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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 19 January 2009


ECOFIN (December)

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): ECOFIN met informally on Thursday 18 December 2008 in Paris. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury represented the UK.

Ministers discussed non-co-operative financial jurisdictions, the IMF’s resources, and the setting up of an early warning system for financial risks at an international level. They also discussed taking forwards work at EU level in response to the action plan agreed by leaders at the Washington summit on 15 November.

Ministers asked the Financial Stability Forum to identify jurisdictions believed to be acting non-co-operatively in the financial sector. This will link with the European Commission’s presentation of an action plan at the beginning of 2009 in this area. They also committed to reviewing all options to enable the IMF to have adequate resources to continue playing a stabilising role in the financial system. In order to detect macro-economic and financial risks within the global financial system, ECOFIN mandated their experts to identify means to evaluate more effectively the full extent of risks and strengthen collaboration between the IMF and the FSF.

ECOFIN will return to these issues under the Czech presidency of the EU in 2009.

ECOFIN (January)

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held in Brussels on 20 January 2009. The following items are on the agenda:

Presidency work programme

The Czech presidency will present its ECOFIN work programme for the first half of 2009.

Follow-up to the December European Council: Impact on Council Work

The presidency will take stock of the work arising from the European Economic Recovery Plan (EERP) agreed by the December European Council. The presidency plans to outline the next steps for two particular issues. The first is reduced rates of VAT, following discussions under the French presidency. The second is how the EU budget can best support infrastructure and energy efficiency projects. On both of these issues, the Government looks forward to working with the Czech presidency to take work forwards.

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Economic and Budgetary Policy Strategy for 2009, including economic and financial situation and implementation of European Economic Recovery Plan

Ministers will exchange views, in the light of the economic situation and the EERP, on the economic and budgetary policy messages for ECOFIN work in 2009. This will include discussion of the impact of fiscal stimulus packages on budgetary rules under the stability and growth pact. The presidency will use the messages at this ECOFIN to inform the discussions at the spring European Council in March.

Introduction of the euro in Slovakia

The European Commission and the representative of Slovakia will present a first assessment of the introduction of the single currency in Slovakia on 1 January 2009.

Western Balkans Investment Framework

The Council will hear a report on progress on the establishment of the Western Balkans Investment Framework by 2010.

Communities and Local Government

Non-domestic Rating Valuations

The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): I am today announcing the decapitalisation rates to be used in the “contractor’s method of valuation” in non-domestic rating valuations in England for the 2010 revaluation.

Rateable values are assessed independently by the Valuation Office Agency and are generally based on annual rental values. Most are assessed having regard to actual rents but such evidence is not always available. In about 11 per cent. of cases, rateable value is based on capital values, established from the cost of construction and land values, which is then “decapitalised” to give an annual value representing the rateable value. This is called the “contractor’s method of valuation”. The decapitalisation rates used in the valuation are prescribed by the Government.

Following consultation in the summer, I have decided:

I have set the rates having regard to the relevant factors outlined in the consultation paper. Those factors suggest that the range of possible outcomes for the decapitalisation rates remains very wide and that the existing rates are broadly in the middle of that range.

The 2010 revaluation is being undertaken by the Valuation Office Agency. Rateable values will be published by 1 October 2009.

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Energy and Climate Change

EDF Takeover (British Energy)

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr. Mike O'Brien): On 16 October 2008, Official Report, column 47WS, I informed the House that my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform wrote to the Business and Enterprise Select Committee in September 2008 to inform members of EDF’s takeover offer for British Energy. Copies of this letter were placed in the Libraries of the House.

I am pleased to report that EDF has now successfully completed the takeover of British Energy, which included the 36 per cent stake in the company held by the Nuclear Liabilities Fund (NLF). The sale has raised approximately £4.42 billion for the NLF, which was set up at the time of BE’s privatisation in 1996 to meet the eventual decommissioning costs of existing nuclear power stations. EDF will transfer this amount to NLF by Monday 19th January 2009. Completion of the takeover was announced by EDF on Monday 5th January 2009.


“Valuing People Now”

The Secretary of State for Health (Alan Johnson): We are today publishing “Valuing People Now”, the new cross-government strategy for people with learning disabilities along with the delivery plan. In addition, we are laying before Parliament the Government’s further response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) report “A Life Like Any Other? Human Rights of Adults with Learning Disabilities”, which was published on 6 March 2008.

The new strategy is driven by responses to a very wide-ranging consultation last year on priorities for action to deliver real change for people with learning disabilities. Over 2,000 people responded to the consultation and the strategy addresses what people have told us about the support people with learning disabilities and their families need.

The strategy also sets out the Government’s response to the ten main recommendations in “Healthcare for All”, the report of the independent inquiry into access to healthcare for people with learning disabilities, chaired by Sir Jonathan Michael.

The strategy provides a further response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights report “A Life Like Any Other”? The Government published its response to the conclusions and recommendations in that report on 6 May 2008. In its response the Government committed to providing the Joint Committee with a further response when publishing the final “Valuing People Now” strategy.

“Valuing People Now” has been placed in the Library and copies of both publications are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.

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International Development

Humanitarian Assistance (Gaza)

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Yesterday, on the day of a long-awaited ceasefire, I announced an additional pledge of up to £20 million for humanitarian needs in Gaza, bringing the UK’s response to the crisis in Gaza to nearly £27 million.

These additional funds are already being spent. Yesterday evening, the Under- Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), announced a contribution of £4 million to the International Committee for the Red Cross to carry out immediate work to save lives such as providing medical treatment to the injured. Today I am announcing £1 million to the World Food Programme to co-ordinate the relief items brought to Gaza by the UN and NGOs.

Despite the ceasefire, access for humanitarian agencies will continue to be a major challenge. We will need to do everything we can to ensure that humanitarian agencies have full and safe access to provide help to those who need it. The international community also need to move quickly to carry out an urgent needs assessment so that the slow process of rebuilding Gaza can start. The UK Government will work closely with all its international partners in these efforts.

This £20 million is in addition to our Paris pledge of up to £243 million in aid to the Palestinian people over three years and the £6.8 million in humanitarian assistance to Gaza that I announced on 31 December.


Corporate Plan

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): I am today publishing the Ministry of Justice Corporate Plan for 2009-2011. This, our first corporate plan, is the culmination of a huge amount of work to provide clarity on what the Department, only 20 months old, will achieve over the remainder of the Spending Review period, how and with what resources.

The plan is based around our four strategic objectives and explains how we will:

Like other Government Departments, we will make significant savings over this spending period, while continuing to improve the services we deliver to the public. The plan sets out our internal financial allocations for the next financial year and explains how we will
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improve performance, drive out duplication, and ensure we have the capabilities to deliver our plan within our resource envelope. Copies of the corporate plan have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

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In the short time since it was created, the Ministry of Justice has been leading reform across the justice system. This plan sets out an exciting agenda for the next phase of reform, which will ensure our justice system remains admired and emulated across the world.

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