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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Business, Innovation and Skills

Regional Development Agencies (Transfer of Property Assets)

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Mark Prisk): I announced on 6 July that land and property assets acquired by regional development agencies (RDAs) and in need of further development would be transferring to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) under a stewardship arrangement. I can now confirm that the transfer order has been signed and that the transfer will 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 regeneration to local areas. Under the stewardship arrangement the 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.

Over the summer recess, we completed detailed work on the transfer with DCLG, HCA and the RDAs and we published the list of land and property assets to be transferred on 26 August at www.bis.gov.uk/rda-assets.

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.

Under a similar but separate stewardship arrangement, BIS will contract with 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 arrange a further briefing meeting to provide an opportunity for Members of the House to discuss these transfers.

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Naming Astute Boat 5

The Secretary of State for Defence (Dr Liam Fox): I am pleased to announce that the Astute class submarine hull 5 is to be named HMS Anson. The boat is expected to join HMS Astute, HMS Ambush, HMS Artful and HMS Audacious at the end of 2020.

The seven Astute class boats planned for the Royal Navy are the most advanced attack submarines ordered by the Ministry of Defence, with improved firepower and communications, and the ability to operate stealthily for extended periods. The crew also benefit from greatly improved accommodation and facilities.

The boats will undertake a wide range of tasks in support of military operations worldwide.

Deputy Prime Minister

Electoral Administration Provisions

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): I am announcing today the publication of draft legislation on an electoral administration provision for pre-legislative scrutiny, and also that the Government will be introducing two electoral administration measures that can be achieved through secondary legislation.

These provisions are intended to form part of a larger package of measures which will also include draft legislation on individual electoral registration, and the electoral administration provisions on: extending the electoral timetable for UK parliamentary elections from 17 to 25 days, the use of emblems by jointly nominated candidates, and the timing of polling places reviews, which have been published separately for pre-legislative scrutiny.

The further proposals address particular issues that have been raised by MPs and peers, and by electoral stakeholders, and will help to deliver more effective electoral administration, and to increase participation and trust in the electoral process.

The draft legislation removes the automatic postponement of parish and community council elections in England and Wales that currently occurs when they fall on the same day as ordinary local government elections and either a parliamentary or European parliamentary general election. This will allow more polls to be combined and facilitate participation in parish and community council elections.

I am also announcing proposals that can be achieved through secondary legislation under existing powers that will:

mandate 100% checking of the identifiers for postal votes at elections. While current legislation requires a minimum of 20% of postal vote identifiers (signatures and date of birth on the statement returned with each postal vote) to be checked, over recent years there has been a general commitment shown at both local and national polls to check 100% and, with safeguards for instances where there is a good reason that this cannot be done, I consider it is now appropriate to formalise this position;

extend the “emergency” proxy voting facility to enable those called away on business or military service unexpectedly, and at short notice, before an election, to appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. At present, only those who fall ill once the routine deadline for proxy applications has passed are able to appoint an “emergency” proxy up to 5 pm on polling day.

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I am today sending the draft legislation to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee for pre-legislative scrutiny.

A Command Paper (Cm 8177) setting out the draft legislation and associated explanatory notes has been laid before the House.

General Election 2010 (Government Response)

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): The Government are today publishing their responses to a set of reports published on the administration of the 2010 UK parliamentary general election. The response to the Electoral Commission’s statutory reports on the election incorporates recommendations from other stakeholders where appropriate, including the Association of Electoral Administrators, SCOPE and the Greater London Assembly’s elections review working group. Recommendations made by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) have been addressed in a separate document.

The Government have already brought forward legislation and draft legislation as part of their programme of constitutional reform which should assist the effective administration of future elections and make parliamentary elections more transparent and fair in their operation. We were grateful for the analysis and recommendations within the reports and the responses show the progress made so far against many of the issues raised.

Copies of the Government responses will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Court of Justice of the European Union (Appointments)

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): At a conference of representatives of Governments of member states on 8 September 2011 the appointments of a Swedish judge to the Court of Justice and a Bulgarian judge to the General Court were considered.

The nominations were in respect of: Mr Carl Gustav Fernlund of Sweden and Ms Mariyana Kancheva of Bulgaria.

Having consulted with the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice and the Attorney-General, the Foreign Secretary agreed to the appointments.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Human Rights Work)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I have today laid the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s response to the Eighth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee of session 2010-12; “The FCO’s Human Rights Work 2010-11” (Cm. 8169).

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Overseas Territories Strategy

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): In my statement to the House of 10 March I set out this Government’s overall vision for our overseas territories and explained that we were working with Departments across Government on a new strategy to deliver this. The National Security Council (NSC) agreed the main principles of a new strategy in July.

The UK Government’s fundamental responsibility and objective are to ensure the security and good governance of the territories and their peoples. The strategy recognises that our 14 overseas territories are remarkably diverse. Policies to meet these objectives need to be tailored to the specific circumstances of each territory. The strategy is designed to provide a framework in which these policies can be developed and implemented consistently and effectively.

Much of the Government’s work on the territories is rightly concerned with meeting our responsibilities to the territories with settled populations. Our new strategy aims to ensure that proper attention is also given to the UK’s extensive sovereign territory where there is no settled population. We want to ensure that the significance and value of this territory is better understood.

We have reviewed the constitutional status of our overseas territories. Each territory has its own unique constitution. The previous Government launched in 1999 a process of modernising the constitutions of the inhabited territories. We are continuing this work with a view to equipping each territory with a modem constitution. We expect these constitutions to continue to evolve and to require adjustment in the light of circumstances. But we believe that the fundamental structure of our constitutional relationships is the right one: powers are devolved to the elected Governments of the settled territories to the maximum extent possible consistent with the UK retaining powers necessary to discharge our sovereign responsibilities.

We believe that at this point in the history of our relationships with the territories, when a decade of constitutional revision is coming to a close, the time is not right to embark on further constitutional change. Rather our strategy is to ensure the constitutional arrangements work effectively to promote the best interests of the territories and of the UK. We are therefore focusing on three practical policy goals:

(i) to strengthen the engagement and interaction between the UK and the territories.

(ii) to work with territories to strengthen good governance arrangements, public financial management and economic planning where this is necessary; and

(iii) to improve the quality and range of support available to the territories.

The implementation of these policies will take different forms in each territory. We are now engaging in discussion with the territories and our many stakeholders to identify the priorities for action in each relationship.

To support this process the NSC also agreed that each UK Government Department should recognise its responsibility to engage with the territories in its area of competence and expertise. Departments will set out in papers by the end of January 2012 how they can support

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the territories. The FCO will retain leadership and oversight of the Government’s policies towards and relationships with the territories and continue to provide advice, where needed, to other Government Departments on engagement with the territories. If ministerial co-ordination is required we will chair a ministerial committee to resolve any issues. This is a clear demonstration that the Government as a whole are committed to the territories.

The Government will publish a White Paper on the overseas territories next year, Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee year. The White Paper will set out in detail this Government’s approach to the overseas territories. We will continue to report progress regularly to Parliament.

Home Department

Voluntary Gender Equality Reporting

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): “Building a Fairer Britain” (December 2010) announced the Government’s intention to work

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with business and others to develop a voluntary approach to greater transparency on gender equality in the private and voluntary sectors.

The “Think, Act, Report” initiative being launched with business leaders today sets out a step-by-step approach to improving transparency. It encourages employers to undertake their own analysis of gender equality in their organisation, take action where appropriate to address issues identified, and in time report publicly. To support participating employers, the Government have produced a framework containing the measures which would be most useful for employers to monitor and report on, and ACAS is publishing new guidance.

The Government will review annually the number of companies releasing information, and its quality, to assess whether this approach is successful. A copy of the baseline report on voluntary gender equality reporting will be placed in the Library of the House. This sets out the aims of the “Think, Act, Report” initiative, looks at the existing evidence on how many employers currently engage in monitoring and reporting on gender equality, and explains how we will measure progress.