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13 Dec 2007 : Column WS43

13 Dec 2007 : Column WS43

Written Statements

Thursday 13 December 2007

Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Identity (Meg Hillier) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to inform the House that I have today placed in the Library the annual report of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate for 2006. This is the third annual report published by the inspectorate.

Publication of the report honours a commitment given by the Government in response to a recommendation of the House of Lords Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures in July 2002 that more information should be made available about the work of the inspectorate.

The inspectorate’s third annual report, published today, explains what the inspectors do and how they do it. It also provides details of the inspectorate’s staffing and structure, ways of working, professional background and skills, and training and development.

The report explains the inspectorate’s role in assessing, and advising Home Office Ministers and officials on, applications for personal and project licences and certificates of designation under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. It also provides details of the inspection system, through which compliance with licence authorities granted under the 1986 Act is monitored, and of visiting patterns and practice and the number of visits carried out during the year.

The report explains the important role of inspectors in gathering and transmitting information on good practice and provides examples of the many events and initiatives to which the inspectorate made significant contributions during the year. In addition, this year’s report contains special features on scientific work conducted outside the laboratory setting and on poultry, and contains a report on a survey of local ethical review processes. I commend the report to the attention of Members.

Armed Forces: Nimrod Review

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.

I told the House on 4 December that, following the board of inquiry’s report about the loss of Nimrod XV230, I would establish an independent review by a senior Queen’s Counsel into a range of broader issues that were outside the scope of the BOI’s investigation. I am now able to set out the details of that review.

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The review will be conducted by Charles Haddon-Cave QC. Mr Haddon-Cave has wide experience of aviation and safety matters, having been instructed in all the major aviation and marine inquiries in England in the last 20 years. His report will be published in full, subject to considerations of operational security, together with my response to it.

The terms of reference for the review, in the light of the board of inquiry report, are as follows:

to examine the arrangements for assuring the airworthiness and safe operation of the Nimrod MR2 in the period from its introduction in 1979 to the accident on 2 September 2006, including hazard analysis, the safety case completed in 2005, maintenance arrangements, and responses to any earlier incidents that might have highlighted the risk and led to corrective action;to assess where responsibility lies for any failures and what lessons are to be learnt;to assess more broadly the process for compiling safety cases, taking account of best practice in the civilian and military world; and to make recommendations to the Secretary of State as soon as practicable, if necessary by way of interim reports.

Appropriate technical expertise will be made available to the reviewer. The reviewer will be able to recommend a public inquiry if he considers this necessary.

The review will have the full support of the Ministry of Defence. All relevant papers will be made available and everyone who can assist the review will be instructed to do so. In order to encourage openness, evidence given during the course of the review will not be used in disciplinary proceedings against the individual who gave it unless there is evidence of gross misconduct. The MoD will also provide Mr Haddon-Cave, at his request, with a secretariat for the review.

BAE Systems and QinetiQ have confirmed that Mr Haddon-Cave will have their full co-operation. The MoD and the companies are committed to ensuring that the review has available to it all the technical expertise that it will require. I would expect any other companies whose assistance may be required to follow suit.

Mr Haddon-Cave will ensure that the families are kept informed of the progress of the review.

It is of the utmost importance that an authoritative and independent analysis is conducted of the background circumstances to the loss of Nimrod XV230. The task that Mr Haddon-Cave has undertaken will be complex but I have asked him to ensure that information that would assist our understanding of this tragic loss is published without undue delay.

British Council: Russia

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

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The Russian authorities announced yesterday that they planned to shut down the British Council’s offices in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg on 1 January 2008.

Russia’s threatened actions are illegal. The British Council’s presence in Russia is entirely consistent with international law, including the Vienna conventions. Its presence and activities are also specifically sanctioned by a 1994 UK-Russia agreement on co-operation in education, science and culture, which was signed by Russia and which binds both the UK and Russia. The British Council is the designated agent of the British Government for the implementation of the agreement. For the past nine years, the UK has been keen to conclude a further cultural centres agreement with Russia. Pending such an agreement being reached, the 1994 agreement remains in force.

For Russia to carry out its threat would therefore constitute a serious attack against the legitimate cultural agent of the British Government, show a disregard for the rule of law and only damage Russia’s reputation around the world.

Damage will also be done to EU-Russia cultural co-operation. We are discussing with partners (including the EU and the G7) the implications of Russia’s threat. I am grateful to the European Commission for expressing its concern to Russia about the situation facing the British Council.

Overall, Russia’s threats set back bilateral and multilateral efforts to improve cultural links, severely affect large numbers of Russians who benefit from the British Council’s presence, and damage Russia’s reputation around the world. We are urging the Russian authorities to reconsider. At the same time, we are working closely with the British Council to ensure the welfare of its staff.

I will keep the House informed of developments.

Companies Act 2006

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office & Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Lord Jones of Birmingham): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Competitiveness (Stephen Timms) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I announced to the House on 7 November 2007 that the Government have decided to delay final implementation of the Companies Act 2006 until October 2009, in the light of advice from the Registrar of Companies that he cannot be absolutely confident of implementing the necessary changes to Companies House systems and processes by October 2008. I also explained that we would consult key stakeholders about the commencement date for provisions due to be commenced in October 2008 that do not necessitate changes to Companies House systems and processes.

In the light of our discussions and meetings with key stakeholders, the Government have decided that the following provisions, listed in my earlier Statement, should be commenced with effect from 1 October 2008:

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Sections 69 to 74: objection to company names;Sections 82 to 85: trading disclosures;Sections 155 to 159: provisions relating to corporate directors and underage directors;Sections 175 to 177: general duties of directors in respect of conflicts of interest;Sections 182 to 187: declaration by a director of an interest in an existing transaction or arrangement; andrepeal of the restrictions under the Companies Act 1985 on financial assistance for acquisition of shares in private companies, including the “whitewash” procedure.

In view of the strength of business representations and of further advice from the Registrar of Companies, the Government have decided in addition to commence with effect from 1 October 2008:

the new procedure for private companies to make capital reductions supported by a solvency statement instead of by a court order.

Stakeholders highlighted the major benefit to business of implementation in 2008 of this new procedure. The Government had originally not proposed this, because it would require some changes to Companies House systems and processes. We have looked at this again in the light of the points made by business and I am pleased to say that the Registrar of Companies believes that the necessary changes can be made by October 2008.

There are also two sets of provisions that we have decided to commence with effect from 6 April 2008:

Sections 121 and 128: register of members—removal of entries relating to former members; andSections 811(4), 812 and 814: inspection of register of interests in a company's shares.

I aim to make before Christmas a commencement order in respect of all provisions to be commenced in 2008, other than those relating to capital reduction supported by a solvency statement and the removal of special provisions about accounts and audit for charitable companies. The capital reduction provisions (including Section 654 on distributions of reserves arising from a capital reduction) will be commenced through a separate commencement order to be laid in draft in 2008. There will also be a separate commencement order on the audit of small charitable companies.

Criminal Justice: Young Black People

The Attorney-General (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): I am today announcing the publication of detailed operating proposals to deliver the commitments made in the government response to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into young black people and the criminal justice system. Details of these arrangements are contained in an action plan, copies of which have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. The details will also be published on the Ministry of Justice website.

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The Government responded to the committee’s report on 18 October 2007 (Cm 7214) and committed to publishing detailed operating proposals for delivery of the commitments made in the main response. This Statement summarises the governance structure and reporting arrangements that will drive and support delivery and enable the Government to monitor and report progress on reducing the overrepresentation of young black people in the criminal justice system.

Ministerial champion

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the right honourable Jack Straw MP, will act as the ministerial champion for this work.

Ministerial leadership

The National Criminal Justice Board (NCJB) will provide ministerial stewardship and oversight of delivery of the action plan, reporting to the Domestic Affairs Sub-Committee on Justice and Crime as appropriate. Delivery of the commitments made and the associated work programme will be monitored, driven and reported through the public service agreement (PSA) framework and existing departmental reporting arrangements. There will also be additional annual progress reports.

Official leadership

The chief executive of the Office for Criminal Justice Reform is nominated as the senior responsible owner for this work programme. Oversight at a senior official level will be provided by existing cross-government groups with a specific focus on race issues.

External advisory function

The Equality and Human Rights Commission will provide independent scrutiny and challenge functions for this work programme. In addition, a series of structured engagement events involving key commentators and community workers will be undertaken on a quarterly basis to draw on the knowledge and expertise of a wider group of individuals and organisations.

Deaths in Custody

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Maria Eagle) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Earlier this year my honourable friend the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Gerry Sutcliffe) outlined the Government’s intention to review the Forum for Preventing Deaths in Custody as one aspect of its continued commitment to bring about real changes and improvements to reduce deaths of people being held in our custodial care and to report on progress to the House within six months (Official Report, Commons, 16/5/07; col. 662).

I am pleased to report that the Government’s review of the forum is nearing its conclusion. A person entirely independent of the forum—Robert Fulton, a former Home Office director—is conducting the review and Ministers anticipate that he will deliver conclusions and recommendations by the end of the year. A further announcement will be made as soon as is practicable

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once Ministers, including those in the Home Office and the Department of Health with responsibilities for the custodial sector beyond prisons, have considered and decided on these recommendations. The review has broad terms of reference and is taking into account other relevant organisational models, the forum’s independence from government, its interaction with Ministers through the Ministerial Roundtable on Suicide, which I chair, its membership, powers, resources and capacity, and its collective and individual accountabilities.

The review is making good progress. Mr Fulton, whose conclusions and recommendations will be made publicly available, has already seen a wide range of people with a close interest in this subject area and has researched other relevant organisational models. I understand that he is likely to recommend substantial changes to the current arrangements with respect both to the forum and to the Ministerial Roundtable on Suicide. Ministers will look at Mr Fulton’s recommendations quickly and sympathetically with a view to strengthening the current arrangements within available resources.

EU: Disability Benefits

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 (Anne McGuire) has made the following Statement.

I notified the House on 23 October that the European Court of Justice has decided that, for the purposes of European law, three benefits—disability living allowance (care component), attendance allowance and carer’s allowance—are incorrectly classified as special non-contributory benefits.

As a result of the judgment, these benefits are in certain circumstances exportable within the European economic area (EAA) and Switzerland. Customers will, of course, have to meet existing entitlement criteria to receive the benefits. Department officials recently met officials from the European Commission to clarify the extent of the Government’s responsibilities following this judgment and discussions are continuing on this complex area of European legislation.

The Disability and Carers Service is currently preparing new guidance for staff and making arrangements to handle cases from abroad. In particular, proper controls must be put in place to gather medical evidence from abroad to ensure that UK decision-makers are properly able to assess claims. We expect to provide full details on eligibility criteria on by 5 April 2008. We anticipate that first payments could be made to eligible claimants shortly afterwards.

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.

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

The council failed to reach an agreement on the worker mobility directive on supplementary pensions. The area of concern for other delegations was the maximum period before a worker’s pension rights become unconditional. This will be taken forward by a future presidency.

There was also no agreement on the working time or temporary workers directives. The prospects for moving forward on these were discussed over lunch. Mr Hutton said that the current working time text was a significant improvement on previous versions and, while the UK still had reservations, he believed that agreement was close. On agency workers, the presidency concluded, and member states agreed, that the text needed more work. The UK made it clear that it stood ready to support the presidency in future work to address outstanding issues.

The European Commission said that it would consider withdrawing both directives but this suggestion was opposed by most member states including the UK. The presidency concluded that progress had been made but that further in-depth discussion was needed on both directives, with the aim of an early and broad consensus.

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