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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins):
The Home Office has today published two online national statistics reports on reconviction rates, which are the basis for measuring progress against its 2002 public service agreement target, to reduce reoffending for young offenders and for adult offenders by 5 per cent. by 200506.
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The juvenile report includes a correction of figures published in 2003 in Home Office Online Report 18/03. That report indicated that 2001 figures showed a 22.5 per cent.reduction in reconvictions compared to 1997. As a result of an internal review of the methodology for calculating these figures, errors were identified and we commissioned an independent peer review, which confirmed the methodology used. The corrected figure for the fall in reconvictions between 1997 and 2001 is 7 per cent. Although lower than the previously published figure, this is nevertheless very significant progress.
The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt):
A report on the review of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC) has been published today. The review has been conducted by an independent reviewer,
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Dr. Neil Williams, in line with the Cabinet Office guidance for reviewing non-departmental public bodies. Its main recommendation is that the AEBC should be wound up by the end of the current financial year.
I, and ministerial colleagues involved in the funding of the AEBC, are grateful for this report. We accept the advice of the review committee, that the report should be published as soon as possible and with minimal comment from Ministers. We would like to express our thanks and support for work that the AEBC has carried out since its creation four years ago. We acknowledge the dedication of its members. The contribution of its chairman, Professor Malcolm Grant, has been key to everything the commission has so far achieved.
We now intend to consider the recommendations of the independent review very carefully, and aim to reach a decision shortly. We will however ensure that we engage with stakeholders prior to making decisions on the future of the AEBC or a successor body.
The Science and Technology Committee, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee have been sent copies of this report. It has also been sent to the Chair, Deputy Chair and Members of the AEBC, learned societies and other stakeholders and I have placed copies in the Libraries of both Houses. An electronic version of the report has been placed on the Office of Science and Technology website at: http://www.ost._gov.uk/policy/bodies/review.htm.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): I have today published my Department's autumn performance report for 2004. Copies have been laid before Parliament and placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Charlotte Atkins):
Today I am announcing firm allocations for the 116 local highway authorities and six passenger transport authorities in England, outside London, for capital expenditure in 200506. This settlement amounts to a £1.62 billion package of funding for local transport. This brings the total investment in local transport projects in the last five years to over £8 billion, a 100 per cent. increase compared to the previous five years. Today's announcement clearly demonstrates the Government's continuing commitment to delivering better local transport.
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This year's settlement delivers the final tranche of funding for local transport that the Government committed to in the five year indicative allocations, announced in 2000. As previously stated, Ministers have delivered sustained and predictable funding for each of the five years of the first LTP period (200106). This emphasises the Government's continuing commitment to the local transport system as a means of delivering sustained improvements to the transport infrastructure and, thus, to making real improvements to people's lives.
Details of the 200506 allocations have been placed in the Libraries of the House. Right hon. and hon. Members representing English constituencies outside London will receive full details for the local transport plan area covering their constituencies, from their regional government office, by the start of next week.
The Minister for Pensions (Malcolm Wicks):
Since the financial assistance scheme was announced in May we have made good progress in scoping what is an extremely complex problem, involving hundreds of pension schemes, with differing scheme rules and in different stages of winding up. Following an initial data-gathering exercise, we laid a report before the House in June, setting out an estimate of the numbers affected.
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Ministers and officials have since consulted with scheme members, trade unions and industry experts to gather and analyse more data, and explore options for the best way to get assistance to those who need it most.
Obviously, the full extent of the problem can be known only once all potentially eligible schemes have been identified and information obtained on the individuals affected and the extent of their losses.
In September, we launched a second, more detailed data-gathering exercise to identify potentially eligible schemes. It is important that all scheme trustees and actuaries who think their schemes might be eligible respond by 10 December. Data-gathering on the position of individuals will follow.
While we continue to seek industry contributions to the financial assistance scheme, full participation in this exercise is an immediate opportunity for the pensions industry to provide valuable practical help and assistance in kind.
As we have previously said, the scheme will not give everyone all of what they want. Nor will the scheme provide the same assistance levels as the pension protection fund, which provides cover going forward, funded by a levy. The primary objective is to provide significant help to those who have lost the most.
The available funding is set. People who are younger have more time to work and save for a pension to replace one that has been wholly or partially lost. Therefore we are minded to gear assistance levels with reference to the number of years an individual is from their retirement. To further focus resources, we are considering making payments for all individuals at age 65.
To minimise bureaucracy and to maximise payments to those facing the most serious losses, Ministers intend that, other assistance criteria aside, the FAS will include only those who will receive at least £10 a week, or equivalent, from the scheme.
Information already gathered makes clear that the vast majority of those that had started winding up with significant funding shortfalls did so after January 1997. We can therefore confirm that members of schemes that commenced winding up from 1 January 1997 will potentially be eligible, subject to the other FAS entry rules. Schemes starting to wind up right through to the introduction of the pension protection fund (6 April 2005) will also be potentially eligible.
Solvent employers have a duty to support their schemes and provide the benefits that members were expecting. So, it is right that the FAS focuses on insolvent employers. Nevertheless, issues concerning the definition of "employer solvency" remain under active consideration.
Those who have lost out due to their scheme winding up underfunded have already seen their expectations for retirement upset once. It is therefore important that the resources available for FAS are deployed in a way that ensures that any new promise made to those eligible will be delivered. This points to providing assistance by means of top-up to the occupational pension that
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individuals would otherwise receive. Trustees should therefore fulfill their duty to wind up schemes in an expeditious manner, including annuitisation where appropriate. We will consider further the precise means of deliveryoptions include a top-up pension, a cash lump sum, or purchase of an annuity at age 65.
Early next year we would hope to be in a position to announce what we propose by way of indicative assistance levels to those facing the most urgent difficulties, as well as an indicative list of schemes that are likely to be eligible for assistance if those schemes are subsequently shown to comply with the FAS rules.
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