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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Energy and Climate Change

BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): The US National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and offshore drilling delivered its final report yesterday. This is a substantial document, both in its scope and in the careful detail of its analysis and recommendations. It will of course be reviewed carefully by my Department and all other relevant bodies within Government, to identify the implications from this tragic incident in the gulf of Mexico for the regulation of deep-water drilling in the UK. We will be working closely with the industry, our colleagues in HSE and the MCA to ensure that any lessons to be learned from this report are understood and effectively communicated throughout companies working in the UKCS. This will take time. Nevertheless, there are some key points which emerge even at this early stage.

While noting that the precise contribution of specific actions to the disaster remains to some degree uncertain, the report confirms earlier information on the root causes of the accident. The report makes comprehensive recommendations for the US offshore regulatory regime, including:

The regulatory system in the gulf of Mexico at the time of the incident was of course very different from that which we maintain in the UK and is employed in the North sea in general. And indeed the report recommends the adoption in the US of a risk-based performance approach similar to the safety case approach in the North sea. It also recommends the development of plans and procedures for responding to a "Spill of National Significance" which is an approach already reflected in our national contingency plan. As regards environmental assessment, we have a comprehensive suite including strategic environmental assessment, project-specific environmental impact assessments and habitats directive assessments. But notwithstanding these strengths of our existing system, we are committed to learning what we can from the commission's findings and recommendations, and, where appropriate, applying that learning on the UKCS.

And we have already acted, in the light of the emerging information from the many investigations into the disaster, to strengthen where we can what is already one of the most robust environmental and safety regimes in the world.

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The report highlights the importance of ensuring adequate liability arrangements are in place to better protect victims and provide appropriate incentives to industry. Some of the recommendations in this area address particular circumstances in the US, including a limit on the liability of drilling operators. There is no such limit in the UK-the liability of companies for the consequences of their actions is subject to no statutory restriction. And the existence of the OPOL liability pool provides a globally unique, and very substantial, assurance that victims would be adequately protected. However, this is an area on which the Select Committee has also made recommendations and in which the European Commission has proposed further work. We will continue to work with industry and with European partners to see how further improvements could be made.

I should add that we welcome the stress placed by the presidential commission on international collaboration and co-operation in developing the most effective approaches to meeting the challenges of ensuring safe and environmentally responsible conduct of offshore drilling operations. As the commission recognises, the industry is truly a global one, and we wish to draw on all the expertise, in industry and in regulators around the world, and in particular with the US Administration, to make these operations as safe as we can.

As the Secretary of State made clear in May, we intend to review the UK's oil and gas offshore regulatory regime against the findings of the US investigations. This review will begin within a month, once the report of the National Commission has been thoroughly analysed. It will be carried through by DECC, the Health and Safety Executive and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, and will be based on the full life cycle of an offshore development thus ensuring that all activities are covered. The review will report later this year, once the US Maritime Board investigation report-currently expected in March 2011-has been published and the details analysed.


Strategy for Cancer

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Andrew Lansley): Today, I formally launch "Improving Outcomes: A Strategy for Cancer", which outlines the coalition
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Government's plans to deliver health outcomes for cancer patients that are among the best in the world in a reformed national health service. Although significant improvements have been made in recent decades-and we welcome the work of all those involved in driving these improvements-outcomes for patients in England continue to lag behind those in countries of comparable wealth.

The strategy translates the three underpinning principles of the coalition Government's reforms of the health and care services into the steps we need to take to drive improvements in cancer outcomes. In order to put patients, service users and members of the public at the heart of decisions about their care, this strategy sets out the actions we will take to tackle the preventable causes of cancer, to improve the experience of cancer patients and support the increasing number of cancer survivors; describes the ways in which choice for patients in their cancer care will be extended and implemented; and identifies the gaps in information on health outcomes that are crucial to ensuring patients are empowered.

In order to ensure that health and care services are orientated towards delivering the improvements in outcomes for people with cancer we wish to see, the strategy sets out the work which the public health service will be charged with undertaking to deliver the necessary improvements in prevention, raising awareness of cancer symptoms and achieving earlier diagnosis; outlines the resources the NHS commissioning board will be able to draw on to drive improvements in the quality of NHS cancer commissioning; and identifies ways in which best practice approaches to cancer commissioning can be disseminated for use by pathfinder consortia through the transition and beyond.

In order to empower local organisations and front-line professionals to encourage the delivery of improved cancer care, the strategy provides possible future models for the delivery of advice and support on cancer commissioning at the national level; reports on the review of cancer waiting time standards, recommending that current cancer waiting time standards are retained; and announces plans to harness the innovation and responsiveness of the charitable sector further in cancer care, to build on the important work done to date to promote healthier lifestyles, encourage earlier diagnosis and provide information and support for those living with cancer.

The strategy sets out how-in cancer care-we will bring the approach we have set out for health and care services to bear in order to improve outcomes for all cancer patients and achieve our aim of improving cancer survival rates, at the same time as working more efficiently so that cancer services make a significant contribution to meeting the quality and productivity challenge the NHS has been set in this spending review.

Through the approaches this strategy sets out, we aim to save an additional 5,000 lives every year by 2014-15, aiming to narrow the inequalities gap at the same time. The strategy is backed with more than £750 million investment over this spending review, which includes over £450 million to support earlier diagnosis of cancer.

"Improving Outcomes: A Strategy for Cancer" has been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

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Home Department

Equality Act 2010

The Minister for Equalities (Lynne Featherstone): The Government have committed to commencing the provisions in the Equality Act 2010 in stages, in order to allow businesses and the public and voluntary sectors sufficient time to review their policies and plan effectively for implementation. Most of the provisions in the Act came into effect on 1 October 2010. This statement is about provisions which will come into effect on 6 April 2011. These provisions are sections 149-157 (on the public sector Equality Duty); and section 159 (positive action in recruitment and promotion) of the Act.

Today I am publishing:

Copies of these documents will be placed in the House Library.

The new single public sector Equality Duty will put into practice the approach to equality I set out in the Government's Equality Strategy, published on 2 December 2010. It is a powerful means of embedding equality considerations into all the policies and practices of the public sector. The Equality Duty brings to an end the era of Government-inspired bureaucratic targets and shifts power to local people. The community, not Whitehall, will be in the front line for holding public bodies to account. It will remain the responsibility of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to enforce the duty.

Positive action in recruitment and promotion is a useful means of providing flexibility for public as well as private sector employers to achieve a more diverse work force.

Licensing Hours (Royal Wedding)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): Today we are publishing a consultation on an order to relax licensing
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hours to celebrate the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton on 29 April 2011. The order would allow all licensed premises in England and Wales to open until 1 am on Friday 29 April and Saturday 30 April to sell alcohol for consumption on the premises and to put on entertainment such as live music.

Section 172 of the Licensing Act 2003 allows the relevant Secretary of State to make an order relaxing opening hours for licensed premises to mark occasions of "exceptional international, national or local significance". A "licensing hours order" overrides existing opening hours in licensed premises, that is, any premises with a premises licence or club premises certificate and can be used for a period of up to four days. An order may be applied to all licensed premises in England and Wales or restricted to one or more specified areas. It is also possible to impose different opening hours on different days during the relaxation period and to allow different licensing hours for different licensable activities.

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The Government consider that, as the royal wedding is an occasion for national celebration, licensing hours should be relaxed in all licensed premises in England and Wales. However, we are mindful that late-night drinking can lead to crime and disorder and public nuisance. On this basis, we are proposing a modest relaxation of licensing hours until 1 am and intend to restrict the order to the sale of alcohol in pubs, clubs and anywhere else where alcohol is consumed on the premises and to regulated entertainment such as live and recorded music, dancing, plays and films. We are also limiting the order to Friday 29 April-the day of the wedding-and Saturday 30 April as these are the days when people are most likely to want to celebrate.

The consultation will be published today on the Home Office website and copies will also be placed in the Vote Office and House Library.

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