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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 23 April 2012


Improving Spending Control

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): Today I am publishing new rules and incentives to strengthen the control of public spending.

The Government have set out their plan to significantly reduce the structural current budget deficit over the course of this Parliament. While good progress has been made, the scale of the challenge calls for a more robust and consistent approach to managing public spending.

The “Improving Spending Control” document has been worked up with finance directors across Whitehall. It sets out a new framework for improving financial management across the public sector, and how that framework will be supported by incentives and penalties.

All organisations spending public money will be required to collect and share better information on public spending, improve the skills needed to deliver their spending plans, and identify areas of their budget that can be reprioritised in case unforeseen spending pressures emerge.

The new framework provides the necessary incentives and penalties to reform financial management. Departments who can demonstrate a good track record of spending control will be rewarded with greater freedom within their budgets. Others will be subject to greater central Treasury control.

This document sits alongside, and is consistent with, “Managing Public Money” and the “Consolidated Budgeting Guidance”. Copies of the document have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Infrastructure Cost Review

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): The Government have today published the first annual progress report on the three-year infrastructure cost review programme launched in March 2011.

Over the past 12 months, the Government have worked with industry to put in place the mechanisms through which real reductions in the costs of constructing economic infrastructure can be achieved and sustained—to enable taxpayers and utility bill payers to get more for less. The programme is on track and the report gives examples of good practice, consistent with the recommendations of the cost review, where individual savings of over £2 billion have been identified.

A key measure of success is the application of cost review principles to reduce delivery costs on the UK’s priority infrastructure projects and programmes identified in the “National Infrastructure Plan 2011”.

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Copies of the document have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and are available on the Treasury website at: www.hm-treasury.gov.uk.

Communities and Local Government

Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, Baroness Hanham, has made the following written ministerial statement:

The Government have reviewed the decision to market and dispose of the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre taken by the previous Government in April 2009. It has concluded that the Department for Communities and Local Government should retain its freehold interest in the building in line with current Government Property Unit policy to retain freeholds in the Whitehall area as they offer maximum flexibility.

A business case developed last year considered alternative delivery options for the conference business. To inform their view of the options, the Government will be undertaking pre-market engagement to test the market appetite and their viability, beginning in May 2012. Subject to the outcome of that engagement, the Government will then decide whether the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre conference business, currently operating as a Government Trading Fund, should continue under the existing arrangements or be marketed to external providers. However, any disposal or privatisation should maximise value for money for taxpayers.


Chemical Weapons Convention - Declaration of Protective Programmes

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Nick Harvey): The UK’s chemical protection programme is designed to protect against the use of chemical weapons. Such a programme is permitted by the chemical weapons convention, with which the United Kingdom is fully compliant. Under the terms of the convention, we are required to provide information annually to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). In accordance with the Government’s commitment to openness, I am placing in the Library of the House a copy of the summary that has been provided to the organisation outlining the UK’s chemical protection programme in 2011.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Tackling Irresponsible Dog Ownership

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): I am pleased to announce a package of measures to tackle irresponsible dog ownership. I apologise to the House that this announcement is four weeks later than intended.

In the past few years there has been a sharp rise in the problems associated with irresponsible dog ownership. The number of adults sentenced for offences relating to dangerous dogs has increased by 39% from 855 in 2009

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to 1,192 in 2010. The number of dog-related admissions to hospital has also risen significantly, from 2,915 in 1997 to 6,118 in 2010. In 2009 alone, dog attacks cost the NHS £3.3 million in treating the most serious cases where victims had to be admitted for treatment. Every year there are numerous reported attacks on Royal Mail, Parcelforce and British Telecom staff. Most of these attacks take place on private property. Between 2007 and 2010, five people were killed following a dog attack in the home; four of the victims were children under the age of four years. Concerns have also been raised with DEFRA about dog attacks on health visitors and social workers during home visits.

Irresponsible dog ownership is a complex problem and there is no single solution. The primary responsibility for ensuring that dogs are kept under proper control must rest with individual owners who should only acquire a dog if they are prepared to look after it properly and make sure that it does not become a nuisance or a danger to others.

Given growing concern about the number of dog attacks, the previous Government consulted the public in 2010 to find out whether the law needed to be changed and, if so, what changes might help. The consultation found that most people thought that powers contained in the existing dangerous dogs legislation were inadequate. The police and the dog welfare charities said that the criminal law in relation to dogs being dangerously out of control should be extended to cover private property (the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 only applies on public land or private land where the dog is trespassing) and there was also widespread support for compulsory microchipping.

The responses showed that there was no support for adding other breeds or types to the list of prohibited dogs. However, the police specifically made the point that removing the ban on the four specific prohibited types, pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, dogo Argentino and fila Brasileiro, would significantly increase the risk of dog attacks because these four prohibited types were originally specifically bred for fighting, are renowned for their aggressive behaviour and are known to be disproportionately dangerous when in the hands of an irresponsible individual or when dangerously out of control.

Having considered the replies to the consultation and further consulted the police, local authorities and other organisations who are in the front line in dealing with irresponsible dog ownership, Government have decided that it would be appropriate to extend existing dangerous dogs law in England to cover all private property. Extending the current law would make it enforceable in homes, private gardens and private land where people and dogs are entitled to be, better protecting the thousands of service workers such as medical staff and postmen whose jobs take them onto private property. However, the proposed extension to the criminal law will not extend to protect trespassers who have entered the private property with unlawful intentions.

In addition, to ensure the welfare of dogs that have become the subject of court proceedings and to ease the costs to the police service. Government have also decided that it should no longer be necessary for the police to seize and kennel dogs pending the outcome of court proceedings where the police do not consider the dog presents a risk to the public. The requirement to seize

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the dog will not be waived unless the police are satisfied that it is in the care of a responsible owner. In addition interim conditions can be placed on the owner, that is; requiring the dog to be muzzled and on lead when in public (this would apply in England).

We consider that allowing dogs to be exempted from seizure in these circumstances strikes the right balance between protecting the public from dangerous dogs and ensuring that safe and properly looked after dogs are not unnecessarily removed from their homes. We propose to raise the fee of £24 (first set in 1991) payable by the owner for placing prohibited dogs on the index of exempted dogs to better reflect the costs involved in administering these dogs for their lifetime and thereby reduce the burden on the taxpayer (this would apply throughout Great Britain). Further funding is also being given to the Association of Chief Police Officers to support the training that they provide for dog legislation officers in order to ensure that there is a hub of dog law expertise in every police force.

It is also our intention to introduce regulations under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 on microchipping to promote animal welfare by making it easier for local authorities and rescue centres to quickly reunite stray dogs with their owners. It would also help the police and local authorities to enforce dog and animal welfare legislation. Our preferred approach is to make breeders responsible for microchipping the puppy before sale.

Therefore a further consultation is being held to give the public an opportunity to give their views on these proposed legislative changes. In relation to microchipping the options are: (i) requiring all dogs to be microchipped on transfer of ownership, (ii) requiring all dogs to be microchipped from a certain date, (iii) implementing a phased-in process, such as starting with compulsory microchipping on transfer of ownership and after five years moving to mandatory microchipping of all dogs, or (iv) making breeders responsible for microchipping newly born dogs before (first) sale. This is the responsibility of the breeder or seller and not the purchaser. The preferred option is the fourth one.

We consider that education also has a significant role to play in reducing the problems associated with irresponsible dog ownership. Government are providing funding of £50,000 to be shared between the RSPCA, Battersea Cats and Dogs Home and the Dogs Trust to foster innovative local community projects to encourage responsible dog ownership in areas where there are high instances of dog-related problems. The funding is being provided on the basis that the interventions will be carefully evaluated and the learning disseminated to help others engaged in working with local communities.

In drawing up these measures, DEFRA has worked with the Home Office to ensure the new antisocial behaviour measures they are preparing reflect the needs of enforcement agencies and enhance their ability to prevent irresponsible dog owners presenting a risk to the general public.

Local authorities already have powers to designate areas of public space as “dog free zones” while social landlords are able to lay down rules for their tenants regarding the keeping of dogs or other animals. Many local initiatives build on these powers and today’s announcement compliments them to address the small minority of dog owners who cause such distress to these whom they attack or intimidate.

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Reform of the European Court of Human Rights

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I wish to update the House on the Government’s efforts to reform the European Court of Human Rights as part of the UK’s chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

The Brighton declaration, the package of reforms to the Court which has been the priority for the UK’s chairmanship, was formally adopted on Friday. This was the culmination of the Brighton conference, where Justice Ministers, Foreign Ministers and senior officials from across the 47 Council of Europe member states met to discuss the UK chairmanship’s package of reforms.

The declaration itself is the result of a process which the UK took over when it assumed the chairmanship in November. The Prime Minister outlined his ambitions for reform of the Court in a speech to the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly in January. Through the Brighton declaration, we have succeeded in agreeing substantial reforms in each of the areas he set out.

First, we have strengthened subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation by securing agreement to insert these key principles into the convention itself. The member states will amend the admissibility criteria of the convention. And we have sent an unequivocal message from all 47 states to the Court that it should from now on use the existing criteria to ensure that it consistently does not reconsider cases that have already been properly handled by national courts, unless they raise a serious question of interpretation or application of the convention.

Secondly, we have agreed measures to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Court by cutting the time limit for making applications to the Court from six months to four; giving the Court tools to improve the efficiency with which it processes cases; and amending the convention so that the Court can routinely get rid of trivial cases.

Thirdly, we have secured measures which will ensure that the Court and its judgments are of the highest possible quality by making sure that the main development of case law is only by the Grand Chamber, comprising the Court’s most senior judges; improving procedures to ensure that the judges of the Court are experienced and well-qualified for the job; and making sure that the rules of office allow every judge to serve a full nine-year term on the Court.

Member states also agreed a further process for longer-term reform of the Court.

These represent significant changes to the convention system, which now need to be implemented fully, and the necessary convention amendments drafted and agreed.

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Gaining the unanimous agreement of 47 countries is no easy task and we are grateful for the constructive negotiations we have held with our European partners.

We expect the effect of the measures in the declaration to be that fewer cases are considered by the Court. Where cases do go to Strasbourg, the Court should be able to focus more on the important cases and do so more quickly. The result is a strengthening of the human rights protection for the 800 million citizens across the Council of Europe.

A copy of the declaration will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Prime Minister

Official Histories: Special Operations Executive in Italy

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): I have appointed Dr Roderick Bailey, Research Associate at the Imperial War Museum, to complete the writing of Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Italy 1940-43.

Work and Pensions

Public Bodies (Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission: Transfer of Functions) Order 2012

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Miller): Following the Government’s review of non-departmental public bodies and the passage of the Public Bodies Act 2011, and using powers contained within this Act, I will be laying an order later today to abolish the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) and transfer its functions to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

The public consultation on the transfer of CMEC was held 10 October 2011 to 3 January 2012, and the Governments response was published 8 March 2012. I will place copies of both the consultation document and Government response in the House Library later today.

CMEC has responsibilities relating to child maintenance, an issue which affects many families, and the Government feel it is right that Ministers should be directly responsible and accountable for this important work.

This order is subject to affirmative debate in both Houses of Parliament. These debates will be timetabled in due course.