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Session 2006 - 07
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Supplement to the House of Commons Votes and Proceedings
17 May 2007



16th May 2007

To the House of Commons.

The Petition of citizens of the Isle of Sheppey,

Declares that the current proposals for the reorganisation of secondary education do not conform to the wishes of the local population.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges that the Secretary of State for Education ensures that secondary education should only be offered on the basis of a multi-site solution and that a single Academy should not be built on a single site at Minster College on the Isle of Sheppey.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.



16th May 2007

To the House of Commons.

The Petition of residents of Oxfordshire,

Declares that the Petitioners are extremely concerned about the threat to close half the Post Offices in England and Wales. The Government is considering a huge cut in Post Office funding, closing up to 7,200 Post Offices which will adversely affect over 12,000 pensioners in Oxfordshire alone who hold Post Office Card Accounts.

Further declares that Post Offices are at the heart of rural and many urban communities. Post Offices offer vital services to some of the most vulnerable people in the community, including those on low wages, unemployed and the elderly who will suffer most if Post Offices are closed on this scale.

Further declares that the Government has persistently undermined our Post Office network over a number of years. Ministers have prevented the Post Office competing in the market by penalising them and instead playing to the high street bank network, by seeking to withdraw the Post Office Card Account, and by preventing Post Offices selling TV Licenses and other products to keep them competitive.

Further declares that the Government's move to merge the watchdog Postwatch with the other consumer bodies is a clumsy attempt to silence opposition to the closures.

Further declares that offering compensation to Post Masters and Mistresses is no substitute for what they and communities want which is a strong, competitive Post Office, supported and not undermined by the Government.

Further declares that the Federation of Small Business has said that small business will also be adversely affected by Post Offices closures and that the Federation of Sub-Post Masters and Mistresses, which presented the largest ever petition in support of Post Offices, has said the closures will devastate communities.

The Petitioners therefore call on the House of Commons to urge the Government to stop action which will lead to the immediate closures of Post Offices and urgently review funding for Post Offices and the services offered by them to enable Post Offices to continue to serve as a cornerstone of the community for individuals, business and the most vulnerable in society.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


Observations by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the Petition [15th March] from residents of Rushden, Northamptonshire and surrounding areas against the poor quality of the television signal in their area.

    Government appreciates that television services are important to most households. Although payment of the TV licence cannot guarantee reception of services, the broadcasters, the BBC and Ofcom are keen to ensure that disruption to television distribution and reception is kept to a minimum.

    Management of the spectrum, including matters of reception and interference, is not a matter for Government, but is dealt with by Ofcom in accordance with their duties and powers provided for in the Communications Act 2003.

    Ofcom have no statutory powers to investigate situations where television reception is disrupted by physical structures such as buildings, but they do recommend that planning authorities should take potential disruption to TV reception into account when considering planning applications for large structures. Planning authorities can impose conditions on developers to investigate and take remedial action to restore TV reception for affected viewers.

    If no such conditions are imposed then it is of course open to households to negotiate with the developer about remedial action to provide householders with alternative means of receiving TV services. Ofcom has also advised that they are proposing to establish a scheme allowing certain communities to build and operate their own low-power digital TV 'repeater' transmitters in areas where terrestrial signals would not otherwise be available. Although primarily intended for small rural communities, the scheme might also benefit communities in urban areas which suffer a loss of service due to building developments. The proposals are currently open to public consultation.

15th May 2007


Observations by the Home Secretary on the Petitions [12th March] from supporters of the Knives or Lives? Campaign for increased sentences for knife associated crime; and [21st March] from Mrs Ann Oakes-Odger and others for legislation to treat knife crimes on the same terms as gun crimes.

    Sentencing policy is continually examined and there is a particular focus on violent crime and in particular the use of bladed weapons. The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 extended the maximum custodial sentence for having a bladed instrument in a public place from 2 to 4 years, and also raised the age at which someone can be sold a knife from 16 to 18, lessening the opportunity for young people to have access to such weapons.

    With regard to the issue you raise regarding sentencing, it is recognised that there needs to be a consistent set of guidelines that cover all offences that should be applied whenever a sentence is passed. In order to achieve this we established the Sentencing Guidelines Council in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The Council is responsible for producing guidelines which all courts must have regard to. The guideline on assessing the seriousness of offences makes it clear that the use of a weapon to frighten or injure a victim is an aggravating factor which must be taken into account and will result in a more severe sentence.

    I note your request to introduce mandatory minimum sentences for possession of a knife. As I have explained, the maximum custodial penalty was recently increased and we currently have no intention to introduce mandatory minimum sentences. Possession offences are committed by a large number of younger offenders and sentences currently are mainly non-custodial. Mandatory custody would escalate a great many offenders up the criminal justice system. We recognise the need for legislation relating to knife crime to be an effective deterrent in tackling the knife carrying culture particularly amongst young people.

    There is a particular difficulty relating to a mandatory sentence for the possession of knives-knives, far more so than guns, are widely used for legitimate purposes.

    Mandatory minimum sentences also have serious drawbacks: they are inflexible and cannot easily respond to the circumstances of individual offences; and they are deeply resented by the judiciary, who see them as undermining their role.

    I would like to assure you that the Government appreciates your concerns regarding the problems associated with knife crime, and is serious in taking steps to drive down the incidents of carrying bladed weapons and knife attacks, whilst increasing the sanctions on those found guilty of these crimes.

15th May 2007


Observations by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the Petition [17th April] from residents of Nottingham and others for legislation to restore full pension entitlements to those who have lost their pensions.

    People have signed this Petition because they want the pension entitlements of 85,000 people whose defined-benefit pension schemes started to wind up before April 2005 to be restored in full.

    The Pensions Act 2004 introduced the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), the Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS), replaced the Minimum Funding Requirement (MFR) and put in place specific measures to provide support, advice and protection to schemes and to scheme members.

    The PPF provides protection to members of eligible defined-benefit occupational pension schemes where an employer becomes insolvent (after 6th April 2005) and leaves the scheme under funded. The PPF ensures that people in these circumstances have security in retirement by paying them compensation, subject to PPF rules.

    The FAS provides support to members of defined-benefit occupational pension schemes which started to wind up, underfunded, between 1st January 1997 and 5th April 2005 and where the sponsoring employer has undergone an insolvency event.

    Most affected occupational pension schemes have already been accepted as qualifying schemes for the purposes of the FAS and an increasing number of people are now receiving assistance.

    As the Secretary of State said in his statement to the House on 22nd February, we have been reviewing FAS as a result of the recent judgments from the European Court of Justice (ECJ), and also from the High Court.

    In his Budget Speech on 21st March, Gordon Brown announced that we now intend to increase total long-term expenditure on the FAS to 8 billion. This equates to more than doubling funding for the scheme in 'present value' terms, from 830 million to 1.9 billion. This extra money will allow us to further increase the scope of the payments.

    The new money for the FAS will mean that all members of qualifying pension schemes will receive 80% of their core pension rights accrued in their scheme at age 65. The cap will be increased to 26,000 and the de minimis rule, which excludes people whose FAS payments would be 10 a week or less, will be removed.

    These changes will bring in an additional 85,000 people, ensuring that an estimated 125,000 people who lost their pensions will be helped. Of the 40,000 people who stood to benefit from FAS under the current scheme, we estimate that around 15,000 will receive more assistance due to the latest extension as they will move from the 65% and 50% taper rates to 80%.

    The High Court directed the Secretary of State to reconsider his response to the Ombudsman's first recommendation (to compensate those who had suffered loss of pension rights) on the basis of her finding that official information, in particular certain leaflets, was maladministrative. This package is the result of that reconsideration.

    Further, the Secretary of State has taken account of the judgment of the ECJ in the Robins case when considering the terms of this enhanced FAS package, and the government believes that the protection offered by this package complies with the terms of that judgment.

    Introducing the new package will require secondary legislation. Subject to this, the changes will be introduced as quickly as possible to ensure people benefit from the ending of the de minimis and increasing of the cap.

15th May 2007

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