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Rural Payments Agency

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. David Miliband): On 19 April, Official Report column 13WS my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett) reported on progress in making full payments under the 2005 Single Payment Scheme (SPS) in England and announced that partial payments under the scheme would start as soon as operationally possible.

By close on 4 May, over 58,000 claimants, representing 48.5 per cent. of the customer population, had been paid a total of £552 million in full payments. A test run of partial payments to 1,000 claimants was undertaken, successfully, at the end of last week. The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) then moved immediately to process the remaining partial payments. As a result, RPA has now made transfers to the BAGS system, and drawn up payable orders, for £730 million in partial payments. This means the money should reach farmers over the coming week. In total, 85 per cent. of the £1,500 million worth of expected payments for the 2005 SPS scheme year will have been distributed.

The task now is to ensure that the residual element of payments are made as soon as possible to those who have received a partial payment, and that a plan is in place to deal with those who to date have not yet received either a full or a partial payment under the 2005 scheme. 31,000 claimants were not included in the partial payments system, 26,000 because their claim amounted to less than €1,000 and 5,000 because of a diverse range of other factors which made their cases particularly complex. Making full payments to this group of 5,000 will now be given the highest priority by the Rural Payments Agency. Increased priority will also be given to making outstanding payments under the
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Hill Farm Allowance (HFA) scheme in recognition of the importance of HFA payments to those concerned. I will make a further statement in due course on the 26,000 small claimants and those with HFA claims.

I am acutely conscious of the difficulties endured so far, and the magnitude of the challenge that still lies ahead to complete delivery of the 2005 SPS scheme year. The fact that previous estimates of payment timetables were missed, and the problems this has caused for farmers up and down the country, are a matter of deep regret. I am determined that the right lessons are learned from our experience this year, first to prepare for the undoubted challenges that will exist in the delivery of the 2006 scheme, and second to move to a more stable position for the 2007 scheme year. This will require a concentrated and sustained effort from both RPA and DEFRA, and I hope that industry stakeholders will also continue to work closely with us to that end.

At a practical level, it is important for farmers to aim to submit their applications by the 15 May deadline wherever possible for the 2006 year. However, in recognition of the real problems this year with the distribution of application forms, my noble friend Lord Bach announced last week that late claim penalties will not be applied to claims received between 16 and 31 May.

In order to progress matters in this crucial next phase of SPS delivery I am pleased to announce that Tony Cooper will join the RPA on 15 May as interim chief executive in succession to Mark Addison. Mr. Addison accepted the post at short notice in March in order to address the immediate challenges facing the RPA and has, I know, made a real impression over the last couple of months. However, his was always intended to be a short term appointment and he will leave the RPA at the end of the month.

Mr. Cooper joins the RPA with 15 years experience of business and IT change within the public sector and a proven track record in successful programmes and business change. My permanent secretary recruited him on the basis that he has the skills and experiences needed by the Agency at this stage of their recovery programme. Arrangements for a permanent appointment to the RPA chief executive post will be put in hand at the end of the year once the fundamental review referred to in the written statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South on 16 March, Official Report, column 104WS has been completed.


National Blood Authority and UK Transplant

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Caroline Flint): The annual accounts of the National Blood Authority and UK Transplant for 1 April 2005 to 30 September 2005 and any accompanying Comptroller and Auditor General reports have today been laid before Parliament pursuant to section 98(1C) of the National Health Service Act 1977.

Copies have been placed in the Library.

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Home Department

Security Industy Annual Report 2004-05

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I am pleased to announce that the annual report 2004-05 and accounts of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) will be laid before Parliament on 9 May 2006 and published on that day.

Copies of the report will be available in the Libraries of both Houses.

International Development

DFID Departmental Report

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): I am today laying before Parliament the Department for International Development’s departmental report 2006.

Prime Minister

Reappointment of the House of Lords Appointments Commission

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I am pleased to announce the reappointment of the House of Lords Appointments Commission until the end of the year, pending further discussions on House of Lords reform.

The Chairman is Lord Stevenson of Coddenham CBE, a Cross-Bench Peer in the House of Lords and the Chairman of HBOS plc.

The independent Members are: Mrs. Angela Sarkis CBE, Governor of the BBC and an independent management consultant; and Mrs. Felicity Huston, Commissioner for Public Appointments for Northern Ireland and a tax consultant.

In addition, there are also three party political Members who are each nominated by one of the three main political parties: the Labour Party Member is the right hon. the Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde; the Conservative Party Member is the right hon. the Lord Hurd of Westwell CH CBE; the Liberal Democrat Member is the Lord Dholakia OBE DL.


Helicopter Search and Rescue

The Minister of State, Department for Transport(Dr. Stephen Ladyman): I am pleased to announce, together with the Minister for Defence Procurement (Lord Drayson), that the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Defence have agreed that the joint Search and Rescue Helicopter Project should go to its next stage. It will now go forward to a competition under the Private Finance Initiative. The service will still retain a high proportion of military aircrew alongside civilian aircrew trained to the same high standards.

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We are committed to maintaining the effectiveness and high standards of the United Kingdom Search and Rescue Helicopter Service, currently provided by the Ministry of Defence and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, when the existing Ministry of Defence helicopters come to the end of their service life and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency service contract comes up for renewal, in the next decade.

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The decision to proceed to this next stage provides an opportunity to bring together the current search and rescue helicopter providers into one harmonised service under a single contract providing the taxpayer with value for money. The service will continue to be managed jointly by the Ministry of Defence and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

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