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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Cabinet Office

Advance from the Contingencies Fund

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and for the Olympics, and Paymaster General (Tessa Jowell): I hereby give notice of the Cabinet Office's intention to seek an advance from the Contingencies Fund to provide for a deficient net cash requirement.

The Cabinet Office requires an advance in the amount of £99.248 million to meet an urgent cash requirement pending parliamentary approval of the spring supplementary estimate 2009-10.

Of this total, £33 million is required to fund the cash settlement of its prior year creditors and £66.248 million is required to fund resources sought by the Office of the Third Sector in the spring supplementary estimate.

In seeking this advance, it is not the intention of the Cabinet Office to consume resources additional to those sought in the spring supplementary estimate 2009-10.

There are no reasonable grounds to doubt that Parliament is willing to approve the additional net resource and net cash requirements, since the Cabinet Office has received prior agreement from the Treasury.

The Cabinet Office has drawn down from the Treasury's Consolidated Fund the full amount of net cash requirement voted in the winter supplementary estimate 2009-10 and has disbursed almost all of this funding.

This accelerated pattern of disbursement is caused by the Office of the Third Sector making grant payments to its delivery partners in cases where the funding for these commitments has been approved by the Treasury but the net cash requirement detailed in the spring supplementary estimate will not be voted by Parliament until late March.

If the Office of the Third Sector is unable to make payments to these funds, it will be in breach of contract and, in turn, its delivery partners will be in breach of contract with their third sector partners.

The Cabinet Office will repay the advance to the Contingencies Fund as soon as it has access to draw down additional supply sought in the spring supplementary estimate.

Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £66,248,000 will be sought in a supplementary estimate for the Cabinet Office. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £99,248,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.

Defence

Basra Memorial Wall Dedication Ceremony

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Bill Rammell): I am pleased to provide further details of events being organised by the Ministry of Defence later this year which will see the dedication of the Basra memorial wall.


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On 11 March 2010 there will be a dedication ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire for the new Basra memorial wall, which replicates the original wall that was returned to the UK last year from its original location outside the Multi-National Division (South-East) headquarters at the Basra contingency operating base in Iraq. I have written to all the families of service personnel who died in Iraq to invite them to attend the ceremony.

Energy and Climate Change

Electricity Transmission (Correction)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): I regret that a date I gave during the Adjournment debate on electricity transmission (North Somerset) on 19 January was incorrect. National Grid's consultation on two possible route corridors for a new overhead power line from Bridgwater to Avonmouth was extended until 22 January because of the bad weather. It was not, as I wrongly suggested, extended until 22 July.

I want to make my apologies to Parliament and to the Opposition spokespeople for the error that occurred during the debate.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council (18 January)

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): The Minister responsible for food, farming and environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick) represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 18 January.

This was the first Agriculture and Fisheries Council under the Spanish presidency, and probably the last for Mariann Fischer Boel as commissioner. The presidency briefly introduced its work programme, highlighting its three priorities-long-term CAP reform, competitiveness and the profile of women in rural areas.

Following the Commission's presentation of its communication aimed at improving the food supply chain at December Council, the presidency circulated a discussion paper to structure debate. Interventions fell into three broad categories-market transparency; the role of producer organisations; and the country of origin principle.

For market transparency (surveillance of price trends and margins for producers, processors and retailers) member states were divided between those that felt price monitoring should be carried out systematically at EU level, and those who, sceptical of creating additional costs and burdens, favoured national competence (including the UK).

Positions were also divided on the role of producer organisations. France called for changes to single market rules and competition law, and the adoption of model contracts. Germany and the UK, at the other end of the spectrum, insisted on the need to operate within the rules. The UK observed that the Government should support markets, where appropriate, describing its own recent initiative in the grocery supply chain. Ministers
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were also divided between those calling for compulsory and voluntary regulation of markets (in the event of the Commission taking action).

The presidency concluded that a number of member states had called for changes to the current rules to be adopted, and mandated the Special Committee on Agriculture to further explore the issues, with a view to the adoption of council conclusions.

A number of items were tabled under any other business. Lithuania, on behalf of Estonia, Poland and Latvia, explained that pig exports to Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan had been significantly affected by a hike in import duties in the Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan customs union.

Belgium, supported by Austria, Germany, Lithuania and Portugal, urged the Commission to resolve speedily WTO difficulties with the export of out-of-quota sugar. They argued that this was necessary to deal with the large surplus of sugar produced by the EU, and to allow farmers to make decisions about the next growing period.

Austria informed Council about the forthcoming OECD Agriculture ministerial meeting it would co-chair with Australia. The presidency announced that the subject would be discussed by Ministers over lunch at the February Council. Austria also drew Ministers' attention to a recent seminar on the challenges of farming in mountainous areas-calling for a strong CAP as a means of ongoing support.

The state aid requests from Italy and Bulgaria were withdrawn.

Home Department

Threat Level Update

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson): On Friday 22 January, the joint terrorism analysis centre (JTAC) changed the UK threat level from international terrorism from substantial to severe. This means that a terrorist attack is highly likely.

The change in the threat level to severe does not mean that a terrorist attack is imminent. It reinforces the message that the terrorist threat to the United Kingdom is real, serious and can change. Our first duty is always to protect the public and we view the appropriate threat level is a keystone for doing so.

The decision to change the threat level is taken by JTAC independently of Ministers and is based on the very latest intelligence, considering factors such as capability, intent and timescale. Severe means that an attack is highly likely and may occur without warning.

While there may be changes to security and policing arrangements, these will not necessarily be immediately visible to the public.

Hillsborough Independent Panel

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson): On 15 December 2009 I announced the establishment of the Hillsborough independent panel under the chairmanship of the Right Rev. James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool. The panel will work in partnership with Government and other public agencies to oversee the maximum possible public disclosure of governmental
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and other agency documentation relating to the Hillsborough tragedy and its aftermath. It will produce a report on its work, outlining the extent to which the information disclosed adds to the public understanding of the disaster, and will make recommendations as to a permanent Hillsborough archive. The panel will also consult with the families to ensure that their views are taken into account.

I can announce today the appointment of seven further members of the panel and that the panel will hold its first meeting in Liverpool in early February. This will begin the process of consideration of documents for release, initially to the Hillsborough families, together with the other purposes of the panel. The further panel members are:

I am making these appointments in view of the range of skills needed and the hundreds of thousands of documents within the panel's scope. With the scale of the task in mind, there may be a need for further panel members. In particular, I expect to announce in due course the appointment to the panel of a suitably experienced lawyer.

The panel members whose appointments I am announcing today are experts in their respective fields and I am grateful to each of them for agreeing to take on this important task. In addition to this statement I am also placing in the Libraries of the House a document setting out the expertise each member will bring to the panel's work and their respective letters of appointment. All panel appointments are for a period of two years.

Under the Bishop of Liverpool's leadership the panel will be independent and rigorous in its work, but will also act with sensitivity and understanding. That over 30,000 people attended the service marking the 20th anniversary of Hillsborough in April shows how deep the wound in Liverpool remains. I believe that the independent panel has an historic opportunity to bring healing to those affected by the tragedy, and that its establishment can help to begin to bring an end to the grievances strongly felt by many.

Work and Pensions

National Employment Savings Trust Corporation

The Minister for Pensions and the Ageing Society (Angela Eagle): Today is another important milestone for the delivery of workplace pension reform. Mr. Lawrence Churchill has been appointed as chair of the NEST Corporation, the body that will launch and run the national employment savings trust (NEST), previously known as personal accounts.

Mr. Lawrence Churchill brings with him a wealth of knowledge and experience of pensions to this challenging
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role and has a long career of operating at the highest level in large and complex organisations, frequently from start up. His appointment as chair demonstrates our commitment to recruiting people with a proven track record and the expertise to get the job done.

NEST will ensure all employers have access to a suitable pension arrangement through which to fulfil forthcoming new duties under the Pensions Act 2008. As part of the new pensions landscape, NEST will help extend the benefits of occupational pension saving with a guaranteed employer contribution to millions of workers, many for the first time. NEST will have low charges to ensure more of workers' savings go towards building their pension pot.


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Mr. Lawrence Churchill will take up his appointment as chair-designate from 1 February, and will be preparing for his new role and participating in the recruitment of the other trustee members of the NEST Corporation. He will take on full duties as chair when the NEST Corporation is established on 5 July 2010. Mr. Lawrence Churchill is currently chair of the Pension Protection Fund, and will retain this role until that appointment ends on 30 June this year.

Press notice published today:

Available at http://dwp.gov.uk/newsroom/press%2D releases/


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