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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 25 January 2010

Business, Innovation and Skills

Minimum Wage (Economic Evidence)

The Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr. Pat McFadden): I am pleased to announce that the Government have submitted their economic evidence on the national minimum wage to the Low Pay Commission. The commission will take this and all the other evidence received into account when preparing its next report on the minimum wage, which will be submitted to the Government by the end of February 2010.

The economic evidence addresses recent trends in economic and labour market performance, as well as the impact of the national minimum wage on pay, employment and younger workers.

Copies of the Government's economic evidence have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and will be available from the BIS website at www.bis.gov.uk.

The Government submitted their evidence on non-economic issues to the commission in October 2009.


Northern Rock PLC

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): I am pleased to inform the House that the planned legal and capital restructuring of Northern Rock, as announced in my Written Ministerial Statement of 8 December 2009, successfully took effect on 1 January 2010. As a result, two new companies are now carrying out the business formerly carried out by Northern Rock-Northern Rock plc, a new savings and mortgage bank and Northern Rock (Asset Management) plc, the existing company (renamed) that holds and services the majority of the existing residential mortgage book.

The Government's actions to stabilise Northern Rock over the past two years have protected the savings and deposits of hundreds of thousands of British families. From 1 January 2010 a healthy new Northern Rock will offer savings and mortgage products, increasing competition in the sector and providing consumers with more choice.

In my statement of 8 December I also promised to provide the House with details of the financial support provided by the Government to support the restructuring of the company.

On 31 December 2009, the Government provided Northern Rock plc with £1.4 billion of capital support in order for the company to meet the Financial Services Authority (FSA) regulatory capital requirements. The Government have also provided a commitment to the FSA that up to £1.6 billion in additional capital support will be provided to Northern Rock (Asset Management) plc, should the need arise, in order for Northern Rock (Asset Management) plc to continue to meet its regulatory
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capital requirements. These amounts are within the £3 billion of capital support announced by the Government in August 2008.

The outstanding Government loan owed by Northern Rock (Asset Management) plc has been reduced by £12.6 billion, from £26.9 billion as at 31 December 2007 to £14.3 billion at 31 December 2009. The loan increased on 4 January 2010 by £8.5 billion, taking the outstanding loan balance to £22.8 billion, in order for Northern Rock (Asset Management) plc to finance the difference in mortgage assets and retail and wholesale deposit liabilities that were transferred to Northern Rock plc. As previously announced, Northern Rock plc will use the cash it has received from Northern Rock (Asset Management) plc to increase mortgage lending.

The Government are also providing a working capital loan facility to Northern Rock (Asset Management) plc, currently up to £2.5 billion, to help with the orderly wind down of the company. This liquidity facility is similar to the working capital loan facility the Government have provided to Bradford & Bingley plc. The Government expect the loan facilities to Northern Rock (Asset Management) plc to be repaid in full.

The restructuring of Northern Rock has been assessed as the best means of achieving the Government's stated objectives to support financial stability, protect depositors' money and deliver value for money to taxpayers. The restructuring is also part of the Government's policy to encourage and support a well-functioning mortgage market, where lenders lend responsibly, and borrowers have access to a wide range of mortgages that they can afford to repay. At some point in the future, the Government will sell its stake in Northern Rock plc. In any sale, the objectives of the Government will be to promote competition for retail services, secure the best possible return to taxpayers and ensure that Northern Rock plc will continue to increase its lending to homeowners.

Communities and Local Government

Connecting Communities

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. John Denham): On October 14, I informed Parliament about my plan to reinvigorate and connect with those communities that are feeling the pressure from recession most acutely and ensure they are well placed to share fully in future prosperity and emerge stronger and more cohesive. On 14 December I extended the programme beyond the initial 21 local authorities to 75.

I can today inform Parliament that I am announcing a further extension of the programme to bring the total number of areas receiving targeted help in addressing local issues to 161 across over 100 local authorities.

I am also announcing an additional £20 million of resources for the programme to continue in the next financial year.

The programme is enabling local people to influence, shape and change policies on issues which really matter in their community. It will help to make sure that those people who are feeling the pressure the most are getting a bigger say and a fair deal.

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Practical actions delivered on estates and streets will focus on making changes that address local people's concerns, reconnect them with jobs and tackle head on issues-real and perceived-which, left neglected, can prove fertile territory for extremism and those who would divide our communities.

Energy and Climate Change

EU Informal Energy Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): My noble Friend the Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change today made the following statement:

EU Informal Environment Council

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Edward Miliband): I represented the United Kingdom at the EU Informal Environment Council in Seville on 16 and 17 January 2010.

The Council programme began with a session on the role of civil society post-Copenhagen. Short speeches from industry, trade union and civil society representatives were followed by ministerial discussion which highlighted the importance of Government, companies, NGOs and civil society working together.

The second item covered environmental governance and technological co-operation which included presidency questions on mercury, international environmental governance and the sixth Environmental Action
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Programme. The session opened with two presentations from UNEP and the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies. In discussions on international negotiations on mercury, the UK intervened to call on the EU to proceed with caution in seeking to broaden the scope of the legal instrument, in order not to stall the intergovernmental negotiating Committee process. In addition, several member states showed support for the UK view on the need to reform the current international environmental governance system. In relation to the sixth EAP, the UK indicated that any new framework must be based on a comprehensive assessment of where we are now, what will be the challenges of the next 10 years and what are the most appropriate mechanisms to address these challenges.

The final session in the Council programme focused on next steps following Copenhagen. The UK highlighted that it is in the EU's economic and environmental interests to show leadership, and the shared objective now should be to broaden, deepen and strengthen the commitments made in Copenhagen, and quickly to take forward the actions necessary to deliver the promises on finance that we made in the Accord. The EU should encourage more countries to associate themselves with the Accord, maintaining the momentum towards a legal framework. An exchange of views followed on the target that the EU should submit to the Accord appendix by January 31. The presidency concluded that while support was lacking for an unconditional offer of 30 per cent. the EU would need to find a formulation that underlined the EU's willingness to move to 30 per cent. in the right circumstances.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Draft Animal Health Bill

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): Today, I am laying before Parliament a draft Animal Health Bill that sets out major changes I am intending to implement on responsibility for, and management of, animal health in England.

The draft Bill would establish a new body in England, headed by an independent board and chair, with responsibility for animal health policy and its application; matters that currently rest with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The draft Bill draws upon extensive consultation over a number of years on the policy of responsibility and cost sharing for animal health. It is based on a partnership working approach that will be increasingly central to the development of animal health policy and the means by which it is carried out on the ground. This will enable the experience and expertise of those making a living in the livestock and other animal related sectors to contribute to the policies and decisions on animal health.

Central to long term success in combating animal disease, reducing its incidence and cost, and increasing the nation's resilience to its impacts, is bringing about behaviour change among those directly affected. The development of responsibility sharing in the provisions of the draft Bill will help to secure the needed changes in business practices and attitudes.

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The other part of this new approach, as proposed by Iain Anderson in his report on the lessons to be learned from foot and mouth in 2001, is a degree of sharing of the costs involved with those who both benefit directly from animal health measures and whose businesses bear the brunt of animal disease. Accordingly, the Government will bring forward in due course separate measures relating to cost sharing.

Copies of the draft Bill are available in the Vote Office.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Scrutiny Overrides

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): The figures given in the House of Lords answer delivered on 5 January 2010, Official Report columns WA26-27 were incorrect. The latest report shows there were a total of 15 instruments (and not 14 as incorrectly given previously) which Ministers supported before one or both of our Parliamentary EU committees had completed their scrutiny. Instrument 15 related to Doc 7616/08 on ship source pollution, a Ministry of Justice lead. The table below provides information on how many of these 15 instruments were scrutiny overrides in each House with the Departments shown as leading on these instruments.

DepartmentTotal no. of instruments overriddenOverrides in House of LordsOverrides in House of Commons


























Home Department

Identity Cards

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): I am pleased to announce a further extension of the national identity service following a successful implementation of the introduction of voluntary identity cards, from 30 November 2009, in Greater Manchester and at Manchester and London City airports and, from 4 January 2010, to the rest of the north-west of England.

From 8 February 2010 young people aged between 16 and 24 who are resident in Greater London will be able to apply for a voluntary identity card at a fee of £30 at the relevant Identity and Passport Service office.

In addition from 8 February 2010, anyone resident in the United Kingdom aged 16 and over who has registered an interest in identity cards, or registers their interest by 30 June 2010, on the Identity and Passport Service website at: https://info.ips.gov.uk/ipscw/reg may also apply for an identity card at the Identity and Passport Service offices in London and in north-west England.

Initially, these further roll out groups will cover British citizens who hold either a valid United Kingdom passport or one that has expired at any time since 1 January 2009.

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International Development

Haiti Earthquake

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): An earthquake of magnitude 7.0 struck Haiti, near the capital Port-au-Prince on the evening of 12 January. During the course of last week, smaller but still significant aftershocks continued to affect the area around Port-au-Prince. The situation for an estimated 3 million Haitians remains precarious.

It is clear that this is a human tragedy of enormous proportions. The United Nations estimates that at least 2 million people will require immediate relief assistance for the next six months. So far, the Government of Haiti say that 150,000 people are confirmed dead and the Haitian Interior Minister estimates that the total death toll may reach 200,000.

Following my written statement to the House on 19 January 2010, Official Report, column 11WS, British officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have been in contact with over 70 British nationals in Haiti, who have confirmed they are safe and well, and we are co-ordinating with US, Canadian and EU partners to facilitate an assisted departure for any British nationals who wish to leave Haiti. We have received reports that other British nationals are missing but we do not have any further information at this stage.

The British public has responded with generosity to the Disaster Emergency Committee appeal, which has so far raised over £42 million. I pay tribute to the work of the Disaster Emergency Committee, their NGO members and the British public for this remarkable response.

The British Government have moved very quickly with our response. The UK search and rescue teams were in Haiti for over a week, carrying out their life saving work, including pulling three people from the rubble alive, arranging medical evacuations, treating the wounded and helping the United Nations co-ordinate the overall search and rescue effort. After consulting with the United Nations, we concluded that they had done all they could and that the rescue effort was moving on to another phase. The British team returned to the United Kingdom on Saturday 22 January, at the same time as other international search and rescue teams headed home. The United Kingdom should be incredibly proud of their efforts.

We have also committed £1 million for the International Federation of the Red Cross to provide food, shelter, water and other immediate needs for 20,000 families; £2 million for the World Food Programme for transport and logistics; £1 million to assist with aid co-ordination to ensure the right aid reaches those who need it quickly; £300,000 for the World Health Organisation for disease surveillance to help prevent epidemics and a further £2.5 million to NGOs with established operations on the ground- Oxfam, Action Against Hunger and Handicap International-to deliver clean water, shelter, medical care and food for 160,000 earthquake victims.

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