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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Business, Innovation and Skills

UK Trade and Investment (New Strategy)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): My noble Friend, the Minister of State for Trade and Industry, Lord Green, has made the following statement:

I would like to inform the House of a new strategy for UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), the lead UK Government body for export and inward investment promotion. The new strategy sets out the context for the Government’s approach for trade and investment, including through the recent trade and investment White Paper and growth review. It identifies pathways to balanced growth through trade and investment. It announces the new focus for our trade and investment promotion efforts. Finally, it explains new ways of working for UKTI. It will run from now to 2015. Alongside it a BIS Economics paper is to be published. “Trade and Investment: the Economic Rationale for Government Support”. Copies of the new UKTI strategy have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Treasury

ECOFIN: 17 May 2011

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr George Osborne): The Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held in Brussels on 17 May 2011. The following items are on the agenda:

Regulation on short selling and certain aspects of credit default swaps

Following further work, ECOFIN will be asked to agree a general approach on the short selling regulation. The regulation intends to harmonise both short selling requirements across the EU and the powers that regulators may use in exceptional situations where there is a serious threat to financial stability or market confidence. The Government believe that proposals should not impact market efficiency and liquidity, in particular in relation to sovereign debt.

Draft general budget for 2012

The Commission will present its draft budget for 2012. The Government believe that, in proposing a 4.9% increase in payments, the draft budget for 2012 is unacceptable. In line with the agreement made between the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland in December 2010, the Government’s opinion is that growth in the EU’s annual budget must be curbed, in order to reflect difficult economic conditions and tough measures taken by national Governments to cut spending. The Government intend to work with other member states to achieve the best possible deal for the taxpayer.

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Savings taxation directive

The savings directive forms part of the EU’s “good governance in taxation” agenda, which complements G20 efforts to improve international tax co-operation and reflects the latest OECD standards on tax transparency. The Council may hold an orientation debate on amendments to the directive, which seek automatic exchange of tax information with the aim of combating cross-border tax fraud. The UK fully supports the aims of the amending directive, and hopes that the EU can move towards an agreement.

Financial sector taxation

The Commission will present an interim report to the Council on financial sector taxation. The Government are content with the report, which stresses the need to look at financial sector taxation in the round, notes the importance of establishing the purpose of any financial sector tax, and sets out next steps.

Commodity markets

Following discussion by Ministers at the informal ECOFIN in April, the Council will agree conclusions on commodity markets. The Government support the conclusions, which aim to: improve the efficiency and transparency of global commodity markets; improve supply responsiveness and productivity, especially in respect of the agricultural sector; and mitigate demand for commodities, in particular reducing the energy-intensity of future growth.

Financial support to Portugal

Following the request by the Portuguese authorities for financial assistance and subsequent discussion at the informal ECOFIN in April, ECOFIN is expected to adopt a Council recommendation to Portugal with a view to bringing an end to the situation of an excessive Government deficit and a Council decision on granting Union financial assistance to Portugal.

Review of the economic adjustment programme for Ireland

The Commission will present the outcome of the first and second quarterly reviews of Ireland’s programme by the IMF, Commission and ECB in April, and its assessment on whether to release the second tranche of funds. The Government expect the assessment to be broadly positive. The first tranche of the UK bilateral loan is available to Ireland following the programme’s third review, which is expected to take place in September 2011.

Financing climate change, preparation of UN meetings

In preparation for discussions by the United Nations, ECOFIN will be asked to endorse the EU report on “Fast Start” climate finance, and to approve Council conclusions on issues and next steps for international climate finance. The fast start report sets out details of the €2.34 billion of fast-start finance provided by the EU in 2010, and details of specific actions supported by this finance. The UK welcomes the report and hopes that any conclusions build substantively on previous Council conclusions, as well as demonstrating our commitment to delivering our long-term climate finance target.

Information on the informal ECOFIN meeting

The presidency will give a debrief of the April informal ECOFIN.

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Communities and Local Government

Building and the Environment

The Minister for Housing and Local Government (Grant Shapps): Today the Government are publishing a further group of reports presenting the findings from research projects commissioned by the previous Administration. There is a significant backlog of unpublished reports that were produced by the previous Government and over the next few months we will be publishing further reports in groups themed on particular topics.

The reports and findings are of general policy interest, especially on the issues of building and the environment, but they do not explicitly relate to forthcoming policy announcements and are not necessarily a reflection or statement of the current Government’s policy positions. We are publishing these documents in the interests of transparency and as part of our freedom of information commitment to publish the results of all commissioned research. For transparency, all completed work is being published regardless of format or robustness.

The six reports published today represent the findings from research projects at a total cost of £697,819. These findings cover the topics of building and the environment.

Domestic sector airtightness—This report by the Centre for Built Environment assesses the impact on airtightness of different methods of construction and the implications for future building regulations policy. The work found that certain construction types are intrinsically more airtight than others, and that dry-lined masonry cavity and steel-framed construction require much greater attention to detail if they are to reliably achieve high levels of airtightness. The complexity of design can have a significant impact, and certain approaches are likely to be more robust than others. This report was commissioned in 2003 at a cost of £233,325.

Condensation risk—impact of improvements to P art L and robust details on P art C—This report by Faber Maunsell evaluates the impact of higher insulation and airtightness levels on moisture performance and interstitial and surface condensation risks. It highlights how hygrothermally robust detailing and appropriate workmanship is critical to the achievement of energy efficient, healthy and comfortable buildings; and how possible degradation of building materials and the deterioration of thermal performance as a consequence of the calculated maximum amount of moisture should be considered. The report was commissioned in 2003 at a cost of £158,560.

Evaluation of unventilated pitched roofs with vapour permeable membrane—This report by Faber Maunsell identifies an ideal calculation approach to predicting condensation risk in unventilated roof systems might be via a whole building simulation package. It also identifies why the performance of roof underlays should not be considered in isolation from the whole roof system including moisture vapour movement from the interior through the ceiling. The report was commissioned in 2003 at a cost of £113,103.

Product emission labelling scheme—scoping study—The report by AECOM investigates the potential for introducing a scheme to label building products for their emissions of volatile organic compounds. It describes existing

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schemes, identities relevant British, European, international and American standards, and outlines research into the health effects of volatile organic compounds. The report was commissioned in 2005 at a cost of £45,972.

Comparing PStar and co-heating test results—This report by AECOM compares the “PStar” method for determining heat losses from a dwelling with the more established “co-heating” method. The study showed that PStar tests take three days to complete and have the potential to be used for compliance purposes, but the results they produce are different from co-heating test results, and further investigations are needed. The report was commissioned in 2008 at a cost of £29,000.

Reducing water consumption in buildings—This report prepared by WRc (as part of a CIRIA-led consortium) addresses issues connected with reducing water consumption in buildings. The report recommendations were used to inform a comprehensive review of Approved Document G to the Building Regulations. The report was commissioned in 2008 at a cost of £117,859.

At a time when public budgets must be reduced, the new Government want to ensure their research delivers best possible value-for-money for the taxpayer and that sums expended are reasonable in relation to the public policy benefits obtained. My Department has put in place new scrutiny and challenge processes for future research. Any new projects will be scrutinised to ensure the methodology is sound and that all options for funding are explored at an early stage. This includes using existing work from other organisations, joint funding projects with other Departments or organisations and taking work forward in-house.

The reports and findings are of general policy interest, especially on the issues of building and the environment, but they do not explicitly relate to forthcoming policy announcements and are not necessarily a reflection or statement of the current Government’s policy positions. DCEG is publishing these reports in the interests of transparency.

Copies of these reports are available on the Department for Communities and Local Government website. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.

Education

Munro Review of Child Protection

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Tim Loughton): Few things are more important than helping and protecting vulnerable children and young people. I am reminded daily of the immense dedication of professionals and their unstinting efforts to keep children and young people safe. Despite this, the system is not working as well as it should. That is why, in June last year, the Secretary of State for Education, asked Professor Eileen Munro to conduct a wide-ranging independent review to improve child protection.

Professor Munro was asked to set out the obstacles preventing improvements and the steps required to improve child protection, including giving consideration to how effectively children’s social workers and professionals in other agencies work together. I am pleased to announce

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that today, following her first two reports, Professor Munro has published the final report of her review, “A child-centred system”. Copies have been laid before the House.

Professor Munro has carried out a wide-ranging and in-depth review. Her report makes 15 recommendations and signals a shift from previous reforms that, while well intentioned, resulted in a tick-box culture and a loss of focus on the needs of the child.

I welcome Professor Munro’s thorough analysis of the issues. It is important that we consider carefully, with professionals themselves, how best to respond to her proposals to bring about the long-term reform needed.

I am therefore establishing an implementation working group drawing together key individuals from the social work profession, local government, health, police, education and the voluntary sector. The Government will work closely with this group, whose membership I will announce shortly, to develop a full response to Professor Munro’s recommendations before the summer recess.

I am very grateful to Professor Munro for all the hard work, professionalism and expertise she has shown in delivering this review and to the many professionals and members of the public, including children and young people themselves, who have contributed to it.

Energy and Climate Change

Post Informal Energy Council Meeting

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): I represented the United Kingdom at the EU Informal Energy Council in Hungary on 2-3 May 2011.

Discussions at the Council focused on the 2050 Energy Roadmap. Commissioner Oettinger emphasised the importance of a road map as providing a framework for the EU’s transition to a low-carbon economy with virtually decarbonised electricity generation and noted the importance of considering intermediate milestones, for example for 2030. Discussion by Ministers of priorities for the road map touched on renewables deployment, infrastructure, low-carbon development, the importance of giving the right investment signals and the need for scenarios to be underpinned with robust analysis, including of costs. I noted that a focus on both low-carbon development and energy security was essential as was consideration of the full range of fuel mixes. The discussion at the Council will feed into the communication that the Commission is preparing and planning to issue in the autumn.

Over lunch, there was a discussion of external European energy relations, which will feed into a communication that the Commission plans to publish after the summer on energy security and international co-operation. This will be one of the priorities for the Polish presidency.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

NATO Parliamentary Assembly

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): My noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Archie Hamilton) has replaced

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my noble friend Lord Bates (Michael Bates) as a member of the United Kingdom delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

Justice

Court Funds Office Modernisation

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Jonathan Djanogly): I am pleased to announce today that the Court Funds Office (CFO) will be working in partnership with National Savings and Investments (NS&I) to modernise the service it provides to clients.

Under the Administration of Justice Act 1982, the CFO, acting on behalf of the Accountant General of the Senior Courts, provides a banking and administration service for some 140,000 clients with a total of £3.3 billion cash and £0.2 billion securities held under the control of the civil courts in England and Wales, including the Court of Protection (CoP). It also acts as custodian for any investments made with that money.

The money held by CFO originates from three main sources:

Damages awarded to children as a result of civil legal action in a county court in England or Wales or the High Court of Justice. These assets are held on their behalf until the child reaches majority (18 years of age);

Assets belonging to people who lack the capacity to manage their own financial affairs where the CoP has appointed someone else to manage their affairs;

Cases where money is held in court pending settlement of civil court action, or on behalf of dissenting shareholders, widows and other clients whose funds are held under a variety of different statutes.

Working with NS&I will allow CFO to take advantage of the business transformation and service management skills, technology, and processes that are already well established within NS&I. It will provide customers with a more effective and efficient service and therefore an improved customer experience.

Clients will interact with CFO in the same way as they do now and their accounts will be administered in line with existing legislation. They will also continue to use specific CFO investment products but will not have access, under this arrangement, to NS&I products. The Accountant General will retain all of their current responsibilities and be ultimately responsible for the safeguarding of funds in court.

Judicial Appointments

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): I am today announcing that the criteria for appointing judges who, on appointment, will be authorised to chair restricted patients cases in the mental health jurisdiction in the health, education and social care chamber of the first-tier tribunal will be amended to better reflect the needs of the jurisdiction.

Restricted patients cases involve individuals who are detained in hospital by virtue of a restriction order imposed by the Crown court, or by virtue of being transferred from prison by direction of the Secretary of

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State. The convention has been that retired circuit judges or recorder QC judges who chair the cases must refrain from chairing cases once five years post retirement has passed. The convention was designed to provide assurance that an experienced member of the judiciary would be involved in decisions on whether to direct the discharge of a patient and the concept of experience was predicated entirely on current experience of criminal sentencing.

The existing criteria no longer provide the most appropriate basis for determining competency for hearing restricted patient cases. While experience of criminal sentencing remains central, I recognise that restricting eligibility to recorder silks for appointment to the tribunal for the purpose of chairing restricted patient cases excludes non-silk recorders with heavyweight crime experience or substantial relevant experience in such areas as restricted patients cases or the Parole Board. I also recognise that requiring retired circuit judges or recorders to refrain from sitting after five years on the panel, in the absence of other factors to suggest they are not suitable, removes individuals with significant and continuing experience of working in this specialist jurisdiction. Deployment of available judges is a matter for the senior president of tribunals.

The changes will increase the pool from which potential chairing judges are drawn, and will retain the services of experienced judges.

Transport

Aircraft Cabin Air Quality

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): Cranfield university are today publishing their research into aircraft cabin air sampling on commercial aircraft in scheduled operation. A link to the report is being provided on the Department for Transport website.

The consideration of this matter by the Committee on Toxicity (COT) in 2007 provided an important opportunity to examine this issue in depth. Further scrutiny was provided by the investigation carried out by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.

The Department commissioned this independent research in 2008 (once tests had been completed to find suitable scientific equipment for the task) as a result of a recommendation by the COT—the first time such a study had been carried out by any country in the world.

The main conclusion of Cranfleld’s research was that there was no evidence of pollutants occurring in cabin air at levels exceeding available health and safety standards

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and guidelines. Levels observed in the flights that formed part of the study were comparable to those typically experienced in domestic settings.

The study monitored a total of 100 flights in five different aircraft types: Boeing 757, Airbus 319, 320 and 321 and the BAe 146. A series of air samples were taken at defined points on all flights, with additional samples taken during any “fume events” if any occurred. All flight crew, cabin crew and researchers were requested to complete a post-flight questionnaire, including questions about any fumes or smells that occurred during the flight.

The study’s objective was to analyse cabin air for volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, particles and carbon monoxide in normal operations during all phases of flight (e.g. climb, cruise, descent); and to detect and characterise any anomalous elevations of these elements during any “fume events” where unusual smells or similar occurrences were reported.

The European standard “Aircraft internal air quality standards, criteria and determination methods” sets safety, health and comfort limits for a number of substances, including two that were measured in the study—carbon monoxide and toluene. The study’s results indicate that concentrations of both carbon monoxide and toluene remained within these limits. In the absence of specific cabin air standards for the other pollutants measured in the research, the study referred to other standards and guidelines established, for example, for domestic (home) or occupational environments. Again, none of these standards or guidelines was exceeded.

I am grateful to Cranfield university for their rigorous and painstaking work. I am also grateful to the participating airlines which made their flight staff and management time and their aircraft available to the project. Without this invaluable practical help, the research would not have been possible.

The Department will always take the health of persons on board aircraft very seriously and I hope the publication of this thorough and independent analysis by Cranfield university will provide reassurance on this issue. We will continue to keep in close touch on all aviation health matters with the UK’s aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority.

The Department will now take forward the one remaining cabin air study outstanding—the swab test research being conducted by the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh.

When that has been finished all the completed research projects will be submitted to the Committee on Toxicity for their consideration so that the public can be assured that this matter has been thoroughly investigated.