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26 Oct 2006 : Column WS119

Written Statements

Thursday 26 October 2006

Benefit Fraud Inspectorate Reports

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Statement.

On behalf of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the BFI inspection reports on the following councils were published today: London Borough of Ealing Council, Gravesham Borough Council, Herefordshire Council, Portsmouth City Council, Southampton City Council, West Lothian Council. Copies have been placed in the Library.

The BFI reports detail a range of strengths and weaknesses in the housing benefit services provided by councils and make recommendations to improve the security and efficiency of benefit delivery.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is considering the reports and may ask the councils for proposals in response to BFI's findings.


Lord Davies of Oldham: My honourable friendthe Minister of State for Transport (Dr Stephen Ladyman) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In my Answer of 25 July 2006 (Official Report,col. 1291W), to a Written Parliamentary Question (UIN84849) from the honourable Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Gwyneth Dunwoody), regarding passenger carrying vehicle delegated examiners, I stated that there are 74 bus companies which have delegated examiners testing for them. Of these, 70 have a substantive examiner, while the remaining four use examiners from a sister company.

My Answer should in fact have said that there are 70 bus companies plus a further 67 sister companies which have delegated examiners testing for them.

Cold Weather Payments

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce that, following advice from the Meteorological Office, the annual review of the cold weather payments scheme has now been completed. Amending regulations were laid on 10 October and will come into force on 1 November, in time for the beginning of the winter period.

One of the weather stations used in the scheme last winter, Coltishall, has closed and a new replacement weather station has been introduced at Weybourne to provide data for the scheme. Three postcode to weather station linkages have been changed on the advice of the Meteorological Office following representations made by honourable Members. I have written to each of the honourable Members affected by these changes.

Cold weather payments are separate from, and in addition to, winter fuel payments which are paid to eligible people from age 60.

Compensation: Federal Mogul

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (John Hutton) has made the following Statement.

I am pleased to be able to inform the House that we have decided to exempt payments made in respect of asbestos-related diseases by subsidiaries of Federal Mogul from the department's compensation recovery scheme.

The compensation recovery scheme is aimed at ensuring that injured parties are not compensated twice—once through the compensation payment they receive from the employer or insurer and again through the benefits system. The scheme also helps to ensure that compensators fulfil their own obligations and are not subsidised by the taxpayer. Benefit paid out for the same accident, injury or disease for which the compensation is being made is normally recovered from the compensator by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Federal Mogul has become insolvent under the United States of America's insolvency legislation. As a result of this it is not in a position to meet in full its liabilities to its employees arising from asbestos-related diseases. A trust fund has been set up to meet part of these liabilities. However, employees are likely to receive only around 20 pence of every £1 they are due. The unprecedented step to exempt this particular trust recognises the unique position in which former employees of Federal Mogul's UK subsidiaries (Turner & Newall and associated companies) have found themselves.

Exempting the trust from the normal compensation recovery rules means that more money will be available to meet the needs of the victims and their families who have been affected by these diseases. All the funds in the trust will be available for compensation payments on top of benefits paid—we feel it is important to ensure that their already reduced compensation payments are not reduced further. The cost to the Government is estimated to be £10 million over the next three years. These are unique circumstances which do not undermine the general principles of the compensation recovery scheme. We will bring forward the necessary regulations shortly.

Financial Disclosure: Transparency Obligations Directive

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My honourable friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ed Balls) has made the following Written Statement.

The Treasury has been working closely with the DTI and industry in developing a regime dealing with liability in damages for damage suffered by reliance on certain financial disclosures to be made under FSA disclosure rules implementing the Transparency Obligations Directive (2004/109/EC).

After the Government's decision to establish a statutory regime for liability in damages to third parties in respect of disclosures under the transparency directive, industry made representations to the Government that the establishment of this regime, added to other developments in law and regulation, could have serious and unwanted repercussions for issuer liability for disclosures made other than under the transparency directive (for example, in response to the FSA disclosure rules). The Government therefore consulted with key stakeholders over the summer. Responses confirmed that, while an extension of the statutory regime was in principle desirable, this is an extremely complex area in which it is vital that the Government get their policy right.

The consultation and government response to this consultation can be found at the following web address: services/eu financial services/fin_eufs_trans.cfm.

Following this consultation, amendments have been made at the Report stage of the Companies Bill (passed by the Commons and now in front of the Lords) to have the following effect:

extend the scope of the statutory liability regime for financial disclosures to preliminary announcements of the results covered by the existing provision in the Bill;clarify the liability of company directors and other senior officers;change the territorial coverage of the regime to ensure that the liability regime covers all issuers for which the UK is home member state as well as those issuers for which the UK is not home member state but whose securities are traded on a regulated market situated or operating in the UK; and provide a power in the Companies Bill to enable the Treasury, by secondary legislation subject to the affirmative procedure, to make further provision with regard to the liability of issuers of securities admitted to trading on regulated markets in respect of reports and information issued to shareholders and to those markets.

In relation to the last provision, it will be important for the Government to be able to act quickly to resolve uncertainties in the law relating to the liability in damages of issuers if this is found to be required. For this reason, the Bill, as passed by the House of Commons, gives the Government the power to make further provision about liability for published information. In view of the significance of these proposals for the future of financial markets in the UK and the breadth of the power proposed, the affirmative procedure has been chosen.

To inform the Government's decision on the further changes to the law for issuer liability, if any are required, the Government have decided to conduct a formal review of the liability of issuers in respect of damage or loss suffered as a consequence of inaccurate, false or misleading information disclosed by issuers or their managements to financial markets (including to their own shareholders or bondholders) or of failure to disclose relevant information promptly or at all. This will take into account both existing regulatory obligations and penalties, including criminal penalties, and the potential for liability in damages under existing common law jurisprudence. It will also need to look at the position in other EU member states and more widely in the jurisdictions of other substantial financial services markets. Professor Paul Davies QC, the Cassel Professor of Commercial Law at the London School of Economics, has agreed to conduct this review. Detailed terms of reference will be published shortly.

If the review recommends that the Government should introduce a statutory regime for liability in damages of issuers in respect of financial disclosures or that changes should be made to any regime that exists following the enactment of the provisions currently in the Companies Bill the Government will, when they publish their response to the review:

consult fully on the Government's response to the review's proposals;

publish a full regulatory impact assessment of these proposals; and, subsequently

bring forward legislation for the new regime.

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