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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 13 December 2007


Finance Bill

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jane Kennedy): The Government took action against two types of avoidance schemes involving the leasing of plant or machinery at PBR 2007. Further disclosures and other evidence indicates that two further types of avoidance schemes involving the leasing of plant or machinery have placed, and could continue to place, substantial sums of tax at risk.

Tax avoidance is unfair on the majority of taxpayers and can undermine the funding of public services. The Government are determined to take appropriate and prompt action to counter tax avoidance. Therefore the Government propose to introduce appropriate legislation in the 2008 Finance Bill that will be effective from today, 13 December 2007.

A draft of the material that will be contained in Finance Bill 2008, together with draft explanatory notes and background material, will be published today on HMRC’s website at: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk. HMRC’s technical note giving the relevant background to this measure has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and is also accessible on HMRC’s website.

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Companies Act

The Minister for Competitiveness (Mr. Stephen Timms): I announced to the House on 7 November 2007 that the Government had decided to delay final implementation of the Companies Act 2006 until October 2009, in the light of advice from the Registrar of Companies that he can not be absolutely confident of implementing the necessary changes to Companies House systems and processes by October 2008. I also explained that we would consult key stakeholders about the commencement date for provisions due to be commenced in October 2008 which do not necessitate changes to Companies House systems and processes.

In the light of our discussions and meetings with key stakeholders, the Government have decided that the following provisions, listed in my earlier statement, should be commenced with effect from 1 October 2008:

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In view of the strength of business representations and of further advice from the Registrar of Companies, the Government have decided in addition to commence with effect from 1 October 2008:

Stakeholders highlighted the major benefit to business of implementation in 2008 of this new procedure. The Government had originally not proposed this, because it would require some changes to Companies House systems and processes. We have looked at this again in the light of the points made by business, and I am pleased to say that the Registrar of Companies believes that the necessary changes can be made by October 2008.

There are also two sets of provisions which we have decided to commence with effect from 6 April 2008:

I aim to make before Christmas a commencement order in respect of all provisions to be commenced in 2008, other than those relating to capital reduction supported by a solvency statement and the removal of special provisions about accounts and audit for charitable companies. The capital reduction provisions (including section 654 on distributions of reserves arising from a capital reduction) will be commenced through a separate commencement order to be laid in draft in 2008. There will also be a separate commencement order on the audit of small charitable companies.

North-West RDA

The Minister for Competitiveness (Mr. Stephen Timms): I have decided to appoint the new board members listed below:

All the new appointments will be for a period of three years.

The appointments began on 14 December 2007 and will expire on 13 December 2010.

I have placed further details of the appointments in the Library of both Houses. They were all made in accordance with the code of practice of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.


Peter Allen MBE is a Cumbrian hill farmer based near Penrith.

As Chair of the Sheepmeat and Goatmeat Advisory Committee to the EU, he has been involved in reforming and implementing the European sheep regime. Peter for
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many years was actively involved with the NFU, representing farming and rural issues locally, regionally and nationally. With many others he worked with aspects of industry and Government to control and eradicate foot and mouth disease in 2000-02, and he was the only farmer member of the Royal Society Inquiry into Infectious Diseases of Animals 2001-02. He is currently Chair of the NFU, Mutual Northern Area board, Chair of RUMA—(UK body promoting the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture), and a board member of Natural England and the North West Regional Environment Protection Advisory Committee.

He holds no other ministerial appointments and has not taken part in any political activities in the last three years.

John Brooks is the vice-chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University. In his previous job at the university of Wolverhampton he chaired a regeneration project after the closure of Rover, which involved infrastructure development and small business support.

In 1992 to ’98 he helped to create Bodycote-SHU Coatings, a company that offers tool manufacturers the opportunity to use physical vapour deposition coating machines. He chairs the board of the Equality Challenge Unit, and is on the Boards of Universities UK (and their long term strategy group), the Oxford Road Corridor Partnership and the Universities & Colleges Employers Association.

He holds no other ministerial appointments and has not been involved in any political activities in the last three years.

Robert Hough was Deputy Chairman and latterly executive director of Peel Holdings for over 13 years and a non-executive director of a number of other companies, including Cheshire Building Society, Alfred McAlpine plc and Provident Financial plc. Peel’s businesses include airports, ports, land use, planning, development, waste, energy and the environment.

A board member of the university of Manchester and a member of the North West Regional Assembly executive board, he also chairs New East Manchester Limited (one of the first urban regeneration companies to be established) and is a member and former Chair of the North West Business Leadership team.

He lives in Bowdon in Cheshire.

He holds no other ministerial appointments and has not taken part in any political activities in the last three years.

Tony McDermott MBE is a resident of Widnes and leader of the Council. He was educated at St. Edward’s college Liverpool, and Manchester University. He taught in Lancashire and Liverpool for 34 years.

He is a board member of the Local Government Association Improvement and Development Agency, the Mersey Partnership, and the North West Improvement Network. Chair of the North West Regional Transport Group, leader of Halton borough council and former Chair of the North West Regional Assembly.

He is a member of the Urban Commission Executive and the Northern Way Transport Compact.

He is a supporter of Asbestos Victims Support Group and a board member of the Five Boroughs NHS Mental Health trust. He holds no other ministerial appointments.

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Susan Williams was a nutritionist for the charity Action and Research into Multiple Sclerosis until 2001. She became Conservative leader of Trafford borough council in 2004.

Member of the Manchester Enterprises board, the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities Economic Development board and the Trafford Local Strategic Partnership board.

She has acted as a political agent for the Conservative party. In 2001 she stood for Parliament in Wythenshawe and Sale East, and in 2006 she was selected as the Parliamentary candidate for Bolton West.

She lives in Altrincham, in Cheshire.

She holds no other ministerial appointments.

Communities and Local Government

Central-Local Concordat

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears): I am informing the House that I have signed the Central-Local Concordat on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government. The Concordat was co-signed by Sir Simon Milton, Chair of the Local Government Association.

This historic new written agreement establishes for the first time a framework of principles for how central and local government work together to serve the public. Central Government departments and councils have committed to uphold these principles.

The Concordat meets a key commitment set out in the Governance of Britain Green Paper earlier this year in delivering a fundamental transformation in the way we govern. It sets out the rights and responsibilities of central and local government.

It is explicit that powers are best exercised at the lowest effective and practical level, enshrining the Government’s commitment to decentralisation and devolution of power to councils, communities and citizens.

In addition it sets out key priorities which central and local government will deliver together, including tackling antisocial behaviour and crime, delivering good local services, more opportunities for young people, and promoting enterprise. It is an important step towards building local communities which enjoy economic prosperity, safe and stable streets and estates, a clean environment, and opportunities for all citizens to shape their own futures.

A copy of the Concordat has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Local Government Pensions

The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): The Government’s commitment to provide decent final salary pensions for those employed by local authorities and other organisations associated with local government is matched by the need to ensure that members’ pensions are secure, affordable and viable, and fair to taxpayers who guarantee their security.

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The Government see it as critical to maintain stability of costs in the scheme over the years ahead, particularly in the new-look Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) in England and Wales from 1 April 2008. The intention remains to ensure that no additional costs are imposed on taxpayers or employers. This objective is central to any considerations involving amendments to the scheme’s regulatory framework.

A statutory consultation with all scheme stakeholders in England and Wales on proposals to extend the current levels of protection in the scheme for older employees began on 5 July 2007 and ended on 1 October 2007. The protections were originally introduced by the local Government Pension Scheme (Amendment) and (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2006 and took effect from 1 October 2006. The draft proposals would involve amending the regulations to provide a full, rather than a tapered, protection for the period 2016 to 2020, together with appropriate offsetting savings for the estimated cost of this benefit improvement.

To ensure the continuing solvency of the scheme and to meet the Government’s standing policy on ensuring no adverse effects on taxpayers, the costs of implementing any scheme amendments to improve the level of protections would need to be provided from within the scheme.

The costings for the additional rule of 85 protections were provided by the Government Actuary’s Department (GAD), based on the data provided for the 2004 LGPS actuarial valuation exercise. GAD estimated that the capital cost of removing the current tapered protections between 2016 and 2020 was some £0.35 billion—£0.4 billion. In payroll terms, this equates to about 0.1 per cent. or some £25 million annually for 20 years.

If no agreed means of providing the necessary resources to extend the proposed level of protection emerge from the consultation, then it will be necessary to retain the present level of protection.

The responses received to the recent consultation exercise have been considered carefully and analysed against agreed criteria regarding affordability and legality, as set out in the Department’s consultation letter of 5 July.

The consultation has demonstrated strong views from all stakeholders in terms both of the level of protections and affordability. I wish, however, to be clear about the most recent position in the scheme regarding costs, the likely numbers of potentially affected older scheme members, and the range of other cost-influencing variables.

In the light of these representations, I have taken no final decision on the outcome of the statutory consultation exercise and, in view of the data from the 2007 LGPS actuarial valuations which are due to become available early in the new year, I have decided to ask the Local Government Pension Scheme Policy Review Group, with the assistance of GAD, to undertake a fresh costings exercise using emerging data from the 2007 LGPS actuarial valuations. This will allow a new assessment of the current cost position and also provide an opportunity for all the interested stakeholders to engage fully in the review process.

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The exercise for updating of costs is expected to be completed early in the new year. A final decision on the proposed amendment and within the policy parameters of affordability and legality will then be made, taking full account of any further representations which may be made by stakeholders.


Defence Intelligence Staff Estate

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): This statement follows on from that made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on 3 July 2006, (Official Report, column 28WS) which covered the intent to close RAF Brampton. Once DE&S units have vacated the site, the Programme to Rationalise and Integrate the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) Estate (PRIDE) will relocate those remaining to RAF Wyton. The programme’s aim is to collocate a number of Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) departments to one state-of-the-art, purpose-built facility at RAF Wyton. New service accommodation will be constructed at RAF Wyton in order to accommodate those moving to the base.

In order to maximise the benefits of DIS co-location at RAF Wyton, PRIDE increment two will move the Joint Aeronautical and Geospatial Organisation headquarters and elements of 42 Engineer Regiment (Geographic) currently based at Hermitage, West Berkshire, to join the Intelligence Collection group headquarters and Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre at RAF Wyton. The Royal School of Military Survey, currently at Hermitage, will assimilate with other training elements at the DIS site at Chicksands. Our intention is that these moves will lead to the disposal of the Hermitage site, subject to continued value for money being proven.

The move will directly result in the loss of approximately 30 posts currently based at Hermitage, mostly in the support roles. MOD will work to minimise the impact to those affected by providing all the help it can, relocating personnel and avoiding compulsory redundancies where possible.

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