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Written Statements

Thursday 13 November 2008

Buncefield Explosion

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): In the early hours of Sunday 11 December 2005, a number of explosions occurred at Buncefield oil storage depot, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. At least one of the initial explosions was of massive proportions and there was a large fire, which engulfed a significant proportion of the site. More than 40 people were injured, although fortunately there were no fatalities. Damage occurred to both commercial and residential properties in the vicinity and a large area around the site was evacuated on emergency service advice. The fire burned for several days, destroying most of the site and emitting large clouds of black smoke into the atmosphere. The damage to the site and the escape of the stored fuel, plus large quantities of fire-fighting materials, resulted in contamination of the groundwater in the vicinity of the site by fuel, fuel-related contaminants and surfactants needed to control the fire.

Following the explosion, a major incident investigation board (MIIB), independently chaired by Lord Newton of Braintree, was established and has overseen an extensive investigation into the causes of the accident and ways to avoid or mitigate similar incidents in the future. The MIIB has now published eight reports, four of which were progress reports, with the other four setting out findings and making recommendations concerning the design and operation of fuel storage sites; emergency preparedness for, response to and recovery from incidents; the explosion mechanism advisory group; and land use planning and the control of societal risk around major hazard sites. The recommendations are aimed mainly at site operators and the COMAH competent authority, but there are also recommendations for various government departments to consider arising out of the findings and recommendations on emergency preparedness and land use planning.

I am pleased to announce to the House that I have today placed in its Library a report detailing the response of the Government and the competent authority to the MIIB reports on the design and operation of fuel storage sitesand on emergency preparedness for, response to and recovery from incidents.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Lord Newton and his board for their very thorough reports, which will lead to improved safety, environmental protection and resilience at and around major-hazard sites.

Overall, I can report that good progress has been made against the recommendations. With regard to the MIIB report on design and operation of fuel storage sites, both the competent authority (comprising the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Environment Agency and Scottish Environment Protection Agency) and industry have acted promptly on the implementation of the recommendations, and this work has delivered real improvements in the prevention of major incidents.

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On the second MIIB report, covering emergency preparedness for, response to and recovery from incidents, government organisations, notably the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) and the Cabinet Office, have responded to the challenge with a programme of action. As announced in the National Security Strategy, published in March 2008, the Cabinet Office has embarked in 2008 on a review of Part 1 of the Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) 2004. Delivered through the CCA enhancement programme, the review will ensure that the CCA continues to provide a modern, consistent and effective platform for civil protection in the UK. The review will directly address relevant recommendations highlighted in the second MIIB report.

The devolved Administrations have also been fully engaged. This is coupled with positive work at a local level to enhance the resilience and effectiveness of emergency response, supported by new guidance from the Government. I am pleased to see these improvements, and we are already better prepared for any future emergencies at major-hazard sites.

I would also like to take this opportunity to update the House on recovery and regeneration in the Buncefield area, which I am pleased to say is progressing well, with substantial financial assistance from central government and the East of England Development Agency (EEDA). In conjunction with the local authority and key local stakeholders, EEDA is also developing innovative proposals to combine a series of significant funding programmes to help to finance major infrastructure improvements identified in the local masterplan as key to driving growth in the area. In terms of recovery, 22 million litres of contaminated firewater stored at Maple Lodge and Blackbirds sewage treatment works has been treated and disposed of safely. The remaining firewater was safely disposed of by high-temperature incineration earlier this year. A parcel of land adjacent to the Buncefield site is in the process of being sold and developers were invited to submit proposals to EEDA by September.

With respect to regeneration, based on Dacorum Borough Council’s programme of development, CLG has made a provisional award under the housing growth areas scheme for 2008-09 of £2.71 million and an indicative provisional award of £3.814 million for the period 2009-11. The East of England Development Agency has also provided £4.5 million to date—some £2 million pre-incident—and has pledged a further £2 million of any public gap-funding required to enable phase one of the Maylands gateway masterplan to proceed. This includes funding for a Maylands partnership and recovery director as a focal point for recovery and regeneration activity and around £1.8 million of funding for a business support centre. Industry has also contributed a substantial sum to the restoration of business activities and regeneration in the local area.

EEDA is working closely with Dacorum Borough Council and local stakeholders, developing proposals to designate the area as a new town improvement district. If agreed, following a vote by local business, this will create a substantial funding stream beginning as early as April 2009, directly controlled by local businesses, to further fund local infrastructure investment.

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The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will lead government consideration of the most recent MIIB report, Recommendations on Land Use Planning and the Control of Societal Risk around Major Hazard Sites, which was published on 15 July this year. CLG will respond substantively on behalf of the Government in due course.

Meanwhile, CLG officials have met members of the MIIB to discuss the board’s recommendations. In developing the Secretary of State’s response, CLG will work closely with both the HSE and the devolved Administrations. It intends also to convene a stakeholders’ group, comprising representatives from government, regulators and industry, with whom to consult as the work proceeds.

The regulatory regime for controlling the siting of major-hazard facilities and development around them is complex, involving a number of legislative instruments.

CLG intends to commission a study to set out and explain the operation of the legislation controlling the planning application and hazardous substances consent processes, and to consider the scope for rationalisation and possible integration of these regimes. The study will also investigate the extent to which local planning authorities with active consents have relevant policies in their development plans.

To summarise, I can report to the House that in response to a series of very useful reports from the MIIB, the Government, the competent authority, industry—through the Buncefield Standards Task Group—and others subject to the recommendations have responded promptly. They have set in train a programme of work that will ensure real improvements in the prevention of major incidents and, should major incidents occur, that effective plans are in place to respond and recover in the best way possible.

Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007

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

Today the Government are publishing the response to the consultation Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007—Relevant Third Party. A relevant third party (RTP) is someone who can make an application on behalf of a victim of forced marriage without first requiring the permission of the court. Other applicants on behalf of a forced marriage victim must obtain the permission of the court.

Responses to the consultation generally supported the use of local authorities in England and Wales to act as the RTP for victims of forced marriage under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007. The Government agree with this view. When designated, local authorities will be able to make applications without the court’s permission for forced marriage protection orders on behalf of someone who is or who has been forced into marriage.

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While we believe that local authorities are best placed to serve as RTPs, we recognise that the role that the voluntary sector plays is an important one and should be explored further. The success of the independent domestic violence advisers (IDVAs) has shown how the voluntary sector can play a strong support role in helping those who are the subject of domestic violence in the criminal courts. While IDVAs are currently limited to the criminal court, they have expertise in dealing with issues like forced marriage, are experienced multi-agency workers and work under an accredited scheme. Therefore, we will also carry out a pilot using a local IDVA scheme as a RTP. If this proves successful, we would look at extending the RTP provisions more widely across IDVAs as well as other voluntary sector organisations.

The Lord Chancellor may make an order specifying a person or description of persons who may act as a relevant third party under Section 63C of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007. An order will not be made until local authorities are sufficiently prepared to act as RTPs, having ensured that they will operate within an appropriate framework and in accordance with guidelines that help to safeguard the best interests of the victim.

During the time it will take for this to occur, it will be possible for anyone, including local authorities, to apply on behalf of a victim if they obtain the court’s permission. This will ensure that victims of forced marriage can obtain the protection of the court where they cannot apply for a forced marriage protection order themselves. The court’s scrutiny of an application for permission to apply for an order will ensure that the victim’s best interests are safeguarded.

I have placed copies of the government response to the consultation Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007—Relevant Third Party in the Libraries of both Houses.

Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations (Amendment) Order 2009

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Lord Adonis): I have today published an addendum to the Department for Transport’s consultation on proposed amendments to the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations Order 2007 (SI 3072) to slow down the rate of increase of the renewable transport fuel obligation (RTFO) and to add two new fuels to the renewable fuels eligible for certificates under the scheme, launched on 15 October. This addendum proposes additional amendments to rectify a discrepancy recently identified in the 2007 order and to delete provisions from the order as a consequence of changes to the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties Act 1979 made by the Finance Act 2008.

The discrepancy concerns the definition of relevant hydrocarbon oil in the order. This definition identifies the category of fossil fuel which must be taken into account when determining whether a supplier is subject to the RTFO and, if so, how many certificates showing supply of renewable fuel the supplier must produce. The intention was that the definition of relevant hydrocarbon oil should include fossil fuel that is blended

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with biodiesel or bioethanol as well as fossil fuel that is supplied unblended; this is how the order has been interpreted by the Renewable Fuels Agency and suppliers. However, the current drafting of the definition does not include fossil fuel that is blended with biodiesel or bioethanol before it passes the point at which the requirement to pay duty takes effect. This means that only fossil fuel that is supplied separately from biodiesel or bioethanol or is blended after it passes the duty point can be counted.

The addendum that I have published today proposes additional changes to the 2007 order to rectify this discrepancy so that the fossil fuel component of bioblend and bioethanol blend supplied from the beginning of the next RTFO obligation period, April 2009, will count towards the obligation. Due to the constraints of the primary legal powers, we will not be able to amend the order retrospectively to change the definition for this obligation year and the department is advising fuel suppliers of this fact.

The consultation period for the addendum is shorter than normal and ends on 17 December, the date when the consultation launched on 15 October ends. Any amendments to the RTFO order are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and the shorter consultation period is necessary to ensure that the amendments can be included in a single draft order that can be laid and debated in Parliament before it is made to come into force in April 2009. The nature of the amendments is such that a shorter consultation period is appropriate. The amendments to deal with the discrepancy give effect to what was previously thought to be the meaning of the order and the other amendments are purely consequential and do not change the meaning of the order.

The content of this addendum does not affect any of the other issues that are the subject of the consultation launched on 15 October—proposals on slowing down the rate of increase of the RTFO and on the addition of two new eligible renewable fuels under the scheme. The Government remain committed to ensuring that UK biofuels policy promotes development of a sustainable biofuels industry, by proceeding with caution until the wider environmental and social impacts of biofuels are better understood.

Copies of the letter to stakeholders and attached addendum have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and are available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office.

Schools: National Challenge

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls)has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I would like to update the House on progress on our school improvement strategy for secondary schools and the next steps in ensuring that every child has the chance to achieve their potential and enjoy their time in education.

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In June, we launched the National Challenge, backed with new resources of £400 million to transform schools where less than 30 per cent of young people gain five or more higher-level GCSEs, including English and mathematics. I would like to pay tribute to the way in which local authorities and schools have drawn up plans to support sustainable improvements in individual schools. I am pleased to announce that I have today agreed proposals for National Challenge improvement plans in 48 local authorities. Two local authorities, Bristol and Lincolnshire, are already in a position to outline their plans today.

I welcome the way in which many local authorities, in consultation with school heads and governors, are now bringing forward imaginative and ambitious proposals including transformational plans for new academies and National Challenge trusts. These plans also include support for improvements in teaching; for more high-level teaching assistants; for individual help to meet children’s learning needs; and to support stronger middle and senior leadership. They are all designed to meet particular schools’ needs according to their particular context. We are continuing discussions with other authorities about the funding packages necessary to support their National Challenge schools, and I will update the House in due course.

While it is right that we give extra support to those schools with the lowest results and facing the most challenging circumstances, there are other schools where, despite higher GCSE results, pupils do not fulfil their earlier promise and could achieve much more. Such “coasting” schools have not yet done enough to realise their pupils’ potential.

Every child has the right to a good education that stretches them and helps them to realise their full potential. That is why today I am publishing a strategy to help these schools to raise their game and to kick-start improvement in schools that are coasting. This strategy will be supported by funding of up to £40 million to bring about improvements in these schools.

We will be asking local authorities to identify and work with the schools that they consider to be “coasting”. These are schools that have shown too little improvement in attainment and progression over a period of years. They are schools that may be achieving good enough GCSE results to earn a reasonable reputation but whose performance conceals poor progress, sometimes among its more able pupils and sometimes among those who face additional barriers to learning such as SEN. Schools like this need and respond well to challenge, but they have not always had it. They are not performing badly enough to receive an inadequate judgment from Ofsted, or to risk significant numbers of parents choosing to send their children to another school. None the less, they should be achieving better outcomes for all their pupils and providing a more exciting and challenging learning experience.

We know what the very best schools do to make significant improvements. They do not rest on their laurels; they are characterised by a “we can do better than this” attitude. They set ambitious targets for their pupils and monitor their progress, and if pupils fall off trajectory they intervene to put them back on course. This focus on progression is backed up by a personalised

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approach to teaching and learning and focused feedback to each pupil so that each child knows what they are aiming for and what they have to do to get there.

Every partner will have their role to play in this strategy and we want to focus the attention of parents, governors, heads and local authorities on what they should be expecting their school to achieve. We want to raise expectations of parents and empower them to challenge schools to deliver the very best for their child. We will work with local authorities to identify the schools that could benefit from this programme and engage with parents, head teachers and governing bodies to take the action needed to challenge these schools to improve. If schools do not improve, we will step up the level of challenge and expect local authorities to use their existing intervention powers.

We will be offering these schools the support from other schools and leaders who have the experience of raising performance in their own schools to help them to unlock their potential. Schools in the programme will also have access to additional funding to form trusts and federations should they want to formalise the benefits of collaborative working. Extra funding for schools to draw down additional resource will also be made available, as will training to improve their assessment for learning, tracking pupils’ progress in order to inform future planning and teaching. We will also support schools to provide high-quality after-school study to re-engage those pupils, particularly those with SEN, who have become bored and demotivated. All this will be brokered by school improvement partners, further empowered through additional training and an extra four days per year to drive improvement in these schools.

This strategy is a key part of the 10-year vision in the Children’s Plan to make this country the best place in the world for children and young people to grow up. It is part of our drive to deliver the ambition that we outlined in the Childrens Plan and continued with the National Challenge: the ambition to raise attainment and aspirations, narrow the gap and ensure educational excellence for everyone.

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Taxation: Avoidance

The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My right honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Stephen Timms) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government are taking action today to counter tax avoidance schemes involving the leasing of plant or machinery.

Action is being taken against schemes that have been disclosed to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) under the avoidance disclosure regulations and which:

involve the lease or sale and leaseback of plant or machinery to obtain relief for more than the original cost of the asset;seek to avoid tax on the granting of a long funding lease; andinvolve the sale of a company that is an intermediate lessor of plant or machinery.

In addition, the Government are taking action to remedy a technical defect in the Capital Allowances Act that could lead to a loss of tax when a long funding lease ends.

The Government have also become aware that partnerships that have in the past invested in films are attempting to avoid tax by means of converting existing leases into long funding leases of plant or machinery.

This continued abuse of the tax rules on leased plant and machinery and by film partnerships is unfair on the majority of taxpayers, who comply fully with their tax obligations, and can undermine the funding of public services. The Government are determined to act to ensure that tax avoidance is effectively countered and will therefore introduce appropriate legislation in the 2009 Finance Bill which will be effective from today.

Technical notes explaining the material that will be contained in Finance Bill 2009 will be published on HMRC’s website today.

Copies of today’s HMRC technical notes have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and are accessible on the HMRC web site at

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