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Social Action: Interfaith Dialogue

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today launching a consultation on Face-to-Face and Side-by-Side: A framework for inter faith dialogue and social action.

We have long recognised the contribution made by faith groups to local communities, in terms of charitable activity, social action, community cohesion, support in emergencies, as well as their spiritual and religious role.

The relations between every faith are integral to the success of each of them.

We want to take this opportunity to reflect on how the Government should support this, where and in what circumstances interfaith works best and how we

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can work in partnerships with faith and non-faith based communities and organisations.

This consultation is part of the Government’s response to the independent Commission on Integration and Cohesion’s report Our Shared Future which set out a number of practical recommendations on how to build cohesion and a shared sense of belonging. The report outlined the important role that interfaith activity plays in building integration and cohesion, as well as the need for more constructive conversations between those of faith and those of none.

In particular the consultation will seek to:

Understand how to best build confidence in the benefits of partnership working and develop a greater understanding of the contribution that faith communities can make;Discover to what extent local authorities and other public bodies are already working with faith communities; Understand better the structures which aid interaction and social action and how can these be best developed;Learn about some of the barriers to interfaith activity—especially to the involvement of women and young people—and how we might best work together to overcome these;Look at what actions are needed to widen and deepen interfaith dialogue and social action.

Our society is deeply enriched by the presence of diverse faith groups, and our communities benefit from their local activity.

Copies of the consultation document have been deposited in the Library of the House.

Statutory Auditors and Third Country Auditors Regulations

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office & Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Lord Jones of Birmingham): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Competitiveness (Stephen Timms) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

My department has today made regulations implementing many of the provisions of the directive on statutory audits of annual and consolidated accounts (the Statutory Audit Directive—2006/43/EC).

These regulations have been developed following two consultations, the first on the policy and the second seeking comments on a draft of these regulations. Alongside these regulations we are therefore publishing a summary of the comments received on the draft regulations, and a statement of the Government's conclusions.

This document will be placed in the Library of the House and will be available on the BERR website.

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Taxation: Business Tax Reforms

Lord Davies of Oldham: My right honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jane Kennedy) has made the following Written Statement.

The Government announced a major package of reforms to the business tax system in Budget 2007. These reforms will enhance the international competitiveness of the UK by encouraging investment, promoting innovation and ensuring fairness across the tax system.

The package announced a reduction in the main rate of corporation tax to 28 per cent from 2008, making it the lowest in the G7 and below the OECD and EU15 average. It included reforms to deliver a simpler, two-rate system of capital allowances, to ensure that the tax system better reflects the economic depreciation of capital assets. The package also included the introduction of a new annual investment allowance of £50,000 for all businesses, to promote investment, particularly by smaller firms. This will allow 95 per cent of businesses to write off all of their investment, excluding expenditure on cars, in the year in which it is made.

In July, the Government published Business tax reform: capital allowances changes, a consultation on the Government's proposals for the key design features of the new annual investment allowance, new rules on integral building features and the transitional rules for the move to the new rates of capital allowances.

The Government are today publishing a technical note including draft legislation on these changes, reflecting the support of the majority of respondents to this consultation for the Government's proposals. As a result of the changes, the Government estimate that the administrative burden of the capital allowances system on business will be reduced by £15 million.

This technical note announces the Government's intention to extend the provision that allows capital allowances to be claimed on thermal insulation added to existing industrial buildings to all commercial buildings, at a rate of 10 per cent, in line with the Government's approach to environmentally beneficial features integral to buildings.

The Government also intend to withdraw the special industrial buildings allowances available in enterprise zones—EZAs—from April 2011, to coincide with the withdrawal of industrial buildings allowance. The Government consider that these allowances have now served their purpose, and that there is no case for retaining them. No business that has already claimed EZAs will be affected by this.

The publication of the draft legislation marks a significant milestone in the implementation of this major series of reforms, which will enable the UK's tax system to encourage businesses to invest for the future.

Copies of the technical note have been deposited in the Library of both Houses.

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Taxation: Northern Ireland

Lord Davies of Oldham: My right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Andy Burnham) has made the following Written Statement.

Following representations by political parties in Northern Ireland, the Government commissioned Sir David Varney in March 2007 to carry out a review of tax policy in Northern Ireland. His terms of reference were to examine “how current and future tax policy, including the tax changes announced in the Budget 2007, can support the sustainable growth of businesses and long-term investment in Northern Ireland”. The review has been published today and has been deposited in the Library of the House. I am very grateful to Sir David Varney and his team, and to all those who submitted evidence to the review. Sir David's report provides a valuable assessment not only of business tax issues for Northern Ireland but also of how the opportunities and challenges facing the devolved Administration in developing an investment strategy might best be approached. The Government are fully committed to supporting the Northern Ireland Executive in implementing such a strategy.

The Government recognise that, in developing their economic investment strategy, the question of business tax levels in the UK is a particularly important issue for the Executive. I am therefore particularly grateful to Sir David and his team for the considerable depth in which this issue is analysed and explored in the report.

He concludes that a policy of a preferential corporation tax rate for Northern Ireland, as compared to the rest of the UK, does not offer the best way forward for building a strong investment strategy for Northern Ireland. He is not convinced that a cut would represent good value for money. In particular, the role of supply side factors needed to be paid due attention, and caution taken on the responsiveness of investment to a cut in the rate.

The review examines the tax position in Northern Ireland, in both its international context and in comparison with the Republic of Ireland. It finds that the UK compares favourably with its G7 partners in terms of corporate tax levels. It also finds that the UK has a lower rate of tax than the Republic in areas such as VAT and the top rate of income tax, and offers more generous R and D tax credits and tax relief on dividends.

The review recommends a strategy to develop private sector investment in Northern Ireland based on maximising the benefits of the competitive advantages that already exist in Northern Ireland, including current financial investment incentives, and realising the potential further to improve this competitive advantage.

The report notes that for many years the Northern Ireland economy has been over-reliant on public sector investment for its growth but that political progress over the past 10 years to end conflict and to transform Northern Ireland to a peaceful, stable society has already helped attract inward private sector investment. The restoration of devolution on 8 May is a major turning point and incentive for such further inward investment.

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The report identifies Northern Ireland's key competitive advantages as including:

operating costs which are highly competitive and significantly lower than in the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland;a well developed telecoms infrastructure providing important benefits for business;one of the youngest populations in Europe and high educational achievements; andattractive financial incentives, recruitment and training, research and development and other development support tailored to each company's needs.

The report recommends that these advantages can be maximised by a strategy to:

further improve basic and technical skills and retaining the best and the brightest;tackle the size of the public sector and efficiency of the administration;foster innovation through better university and business collaborations; andprioritise trade and investment promotion across government, including working links between Invest Northern Ireland, the Irish Investment and Development Agency and UK Trade and Investment.

In short, Sir David Varney's report found that the conditions for economic success for Northern Ireland are more than a matter of tax incentives. There are lessons in terms of improving labour force participation, basic skills, and efficiency and organisation in the public sector; and Northern Ireland needs to move towards the execution of a strategy focussed on business and economic development.

In the light of Sir David Varney's report, the Government are working with the Executive to:

strengthen trade and investment promotion by UK Trade and Investment reviewing with Invest Northern Ireland the scope for better marketing of Northern Ireland to higher value-added FDI; andpromote closer working between the UK Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government to promote a coherent overall science strategy, including considering the suggestion of creating “science cities”.

This will build on the May 2007 settlement, elements of which specifically focus on issues highlighted in the review as key to a sound and forward-looking investment strategy:

an innovation fund focusing particularly on levering in private sector investment and promoting collaborative research. This includes matched funding of £36 million from the Irish Government targeted specifically on collaborative research and development;a new Northern Ireland corporate tax office to promote the competitive tax position;a local employment partnership that will help create 5,000 jobs for the unemployed in Northern Ireland between five leading employers in the retail sector. The expansion of this initiative to other sectors,

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including security, hospitality and facilities management, offers the Northern Ireland Executive further opportunity to work with employers to maximise the opportunities for those in Northern Ireland who are inactive or unemployed; and a major conference in Northern Ireland for prospective investors from the USA, led by the Executive and fully supported by the Government.

The Northern Ireland Executive has put growing the economy at the top of its priorities. This is reflected in the draft programme for Government which was published on 25 October 2007, along with a draft investment strategy and draft budget for 2008-11. I welcome the strategy that this programme sets for building economic success to benefit all communities in Northern Ireland, including the good progress that is being made towards the planned US inward investment conference next year.

I have discussed the report and next steps with the executive and I am today announcing that Sir David Varney has agreed to carry out a further review building on his first review and focusing on identifying policies and incentives for strengthening and sustaining private sector growth, investment and employment in Northern Ireland.

Against that background and the desire of the UK Government and Northern Ireland Executive to work in partnership to create the conditions for sustained economic growth and increased employment opportunities for all, the terms of reference for the second review are:

Transport: Personnel

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Ruth Kelly) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The Government need to be sure at all times that the right measures are in place to counter the evolving threat from international terrorism. To achieve this, we need regularly to consider and evaluate specific security measures to ensure that we have the balance right in the light of changing circumstances.

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In the past two years, the department has been helped greatly in this process by the findings of two separate reviews into the management and application of security on transport infrastructure: Policing at Airports by Stephen Boys Smith and Lord West's wider-ranging Review of the Protection of Crowded Places, Critical National Infrastructure and Transport Infrastructure.

Following on from Lord West’s review, which focused on physical infrastructure, and to continue this process of ongoing appraisal of the security framework, the Government have commissioned an independent review of how personnel security is delivered across the transport sector, including through background and identity checks and related measures. The review will examine the extent to which current arrangements cover all and only the right transport workers, and whether they do so to the correct and proportionate degree. It will provide an important and timely health check of current personnel security arrangements across the sector.

The review will be conducted by a team led by Stephen Boys Smith, who led the 2006 Independent Review of Airport Policing. This new review team will engage closely with all relevant elements of the transport sector as it carries out its work. A summary of the review's terms of reference has been placed in the Library of the House and published on my department's website.

I have asked Stephen Boys Smith to provide an initial report to me in the new year setting out in detail the scope of the work that he will carry out and a timetable for the delivery of his final conclusions. Following completion of the review, I will publish a summary of its recommendations.

I encourage all parts of the transport sector to work with Stephen Boys Smith to ensure a full and effective review and maintain a robust, but proportionate, framework for transport security.

World Bank: International Development Association

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for International Development (Baroness Vadera): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development (Douglas Alexander) has made the following Statement.

I wish to inform the house that the UK intends to make a contribution of £2,134 million to the 15th replenishment of the International Development Association (IDA 15) which is the part of the World Bank Group that provides assistance to low-income countries. This is the largest single contribution the UK has made to the World Bank. It represents a 49 per cent increase over the UK’s commitment of £1.430 billion to IDA 14. IDA 15 will cover the period from July 2008 to June 2011.

Collectively donors agreed to a target level for IDA 15 of $42 billion (£21 billion) of which about 75 per cent is expected to come from donors and the remainder from internal bank finances. Other donors

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have yet to finalise their contribution to IDA 15. Final decisions on contributions are expected next week in Berlin.

The money provided to IDA will be used by the World Bank to help countries accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals by supporting primary education, basic health services, clean water and sanitation, environmental safeguards, business climate improvements, infrastructure and institutional reforms. This work paves the way toward economic growth, job creation, higher incomes and better living conditions.

The large UK contribution reflects evidence of the effectiveness of the World Bank in working with partner Governments in helping to foster sustainable growth and improvements in the living standards of people in the poorest countries. The World Bank works through a country-based model of development aligning its support behind a country’s own poverty and growth strategy.

Negotiations on IDA 15 have been ongoing since March this year and the bank and donors have agreed to a number of significant changes which will improve the way in which IDA works to deliver the MDGs, including:

Ownership—enhance country ownership by getting more staff in the field and increasing their decision-making authority, and continue to improve and monitor its performance on conditionality including the use of economic policy conditions; Africa—over 50 per cent of IDA’s resources are expected to be allocated to sub-Saharan Africa over the three years of IDA 15;Climate Change—agreement that IDA has a core role to play with an emphasis on adaptation and, where appropriate, mitigation;Fragile States—more staff and funding to fragile states including by extending the length of time post-conflict countries are given additional assistance (e.g. Afghanistan) and agreeing a framework to clear the arrears for countries re-engaging with the international community (e.g. Liberia)Gender—intensifying gender mainstreaming and continuing to monitor progress.
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