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20 Oct 2008 : Column WS57

20 Oct 2008 : Column WS57

Written Statements

Monday 20 October 2008

Armed Forces: Nimrod

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

The House will recall the circumstances surrounding the loss of Nimrod XV230 in September 2006 which led to the tragic death of 14 service personnel. The subsequent board of inquiry recommended that the ageing aircraft audit be reviewed to include aircraft systems. In order to ensure that we found the most robust way possible of meeting this recommendation and tightening up our safety and maintenance procedures, we decided to conduct a forensic-level teardown of a Nimrod aircraft. This approach is extremely rigorous and the first time that we have conducted this sort of exercise.

We wanted to gain the most information possible from this process. Therefore we selected XV236 because it was due to go into its five-yearly major maintenance refit and it is one of most heavily used aircraft on operations in our fleet. The work, which is being conducted by QinetiQ, began in August.

QinetiQ has provided an initial report which sets out the result of an extensive visual inspection, conducted as a precursor to the teardown work itself. This inspection has revealed a number of faults and husbandry issues, which had not been recorded in the aircraft’s maintenance documentation. There were examples of corrosion, scratches in the aircraft structure, and some damage and deterioration. Apart from the aircraft structure scratching and a cable anchoring issue, both of which were investigated across the fleet to ensure that other aircraft were not similarly affected, the issues were individually minor in nature.

We immediately commissioned a separate thorough investigation in response to the teardown report to assess whether the individual and cumulative impact of these issues had any serious airworthiness implications. They did not, and it was concluded that the Nimrod remains safe to fly. This investigation was carried out in conjunction with QinetiQ and BAE Systems with each issue identified in the QinetiQ report being analysed, explained and remedial action identified where required. This has formed the basis for a companion report that places the initial QinetiQ report into its proper context.

We have also initiated an inspection of the Nimrod fleet to ensure that maintenance procedures are being rigorously applied. It is well under way and will be completed by the end of October.

Copies of both reports are today being placed in the Library of the House and on the MoD website. The material is also being passed to Mr Haddon-Cave QC for inclusion in his review.

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The teardown work will generate quarterly reports, setting out the findings and conclusions reached. We propose to adopt a similar approach to each of these reports and to make them available in the same way. In the mean time, QinetiQ staff, the MoD’s integrated project team, and the design authority, BAE Systems, remain closely engaged to ensure that any issues that might require immediate attention or investigation are known and understood. If at any point QinetiQ identifies a serious airworthiness issue during the teardown, it has been asked to raise it immediately with the MoD, in order that we can take swift action.

Broadcasting: Digitalisation

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Carter of Barnes): On 17 October, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham) made a Written Ministerial Statement which was placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

On Friday I launched a joint programme of work by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform which will lead to a digital Britain report (DBR) in the spring of 2009.

Information and communications technologies and broadcasting account for 5.9 per cent of GDP, turnover of more than £52 billion and 500,000 jobs. Indirectly they are critical to every business in the economy and to people’s quality of life.

The Government have already undertaken much important work in this area, particularly:

the recently published Caio review on next generation broadband access;the digital radio working group currently scheduled to deliver a report in December; the recent memorandum of understanding to address file sharing between internet service providers and rights holders; the Byron review on children and new technology leading to the UK Council for Child Internet Safety;the work of the convergence think tank; andthe digital inclusion action plan.

This sits alongside complementary strategic work by the industry regulator Ofcom on, for example, public service broadcasting and regulation of broadband and by the UK Intellectual Property Office on adapting our copyright framework to meet the challenges of the digital age.

A growing body of evidence shows us that convergence—the coming together of different means of delivering content (TV, radio, mobile, internet)—has already arrived for many people in many situations, and that policy approaches need to reflect that fact. We now need to prepare to take the next steps to prepare Britain for a future beyond convergence. The DBR will provide the platform to do this.

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The overall strategic objective of the DBR will be to ensure the UK maximises the benefits of convergence right across the economy and society. This will be delivered by achieving the public policy objectives of open markets, empowered and informed consumers’ and citizens’ universal access to public service content and a responsive regulatory framework.

Within these public policy objectives, there will be nine areas of focus, around which the report will consider what future legislative and non-legislative measures are required, resulting in a detailed action plan. The structure of the report will be as follows (some areas of study will inform more than one policy objective; for simplicity they are listed under the category they most strongly match).

Open markets providing investment, innovation and choice, at all levels of the value chain including infrastructure, service provision and creation of content.

Broadband development—examining options for maximising participation and levels of service across the UK.

Digital radio—identifying barriers to wider investment and development of digital radio platforms, and drawing lessons from the current digital switchover television programme.

Investment in content—exploring business models for content development in a digital age, and the impact of new media on the content market.

Spectrum—identifying the barriers to the release of spectrum and a fully functioning market in the trading and use of spectrum.

Empowered and informed consumers and citizens fully equipped to take advantage of the opportunities convergence brings.

Internet—looking at a range of issues affecting internet users, such as user security and safety and a workable approach to promoting content standards.

Media literacy and IT skills—identifying inhibitors to IT take-up and barriers to maximising the economic and social effects of digital technologies including empowering consumers.

Universal access to high-quality, public service content through appropriate mechanisms for a converged digital age.

Public service broadcasting/content—evaluating the impact of digitalisation and the new technologies on public service broadcasting assets and public service licences, in the UK as a whole and in the nations and regions.

Independent production—examining how to ensure the health of a vibrant independent production sector, including examining the impact of the current quota system.

A responsive regulatory framework that maximises investment and innovation by providing certainty and equipping regulators with the right tools to achieve their objectives.

Intellectual property—the UK Intellectual Property Office will take forward work to deliver a digital copyright framework which supports creativity, investment and job creation in these important sectors.

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Crime: Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My right honourable friend the Minister of State (David Hanson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The seventh annual Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) reports are published today. The MAPPA bring together the police, the Probation Service and the Prison Service in each of the 42 areas in England and Wales into what is known as the MAPPA responsible authority. Other agencies are under a duty to co-operate with the responsible authority; including social care, health, housing and education services.

The aim of MAPPA is to protect the public from the risks posed by serious and complex offenders, and they do this in two ways: first, by ensuring the production of risk management plans that benefit from the information, skills and resources provided by the individual agencies being co-ordinated through MAPPA; and, secondly, by focusing multi-agency MAPPA management on the cases that need it most.

One of the most notable developments last year was the roll out of ViSOR, the violent and sex offenders register, to every probation area and every prison in England and Wales. This means that the police, prison and probation services, working together through MAPPA, have the same key information about offenders, including details of current risk management plans.

It is also clear that the MAPPA agencies are increasingly robust in dealing with non-compliance by these offenders, many of whom pose the highest risk of harm of all offenders under supervision. Offenders managed at MAPPA levels 2 and 3 are increasing likely to be recalled to prison for breaching sexual offences prevention orders, and registered sexual offenders are more likely to be charged or cautioned for breaching the notification requirements.

These are the headlines but a great deal of work has gone on in the past 12 months to improve the way we manage dangerous offenders. Immediately after last year’s reports were published in October 2007, revised national MAPPA guidance was published. The new guidance incorporated the learning from the previous three years’ of research, case review and inspection findings and implemented seven of the recommendations of last year’s child sex offender review.

These included changes to formalise procedures for disclosing information about dangerous offenders to people outside of MAPPA where this is necessary to improve risk management plans. Section 140 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, which came into force in July, supports these procedural changes by requiring all 42 MAPPA responsible authorities to consider disclosure in all cases involving child sex offenders.

The annual reports describe how the arrangements work locally and include key public protection achievements in each of the 42 police and probation areas of England and Wales. They report on progress

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against local business plans, outline next year’s plans, and provide contact points for further information. They also provide statistical information on the number of offenders eligible for the MAPPA and how they are managed.

Copies of every area report are being made available to the Libraries of both Houses.

Disabled People: Blue Badge Scheme

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Lord Adonis): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The blue badge (disabled parking) scheme provides a vital lifeline to 2.3 million disabled people in England. The value of the badge, in terms of independence, cannot be understated, as 75 per cent of badge holders say that they would go out less often without a badge.

Having listened to the views of badge holders, the general public and disability groups about how the scheme can be improved, I am today announcing the comprehensive blue badge (disabled parking) reform strategy for England. This strategy contains a suite of commitments that will be taken forward over the next five years, that are designed to radically reform the scheme in a manner that is right for the 21st century. Copies of the strategy have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and are available from the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office.

I want to ensure that the maximum number of people, who have a genuinely severe disability, can benefit from the scheme. That is why the strategy contains a commitment to extend the scheme to people with certain significant temporary mobility problems (lasting at least one year), individuals with severe mental impairments, seriously disabled veterans and more children, under three, with specific medical conditions.

Assessments will be made fairer and more consistent—local authorities will receive up to £15 million per year to conduct improved independent medical assessments.

We will explore options for improving the badge renewal process, from a customer perspective, for people with permanent and degenerative disabilities.

Nine local authorities have been awarded the status centre of excellence in administering and enforcing the scheme. They will receive £500,000 to share good practice and drive up improvements in management of the scheme with other local authorities.

We plan to enable local authorities to charge a badge application fee—which has remained unchanged at £2 since 1983—that is more appropriate to their costs.

Badge holders and motorists are particularly concerned about abuse of the scheme, through theft, forgery or borrowing of disabled badges by non-disabled people. I am committed to preventing this, and the strategy outlines a number of anti-abuse measures.

Up to £10 million will be provided to local authorities, over the next three years, so that they can establish a system of data-sharing to reduce fraudulent misuse of

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badges. The scope for on-the-spot seizure of badges being used unlawfully by non-badge-holders will be examined. Badge security features will also be improved.

A range of communication activity will take place to highlight the blue badge reform strategy. This will include messages about the impact that abuse has on disabled people.

There is a commitment to support the British Retail Consortium in doing more to tackle disabled parking abuse in their members’ off-street car parks.

Relevant authorities in London will be asked to gather evidence to determine whether parking restrictions currently placed on badge holders visiting central London should be relaxed.

Once the domestic reforms are complete, greater foreign reciprocity of the badge will be explored.

I am also publishing today a summary of responses to the department’s recent public consultation on the scheme, which will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses, and have formally responded to the Transport Select Committee inquiry on the blue badge scheme.

EU: Justice and Home Affairs Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): The Justice and Home Affairs Council will be held on 24 October 2008 in Luxembourg. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Meg Hillier), the Scottish Minister for Community Safety (Fergus Ewing) and I will attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed.

The council will concentrate on interior and justice issues. The morning of the council will focus on interior items, starting with the mixed committee also attended by Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. The presidency will give an update on the state of play of the second generation Schengen information system (SIS II). The council will then be asked to adopt the council decision and regulation published by the Commission on 16 April 2008 establishing the legal framework governing the migration from the Schengen information system in its current form, SIS 1+, to SIS II. The UK is content to adopt the texts in their current form. The presidency will then request that member states approve the amending SISNET budget for 2008. The UK is content to approve the budget.

The presidency is seeking to agree council conclusions on proposals to set up national alert platforms and a European platform for reporting offences on the internet. EUROPOL is being invited to conduct an impact assessment with a view to establishing and then hosting the European platform. This platform would receive alerts on offences from the national platforms of the European Union's member states. The UK is broadly supportive since the draft would enable us to rely on existing national platforms to feed the European platform.

The presidency is seeking to agree council conclusions on the principle of convergence, which aims to improve EU police co-operation through a range of measures such as improved police training, better use of technology

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and equipment and joint investigation teams, where this can be seen to add value. The UK supports the initiative where it focuses on practical measures to enhance police co-operation.

The presidency has issued a paper to guide debate on West African drugs (cocaine) trafficking. Drug trafficking through West Africa causes harm to EU citizens, undermines the impact of regional EU development assistance and undermines governance in the region. The UK believes that there needs to be an EU co-ordinated response to the threat and this is an excellent opportunity for us to steer that response.

The council will discuss the Commission proposal on the use of passenger name records (PNR) data for law enforcement purposes, which restricts the processing of PNR data to flights between third countries and EU member states only for the purposes of counterterrorism and combating organised crime. The UK wishes to see an EU level framework which sets a minimum level of harmonisation for the processing of PNR data, allowing member states to legislate domestically for additional collection and uses of PNR data.. The council will be asked to note progress on these issues and give a mandate for working group discussions to continue.

Ministers will be asked to agree the creation of a European criminal records information system (ECRIS). This proposal is designed to create a computerised conviction information exchange system between member states. The UK will support this as the arrangements will allow the system to function smoothly, enable the technical work to progress without unnecessary bureaucracy and ensure that member states maintain a sufficient degree of control.

The presidency will be seeking political agreement on the articles of the proposal for a council regulation on jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of decisions and co-operation in maintenance obligations. It is planned that the recitals and standard forms will be agreed at the council in November. As the UK did not opt in to this proposal we will have no vote. However, following the compromise on applicable law rules which was agreed to enable the UK to participate in the adopted regulation, we hope to be in a position to signify our wish to accept the measure under the terms of Article 4 of the UK-Ireland protocol.

The council will be asked to approve guidelines on the protection of vulnerable adults which encourage those member states that want to accede to the Hague Convention of 13 January 2000 on the international protection of vulnerable adults to sign and/or ratify it as soon as possible and, once sufficient experience has been acquired in the operation of this convention, to invite the Commission to consider whether there is a need for additional measures at Community level. The Government support these guidelines. The UK has signed the Hague Convention and has ratified it for Scotland. Ratification for the rest of the UK is to follow.

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