The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Don Touhig):
The key targets have been set for the chief executive of the Met Office for the financial year 200506. The targets are designed to drive change to create an environment for growth, whilst delivering
13 Jul 2005 : Column 28WS
value for money. Further information can be found in the Met Office's annual report and accounts which will be published by September 2005.
To demonstrate an improvement of 1 per cent. in the underpinning numerical weather prediction capability. And to achieve minimum levels of accuracy on next-day forecasts for a representative selection of UK cities as follows: maximum temperature (83 per cent.), minimum temperature (78 per cent.), and precipitation (85.5 per cent.).
As a basis for delivering future efficiencies, to define in costed-output terms the services to be provided to key central Government Departments; and to agree formal customer-supplier agreements with each such Department. In addition, to pilot with MOD a new incentive pricing mechanism which allows the benefits of cost-reductions to be shared between both organisations.
As a baseline improving the management of people, to establish a benchmark for staff perception of the Met Office leadership, and the level of satisfaction with the implementation of the corporate plan.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Don Touhig): On 12 July, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration laid before Parliament her special report on the complaint of Professor Hayward in respect of the far east prisoner of war and civilian internee ex-gratia payment scheme. The report makes a number of criticisms of the Government's handling of the scheme, a number of which are accepted but some of which we reject.
The Commissioner's report is critical of the way the scheme was introduced and announced. This criticism is accepted. A considerable amount of work had been undertaken on scoping the scheme before its inception but, because all parties involved wished the payments to be made as quickly as possible due to the age of potential claimants, the scheme was announced before all the criteria governing eligibility had been fully developed.
The wording used in this House on 7 November 2000 in announcing which former civilian internees would be covered by the scheme was "British civilians who were interned". This was clarified in March 2001 to allow decisions to be made on claims where the applicability of the original criteria was unclear. However, no clear announcement was made at this time of the birthlink eligibility criterion for civilian internees. The words used in November 2000 led Professor Hayward to think that, as a former British civilian internee, he was covered by
13 Jul 2005 : Column 29WS
the scheme. This expectation was ended when his claim was subsequently rejected as he did not meet the birthlink criterion.
We accept that the way the scheme was introduced and announced led to distress for Professor Hayward himself and for some other people in a similar position. There was no intention to cause such distress but we accept that it is real. The fact that this occurred is profoundly regretted and I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for it.
The Parliamentary Commissioner made a number of criticisms and recommendations on other aspects of the Government's handling of the scheme, notably relating to the birthlink criterion itself, which we do not accept. This criterion, on which Professor Hayward's application was rejected, is the subject of judicial review in which judgment was handed down on 7 July. This judgment is now being considered and it would not be appropriate to make further comment until the final outcome of the case is known. However, pending this outcome, the ex-gratia payment scheme has been suspended in relation to former civilian internees and their surviving spouses: claims may continue to be submitted but none will be considered meanwhile.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The chief executive of the defence science and technology laboratory (Dstl) has been set the following key targets for the financial year 200506:
Maintain and by the end of a three-year period show an increase in score for scientific and engineering capability in the technical benchmarking exercise from 67 per cent. in 200203 to 72 per cent. in 200506moderated by external assessors agreed with MOD's chief scientific adviser.
Define the scope, structure and funding requirements of a new defence and security research and development centre and, subject to new funding being available from customers, prepare a specific proposal for its creation.
Achieve planned progress to meet the completion date of 2008 for the transfer of Dstl onto three core sites at Porton Down, Portsdown West and Fort Halstead. The key milestones for 200506 are: appointment of the preferred bidder (August 2005); negotiate with the preferred bidder a reduction in facilities management costs for Dstl of at least 15 per cent. from August 2006; sign contract (March 2006).
The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Phil Woolas): In light of the statutory consultation exercise conducted between 1 April and 31 May, it has been concluded that it would be appropriate to revoke the Local Government Pension Scheme (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2004. The Local Government Pension Scheme (Amendment) Regulations 2005 which make the revocation will have retrospective effect from 1 April 2005 and will come into force on 3 August 2005.
As required by the statutes which govern the scheme's provisions, a statutory consultation exercise has been undertaken with interested parties in England and Wales. Careful consideration has been given to the representations submitted in response to that consultation exercise. Many of those stakeholders who opposed revocation raised the question of costs and how taking such a step might impact on the scheme, and then create fresh pressures on local authorities' budgets if no suitable mitigating measures were put in place. That point is recognised and the Government fully intend to deal with it.
Representatives of the local government employers and trades unions have been invited by the Deputy Prime Minister to develop realistic and costed measures by the autumn to fully meet any costs arising from the decision to revoke the Local Government Pension Scheme (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2004.
To assist in that process and, as a measure to ensure the continued stability of the Scheme, an amendment is also being made by the Local Government Pension Scheme (Amendment) Regulations 2005 to provide each LGPS administering authority the vires to request an interim valuation of their pension fund, as at 31 March 2005. In the meantime, and as part of that process, LGPS pension funds, funding strategy statements will be undergoing review, as currently required by the scheme's regulations, and appropriate changes made to their deficit recovery periods can be taken into account by their actuaries.
Taking account of these costing exercises, the Deputy Prime Minister intends to ensure that his statutory responsibilities for the on-going solvency of the scheme are fully met. New regulations will identify the way forward to ensure that the local government pension scheme funds remain solvent, without additional calls
13 Jul 2005 : Column 31WS
on employers' contributions, or on Government. Consultations on these necessary further regulations to address the costs of revocation will take place in time for them to take effect from 1 April 2006.
The framework now provided by the LGPS tri-partite committee will ensure effective and co-ordinated progress on the development of the scheme. It is imperative for its affordability and sustainability that the effect of revocation is managed prudently and with regard to the need to ensure on-going solvency and viability. All the stakeholders in England and Wales with an interest in the scheme will wish to work to that end.