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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 7 March 2011

Communities and Local Government

London Thames Gateway Development Corporation

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): The public bodies review (20 October 2010) concluded that the functions of the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation (LTGDC) should be transferred to the relevant local authority or other London bodies. I am today announcing the first stage of that localisation. From 1 April 2011, LTGDC’s planning functions in the London riverside area will be returned to the London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Havering, and for part of Newham. This important first step towards complete localisation will be effected by the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation (Planning Functions) (Amendment) Order 2011 which I am laying before Parliament today. The order reflects the coalition commitment to cutting the costs of quangos and increasing accountability, and also chimes with our approach to the Thames Gateway generally, where we have decentralised strategic oversight to local political leaders.

I expect further transfers of functions will take place during 2012.

Review of Statutory Duties

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Greg Clark): I am today announcing a comprehensive review of the statutory duties placed on local authorities by central Government. This is a further step in the drive to remove centrally imposed prescription and burdens and free councils up to meet the needs of their communities.

Central Government are committed to taking a proactive role to identifying and removing bureaucratic burdens and barriers that stifle local decision making. We have already freed local authorities from thousands of targets, ended the costly inspection regime and announced work to streamline central data requirements. We now need to be clear about the cumulative demands centrally prescribed duties place on local authorities and consider carefully whether they can continue to be justified.

Review of Statutory Duties on local government

Historically central Government have been prescriptive about how councils should serve their communities and many functions councils undertake have legal duties attached to them, set out in numerous Acts of Parliament.

The Department for Communities and Local Government will lead a comprehensive review of statutory duties with the aim of determining which duties actually

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support councils in carrying out their functions and which ones serve to create unnecessary burdens and should be removed.

A draft list of over 1,200 duties stemming from primary legislation that Departments across Whitehall are responsible for will be available online today at http://www.communities.gov.uk/localgovernment/decentralisation/tacklingburdens/. We aim to build the list further with contributions, comment and challenge from local government and the public. The House will be kept informed of progress.

I have placed copies of the initial lists of duties placed on local government both by my Department and by other Government Departments in the Library of the House.

Energy and Climate Change

Energy Council (28 February 2011)

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): I represented the UK at the Energy Council in Brussels on 28 February.

The Council began with a report by the Commission on the progress of negotiations in the Council working group on the proposed regulation on energy market integrity and transparency. The European Council had given a mandate for rapid completion of the dossier, which is essential for setting the rules of energy commodity trading in the EU.

The Council then adopted Council conclusions on the “Energy 2020” strategy and the communication on energy infrastructure priorities. Commissioner Oettinger summarised the content of the conclusions and highlighted the need for specific actions on 2050 work, including in particular support for infrastructure investment, energy efficiency, and the need to consider how the next financial perspective can best support the transition to 2050.

The main focus of the Council was a discussion of energy efficiency and renewables to contribute to the EU semester exercise (a new EU initiative to improve economic policy co-ordination). The EU semester process will be considered by the spring European Council later this month. Commissioner Oettinger noted the positive impact that energy efficiency and renewables could have on EU industry. Most Ministers supported the Commission’s approach and agreed on the importance of energy efficiency. I noted that the forthcoming energy efficiency action plan should focus on those areas where action is best taken at EU level or where there is direct added-value in co-operative efforts.

The Commissioner also updated the Council on the recent communication on the implementation of the renewables directive and on the southern corridor, where he said that he would present a long-term strategy to the Council in the second half of 2011. I noted the UK’s support for the idea of the southern corridor but the importance that any strategic work should not delay the commercial development of Azeri gas.

Over lunch, there was a discussion of north Africa and oil prices, and the internal energy market.

The Energy Council, as the formation of the Council in session, adopted a decision implementing the UN Security Council Resolution imposing sanctions on Libya.

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Home Department

Strengthening Women's Voices in Government

The Minister for Equalities (Lynne Featherstone): In December 2010 the coalition Government published its equality strategy “Building a Fairer Britain”. In it we set out two principles: equal treatment and equal opportunity. We committed to devolving power and control to citizens and local communities; giving them more choice and control over their lives and to promote greater participation in public life.

We also committed to reforming the institutions that currently exist to help Government develop and promote its equality policies and legislation. Following the review of public bodies we decided that the functions of the Women’s National Commission (WNC) which had the role of bringing women’s voices to Government should be brought back within Government. The WNC closed in December 2010.

Today I am publishing a consultation on “Strengthening Women’s Voices in Government” which sets out our proposals for a new approach to engaging and listening to women, and invites views and feedback on those proposals.

This new approach will modernise the way we engage with women in the UK to ensure that we maintain an effective dialogue about the key issues of concern to women of all ages and backgrounds in the UK today. It will transform the way in which their voices are brought to Government, delivering an engagement framework which is direct, inclusive and transparent, and which is, in principle and by design, open to all—individual women, grass roots and local community organisations as well as regional and national women’s organisations and wider organisations working on issues in which women have a key interest.

Copies of “Strengthening Women’s Voices in Government” will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and in the Vote Office.

Transport

Olympic Airspace

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): As part of the commitment to deliver a safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic games, the Government are today announcing their plans for temporary airspace control measures that will apply over London and the south-east during the games period.

The measures comprise an inner prohibited airspace zone and an outer restricted zone, approximately 60 nautical miles across, centred on the Olympic park.

Only certain categories of aircraft—those operating commercial services and subject to full security procedures—will normally be permitted to operate within the prohibited zone. Certain aircraft involved in, for example, police, medevac and Olympic broadcast operations will be exempted. Other operations at airports within this zone may also be considered for exemption subject to strict conditions, which will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Similarly, we are working with Battersea heliport to agree a basis on which operations there may be allowed to continue.

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All types of aircraft will be permitted to operate in the wider restricted zone provided that they can satisfy certain requirements designed to ensure that all aircraft within the zone can be readily identified and monitored by air traffic control.

It is envisaged that the measures will be in place from 13 July to 12 September 2012, to cover the period of both the Olympic and Paralympic games.

These measures have been designed to help to protect key games locations from potential airborne threats. It is normal practice to implement airspace restrictions during large-scale events such as major sporting events, and similar measures have been put in place for previous Olympic and Paralympic games. The measures have been developed to be proportionate and to minimise the impact on the aviation community during the summer of 2012.

It is not expected that any airports will need to close as a result of the measures. There should be no impact on scheduled air services, and limited impact on most other types of operation outside the prohibited zone.

The Government, the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS will now work with airspace users and others to ensure that the planned measures, and their potential impacts, are fully understood and discussed before the regulations to implement them under the Air Navigation Order 2009 are made later this year.

Options for airspace controls over other Olympics venues outside the south-east are still being considered and plans for these will be announced later.

Copies of a leaflet entitled “London 2012 Airspace”, aimed at the general aviation community, showing the coverage of the zones and setting out in more detail the restrictions that will apply within them, have been placed in the Library.

Wales

Referendum on Law-making Powers

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mrs Cheryl Gillan): On behalf of the Government, I welcome the result of the referendum on enhanced law-making powers for the National Assembly for Wales, which took place on 3 March.

The Government have fulfilled their commitment to hold a referendum—requested by Assembly Members—set out in the coalition’s programme for Government. The referendum has enabled the people of Wales to have their say in determining the powers the National Assembly should have.

The “yes” vote will mean that the Welsh Assembly Government can get on with the job of delivering better public services, and bring forward legislation in devolved areas without reference to Parliament. The Assembly will be able to legislate on subjects in the 20 areas covered by the original devolution settlement, and set out in schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006. All the areas previously non-devolved remain non-devolved, and are the responsibility of the Government and Parliament. There is no change in this respect.

It is now for the Welsh Assembly Government and the National Assembly to decide when to bring the Assembly’s enhanced powers into force.

The Government are committed to working closely with the Welsh Assembly Government and National Assembly to make these legislative arrangements work effectively.