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Rural Payments Agency (Business Plan/Performance Targets)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Barry Gardiner): My noble Friend the Minister of State for Sustainable Food and Farming and Animal Health has set the following targets for the Rural Payments Agency for 2007-08

Copies of the strategy and business plan will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.


National Framework for NHS Continuing Healthcare and NHS Funded Nursing Care

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I am today publishing “A National Framework for NHS Continuing Healthcare and NHS Funded Nursing Care in England”, which will come into effect on 1 October 2007.

The framework sets out the principles and process for NHS continuing healthcare and NHS funded nursing care. By introducing national criteria the framework aims to promote consistency and transparency in decision making and provide clarity for both patients and professionals about what the NHS will provide for those with the most complex long-term care needs.

It will address the problems surrounding the lack of consistency across the country in the application of the criteria for NHS continuing healthcare and respond to
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calls by the Health Ombudsman and the Health Select Committee to bring the locally set criteria and variable decision making into one national system.

The framework will also simplify the interaction between NHS continuing healthcare and NHS funded nursing care.

The final framework was developed following a public consultation undertaken by the Department in 2006 that attracted responses from the health and social care sectors, voluntary organisations and users and carers. I am also publishing today a summary of the responses to this consultation.

The framework and the response to the consultation have been placed in the Library and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.

Duchy of Lancaster

“Governing the Future” Command Paper (Government Response)

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Hilary Armstrong): I have today presented to Parliament a Command Paper providing the Government's response to the Public Administration Select Committee's report “Governing the Future” published on 6 March 2007 in conclusion to its inquiry into the place of strategy and planning in Government.

The Government strongly welcome the PASC report and its support for strategic capability at the centre. The report provides a helpful contribution to promulgating a more strategic approach to policy-making and to ensuring departments are strategically well managed.

Copies of the Command Paper have been placed in the Library for the reference of Members and will be available in the Vote Office.


Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Mike O'Brien): My right hon. Friend the Attorney-General has made the following written ministerial statement:

Trade and Industry

Companies Act 2006

The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Margaret Hodge): The Companies Act 2006, which received Royal Assent on 8 November 2006, will bring major benefits to business by modernising and simplifying company law.

I set out the full commencement timetable for the 2006 Act in my written statement of 28 February. I published, at the same time, a consultative document on questions related to secondary legislation which will need to be made under the Act, and on transitional and savings provisions.

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We received 65 responses to the consultation. These broadly supported the Government’s approach, while making a number of helpful suggestions on points of detail. This statement outlines the Government’s position on the main areas covered by the consultative document in the light of the responses. We intend to publish draft regulations and orders on the Departmental website at before the summer recess in respect of most areas where regulations or orders will be required, to enable interested parties to comment on the details of the Government’s approach to implementation in these areas. Draft regulations and orders on further areas will be published in the autumn.

The responses confirmed that there continues to be strong support for the Government’s “Think Small First” approach to company law reform. In particular, most respondents agreed that the model articles for private companies limited by shares should be designed with the needs of small, owner-managed businesses in mind. There was unanimous support for the proposal to have a single set of accounting and reporting regulations for small companies, so that small companies will have to look in only one place to establish what they are required to include in their accounts and reports. We intend to include in the small company regulations the requirements for small companies that choose to prepare group accounts so that all the requirements are in a single set of regulations, but with the group requirements clearly and separately identified.

We consulted on a number of other accounting and reporting issues. Having now considered the responses, we intend:

The 2006 Act makes important changes to the law in relation to directors’ residential addresses, so that for every director the address on the public record will be a service address (whether it is his residential address or not). We intend to make supporting regulations in this area which will:

The 2006 Act retained the requirements in the Companies Act 1985 Act for the annual return of companies with a share capital to include the addresses of all their shareholders. In the light of the responses, we have decided that this requirement should apply only to public companies that are traded on EU regulated markets in respect of shareholders who hold 5 per cent. or more of any class of shares at any time during the year in question. For other companies, the requirement will be changed so they no longer have to provide the addresses of any shareholders.

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There was broad support for our proposals in the area of share capital, including that of share capital reduction by limited and unlimited companies. We published draft regulations in this area in May, and will publish revised draft regulations in July in the light of the responses to the consultation.

There was broad support for a single regulatory regime approach for overseas companies with a presence in the UK. We are currently considering the detail of such a regime and will make a further policy statement on this issue at a later stage.

The consultative document also sought views on two areas closely related to our implementation of the 2006 Act: limited liability partnerships and implementation of Directive 2006/68/EC amending the Second Company Law Directive on capital maintenance and share capital.

We are considering the responses in relation to limited liability partnerships carefully with a view to further consultation on specific proposals in autumn 2007 and consultation on draft regulations in early 2008.

We intend to amend the Companies Act 1985 (for the period April to September 2008) and the 2006 Act (from October 2008) in respect of the safeguards for creditors in the case of a reduction in subscribed capital in Directive 2006/68/EC. We also intend to consult further in respect of the option to extend the facility for companies to hold “treasury shares”.

The consultation confirmed our general approach to transitional and saving provisions. In particular, we continue to believe that implementation should generally preserve existing decisions taken by the members and directors and agreements entered into by the company. In the light of the responses to the consultation, we intend to make a saving provision in respect of the repeal of sections 151 to 158 of the Companies Act 1985 (financial assistance by companies for acquisition of their own shares). We also intend to provide a grace period until October 2010 for any company which did not have at least one director who was a natural person at the time when the 2006 Act received Royal Assent.

We also consulted specifically on transitionals in respect of the provisions on derivative claims and proceedings in part 11 of the 2006 Act. In the light of the consultation responses, we have concluded that the new, clearer procedures should be used for all claims started on or after 1 October 2007; but the courts should ensure that the outcome of any claim based on acts or omissions by a director before 1 October 2007 will be what it would have been under the old, common law that applied at the time.

The Companies Act 2006 (Commencement No. 3, Consequential Amendments, Transitional Provisions and Savings) Order 2007 was laid before Parliament in draft on 25 June. The draft Order will commence some key parts of the 2006 Act, including provisions relating to part of the statutory statement of directors’ general duties, derivative claims and proceedings, the business review, and resolutions and meetings.

Export Credits Guarantee Department

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): I would like to make a statement on the future status of the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD).

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I can now set out the financial framework under which ECGD will undertake its functions from 1 April 2008.

On 1 July 2004, Official Report, column 22WS, the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend, the Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt) told the House about the work she had put in place for ECGD to assess the suitability of its operations becoming a Government trading fund by operating a pilot of this status over a two-year period from April 2005. This period was subsequently extended to April 2008.

Since then, there have been some important changes in the environment in which ECGD operates. In particular, against a background of changing UK industrial and trading patterns, buoyant private sector financial markets and benign global risk conditions, there has been a reduced demand for ECGD support and a reduction in its customer base. This has cast doubt about ECGD’s long-term suitability to operate within a trading fund structure. Moreover, the experience of operating as a pilot trading fund, combined with other reforms in ECGD’s operations, has shown that the benefits from establishing an ECGD trading fund can be delivered in a more appropriate and effective way.

I am pleased to tell the House that the Chief Secretary and I have now agreed a new financial framework that is consistent with the objectives for ECGD set out in 2004.

A number of key principles will underpin the new framework. First, there will be a cap on the risk exposure that ECGD can commit without express consent from HM Treasury, but with sufficient headroom to meet current and potential demand from exporters. Secondly, robust systems will continue to be used to assess and control the assumption of new risks. Thirdly, the premiums which ECGD charges on the transactions that it supports will continue to reflect the risk, including making a contribution to the cost of notional capital and to the maintenance of sufficient reserves, and to cover administration costs. Fourthly, ECGD’s administration costs will in future be subject to departmental expenditure limits and the disciplines of Government spending reviews. The new framework will include revised financial objectives to enable Ministers to monitor the ongoing performance of ECGD’s operations.

Overall, this new financial framework will provide a structure for managing ECGD’s business that is appropriate to today’s needs and which continues to balance the requirements of exporters against those of protecting the taxpayer and of achieving value for money.


Humber Bridge Debt

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has today laid an Order before Parliament to enable the revision of interest rates on the debt owed by the Humber Bridge Board to the Secretary of State. The debt represents
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borrowing from Government for the construction of the Humber Bridge. The interest rate on the loan will be reduced from 7.75 per cent., currently payable on a portion of the debt, to 4.25 per cent. payable on the entire debt.

The revised interest rate will apply from 1 April 2006 until 31 March 2011 at which time it will be reviewed. The rate of 4.25 per cent. was chosen as this was the National Loans Fund rate as at 3 April 2006. Over the five-year period, the reduction in interest payable amounts to £16.6 million, which the Humber Bridge Board can use to fund maintenance or repay capital debt. The reduction in interest payments will be reported in the Department for Transport's accounts each year over the five-year period.

The rate has been revised to reflect more closely current interest rates and to allow the Humber Bridge Board to repay the debt within the agreed loan period (until 2038) without recourse to levying a precept on the local taxpayers of Humberside.

The debt was last restructured in 1998 when an interest rate of 7.75 per cent. was set, although interest was not payable on a suspended part of the total debt. These arrangements were set out in the 1998 loan agreement and the Humber Bridge (Debts) Act 1998. In 2006 the Humber Bridge Board approached the Department for Transport advising that the debt would become unmanageable from 2007-08 at the 7.75 per cent. interest rate. This was because traffic growth had not met the levels predicted in 1998 and because of previously unforeseen major maintenance work required.

A revised loan agreement between the Secretary of State and the Humber Bridge Board was signed on 13 June 2007, replacing the 1998 loan agreement. It is dependent on the coming into force of the Humber Bridge (Debts) Order 2007. The Order is made under the Humber Bridge (Debts) Act 1996.

The total debt owed by the Humber Bridge Board to the Secretary of State was £334,437,000 as at 1 April 2006.

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