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Written Statements

Tuesday 3 July 2007

Armed Forces: Depleted Uranium

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In 2003, King's College London was commissioned by the Ministry of Defence, as part of its major health and well-being survey of Operation TELIC personnel, to investigate the distribution and determinants of exposure to depleted uranium (DU) resulting from the use of DU munitions. Researchers visited bases in the UK and Germany and obtained urine samples from a total of 369 personnel who had taken part in the combat phase of the operation. Volunteers were sought in four categories—combat, non-combat, battlefield medical and vehicle clean-up personnel—among which the last two groups were expected to have the greatest chance of exposure.

The findings of the study are today being published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. No evidence was found for DU contamination in UK forces exposed to DU munitions. Analysis of the urine samples indicated only traces of natural uranium from normal dietary sources at levels consistent with those in non-DU-exposed populations.

I welcome publication of these results, which should further reassure our veterans and others that the risk of incidental contamination by battlefield use of DU munitions is very small.

Government: Departmental Changes

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made the following Statement.

I am today outlining machinery of government changes affecting a number of existing departments of state. Full details will be provided shortly in a paper to be laid in the Library of the House.

These changes will sharpen the focus of central government on the new and very different challenges that Britain will face in the years ahead. In particular, the changes seek to strengthen the Government's support for children, young people and families through these challenges, and to ensure that Britain is equipped to seize the new opportunities of the global economy.

Support for Children and Families

Children and families are the bedrock of our society. The Government's aim is to ensure that every child gets the best possible start in life, receiving the ongoing support and protection that they—and their families—need to allow them to fulfil their potential.

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To drive forward progress towards this goal, I am today announcing the formation of a new Department for Children, Schools and Families, for the first time bringing together key aspects of policy affecting children and young people.

The new department will play a strong role both in taking forward policy relating to children and young people, and in co-ordinating and leading work across the Government on youth and family policy.

High-quality and tailored education for all young people will be at the heart of the new department, which will take on pre-19 education policy responsibilities from the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), working closely with the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills to ensure successful delivery of the 14-19 reforms. Funding for 16-19 education will in future go to schools and colleges via the local authority education budget. Raising school standards for all children and young people at all ages will be an overriding priority of the new Government.

The new department will assume responsibility for promoting the well-being, safety, protection and care of all young people, including through policy responsibility for children's social services.

It will also be responsible for leading the Government's strategy on family policy, including parenting, and, working with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and HM Treasury, will take forward the Government's strategy for ending child poverty.

The department will be responsible, together with the Department of Health (DH), for promoting the health of all children and young people, including measures to tackle key health problems such as obesity, as well as the promotion of youth sport with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The new department will drive the Government's wider strategy on youth issues. This will include working with the Home Office and the Department of Health on tackling drug use and with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on youth homelessness and supported housing.

The department will also be responsible for promoting the wider contribution of young people to their communities. It will assume responsibility from the Home Office for the respect agenda. In addition, it will lead a new emphasis across the Government on the prevention of youth offending, through joint responsibility with the Ministry of Justice for policy and funding of the Youth Justice Board.

Rising to the Challenges of Globalisation

The global economy is changing at an unprecedented rate presenting profound challenges to all national economies. The twin trends of globalisation and technological change are continually reshaping the environment in which businesses operate, generating ever more intense competition across increasingly global markets.

But alongside these challenges are significant new opportunities, with the greatest rewards for those

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nations with the highest levels of innovation and skills and the most dynamic and enterprising business sectors.

Ensuring that Britain seizes these new opportunities is key to the future prosperity of us all.

Business Council for Britain

I am today announcing the creation of a new Business Council for Britain to assist the Government in putting in place the right strategy to promote the long-term health of the UK economy.

The council will comprise senior business leaders from a range of sectors, able to provide clear, independent advice on the reform priorities to enable business to compete in the global economy.

The council will meet twice a year, chaired by a senior business person. It will report to the Government and to Parliament. Secretaries of State will attend meetings at the invitation of the council.

The council will:

examine the progress the Government are making to improve the business environment in areas critical to the future of the economy;advise the Government on their ongoing policies and priorities;conduct its own reviews on the areas it believes will determine the future economic well-being of the UK; andwhere issues are particularly important, the council will have the power to establish special commissions to make recommendations for reform.

Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

To rise to the new global challenges, Britain must continue to develop its world-class competitive business environment as the key to being a dynamic, flexible and competitive economy.

To lead this work, I am today announcing the formation of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR).

The new department will be responsible for creating the conditions for business success, developing deeper and more effective engagement with business, with the ability to promote the competitiveness agenda across critical areas of government policy. It will provide support for the new Business Council.

It will also be responsible for promoting choice and quality for consumers through competition policy and for ensuring an improved quality of life for employees.

The department will promote productivity and enterprise across the Government and within the EU. A key priority will be its cross-government role in promoting better regulation across the business, public and voluntary sectors. The Better Regulation Executive will move to the new department to lead that work.

In addition, the department will assume from the Department of Trade and Industry policy responsibility for productivity, business relations, energy, competition and consumer policy, corporate law and employment regulation, and, working closely with the Department

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for Communities and Local Government, make sustainable improvements in the economic performance of all English regions. The department will have joint responsibility with the Department for International Development on trade policy, and with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on trade promotion.

Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS)

In the years ahead, countries will increasingly derive their competitive edge from the speed with which they are able to innovate, building on a world-class research base, creating new products and markets and driving enterprise and efficiency. Seizing these new opportunities will also require a world-class skills base—through the expansion of high-end graduate skills, but also by raising the skills of the wider adult workforce, including those currently unskilled.

To ensure that Britain is equipped to meet these challenges, I am today announcing the formation of a new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS).

The new department will be responsible for driving forward delivery of the Government's long-term vision to make Britain one of the best places in the world for science, research and innovation, and to deliver the ambition of a world-class skills base.

It will therefore assume responsibility from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for science and innovation—including ensuring world-class research and increased business innovation. The department will oversee the science budget, which will remain ring-fenced, and the dual support system for funding will be retained. A new Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser will be created within the department.

The new department will also assume responsibility for ensuring that the UK has the skilled workforce it needs to compete in a global economy.

The department will, therefore, be responsible for the development, funding and performance management of higher education (both teaching and research) and further education, working closely with the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The department will also be responsible for taking forward the Government's wider skills agenda—including the implementation of Lord Leitch's Review of Skills, published last year.

Additional Issues

Olympic Games

The Government are committed to successful delivery of the 2012 Olympic Games. To strengthen further the existing arrangements within the Government, I am today announcing that the Government Olympic Executive will remain within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and will report to a dedicated Minister of State for the Olympics, who will be based in the Cabinet Office and will attend Cabinet.

Prime Minister's Delivery Unit

The role of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit (PMDU) is to promote a relentless focus on effective delivery of the Government's key priorities. The

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PMDU will now report jointly to the Prime Minister and to the Chancellor and will be based in the Treasury, working, as now, closely with No. 10, Cabinet Office and HM Treasury officials, and departments, on the critical priorities and actions needed to strengthen delivery across the Government, and on the reform of key public services.

Better Regulation Commission

The Government believe that policy-making would benefit considerably from a fuller and more rounded consideration of public risk. I have asked the Better Regulation Commission, building on its report Risk, Responsibility and Regulation, to devise a structure and approach that ensures that this ambition is embedded in real policy action, even when facing pressures to react to events. I have asked it to report back by the end of July.

Parliamentary Issues

Legislation currently before Parliament will continue to be taken forward, and any changes in Ministers’ and departmental roles in taking forward legislation will take place in accordance with well established procedures.

The Government, after consultation through the usual channels, will bring forward a proposal for the House to consider regarding consequential changes in the structure for departmental Select Committees.

Consequential Changes

As a consequence of the changes outlined above, I am today announcing that the following departments will cease to exist: the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), and the Deputy Prime Minister's Office (DPMO).

Northern Ireland: Probation Board

Lord Rooker: The Minister of State for Northern Ireland (Paul Goggins) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I have today published the Probation Board for Northern Ireland Business Plan for 2007-08. The plan sets out the board's key objectives and performance targets for the coming year.

Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Taxation: Double Taxation

Lord Davies of Oldham: My right honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jane Kennedy) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

A new double taxation agreement with the Faroes was signed on 20 June 2007 and a new protocol to the double taxation agreement with Switzerland was signed on 26 June 2007. The texts of the double taxation agreement and the protocol have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and are available on HM Revenue and Customs' website. The texts will be scheduled to draft Orders in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

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Government: Treasury Reforms

Lord Davies of Oldham: My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Alistair Darling) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Prime Minister has today announced a series of constitutional reforms set out in the Green Paper, The Governance of Britain.

These include reforms to modernise the role of the Executive and increase their accountability to Parliament. Further to the Prime Minister's Statement, I am announcing the reforms relating to the Treasury.

In 1997, the establishment of an independent Bank of England and Financial Services Authority (FSA) reflected the Government's commitment to transparency, credibility and accountability in economic policy-making. Last month, reforms were announced to increase the transparency of appointments to the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).

To further increase parliamentary accountability and scrutiny of appointments, I am today announcing that, following their appointment, I will invite the Treasury Select Committee to convene pre-commencement hearings with all appointees to the MPC of the Bank of England and the chairman of the FSA.

These hearings will give the committee a full opportunity to discuss with the appointee their priorities and experience, and for external MPC appointments, coupled with the reforms announced last month, will allow the committee to evaluate their skills and qualities against the published criteria.

Furthermore, as part of the proposals for increasing the independence of government statistics currently before Parliament, to further increase public confidence, I propose a vote in the House of Commons to confirm the Government's nominee for chair of the Statistics Board. I can also confirm today that, following the debate in Parliament, I propose that pre-release access to national statistics will be reduced from up to five days for non-market-sensitive and 40.5 hours for market-sensitive statistics to 24 hours for all statistics.

In addition, in order to enable Parliament to better scrutinise public spending, I am proposing to simplify the planning, parliamentary approval and reporting of public spending by aligning estimates and accounts with budgets and the fiscal rules.

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