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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 13 December 2004


Autumn Performance Report

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Ruth Kelly): I have today published the Cabinet Office 2004 autumn performance report (Cm 6414). Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.


Public Service Pensions

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng): Legislation governing public service pensions requires public service pensions to be increased annually by the same percentage as additional pensions, state earnings-related pension and state second pension. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announced on 6 December 2004, Official Report, column 906 that benefits such as additional pensions will be increased by 3.1 per cent., in line with the annual increase in the retail prices index up to September 2004. Public service pensions will therefore be increased by 3.1 per cent. from 11 April 2005, except those which have been in payment for less than a year, which will receive a pro-rata increase.


Burnside Farm Video

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I would like to set out the record of events surrounding the video taken on Burnside Farm in February 2001, following the point of order raised by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), on 18 November 2004, Official Report, column 1469, about a video made at Burnside Farm.

The video in question was recorded by Northumberland county council on 24 and 27 February 2001 following the discovery of foot and mouth on Burnside Farm. Defra (then MAFF) officials were aware of the video being made, as they were present on the farm on those two dates.

The video was used in evidence by Northumberland county council against Robert Waugh, the occupier of the farm, at his trial in May 2002. Defra officials, who gave evidence at the trial, saw the video as part of the court proceedings. Northumberland county council say they did not release the video before the trial because of sub-judice rules.
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The video was made widely available to the media immediately after the trial and extracts from it were shown on the television news. Lord Whitty and Elliot Morley, both Ministers in Defra at the time, recall seeing extracts from the video on the news at that time.

We have a record of a Defra official seeing the video again on 2 October 2002, at the offices of Northumberland county council, during preparations for the trial of Mr Scurr, the haulier, who had an association with Burnside Farm. The Defra official had already seen the video at Robert Waugh's trial and had requested a copy of it then.

He made a further request after the October viewing and was sent a copy of the video on 18 February 2003.

Officials at the Institute for Animal Health, Pirbright, who had been involved in the epidemiological investigation into the FMD outbreak, had obtained a copy of the video from Northumberland county council for training purposes after the Waugh trial. A Defra official saw the video at Pirbright in October 2002 and subsequently asked Northumberland county council for a copy. This was sent to him at the beginning of February 2003.

As a result of correspondence received by Defra in September this year and the recent media and parliamentary interest in the video, Defra officials, who were unaware that copies had already been sent to two Defra officials separately in February 2003, asked Northumberland county council for copies of the video. These were received in Newcastle animal health divisional office on 1 October.

This was the basis of my answer on 9 November 2004, Official Report, column 576W. The letter from Lord Whitty of 17 November to the Countess of Mar, referred to in the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire's point of order, was based on the information that was discovered subsequently that two Defra officials had in fact received copies of the video in February 2003. As soon as this information was brought to my attention, my reply of 9 November was corrected in the pursuant answer tabled on 18 November 2004, Official Report, column 2000W.

So, the suggestion of a cover up of the video is not supported by the facts. The video was made by and was the property of Northumberland county council. The council made the video for use in evidence against the occupier of the farm, Mr Waugh, at his trial. The video was first put in the public domain by Northumberland county council in May 2002 and it was shown widely in the television news media at that time.

The suggestion has been made that the video shows a dog pulling at a sheep carcase, which, it is claimed, casts doubt on the epidemiological evidence about the origin of the outbreak presented to the lessons to be learned inquiry, chaired by Dr Anderson. This is also not borne out by the facts. I am advised that it is not possible to identify with certainty the material in question. That is why the eye-witness evidence, collected meticulously by Defra, IAH and local authority officials who were actually present on the farm at the time should be considered paramount. This was the evidence presented to the Anderson inquiry, augmented by interviews conducted by Dr Anderson himself. It is worth recalling
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that Mr Waugh was prosecuted for leaving part of a dead pig lying on his premises. No sheep carcases were found anywhere on the farm. Furthermore, no clear evidence of infection has been found anywhere in the UK earlier than that at Burnside Farm.


Intermediate Level Radioactive Waste Substitution

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): The Government's updated policy on the substitution of intermediate level radioactive wastes has been published today. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The statement is also available on the DTI website at www.dti.gov.uk/.


Employer Task Force on Pensions Report

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Alan Johnson): I am today pleased to publish the Employer Task Force on Pensions report. I would like to thank Sir Peter Davis (Chair), Dr. David Alien (Vice Chair) and the task force members for their work on this important issue.

The Employer Task Force on Pensions was set up with a specific remit to increase and extend occupational and private pension provision. The task force's members represented a wide range of businesses. There was also trade union representation.

The Task Force's report sets out a clear and comprehensive recommendation to help reinvigorate employer pension provision. It is supported by a good practice guide that contains an important source of practical information for employers. The task force have also published, in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development a good practice guide on communications.

The report sets out the task force's view on the measures those involved in the pension partnership need to take to re-invigorate voluntary savings. This is an important contribution to the debate over the future pensions challenge.
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The report also makes clear that we need to do more to encourage individual understanding and to make pensions more user-friendly, so more people will take up and value the help that their employer provides. We are pleased that the task force has welcomed measures to increase awareness through the work of the Informed Choice Programme and FSA Financial Capability Strategy.

The report also makes clear that individuals must take responsibility for themselves and value the help that their employer provides. We are pleased that the Task Force has welcomed measures to increase awareness through the work of the Informed Choice Programme and FSA Financial Capability Strategy.

The Employer Task Force has also made recommendations for the Government. We will consider these alongside the work of the Pensions Commission. But, where we can make more rapid progress we will.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has already announced forthcoming deregulatory changes to the financial promotion regime [under the Financial Services and Marketing Act 2000 (FSMA)] so that employers who make a contribution to an employer-based group personal pension scheme or stakeholder pension scheme can promote the scheme to their staff. The Employer Task Force has welcomed this announcement.

The Employer Task Force has also raised concerns about the availability of long-term assets to back annuities and has welcomed a recent Government announcement instructing the UK Debt Management Office to consult the market on the possible introduction of ultra-long (circa 50-year maturity) gilts, possibly in annuity format.

The Employer Task Force's work on good practice provides excellent examples of what employers are already doing to promote their pensions and provides a valuable tool for other employers. We will therefore be acting on the task force recommendation that the Government set up a website drawing together all the work that has been done in this area.

We also recognise that small employers face specific issues. We welcome the task force's recommendation to improve access to pension information for small business through a web portal. Next year we will be testing and evaluating improved information services to support small employers.