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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 18 March 2008


Northern Rock

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): As I have previously announced, continuing to support Northern Rock will require the approval of the European Commission under state aid rules. On 5 December 2007, the European Commission announced that it had authorised, under state aid rules, the Government’s package of measures to support Northern Rock. Also in line with the rules, the Government were obliged to notify by 17 March 2008 a restructuring plan for Northern Rock.

Accordingly, the Government yesterday formally notified the European Commission of their proposals to continue to provide state aid to Northern Rock to support a restructuring of the company during the period of temporary public ownership.

The Board of Northern Rock is today setting out in general the future direction of the business during the period of temporary public ownership. The company will submit a final business plan to HM Treasury for approval by the end of March. Thereafter, I will report to the House further.

I have placed in the Library of the House a copy of the statement issued today by Northern Rock. This sets out the basis for the removal of Government support through the creation of a smaller, more focused, financially viable mortgage and savings bank, which will be returned to the private sector.

On this basis, the Government’s state aid notification sets out that Northern Rock's future will be based around four strategic priorities:

Northern Rock has said that it is committed to doing all it can to communicate openly with staff and provide the best possible support through the changes ahead, including working closely with UNITE and other employee representatives. The bank proposes to provide outplacement services to help affected staff find alternative employment in the region, working closely with local agencies.

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The Government are mindful of the impact on the employees of this important regional employer and will support the implementation of the plan. To help those people affected I have asked the chief executive of the Regional Development Agency, ONE NorthEast, to lead the Government’s response. ONE NorthEast have already begun constructive discussions with Northern Rock and will work with local authorities, Jobcentre Plus, Business Link NorthEast, the Learning and Skills Council and Northern Rock’s management to co-ordinate the Government’s support for those involved.

As set out in Budget 2008, the Bank of England financing arrangements for Northern Rock will remain in place for an interim period, and will be replaced by a direct Treasury loan over the course of 2008-09. The Government will set out the arrangements for the repayment of the loan when the business plan is finalised.

The existing Government guarantee arrangements remain in place. Depositors’ money continues to be safe and secure.

I will continue to keep the House informed and will report further when the business plan is completed.

Children, Schools and Families

Youth Taskforce Action Plan

The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Beverley Hughes): Today I am publishing the action plan for the youth taskforce. The youth taskforce in my Department was created in October 2007 from the respect task force to build on Government’s success in tackling antisocial behaviour. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of the House.

The new taskforce will concentrate on the minority of young people who get into serious trouble, including anti-social behaviour, and cause serious problems in their neighbourhoods. It will work with local partners—children’s services, the police, schools and community safety teams—to ensure that across the country every area has an effective approach for dealing with young people in serious difficulty.

The approach needed to change young people’s behaviour and deal with the problems that concern communities, must combine:

Working with the Home Office—which retains responsibility for the overall response to antisocial behaviour—and other Departments across Government as well as local areas, the youth taskforce will help to ensure that young people and their families get the right package of intervention, challenge and support not only to curtail bad behaviour but to change it.

This action plan sets out 18 commitments it will deliver, and a total funding package of up to £218.5 million. Key measures include:

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Communities and Local Government

Building Control System

The Minister for Housing (Caroline Flint): I am today publishing a consultation document on proposals for the future development of the building control system.

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Home owners have the right to expect their homes to be built and renovated to minimum standards set out in building regulations. I want to make life more difficult for the cowboy builders that are out there whilst letting the high quality majority of the industry get on with the job. This should reduce the cost and burden of the process on both the industry and local authorities.

The building control system is critical to our ability to deliver a range of wider aims on housing supply, sustainability and other key health and safety related issues. Following discussion with stakeholders over the last two years it has become apparent that while the system is not broken, there are a number of issues which needed to be addressed to ensure that the system is fit for purpose now and in the future.

This consultation document also ensures we have a customer-focused building control system in which industry is able to plan with certainty and which is fully able to support the delivery of our housing supply and zero carbon housing targets in a way which delivers high levels of compliance at a reduced burden to industry and other stakeholders.

This consultation follows the paper published in March 2007 which set out the key areas for reform that we believed had the potential to address the main weaknesses in the system.

The proposals fall into the following five areas:

The consultation is accompanied by impact assessments. Copies are available in the Libraries of both Houses, or it can be accessed via the Communities and Local Government website at: www.communities.gov.uk/futurebuildingcontrol

Consultation closes on 10 June 2008.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): I am representing the United Kingdom at this month's Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels.

The presidency hopes to adopt Council conclusions on the Commission’s communication “Preparing for the ‘Health Check’ of the CAP Reform”. And it is also likely that the Commission’s proposal to increase milk national quotas by 2 per cent. will be adopted.

The following issues will be raised under any other business:

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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

FCO Services (Performance Targets)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): My noble Friend Lord Malloch-Brown has made the following written ministerial statement:

FCO Services will become a trading fund of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on 1 April 2008.1 have set the following performance targets for 2008-09:

FCO Services will report to Parliament on its success against these targets through its annual report for 2008-09.

General Affairs and External Relations Council

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Consumer Affairs, the Member for Harrow, West (Mr.Thomas), and I represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Brussels on 10 March 2008.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the European Council

The Council discussed preparations for the European Council on 13 and 14 March. The European Council will focus on the launch of a new three-year cycle of the EU’s strategy for growth and jobs; an integrated climate and energy policy; and the stability of financial markets.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary supported the presidency’s focus on delivering for the EU’s citizens, and agreed with the priorities identified for action, particularly in taking forward the EU’s commitment to delivering on the ambitious climate change goals set last year at the spring European Council and the need for the EU to lead wider international work towards a comprehensive climate change agreement for the post-2012 period.

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