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16 July 2008 : Column WS65

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Written Statements

Wednesday 16 July 2008

Airports: Security

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Ruth Kelly) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

My department, in conjunction with the Home Office, has today begun a consultation on aspects of the Transport Security Bill designed to deliver more effective policing and security planning arrangements at airports.

The consultation sets out a new security planning process that:

requires the majority of airports in the UK to agree a local airport security plan with their key stakeholders, based upon an agreed threat and risk analysis; andallows any policing element of this plan to be charged to the airport operator.

As a consequence, the activities of the police, aviation industry and control authorities will be better co-ordinated to enhance and strengthen security planning. The process of security planning will provide a greater level of understanding to all security stakeholders at an airport as to why they are carrying out certain functions and what resources are required. It is also important that we create a level playing field whereby all airport operators pay for any dedicated police presence required at their airports.

Given the importance of strong policing and security planning in the current climate, we are using the opportunity of introducing a Transport Security Bill into Parliament next Session to deliver these objectives as well as including provisions to combat terrorist acts at sea.

It is important to note that airports already provide a secure environment for the travelling public and industry staff. We now want to ensure that security is addressed at individual airports in a structured way, and that the role of the police in preventing criminal activity is clearly determined.

Today’s proposals have developed from the findings of the independent review of airport policing that was presented to the Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Transport in July 2006. The Department for Transport and Home Office, working jointly, have developed the measures in close consultation with senior representatives from industry and the police.

Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Apprenticeships Bill (Draft)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): Today, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls) and I publish the draft Apprenticeships Bill.

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In January 2008, World Class Apprenticeships set out plans for achieving our aspirations for the apprenticeships programme. This draft Bill sets out the legislative framework needed to underpin our strategy to increase the number of apprenticeship places and strengthen apprenticeships in England.

Our ambition is that apprenticeships are seen as a key route to the best jobs, the best careers and the best chance to get on in life. Apprenticeships are at the heart of our strategy to raise the age of participation in education or training for all young people, with high quality vocational training clearly recognised as a mainstream route for young people. Apprenticeships will also help build a workforce fit for the future by providing better and more relevant skills to enable us to compete in the global economy.

Since 1997, we have substantially increased investment in apprenticeships, and the number of starts has increased from 65,000 in 1996-97 to 180,000 in 2006-07. This increase has been accompanied by a steady improvement in the number of people completing apprenticeships, from 40,000 in 2001-02 to 112,000 in 2006-07.

We want to build on this success. We want a significant increase in the number of places so that by 2013 we can ensure that there is an apprenticeship place for every suitably qualified young person who wants one. We want to strengthen the programme so that we can ensure that all apprenticeships are of a uniformly high quality.

Following pre-legislative scrutiny and the consultation we are launching today, the provisions in the draft Bill will form part of the Education and Skills Bill we will introduce in the next Session.

Copies of the draft Apprenticeships Bill will be made available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper office.

Armed Forces: Medical Services

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

Ministers have now approved the redevelopment of Whittington Barracks, Lichfield, for use by the Defence Medical Services (DMS) and I am today announcing the next steps.

The assessment phase of the Midlands medical accommodation project has been completed. We have concluded that the strategic, operational, economic and personnel benefits of the project will fully justify an investment of around £200 million over the next few years.

Co-location on the Whittington site of the DMS headquarters and the Defence Medical Services Training Centre (DMSTC, currently based near Aldershot) will give us a critical mass of military medical expertise and assets in the Midlands. The area will be reinforced as the central focus for British military medicine, and Lichfield will provide the future military home for the DMS.

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Our project assessment confirmed that the Whittington site offers excellent potential for meeting DMS needs. A combination of new build and upgrading of existing buildings will provide ample high-quality, fit-for-purpose accommodation, training and sports facilities, within easy travelling distance of central Birmingham and the RCDM elements that will remain there. The Whittington site also offers an adjacent military training area. Full planning approval for the redevelopment of the site has already been granted.

The project will be delivered in three increments:

an HQ office building; new and refurbished training accommodation; combined officers’ and senior NCOs’ mess; junior ranks’ dining room; training centre; and lecture theatre; and delivery of 811 single living accommodation bed spaces.

Increment one will involve the relocation to Lichfield of key management elements of the DMS, whose top structure is currently being reorganised as part of the DMS top structures next steps programme.

Development of a new strategic medical HQ and the HQ for the recently established Joint Medical Command (JMC) is now in progress. We are planning to locate these HQs at Lichfield by 1 April 2010 (although a small number of strategic medical HQ staff will remain in London). The HQ of the JMC will comprise staffs currently based at Fort Blockhouse, Gosport, who were formerly part of the Defence Medical Education and Training Agency; Defence Dental Services HQ staffs from RAF Halton, Buckinghamshire; the Defence Healthcare Directorate from central London; and elements of the RCDM HQ from Birmingham.

We shall place a contract later this year for the construction at Whittington of a purpose-built office block and associated site infrastructure works. We shall announce further details when this contract is placed. By early 2010 we expect that the site will be supporting over 300 military and civilian personnel in total. Almost 200 of these will be military and civilian posts transferred from central London, Gosport and Halton. Some posts will also be relocated from the RCDM HQ in central Birmingham.

Increments two and three will see the relocation of the DMSTC from Keogh Barracks, Aldershot, to Lichfield, and the provision of training facilities and living accommodation for over 800 staff and trainees. Existing facilities need to be replaced with accommodation that is fit for the 21st century.

The move of DMSTC will be completed between 2012 and 2014. The precise date will be decided in due course. By the end of the project there will be over 1,100 Defence Medical Services personnel at Lichfield, including up to 700 trainees, as well as over 100 personnel attached to lodger units that we expect to remain on the site.

There will be full consultation with the trades unions as the work on the new organisations and their co-location at Lichfield proceeds.

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The new jobs that this project will bring to the Midlands over the next few years will also help to fulfil our policy objective of moving jobs out of the greater south-east.

The decisions announced today about military medical accommodation in the Midlands are further evidence of the Government’s commitment to the healthcare of service personnel. I shall keep the House informed of progress with this important project.

Coroners' Inquests

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

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I wish to make the following Statement to the House about the inquests of service personnel who have died overseas. All fatalities suffered by our Armed Forces continue to be a source of profound regret. Our sympathies are with their families. It is particularly regrettable that this Statement comes at a time when in recent weeks we have experienced an unusually high rate of fatalities in Afghanistan. Our service personnel risk their lives in helping to build strong, stable and democratic nations, and to protect the interests of the United Kingdom. We cannot pay high enough tribute to the job that they do, or to the ultimate sacrifice which some of them have made. We are, as ever, strongly committed to minimising the effect on their families and loved ones.

Today, we are announcing the progress that has been made since the Written Ministerial Statement on 30 April 2008 (Official Report, Commons, col. 12WS) with information about the conduct of inquests by the Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Swindon and other coroners. This Statement gives the position at 8 July.

For the first time, the tables which accompany this Statement include information about those ongoing cases in which there has been a board of inquiry (BoI) report.

The purpose of a BoI is to examine the circumstances surrounding an incident resulting in death or serious injury, to learn lessons and to make recommendations to the chain of command for the improvement of working practices, procedures or equipment, which could help to reduce the likelihood of a similar incident happening again.

In some cases, the initial review of an incident will highlight any lessons to be learned or actions that could be taken to prevent a similar incident happening again. Dispensation from holding a BoI may be given if there are no further lessons to be learned. This is often the case for incidents occurring on operations.

Ministers and the military chain of command attach considerable importance to the timely completion of BoIs but the overriding requirement is that a thorough investigation identifies the right lessons. It should also be noted that a BoI (and the coroner’s inquest) cannot conclude until the completion of any police investigations. The coroner’s inquest may take place before completion of a BoI although this rarely happens in practice.

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Progress with inquests

At the time of the last Statement, we reported that since additional funding had been provided by the Government to assist the Oxfordshire coroner, 155 inquests had been held: 141 into the overseas deaths of service personnel and 14 into the deaths of civilians in Iraq whose bodies were repatriated via RAF Brize Norton.

Since April, a further 25 inquests have been held into the deaths of service personnel who died in operations overseas whose bodies were repatriated via RAF Brize Norton or RAF Lyneham. This makes a total of 180 inquests held since June 2006.

Since operations commenced there have been a total of 201 inquests into the deaths of service personnel who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, including one serviceman who died in the UK of his injuries. In two further cases, no formal inquest was held, but the deaths were taken into consideration during inquest proceedings for those who died in the same incident.

Open inquests

Fatalities Before 31 March 2007

The Statement in April reported that there were 27 inquests to be held into the deaths of service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan whose bodies were repatriated via RAF Brize Norton prior to 31 March 2007. As at 8 July, there are nine such inquests. The Oxfordshire coroner has retained jurisdiction in six of these cases; three have been transferred to coroners closer to the deceased’s next of kin. Hearing dates have been set in four cases.

The oldest individual inquest for which no date has yet been set is that into the death of Private Reeves who was killed on 9 August 2006.

In addition there are 10 inquests for the crew members who died together in the crash of Hercules XV179 on 30 January 2005. These inquests resumed on 31 March 2008 and were adjourned until 30 September.

Fatalities After 1 April 2007

Since October 2007, additional resources have been provided by the Government to ensure that a backlog of inquests will not build up in the Wiltshire and Swindon jurisdiction, now that fatalities are being repatriated via RAF Lyneham. The coroner, Mr Masters, is continuing the practice of transferring military inquests to a coroner closer to the bereaved family, where possible.

There are 57 inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel who died in Iraq and Afghanistan whose bodies were repatriated after 1 April 2007. Of these, Mr Masters has retained 34 inquests, whilst 23 inquests are being conducted by coroners closer to the next of kin. Inquest hearing dates have been set in 12 of these cases. Inquests into the two latest fatalities are yet to be opened.

Inquests into the deaths of service personnel who returned home injured

There remain five inquests to be held of service personnel who returned home injured and subsequently died of their injuries.

We are very grateful for the efforts of all the coroners involved in conducting these inquests.

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We shall continue to keep the House informed on a quarterly basis about progress with the remaining inquests. I have placed tables in the Library of the House which outline the status of all cases and date of death of each case. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Liaison with the next of kin

It is of the greatest importance that the next of kin have full information about the progress of the inquest of their deceased.

We remain committed to providing better support to bereaved military families. The Written Ministerial Statement issued on 7 June 2007 by my right honourable friend the then Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Adam Ingram), gave details of the support which was then being provided. Since then, we have increased the number of family members who can travel and stay overnight if necessary, at public expense, to attend the repatriation ceremony; and two family members may attend any pre-inquest hearings, as well as the inquest itself, again at public expense.

Visiting officers are crucial in providing the liaison between families and the services, and we continue to give close attention to their selection and training.

On 1 June, the Ministry of Defence established the Defence Inquests Unit. This unit acts as the focal point for all coroners’ inquests into the deaths of service and Ministry of Defence civilian personnel who die on, or as a result of injuries sustained while on, operations and those who die as a result of training activity. The unit’s key role is to assist coroners so that they can complete inquests satisfactorily and as quickly as possible.

The unit’s main function is to establish early contact with the coroner for each inquest, and to ensure that they are provided with all relevant paperwork, including reports from the Special Investigation Branch and Board of Inquiry (if convened). The unit will also help advise on subject matter experts for inquests. While the relevant service will, rightly, remain the focal point for liaising with the bereaved families, the unit will work closely with the services to ensure that there is a consistent approach, particularly in terms of providing information to families, coroners and welfare officers.

Crime: Magee Review

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

The House will wish to know that Sir Ian Magee's independent review of criminality information is being published today.

I am grateful to Sir Ian for his work on the review. He has presented us with a substantial report with wide ranging implications for all organisations which collect information that may be relevant to the prevention, investigation, prosecution, or penalising of crime. This is a complex area and there are no quick fixes. Sir Ian's package of recommendations will require sustained

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attention. I will therefore be consulting widely and I intend to publish a full, government-wide action plan in the autumn.

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