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Written Statements

Tuesday 4 December 2007

Buses: Passenger Representative Body

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Rosie Winterton) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I have today launched a public consultation on a proposed new bus passenger representative body. The public consultation, which will run until 17 March, identifies options for delivering a passenger champion. These options are to work with existing bus passenger bodies, to establish a new standalone statutory bus passenger champion body or to establish a multimodal public transport users' committee including widening the functions of Passenger Focus (the Rail Passengers Council).

Feedback from a previous consultation on the Government's proposals for the draft Local Transport Bill and reform of the traffic commissioners was that the lack of a publicly recognised national body to represent passenger interests and hold the industry to account contributes to a failure to address poor bus services. We have listened to those who argue for this formal representation and believe that the time is now right to provide a more visible and influential voice for bus passengers.

Some of the options require legislation which is contained in the Local Transport Bill. This, if enacted, includes provisions which would enable the Secretary of State, in secondary legislation, either to set up a new public transport users' committee or to confer additional functions relating to buses and coaches to the existing Rail Passengers Council (Passenger Focus). The other options would not require further legislation.

Copies of the consultation have been placed in the Libraries of the House and in the Vote Office.

EU: Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Statement.

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will be held on 5 December in Brussels. I will be representing the UK except for the items on the working time directive and the agency workers directive, where the UK will be represented by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (John Hutton). Health and consumer affairs issues are being taken on 6 December.

The presidency hopes to reach agreement on an amended proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2003/88/EC concerning certain aspects of the organisation

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of working time (9554/05 (formerly 12683/04). UK priorities remain a solution to the problems caused by the ECJ SiMAPandJaegerjudgments, and the retention of the individual right to opt out of the 48-hour maximum working week, without unnecessary restrictions. The UK is still analysing a new draft proposal from the presidency, but we believe it is a step forward in that it no longer contains text that envisages the end of the opt-out. In addition, previous text addressing the issues raised by the SiMAP and Jaeger judgments has not been changed in a way with which we would disagree.

The draft directive of the European Parliament and the Council on working conditions for temporary workers (15098/02 (24066)) is also on the agenda. The UK has welcomed the restarting of the debate on this draft directive. The UK continues to support the underlying principles of the draft directive and wants a directive that gives appropriate protections to agency workers without putting their jobs at risk. However, there remain outstanding issues for the UK (and other member states) that need to be addressed.

The presidency also hopes to get political agreement on a directive for improving the acquisition and preservation of supplementary pension rights which aims to improve the mobility of workers within the EU by reducing concerns over how pension rights are treated. When someone changes employment, the pension rights they have already built up should be protected to remove this barrier to labour mobility. The UK supports the current text, but there are serious outstanding issues for some other delegations.

The council will have a policy debate on social services of general interest, where the Commission has proposed a broad exchange of good practice. The UK view is that public services should be organised and regulated as closely as possible to the citizens and that the principle of subsidiarity must be strictly respected.

The council will aim to agree a partial general approach on the latest instalment of an implementing regulation for social security co-ordination Regulation 883/04 and on corresponding content for Annex XI to that regulation. The UK is content.

The council will seek to endorse the Employment Committee’s opinion on the European employment strategy in the context of the Lisbon strategy. This text is uncontroversial and the UK supports it.

There will be an endorsement of the Joint EU Employment Committee (EMCO) and Social Protection Committee (SPC) opinion on the common principles of flexicurity, a combination of flexibility and security in labour markets and incorporating modern social security systems and lifelong learning. The joint opinion of the EMCO and SPC makes minor proposals for changes to the common principles set out in the Commission communication dated 27 June 2007. The UK supports this text.

The Council will seek adoption of five sets of conclusions on flexicurity: the European employment strategy; modernising social protection for greater social justice and economic cohesion; on the Commission communication taking forward the active inclusion of people furthest from the labour market; implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action; and the balanced

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roles of women and men for jobs, growth and social cohesion. The UK supports these texts.

The Council will also seek adoption of a resolution on the follow-up to the 2007 European year of equal opportunities for all. The UK supports the text.

Under any other business, there will be reports from the presidency of recent presidency conferences, the draft Council conclusions on trafficking in human beings and the draft Council resolution on new skills for new jobs. There will also be reports by the Commission on the Commission’s communications on a new social vision for 21st century Europe and modernising labour law.

On 6 December, there will be a joint Council meeting with the Justice and Home Affairs Council, at which there will be a policy debate on migration, employment and the Lisbon strategy. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office (Meg Hillier) will represent the UK.

Health: NHS Trusts

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Ben Bradshaw) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The chairman of Monitor (the statutory name of which is the Independent Regulator of NHS Foundation Trusts) announced last week that, in accordance with Section 35 of the National Health Service Act 2006, Monitor had decided to authorise the following NHS acute and mental health trusts as NHS foundation trusts from 1 December:

Taunton and Somerset NHS Trust; Lancashire Care NHS Trust; Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Hospitals NHS Trust; and North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust.

Monitor's announcement brings the total number of NHS foundation trusts to 83. A copy of Monitor's press notice has been placed in the Library.

The Government remain committed to offering all NHS acute and mental health trusts the opportunity to apply for foundation status as soon as practicable. Monitor is now authorising trusts on a monthly basis, and further waves of NHS foundation trusts are set to follow.

Housing and Regeneration Bill: New Statutory Bodies

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I wish to inform Parliament that the Department for Communities and Local Government has obtained approval for an advance from the contingencies fund to allow the early recruitment and appointment of chief executives and chairs, with support arrangements, for the Homes and Communities Agency and the

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Social Housing Regulator after completion of Second Reading of the Housing and Regeneration Bill in the House of Commons, and before Royal Assent.

The Homes and Communities Agency will bring together the current work and programmes of the Housing Corporation, English Partnerships and a significant part of Communities and Local Government’s own housing programmes.

The Social Housing Regulator will encompass the current regulatory functions of the Housing Corporation and implement the recommendations of the Cave Review.

Bringing forward this expenditure through a contingencies fund advance will enable efficiency savings to be achieved earlier and will provide significant reductions in public spending.

Parliamentary approval will be sought in the 2008-09 main estimate for CLG for additional resources of £930,000 for detailed operational work to establish the new agency and regulator while maintaining business as usual so it can be up and running by April 2009. Pending that approval, and Royal Assent of the Housing and Regeneration Bill, urgent expenditure estimated at £930,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the contingencies fund.

Housing: Funding

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing additional funding of £732 million of flexible infrastructure support for local authorities that have committed to high rates of economic and housing growth in the designated new growth points or in the growth areas designated in the 2003 Sustainable Communities Plan.

In the housing Green Paper we set an ambitious goal of 2 million homes by 2016 to help respond to the increasing housing crisis, for example for young families trapped in overcrowded accommodation and unable to afford a home. The growth areas and growth points will play a critical role in helping us reach these targets delivering a total of 870,000 new homes by 2016, of which 210,000 are additional to existing plans. Following the housing Green Paper we have invited more authorities to join the scheme, particularly in the northern regions, either as new growth points or eco-towns, and I will make a further announcement on the selection of successful bids in February.

The 117 existing growth authorities have now set out their infrastructure plans in long-term programmes of development which they have put together with partners bringing together the future investments they need to create sustainable growth. These will facilitate major new developments, for example in town centre renewal, in opening up development sites, many of them brownfield, and to provide a high standard of community facilities and new green infrastructure.

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For these areas I am announcing today funding of £224 million for 2008-09 with indicative awards of £336 million for 2009-10-11 and a further allocation of around £172 million for 2009-11 once we have consulted on and reviewed the new approach to funding. Additional funding will also be provided in due course for other councils who come forward to back eco-towns or become additional growth points. Examples of projects set out in the programmes of development include:

major town centre renewal schemes, transport solutions to support growth, improvements to road capacity, more sustainable travel through park and ride and better cycleways and walking routes;overcoming physical barriers to help town centre renewal such as building additional railway crossings;new green infrastructure, for example along river corridors;new community facilities and buildings; and new civic spaces and amenities.

Some of these schemes will need other funding sources and may take longer and cost more than is available in this round of funding—that is why our new approach gives authorities flexibility so that they can use the funding where they judge it will be most effective in line with local government White Paper principles.

This is a new strategic approach which will enable local authorities to supplement mainstream funding for transport, education and health and give them greater scope to meet priorities locally. It gives them greater scope, for example to improve the quality of development schemes coming forward and ensure that these schemes benefit existing communities as well as new ones.

Local partners need to know that when they commit to growth, the Government are willing to support them with additional funding to ensure that new housing developments are sustainable, good quality and that we invest in communities not just houses.

In addition to the funding I am announcing today we will shortly be inviting expressions of interest for the Community Infrastructure Fund, which is run jointly with the Department for Transport, of £200 million for transport schemes to support housing growth projects.

Looking to the future, we need to find new ways to increase the resources available to partners to fund local infrastructure. We have introduced legislation in the Planning Bill for a new community infrastructure levy that will increase investment in the vital infrastructure that growing communities need. The levy has the potential to raise hundreds of millions of pounds of additional investment on top of current government funding and negotiated agreements, and can be spent on a wide range of community infrastructure—this could be major transport improvements, schools, parks and health centres.

All development creates some need for infrastructure, services and amenities and it is only fair that new developments pay their share. At present, infrastructure benefits for local communities are typically secured from major developments only.

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Councils will need to draw up long-term costed infrastructure plans in order to apply the new levy. Those plans will need to be consulted on and tested to ensure the levy supports growth. Detailed arrangements will be set out in secondary legislation. The Government will continue to work closely with the main developer and local government bodies during the passage of the Bill as we draft regulations. We want to build on the innovative arrangements that some authorities have introduced, learning from their experience and providing a clearer and firmer footing for best practice

Armed Forces: RAF Nimrod XV230

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In addition to my oral Statement to the House today, I am taking this opportunity to provide the House with further details of the findings of the Royal Air Force board of inquiry into the tragic crash of the RAF Nimrod XV230.

On 2 September 2006, Nimrod XV230 took off from its deployed operating base at 0913 GMT, en route to southern Afghanistan. It was on an essential operational flight in support of coalition forces. At 1111:33, approximately 90 seconds after receiving 22,000 lbs of fuel from a Tristar tanker, the crew experienced almost simultaneous bomb bay fire and elevator bay smoke warnings. Smoke was observed in the cabin coming from both the elevator and aileron bays. Shortly afterwards, the aircraft depressurised. The crew commenced emergency drills immediately and at 1114:10 transmitted a MAYDAY alert and turned to head for Kandahar airfield. At 1116:54, the aircraft was observed by a Harrier GR7 pilot, apparently in a controlled descent, with flames emitting from the starboard wing root and starboard aft fuselage. Members of a Canadian army unit also observed the aircraft as it passed to the south of their position. At 1117:39, the Harrier GR7 pilot reported that the aircraft had exploded and he observed wreckage striking the ground. The crash site was approximately 14 nautical miles west of Kandahar airfield, some 400 metres north-west of the village of Farhellah.

A combat search and rescue team deployed to the crash site at 1207 and confirmed that there were no survivors. At 1257, the Canadian unit which had observed the aircraft's final descent arrived and secured the crash site. At 1430, they were reinforced by a 22-man patrol from 34 Squadron RAF Regiment. The crash site lay in a depression, surrounded by higher ground containing housing and, as such, was not easy to defend. The crew's bodies, personal effects and classified items were recovered as a priority.

The following morning the Canadian unit was withdrawn to support other coalition forces engaged in fighting with the Taliban, at which point several hundred locals began to enter the site. The security situation began to deteriorate rapidly and at 0910 the RAF Regiment patrol was withdrawn by air. The

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majority of the wreckage was removed within a short period of time, probably by local nationals.

A board of inquiry (BOI) was convened to investigate the crash with an experienced ex-Nimrod wing commander nominated as its president, supported by two squadron leaders from the Nimrod Force Headquarters at RAF Kinloss. The board members were not able to visit the crash site due to the security situation in the area and had to rely on evidence collected by the units who initially secured the crash site and interviews with key witnesses. Crucially, the accident data recorder and a badly damaged section of the mission tape (containing crew intercom recordings and position information) were recovered. This allowed the inquiry team to reconstruct as far as possible the events leading up to the crash.

The board, using a combination of evidence collected in theatre and expert analysis, concluded that, as air-to-air refuelling drew to a close, fuel escaped. This was either as a result of the action of a pressure-relief device in the main fuel tank, leading to an overflow of fuel during air-to-air refuelling, or from a leak in a fuel coupling within the fuel system. This fuel moved rearwards, either internally or along the outside of the fuselage. It was then ignited following contact with an element of the aircraft's hot air system. The fuel probably gained access to the pipe at a gap between two types of insulation. The subsequent fire penetrated the pressure hull, causing the aircraft to depressurise and probably began to weaken the starboard wing. The aircraft's hydraulic systems probably failed in the latter stages of the incident as a result of the fire and the flying controls were probably similarly affected.

After about five minutes, the fuel in the tank located at the base of the starboard wing, having been subjected to intense heat, began to boil. The tank began to breach and eventually ruptured, provoking a boiling liquid, expanding vapour explosion (BLEVE). At a height of about 1,000 feet above ground level, the weakened aircraft began to break apart into four large parts, which struck the ground. The board was unable to determine whether the BLEVE provoked the aircraft's break-up, or whether the BLEVE was a result of the aircraft's break-up.

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