Thursday 2 November 2006
Armed Forces: Pensions
My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The House will be aware that my predecessor made a Written Statement on 11 July 2006 about the discovery of an error affecting about 1,800 Armed Forces invaliding pensions. My predecessor advised that he would put in place a new project, named Project Collins, to identify and correct the pension awards with the payment of any interest due, and consider whether additional recompense is appropriate.
Project Collins is under way, and back payments have been made. I can now advise that I have approved the level of interest and compensation package as follows. For errors under one year, the MoD will not pay interest or compensation. For errors made between one and six years, the MoD will pay interest at an equivalent amount to that which would have been achieved if the money owed had been deposited in an account paying simple interest, as laid down in Government Accounting. The interest rates are HM Revenue and Customs repayment supplement rates. For errors made over six years, the MoD will calculate compensation as though the money had been deposited in an account bearing compound interest at the rate of growth of the retail prices index (RPI) plus 2 per cent per annum.
EU: Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council
My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Jim Fitzpatrick) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will be held on 7 November 2006 in Brussels. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Department for Trade and Industry (Alistair Darling) and I will represent the UK.
The only item on the agenda is the amended proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2003/88/EC concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time, for political agreement. The working time directive, adopted in 1993, regulates maximum working hours and entitlements to rest breaks for workers.
Falklands War: HMS “Sheffield”
My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Adam Ingram) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am today publishing on the MoD's website a copy of the findings of the board of inquiry (BoI) report into the loss of HMS “Sheffield” during the Falklands conflict (www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/FreedomofInfolmation/). A copy of this paper has also been placed in the Library of the House. The published documents include the board's terms of reference, the then Commander-in-Chief Fleet’s advice on the report and the Admiralty Board’s response.
The publication of these papers follows a review commissioned in light of continuing parliamentary and public interest in the findings of the report into the ship’s loss. The board's terms of reference, the then Commander-in-Chief Fleet's advice on the report and the Admiralty Board's response are also being published. Some information has been redacted to ensure the department's compliance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA 98). Certain other information has also been withheld as its provision would, or would be likely to, prejudice the capability, effectiveness and security of the Armed Forces.
Other papers relating to the BoI report, including the post-attack narrative and analysis, and the captain's report on the incident will be published in two further phases before the end of the year. However, we will be withholding from publication copies of the witness statements that were taken by the board, as we believe that the disclosure of this personal data would be unfair to the individuals concerned and would be contrary to DPA 98.
My honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Kim Howells) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Further to my statement during the adjournment debate on Western Sahara on 24 October (Official Report, col. 414WH), I would like to clarify that the regulation on the conclusion of the fisheries partnership agreement with Morocco was not adopted unanimously by the Council of Ministers of the European Union; it was adopted by qualified majority.
Pensions: Parliamentary Ombudsman's Report
My honourable friend the Minister of State for Pensions Reform (James Purnell) has made the following written Ministerial Statement.
The Government have today published their response to the Select Committee's examination of the Parliamentary Ombudsman's report Trusting in the Pensions Promise (Cm 6961).
The Government have, and will continue to have, absolute respect for both the office of the ombudsman and its office holder. While there have been instances in the past, under different administrations, of a Government not accepting a finding of maladministration by the ombudsman, such instances have been highly exceptional and the Government have every intention that they should remain so in the future. The Ombudsman has, and will continue to have, the total and unqualified respect of the Government.
The Government agree with the committee that there should be a significant package of support and believe that the financial assistance scheme, as extended, constitutes such a package. The Government have, however, looked again in the light of the committee's report at what extra support can be made available within the existing framework. One option, which is not being widely taken up currently, is “deemed buy back”. This is a facility which, provided certain conditions are met, reinstates a member of an underfunded contracted-out pension scheme into the state additional pension for the period they were in an underfunded scheme, at less than cost.
“Deemed buy back” needs to be carefully considered on an individual basis but despite this we believe that this facility could provide useful help. While the pensions industry should already be aware of “deemed buy back”, the Government are planning to publicise these arrangements more widely and proposes to work with interested parties to investigate what more should be done in this respect. We also intend to examine whether the department can produce a tailored forecast for each person who qualifies for “deemed buy back” of the additional pension they could receive.
We note and accept the committee's view that the Government's response should not be defensive and we have approached the committee's report in that spirit. However, we continue to believe that the information issued by the Government was not misleading and that the Government are not responsible for the losses in question.
Copies of the Government's response are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
The Government have accepted the ombudsman's recommendation to review the time taken to wind up a final salary pension scheme. I have also placed today in the Libraries a report, Speeding Up Winding Up of Occupational Pension Schemes, setting out our belief that it is reasonable to expect a scheme, in the normal course of events, to complete the key activities of winding up in two years; and containing proposals for a series of measures—legislative, regulatory and administrative—to help schemes achieve this target.
Terrorism: Comprehensive Spending Review
My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Gordon Brown) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The security and safety of the British people is the first task of Government.
Earlier in the year I announced that the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) would review security and counter-terrorism activity across government, as a key foundation for the investment decisions we will make.
The Chief Secretary has today written to Cabinet colleagues setting out how this review will be taken forward within the wider Comprehensive Spending Review framework.
It is already clear from the work under way that we face a new type of threat which erodes traditional distinctions between homeland and international security and between those traditionally tasked with security policy and other areas of Government. This demands new approaches from Government. No department of government can simply leave security to others any longer.
This review must rise to this challenge to take a comprehensive approach drawing on an overarching assessment of the threat and the response required across Government, to inform how we can further strengthen and integrate our strategic security capability, including the case for a single security budget. This will ensure that by working beyond departmental boundaries we can enhance the effectiveness of our structures for protecting Britain's security and set out the part each department can play.
The review will look beyond the immediate security situation to consider the long-term requirements for winning hearts and minds.
It will also consider how best to harness new technology for security, to prevent terrorists and criminals exploiting multiple identities to escape the law and bypass border security. Sir James Crosby held his first meeting of his public/private forum on identity on 30 October. This is investigating how common standards can enhance our ability to protect identities and how identity management can be used to increase the security of individuals as consumers, employees and international passengers. The forum is due to report by the spring 2007.