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The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): Treasury Ministers and officials have meetings with a wide variety of organisations in the public and private sectors as part of the process of policy development and delivery. It is not the Government's practice to provide details of such meetings.
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will contact the chairmen of the remuneration committees of major British banks ahead of forthcoming decisions on bonuses in respect of performance in 2010.[HL4592]
Lord Sassoon: Treasury Ministers and officials have meetings with a wide variety of organisations in the public and private sectors as part of the process of policy development and delivery. It is not the Government's practice to provide details of such meetings.
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will ascertain the book value and the written-down value at which United Kingdom banks hold the £58.2 billion of outstanding credit card debt shown in the figures published for September by the Bank of England.[HL4426]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): These data on outstanding debt published by the Bank of England are at nominal values (including securitisations) and already account for reductions through write-offs. They are prepared in line with international statistical standards rather than the accounting standards of the published accounts of banks, so this may still not reflect the written-down value on individual banks' balance sheets.
As policies regarding depreciation/amortisation and provisioning for impairments vary by individual institution, we do not have access to sufficient information to provide a more accurate estimate of either written-down value or book value. Although the Bank of England does collect data on provisions for impairments, this is not yet publicly available. In addition, these data are only collected for aggregate household lending (ie, not credit card lending specifically).
As part of their regular monitoring of the credit market, the Government track levels of both outstanding debt and write-offs for credit cards, as well as an annualised write-off rate on credit card lending. This write-off rate currently stands at 12 per cent, having increased from just under 7 per cent in late 2008.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): The coalition Government are committed to ensuring that viable small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have access to the finance they need to support growth.
On 1 November we published our response to the consultation on business finance issues, Financing a Private Sector Recovery, which is available at http://www.bis.gov.uk/businessfinance. We have also published our strategy Backing Small Business, available at http://www.bis.gov.uk/backing-small-business, setting out new measures to help SMEs grow and to boost enterprise.
There are various measures in place to support access to finance for businesses and encourage banks to increase loans to small businesses. The Government aim to continue to support and improve the diversity of sources and access to finance for SMEs and businesses through:a four-year extension to the enterprise finance guarantee (EFG) making around £2 billion available to viable SMEs without a credit history or lacking sufficient collateral; andwelcoming the banks' announcement of a new £1.5 billion business growth fund, to provide equity funding of between £2 million and £10 million for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) with strong growth potential.
The Government will also work with the British Bankers' Association's Business Finance Taskforce and the banks on a range of commitments set out in their response to the Green Paper and which will assist SMEs with access to finance issues, including their commitments on improving the way they deal with complaints from SME customers. The task force report Supporting UK Business is available at http://www.bba.org.uk/downloads/bba/Business_Finance_Taskforce_report.pdf.
The Government continue to monitor performance against the legally binding lending commitments agreed with the Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Lloyds Banking Group. These will deliver £50 billion and £44 billion of business lending this year respectively, providing businesses with capital for investment and growth.
Finally, we recognise the importance of robust competition in banking; therefore the Independent Commission on Banking will consider the structure of
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To ask Her Majesty's Government whether any other proposals were put to the BBC Trust before the BBC was asked to take on the costs of the BBC World Service; and whether the BBC Trust met and voted to accept this proposal.[HL4257]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): All new claims for income-replacement benefits on the grounds of a disability or health condition are for employment and support allowance. Claimants are assessed via the work capability assessment to see if they are fit for work or are entitled to benefit on the grounds of having limited capability for work. For all initial assessments completed to the end of June 2010, 65 per cent were found fit for work.
We are currently beginning the process of reassessing around 1.5 million people in receipt of the old-style incapacity benefits to see whether they are entitled to employment and support allowance. We do anticipate that some of those people will be found fit for work when they are assessed, and will, therefore, not be entitled to employment and support allowance. The department's initial projection is that approximately 23 per cent of the 1.5 million are expected to be assessed as fit for work and move off incapacity benefits. These figures are early projections for reassessment outcomes-there are no targets.
We recognise that some people genuinely cannot work because of disability or ill health, and have always been clear that the most vulnerable, including those with disabilities or health conditions, will be protected. There will always be a safety net of benefits to support those who have no means of supporting themselves.
However, with the right help many people currently receiving incapacity benefits could move into employment. It is not right that these people are effectively written off to a life on benefits. Our reforms are designed to ensure that more people with disabilities or health
2 Dec 2010 : Column WA476
To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they will take to relieve charities of the estimated additional burden of £150 million per annum which will be incurred as a result of the pending 2.5 per cent increase in VAT.[HL4479]
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): The increase in the rate of VAT is necessary to sustain public finances and ensure long-term fiscal stability. The charity sector benefits from over £3 billion a year in specific tax reliefs, including nearly £1 billion in gift aid and over £150 million in respect of specific VAT zero rates. Furthermore, the Government have established a transition fund of £100 million to help civil society organisations that have seen large reductions in income from public service delivery contracts.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Lord Marland): The Government are committed to working towards an ambitious global deal to tackle climate change. At Cancun, we want to see substantive progress made on decisions of the conference of parties that helps to re-establish momentum towards that goal.
Our aim is to seek decisions on anchoring developed and developing country mitigation pledges into the formal UNFCCC process, agreement on the measurement, reporting and verification arrangements for emissions from both developed and developing countries, arrangements for the future governance of climate finance (including establishing the green fund), measures to reduce emissions from deafforestation, as well as arrangements on market mechanisms, the technology mechanism and adaptation framework.
To ask Her Majesty's Government when they plan to publish a schedule for the implementation of the 20-year rule for the release of public records under Section 45 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.[HL4634]
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): The Government are considering a range of options to increase transparency, including the commencement of Section 45 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. The Government will announce their intentions in due course.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): The department holds regular discussions, formally and informally, with Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland on a wide range of issues. Recent meetings on the following dates have included discussion about taking on the responsibilities of Consumer Focus:16 November;10 November;4 November;27 October;26 October; and29 September.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what discussions they have had with officials in Germany, France, Russia, China and the United States about the reasons why those countries enacted legislative re-export control provisions; and whether, in any such discussions, they have been told that those provisions are unenforceable, have no deterrent effect, or are to be rescinded. .[HL4587]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): Discussions on arms export controls take place between EU member states in the Council Working Group on Conventional Arms and between participating states in the Wassenaar arrangement. These discussions reveal that, like the UK, Germany and France include re-export controls in their export control systems. The UK, and both Germany and France fully examine the risk of diversion of arms when deciding whether or not to grant an export licence. All countries are limited in their enforcement of re-export provisions by questions of national jurisdiction. The UK Government continue to support the UN negotiations towards a robust and effective international arms trade treaty, as the best way to ensure high, legally binding standards for the export of conventional arms globally; the UK continues
2 Dec 2010 : Column WA478
Baroness Wilcox: An export licence is required to export arms and other military equipment from the United Kingdom. All applications for export licences are rigorously assessed on a case-by-case basis by BIS's Export Control Organisation against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. The Government will not issue an export licence where to do so would be inconsistent with the criteria or other relevant announced commitments.
In particular, criterion 3 concerns the "internal situation in the country of final destination, as a function of the existence of tensions or armed conflicts", and states that the Government will not issue licences for exports which would provoke or prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts in the country of final destination. As part of our assessment against the criteria we take into account the risk that goods could be re-exported in undesirable conditions. Criterion 7 concerns the "existence of a risk that the equipment will be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions", and if there is a clear risk of diversion or re-export to undesirable end-users a licence will not be issued.
Aside from the criteria, and with regard to business and commercial considerations, Article 10 of Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP specifies that member states may where appropriate also take into account the effect of proposed exports on their economic, social, commercial and industrial interests, but that these factors will not affect the application of the criteria.
More information about the criteria, including a link to the full text, is available on the export control pages on the Business Link website at http://www. businesslink.gov.uk/exportcontrol under "Assessment of Export Licence Applications-criteria and policy".
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the Northern Ireland Office has had contact with the Roman Catholic Church, other than over Father James Chesney, regarding police investigation into priests or brothers suspected of either (a) involvement in terrorism, or (b) sexual offences against children; and whether they have at any time recommended or suggested the cessation of such investigations. [HL3771]
Lord Shutt of Greetland: Ministers and officials from the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) meet regularly with leaders and representatives of the main churches in Northern Ireland to discuss issues of relevance to the department's responsibilities. Criminal investigations and prosecutions are matters for the police and prosecution authorities, not the Northern Ireland Office.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to reduce concentration in the auditing profession by encouraging public bodies to ensure that firms outside the Big Four are given every opportunity to tender for public sector contracts. [HL4378]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): The UK Government are concerned about the concentration in the audit market and have recognised that government procurement could help the smaller audit firms to grow and ultimately to compete with the larger firms.
The Government are firmly committed to promoting small business procurement and on 1 November we announced a series of measures to help to meet our aspiration that 25 per cent of government contracts should be awarded to small and medium-sized businesses. This included the introduction of a standardised set of core pre-qualification questions and the launch of a free online facility in March 2011 where small businesses can find public sector contracting and subcontracting opportunities.
In addition, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is working with the Efficiency and Reform Group in the Cabinet Office to target action in those markets where we know that small businesses are prevalent and can offer value for money. One of the key markets is professional services, which includes the auditing profession.
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether securities and derivative clearing houses are free to reach their own decisions on setting and varying margin requirements; or whether they are required to consult the Financial Services Authority or Bank of England.[HL4375]
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): Financial Services Authority (FSA) recognised clearing houses are required to develop their margining methodology within specific parameters as currently laid out in the FSA handbook (Recognised Investment Exchanges and Recognised Clearing Houses) and the margin methodology is reviewed by the FSA before recognition is granted. Major changes in methodology
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Going forward, the rules and regulations around margining will be increasingly determined by European legislation. In September, the European Commission published its proposal for a regulation on market infrastructures.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): Treasury Ministers and officials have discussions with a wide variety of organisations in the public and private sectors as part of the process of policy development and delivery. As was the case with previous Administrations, it is not the Government's practice to provide details of all such discussions.
To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Rooker on 24 April 2007, whether they will publish an updated table showing the average price of feed wheat in the United Kingdom since 1996, based on averages of weekly ex-farm prices provided by the Home Grown Cereals Authority.[HL4667]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): The table below shows the average prices of feed wheat in the UK since 1996, based on averages of weekly ex-farm prices provided by the Home Grown Cereals Authority.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): The Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee, which operated under the working title of the Forestry Commission's Advisory Panel from April 1999, last met in September 2005. In June 2006, the forestry commissioners decided that, in view of the devolved nature of forestry, it was more appropriate to discharge the advisory duties within the structures operating at national level in each of the countries. The members were not reappointed when their term of office expired in July 2006 and there are no current members of the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee.
Lord Henley: The principal statutory function of the regional advisory committees of the forestry commissioners is set out in Section 37 of the Forestry Act 1967. It is to advise the commissioners on the performance of their functions under Section 1(3) and Part II of that Act and such other functions as the commissioners may from time to time determine. It includes giving advice in relation to restocking notices, felling licences and felling directions.
To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to the statement by Lord Sassoon on 22 November (Official Report, col. 977), to what extent gilt issuance of £127.4 billion in the year to date has been offset by purchases in support of quantitative easing through the Asset Purchase Fund.[HL4442]
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): In the 2010-11 financial year to date, there have been no purchases of gilts via the Asset Purchase Facility as part of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee's quantitative easing programme.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary announced in a Written Ministerial Statement on 11 November 2010 (Official Report, col. 23-24WS) the names of members of an unpaid Advisory Group on Human Rights.
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): There are no unpaid advisers to Ministers in the Scotland Office. Willie Rennie (formerly Member of Parliament for Dunfermline) served as an unpaid special adviser to the Secretary of State from 20 May 2010 until 9 July 2010.
Baroness Verma: The Department for International Development (DfID) provided £27.5 million over the past three years to the International Rescue Committee (IRC) for a project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This funding supported access to healthcare across 11 health zones and assisted over 1 million people. In Tuungane, eastern DRC, DfID also provided an IRC-led consortium with £31.2 million over the past two years for community recovery work, to help to mitigate the effects of the devastating conflict in the region.
All qualifying non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can apply for grants posted on DfID's website. IRC recently applied for funding under a programme partnership agreement, which is currently being considered. DfID does not provide advisory assistance to partner NGOs beyond maintaining good relations and exchanging information where appropriate during humanitarian responses and on wider policy issues.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): The overall remit and form of the Low Pay Commission was considered during the recent Cabinet Office-led review of public bodies. It was decided to retain the LPC on the grounds that it performs a function which requires impartiality.
The Government are currently considering the timetable for abolition of the agricultural wages board and removal of the Agricultural Wages Order. If the order is removed between October 2011 and October 2012, the current remit of the LPC will be changed to request it consider all agricultural workers when making its recommendations. The Government will thereafter issue a new annual remit to the LPC to reflect specific issues for the LPC to consider.
The Government have no plans to change the membership of the Low Pay Commission this year. The LPC comprises nine commissioners who, under their terms and conditions, serve a three-year term with the possibility of extension up to a maximum of 10 years. As and when terms of appointment end, new commissioners will be appointed through open competition.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to improve the processes of the Monetary Policy Committee in view of the extended period during which inflation has exceeded the target set by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.[HL4379]
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): The remit for the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) allows it to look through short-term movements in inflation. As stated in the November inflation report, the MPC judges that the chances of inflation being either above or below the target by the end of the forecast period are roughly equal and the committee stands ready to respond in either direction as the balance of risks evolve.
To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Sassoon on 16 November (WA 196), why they do not keep statistics on the numbers of non-European Economic Area nationals sent to work in the United Kingdom by an overseas employer who benefit from the 52-week exclusion from national insurance contributions by virtue of Regulation 145(2) or (3) of the Social Security (Contributions) Regulations 2001; and how much is lost per annum from unpaid national insurance contributions by such employees and employers. [HL4461]
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): The exemption from national insurance contributions (NICs) for 52 weeks by virtue of Regulation 145(2) and (3) of the Social Security (Contributions) Regulations 2001 is operated by employers on a self-assessment basis. Information on the amount of NICs foregone due to this exemption is not available. It would add unnecessarily to the burdens on businesses, and be inconsistent with the current approach to other exemptions and disregards that apply to NICs, to require employers to send information to HM Revenue and Customs about this exemption.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): Since 2001 the British Council has been delivering an English language teaching project in North Korea, in collaboration with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We greatly value the work to improve English language teaching in three universities in Pyongyang. Through the teacher training programme, undergraduate teachers develop their teaching techniques and are provided with high-quality teaching materials. The project works with approximately 200 university faculty staff and reaches approximately 1,200 students every year.
To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Shutt of Greetland on 23 November (WA 313) concerning the use of taxis by staff of the Northern Ireland Office on 28 October, why taxis were considered appropriate in each case. [HL4699]
Baroness Garden of Frognal: The Government are committed to ensuring that we create a legacy for UK tourism from hosting the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the series of other major international sporting and cultural events which the UK is due to host between now and 2018.
Over the next four years, we are investing, through VisitBritain, nearly £50 million in overseas marketing activity with campaigns before, during and after the Games. We are in close discussion with potential private sector partners about matching this financial commitment. As London is a central part of the national tourism offer and has a vital role as a gateway to the rest of the country, it will feature strongly in the marketing and promotional campaigns conducted by VisitBritain.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is also investing around £300 million per annum in funding our national museums and galleries' resource costs, and a total of £100 million capital expenditure over the next four years. Many of these museums are London-based and their free admissions policy continues to attract overseas visitors.
In addition, UK Trade and Investment is using the Games to promote the UK, including London, as a leading inward investment destination and a way of showcasing UK expertise to international buyers. It is doing this principally through CompeteFor, the procurement mechanism for the Games, and Host2Host, which creates links and shares best practice with previous and future host cities of Olympic Games and other major sporting events.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what would be the estimated additional cost of holding a referendum on whether the Isle of Wight should
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The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): The estimated cost of holding an additional referendum on the Isle of Wight on this issue on the same day as the AV referendum would be approximately £153,000. There has never been a referendum on how parliamentary boundaries should be drawn, and the Government do not agree that such a referendum would be justified. The legislation setting the rules for the drawing of parliamentary seats will be debated and voted on in Parliament, in the same way that all previous Acts concerning boundary provisions have been.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what specific centrally directed programmes are to be scrapped as part of the Spending Review 2010 proposals for the Department of Education; and what is their individual and total value.[HL3843]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): In order to prioritise front-line schools and early years services and to protect the most disadvantaged children, we have had to make some savings by ending and rationalising a range of centrally directed programmes.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): The Government aim to create the most competitive corporate tax system in the G20, and to restore the UK tax system's reputation for predictability, stability and simplicity. To help achieve this, the independent Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) was established on 20 July to provide independent advice to the Chancellor on simplifying the UK tax system.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the plight of Karen refugees on the Burmese border; and what response they have received to representations made by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Government of Thailand on behalf of the refugees.[HL4343]
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): We understand that many of the estimated 20,000 refugees who crossed the border into Thailand earlier this month have now returned home. Non-governmental organisations and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) responded well to the crisis and although stretched, we understand that they were able to provide sufficient emergency food, water, shelter and medical assistance.
Our ambassador in Bangkok raised refugee issues with the Thai Government on 18 November 2010. The Thai Government assured us that they were helping to provide temporary assistance and that no forcible repatriations had taken place.
The Thai/Burma border remains unstable with ongoing tensions between the Burmese army and Karen militia in eastern Burma. There have been further reports of refugees fleeing across the border as fighting breaks out, with some returning home as fighting subsides. The situation remains in flux. We are in close touch with UNHCR and are monitoring developments closely.
To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to the remarks by Lord Sassoon on 8 November (Official Report, col. 1-4), what is their definition of trade in the statement that "40 per cent of the United Kingdom's trade goes to Europe".[HL4500]
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): The definition of trade used on 8 November was total UK trade (exports and imports) with the 16 members of the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) that have adopted the Euro currency. According to the latest Office for National Statistics 2010 Pink Book publication, in 2009, 44.1 per cent of total UK trade was with EMU countries.
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will intervene to help end the strike by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency employees, which has closed schools for Palestinians and left rubbish uncollected.[HL4389]
To ask Her Majesty's Government how much money has been paid to the Union Learning Fund in (a) the past five years, and (b) in total since its inception; which trade unions were provided with assistance from the fund last year; and how much in each case.[HL4650]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills provides funding to support the Union Learning Fund (ULF) and unionlearn, the TUC's learning and skills organisation, which administers the fund on behalf of the department. The main purpose of this budget is to enable trade unions and union learning representatives (ULRs) to work with employers, employees and learning providers to encourage greater take-up of learning and raise skill levels in the workplace. All ULF projects are bound by contracts with defined learning targets and outcomes and are subject to independent audit. Annual expenditure in each of the past five financial years has been as follows:
Unions and their ULRs play a significant role in helping adults, particularly those who are poorly qualified and with no background in continuing their education, to become engaged and more confident with learning and improve their skills. In 2009-10 over 233,000 learners in workplaces across the country were helped back into learning by the Union Learning Fund and union learning representatives.
|Name of trade union||Funding rec'd in 2009-10|
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