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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 2 February 2009

Cabinet Office

Public Bodies 2008

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Tom Watson): The Cabinet Office has today published Public Bodies 2008 which lists all non-departmental public bodies (NDPB) sponsored by the UK Government as at 31 March 2008. Public Bodies 2008 also provides summary information on the size and expenditure of the NDPB sector and statistical information on public appointments.

Public Bodies 2008 can be downloaded from the civil service website at: http://www.civilservice.qov.uk/about/public/bodies.asp. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of the House.


Contingencies Fund

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Angela Eagle): A Treasury Minute dated 6 November 2008 informed Parliament that the Bank of England had provided a short term loan facility to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) to enable the FSCS to pay out to eligible UK retail depositors in Icesave, the internet product made available by the UK branch of Landsbanki.

That Minute also informed Parliament that this loan will be replaced with a loan from the Government at a time to be negotiated between the Bank of England and the Treasury. The Treasury and Bank of England have agreed that this loan transfer should take place on 29 January 2009 and as a result the Treasury made a payment to the Bank of England of £3,109,742,000 (three billion, one hundred and nine million, seven hundred and forty two thousand pounds).

Part of this loan will be paid back by the FSCS on an interest only basis for the first three years, plus any recoveries made through a claim on Landsbanki in that time. The FSCS will then use levies to repay the remaining balance. The remaining part of the loan is expected to be repaid by the Icelandic Depositors’ and Investors’ Guarantee Fund (DIGF). The Treasury is in negotiation with the Icelandic authorities with a view to their guaranteeing this repayment in line with their responsibilities under EEA law and the Deposit Guarantee Scheme Directive.

On 1 December 2008, the Government announced that they had put in place arrangements to ensure that all eligible retail depositors—that is, those depositors
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who are eligible to claim under the FSCS—in London Scottish Bank plc will receive their money in full, including those with balances above the £50,000 FSCS limit.

In order to enable the FSCS to make these payouts the Treasury has advanced £100,000,000 (one hundred million pounds) to the FSCS on 29 January 2009. Part of this advance will be paid back by the FSCS on an interest only basis for the first three years, plus any recoveries made through a claim on London Scottish Bank plc in that time. The FSCS will then use levies to repay the remaining balance. The remaining part of the advance will be recovered from the rights which HM Treasury have acquired in respects of the proceeds of the wind-down and realisation of the assets of London Scottish Bank plc which is in administration.

Parliamentary approval for additional cash cover of £3,209,742,000 (three billion, two hundred and nine million, seven hundred and forty two thousand pounds) for this service will be sought in the Spring Supplementary Estimate for HM Treasury, as the Winter Supplementary Estimate included a provision for this expenditure. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £3,209,742,000 (three billion, two hundred and nine million, seven hundred and forty two thousand pounds) will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.

Saving Gateway Accounts Bill

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ian Pearson): Today, in advance of the consideration of clauses of the Saving Gateway Accounts Bill by the Public Bill Committee, I am publishing draft Saving Gateway Accounts Regulations. These draft regulations have been published for the information of Members, and remain subject to discussion and consideration.

These draft regulations incorporate the draft regulations in relation to eligibility for Saving Gateway accounts, which were published on 12 January.

Copies have been deposited in the Libraries of the House and will be available on the HM Treasury website.

Children, Schools and Families

Sutherland Inquiry

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): Last December, Lord Sutherland completed his independent inquiry into the delivery of National Curriculum tests in 2008. On 16 December I laid a copy of his report before the House, and made a statement accepting all his recommendations in full.

Lord Sutherland’s report made recommendations covering the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), the Department for Children, Schools and Families’ officials and Ministers, and Ofqual, the independent qualifications regulator. In December I set out the actions my Department was already taking to implement his recommendations, and committed to a further detailed response which I am publishing today. I have laid a copy of this in the Libraries of the House.

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Where Lord Sutherland’s recommendations included specific actions for my Department to take forward, all have been completed or are under way. Prior to Lord Sutherland’s December report I established an expert group to advise on future testing and assessment arrangements and their delivery. I have taken steps to clarify further the reporting lines, information sharing and risk escalation arrangements between the QCA and my department and the role of DCSF observers. My Department will ensure that the legislation that establishes Ofqual and the QCDA gives Ofqual the powers to regulate national curriculum assessments effectively. In the interim, my Department is developing and agreeing a protocol on the reporting arrangements for Ofqual. My officials will discuss with QCA possible technological advances, such as on-screen marking and data capture, for possible use from 2010 onwards.

While Lord Sutherland made no specific recommendations in relation to the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) Gateway process, I asked my officials to liaise with the OGC to consider whether there were wider lessons from the report for Gateway reviews. OGC have identified some areas where aspects of current guidance and practice can be improved, and these are included in our detailed response.

On 16 December I wrote to the new chair of the QCA board, Chris Trinick, asking him to implement all Lord Sutherland’s recommendations relating to the QCA in full, and to provide me with a full report on progress by 16 January. He has done this, and I have laid a copy of his letter to me including the QCA’s action plan and update on implementation in the Libraries of the House, together with my reply to him. My officials will work closely with QCA in the coming months to monitor progress against their action plan.

Following their initial response to Lord Sutherland’s recommendations on 16 December 2008, Ofqual have also published their action plan detailing how they intend to implement the recommendations relating to them as the independent regulator, and I am placing a copy in the Library of the House.

I made clear in December that where we have national tests, they must be delivered successfully and on time, as they have been in the past. I am very grateful to Lord Sutherland for his detailed and comprehensive work, which will significantly strengthen the future delivery of national curriculum tests. His report, and the measures set out in this statement and accompanying action plans, will help ensure that we achieve this in 2009 and in future years, so that children and young people, and their parents and teachers, all benefit from the testing and assessment system they deserve.


Army Nationality Policy

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Hutton): I should like to inform the House that with effect from today the MOD will be introducing an upper limit of 15 per cent. on the number of citizens of foreign(1) and Commonwealth countries serving in the Royal Logistic Corps (RLC), the Royal Army Dental Corps (RADC) and the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC).

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In making this statement, I should like to record my regret at the unfortunate handling of this issue in this House last week. The unauthorised leak to the media of this story went directly against our intention that this House should be the first to hear of the issue. Following the delay to the Armed Forces Personnel debate, we should have reviewed the timing of this statement. It was certainly not our intent in any way to fail to give this House the proper opportunity to learn of and consider this issue.

We have concluded that in the interests of operational effectiveness, a 15 per cent. limit on foreign and Commonwealth nationals in these areas of the Army is both necessary and proportionate. The three Corps are the only ones where the current proportion of foreign and Commonwealth personnel is at or approaching that level. There will be an option to apply the same limit to other parts of the Armed Forces if, at any time in the future, the percentages merit it. The purpose of the measure is to limit the number of personnel whose foreign citizenship could leave them potentially subject to legislation contrary to our own decisions—on, for example, operational deployments. We have also borne in mind the importance of ensuring that the Armed Forces continue to be identified with and representative of the UK. These arrangements do not extend to Gurkhas who serve as a discrete formed unit to which only Nepalese nationals can apply.

The Race Relations Act provides for arrangements to legitimise measures such as this. These arrangements are made having due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination and to promote racial equality of opportunity. In this case, the restriction is based on nationality and not race. The MOD and the Armed Forces remain whole-heartedly committed to removing unlawful discrimination and promoting equality.

MOD is very proud of the historic links with Commonwealth countries who provide high quality recruits and who have made a valuable contribution to the Armed Forces for many years. We hope they will continue to do so in the future and we will continue to recruit foreign and Commonwealth personnel to join the Armed Forces.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Northumberland National Park Authority

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): In December 2007 my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government announced that all district councils in Northumberland will be abolished on 1 April 2009 and the county council will continue as the sole local authority for the area. Given that Tynedale district council, Alnwick district council and Berwick-upon-Tweed borough council currently appoint members to the Northumberland National Park Authority, their abolition
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means that the membership arrangements, as set out under the National Park Authorities (England) Order 1996, need to be amended.

Accordingly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State consulted on the proposals which would reflect the new local government structure while retaining the same overall size of authority and maintaining a strong local presence on the authority. It is proposed that the changes to the membership would take effect on 1 April 2009. They would be delivered through a statutory instrument—subject to negative resolution—made under the Environment Act 1995. The consultation ran from 23 June to 17 October 2008. The responses are available on Defra’s website at: http://www.defra.qov.uk/corporate/consult/northumberland-npa/index.htm

I have carefully considered the responses and have decided to pursue the changes proposed in the consultation which will reduce the local authority seats from 12 to six; increase the number of parish members from four to six; and increase the number of Secretary of State members from six to 10. Two of the extra four extra Secretary of State seats shall be taken by those who have experience of living or working in the National Park; one extra with experience of living or working in the Newcastle-Gateshead area; and one with particular knowledge of regional issues. The changes to membership of the Park Authority shall be made by means of a statutory instrument made under the Environment Act 1995 and laid before Parliament in early 2009, so that subject to Parliament’s consent, the new membership composition is active from 1 April 2009.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

General Affairs and External Relations Council

The Minister for Europe (Caroline Flint): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

General Affairs

Presentation of the Czech Presidencys Priorities

The presidency said that their three priorities would be the economy, energy and external relations, especially in the context of their preparations for the Spring European Council on 19-20 March; the Eastern Partnership would be the main focus of work on external relations.

The Government support the Czech Presidency’s priorities, including the Eastern Partnership.

Energy Security

The presidency and Commission briefed Ministers on the Russia-Ukraine gas crisis and called for work on the Second Strategic Energy Review (SEER2) and energy project proposals under the Economic Recovery Plan to be accelerated so that decisions could be taken at the Spring European Council; to that end, the GAERC should adopt a list of priority projects at its next meeting. The Commission said that it would shortly identify and propose a number of projects. Ministers agreed that these should focus on the internal market, infrastructure, crisis response and diversification.

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External Relations

Middle East Peace Process (MEPP)

Ministers discussed Gaza with the Egyptian, Palestinian, Jordanian, Turkish and Norwegian Foreign Ministers on 25 January. Egypt briefed on its efforts to promote a durable ceasefire and Palestinian reconciliation, and on the proposed donors’ conference on reconstruction.

Following the meeting, the presidency publicly expressed support for the efforts of Egypt and other regional actors in brokering the ceasefire and facilitating negotiations; voiced their concern at the humanitarian situation in Gaza and wish to see aid reach those who needed it; reaffirmed the EU’s willingness to help with the humanitarian effort and political process; and recalled the EU’s support for the Arab Peace Initiative.

At the GAERC, Ministers agreed conclusions, which the Government welcome. They called on all parties to make the current ceasefire permanent through full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1860; urged a sustained halt of rocket launches towards Israel, the urgent opening of the Gaza crossings and an effective mechanism to prevent arms and ammunition smuggling to the Gaza Strip; called for the unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance to Gaza; expressed the EU’s readiness to reactivate the EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM Rafah), as soon as conditions allow; and strongly encouraged inter-Palestinian reconciliation.


The presidency briefed the Council on the state of negotiations on a new partnership and co-operation agreement with Russia and an enhanced association agreement with Ukraine. Many Ministers expressed concern at the behaviour of Russia and Ukraine during the recent gas dispute. The Commission pointed out that the dispute had highlighted the importance of energy for the EU’s ongoing dialogues with both countries. The presidency agreed that Ministers should return to this issue in due course.

Guantanamo Bay

Ministers welcomed President Obama’s executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, and noted that work on closure was ongoing. They acknowledged it was likely that the US would ask allies to assist by resettling some of those detainees who did not represent a major security threat, but who could not be returned to their own countries owing to security or human rights concerns.


Ministers adopted conclusions, which underscored EU concerns about the continuing collapse of the country, the intransigence of the regime and the role of diamonds in generating revenue to sustain it. The conclusions also renewed EU sanctions for a further year and added 63 individuals and companies to the sanctions list. The Government strongly support this decision.


The Council removed the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) from the list of terrorist organisations subject to restrictive measures at EU level. If new information is made available, the Council could decide to reinclude the group in accordance with applicable procedures. The Government support the Council’s decision.

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