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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 30 November 2006


Military Flying Training

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): I am pleased to announce that the Ascent Consortium has been selected as the preferred bidder for the UK military flying training system (UKMFTS) training system partner. The Ascent Consortium consists of Lockheed Martin and the VT Group. The training system partner will work with the Ministry of Defence to deliver a long-term, cost effective, flexible training capability for the future flying training needs of the armed forces. Detailed contract negotiations with the consortium will now commence.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Marine Climate Impact Partnership

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): I have today launched the first annual report card of the marine climate change impact partnership.

This MCCIP report card is the first ever holistic assessment of the impacts of climate change in UK seas. This report card shows us, at a glance, the latest scientific knowledge on climate impacts on different marine sectors. It also, crucially, gives a measure of uncertainty surrounding the findings. This is extremely useful for decision makers, policy advisers, researchers, scientists, environmentalists and the public.

This is a joint publication of the UK Government, the devolved administrations and the States of Jersey and Guernsey as well as the many other partners of MCCIP including:

Copies are available through MCCIP (www.mccip.org.uk) and will be placed in the Libraries of the House.

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The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs made an oral statement on the report of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) on 25 October 2006, column 1519.

As part of arrangements for securing the geological disposal for the UK's higher activity radioactive waste, the statement proposed transfer of ownership of United Kingdom Nirex Ltd. from DEFRA and DTI to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). After allowing Nirex a period for comment on how this proposed share transfer could best be brought about I am pleased to confirm the transfer has now taken place.

The NDA will now begin a three month TUPE consultation on integration arrangements for transferring staff into the organisation.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Diplomatic Service and Home Service Regulations

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): The Cabinet Office launched the new civil service code on 6 June. The code sets out the core values of the civil service and the standards expected of civil servants. The code has been redrafted to make it more relevant and accessible to all civil servants.

The code of Ethics in Diplomatic Service Regulations (DSR) and Home Service Regulations (HSR) derives from the civil service code. This code has been revised to reflect the new civil service code.

A copy of the new regulations will be placed in the Library of the House.

Home Department

Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): The House will be aware that there was a disturbance at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre yesterday. I would like to pay tribute to the speed and professionalism of the services who responded in containing the incident and ensuring that the centre was brought back under control without serious injuries or loss of life. The operation in response to the incident is ongoing, but the following events have been reported to me.

A number of small fires were lit in the early hours of the morning which automatically activated the sprinkler system. The police surrounded the perimeter and the fire service attended the scene. At 1.15 am the decision to open the Gold Command Suite at Prison
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Service Headquarters was taken. Prison Service Tornado teams arrived by 6 am and were deployed soon after 7 am.

The police service secured the perimeter and the perimeter remained secure throughout the incident. No detainees escaped. There have been no reports of serious injuries to staff or detainees. There has been no risk to the public.

The Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) have informed me that 484 detainees were present at Harmondsworth at the time of the disturbance, and that of these 177 were foreign nationals who had been convicted of criminal offences, had completed their custodial sentences and who were in the process of being deported or considered for deportation. The centre also held immigration offenders and failed asylum seekers who are in the United Kingdom in breach of our immigration laws and who are being held pending removal.

The disturbance appears to have been an attempt to sabotage the enforcement of our immigration law. The perpetrators have been prepared to destroy property and to endanger their fellow detainees. They have, themselves, harmed their own environment. We will not allow them to succeed in frustrating the enforcement of the law.

Operations took place last night to transfer safely detainees from Harmondsworth to other secure accommodation in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and Prison Service estates. No detainees from Harmondsworth have been released. Around 150 low risk immigration detainees from elsewhere in IND's estate may be bailed, with reporting restrictions, in order to accommodate the higher risk population transferring from Harmondsworth, but the actual number bailed may be fewer, as the operation progresses. No foreign national prisoners have been released. The Director General of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate has assured me that, in all cases, removal from the country will be pursued vigorously.

In the early hours of this morning, there was an incident at Lindholme detention centre. The Fire Service attended. The incident has been dealt with and there was no loss of accommodation.

Trade and Industry

EU Competitiveness Council

The Minister for Science and Innovation (Malcolm Wicks): I will be attending the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on 4 December. Mauri Pekkarinen, Finnish Minister for Trade and Industry, will chair the Council.

The first item on the agenda will be the proposal for a modernised customs code. The Finnish presidency have prepared a discussion paper. The aim is to hold a policy debate on the issues in the discussion paper in order to move the negotiations forward.

The next item on the agenda is on the Lisbon strategy and innovation policy. There will be a
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presentation from the presidency and the Commission on the communication: “Putting Knowledge into practice: A broad-based innovation strategy for the EU.” Council conclusions have been prepared on this item and the aim is that these conclusions will be adopted following a policy debate.

A presentation and exchange of views will then follow on better regulation, with the presidency's progress report and the Commission communication on “A Strategic Review of Better Regulation in the EU” as the subject.

The next item on the agenda is the consumer credit directive. The presidency may hold a brief policy discussion on this issue.

Nine items will be taken under Any Other Business:

(i) Pharmaceutical Forum (Information from the Commission).

(ii) Commission Communication on External Aspects of Competitiveness:

“Global Europe: competing in the world” (Information from the presidency)

(iii) EU-US Informal Economic Ministerial Meeting (Information from the Presidency)

(iv) European Competitiveness Report 2006 (Presentation from the Commission)

(v) Joint Technology Initiatives and Implementation of Article 169 (Information from the Commission)

(vi) Review of the Consumer Acquis (Information from the Commission)

(vii) Common Frame of Reference (Information from the Commission)

(viii) Review of the Timeshare Directive (Information from the Commission)

(ix) Information on the state of play on suspension of import duties on primary aluminium (Request from the Polish delegation and Information from the Commission).


The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): At DTI questions on 17 October and during the Westminster Hall debate on 7 November, I undertook to come back to the House in an appropriate forum at each stage to keep hon. Members up to date, and this is an appropriate moment since the Farepak response fund closed yesterday.

I think every Member of the House will be aware of the collapse of this company; that a large number of people who were customers have lost the money they had intended to put by for the festive season. I have hear stories from hon. Members about whole families in their constituencies who have lost out They were not investing their money hoping to make a profit or receive interest but they were expecting that they would get their money back in the form of vouchers. Many had also ordered hampers of food and confectionery for the Christmas festivities. Many of the poor families now face a very bleak Christmas.

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The need to take action

The urgent need in this situation was and is to find a means by which some measure of practical assistance can be delivered, in time for Christmas, to those who have lost so much in this collapse. When I heard of the Farepak administration, I immediately contacted the administrators, BDO Stoy Hayward and the British Retail Consortium to assess the level of the problem caused by the company going into administration, and to seek a way forward I had talks with them on Saturday 21 October, both were very helpful and the BRC expressed their willingness to consider—given the exceptional circumstances—putting together a goodwill gesture made up from donations of its member businesses. However they subsequently came to the view that there were serious practical difficulties in the way of their organizing a workable and timely form of assistance. But the consortium, and individual retailers, indicated their willingness to support any workable alternative means of delivering assistance that I could be mobilised in time.

I therefore took the responsibility of finding a way through the practical difficulties. In the course of the Westminster Hall debate on 7 November, I was able to inform the House that after talks with the family fund, a registered charity with thirty years of experience in helping disadvantaged families, it was setting up a dedicated voucher fund, the Farepak response fund.

To be clear to the House the response fund is not a compensation scheme, it is an attempt to make things a little easier for these families.

In the last three weeks the family fund and my office have worked tirelessly to establish a fund, sort out a legal basis for the charity and for the data transfer, establish a call centre, website, and media operation, they also contacted businesses and other organisations to seek support in cash or in kind and work with the administrators and other to establish the details of agents. This has been huge logistical task.

The fund has been accepting donations from all quarters since then, with the intention of sending as much as can be raised, as a goodwill gesture, to help those affected. It was of course necessary to set a deadline for receipt of donations, in order that the goodwill gesture can be distributed in time for Christmas That deadline was 6pm yesterday I am pleased to be able to announce that the fund has received donations amounting to over £6.3 million, this could increase further as some banking transactions are still being processed. Of this total, some £340,000 represents individual donations a substantial number were also providing gift aid That so much has been raised in a very short time, and for an unprecedented need, is very impressive. I am most grateful to the individuals, firms and other organisations who have responded so generously—and equally to the family fund, for providing the skills, experience and dedication to make this possible.

Government -Gift Aid

The value of the individual donations to the fund has been supplemented by the Government, through Gift Aid this will be in excess of £30,000. The Government will also meet Farepak employees' entitlement to statutory redundancy pay, and any arrears of pay, holiday pay and money in lieu of notice, within the statutory limits.

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The House will recognise that the donations made by the many individuals and companies who have contributed are indeed a goodwill gesture, and in no way a recompense for the losses which have been suffered by so many people. But the generosity which has been shown will at least ensure that those who might otherwise have missed out completely at Christmas will have something to help them through the festive season.

In addition to money given to the response fund some money has already been returned and continues to be returned to agents and customers of Farepak by the administrators and under the Consumer Credit Act—by the banks.


We have agreed in principle with the administrator to secure a large number of hampers with a substantial market value but we need help to get this distributed, we are speaking to some logistical companies about this but any offers of help would be welcome. We hope, therefore, that most people who ordered a hamper will receive a a hamper. However this can only happen if we get help with distribution as the costs involved in using couriers is prohibitive.

Administrator’s refunds

Farepak went into administration on 13 October. The company worked through a network of agents, and money received from the company's agents since that date will be returned by the administrators—some has already been returned. The administrators are hoping to return this before Christmas.

Consumer Credit Act

Following discussions with the banks agents and customers who had paid by credit card, have been able to reclaim their payment from the card issuer under the provisions of Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. 1974. In addition agents and customers who paid by visa debit card have been able to obtain refunds for payments made on debit cards, though this is not a legal entitlement. From the information currently available, the administrators and HSBC, the bank which handled Farepak's credit card transactions estimate that these repayments may amount to around £4 million of which over £2 million has already been refunded to over 1,500 agents and customers with more to come

Help in kind

There are many other ways in which assistance of one kind or another has been or is being provided. Help in kind such as the assistance the Park Group and Findel Plc have provided with logistical and data facilities to support the distribution of vouchers. Other organisations supplying services at cost only or at substantial discount and staff at the family fund donating their time.

Employers help to their staff

Some businesses such as Marks and Spencer are making good the money owed to members of their staff and the Co-op is also proving assistance to members of its workforce who have lost money due to the Farepak collapse

Not all of these forms of assistance are financial, but it is clear that the value of all these contributions together will add up in total to something substantially in excess of £10 million.

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