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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 21 March 2005


Chemical Weapons Convention

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The UK's chemical protection programme is designed to protect against the use of chemical weapons. Such a programme is permitted by the Chemical Weapons Convention, with which the United Kingdom is fully compliant. Under the terms of the convention, we are required to provide information annually to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). In accordance with the Government's commitment to openness, I am placing in the Library of the House a copy of the summary that has been provided to the organisation outlining the UK's chemical protection programme in 2004.

Skynet 5

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): I am pleased to announce that Skynet 5 has been accepted into service on time and to cost.

This represents a tremendous accomplishment by all parties concerned in the enterprise arrangement, and shows how PFI can successfully be brought to bear to provide our armed forces with the best available capability at the right price.

In addition to the enhancement to our defence capability, achievement of ISD is good news for our industry. The achievement shows that excellent results can be achieved in a demanding environment through close partnering between public and private sectors. The Skynet 5 project enables around 1,900 jobs to be sustained or created over the life of the programme.


Beacon Councils

The Minister for Local and Regional Government (Mr. Nick Raynsford): We are announcing today the Beacon Councils for round six of the scheme. Some 44 applications from 48 authorities have been successful across 10 different themes. Government Ministers made their decisions following recommendations from the independent advisory panel on Beacon Councils. Copies of the panel report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Beacon council scheme was set up in 1999 and provides a remarkably popular and successful way of both celebrating and promoting best practice in local government. In the first six rounds of the scheme, 275 Beacon awards have been made in 59 service themes. Round six beacons will now work with the improvement and development agency to ensure that their good practice is spread to other authorities. Learning
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exchanges, where authorities can both disseminate their good practice and learn from the excellence of others, have now been attended by nearly all authorities. These events have helped and will continue to help raise the level of service provision by local government to the people of this country.

Planning for Town Centres

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): I am pleased to announce publication today of planning policy statement 6 (PPS6), "Planning for Town Centres" which sets out the Government's policies for promoting vital and viable town centres in urban and rural areas across the country.

PPS6 maintains the town centre first approach to planning for main town centre uses set out in the earlier national guidance on town centres, but places much stronger emphasis on the need for a pro-active plan-led approach to planning for town centres. Positive planning is critically important in ensuring town centres provide enhanced consumer choice, promote economic growth and deliver more sustainable patterns of development.

A further important strengthening of the policy framework in PPS6 is in relation to tackling social exclusion, with greater emphasis being placed on improving the provision of a range of shops and services, and encouraging investment in deprived areas.

PPS 6 applies in England and replaces revised planning policy guidance note 6 (PPG6), "Town Centres and Retail Developments" published in June 1996. The policies in PPS6 should be taken into account by regional planning bodies in the preparation of revisions to regional spatial strategies, by the Mayor of London in relation to the spatial development strategy for Greater London and by local planning authorities in the preparation of local development documents, and may also be material to decisions on individual planning applications.

Over 380 responses to the consultation draft version of PPS6 were received and these responses have been taken into account in finalising PPS6. Draft PPS6 provided guidance on design issues and implementation tools, which has been reviewed and is published today as a separate guidance note, entitled "Planning for Town Centres: Guidance on Design and Implementation Tools", alongside PPS6.

Copies of both documents have been made available in the Libraries of both Houses and are available to download from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's website www.odpm.gov.uk/.


Valuation Office Agency

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): I have today set the following key performance indicators for the Valuation Office Agency for 2005–06:

1. Valuation Accuracy

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2. Council Tax Revaluation—England

3. Council Tax—Wales

4. Value for money 1

5. Inland Revenue

6. Land Services

7. Customer satisfaction 2

8. People satisfaction

Inheritance Tax and Pensions

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): We have been asked to clarify how inheritance tax (IHT) will apply to choices made by pension scheme members under the new simplified pension regime, and in particular what the implications are when scheme members opt for an alternative secured pension rather than taking an annuity at age 75 as they have been obliged to do in the past.

The same broad principles will continue to apply to the new regime as they have done to the old rules, and as they do to any other situation where people are able to make choices affecting their future wealth and that of others.

People are broadly treated as making a taxable transfer for IHT purposes when they omit to increase their own wealth in favour of increased wealth for others, just as they are when they transfer to others wealth that they already have. This is a principle of general application, and has always applied to choices under pension schemes as it has to any other choices that people make about their wealth. It is important that we maintain this principle, both in the interests of fairness
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between taxpayers and to ensure that pension funds remain dedicated primarily to providing retirement income.

The Inland Revenue published a statement of practice in 1992 setting out when IHT would be applied to choices made under the pension rules in force at that time. A new and wider range of choices will be available under the simplified regime, and that statement will no longer be valid. Treatment broadly comparable to that in the statement may remain appropriate in some situations, but in others that is clearly no longer so.

I have asked the Revenue to open discussions with interested parties to seek a consensus on the detailed application of IHT law to the new situations arising under the simplified regime, and on how in practice cases which are chargeable should be identified and any charge should be quantified. The Revenue will shortly be publishing a consultation document setting out their analysis of the IHT issues as a basis for these discussions.

ASPs were designed to provide an alternative to annuitisation for those with religious objections to risk pooling. They were not meant as a vehicle for inter-generational transfers by scheme members generally, and the Government will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that they are not being used for avoidance.

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