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Chemical Weapons Act 1996

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Alan Johnson): I am pleased to announce that in accordance with the requirements of section 33 of the Chemical Weapons Act 1996, I have laid a report on its operation during 2004 in the Libraries of both Houses.

Audit Regulation

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Alan Johnson): I have received the annual reports for the year 2004 from the five recognised supervisory bodies for company auditors: a combined report from the Institutes of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and one each from the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants and the Association of Authorised Public Accountants. Copies of the reports have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Schedule 11 of the Companies Act 1989 sets out the requirements which a body must meet to be eligible for recognised supervisory body status. These include requirements to have adequate arrangements for monitoring and enforcing compliance with its rules relating to membership and eligibility (e.g. holding an appropriate qualification, being a fit and proper person, working to technical and ethical standards, maintaining competence), discipline and investigation of complaints. In these reports, the recognised bodies inform the Government about their activities in relation to these arrangements.

In January 2003, we announced a number of changes to the regulatory regime of the accountancy and audit professions, including the establishment of a new independent inspection unit, located within the Financial Reporting Council, and a Professional Oversight Board for Accountancy (POBA), to take over, from this Department, my functions under Part II of the Companies Act 1989 in respect of the recognised supervisory bodies. I am pleased to report that these bodies are now established and in operation. The delegation of these powers is dependent on legislation being passed by Parliament, a process that has been delayed due to other pressures on parliamentary time. Legislation will be laid before Parliament before the summer recess. In the meantime my Department continues to have responsibility for oversight of the recognised supervisory bodies.


Housing Benefit (Local Authority Investigative Powers)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): On 10 March 2005 the Government published the consultation paper "Local Authority Investigative Powers Regulatory Reform Order". This set out our proposals to reduce burdens on local authorities by using powers in the Regulatory Reform Act 2001. The proposed changes would enable local authorities to tackle benefit fraud more effectively by giving them clear powers to investigate and prosecute offences against national social security benefits alongside local ones.
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The consultation closed on 10 June 2005 a summary of responses to the consultation has been placed in the Library.

We received 48 responses to the consultation document, the overwhelming majority of which were in favour of the proposals. Our intention was to resolve this issue by use of a Regulatory Reform Order. From the responses we have received it has become clear that the powers that we could provide for local authorities by using a Regulatory Reform Order would be inadequate for their effective use. We have, therefore, decided not to proceed with the Regulatory Reform Order but to make the legislative changes that local authorities need alongside wider reforms to housing benefit announced in the Queen's speech. This should not significantly delay our plans to implement these changes, and we remain committed to seeking a swift resolution to this issue.

Pensions National Strategy Report

The Minister for Pensions Reform (Mr. Stephen Timms): The national strategy report on adequate and sustainable pensions NSR) is the key instrument in the open method of coordination process for pensions and was presented to the EU Commission on 15th July 2005. The report has been placed in the Library.
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The open method of coordination in pensions was launched by the Laeken European Council in December 2001. Its aim is to support member states in meeting common objectives and thus moving towards the Lisbon objectives. These objectives are designed to ensure that Europe can be the most competitive, knowledge based economy by 2010.

Within the NSR, there are 11 objectives, which are arranged in three key themes: safeguarding the capacity of systems to meet their social objectives (i.e. adequacy); maintaining their financial sustainability; and meeting changing needs of society (i.e. modernisation).

This national strategy report is an update for the EU Commission on the UKs progress since the initial report in 2002. It has been drafted with consultation across and within Government Departments and non-Government organisations. It is a re-statement of the UK Government's current policies. It does not include any information not in the public domain already, it does not signal any state pension reform and contains only pre-existing data to support the 11 objectives.

The report: