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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Business, Innovation and Skills

Regional Development Agencies (Closure)

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Mark Prisk): The Public Bodies Act received Royal Assent on 14 December 2011, and includes parliamentary approval of powers to abolish eight regional development agencies (RDAs). The RDAs are expected to achieve operational closure by 31 March 2012 with formal abolition expected to occur at the end of June 2012.

Most of the RDA assets and projects which were not sold or closed have transferred to receiving bodies during 2011. This includes the majority of land and property assets to the Homes and Communities Agency, grants for research and development to the Technology Strategy Board and venture capital funds to be managed by Capital for Enterprise on behalf of BIS.

BIS issued individual transfer schemes for each RDA under the Public Bodies Act, which came into effect on 1 January 2012 and transferred the majority of the remaining projects and contracts as well as 13 staff from RDAs to BIS so that they can be managed to completion. The schemes and associated transfer schedules are available in the Libraries of both Houses.

I expect that there will be two further transfer schemes to move the last remaining assets, liabilities and obligations out of the RDAs prior to abolition. The first of these is expected in March with the second taking effect at the time of abolition.

The RDAs will produce accounts for the financial year 2011-12 and these will be laid in the Houses in the summer of 2012 in the usual way. The accounts for the period from 1 April 2012 to the date of abolition will be laid in due course.

Communities and Local Government

Disabled Facilities Grant

The Minister for Housing and Local Government (Grant Shapps): Today the Department for Communities and Local Government is announcing the local authority allocations of the £20 million additional funding for the disabled facilities grant in England.

Local authorities are being informed of their individual allocations. Details of the amount awarded to each authority will be available on the Department for Communities and Local Government website and a table detailing the funds provided to individual authorities has been placed in the Library of the House.

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The disabled facilities grant was protected within the spending review and additional funding is now being provided to help more people live as comfortably and independently as possible in their own homes through the provision of adaptations. This additional £20 million has been allocated to local authorities using a relative needs weighted index and all local authorities will receive some additional funding.

The grant provides financial assistance for a wide range of housing adaptations ranging from stair lifts, to level-access showers and home extensions. The disabled facilities grant is improving the lives of many disabled people and this additional funding is a further demonstration of our commitment to helping older and disabled people continue living in their homes for longer.


Armed Forces Redundancy Programme

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Andrew Robathan): The Government announced in the outcome of the strategic defence and security review in October 2010 that, as part of moving to Future Force 2020, we would reduce the size of the Regular Army by 7,000 personnel, and both the naval service and Royal Air Force by 5,000 personnel. In addition, in order to balance the British Army’s regular and reserve forces, further reductions were subsequently identified to deliver a Regular Army of around 82,000 by 2020. We also made clear that, in order to maintain balanced force structures for the future, an element of these reductions would need to be made through a redundancy programme.

Our statement of 1 March 2011, Official Report, column 21WS, set out the process and timetable for the armed forces redundancy programme. Consequently, in September 2011, 2,860 service personnel were notified of their redundancy in the first tranche; 1,020 service personnel from the naval service, 920 from the Army and 920 from the Royal Air Force. Of those made redundant in tranche 1, some 1,770 (62%) had applied for selection.

Today the services are announcing the fields from which they will select personnel to be made redundant in the second tranche of the programme. This will comprise up to 300 members of the naval service, up to 2,900 members of the Army and up to 900 members of the Royal Air Force. This will be the last major tranche for the Navy and the Royal Air Force, who will be able to achieve the majority of the remaining draw-down by other means.

The same selection principles as used in the first tranche will be applied. The services will seek applicants, but will also consider all personnel that meet the published criteria. The redundancy programme will not impact adversely on the current operations in Afghanistan, and no one who is preparing for, deployed on, or recovering from specified operations on the day that redundancy notices are issued will be made redundant unless they have applied. Personnel who are assessed as being permanently below the level of fitness required to remain in the forces will not be considered for redundancy, and will instead leave through the medical discharge route at the appropriate stage in their recovery.

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Throughout the redundancy process, we will ensure that we retain the capabilities that our armed forces require in order to meet the challenges of the future.

Puma ZA934 (Findings of Service Inquiry)

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Nick Harvey): I wish to inform the House today of the findings of the service inquiry into the incident involving Puma ZA934 on 8 August 2007 at Catterick in which three service personnel tragically lost their lives and others on board were injured.

A service inquiry was convened to examine the cause of this incident and to make recommendations to prevent recurrence and this is now complete. The purpose of the service inquiry is to establish the circumstances of the loss and to learn lessons from it; it does not seek to apportion blame.

Puma ZA934 from 33 Squadron RAF Benson was conducting training at the Catterick training area. The Puma was carrying 12 personnel: three RAF crew, an Army officer and eight recruits undergoing basic training at the infantry training centre, Catterick.

The service inquiry found that at approximately 20.50 local time during the day’s final sortie, the Puma failed to recover from a tight turn and crashed into land to the west of the Catterick training area. Detailed analysis by the Royal Navy Flight Safety Incident and Investigation Centre suggests that the aircraft’s tail rotor guard that protrudes below the tail hit the ground first as the pilot attempted to regain height. This initial impact resulted in the tail being severed. The aircraft then lost rotational stability as the rotor blades made ground contact, causing the fuselage to rotate and flip several times, finally coming to rest having broken up considerably.

Following extensive investigation, the service inquiry concluded that the cause of the incident was an incorrectly executed manoeuvre which caused the aircraft to crash. Contributory factors that led to the incident included: the crew’s combined relative inexperience; the lack of robust crew supervision; human factors; manning shortfalls; the high operational task load placed upon 33 Squadron; and the reduced opportunity, because of this task load, for supervised consolidation and reinforcement training.

In addition to these findings, the then Commander Joint Helicopter Command (Rear Admiral Johnstone-Burt) also identified three additional contributory factors: the crew’s lack of adherence to checks; operating procedures; and their flight at below the authorised minimum level. In total, 29 recommendations were made covering aircraft handling, training, supervision, manning, organisation and equipment. Of these, 25 have already been implemented and the residual recommendations are in hand.

A copy of the service inquiry, redacted in accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, is being placed in the Library of the House and on the Ministry of Defence website.

Deputy Prime Minister


The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): The coalition programme for government includes a commitment to establish a commission to consider

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the “West Lothian question”. In my statement of 8 September 2011,

Official Report

, column 27WS, I gave some details of the forthcoming commission and undertook to return to the House with further detail including the terms of reference for the commission. This statement sets out the further detail.

The “Commission on the consequences of devolution for the House of Commons” will consist of a panel of six independent, non-partisan experts, chaired by Sir William McKay, a former Clerk of this House. The other five commission members, whose backgrounds are in law, academia and constitutional development in the UK and the EU, are: Sir Stephen Laws, Sir Geoffrey Bowman, Professor Charlie Jeffery, Professor Yvonne Galligan and Sir Emyr Jones Parry.

As I stated previously, the commission will focus on parliamentary business and procedure. The commission’s terms of reference are:

“To consider how the House of Commons might deal with legislation which affects only part of tine United Kingdom, following the devolution of certain legislative powers to the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the National Assembly for Wales.”

The commission will commence in February 2012 and will make its recommendations to the Government in the course of the next parliamentary session. This reporting time scale is necessary to ensure that the commission has time for proper scrutiny of all relevant options.

Home Department

Late Night Drinking (Late Night Levy and Early Morning Restriction Orders)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Crime Prevention and Antisocial Behaviour Reduction (Lord Henley) has today made the following written ministerial statement:

A consultation on the secondary legislation for the late-night levy and early morning restriction orders has been launched today.

The late-night levy and early morning restriction orders (EMROs) are two alcohol measures in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. The extension of EMROs will allow local councils to restrict the sale of alcohol in their local area flexibly between 12 am and 6 am. This is a tool that licensing authorities can use to prevent problems in the night-time economy in either a part or the whole of their area. The late-night levy will fulfil our commitment to allow councils to levy a charge from those selling alcohol late at night in their area to help contribute towards high policing costs in the late-night economy. Again, it can be applied flexibly between 12 am and 6 am. These measures will empower local communities to act to achieve a more viable night-time economy.

The “Dealing with the Problems of Late Night Drinking” consultation is an opportunity for licensing authorities, the licensed trade and its representatives, police officers and the public to share their views on the details of the regulations that will implement these policies. In particular, it asks for views on what categories of premises should benefit from exemptions and reductions under the measures, with the intention to avoid penalising premises that are not part of the wider late-night economy.

Copies of the consultation will be placed in the House Library and it is also available on the Home Office website.

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Prime Minister

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (UK Delegation)

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): The hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) and the hon. Member for North East Hertfordshire (Oliver Heald) have been appointed as full members of the United Kingdom delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in place of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) and the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), who become substitute members.

Lord Anderson has been appointed as a full member in place of the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), who becomes a substitute member.

Lord Ahmad and Baroness Eaton have been appointed as substitute members in place of Lord Glentoran and Lord Inglewood.

The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) has been appointed as a substitute member in place of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles).


Civil Aviation Authority Environmental Objectives

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): When the CAA is exercising its air navigation functions it is required under the Transport Act 2000 to take account of environmental guidance given to it by the Secretary of State. The current guidance was issued in 2002 by the then Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

The CAA has been able to take account of the guidance to make decisions on over 70 proposals for airspace change over the last nine years. The guidance recommends that the CAA keeps abreast of current Government policy including on planning, sustainable development and noise as well as guidance issued by the devolved Administrations.

Given the length of time since the guidance was published, and the recommendations of Sir Joseph Pilling in his July 2008 strategic review of the CAA and the Transport Select Committee in its 2009 report on the use of airspace, the Government recognise the need to update the guidance to reflect current Government policy, including on issues such as noise and climate change. This will be done next year following development of the “Sustainable Framework for UK Aviation” and will include a public consultation so that all views can be heard on this important subject.

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In the interim the Department for Transport is publishing today a technical addendum to the guidance. The addendum updates references and lists relevant policy documents and legislation published since 2002 that the CAA takes into account when considering airspace change proposals.

Plug-In Car Grant Review

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I am pleased to announce the launch of a plug-in van grant alongside the continuation of the existing plug-in car grant to help stimulate the market for ultra-low emission vehicles. The plug-in van grant, available to both private and business buyers across the UK, will provide a point of purchase discount of 20%, up to a maximum value of £8,000, for the purchase of eligible new ultra-low emission vans(1).

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk) and I have reviewed the existing plug-in car grant, which provides a discount of 25%, up to £5,000 off the price of eligible ultra-low emission cars. We examined the need for and value of the grant, as well as its scope. We have concluded that there remains a strong case for the grant. We have therefore decided to continue with the plug-in car grant at the current level, with provision out to 2015.

In addition, we are persuaded that there is a strong case for supporting ultra-low emission technology in vans—which often have fixed duty cycles and return to base regularly where they can easily recharge. An up-front purchase grant, when combined with the lower running costs and tax benefits, can make switching to an ultra-low emission van an attractive choice for businesses. The plug-in van grant, alongside the existing plug-in car grant, is designed to help private individuals and businesses adopt new, cleaner technology. Businesses, especially those with fleets, will be a key driver in increasing the market share of ultra-low emission vehicles.

The shift towards clean technology is an opportunity to reinvigorate further the UK automotive industry, where many van manufacturers are based, alongside helping to increase our energy security. The plug-in van grant will help to improve local air quality in our cities, reduce carbon emissions and meet Government targets. The technology fits well with a large portion of the van market that relies on short urban trips to and from base.

Only vans which meet strict performance criteria for range, tail-pipe emissions and safety will be eligible for the plug-in van grant. We are today opening the application process and inviting van manufacturers to apply for their vehicles to become part of the scheme. To be considered in the first tranche, applications will need to be received by 31 January. I look forward to confirming very shortly thereafter the first vans to join the scheme.

(1) Subject to state aid approval from the European Commission.