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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Business, Innovation and Skills

Telecoms Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Vaizey): My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox) has today made the following statement:


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Treasury

Simple Financial Products (Consultation)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): Today the Government are publishing a consultation on developing a new category of simple financial products. The consultation sets out the Government's proposals in this area, and provides an opportunity for interested parties to respond. Copies of the document are available on the HM Treasury website.

The Government are committed to helping consumers to take responsibility for their finances and are already taking forward the coalition commitment to develop Britain's first free national financial advice service. This consultation proposes a new regime of simple products that will complement current work on advice and education, giving consumers a simple alternative when they reach the market.

These products will ensure that people understand the products they need, help people make better choices and encourage competition in the market. The Government expect that these proposals will be taken forward on a voluntary basis by the industry, in collaboration with consumer representatives, and that once introduced, will have a positive impact on consumer engagement in the market.

Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Tax Information Exchange (Liberia and Aruba)

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): Tax information exchange agreements (TIEAs) were signed with Liberia in London on 1 November 2010 and with Aruba in The Hague on 5 November 2010.

The texts of the TIEAs have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Custom's website. The texts will be scheduled to draft Orders in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

Defence

Afghanistan Troop Levels: Spring 2011 Roulement

The Secretary of State for Defence (Dr Liam Fox): The next roulement of UK forces in Afghanistan is due to take place in April 2011. The UK's current framework brigade in Helmand, 16 Air Assault Brigade, will be replaced by 3 Commando Brigade. The forces deploying include:


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3 Commando Brigade Headquarters, Royal Marines

Elements of 30 Commando Information Exploitation Group, Royal Marines

Elements of the Royal Navy forming Headquarters Joint Force Support (Afghanistan) including members of the Maritime Reserve

Headquarters, 104 Logistic Brigade

Elements of 7 Armoured Brigade Headquarters and Signal Squadron (207)

42 Commando Royal Marines including members of the Maritime Reserve

45 Commando Royal Marines including members of the Maritime Reserve

Commando Logistic Regiment, Royal Marines

Elements of the Royal Navy forming the in-theatre Medical Regiment and Field Hospital

Elements of 845 Naval Air Squadron including members of the Maritime Reserve

Elements of 846 Naval Air Squadron

Elements of 847 Naval Air Squadron

Elements of 857 Naval Air Squadron including members of the Maritime Reserve

Elements of 854 Naval Air Squadron

Elements of the Royal Naval Regulators

Elements of 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery

Elements of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys)

Elements of 9th/12th Lancers (Prince of Wales's)

29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 5th Regiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 12th Regiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 16th Regiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 26th Regiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 39th Regiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 47th Regiment Royal Artillery

24 Commando Engineer Regiment

Elements of 12 (Air Support) Engineer Group

Elements of 22 Engineer Regiment

Elements of 28 Engineer Regiment

Elements of 32 Engineer Regiment

Elements of 36 Engineer Regiment

Elements of 42 Engineer Regiment (Geographic)

Elements of 101 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal)

Elements of 170 (Infrastructure Support) Engineer Group

Elements of 3rd Division Headquarters and Signal Regiment

Elements of 10th Signal Regiment

Elements of 14th Signals Regiment (Electronic Warfare)

Elements of 21st Signal Regiment (Air Support)

Elements of 22nd Signal Regiment

4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, The Highlanders

3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment

2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles

1st Battalion The Rifles

Elements of 1 Regiment, Army Air Corps

Elements of 3 Regiment, Army Air Corps

Elements of 2 Logistic Support Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 9 Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 23 Pioneer Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 24 Postal Courier and Movement Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 27 Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 29 Postal Courier and Movement Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

2 Close Support Battalion, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

Elements of 7 Air Assault Battalion Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

Elements of 101 Force Support Battalion Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

Elements of 104 Force Support Battalion Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

Elements of 5th Regiment Royal Military Police

Elements of 111 Provost Company Royal Military Police

Elements of 114 Provost Company Royal Military Police

Elements of Special Investigations Branch United Kingdom

Elements of 1 Military Working Dogs Regiment

Elements of 1 Military Intelligence Brigade

Elements of the Military Stabilisation Support Group (MSSG)

Elements of 6th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (Volunteers)

Elements of 4th Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Volunteers)

Elements of 6th Battalion The Rifles (Volunteers)

Elements of 88 Postal and Courier Regiment (Volunteers), The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 151 Regiment (Volunteers), The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 158 Transport Regiment (Volunteers), The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 162 Postal Courier and Movement Regiment (Volunteers), The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 166 Supply Regiment (Volunteers), The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 148 Expeditionary Force Institute Squadron (Volunteers), The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 383 Commando Petroleum Troop (Volunteers), The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 395 Air Despatch Troop (Volunteers), The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 102 Battalion (Volunteers), Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

Elements of the Military Provost Staff and Military Provost Staff (Volunteers)

Elements of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force

Number 6 Royal Air Force, Force Protection Wing Headquarters

Elements of HQ Royal Air Force Police Wing

58 Squadron, Royal Air Force Regiment

617 Squadron, Royal Air Force

31 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of 5 (Army Co-Operation) Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of 18 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of 24 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of 27 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of 28 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of 30 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of 78 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of the Tactical Supply Wing, Royal Air Force

Elements of 1 Air Mobility Wing, Royal Air Force

Elements of 1 Air Control Centre, Royal Air Force

Elements of 90 Signals Unit, Royal Air Force

Elements of 2 (Mechanical Transport) Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of 5001 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of 3 Mobile Catering Squadron

Elements of Tactical Medical Wing

Elements of 1 (Expeditionary Logistics) Squadron

Elements of 93 (Expeditionary Armaments) Squadron

Elements of Tactical Imagery Wing

Elements of Joint Ground Based Air Defence

Elements of Defence HUMINT Unit

Elements of the Joint Support Chain Services


Volunteer and ex-regular members of the reserve forces will continue to deploy to Afghanistan as part of this integrated force package, and we expect to issue around 786 call-out notices to fill some 676 posts. On
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completion of their mobilisation procedures, the reservists will undertake a period of training and, where applicable, integration with their respective receiving units. The majority will serve on operations for around six months. As part of this commitment, we expect up to 19 members of the sponsored reserves to be in theatre at any one time.

The deployment of 3 Commando Brigade and accompanying units will not result in any change to the UK's established and enduring conventional force level of 9,500 personnel.

I shall make a further statement on the units we expect to serve under 3 Commando Brigade's planned replacement formation, 20th Armoured Brigade, nearer the time of their deployment.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Afghanistan: Monthly Progress Report

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I wish to inform the House that today, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, is publishing the first progress report on developments in Afghanistan, which I announced we would publish every month in my statement to the House on 27 October.

The report focuses on key developments during the month of November.

At the NATO Lisbon summit, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)'s 48 contributing nations reaffirmed their enduring commitment to Afghanistan's security and stability. NATO and Afghanistan also agreed the framework of a long-term partnership that looks beyond the end of ISAF's current mission. The summit set out the timetable for transition of lead responsibility for security from international to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

Transition to Afghan lead security responsibility will be dependent on the conditions in each district and province. It will see ISAF's role evolve away from combat towards increased training, mentoring and support. In Lisbon, ISAF partners joined the UK in pledging additional trainers to help Afghan security forces build capacity and prepare to assume lead responsibility for security, as set out at the summit.

Pressure on the insurgency is increasing due to ISAF's operations. The significant uplift in troop numbers has corresponded to an increase in military operations, particularly in those areas where insurgent activity is still strong, although this has not caused a significant increase in civilian casualties.

Progress continues to be made in developing the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police, both of which are on track to meet the targets for trained soldiers and police officers, agreed at the London conference in January this year, by November 2011. Investment continues in the training of both the army and the police, particularly their leadership.

The results of September's parliamentary elections were declared. While by no means free of irregularities or fraud, they were broadly credible, given the circumstances. Approximately 60% of Parliamentarians are new to the National Assembly. Female candidates have done well.
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Both of the two seats in Nimroz province were won by women-the first time any Afghan woman has won a seat not reserved for a female candidate.

The Afghan Government reported progress on the commitments made at the Kabul conference in July on security, anti-corruption, human rights and public financial management.

An important example of the region's commitment to supporting Afghanistan was the fourth regional economic co-operation conference on Afghanistan (RECCA), held in Istanbul, Turkey on 2-3 November. The UK was central to establishing the RECCA process in 2005, and this year funded the establishment of a centre for regional co-operation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul.

A long awaited Afghan-Pakistan transit trade agreement was finally signed by Afghanistan and Pakistan on 29 October, enabling cargo trucks to reach Pakistani ports and the border with India. This will provide a significant boost for Afghan trade.

I am placing the report in the Library of the House. It will also be published on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website (www.fco.gov.uk) and the HMG UK and Afghanistan website (http://afghanistan.hmg.gov.uk/).

Health

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anne Milton): The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 6 and 7 December in Brussels. The health and consumer affairs part of the Council was taken on 7 December. I represented the UK.

At the meeting, following an exchange of views on the draft regulation on provision of food information to consumers, political agreement between member states was reached by qualified majority. The United Kingdom voted in favour of the proposal. The text will now be forwarded to the European Parliament for their consideration.

A policy debate on a possible mechanism for the joint procurement of vaccines and antiviral medication concluded that a voluntary framework should be developed.

Council conclusions were adopted on: investing in Europe's health work force of tomorrow-scope for innovation and collaboration; innovation and solidarity in pharmaceuticals and on innovative approaches for chronic diseases in public health and health care systems.

The Commission provided an update on progress of the proposals on information to the general public on medicinal products, and the presidency provided information on a number of conferences and international events organised during their presidency.

Home Department

Forensic Science

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): The Forensic Science Service (FSS) was an Executive agency which was granted trading fund status in 1999, a step designed
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to increase its financial flexibility. Then, following the McFarland review in 2002, FSS Ltd was established as a GovCo, wholly owned by the Government, in December 2005. The intention was that this be a transitional step towards a "public-private partnership".

In the event, however, no further progress was made. This lack of progress has led in our view to opportunities for reform being missed, and continuing reductions in the value of publicly owned assets.

The previous Government did not reform the Forensic Science Service when they had the chance, and instead allowed it to maintain a cost base far higher than its commercial rivals. This meant that FSS continued operating uncompetitive terms and conditions and expanded its employment levels between 1999 and 2003. This was undertaken without bringing down the cost base towards a level where FSS would be able to compete.

Commercial rivals, many established by former FSS members of staff, have taken market share from the former state-run monopoly.

FSS was set up as a GovCo, with an £18 million loan in December 2005. The company has met interest payments on this loan but cannot afford to repay the principal amount borrowed.

The previous Government supported the company with a further £50 million grant from early 2009 to restructure the business.

Despite this intervention and the commitment of the current management team, the current challenging forensics market has put the FSS back into serious financial difficulty. FSS is currently making operating losses of around £2 million per month. Its cash is due to run out as early as January next year. It is vital that we take clear and decisive action to sort this out.

The police have advised us that their spend on external forensic suppliers will continue to fall over the next few years, as forces seek to maximise efficiencies in this area. HMIC concurs with this assessment.

We have therefore decided to support the wind down of FSS, transferring or selling off as much of its operations as possible. We will work with FSS management and staff, ACPO, and other suppliers to ensure an orderly transition, but our firm ambition is that there will be no continuing state interest in a forensics provider by March 2012.

There is no justification for the uncertainty and costs of trying to restructure and retain the business.

We will ensure the orderly wind down of FSS does not impact on police service customers or the wider criminal justice system. With ACPO, we will put in place a central team to ensure work is transferred in a controlled way and that arrangements are put in place to ensure security of supply in future. The continued provision of effective forensics is our priority.

We know that there are real challenges ahead for FSS staff whose skills and contribution will be important as we move through the transition. We will be working hard with the company to ensure that staff are kept fully informed of developments.

We will also be working with ACPO to seek to maximise the level of competition in the market including through opportunities created by FSS leaving the field. This will help to ensure that police forces benefit from cost-effective use of forensics.


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We want to see the UK forensic science industry operating as a genuine market, with private sector providers competing to provide innovative services at the lowest cost. This will preserve police resources and maximise the positive impact forensic sciences can have on tackling crime. A competitive market can help to drive down prices and improve turnaround times, meaning serious crimes can be cleared up more quickly and efficiently. Ultimately, that is what everyone in the criminal justice system wants to see.

Prime Minister

Draft Cabinet Manual

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): The Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, has published today the draft Cabinet Manual on the Cabinet Office website: www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/resource-library/cabinet-manual.

The draft Cabinet Manual is intended to be a source of information on the UK's laws, conventions and rules that affect the operation and procedures of Government.

Twelve weeks have been allowed for comment (until 8 March 2011).

Copies of the draft Cabinet Manual have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and also in the Vote Office.

Transport

Crossrail

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): I wish to update the House on Crossrail progress since my annual update on 15 July 2010, Official Report, columns 43-44WS, in which I undertook to report later in the year on progress made by Crossrail Ltd on their value-for-money programme.

The spending review announcement confirmed Government's joint commitment with the Mayor of London to delivering Crossrail, and secured the funding to deliver the scheme to its original scope.

As I indicated in July, Crossrail Ltd has been undertaking a programme of value engineering, risk avoidance and mitigation, alongside indirect cost reduction to ensure that the scheme is delivered in the most efficient way possible. In line with this approach, the Government accepted an engineering-led solution to delivering the central section which has enabled substantial savings of around £1 billion to the Crossrail funding package to be identified. While the construction programme for the central section will be lengthened by around a year, this has enabled the Government to confirm that funding is available for the whole project.

We now expect that Crossrail services will commence from 2018. However, the detailed timetable for the phased introduction of Crossrail services requires additional work in a number of areas. For example, further work needs to take place on:


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It should be noted that Crossrail services were always planned to be phased into operation over some months and it remains a priority for the Government to ensure services are commissioned in the most efficient possible way.

In addition, I wish to inform the House that Crossrail Ltd has issued its notice of intention to award the tunnelling contracts for the central section tunnels. These contracts mark a further milestone in Crossrail's progress towards the start of tunnelling in late 2011.

Crossrail Ltd continues to work to achieve further savings in advance of the final review point for the project in spring next year. I expect to make a further update on progress then.

Work and Pensions

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 6 December 2010 in Brussels. I represented the United Kingdom.

The main item on the agenda was a policy debate on the pregnant workers directive. Ahead of Council, the UK with the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Netherlands, Slovakia and Sweden circulated a joint minute statement. This underlined the importance of subsidiarity and member state competence in setting social security systems; criticised the EP's First Reading position; questioned the value of further negotiations; and called for a "pause for reflection" involving a Council impact assessment and consultation with social partners. In my intervention, I argued that the negotiations may be at the "end of the road" and while Council should at the very least have a pause for reflection, I see little point in further negotiations given the gulf between the co-legislators. We will continue to argue for these proposals to be abandoned. Despite the opposition of many member states to the proposal, the presidency
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intends to consult with the incoming Hungarian and Polish presidencies and table a roadmap for further discussions.

The other main agenda item was on pensions. The Council adopted conclusions and in the ensuing debate, the presidency asked the member states what measures they were taking to ensure the provision of adequate pensions, and asked for their initial reactions to the Green Paper on pensions. I outlined the UK's reforms to improve state pensions, to encourage earlier saving for retirement and to extend working lives. In reaction to the Green Paper, I acknowledged the value added through sharing of best practice at a European level but stressed that there could be no "one size fits all" solution. In particular, I argued there was no evidence for why Solvency II capital requirements should be applied to pensions, which, far from being in consumers' interests, could seriously weaken defined benefit schemes.

The Commission presented its EU 2020 flagship "New Skills and Jobs". Council took note of presidency conclusions on the Commission's flagship initiatives "Youth On the Move" and "New Skills and Jobs"; of Employment Committee opinions on employment and environment and the examination of countries' employment policies; and of a joint Employment Committee and Social Policy Committee opinion on a monitoring framework for employment policies. It also adopted Council conclusions on employment policies and the green economy, adapting to an ageing workforce, the social elements of the Europe 2020 strategy, social services of general interest and gender.

Ministers adopted a progress report on the Directive on Equal Treatment-the anti-discrimination directive and a declaration on the European year for combating poverty and social exclusion 2010. They also agreed a general approach on the decision to create a European year for active ageing 2012.

On the "A" points, the UK submitted a minute statement on the Council decision on the EU-Switzerland agreement extending social security rights to non-active persons moving between the EU and Switzerland. This explained our decision not to opt in to the decision, our intention to seek a reciprocal exemption for non-active persons, and our disagreement with the interpretation given by the Council Legal Services to how the duty of sincere co-operation applied in these circumstances.


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