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Agricultural Merchants and Saddlers

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): With the consent of the Treasury, the schedule of fees for registration, retention and restoration of Agricultural Merchants and Saddlers with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain effective from January 2004 has been determined. This is given in the attached table:


Application in respect of each premisesPrevious fee£New fee£
Agricultural Merchants
For registration under Article 5232232
For retention of registration under Article 5153161
For restoration of registration under Article 5197197
For registration under Article 5127127
For retention of registration under Article 58385
For restoration of registration under Article 5107107


Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I am pleased to report to the House the latest developments in our plans to provide the Royal Air Force with a modern replacement air refuelling capability. The future strategic tanker aircraft (FSTA) programme is planned to replace the RAF's ageing fleet

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of VC10 and TriStar aircraft around the end of the decade. We have been considering for some time whether the FSTA capability can be provided through a service-based contract with industry under the private finance initiative (PFI). I can now report that, following a detailed assessment process, a bid from AirTanker Ltd has been judged to offer the best prospective value for money PFI solution to the FSTA requirement. This decision marks a key milestone on this vital project.

Under a PFI contract, industry would own and maintain the aircraft and provide training services, infrastructure and some personnel, whilst the RAF would undertake military operations. A PFI contract has the potential to offer considerable scope for innovation, not least because the contractor will be able to use aircraft not required by the RAF in peacetime to generate revenue, through commercial usage. Industry is also best placed to manage the through life risks of owning a fleet of modern jet airline aircraft. Two PFI consortiums submitted bids last year. AirTanker Ltd, which comprises Rolls Royce, EADS, Cobham and Thales, proposed a service using Airbus A330 aircraft, while the Tanker Transport Services Company (TTSC), which comprises BAE Systems, Boeing, Serco and Spectrum Capital, proposed a service using Boeing 767 aircraft. The competition was keenly fought. However, our judgment is that AirTanker's proposal offers the best prospective solution for the armed forces, the taxpayer and UK industry.

We will now take forward single bidder negotiations with AirTanker Ltd, aimed at concluding a PFI contract as soon as possible. I should stress however, this remains a complex and challenging PFI programme. A number of detailed issues remain to be resolved and we look to AirTanker to work with us over the coming months to resolve the outstanding issues. A final decision on whether or not to proceed with a PFI contract will not be taken until these negotiations have been satisfactorily concluded. I will of course ensure that the House is kept fully in touch with significant developments.


Higher Education Funding

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Charles Clarke): In my statement to the House on 8 January I set out measures to improve the student support arrangements that would operate alongside the introduction of variable tuition fees in higher education from autumn 2006. I said we would establish an independent review, working with the Office for Fair Access, to report to the House, on all aspects of the new arrangements based on the first three years' operation of the policy. I can now give more details on the draft remit

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of the review. During the passage of the Bill I would welcome comments and suggestions for amendments to this remit.

The review, which will be conducted by a commission, will work on the basis of evidence from the first three years' operation of the variable fee arrangements. It will report to Parliament and will cover three main areas.

The impact of the new arrangements on higher education institutions (HEIs):

The impact of the new arrangements on students and prospective students

Future policy

I would expect the commission to work with the Office for Fair Access, as well as seeking views from a range of other interests. The Government will consider any report before submitting any recommendation to the House on raising the upper limit of the tuition fee.

Work to establish baseline data for the review will begin in the 2004–05 academic year.