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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Business, Innovation and Skills

Regional Development Agencies (Transfer of Land and Property Assets)

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Mark Prisk): The coalition is committed to closing the regional development agencies (RDAs) and facilitating the delivery of economic development at the local level through supporting the establishment of local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and the existing role of local authorities in fostering and sustaining growth.

In the 12 years they have existed the RDAs have undertaken the acquisition, development and sale of a range of land and property assets for the purposes of providing economic development to local communities, assistance in deprived areas, and regeneration to encourage growth and new business. However, this model is no longer affordable in the current economic climate and we need to agree a future for these assets that is affordable while enabling them to be developed in a way that is responsive to local needs.

In preparation for closure, each of the eight RDAs (outside London) has developed a plan for their assets and liabilities. The National Transition Board, chaired by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and involving the RDAs, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), HM Treasury and others, has considered these plans. In relation to land and property assets, on 14 April I confirmed my agreement to:

Disposal of sites that are market ready, where the economic development and regeneration objectives have been achieved;

Market disposal of sites to local authorities who want to acquire assets;

Retention within central Government of key national land assets including those where technology and innovation centres (TICs) are located;

Transfer of the RDA coalfield sites to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).

I am confirming today the Government’s intention to transfer the majority of the RDA land and property portfolio, into a “stewardship” arrangement through which local partners, including local authorities, businesses, LEPs and others, will be able to influence their development and ensure they are developed in a way which maximises economic outcomes for the area. Most of these sites are not ready for market sale and in the majority of cases require further investment to deliver economic benefits. To achieve delivery of this we intend to transfer title to these assets to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), which will be responsible and accountable for managing the portfolio. Subject to completion of the necessary detailed work and arrangements the transfer is currently planned to take place on 19 September 2011.

The HCA will use its expertise in land and property management to ensure that the assets are fully developed in a way that will help deliver economic growth and

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regeneration to local areas. Under HCA supervision of the stewardship arrangement HCA will establish local committees to allow local partners such as local authorities, businesses, LEPs and others to influence development of the portfolio. National policy interests will be managed through BIS and DCLG representation on a newly constituted Land and Property Board, and with BIS local membership of the local stewardship committees.

The portfolio includes income-generating assets which will provide investment funds for those assets which need further development. This recycling of receipts should enable the arrangement to be largely self-financing.

DCLG will use its powers under section 51 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 to transfer the assets from the RDAs to HCA. The detail of these transfers is still being agreed. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will approve the final list of assets to be transferred. Details of the transfer order will appear on the DCLG and BIS websites once it has been made. We will set out detail of the assets being put into the stewardship arrangement by LEP area at that point. There will be a transfer of staff from the RDAs to the HCA in accordance with TUPE regulations.

Under a similar but separate stewardship arrangement, BIS will contract HCA to manage its interests in three nationally important technology parks; Ansty Park, Coventry; the Advanced Manufacturing Park, Rotherham; and SPark, Bristol. HCA will manage these in order to continue the development of these land assets which will maximise their impact on economic growth. These sites have been identified as assets of national importance to be retained under the ownership of central Government in order to be developed further to support investments in innovation and technology. Four facilities based on these sites form part of the recently established High Value Manufacturing Technology and Innovation Centre funded by the Technology Strategy Board.

This transfer is in line with the principles for disposal of assets published on 10 February 2011, which can be viewed at www.bis.gov.uk/rda-assets. I will provide an opportunity for Members of the House to discuss these transfers at a meeting early in the autumn, once the local details of the transfers have been established.


Planned Tax Consultations

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): Budget 2011 announced a number of tax policy changes and longer-term tax reforms that will be subject to consultation. These are summarised in the tax consultation tracker, which is available on the HM Treasury website at:


HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and HM Treasury have today published the following consultation document:

Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Venture Capital Trusts (VCD )—A consultation on a scheme to provide further support for seed investment, simplification of the enterprise investment scheme (EIS) rules by removing

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some restrictions on qualifying shares and types of investor and refocusing both EIS and Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs) to ensure they are targeted at genuine risk capital investments.

The following consultation document will be published on 7 July:

Modernising Powers, Deterrents and Safeguards: Bringing HMRC s information powers into line with international standards for tax information exchange—A consultation on proposals to bring the UK’s information gathering powers fully into line with international standards set by the OECD.

Updates to dates for some consultations planned for July have been made to the tax consultation tracker.


People, Pay and Pensions Agency

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Andrew Robathan): With effect from today, the People, Pay and Pensions Agency (PPPA) will cease to have the status of executive agency of the Ministry of Defence (MOD).

The People, Pay and Pensions Agency (PPPA) was formed in April 2006 to bring together civilian pay, pension and human resource (HR) services. The PPPA subsumed the Pay and Personnel Agency (PPA) and became the single provider of all corporate civilian personnel services to the MOD.

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Defence, announced on 22 March 2011, Official Report, columns 49-50WS, the intention to establish the new Defence Business Services (DBS) organisation, bringing together the delivery of a range of corporate service functions to support all areas of the Department from one organisation. The DBS stood up on 1 July 2011 and the civilian HR function of the DBS provided by the PPPA has been renamed as DBS Civilian HR.

This change in operating status will have no impact on PPPA’s customers and will deliver efficiencies and wider savings to Government, in particular the costs incurred in auditing the agency’s annual report and accounts.


Early Years Foundation Stage

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Sarah Teather): The importance of the foundation years—as a foundation for life and for future attainment and success—cannot be over estimated. Children’s personal, social and emotional development, physical development and communication and language are of paramount importance. Without a strong start in these three prime areas, children will struggle as they develop in life, with friends and in school. It is vital we have the right framework to support high-quality early years education and development.

The early years foundation stage sets the standards for the whole of the diverse early years sector, from birth to five. Reform of the EYFS is one important element of our wider approach to supporting families

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in the foundation years, which we will shortly be setting out in full, in a publication jointly developed with the Department of Health.

On 30 March Dame Clare Tickell published her independent review of the early years foundation stage, informed by the latest evidence about how children learn and develop, and the views of parents and carers, practitioners, academics and other experts. The Government welcomed her report, and the revised framework, on which we are today beginning consultation, responds to many of Dame Clare’s recommendations. The new framework makes a number of significant improvements:

Reducing bureaucracy and paper work for professionals, simplifying the statutory assessment of children’s development at age five;

Simplifying the learning and development requirements, reducing the number of early learning goals from 69 to 17;

Stronger emphasis on the three prime areas which are most essential for children’s healthy development—personal, social and emotional development, physical development and communication and language (with four specific areas in which the prime areas are applied—including literacy and mathematics);

A new summary report for parents on their child’s development between the ages of 24 and 36 months, linking with the healthy child review carried out by health visitors, so that children get any additional support they need before they start school; and

Strengthening partnerships between professionals and parents, ensuring that the new framework uses clear language.

Consultation on the early years foundation stage will run until 30 September. The aim is to have the new framework in place from September 2012.

International Development

Horn of Africa

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): The horn of Africa is currently experiencing a major humanitarian crisis: 10 million people are in need of emergency relief and the situation is likely to get worse, in places, before it improves when the next rains come. This is the horn of Africa’s most severe drought since 1995. In some areas, 2010-11 has been the driest period in 60 years, and soaring local and global food and fuel prices have made the situation worse. The ongoing conflict and insecurity in Somalia in particular is exacerbating the problem and driving over 10,000 people a week to flee into neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya are the worst hit.

In the long term, people in the horn of Africa desperately need food security. The UK is a world leader in supporting countries to become more resilient to drought and famine, and has been working in the region for many years. Thanks to UK support, 7.8 million people in Ethiopia have access to cash and food in exchange for work through the productive safety net programme. DFID funding is also helping create 60,000 new jobs that are not dependant on rain-fed agriculture. A further 60,000 people are assisted through a “safety net” programme for the poorest households in Kenya.

These programmes that build long-term resilience are having an impact. In 1992, 71% of the population of Ethiopia were chronically malnourished (out of 53 million). Today, only 46% of a total population of 80 million are

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malnourished, so tens of millions more Ethiopians are able to feed themselves throughout the year. Those benefiting from UK-supported programmes have proved less vulnerable to the current drought. But long-term resilience takes many years to build up, and emergency relief is needed now to respond to the crisis before our eyes, and to make sure that the significant development gains of recent years are not eroded.

On 3 July the UK Government announced significant funding for the World Food Programme to help feed 1.3 million Ethiopians for three months and to help 329,000 malnourished children and pregnant women. Our commitment will allow the WFP to access food from the Government of Ethiopia’s emergency food reserve now, while also starting procurement to replenish the reserve in time to meet shortfalls expected during the peak period of need (September to November).

The UK has also provided strong support for Kenya and for Somalia in the last financial year, funding emergency nutrition, health, water and sanitation and livelihood support activities through UN agencies. Red Cross and non-governmental organisations. We are rapidly looking at what additional support the UK should give in Somalia and Kenya.

But other countries must also do more. We are vigorously pressing the rest of the international community and Governments in the region to join us in stepping up and taking action to prevent this disaster becoming a catastrophe. Intervening now is more cost-effective than waiting for the situation to get worse. I am in close touch with Baroness Amos, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, who I met on Tuesday 5 July to discuss how to galvanise a bigger and more effective response.


Detainee Inquiry

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): The Government and the detainee inquiry have agreed the terms of reference and protocol

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for the inquiry’s work, which are being published today on the inquiry’s website at www.detaineeinquiry.org.uk, along with some frequently asked questions and answers about the inquiry and its preparatory phase to date.

As the Prime Minister said in announcing the detainee inquiry on 6 July 2010, the purpose of this inquiry is to examine whether, and if so to what extent, the UK Government and their intelligence agencies were involved in improper treatment, or rendition, of detainees held by other countries in counter-terrorism operations overseas, or were aware of improper treatment, or rendition, of detainees held by other countries in counter-terrorism operations in which the UK was involved. The primary focus is the aftermath of the attacks of 11 September 2001 and particularly cases involving the detention at Guantanamo Bay of UK nationals and former lawful UK residents.

The inquiry will also consider the evolution of the Government’s response to developing knowledge of the changing practices of other countries towards detainees in counter-terrorism operations in this period. This will include how the response was implemented in Departments and the security and intelligence agencies. The Prime Minister has asked the inquiry to report to him within one year of commencing. The inquiry will identify any lessons to be learned and make recommendations for the future, to which the Government have undertaken to publish a formal response.

The Government hope that the inquiry will be able to start as soon as it is possible to do so. However, as the Prime Minister made clear in his public letter of 6 July 2010 to the right hon. Sir Peter Gibson, the inquiry chair, this depends on the end of related criminal processes, the timing of which is a matter for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Government are grateful to the inquiry for the important preparatory work it has done to date and which it will continue to do. The inquiry is a vital part of the set of measures announced by the Prime Minister that aim to draw a firm line under the serious questions that have been raised about the United Kingdom’s actions. We want to understand properly what happened and to learn any necessary lessons. We look forward to the detainee inquiry being able to get under way formally in due course and will make a further statement to the House when in a position to do so.