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Written Statements

Volume 458: debated on Wednesday 14 March 2007

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 14 March 2007

Defence

Far Eastern Prisoners of War and Civilian Internees

On 19 July my predecessor, the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson), announced the publication of an independent report on the errors made in administering the Government’s ex-gratia payment scheme for former far east prisoners of war and civilian internees. The report prepared by Mr. David Watkins was based on a detailed and thorough investigation of how inconsistent criteria came to be used in deciding payments to former civilian internees; this included consultation with the key affected parties. At the time of its publication, the Government welcomed the report and made clear that they would take time to consider further the detail of the recommendations.

In responding to the report, the Ministry of Defence has consulted with the other Departments responsible both for developing and implementing the scheme in 2000-01, and for now providing guidance on the development of new policy. We have also consulted with the representative organisation for civilian internees, ABCIFER, and with the parliamentary ombudsman. The report made some 13 recommendations. Steps had already been taken since 2000 that address many of the shortcomings. These occurred quite independently, as part of the Government’s work on better regulation and better policy making. Nevertheless, the recent reshaping of the FEPOW scheme in particular was able to benefit from the emerging recommendations and we are doing work to take them into account in the wider context of a wider review of the Department’s guidance on policy making.

I have today placed in the Library of the House our detailed response to David Watkins’ recommendations.

I would like to thank Mr. Watkins for his thorough investigation and comprehensive report and to acknowledge the major role played by the parliamentary ombudsman and Public Administration Select Committee in scrutinising the administration of the scheme and helping us to identify and resolve the errors within it. Finally, I would like to give credit again to Ron Bridge, the chairman of ABCIFER, for the enormous amount of painstaking work he has put into the process.

RAF Headquarters

I am pleased to announce that, on 1 April, the RAF’s Personnel and Training Command and Strike Command will merge to form a single Air Command, with its headquarters at RAF High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. The creation of a single command, with a single fully integrated headquarters, will better equip the RAF to provide a coherent and co-ordinated single air focus to the other services, MOD Head Office, the Permanent Joint Headquarters and the rest of MOD.

Over the past five years the RAF has undertaken a significant amount of restructuring to improve delivery, reduce bureaucracy and eliminate waste. This has centred on force structure adjustments, estate rationalisation and logistics transformation. One element of this work focused on headquarters rationalisation and resulted in the collocation of Headquarters Personnel and Training Command and Headquarters Strike Command at RAF High Wycombe in October 2006.

The success of this work, which resulted in a reduction of some 1,000 posts across the two command headquarters and annual savings of some £23 million, has enabled these resources to be better directed towards the delivery of support to the front line. The next step in this work is the creation of a single Air Command which reflects the continued commitment of the Government to ensuring that resources are focused on the front line. The recent draw down of personnel for collocation means, however, that the creation of a single Air Command is unlikely to lead to any manpower reductions.

Home Department

Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE)

Last July the Home Secretary announced his intention to review the criminal justice system to ensure that there was the correct balance in favour of the law-abiding majority and the victim, and to ensure that offenders are properly and effectively punished.

The police service is the point of entry to the criminal justice system and we must have proportionate and balanced powers to allow the investigation of crime and criminality and sufficient enforcement powers to deal with those who break the law.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 was introduced to standardise and professionalise police work. It provides a core framework of police powers and safeguards around stop and search, arrest, detention, investigation, identification and interviewing suspects.

However, PACE has been subject to continued change since it was first introduced. There is now a need for rationalisation. We know from stakeholders and practitioners that PACE has become unduly complex and bureaucratic.

That is why the Government are announcing today the formal launch of the review of PACE. This is a major and significant programme of work examining one of the fundamental statutes of our criminal justice system. The review will look to examine how we can:

Re-focus the investigation and evidence gathering process on serving the needs of the victim and the witness

Reduce unnecessary bureaucracy

Help tackle re-offending

Raise police efficiency and effectiveness

Increase the ability for police officers to be engaged in operational frontline activities

Rather than set out detailed ideas we may have, we are inviting stakeholders, practitioners and the public to let us know what they consider needs to be changed, amended or introduced.

Based on the results of that exercise we will discuss the findings from the public consultation through bilateral meetings, group meetings and forums with stakeholders and practitioners.

When that exercise is completed around the end of 2007, we will then put the final proposals back out on public consultation. That is expected around spring 2008.

I very much hope and welcome constructive proposals and suggestions on what we can do to help make sure that victims and witnesses are at the heart of the system and that their interests are paramount.

Transport

Highways Agency

I have received a report from Mike Nichols, Chairman and Chief Executive of the Nichols Group, on the Highways Agency major roads programme.

In July 2006 the Highways Agency advised me of increases in its cost estimates for schemes in the Targeted Programme of Improvements (TPI). I was concerned that these estimates could be unreliable, since in the majority of cases costs had not been finally agreed with contractors. I therefore commissioned Mike Nichols to undertake an immediate review, with the following terms of reference:

“To review the Highways Agency's approach to cost estimating and project management, and to make recommendations, including on how the Agency should best assess, monitor and report on risks to its cost estimates.”

Mike Nichols has now delivered his report to me. He has confirmed that estimates have increased above initial forecasts, largely on schemes which are not yet in construction. The biggest single factor is higher than expected inflation in construction prices. He notes that estimating is inherently difficult for schemes with expenditure spreading over 10 or more years ahead, and that the majority of the forward programme by value is at stages of development when estimates are inevitably uncertain. Importantly, he has made it clear that he is not saying that the Agency is paying more than it should do for its schemes; rather, the main concern is future delivery.

He has made a number of recommendations for improvements in the development and management of schemes, so that the large forward programme of investment can be successfully managed. He has suggested restructuring the roads programme into phases; improvements to the governance arrangements between the Department and the Agency; and improvements the Agency should make in estimating, risk management, procurement and delivery capability. I accept his recommendations and will ensure that priority is given to their implementation.

The Nichols report will make a valuable contribution to the successful development and delivery of the forward programme. I am placing copies of the report in the Libraries of both Houses.

Work and Pensions

Pensions Regulator

The Minister of State for Work and Pensions (James Purnell): I am pleased to announce that there will be no increase in the General Levy rates for the Pensions Regulator for 2007-08. Rates will remain at the 2005-06 level as set out in the table below.

The General Levy meets the cost of the Pensions Regulator whose objective is to protect the benefits of members of occupational and private pension schemes; to reduce risks that lead to calls on the Pension Protection Fund and to promote and improve understanding of, the good administration of work based pension schemes. It also meets the cost of the Pensions Ombudsman and the Pensions Advisory Service which provide scheme members with help, advice and information.

General Levy rates for 2007-08

Number of Members

Occupational Pension Levy

Personal /Stakeholder Pension Levy

2-11

£24.00 per scheme

£10.40 per scheme

12-99

£2.50 per member

£1.00 per member

100-199

Max (£1.80 per member, £250)

Max (0.70 per member, £100)

1,000-4,999

Max (£1.40 per member, £1,800)

Max (0.60 per member, £700)

5,000-9,999

Max (£1.06 per member, £7,000)

Max (0.40 per member, £3,000)

10,000+

Max (0.74 per member, £10,600)

Max (0.30 per member, £4,000)