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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 20 January 2010


Parliamentary Questions (Costing)

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Sarah McCarthy-Fry): The Treasury has conducted its annual indexation exercise of the cost of oral and written parliamentary questions so as to ensure that these costs are increased in line with increases in underlying costs. The revised costs, which will apply from today, are:

The disproportionate cost threshold (DCT) will be increased to £800, also with effect from today.

G20 Framework (Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): As part of the new G20 Framework for Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth agreed at the Pittsburgh summit, the Treasury has today submitted its national template to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), setting out its national policy frameworks, programmes and projections for the medium term.

This is in accordance with the mutual assessment process agreed by G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors at their meeting in St. Andrews in November 2009, which calls on the IMF to help with analysis of how the national and regional policy frameworks of the G20 members fit together.

Copies of the document are available in the Vote Office and have been deposited in the Library of the House.

Children, Schools and Families

Family and Relationships Policy

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): Strong, stable families are the bedrock of our society. Families give children the love and security they need to grow up and explore the world, and the moral guidance and aspiration to make the most of their talents and be good citizens. And families are where most of us find the support and care necessary for a happy and fulfilling life-as children and adults, parents and grandparents too.

"Support for All: The Family and Relationships" Green Paper seeks to reflect the reality of families today. There have been significant changes in family form and structure; there has been a trend towards smaller families and a growth in the number of step families. Increasing numbers of couples are cohabiting and more children are being born outside of marriage.
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Roles within the family have also changed with more women going into paid employment and more fathers becoming involved in caring for children.

This Government's conviction is that it is both possible and necessary to develop policies to support all families without intruding into the privacy of family life. This means supporting families to help themselves, ensuring that all public services play their part in supporting strong and resilient family relationships, but also recognising that sometimes relationships fail and that some families need extra help.

Marriage is an important and well-established institution that plays a fundamental role in family life in our society. However, marriage is a personal and private decision for responsible adults, with which politicians should not interfere. The Government support couples who choose to get married: for many families marriage offers the best environment in which to raise children, and remains the choice of the majority of people in Britain.

But families come in all shapes and sizes these days and the evidence is clear that stable and loving relationships between parents and with their children are vital for their progress and well-being. This was confirmed in the "Families in Britain: An Evidence Paper". The Government are therefore strongly committed to supporting all parents, grandparents and carers in sustaining strong and resilient relationships.

This Green Paper sets out a wide range of measures to support all families as they bring up their children and to help families cope with times of stress and difficulty. They recognise that while all families need some help, there are families in our society with complex needs and others who require additional-and sometimes non-negotiable-support. Some of the policy proposals can be implemented straight away; others are for consultation or will take longer to put into place.

This policy is informed by "Families in Britain: An evidence paper", published by my Department and the Prime Minister's strategy unit in 2008, as well as by many other pieces of independent research, carried out both here and abroad during the last 10 years. It has also been influenced by discussions with experts and leading voluntary organisations; and by the views and experiences of families themselves.

All the proposals set out in this paper have been developed with a view to supporting stronger, more resilient families, who can help themselves and stronger, safer communities where families help each other.

The consultation will remain open until 21 April 2010.

Copies of this paper are available in the Libraries of both Houses and available electronically at: www.dcsf.gov .uk/supportforall.

Communities and Local Government

Local Government Finance 2010-11

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Barbara Follett): I have today laid before the House the Local Government Finance Report (England) 2010-11. This report establishes
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the amounts of revenue support grant (RSG) and non-domestic rates (NDR) to be paid to local authorities in 2010-11, and the basis of their distribution. A draft of this report was issued for consultation on 26 November 2009.

We received a total of 65 written responses from 58 individual authorities and formal and informal groupings of authorities during the consultation, and I met delegations from the Local Government Association, London Councils, and the County Councils Network.

Having considered the views of the local authority associations and others who have commented on the provisional settlement, I have decided to confirm my proposals on the basis of distribution of formula grant for 2010-11.

The final figures published today for 2010-11 confirm those originally published in January 2008. In line with Government's policy on multi-year settlements, it has always been clear that the settlement for 2010-11-as the third year of a three-year settlement-would not be changed from that previously published other than in exceptional circumstances. Having fully considered all the representations received during consultation I have not found such exceptional circumstances.

The overall settlement represents a continued real-terms increase in investment in local government, which will allow authorities to continue to deliver improving services at an affordable cost. Total formula grant for 2010-11 will be £747 million, or 2.6 per cent., higher than in 2009-10 on a like-for-like basis. Specific grants, such as the Dedicated Schools Grant, are on top of these figures and bring the total increase in funding for local authorities to 4 per cent. in 2010-11. In our first 10 years up to 2007-08 we increased total Government grant by 39 per cent. in real terms. This provided 10 straight years of above inflation increases in Government grant for authorities overall. Over the current spending review period, we are providing an additional £8.6 billion to local government, an average 4 per cent. cash increase per year.

I have also laid an order for the House's approval to cap Warwickshire police authority in advance for 2010-11, at a budget requirement which equates to council tax increases of around 3 per cent. in both 2009-10 and 2010-11. I am also putting all authorities on notice that the Government will not hesitate to cap any excessive council tax increases set by individual authorities in 2010-11 and that it would be a mistake for any authority to presume they will not be capped if they stay within the capping principles which applied in 2009-10. We have already initiated capping action against three police authorities in advance for 2010-11 to limit their council tax increases to around 3 per cent. No other decisions have been taken on capping for 2010-11, but we have made clear that we expect the average Band D council tax increase in England to fall to a 16-year low. The Government have maintained the three-year settlement in challenging economic circumstances and there can be no excuse for any authority setting an excessive council tax increase in 2010-11.

I shall be sending copies of the Local Government Finance Report to all local authorities in England, and making available full supporting information on the Communities and Local Government website at:


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Copies of the report and related tables showing each authority's allocation of formula grant and other supporting material have been placed in the Vote Office.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): The Minister responsible for the marine and the natural environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 14 and 16 December. Richard Lochhead MSP and Michelle Gildernew MLA also attended.

On fisheries, Council agreed the annual fishing opportunities regulation for 2010 which sets fishing quota and effort limits, principally for the North sea, Irish sea, Channel, and Atlantic. Discussions were narrower than in previous years as technical and control measures are no longer included in this measure, since they are now subject to co-decision with the European Parliament. However, the recent failure of talks between the EU and Norway on the annual fisheries agreement meant that the regulation would need to find an interim mechanism to allow fishing of the stocks concerned. This led to unexpected complexity and difficulty in the final negotiations.

The major points of interest to the UK in the final compromise included:

Following a ministerial lunch on animal health, discussions then turned to the substantive agriculture items. First, the Council took note of the Commission's report on options for animal welfare labelling and animal welfare reference centres; which was followed by a brief state of play report from the presidency on the negotiations to agree a revision to the current rules governing the welfare of laboratory animals (expressing confidence that a deal could be struck with the European Parliament early in 2010).

Continuing a trend of set-piece discussions on the future of the CAP, the Commission then presented its views on rural development policy post-2013 (it should be greener, and better aligned with the Lisbon strategy), noting in summary that it saw no justification for continuing to finance Pillar II via modulation. Member states broadly welcomed the Commission's thoughts.

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Next, Council unanimously approved requests for state aid for agricultural restructuring from Latvia, Lithuania and Hungary. The UK, Denmark, Czech Republic, Estonia, Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Austria abstained.

Council then reached partial political agreement on the timber due diligence regulation, though with further work needed on comitology provisions. The UK, Denmark, Spain and Belgium abstained, with the Netherlands voting against, because the final compromise did not include an express prohibition of the placing of illegally logged timber on the Community market. The dossier would now be handed over to future presidencies, starting with Spain, to handle negotiations with the European Parliament.

Ministers took the opportunity to comment on the Commission's work on the 39 simplification proposals they had presented during the CZ presidency. A number of the proposals had been addressed, but others had not been taken up. Denmark tabled a letter suggesting further discussions on the outstanding proposals at a political level. There was general support for two UK concerns: (1) that the Commission needed to be more joined-up and look at burdens on farmers beyond DG Agri and include DG Sanco and DG Environment; and (2) that the Commission should take a more risk-based approach to audits and controls, including the way penalties were applied. Work on this dossier would continue.

The Commission then presented the latest instalment of its dairy market quarterly report noting that both commodity prices and farm gate prices had risen, that EU production remained lower than in 2008, and that the market was likely to be in balance in 2010. They also made reference to the recently established dairy fund, as well as to deliberations on improving the dairy supply chain in the high-level group, as measures aimed at ameliorating the dairy crisis. The UK welcomed the positive trends and rising prices detailed in the report, urged the Council and Commission to focus on modernising the sector in preparation for the abolition of dairy quotas.

The Commission presented its communication on a better functioning food supply chain, a follow-up to last December's report on food prices to the European Council. Its aim was to examine the contractual relations across the chain, to monitor the development of competition issues, and to provide the basis for further in-depth discussions during the Spanish presidency.

Under any other business:

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Equine Infectious Anaemia

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I wish to inform to the House that on 19 January 2010 the chief veterinary officer for the United Kingdom confirmed equine infectious anaemia (EIA) in two horses in Wiltshire following importation from Romania via Belgium.

Two premises are currently under restriction and the two infected horses will be humanely destroyed in line with existing regulations.

The animals arrived in a group of 10 horses, nine of which originated from Romania and one from Belgium. The nine Romanian horses were tested for EIA as part of routine post-import testing. Two of the horses tested positive, the remaining seven tested negative. The horse that originated in Belgium will be tested later today. As part of our control measures we will be undertaking a detailed epidemiological investigation.

The risk of further spread among horses is considered by experts to be very low, but this will be kept under review pending further epidemiological investigation. Expert advice from the Health Protection Agency is that EIA is not a risk to human health and that there is no evidence that this incident presents a risk to the local community.

This is the first case of equine infectious anaemia infected animals being imported into Great Britain since 1976 and shows the success of our post import testing regime. These were apparently healthy horses carrying a notifiable disease that we are keen to keep out of Great Britain.

Home Department

Immigration and Nationality Services (Charges)

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department is today laying regulations for the fees for immigration and nationality services that are set at levels above the normal administrative costs of the service. The Government review the fees on a regular basis and makes appropriate changes as necessary. We have continued with our strategic approach to charging; setting certain fees above cost on the basis of the value of the service.

These fees must be set out in regulations before both Houses of Parliament and are subject to the affirmative procedure. The fees for these applications allow us to generate revenue which is used to fund the UK immigration system and to set certain fees below cost recovery to support wider Government objectives. The revenue generated will contribute towards the development and delivery of the new points based system, the rollout of ID cards for foreign nationals and investment in IT capability both overseas and in the UK. This coming year we will continue to strengthen that capability in underpinning technology and process improvement. For transparency, I have included the estimated unit cost for each route, so that it is clear the degree to which certain routes are set above cost.

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