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Palestine: Security

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): In his written statement of 2 March 2005, Official Report, column 89WS, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs informed hon. Members of the outcomes of the 1 March London meeting in support of the Palestinians. In respect of security sector reform the international community committed itself to providing financial support to re-equip the security services; establishing a fund for early retirement of security personnel; and helping to address the cost of pensions for security officers.

In his written answer to the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) on 3 February 2005, Official Report, column 1109, my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade and Investment set out our on-going assistance to the Palestinians to improve the performance of their security forces, through provision of technical assistance and equipment. On 23 December we informed Parliament, by means of a Departmental minute, of a gift of equipment to the Palestinian Central Intervention Forces (CIF) to help them provide public order security for the 9 January Presidential elections and beyond. In the event, the CIF were disbanded as part of Palestinian moves towards rationalising their security services and members returned to their original units, notably the national security forces. Officials from the Consulate General in Jerusalem and the Embassy in
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Tel Aviv have kept in close contact with Palestinian security officials to ensure that the equipment supplied (communications equipment, tents, uniforms and office equipment) will be used effectively by Palestinian security forces.

The Palestinian security forces, including the civil police, with whom we have also been working, performed well in the run-up to, and during, the 9 January elections, when security was good.

We had intended to donate twenty cars to the CIF but the delivery of these was delayed and did not take place before disbandment of the CIF. We have waited until after the London meeting to see how Palestinian security sector reform was likely to progress and have now decided to give the cars to the national security forces, units of which will play a security role similar to that envisaged for the CIF. We have received assurances from the Palestinian Minister of the Interior on the use to which these cars will be put. A recently appointed military liaison officer from the MOD is working closely with the NSF to improve their capacity. He has identified a shortage of transport as one of their strategic weaknesses and will monitor closely the deployment of these vehicles.

We are working closely with US security co-ordinator General Ward who is leading the Quartet's oversight committee on security. We will continue, in co-ordination with General Ward and the rest of the international community, to assist the Palestinian security sector to improve its capacity to maintain public order security and prevent terrorist attacks, in the crucial period leading up to the proposed Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in July, and beyond.


Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton): The eighth report to Parliament on the pharmaceutical price regulation scheme (PPRS) was published today.

The report, entitled "PPRS: Eighth Report to Parliament", covers the negotiations and the 2005 scheme and the management and operation of the 1999 scheme including the delivery of the 4.5 per cent. price cut and consolidated information on company annual financial returns. The report sets out the contribution made to the economy by the UK based pharmaceutical industry and gives an update on international price comparisons.

Copies of the report have been placed in the Library.


United Kingdom Passport Service Corporate Business Plans 2005–10

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Mr. Desmond Browne): The United Kingdom Passport Service has today published its corporate and business plans for 2005–10. Copies of the plans have been placed in the Library of the House.
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The Prison Service Business Plan 2005–06

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): The prison service business plan for 2005–06 (including the previously agreed key performance indicator targets) has been published today. Copies have been placed in the Library.

Police Pensions Finance Reform

The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): We have today published a consultation paper which sets out detailed proposals for implementing a reformed system of police pensions financing. We intend that the new system should be in place by April 2006 in line with the introduction of a new police pension scheme.

In 2001 a working party from the Treasury, Home Office and the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions completed a joint review of arrangements for the financing of police and fire pensions. The police pension scheme is currently financed on a pay-as-you-go basis. This means that officers' pension contributions go into police authorities' operating accounts from which the pensions of retired officers are paid. Authorities receive central Government funding support to pension payments as part of police grant.

The joint review recommended revised financial arrangements based on officers' contributions and a new employer's contribution being paid into a separate pensions account from which pensions payments would be made. The new pensions account would be locally administered but central Government would either top up the account or recover any surplus as necessary. The recommended system is similar to those used for other unfunded public service pension schemes such as for NHS staff, teachers and civil servants. Similar changes have been proposed for the firefighters' pensions.

The new arrangements would cover the financing of both existing and new police pension schemes, but would have no impact on their terms and conditions. The arrangements would benefit police authorities by removing year-to-year volatility in pensions expenditure arising from the uneven incidence of lump sum retirement payments. They would also enable the rising burden of police pensions expenditure due to increasing numbers in retirement over the coming years to be kept separate from police forces' operational expenditure.

While welcoming the recommendations of the joint review it was recognised that work was still needed to map out the details of how the new system could be successfully implemented. A Home Office led working group has now considered these issues in the context of the police pension scheme and has produced a report with recommendations. A key point of the report is that the changes, at an aggregate level, will be cost neutral and will have no impact upon either the local or national tax payer. However, we recognise the need for police authorities, forces and other stakeholders in the police service to contribute to the debate on these detailed proposals before we come to a final decision on implementation.
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Copies of the consultation document are available in the House Library and on the Home Office website

The consultation period will last for 12 weeks and will close on 17 June 2005.


Prison Service Pay Review Body

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ian Pearson): The third report of the Prison Service Pay Review Body (PSPRB) on the pay of governor and officer grades in the Northern Ireland Prison Service has been published today and copies placed in the Library. I would like to thank the chair and members of the PSPRB for their hard work in producing their recommendations.

This completes the PSPRB's work for the current year, their recommendations for HM Prison Service having been published and accepted by the Government last month.

My right honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has decided that the recommendations will be implemented in full, with effect from the operative date of the award of 1 April 2005. The cost of the award will be met from within the existing budget allocation for the Service.

Rosemary Nelson Inquiry

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Paul Murphy): On 16 November 2004, I announced the terms of reference for the inquiries into the deaths of Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson and Billy Wright. All three inquiries have now begun their work.

In the light of its considerations so far, the Rosemary Nelson inquiry has asked me to consider amending its terms of reference in order to make clear beyond any doubt that the actions of the Army and the security and intelligence agencies fall within their scope.

I am happy to do so and I am giving notice today that I am amending the Inquiry's terms of reference at their request so that they now read as follows:

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