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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 19 May 2009

Treasury

Asset Freezing Regime

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ian Pearson): In a Written Ministerial Statement on 10 October 2006, the then Economic Secretary undertook to report to Parliament on a quarterly basis on the operation of the UK’s counter terrorism asset freezing regime. This is the tenth of these reports and covers the period January to March 2009(1).

Asset-freezing designations

In the quarter January to March 2009, the Treasury gave no directions under the Al-Qaeda and Taliban (United Nations Measures) Order 2006. The Treasury revoked one direction given under this Order.

The Treasury gave two directions under the Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2006. The Treasury revoked two directions given under this Order, one of which related to a person designated on a restricted basis.

There were no financial sanctions designations made the UN, or at the EU, in relation to terrorism, or Al-Qaeda and the Taliban of persons with links to the UK.

As of 31 March 2009, a total of 253 accounts containing just over £632,500(2 )of suspected terrorist funds were frozen in the UK.

Reviews

The Treasury keeps domestic asset-freezing cases under review and completed 10 formal reviews in this quarter.

Licensing

In accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1452 (2002), the Treasury operates a licensing system whereby designated persons and others are able to apply to make or receive payments under specific and, if necessary, monitored conditions. In this quarter, the following licences were issued to listed persons:

In this quarter three household of listed persons were granted benefits licences.


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Tax Credits

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): National statistics published today demonstrate the substantial contribution tax credits are making to deliver guaranteed minimum incomes for working families and families with children, reducing child poverty, and improving work incentives.

The Government remain committed to the current responsive system of tax credits, which provide additional financial support to families experiencing a fall in income. In the current economic climate, this support is benefiting an even larger number of households. Figures published at the Budget show that around 355,000 households living on a lower income are receiving on average £35 more per week in tax credits.

The statistics published by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) today show that in 2007-08 the child and working tax credits were benefiting around 6 million families and 10 million children.

The figures also show that efforts to reduce overpayments of tax credits continue to be effective. The level of overpayments is now £1 billion, less than half the level in 2003-04 and five per cent of finalised entitlement paid by HMRC. The average size of overpayments is £705, which has fallen by nearly a third since 2003-04. This is against a backdrop of increasing entitlement with total awards increasing again, by six per cent compared to 2006-07.

The number of families entitled to end of year top-ups has increased as we anticipated last May to 1.29 million (£798 million). This is a result of one of the components of the package of measures announced in the Pre Budget Report 2005 to reduce overpayments.

The statistics also show that in 2007-08:

The take-up of tax credits is a significant success. Other recent published statistics have shown that in 2006-07 take-up of the Child Tax Credit is 81 per cent, with 88 per cent of the money available being claimed. Take-up among those on incomes below £10,000 is 92 per cent; and take-up among lone parents is 95 per cent. This is higher than for any previous system of income-related financial support for in-work families.


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Communities and Local Government

Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): I am today announcing key performance targets have been agreed for the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre for the period 1 April 2009 to 31 March 2010.

The agency’s principal financial target for 2009-10 is to achieve a minimum dividend payment to the Department for Communities and Local Government equal to the total of 6 per cent. of average capital employed and a sum equal to the capital charge that applies to the building for the year concerned. The agency is currently forecasting that 2009-10 will be a year of significant challenge and that the dividend payment will be £1,000,000—a shortfall of £200,000.

An operational target has been set to achieve room occupancy within the centre of 60 per cent. of capacity. If this target is exceeded all revenues received up to a maximum of £200,000 will be added to the dividend payment of £1,000,000 thus reducing, or if trading conditions allow, eradicating the shortfall.

The Agency also has the following quality of service targets:

Return on Capital Employed

HM Treasury set an annual return on capital employed of 6 per cent. for the Centre’s trading fund activities.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Sri Lanka

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I would like to inform the House about the latest situation in Sri Lanka.

On 19 May, the Sri Lankan President formally announced that on 18 May military forces had retaken all the territory once held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and that they had captured or killed the senior leadership of that organisation. Many Sri Lankans of all communities, Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim, will be relieved that the long and brutal conflict may at last be over. Sri Lanka has before it an historic opportunity to resolve the underlying causes of the conflict and ensure a lasting peace. We must continue to work with Sri Lanka’s Government and all their communities to ensure that this opportunity is taken and that it leads to a sustainable end to the conflict.

Our concern has never been whether it was right to defeat the LTTE. The issue has been the price in lives and the future in terms of reconciliation. We may never know exact numbers but thousands of innocent civilians
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have died, hundreds of thousands made homeless and confined to camps, caught up in a system which continues to restrict access to the international humanitarian agencies. For many, many people, the misery continues.

Our primary concern remains the immediate humanitarian crisis and the long-term political and economic peace and stability of Sri Lanka. We have continued to work with international partners in the EU, UN, and G8 to urge the Government of Sri Lanka to do all that they could to protect their citizens, minimise the risk of casualties and allow the UN and other international agencies access to the conflict area to oversee the possible surrender of the LTTE and the evacuation of the civilians. We also called on the LTTE to lay down their weapons and release the civilians. Tragically, these calls did not prevent the loss of many lives.

I welcome the assurance given to me by Foreign Minister Bogollogama yesterday that the UN and non-governmental organisations will now be able to enter the former conflict zone to provide whatever support is still needed. I would like to pay tribute to the courage of the staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross and others who continued to try and deliver food, water and medical supplies into the conflict zone at enormous risk to themselves. Undoubtedly, their bravery in the face of great danger saved the death toll from being higher.

Although the territorial conflict seems to be over, the grave humanitarian crisis continues to unfold. Some 250,000 civilians who have fled the fighting are either being processed by the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that they are not escaping LTTE members, or are being held in camps. The Government does not have the resources to cope, but they have not yet offered international aid agencies unrestricted access to the camps. This risks exacerbating the humanitarian crisis and fuelling the resentment of the internally displaced people (IDPs). We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to allow full and unhindered access to the camps where the IDPs remain in urgent need of shelter, food, water, and medicine. The Government of Sri Lanka has also already committed to resettle 80 per cent. of IDPs before the end of this year. This will be a difficult task.

We and others in the international community stand ready to assist the Government of Sri Lanka to meet these humanitarian challenges. The Department for International Development has recently announced an additional £5 million of humanitarian funding for Sri Lanka, bringing our total contribution to the humanitarian relief effort to £12.5 million since September 2008. We will channel this funding through the UN and other humanitarian agencies. We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to use the opportunity of the visits by the UN Secretary General’s Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar and the UN Secretary General himself later this week, to recognise that the UN has a central role to play, both in the delivery of humanitarian aid and in encouraging the process of political reconciliation that must be an integral part of rebuilding Sri Lanka’s civil society.

Lasting peace can only come when all communities in Sri Lanka believe that they are accepted and valued members of society. We recognise that the process of political reconciliation will not be easy. There are many entrenched attitudes and resentments. Sri Lankan people from all communities, working on the basis of mutual
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respect and equality, need to agree the way forward. On 18 May my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister urged President Rajapakse to be magnanimous in victory. I repeated the message to the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister the same day, saying that whatever process emerged, it needed to be inclusive and based on equality. We welcome the President’s statement to the Sri Lankan Parliament on 19 May that he will embark on an inclusive political process involving all communities on the basis of equality and absence of fear.

I endorse the conclusions reached at the European Council on 18 May calling for alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law to be investigated through an independent inquiry and for those accountable to be brought to justice. This could play an important role in the post-conflict reconciliation process.

The continuing focus of this Government’s activity over the coming days and weeks will be to work with international partners in encouraging the Sri Lankan Government to devote as much energy to winning the peace as it did to winning the war.

Home Department

Policing and Crime Bill (JCHR Reports)

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): The Government response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights reports on the Policing and Crime Bill (published on 16 April and 5 May 2009), has today been published and laid before Parliament. Copies are available in the Vote Office.

Justice

Employment Tribunal Awards

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): Today I am announcing publication of the Ministry of Justice’s report ‘Research into Enforcement of Employment Tribunal Awards in England and Wales’, which details the extent of non-payment of employment tribunal awards, and measures that the Government are developing, aimed at improving the enforcement of employment tribunal awards and Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) negotiated settlements.

The Government have begun discussions with the High Court Enforcement Officers Association to develop a service whereby creditors will be able to commission a high court enforcement officer to enforce their award or settlement as soon as the respondent fails to pay the sum due. The costs of enforcement will be recoverable from the respondent with limited cost liability for the creditor.

In addition, the Government have recently increased the level of public information available to individuals through the creation of new leaflets that make the enforcement process clearer and explain the importance of compliance with the award and the consequences of failure to make a payment.

Claimants will also benefit from the extension of the customer service general enquiries line, operated by Her Majesty’s Court Service, which has been extended to
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give creditors clear instructions on how and where they can enforce their employment tribunal award or ACAS settlement.

The Government are determined to ensure that individuals who are entitled to their employment tribunal awards or ACAS settlements are not denied access to justice by a small minority of unscrupulous individuals or companies who refuse to respect the award or settlement. These changes will ensure that all recipients can pursue the payment of their award or settlement with ease.

Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available on the Ministry of Justice website at www.justice.gov.uk.

Northern Ireland

Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): Schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 makes provision for the constitution of the four Boundary Commissions, including the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland. Under paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 to the Act, each Commission must consist of a Chairman, Deputy Chairman and two other members appointed by the Secretary of State. Following an open recruitment process to fill a vacancy, I have appointed Dr William Smith as a member of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland for a period of five years.

Prime Minister

Intelligence and Security Committee's Review (London Terrorist Attacks)

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): I have today laid before the House the Intelligence and Security Committee’s review of the intelligence on the London terrorist attacks in July 2005 (Cm 7617).

I would like to convey once again my condolences to the families of those killed and pay tribute to the courage shown by the survivors of the July 7 bombings.

I am grateful to the Committee for its work in producing this review. It is the product of careful and extensive research. The material published today testifies not only to the Committee’ thoroughness, but also to the Government’s commitment to accountability and transparency in matters related to the intelligence and security agencies. As usual, this follows consultation with the Committee over material that could not be published without prejudicing the work of the agencies. Publication of this review has been delayed as a result of related legal proceedings.

The Government accept the Committee’s assessment that decisions made during the ‘Crevice’ investigations were understandable and reasonable in the light of information available at the time, and in the context of the increasing number of priority investigations occurring at the same time. The review shows that there is no evidence to support various allegations about clues or ignored warnings. The police and the intelligence and security agencies receive many pieces of intelligence on potential terrorist threats from multiple sources. Intelligence is often fragmentary and of varying reliability; and terrorists go to great lengths to conceal their intentions.


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