressed the need for the EU to look strategically and comprehensively at Pakistan: not only as a humanitarian disaster, but also more broadly including institution-building, counter-terrorism, regional stability and nuclear security. Pakistan had always said that trade was the key to its relationship with the EU. The Commissioner for Development (Piebalgs) said the Development Co-operation Instrument had provision for €225 million for Pakistan for 2011-13. The Commissioner for Trade (De Gucht) set out options for trade-related assistance.

Foreign Ministers broadly shared Baroness Ashton's analysis and set out their initial views on De Gucht's trade options ahead of further discussions at the European Council (16 September).

Strategic Partnerships

Baroness Ashton set out her views on the EU's engagement with strategic powers, and in particular China. The Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs (Rehn) and the Commissioner for Climate Action (Hedegaard) set out priorities for the EU's engagement with China. The Foreign Secretary said the UK wanted the European Council to agree core principles for EU external action; emphasise the importance of trade in the EU's strategic partnerships; agree an approach to key emerging powers (particularly China and India in advance of summits later this year); and give direction to instruments of EU external action.

EU enlargement

Foreign Ministers from EU candidates countries-Macedonia, Turkey and Croatia (Iceland did not attend)-gave presentations on their respective membership bids and the development of stronger co-operation with the EU. The Commissioner for Enlargement (Füle) gave a broad assessment of progress being made by the candidates towards accession. In the following discussion there was consensus that EU diplomacy had been successful following the ruling on Kosovo's declaration of independence by the International Court of Justice.

General Affairs Council (GAG)

The full text of all conclusions adopted, including "A" points, can be found at: http://www.consilium. europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/gemaff /116489.pdf

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The GAC was chaired by the presidency, Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere. The President of the Council, Herman van Rompuy, joined the Council over lunch for a discussion on the agenda of the September and October European Councils.

Preparation for the September European Council

Ministers discussed the draft conclusions for the European Council. I stressed the need for these to put trade at the centre of the EU's external relationships, with China and India being of particular importance. I also emphasised the UK's wish for the European Council to agree conclusions on Pakistan that included commitments on humanitarian aid, development funding and trade measures.

There was also a discussion on strengthening economic governance. President van Rompuy will report to the European Council on 16 September on work completed by the taskforce set up at the request of the Council in March.

Preparation for the October European Council

Ministers were presented with a draft agenda for the European Council to be held on 28 and 29 October. The issues proposed are:

EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA)

The presidency said that more time was needed for agreement between members states on the draft EU-Korea FTA. The intention was to try to reach agreement in time for the September European Council.


Under AOB, the Commissioner for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration (Sefcovic) raised the common transparency register and codes of conduct for the Commission when interacting with lobbyists.

Iraq: Locally Engaged Staff Assistance Scheme

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): In his statement of 23 March 2009, Official Report, columns 4-6WS, the former Foreign Secretary informed the House that the element of the ex gratia Iraq locally employed staff assistance scheme which applied to former employees would close on 19 May 2009 and that employing Departments and the Home Office would continue to review the scheme as applied to serving staff

Serving staff are those Iraqi staff employed on or after 8 August 2007. Former staff are those Iraqi staff whose employment terminated on or before 7 August 2007.

Together with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Home Affairs, Defence and International Development, I have now reviewed the operation of the scheme, as it applies to serving staff.

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Eligible serving staff, as defined under the scheme, are entitled to apply for either a financial package or resettlement in the UK. Over 250 serving staff have chosen the financial package. To date, 117 principal applicants and 241 dependants have been resettled via the scheme for serving staff

With the draw-down of the UK defence presence in Iraq, the Ministry of Defence no longer employs any Iraqi staff and their numbers accounted for the largest proportion of applicants under the scheme. As a result of this, in view of the declining rate of applications and the stabilisation of the security situation in Iraq, we consider that the time is right to close the scheme to new applications from serving staff. From today, only applications from serving staff who will qualify for either financial or resettlement benefits under the scheme on 12:00 noon Arabian standard time on 16 October 2010 and, thus, will have attained 12 month' continuous service by this date, will continue to be accepted. Further, such applications will cease to be accepted from 12:00 noon Arabian standard time on 16 January 2011.

Recently, there have been inquiries as to whether staff who received financial packages under the LESAS scheme are entitled to apply to switch to the resettlement option. We will permit those staff who accepted the financial package under either the scheme for former or serving staff to apply, in writing, for consideration for resettlement instead. The deadline for an application is 12:00 noon Arabian standard time on 16 November 2010. We will not consider applications: (a) received after that deadline; (b) from an individual who has previously been refused resettlement under either the schemes for former or serving employees; or (c) from an individual who has not repaid the financial package within eight weeks of applying for resettlement. A successful applicant will need to meet all the criteria for resettlement under the relevant scheme. Should an applicant be refused resettlement, they will be repaid the financial package. It should be noted that the now closed scheme for former employees had a cap of 600 places, with some places unfilled at the time of closure. So, applications to switch under that scheme will be subject to that cap.

We shall work with our missions in Iraq to ensure that full publicity is given to the closure of this scheme in the local media.

In conclusion, I must reinforce the enormous debt of gratitude we owe to our Iraqi staff for the dedication and commitment they have demonstrated across the board. We could not have made our contribution to the rebuilding of Iraq without their service and, in some cases, sacrifice. The scheme was designed to reflect this debt and I am pleased that it proved popular and effective.

Belgian Presidency Priorities

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I am keen to keep Members fully informed on the European Union. I would, therefore, like to draw Members' attention to a letter and note on the priorities of the Belgian presidency of the European Union, which has been placed in the Library of the House.

I have also deposited a copy of the Belgian presidency work plan, and a calendar of forthcoming events from the presidency.

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Private Military and Security Companies

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): The Government have reviewed options to regulate the private military and security company industry, with the aim of promoting high standards in the private military and security company industry internationally, and reducing the risk that the activities of private military and security companies might give rise to human rights or humanitarian law concerns, or have a negative impact on international security and stability or the UK's foreign policy goals.

Taking into account previous consultations, including the public consultation conducted by the previous Government, the Government have decided to:

The Government will now:

Our work will focus on ensuring that the code is effectively monitored and the industry is held accountable for its activities. The Government will review this policy two years from its implementation. If they have not met their objective of raising standards of the industry, the Government will consider again alternative options.

In my speech, "Britain's values in a networked world", on 15 September, I stressed the importance of businesses upholding high standards when operating overseas. This approach supports that objective. It will also serve to strengthen international frameworks that contribute to human rights and international security.


NHS Parking

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): I am today publishing the Government's response to the recent public consultation on car parking at national health service hospitals issued by the previous Administration before the election.

That consultation set out proposals to introduce mandatory free parking for many inpatients and outpatients. Those proposals would cost the NHS in excess of £100 million. The impact assessment states that it would lead to a net disbenefit to patients valued at almost £200 million. This negative impact arises from substantial health benefits forgone from not investing this income in health-care, offset by lower financial benefits to favoured car park users. The impact also does not include
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environmental costs associated with the policy, which would also clearly be adverse. At a time when the NHS needs to make every penny of its budget count the Government cannot support such a proposal.

Moreover, the Government have embarked on a very clear strategy for the NHS that reduces central control and intervention in operational decisions, giving NHS managers the autonomy to make decisions that reflect the needs of their local community. Telling the NHS how to run their car parks would be inconsistent with this principle.

However, our strategy also puts patients at the centre of decision making, and supports patients to be able to make informed choices. It is clear from the consultation feedback that the parking policies and practices in some trusts fall short of these standards. Patients undergoing extended outpatient treatment, and long-stay inpatients, should not be further disadvantaged, and nor should their health needs be possibly compromised by high cumulative parking costs. A fair scale of concessionary rates should be offered, and all eligible patients should be fully informed and helped to take advantage of them. These standards are fundamental to patient-centred care and informed choice.

Through our announcement today we are:

Local autonomy requires local accountability. It is for trust boards to ensure that their policy is fair and patient-centred, and has the support of its local community. The challenge now is for the NHS collectively and locally, to take action to deliver the fair access that their patients expect.

The Government's response and a summary of the responses to the consultation have been placed in the Library. Copies of the Government's response are also available to hon. Members in the Vote Office.

Home Department

Alcohol Policy (Correction to Written Answer)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): I regret to inform the House that there was an inaccuracy in an answer given by the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), in answer to parliamentary question 313016 on 3 March 2010, Official Report, column 1264W.

The response indicated that eight fines had been issued in 2008 for the offence of persistently selling alcohol to children (section 147A of the Licensing Act 2003) with an average fine of £968.75.

I can confirm that in fact in 2008, four fines were issued for this offence, and the average fine amount was £1,713.

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Control Order Powers

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): Section 14(1) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (the 2005 Act) requires the Secretary of State to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on the exercise of the control order powers during that period.

The level of information provided will always be subject to slight variations based on operational advice.

The future of the control order regime

As set out in the previous statement laid on 21 June 2010, Official Report, column 6WS, the Government are reviewing control orders as part of a wider review of counter-terrorist and security powers and measures. This review is ongoing and we will report the outcome of the review to Parliament in the autumn.

The exercise of the control order powers in the last quarter

As explained in previous quarterly statements on control orders, control order obligations are tailored to the individual concerned and are based on the terrorism-related risk that individual poses. Each control order is kept under regular review to ensure that the obligations remain necessary and proportionate. The Home Office continues to hold control order review groups (CORGs) every quarter, with representation from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, to keep the obligations in every control order under regular and formal review and to facilitate a review of appropriate exit strategies. During this reporting period, two CORGs were held in relation to the orders currently in force. In addition, further meetings were held on an ad hoc basis as specific issues arose.

During the period 11 June 2010 to 10 September 2010, one non-derogating control order has been made, with the permission of the court, but has not been served. Two control orders have been renewed in accordance with section 2(6) of the 2005 Act in this reporting period. Three control orders have been revoked during this reporting period. One control order was revoked because it was not possible to meet the disclosure test set out in the June 2009 House of Lords judgment (AF & Others) on article 6 (right to a fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Two control orders were revoked as they were no longer considered necessary.

In total, as of 10 September, there were nine control orders in force, all of which were in respect of British citizens. All of these control orders are non-derogating. Four individuals subject to a control order live in the Metropolitan Police Service area; the remaining individuals live in other police force areas.

During this reporting period, one individual pleaded guilty to six counts of breaching his control order and was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment.

During this reporting period, 56 modifications of control order obligations were made. Fourteen requests to modify control order obligations were refused.

Section 10(1) of the 2005 Act provides a right of appeal against a decision by the Secretary of State to renew a non-derogating control order or to modify an
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obligation imposed by a non-derogating control order without consent. One appeal has been lodged with the High Court during this reporting period under section 10(1) of the 2005 Act. A right of appeal is also provided by section 10(3) of the 2005 Act against decisions by the Secretary of State to refuse a request by a controlled person to revoke their order or to modify any obligation under their order. During this reporting period three appeals have been lodged with the High Court under section 10(3) of the 2005 Act.

One judgment has been handed down in relation to substantive judicial review proceedings under section 3(10) of the 2005 Act during this reporting period. In Secretary of State for the Home Department v. AY, [2010] EWHC 1860 (Admin) handed down on 26 July 2010, the court upheld the control order on the basis that there was and remained reasonable grounds for suspecting that AY was involved in terrorism-related activity, that it was and remained necessary for a control order to be imposed on him for purposes connected with protecting the public from a risk of terrorism and that each of the obligations in the control order was and remained necessary for purposes connected with preventing or restricting AY's involvement in terrorism-related activity. The court also considered and rejected the argument that an unsuccessful prosecution for a terrorism-related offence precludes the Secretary of State from making a control order on essentially the same material as that relied upon by the prosecution at trial.

One judgment has been handed down in relation to a modification appeal under section 10(3) of the 2005 Act during this reporting period. In Secretary of State for the Home Department v. CA, [2010] EWHC 2278 (QB) handed down on 10 September 2010, the court found that the relocation of CA to a different town was not proportionate because of his particular family circumstances.

One judgment has been handed down by the Court of Appeal during this reporting period. In AN v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, Secretary of State for the Home Department v. AE andAF [2010] EWCA Civ 869, handed down on 28 July 2010, the Court of Appeal dismissed the Secretary of State's appeal against the High Court's judgment of 18 January 2010 in relation to AE and AF and upheld AN's appeal against the High Court's judgment of 31 July 2009. The issue was what the appropriate remedy should be in control order cases where the Secretary of State elects not to make sufficient disclosure to comply with article 6 of the ECHR. The Court of Appeal found that the appropriate remedy in these circumstances is for the control order to be quashed from the date it was made and not for it to be revoked with effect from a date after the control order was served on the individual as the Secretary of State had sought to argue.

Most full judgments are available at: http://www.bailii.org/

Wanstead Flats (Olympics 2010)

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): The Home Office is today launching a public consultation on a proposed legislative reform order, made under the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, to make a temporary amendment to the Epping Forest Act 1878. I am placing copies of the consultation paper in the Library of the House.

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The proposed legislative reform order would allow a one-time, temporary and limited enclosure of land on Wanstead flats, in Epping Forest. This will be for the specific, time-limited purpose of housing a temporary muster, briefing and deployment centre during the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics to support the policing operation. Centres of this kind are a tried and tested feature of large scale police operations and will be essential in helping to deliver a safe, and secure games. No other suitable sites have been identified in this part of London.

The Government are clear that these proposals are dependent on the Epping Forest Act 1878 reverting to its full protection at the end of the proposed 120 day period. No lasting powers relating to Wanstead flats or Epping Forest would be conferred on the police or any other bodies as a result of this order. This will ensure that members of the public can continue to enjoy the full benefits of this open space in perpetuity. The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) will pay the City of London corporation £170,000 in lieu of rent and this money will be used to ensure that users of Wanstead flats receive lasting benefits.


Judiciary (England and Wales)

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): I am announcing today proposals to bring the tribunals judiciary in England and Wales under the overall leadership of the Lord Chief Justice. The changes require primary legislation and I hope to include them in a Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows.

An announcement was made in March that the Ministry of Justice would be bringing together Her Majesty's Court Service and the Tribunals Service in a single, unified organisation. The new organisation will be established by 1 April 2011.

I subsequently agreed with the Lord Chief Justice and Senior President of Tribunals that in bringing together the administration of the courts and tribunals the current judicial structure should also be reviewed.

Our shared vision is to work towards a unified judiciary encompassing both courts and tribunals. This could be achieved, so far as concerns England and Wales, by transferring the statutory powers of the Senior President of Tribunals to the Lord Chief Justice, and creating a new office of Head of Tribunals Justice with a statutory obligation to protect and develop the distinct and innovative features of the tribunals.

The Senior President of Tribunals is a statutory role that has jurisdiction in both Scotland and Northern Ireland. Further, a number of important tribunal jurisdictions extend to one or both of those countries, and cross-border sittings are a normal part of the judicial work of many tribunal judges. I recognise the importance attached by them and the Senior President to this aspect of their work, and the advantages it offers
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to the interests of users and the efficiency of the system overall. I am in discussions with judicial leaders and with Scottish and Northern Ireland Ministers about whether and how we might transfer the Senior President's tribunal responsibilities to the Lord President and Lord Chief Justice of NI respectively. Any such transfer will wish to preserve the benefits of existing arrangements.


Strategic National Transport Corridors

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): I am publishing today, 16 September, a consultation paper on proposals to amend the criteria defining strategic national corridors (SNCs). This will result in the identification of roads, including the Al between Newcastle and the Scottish border, as being of national significance.

The strategic national corridors were established in 2009 to define the network over which the largest proportion of strategic traffic-that is traffic travelling between the 10 largest urban areas, 10 busiest ports and seven busiest airports in England-moves around the country. The original definition also provided for connectivity between the four nations of the United Kingdom, but there was no specific provision for connecting capital cities.

The Government believe that the routes linking Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast to the nearest urban strategic destination should be recognised for the strategic connectivity that they provide. For this reason I am today launching a consultation on proposals to change the definition, to explicitly include links with our capital cities.

As a result of this change we believe that two routes would be identified as having national significance: namely the Al between its junction with the A19 north of Newcastle, and the Scottish border, providing a defined link to Edinburgh; and a route between Bootle and the Twelve Quays ferry terminal in Birkenhead, providing connectivity with Belfast. We have also set out information about alternatives to these routes which I invite consultees to consider. Routes linking the network with Cardiff were identified in 2009.

The consultation does not include any specific proposals to increase the capacity of these routes. However, the Department is considering the nature of the problems on the Al north of Newcastle so that, as part of the spending review, Ministers will be in a position to consider these alongside other priorities in identifying those schemes and programmes that it will be proceeding with, consistent with resources available and the Government's objectives.

I am pleased to announce that the consultation will run for a period of 12 weeks, and invite everybody with an interest in the roads potentially affected to take part. A consultation document and instructions for responding can be found on the Department's website and a copy has been placed in the Library of the House.

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