The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Kitty Ussher): The Government are today publishing Financial Inclusion: an Action Plan for 2008-11, setting out commitments by the Government and key partners to achieve further progress in promoting financial inclusion. This document has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and is available on the Treasury's website (www.hm-treasury. gov.uk)
The Government has three goals for financial inclusion:
that everyone should be able to manage their money effectively and securely, through having access to a bank account, and the confidence and capability to get the most from it;
that everyone should be able to plan for the future with a reasonable degree of security. Therefore, affordable credit, saving accounts and simple insurance products should be available to all who need them; and
that everyone should have the information, support and confidence they need to prevent avoidable financial difficulty, and to know where to turn if they do find themselves in financial distress.
Financial inclusion: an action plan for 2008-11 affirms the Governments commitment to promoting financial inclusion in the next spending period. As announced in the comprehensive spending review, from 2008-11, financial inclusion policy will be supported through a new £130 million financial inclusion fund. The fund will be augmented with significant contributions from other Government Departments.
Initiatives that will be supported in the next spending period include:
£76 million (including £2 million from BERR) to fund free face-to-face money advice to financially excluded people;
£38 million to increase consumer access to affordable credit through credit unions and other third sector lenders;
£12 million to fund dedicated staff to work to promote financial inclusion locally, with a focus on increasing the availability and awareness of home contents insurance for low-income people, in particular in areas affected by the recent flood events;
£2 million funding to the OFT to continue its Save Xmas campaign, promoting access to saving opportunities, particularly in credit unions;
£5 million (including £3 million from MoJ) to operate prison-focused outreach in every region of England and Wales; and
a continuation of projects to tackle illegal lending in every region of Great Britain, which will be funded by BERR.
Building on their successful work in partnership with Government to increase take-up of basic bank accounts, and their support for other financial inclusion initiatives including easier access to free ATMs in low-income areas, the banks have also committed to support third sector affordable credit, including actions to develop new provision in 25 high priority areas identified by the financial inclusion taskforce.
The taskforce, which has been extended until 2011, will continue to monitor these initiatives and advise the Government on financial inclusion developments.
The Treasury Committee conducted an inquiry into financial inclusion and savings in the spring of 2007, and published a report detailing its findings in October 2007. The Government have sent their response to the inquiry to the Treasury Committee today.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jane Kennedy): Following the Pre-Budget Report on 9 October, the Treasury has today published the following consultation documents:
Income shifting: a consultation on draft legislation
Securing a sustainable future: a consultation on the North Sea Fiscal Regime
Paying a Fairer Share: a consultation on residence and domicile
Principles-based approach to financial products avoidance: a consultation document
Copies of these documents have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and are available on the Treasury website.
The Minister for Competitiveness (Mr. Stephen Timms): My noble Friend the Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Lord Jones of Birmingham, has made the following statement:
Following my closing speech at Second Reading on the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill on 28 November 2007, Official Report, column 1280, I would like to clarify to the House the Governments understanding of the British Retail Consortiums views on the inclusion of a cost recovery provision relating to the operation of the Primary Authority arrangements under part 2 of the Bill.
I understand that the position of the British Retail Consortium is that there should be no such charges on businesses in a Primary Authority partnership. In informal discussion during the consultation on the draft Bill with a number of businesses, however, it was put to us that the inclusion of a power for local authorities to recover the costs of the service provided from the business would not be unwelcome, provided that the service provided ensured a reliable level of consistency in the regulatory approach taken to the business across the country.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): I am today announcing a suspension of adoptions of Guatemalan children by UK residents in response to concerns about adoption practice in Guatemala. The suspension takes effect immediately.
We have had long-standing concerns about the adoption process in Guatemala, as evidenced by the imposition of additional procedural checks administered by the British embassy in Guatemala and the UKs objection to Guatemalas accession to the Hague convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption in 2003.
I am now introducing a suspension of adoptions in response to new evidence which demonstrates that: there are insufficient safeguards in the Guatemalan adoption system to prevent children being adopted without proper consents being given and improper financial gain being made by individuals in the adoption process. In particular it demonstrates that: there is a trade in babies being sold for overseas adoption; and mothers are being paid, or otherwise encouraged, to give up children for adoption. Such practices are, of course, contrary to the principles of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
I have given careful consideration to the position of UK prospective adopters currently in the process of adopting from Guatemala. I have decided that the suspension will take effect at the point when a Certificate of Eligibility is sent to Guatemala by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (or in a Northern Ireland case by the Department for Health, Social Services and Public Safety for Northern Ireland). This is the last point in the application process administered by the DCSF (or the DHSSPS).
Applications already sent to Guatemala will be not be prevented from proceeding in the usual way (subject, of course, to the usual checks), but only in exceptional circumstances will I consider that any other application may proceed. A decision about any application for an exception to the suspension will take account of the best interests of the child and all the facts of the particular case.
I understand that the Guatemala authorities intend to legislate so as to implement the Hague Convention in the coming months, but I consider that the nature of the information currently held means we must act now. I will, of course, consider the effect on the ground of any changes to adoption legislation and practice in Guatemala, in keeping the suspension under review.
The Minister for Housing (Yvette Cooper): The Government are today publishing provisional individual grant allocations to administering authorities for the Supporting People programme in 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11. The grant will fund housing-related support services for over 1 million vulnerable peopleincluding victims of domestic violence, teenage parents, older people and those with mental health problemsenabling them to live independently in their accommodation.
Final allocations for 2008-09 will be confirmed by a further statement to this House in February 2008 and then for each subsequent year at the same time in that year.
The consultation on the Supporting People distribution formula completed in February 2006 and responses to this exercise have been assessed. Following consideration of the available options, a decision has been taken to use the updated formula to target the funding in 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2010-11 to help address some of the inherited uneven distribution of grant between authorities.
We are today publishing our response to that consultation on the Departments website and invite respondents to refresh their comments if appropriate before we confirm final allocations in the new year.
This three-year settlement, alongside a radically slimmed-down performance framework will provide authorities with stability for the future and greater flexibility to budget and plan realistic delivery of housing support services.
A table of indicative Supporting People programme grant allocations and a copy of the consultation response have today been placed in the Library of the House.
The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): I have today announced the following three-year settlement for the general GLA grant, which is provided by the Government to support the core activities of the Mayor of London and Greater London Authority.
This settlement includes DCMS funding allocation over £9 million per annum for the Museum of London in anticipation of the transfer of its co-sponsorship of the museum to the GLA from April 2008, as well as an additional £0.5 million per annum for the GLAs other new powers and responsibilities following the GLA Act 2007 and election costs. The settlement also reflects the general requirement on local government for at least a 3 per cent. per annum value for money saving over the Comprehensive Spending Review period.
The general GLA grant will continue to be determined by the Secretary of State annually, in accordance with section 100 of the GLA Act 1999.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): Earlier this year I commissioned a status review of the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office in Taunton to establish the optimum future structural and ownership arrangements for the UKHO.
This review has now been completed. I can announce I have accepted the principal review recommendation that, given the current regulatory and market conditions, the UKHO should retain its current trading fund status, and ensure the potential benefits of this status are maximised as far as possible. The review considered carefully options to transfer some or all of UKHO
functions to a Government-owned company and a range of structural and ownership arrangements which might assist UKHO to succeed in the challenges it faces. As the report contains commercially sensitive information, a copy of the executive summary only has been placed in the Library of the House.
As part of normal MOD business, this decision will be subject to regular review in the light of business needs, or as a result of any significant change in the regulatory or market environment.
We previously announced that UKHO will remain based in Taunton. As part of our commitment to UKHOs future we will be investing in a new building and substantially improved working conditions for UKHOs staff. We are currently looking at detailed options and expect to make a final decision early in the new year.
The status review and further studies have been carried out to ensure the UKHO has a sustainable future, focused on its core business and capabilities, providing best value for money for the taxpayer. In addition to meeting the core defence hydrographic needs of the Royal Navy and support digital navigation, the UKHO continues to operate in a competitive international commercial environment. Continuous efficiency gains and effective cost control are vital to remain competitive. In particular, UKHO management has identified those skills and capabilities they believe will be required to succeed in the developing and challenging market for digital navigation products.
As a result of this work, and subject to further detailed planning, I have approved the start of full consultation with the UKHO trade unions on the optimum future size and shape of the organisation. Study analysis indicates a total net headcount reduction in the UKHO of between 250 and 300 permanent posts over the next five years may be required in order to focus resources on the core business. It is hoped that this net reduction can be achieved through natural wastage and the full use of wider MOD restructuring arrangements. As far as possible we will avoid compulsory redundancies.
UKHO senior management are committed to taking forward the consultation process quickly in order to provide all staff with clarity regarding their futures. Wherever possible the new posts required to support future business needs will be filled by reskilling and retraining of existing staff.
With these proposed changes, I believe the UKHOs future will be secure, and it will remain a significant employer in the South West, with over 800 staff. I am clear that, these are the right decisions we need to take now if we are to deliver a viable and sustainable future for the UKHO and its staff, and value for money for the UK taxpayer.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn):
I am delighted to announce that the Government has decided to acknowledge the contribution made by the Womens Land Army and the
Womens Timber Corps by means of a badge which will be presented to veterans next year. This is in recognition of the important role these women played, not only in feeding the nation, but also in providing timber for vital industries, such as mining and aircraft manufacture. It is important that we never forget the sacrifices that were made both at home and abroad during the war. The badge will be a fitting commemoration of the work of the WLA in supporting the war effort.
Originally formed during World War I, the Womens Land Army was re-formed shortly after the outbreak of World War II to work on the land, so releasing male workers to go to war. By 1943 there were 80,000 women working in every aspect of agriculture, and also in the timber industry. The work was often physically demanding and for long hours. The WLA remained in existence until 1950, when it was disbanded. Members were granted a certificate signed by HM Queen Elizabeth in recognition of their service. Over the last 60 years, the women have campaigned strenuously for more formal recognition of their efforts.
Details of how to apply for a badge will be announced early in the new year.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 10 December in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will represent the UK.
The agenda items are as follows:
Preparation of the European Council on 14 December
The Council will discuss preparation of the European Council on 14 December in Brussels. The Government expect the European Council to focus on discussions of the mandate for a Reflection Group (Group of the Wise), and the adoption by the Council of a Declaration on Globalisation. The presidency will seek, with the Governments strong support, a signal from the European Council that, with the signing of the Lisbon treaty on 13 December, the EU now has a stable institutional framework for the foreseeable future and should focus on delivering concrete results for its citizens.
Discussion at the European Council is also expected to cover Justice and Home Affairs; a renewed commitment to the Lisbon Strategy for Jobs and Growth; energy and climate: change; and external relations where the Governments priorities will be Kosovo and Iran.
The Council is expected to take stock of progress on EU enlargement following the publication of the Commissions enlargement strategy and progress reports on 6 November. The Government hope the Council will adopt conclusions reaffirming its commitment to enlargement on the basis of the conclusions of the European Council in December 2006, while welcoming the Commissions reports and recommendations for further progress. This will encourage continuation of reform efforts by all the candidates and potential candidates.
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