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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 4 July 2011

Business, Innovation and Skills

Extraordinary EU Competitiveness Council (27 June 2011)

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

I represented the UK at an extraordinary EU Competitiveness Council which took place in Luxembourg on 27 June 2011.

The presidency had organised this extra Council to reach agreement of general approaches for two draft EU regulations on the creation of an EU unitary patent under the enhanced co-operation process (involving 25 member states); and on the EU unitary patent language translation arrangements. The UK had successfully lobbied the presidency to postpone these decisions until this Council in June to allow time for parliamentary scrutiny.

At the Council the Hungarian EU presidency and the Commission repeated their support for the unitary patent. In my intervention I supported the general approaches for both draft EU regulations and I commented on two particular elements of the proposals—first that the system for the distribution and renewal of fees will need to be administered in a way that does not impose unjustified extra costs; and secondly that future implementation would need to be legally robust. All the 25 member states in the enhanced co-operation process unanimously confirmed their support for both general approaches and they were therefore agreed. The presidency and the Commission however confirmed that work would need to continue on the details of the proposals over the next six months, under the forthcoming Polish EU presidency.

There were also three short any other business items taken without any discussion among member states. These comprised information given by the presidency about EU energy research activities and confirmation that agreement had been reached on the Euratom framework research programme and on the EU consumer rights directive.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Exotic Notifiable Diseases of Animals

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): I have today laid before Parliament the “National Contingency Plan for Exotic Notifiable Diseases of Animals” in accordance with Section 14A of the Animal Health Act 1981 (as amended); this provision came into force on 24 March 2003.

This plan sets out the operational response arrangements DEFRA will put in place to deal with any occurrence of foot and mouth disease, avian influenza or Newcastle disease. The plan is also applicable to all other exotic diseases of animals.

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The plan outlines the systems and structures which are established and details the roles and responsibilities of Ministers and officials during an outbreak of disease and also highlights the work undertaken on preparedness for an outbreak.

It replaces DEFRA’s “Contingency Plan for Exotic Animal Diseases” which was laid before Parliament on 15 December 2009.

DEFRA’s contingency plan is very much a “living document”. It will be subject to ongoing revision taking on the latest developments in science, research, and epidemiological modelling together with lessons identified from outbreaks.

To meet the provisions of the Animal Health Act, the plan will also be subject to annual review.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Consular Evacuation Procedures

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): In the light of the challenges posed by the evacuation of British nationals from Libya, I announced on 23 February that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would review its arrangements for leading the evacuations of British nationals in a crisis. I said that the review would consider the contingency arrangements that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London and all posts have in place, and the triggers and procedures for moving to a crisis footing and mounting civilian and military evacuation operations.

That review is now complete and I am today placing a copy in the Library of the House. I have given instructions that its recommendations should be implemented in full by 31 December 2011.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, working closely with the Ministry of Defence and key allies and partners, evacuated over 800 British nationals and over 1,000 other nationals from Libya in the space of a number of days. This was a significant achievement but the operation presented huge challenges because of the volatile and deteriorating situation in Libya. It stretched the FCO’s crisis response capability, taking place as it did against the backdrop of a wider and unfolding crisis in the middle east and north Africa region that had already seen evacuations of British nationals from Tunisia and Egypt. The earthquake in New Zealand, with British nationals among the fatalities, added to the pressure.

Both the Prime Minister and I have told the House that there are lessons we would wish to learn from this evacuation and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has already acted on a number of the recommendations in the review, including: extending the range of suppliers who we can call on to provide charter flights to support any assisted departure or evacuation; increasing staffing in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s crisis management department; enhancing crisis training for staff; making ever greater use of both traditional and digital channels to communicate with British nationals in a crisis; and developing a better crisis management command and control structure within the FCO.

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Implementing the findings of the review will help further strengthen the FCO’s crisis response function. The security and well-being of British nationals is always our absolute priority in a crisis. The evacuation of British nationals from Libya was the most complex FCO-led evacuation in recent years. Learning the lessons from recent events will ensure we are ready for the different circumstances the next crisis will present.


Commission on the Funding of Care and Support

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Andrew Lansley): The final report of the Independent commission on the funding of care and support, “Fairer Care Funding”, has been published today and a copy 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.

I shall make an oral statement later today.

Northern Ireland

Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (Final Report)

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Owen Paterson): The final report of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD), prepared at the request of the British and Irish Governments, has been published today by both Governments. I have placed a copy of the report in the Library.

This final report reflects on the IICD’s 12 years in operation from September 1997 to the ending of the decommissioning amnesty in February 2010. It provides an account of arms decommissioned by paramilitary organisations, a summary of key factors that enabled the commission to deliver its objectives and highlights the lessons learnt.

The commission’s remit was to provide a mechanism, entirely independent of Government, to execute the decommissioning of paramilitary arms in a manner that rendered them permanently inaccessible or unusable. The task was difficult and the commissioners worked tirelessly to achieve it. There is no doubt that their independence and high level of commitment were crucial in gaining the confidence of paramilitary organisations. The resulting major acts of decommissioning they secured have contributed to making Northern Ireland a more peaceful, stable and inclusive society.

Many will be expecting an inventory to be included in the report. The IICD did not provide the British and Irish Governments with an inventory when they submitted their final report. This was rightly a decision taken independently by the commission. The commissioners say in their final report that

“providing details now of what paramilitary arms have been put beyond use, could, in our opinion, encourage attacks on those groups which have taken risks for peace. This is true of both loyalists and republican paramilitary groups. We would not wish, inadvertently, to discourage future decommissioning events by groups that are actively engaged today, nor to deter groups that have decommissioned their arms from handing over any arms that may subsequently come to light” (paragraph 30).

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The IICD has made arrangements for the safe retention of the records of decommissioned arms by the United States Department of State in Washington who will hold them securely.

Sadly, as recent violent events revealed, there remain those who have rejected peace and politics and who want to drag Northern Ireland back to its troubled past. However, the majority of paramilitary organisations have decided to pursue their goals by political and democratic means exclusively. The IICD’s final report is a valuable insight into how this has been achieved. Northern Ireland has made great strides towards stable, local democracy and I wish to place on record my immense gratitude to the Commission and their staff for their enormous contribution and longstanding commitment to their work.

Independent Monitoring Commission (Final Report)

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Owen Paterson): The 26th and final report of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), prepared at the request of the British and Irish Governments, has been published today by both Governments. I am laying the report before Parliament.

The IMC was set up in 2004. The commission’s remit was to independently monitor and report on paramilitary activities, on security normalisation, and any claims that any Minister or party in the Northern Ireland Assembly was not committed to democratic means.

During the seven years over which the IMC carried out this role, the level and nature of paramilitary activity has changed significantly. Operation Banner was successfully completed and the political situation in Northern Ireland has been transformed with devolution now complete and the Northern Ireland Assembly entering its second term.

The IMC has played a significant part in supporting and enabling historic changes over the years. Its independence has been vital in gaining the confidence of all those it worked with and is clearly illustrated in what they have delivered. I would like to place on record my deep gratitude to the IMC commissioners and staff for their sustained commitment over the past seven years.

The commission’s final report documents the changes that have taken place during this period and provides an assessment of the factors that helped it in delivering its remit and the lessons learnt. It is a valuable document which will be of interest to those who are, have been and continue to be involved in the peace and political process in Northern Ireland as well as to those who are involved in conflict transformation more widely. I am grateful to the IMC for its detailed and thorough report.

As the IMC themselves note, while the commission has completed its remit, the security position In Northern Ireland is far from ideal. As the violence in a part of East Belfast recently revealed, there remain those who have rejected peace and politics and who actively work to undermine it. The Government remain committed to doing all they can to end violence and to enable all the people of Northern Ireland to live peacefully and safely as is their right. I am conscious that Parliament and the public will wish to be kept informed of progress on a

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regular basis. I therefore intend to make statements to Parliament every six months summarising the threat, in keeping with the time scales on which the IMC used to issue its reports.

Work and Pensions

The Work Programme

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): I am delighted to announce that the Work programme is now fully operational across Great Britain. The Government’s vision of a high-quality, personalised employment programme for those benefit claimants who need more intensive support is now a reality. Many individuals are already actively engaged and receiving the support they need to find work.

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Last week I visited our providers in the north-west and was impressed by their commitment and drive to deliver. I will be visiting all Work programme providers through the course of the year. I look forward to seeing the real differences to people’s lives they are achieving and how the investment we are making will have long-term impacts to achieve sustained job outcomes.

As you know we are giving providers more freedom than ever before to work with those that have become long-term unemployed or who are at risk of becoming so. By having longer contracts and allowing providers to work with customers for two years, providers have the space and time to work innovatively and creatively to really make a difference. The flagship payment by results funding model sends the message that we want hard outcomes, and by paying more for those who face greater challenges we are saying to providers that we will reward them for hard work.

I am confident we have given the Work programme every chance of making a real difference to long-term worklessness. We expect to see substantial indications of the success of the programme from spring 2013.