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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 12 September 2011

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

New Waterways Charity

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): On 14 October 2010, the Government announced their intention to move British Waterways in England and Wales from being a public corporation to a new waterways charity—subject to parliamentary approval.

On 30 March 2011, I launched a high-level consultation on this proposal. The consultation closed on 30 June 2011.

Today, I am announcing the publication of the Government’s response to this consultation, alongside a further consultation on the legislation to transfer functions from British Waterways to the new charity, both of which are available at: http://www.defra.gov. uk/consult/.

The Government response confirms our commitment to the creation of a new waterways charity in England and Wales, subject to parliamentary approval. It details the main points raised by stakeholders during the consultation exercise, and the Government’s proposals in the light of those comments. The response has been developed by working closely with the transition trustees of the new charity. Key points addressed in the response include:

Local partnerships will be named “Waterways Partnerships” to reflect their strategic role and size; each partnership will develop a “localism strategy”.

Fair representation of different groups on the council will be prioritised. “Private boaters”, “boating businesses” and “NWC employees” will directly elect their representatives from the outset. We will progress to 50% of the council being directly elected overtime.

In addition to the Waterways Partnerships that cover the waterways in England, and those that cover the waterways straddling England and Wales, there will be a separate All-Wales Partnership, with representation from associated bodies with a Welsh remit.

We are publishing a revised and enhanced draft of the charitable purposes.

More detail is available on how Government will work with the charity to secure and safeguard public benefits, including free pedestrian access to the towpaths, through the charitable purposes. Trust obligations, legislation and Government funding agreement.

The Government believe that the move to civil society will secure the long-term financial sustainability of the waterways. We have already announced plans to transfer all of British Waterways’ property assets to the charity, as an endowment, and to commit to a long-term funding agreement. The length and terms of

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the agreement will be subject to negotiation and final agreement between Government and the transition trustees, this autumn.

The further consultation on legislation deals with the content of the proposed transfer order under the Public Bodies Bill, which will, subject to parliamentary approval, transfer the functions of British Waterways in England and Wales to the new charity. The document provides further information about the legislation which currently relates to British Waterways, the principles underpinning the functions to be transferred, and proposed amendments to legislation. It invites comments on the proposals specified. Because a full, 12-week consultation has already taken place on the principles of the transfer and this is a more limited consultation, it will take place over six weeks only and will close on 24 October 2011.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

EU Foreign Ministers Meeting (Sopot, Poland)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I attended an informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers (Gymnich), which was held on 2-3 September in Poland.

The informal format of the Gymnich allows EU Ministers to engage in a free and in-depth discussion on a number of issues. Ministers do not agree any formal written conclusions, in contrast to arrangements in the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) or General Affairs Council (GAC). The next GAC will be held on 12 September. The next FAC is on 10 October.

The following issues were covered at the Gymnich:

Relations with Strategic Partners

Ministers had a broad discussion covering the EU’s relationships with emerging powers. The discussion focused largely, though not exclusively, on relations with India, Brazil and south Africa. This continued a process set in train at last September’s European Council. This is an area where we welcome the external action service’s efforts to define clearer collective EU priorities, common objectives, and methods for using member states’ collective weight to advance our security and prosperity objectives.

Ministers agreed on the importance of the EU’s economic and trade relations with these strategic partners. They also discussed how to enhance our engagement on political and security issues, complementing our national diplomatic efforts. And there was general agreement on the need to use the EU’s collective voice better to influence some of our strategic partners on areas such as human rights.

Middle East Peace Process

The discussion on the middle east peace process focused on EU handling of a possible Palestinian bid for recognition at the United Nations General Assembly. Ministers were joined for part of the session by the Norwegian Foreign Minister in his capacity as chair of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee.

There was continued broad support for the principles agreed at the FAC on 18 July: the need for a two-state solution; for both sides to resume direct and substantive talks; and support to the High Representative in her efforts through the Quartet to create a credible perspective for the re-launching of the peace process.

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The Gymnich discussion came a day after the Paris conference co-chaired by the Prime Minister and President Sarkozy. Baroness Ashton set out proposed priorities for the EU’s post-conflict assistance. There was general agreement that any potential EU financial and post-conflict stabilisation assistance should respect the need for national transition council ownership and a UN-lead.


The discussion on Syria took place in the presence of EU candidate countries (Iceland, Montenegro, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Croatia and Turkey) and focused on EU measures against the regime. On 2 September, the EU agreed a collective ban on imports of Syrian crude oil products. By doing so the EU made it clear that it will continue to increase the pressure on President Assad until he steps aside and allows a transition to a different type of regime. The horrific scenes of brutality throughout Ramadan were unacceptable, and the ban on all EU imports of Syrian crude oil products will help constrict the regime’s funding and reduce its ability to fund the repression of innocent civilians.

Following the Gymnich, I issued a further statement on the issue of oil sanctions. This can be found at: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/news/latest-news/?view=News&id=650796182

Eastern and Southern Neighbourhood

There was a short exchange on the EU’s relations with its eastern European neighbours. On Ukraine, concern was expressed about the trial and subsequent detention of Yuliya Tymoshenko and other opposition leaders. On Belarus, Ministers stressed the need to maintain the EU’s firm position on releasing and rehabilitating all political prisoners. I underlined the importance of progress on implementing the revised European neighbourhood policy. Baroness Ashton and Stefan Fule (Commissioner for Enlargement) reiterated their commitment to deliver results. Finally, Ministers were briefed on preparations for the eastern partnership summit in Warsaw on 29-30 September.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and I will continue to update Parliament on Foreign and General Affairs Councils as and when future meetings are held.


Maritime and Coastguard Agency (Business Plan)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): I am pleased to announce the publication today of the business plan 2011-15 for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

The business plan sets out the services the agency will deliver over the course of this Parliament and the resources they will have available. Alongside the four-year business plan, the agency is also publishing a set of performance indicators for 2011-12 which describes a framework of measures by which the MCA’s performance will be assessed.

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Both the business plan and the performance indicators for 2011-12 will be available electronically on the MCA’s website, and copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Work and Pensions

DWP Administration

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Iain Duncan Smith): Following the spending review and development of this coalition Government’s programme for welfare reform, the Department for Work and Pensions has reviewed from first principles its organisational structure and governance to ensure it is best placed for the future.

Subject to the Welfare Reform Bill achieving Royal Assent, universal credit (UC) will, for example, require DWP to deal not only with those out of work—where the existing Jobcentre Plus network and brand is strong and effective—but also to deal with those in employment, which will account for approximately half of the UC caseload in steady state. Starting from 2013, this approach requires a different organisational structure.

Furthermore, a consistent message that work will always pay can also be reinforced by managing claims for disability living allowance (and, in due course, subject to safe passage of legislation, the personal independence payment) for people of working age alongside those for universal credit. This reform will also mean that support for housing costs are incorporated with pension credit, once universal credit is established and local authorities no longer administer housing benefit.

These structural reforms illustrate the extent to which traditional boundaries, within and beyond the DWP, will change. The breadth of the reforms also puts a premium on the flexibility which comes from removing some of those boundaries, as we build a welfare system fit for the future.

At the same time, the Department will deliver a 40% reduction in the cost of the corporate centre, including the centres of Jobcentre Plus and the pension, disability and carer’s service.

Reflecting all of this, the Department will:

bring all of its day-to-day operations under the leadership of a chief operating officer, within a smaller executive team led by the permanent secretary;

make more transparent, and manage as a single entity, the portfolio of reform to which the Government are committed;

and to facilitate this, remove the formal agency status of Jobcentre Plus and the pension, disability and carers service from Monday 3 October.

By creating a single integrated, senior management structure, the Department has been able to reduce the number of senior civil service roles by almost a third since May 2010.

With the departmental board, now chaired by the Secretary of State and with four non-executives all appointed since May 2011 the removal of formal agency status also enables the removal of separate management boards for each agency. The finances of each agency are already consolidated with the Department’s accounts,

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but the changes will also avoid two sets of subsidiary accounts, each separately prepared and audited.

I would like to put on record my appreciation for the ongoing efforts of DWP’s front line staff. They continue to deliver important services in local communities and will continue to do so with the introduction of universal credit under this new DWP organisational structure.

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Current arrangements for parliamentary questions, correspondence and enquiries from Members will continue unaltered as we deepen our commitment to transparency and professional communications in DWP.

Taken together, this new structure will ensure DWP is well placed to deliver reform for a welfare system fit for the 21st century.