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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 20 October 2011

Communities and Local Government

Abolition of Regional Strategies

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): As part of their stated commitment to protecting the environment, the Government decided to carry out environmental assessments of the revocation of each of the existing regional strategies, on a voluntary basis.

It is the Government’s clear policy intention to revoke existing regional strategies outside London, which impose housing targets on local communities and put pressure on councils to review the green belt in 30 towns across the country. But this is subject to the outcome of the environmental assessments and will not be undertaken until the Secretary of State and Parliament have had the opportunity to consider the findings of the assessments.

I wish to inform the House that the Government are undertaking public consultation on the environmental reports, copies of which have been placed in the Library of the House.

Energy and Climate Change

Renewables Obligation Banding Review

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Chris Huhne): I am today announcing the publication of the renewables obligation banding review. This consultation looks at the levels of support renewable technologies will receive under the renewables obligation from 2013 to 2017 (from 2014 for offshore wind).

We need a surge of investment in low-carbon energy sources to help get us off the fossil fuel price hook, keep the lights on, and keep bills down. The package proposed in the banding review will bring forward investment, securing the UK’s position as a global leader in the renewable energy sector, and supporting the transition to a green economy.

The UK has some of the renewable resources in the world, and the proposals in the consultation aim to make the most of those resources. The package of measures we propose will ensure we keep on track to meet our 2020 renewable energy target, in line with our vision for renewables published in July’s UK renewable energy road map.

At the same time, we are paying attention to consumer bills. It is vital that our support for renewable electricity both encourages investment and represents value for money for consumers. So the banding levels we are proposing will cost less than if we remained with the current levels of support, while delivering more renewable energy.

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To do this, our proposals encourage the most efficient use of UK renewable resources. We are proposing to remove excess support from technologies that would be overcompensated by the current levels, and maximise deployment of the cheapest renewable technologies, such as energy from waste and co-firing.

For offshore wind, where the UK is the international market leader, we are working closely with the supply chain, developers and finance community to drive down costs by around 40% by 2020. As part of that trajectory, we are reducing support in this banding review by 5% in 2015, and another 5% in 2016, ensuring that consumers benefit from these cost reductions, and ensuring that we are able to maximise deployment of this key technology—providing the potential for a 18GW market by 2020.

We should not be supporting inefficient generation, and our proposed support for onshore wind will target only the most cost-effective onshore wind farm deployment, encouraging developers to build in places where the wind is strongest.

We support predictable and flexible biomass electricity generation. Our support focuses on cheaper and transitional biomass technologies by introducing new bands for biomass conversion and enhanced co-firing—making the most of our existing generation assets, and therefore reducing the cost to consumers. We are also maintaining current levels of support for dedicated new build biomass until 2016 in order to encourage shovel-ready projects to begin construction, securing significant investment and green jobs.

This consultation also reiterates the coalition’s agreement to promote marine technologies, recognising that marine energy has the potential to meet a large proportion of our electricity demand by 2050. Our proposals provide a clear signal that we want to see large-scale, commercial deployment of wave and tidal technologies in UK waters, cementing the UK’s position as the global leader in this technology.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): The next Agriculture and Fisheries Council is on Thursday 20 and Friday 21 October, in Luxembourg. I shall represent the UK on agriculture matters on Thursday, accompanied by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Minister with responsibility for agriculture and food. On Friday the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Minister with responsibility for natural environment and fisheries, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) will be representing the United Kingdom on the fisheries items. Richard Lochhead MSP, Michelle O’Neil MLA and Alun Davies AM will also attend.

Council will deal with agricultural business on the first day. It will open with a presentation by the Commission of the new proposals for CAP reform before member states are given the opportunity to give initial reactions during two full table rounds. The first table round will

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focus on the proposals for direct payments to farmers and rural development. The second table round will cover the more technical aspects of the common market organisation and control measures.

There are two other agriculture items on the main agenda. The first relates to distribution of food to the most deprived persons in the Union. This returns to Council after discussion in September, with a revised Commission proposal that now has a social policy as well as CAP legal base. The second item relates to the international wine organisation (OIV), that has its annual meeting later in October. The Commission wishes to lead for the EU in an area of exclusive competence and will propose a mandate for it to do so.

Finally, on agricultural issues, there is an AOB item on the welfare of laying hens. The EU agreed to phase out battery cages for hens for egg production some years ago and the deadline for implementation is the end of 2011. The Commission will present data on how far member states have progressed towards compliance.

The second day of Council will deal with the two fisheries items on the agenda. The first item relates to the seeking of agreement on allocation of fishing opportunities in the Baltic sea. The second item sees the opening of the EU/Norway annual consultations on fishing opportunities for 2012.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Afghanistan (Monthly Progress Report)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I wish to inform the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, is today publishing the 10th progress report on developments in Afghanistan.

Former President Rabbani’s death at the hands of a suicide bomber on 20 September has drawn worldwide condemnation. It is too early to draw definitive conclusions on the long-term effect his death will have on the peace process, but it may prove significant. Much will depend on his successor as chair of the High Peace Council and the continuing efforts of the Afghan Government to achieve national unity and a political solution to Afghanistan’s problems.

On 13 September, as part of their campaign to undermine the peace process, insurgents attacked the US embassy, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters and an Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) base in Kabul. The attacks were not successful and neither the US embassy nor ISAF HQ perimeters were breached. Eleven civilians were tragically killed in the attacks. However the ANSF led an effective response: they successfully neutralised the threat and demonstrated a high degree of operational competence.

With UK support, the Government of Afghanistan continue to improve their delivery of basic services. The new national priority programme for local governance will help local government institutions deliver improved basic services to communities, while a UK-funded Afghan Government programme is bringing opportunities for

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licit livelihoods to more people. Both will help to reinforce successful security transition. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Government of Afghanistan continue to work towards agreeing a new programme of support, and we are hopeful agreement will be reached this autumn, allowing the UK and the international community to resume routine funding to the Afghan Government.

The insurgency is resilient and, as demonstrated by the recent high profile attacks in Kabul, remains a threat. However, such incidents rarely achieve their tactical effect and are designed to create a perception of increased violence and instability that it is not reflective of the progress being made in much of the country. We should not allow these attacks to distort the many examples of significant security improvements or overshadow continued progress to governance and development objectives. There remain many challenges ahead but there is also much encouraging progress.

I am placing the report in the Library of the House. It will also be published on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website (www.fco.gov.uk).

Northern Ireland

Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Owen Paterson): Schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 makes provision for the constitution of the four boundary commissions, including the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland. Under paragraph 2 of schedule 1 to the Act, each commission must consist of a chairman, deputy chairman and two other members appointed by the Secretary of State. I have extended the appointment of Mr Richard Mackenzie as a member of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland until 30 September 2013.


Greater Anglia Rail Franchise

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): I can today announce that Abellio Greater Anglia Ltd has been awarded the Greater Anglia (Short) franchise.

The new franchise will begin operation on Sunday 5 February 2012. It will operate for 29 months (32 rail industry periods).

Bids were received from Abellio Greater Anglia Ltd (NV Nederlandse Spoorwegen), Eastern Railway Ltd (Go-Ahead Group Plc), and Stagecoach Anglia Trains Ltd (Stagecoach Group Plc).

Abellio Greater Anglia Ltd has been chosen to run trains on the network, which operates across Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. The franchise will also play a significant role in transport for the London 2012 games providing crucial services to the Olympic park area.

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The terms of the contract the Government have agreed with the winning bidder will deliver a series of improvements for passengers during the 29-month franchise.

These include providing better station and ticket facilities and measures to improve passenger information. A text messaging service to keep passengers informed if service disruption occurs will be introduced. New information desks will be provided at major stations including London Liverpool street, Cambridge, Norwich, Ipswich and Stansted airport.

The new franchise will make it easier for passengers to buy tickets, including:

extending Oyster pay-as-you go between London Liverpool street and all stations to Shenfield, and stations to Hertford East;

improvements to ticket vending machines; and

introducing mobile phone and print-at-home ticketing facilities.

Abellio Greater Anglia Ltd has also committed to provide an additional 600 car park spaces (subject to planning approvals), more cycle storage facilities and deliver a number of other measures to improve the service to customers including deep cleaning of stations and trains.

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The train company will take over station leases from Network Rail, taking on responsibility for all repairs and renewals at stations. This accords with the Government’s overall franchise reform programme which advocates transfer of more responsibility for stations to train operators as the passenger-facing side of the rail industry.

To date, only overall figures for the performance of the franchise as a whole have been published. From the start of the new franchise, Abellio Greater Anglia Ltd will start publishing a breakdown of punctuality figures by route giving passengers more transparency over the performance of the lines they use. The reliability requirements for the new franchise are also more demanding than the previous one.

When the franchise is renewed again in July 2014, the contract is expected to be 15 years in length. This forthcoming franchise will provide the opportunity to seek further improvements for passengers. We also intend to draw on the work of Sir Roy McNulty in setting the terms of the franchise with the aim of reducing costs and improving efficiency.