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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 21 March 2006


Ministry of Defence Estate Strategy

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Don Touhig): The departmental Strategy for the Defence Estate 2006—In Trust and On Trust will be published today. It builds on the robust foundations and achievements of In Trust and On Trust: The Strategy for the Defence Estate published in June 2000—the first comprehensive strategy for the management and use of the Ministry of Defence's estate—but it recognises new challenges and aspirations. The strategy will continue to deliver a more efficient and effective estate and ensure that the Ministry of Defence targets resources to the estate in the most effective way. Copies will be made available in the Library of the House; it will also be available via the MOD website at: www.mod.uk.

The strategy is aimed at all estate stakeholders, and the Ministry of Defence has consulted closely with external stakeholders who have an interest in the defence estate. The primary challenge is to produce an estate that enables the Armed Forces to counter new and existing threats, and respond effectively to the changing demands and requirements placed upon them. The ability to provide effective training, living and working facilities for our service personnel and those who support them is crucial to the successful outcome of Ministry of Defence business. Sustainable development will continue to be at the heart of all departmental estate planning and management processes. This is a far reaching document which will be of benefit to all those with an interest in the Ministry of Defence's estate.

Defence Estates Stewardship Report

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Don Touhig): The Stewardship Report on the Defence Estate 2005 will be published today. The publication of the report implements the commitment in the Defence Estate Strategy "In Trust and On Trust" to report annually performance across a range of estate-related objectives, and to demonstrate that the Department is discharging its obligations properly and acting responsibly in meeting the needs of the Armed Forces. The report attempts to balance:

The report is similar to previous ones in that it sets out the progress against the aims and objectives in the Defence Estate Strategy and demonstrates how the estate is changing as a result. Copies will be made available in the Library of the House; it will also be available via the MOD website at: www.mod.uk.
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Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I will be representing the United Kingdom at this month's Agriculture and Fisheries Council.

The Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner will update the Council on developments with regard to the spread of the Avian Influenza H5N1 virus.

There will be a presentation by the Commission on measures to support the poultry sector, as a result of the economic impact on the poultry market due to the consumer reactions to avian influenza. Consumption of poultry in several member states has fallen, despite scientific advice that there is no food safety risk from properly cooked poultry meat.

The Council will then adopt proposals on changes to the rules for protected geographical indications and traditional specialties for agriculture products.

In the afternoon, there will be a policy debate on the review of the sustainable development strategy based on presidency questions. I will intervene to draw attention to the main areas where European agriculture and fisheries policy can contribute to sustainable development.

There will be discussion of a French memorandum calling for more simplification of the CAP and the introduction of new measures for the management of market risks and crises. I will stress the importance of avoiding new EU measures which contradict the market direction of recent reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy.

The Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development will update the Council on the WTO agricultural negotiations including the outcome of the G6 Trade Ministers meeting in London last weekend.

Italy will urge the Commission to resume the European Union's voluntary contribution to the International Olive Oil Council's promotional work.

Seafish Industry Authority

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The Sea Fish Industry Authority (SFIA) was established in 1981 to serve the interests of the UK sea fish industry. It is regulated by the four fisheries administrations in the UK.

An independent review of the SFIA was conducted and the report was published in February. An initial Government response to the review, setting out proposals for the future of the SFIA, was also released for public consultation in February. Stakeholders are invited to engage in discussion with the SFIA during a 12 week consultation period and then provide comments regarding their views to the four fisheries administrations (DEFRA, SEERAD, WAG and DARDNI) by 5 May.

Stakeholder views will be taken into consideration by Ministers and recommendations will be discussed with the SFIA when issuing the final response later this summer.
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Copies of the Report and the initial Government response have been published on the DEFRA and SEERAD websites and been placed in the Commons and the Public Library. In addition, a press release was published in Fishing News, The Grocer and other regional publications.

Details of the procedure for consultation can be found on the DEFRA and SEERAD websites.


Police Force Restructuring

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): Further to my written statement of 20 March, I should like to make a statement to report progress on the review of police force structures in the Yorkshire and the Humber region.

My statement of 20 March set out the way forward for the east midlands, south- east and eastern regions. This followed similar statements on 6 February and 3 March which set out the way forward for Wales and three English regions, the north-east, the north-west and the west midlands. I now have the professional policing and financial assessments to enable me to identify which option will be of the greatest benefit to the Yorkshire and the Humber region. I am therefore today meeting the representatives from the police forces and authorities in this area and, as with the other force and authorities, I will be inviting them to engage closely with me to consider taking forward the option for policing which I believe will be of greatest benefit to their communities. I will be inviting the police authorities concerned to respond by 7 April and I shall then make a final decision on how to proceed in this area.

I shall make a further report to the House about the way forward for forces in the south-west in May.

Options proposed at this stage as suitable for progression

Yorkshire and the Humber

Merger of Humberside, North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire.


Police Pensions

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): With the introduction of a new tax regime for pensions from 6 April of this year, it will be necessary for pension schemes to be registered with HM Customs and Revenue before receiving tax privileges. As a result of the discrete way in which the current pension scheme for the Police Service of Northern Ireland was established the scheme will be registered separately from the scheme for officers serving in Home Forces in Great Britain. To coincide with the tax changes, three new police pension schemes are being introduced from April 2006. As a result, officers transferring between Northern Ireland and Great Britain on or after 6 April would not be able to remain in the current pension scheme arrangements as these will be closed to new members from that date. As matters now
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stand, officers wishing to continue to contribute to a police pension would be obliged to move into one of the new schemes on transfer.

In view of the need to ensure that currently serving police officers can continue to move between the PSNI and GB police forces as at present, the Government (in consultation with Scottish Ministers) have decided that the current police pension schemes across the United Kingdom should be unified. I therefore intend to seek parliamentary approval to amend the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998, and the Police Pensions Act 1976 to allow the pension schemes to be formally merged. This will allow officers serving at present, who transfer on or after 6 April to remain in the current pension scheme on permanent transfer, should they so wish. This will apply to police officers serving in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland who are members of the current pension scheme on 6 April.

Later this year serving officers will have the opportunity to move across to a new police pension scheme. Today's announcement is to clarify the position for those officers who might not wish to join a new police pension scheme, but who may wish to apply for posts elsewhere in the United Kingdom to gain experience or promotion.

After the current pension schemes in Northern Ireland and Great Britain have been merged, police officers in post before 6 April would be able to transfer from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and vice versa, without having to move into the new pension arrangements. However, as the parliamentary process necessary to merge the schemes will take some time, the Government propose that officers transferring between the PSNI and GB forces in the interim will be able to do so under conditions which enable them to remain in the current arrangements. It is envisaged that these interim transfer conditions will last up to three years.

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