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Written Statements

Volume 688: debated on Tuesday 9 January 2007

Written Statements

Tuesday 9 January 2007

Children: Poverty

My honourable friend the Economic Secretary (Ed Balls) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Budget 2006 announced that the second Comprehensive Spending Review would be informed by a series of policy reviews. One of the reviews announced at the Budget was a joint HM Treasury and Department for Education and Skills policy review of children and young people. A discussion paper setting out the evidence collected to date by this review is published today and is available in the Vote Office and the Library of the House.

The Government’s approach has transformed the life chances of children since 1997. For example, 700,000 children have been lifted out of relative poverty in the six years to 2004-05; 98 per cent of three and four year-olds have taken up the national entitlement to free early years education and government action has improved primary and secondary school standards. However, in Support for parents: the best start for children, published at the 2005 Pre-Budget Report, HM Treasury and the Department for Education and Skills identified further steps to be taken to improve the outcomes for children and young people.

The discussion paper, published today, sets out and evaluates the evidence collected to date to inform the review's work to consider how services for children and young people and their families can build on the three principles identified in Support for parents: the best start for children—rights and responsibilities, progressive universalism and prevention—to improve outcomes for children and young people.

Under the umbrella of the children and young people's review, sub-reviews are considering:

what strategy should be adopted over the next 10 years to deliver a step change in youth services and support for young people;

how services for families and children at risk of becoming locked in a cycle of low achievement, high harm and high cost can be reformed to deliver better outcomes; and

how services can provide greater support to families with disabled children to improve their life chances.

The review will report in spring 2007 with recommendations to inform and influence the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.

Debt Relief

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn) has made the following Statement.

Since my last Statement in July, there has been further progress on debt relief for poor countries.

Debt cancellation, under the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI), was implemented at the African Development Fund (AfDF) of the African Development Bank on 1 September 2006, with relief backdated to 1 January 2006. The MDRI agreement at Gleneagles has therefore now been delivered at the IMF, the International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank and at the AfDF. Over $38 billion (approximately £20 billion) of debts for 21 heavily indebted poor countries (HIPCs), as well as two other non-HIPCs, Cambodia and Tajikistan at the IMF, have now been cancelled under the MDRI. A further 22 countries will have their debts cancelled when they complete the HIPC process.

There are many good examples of the use countries are making of their savings under the MDRI1. Cameroon is using the $29.8 million of savings it will gain from the MDRI in 2006 for national poverty reduction priorities, including infrastructure, social sector and governance reforms. Uganda is using its $57.9 million savings in 2006 on improving energy infrastructure to try to ease acute electricity shortages, as well as primary education, malaria control, healthcare and water infrastructure (specifically targeting the poor and under-served villages). Zambia is using its savings of $23.8 million under the MDRI in 2006 to increase spending on agricultural projects on smallholder irrigation and livestock disease control, as well as to eliminate fees for healthcare in rural areas.

There has also been good progress in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. Some 21 countries have now completed the HIPC initiative, with Malawi and Sierra Leone the most recent to do so, in August and December 2006 respectively. Upon reaching HIPC completion point, Malawi and Sierra Leone received 100 per cent bilateral debt cancellation from the UK, as well as debt cancellation under HIPC and the MDRI. Haiti reached HIPC decision point in November and will now receive interim debt relief. Debt relief worth $61.2 billion has been delivered or committed for 30 countries under HIPC to date.

The UK remains committed to the full financing and implementation of HIPC and the MDRI. We have recently contributed £10 million to the HIPC Trust Fund towards the costs of debt cancellation for Malawi at the AfDB, and made a generous pledge towards the trust fund's overall financing needs in the next three to four years. The UK will also contribute £1.3 million towards the costs of clearing the Central African Republic (CAR)’s arrears to the African Development Bank, an essential prerequisite for the bank's re-engagement in the country and for CAR to qualify for debt relief in due course.

Last autumn, after strong lobbying by the UK, the international community agreed to remove the requirement (known as the HIPC sunset clause) that countries must have started a programme of support with the IMF by the end of 2006 to remain eligible for debt relief. All 13 countries that have yet to reach HIPC decision point will therefore still be able to qualify for debt relief.

The UK supports debt relief for all poor countries—not just HIPCs—that would use the savings to progress towards the millennium development goals. We therefore continue to offer debt relief (reimbursements of 10 per cent of debt service payments to IDA and the AfDF) to qualifying low-income countries under the UK Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative. Moldova recently qualified for this assistance, bringing the total number of recipients to seven countries.

The UK is working with the World Bank, IMF, African Development Bank and other development partners to ensure that countries that have benefited from debt relief can access the financing they need to reach the millennium development goals, without re-accumulating unsustainable levels of debt. The joint World Bank/IMF Debt Sustainability Framework (DSF) provides guidance on new borrowing and lending to low-income countries. Countries that may struggle to repay loans receive grants from the World Bank and African Development Bank instead. The UK is also leading efforts among export credit agencies (ECAs) to agree new guidelines on responsible lending to countries that have received debt relief. It is important that borrowers and lenders work together to ensure any new borrowing is appropriately concessional, well targeted and used for productive purposes.

1 As reported by recipient countries to the World Bank and IMF.

Insolvency Service

My right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Jim Fitzpatrick) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Enterprise Act 2002 introduced a new financial regime for the Insolvency Service as from 1 April 2004. One feature of this new regime has been the use of general taxation to cover the cost of the service's enforcement functions; for example, work on director disqualification, bankruptcy restrictions orders and the reporting of criminal offences. Funds have been provided by way of the Department of Trade and Industry's (DTI) programme vote. In the light of the continued need for government to concentrate their resources on high-priority areas such as health, education, science and the environment, the DTI, like other departments, has been seeking ways in which to more efficiently allocate scant resources. Part of this process has been to identify areas where different funding arrangements might be introduced.

Therefore, from 1 April 2007 the cost of the investigation work done by official receivers and their staffs on disqualifications, bankruptcy restrictions orders and on reporting possible criminal offences will not be met by way of programme expenditure but will be recovered through fees charged to estates. As a consequence the administration fee charged to company and bankruptcy estates will rise broadly in line with inflation. This will enable expenditure on enforcement work to proceed at planned levels in 2007-08 and enforcement outputs, particularly disqualification and bankruptcy restrictions orders, to increase significantly.

Iraq: Reserve Forces Call-out

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Adam Ingram) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

With the expiry of the call-out order made last January, a new order has been made under Section 54 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 so that reservists may continue to be called out into service to support operations in Iraq. The new order is valid for 12 months. Some 640 reservists are currently mobilised to support operations in Iraq. We are very appreciative of the continuing support and commitment shown by both reservists and their employers.

Law Commission: Limitation of Actions

In July 2002 my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor announced his acceptance in principle of the recommendations in the Law Commission's 2001 report Limitation of Actions (Law Com 270) subject to further consideration of certain aspects (Hansard, 16 July 2002, WA 127). As part of the ongoing preparation of these reforms my department will consult in spring 2007 on the detailed content of a draft Bill to implement the Law Commission's recommendations. This consultation will include consideration of the issue of giving the court powers to allow it to hear certain cases beyond current limitation periods, allowing the victim to sue if the offender later receives a windfall, for example. The Government undertook to consult on this in the July 2006 publication, Rebalancing the Criminal Justice System in favour of the law-abiding majority.

Local Government: Arm's-Length Management Organisations

My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing funding allocations for arm’s-length management organisations (ALMOs) in 17 local authority areas totalling £485 million. Twelve round 4 ALMOs in Bassetlaw, Bury, Ealing, Eastbourne, Hammersmith & Fulham, Manchester, Newark & Sherwood, Nottingham, Rotherham, Sandwell, Slough and Wolverhampton and six round 2 ALMOs in Bolton, Carrick, Hillingdon and Leeds (where there are three ALMOs) will receive £468 million in allocations for 2007-08.

In addition, Waltham Forest, which originally set up its ALMO under round 2 of the programme, will receive £17 million in recognition of several years’ work to improve its performance, now finally achieving the required standard to make it eligible for funding. Full details of the allocations are set out in the table below.

Local Authority

ALMO allocation for 2007-08

Bassetlaw

£12,000,000

Bolton

£25,037,000

Bury

£7,920,000

Carrick

£1,000,000

Ealing

£41,000,000

Eastbourne

£7,520,000

Hammersmith & Fulham

£47,122,000

Hillingdon

£11,300,000

Leeds (3 ALMOs)

£100,000,000

Manchester

£29,836,000

Newark & Sherwood

£11,310,000

Nottingham

£13,000,000

Rotherham

£50,000,000

Sandwell

£63,400,000

Slough

£8,538,500

Waltham Forest

£17,000,000

Wolverhampton

£39,300,000

The funding will enable these ALMOs to carry on with their crucial work of improving the quality of homes occupied by social rented tenants. The continuation of funding recognises how successful ALMOs are not only in providing new roofs, new windows new kitchens and central heating, but also in delivering better and more efficient services to tenants.

ALMOs are playing a key role in delivering wider government initiatives. They are supporting the creation of more mixed communities and are creating job opportunities for local people through new apprenticeship and training schemes. They are taking the lead in developing innovative and successful approaches to tackling anti-social behaviour through the respect agenda.

The resources allocated today are from the funding made available in the 2004 spending review. Throughout the country 56 ALMOs are managing more than 828,000 homes and spending £840 million each year on bringing them up to the Government's decent homes standard through their refurbishing and modernising programmes. Decisions on allocations beyond 2007-08 will be considered in the context of the spending review. I have been impressed with the achievements of the ALMO programme to date and remain committed to our objective of making all social housing decent.

Minimum Wage

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Alistair Darling) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In his Pre-Budget Report, the Chancellor announced that the Government will increase the resource devoted to national minimum wage enforcement. We must ensure that good employers are not put at a competitive disadvantage by those who underpay their workers. I am today publishing our policy to fine employers who ignore an official demand to pay the national minimum wage. We will do this through the consistent issue of penalty notices. This policy will encourage employers to comply with an enforcement notice, and in doing so persuade employers to pay arrears to workers and deter employers from failing to pay national minimum wage in the future. At current rates, a typical penalty for failing to comply with an enforcement notice in respect of underpaying one worker will be over £200.

We have an escalating enforcement process which ranges from educating employers to criminal prosecutions. Penalty notices sit within this regime. They impose a fine on employers who have ignored an enforcement notice and not paid in full the arrears outlined. They may be issued even if it is the first time an employer has underpaid workers. We have carefully considered the 2005 Low Pay Commission recommendation that the Government should,

“introduce interest charges payable on arrears arising from minimum wage underpayment”.

We are rejecting this recommendation as we believe penalty notices offer a greater financial incentive to comply, stronger deterrence and greater scope to remove the benefits of non-compliance.

Our policy to issue penalty notices is from today on the DTI website at www.dti.gov.uk/employment/pay/national-minimum-wage/index.html. Employers should remember that if they are persistently or wilfully non-compliant with national minimum wage legislation, they will be considered for criminal prosecution.

Ministry of Defence: Combined Cadet Force

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce that the schools selected to take part in the trial expansion of the Combined Cadet Force further into the state school sector will be:

Archers Court Specialist Maths and Computing College, Dover

Budmouth Technology College, Weymouth

Deacon's School—Specialist Technology College, Peterborough

Haberdashers' Aske's Federation of Hatcham College and Knights Academy, London

Treorchy Comprehensive School, Treorchy, Mid Glamorgan

We are in active dialogue with a school in Scotland and hope we can announce its participation in due course. The MoD will now begin the process of training the teachers and staff from the schools who have volunteered to take part in the pilot scheme. This process will involve attending courses at the Cadet Training Centre, training sessions with the local cadet training teams and participation at cadet camps. This activity will continue through to the summer of 2007. We expect the first pupils to enrol as cadets in the new contingents, as planned, at the start of the academic year 2007-08.

The MoD remains fully committed to supporting the opportunities which the Combined Cadet Force, through the unique educational partnership established between the MoD and the individual school, is able to provide. It is this range of personal development and educational opportunities that enables the Combined Cadet Force to stand out among other youth organisations, thereby acting as a genuine force for good for the young people who join, the schools in which they are based as well as for the communities in which they live. We are therefore determined to ensure that this pilot scheme will allow many more young people to enjoy the full cadet experience.

National Patient Safety Agency

My honourable friend the Minister of State (Andy Burnham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The annual report and accounts and any accompanying Comptroller and Auditor-General report for the National Patient Safety Agency has today been laid before Parliament pursuant to Section 98(1C) of the National Health Service Act 1977. Copies have been placed in the Library.

National School of Government

Further to the Written Ministerial Statement of 30 March 2006, (Official Report, col. WS 117), about our intentions for the future status of the National School of Government, I am able to announce today that the national school is now a non-ministerial department.

The change of status is one of the outcomes from the review of the role and functions of the Cabinet Office conducted by Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary. Although the national school will be “non-ministerial” in the sense that the Minister will not normally need to become involved in its day-to-day management, the Minister for the Cabinet Office will retain ultimate accountability to Parliament for the new department. Details of the role and function of the national school will be set out in a strategy document to be published early in 2007.

Sudan: African Union Mission

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made the following Statement.

The British Government will provide a further £15 million to support the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) this financial year. The AMIS force of 7,000 carries out vital operations in Darfur, and in very difficult circumstances. It relies on the support of the international community to fund its operations and the UK has been a leading contributor since its deployment.

A high-level consultation on Darfur was held in Addis Ababa on 16 November 2006. It concluded that the UN needs to provide increased support to AMIS, to enhance its effectiveness and ability to protect the civilians of Darfur and implement the Darfur peace agreement (DPA) signed on 5 May. This UN support will come in three phases, culminating in a joint AU/UN peacekeeping force of 17,000, with 3,000 police. This will require sustainable funding and the UN Secretary-General will request that this come from the UN. In the mean time, the AU Peace and Security Council met on 30 November. It endorsed the Addis conclusions and extended the mandate of AMIS for a further six months from 1 January. But this extension is conditional upon sufficient funding from the international community.

The African Union estimates the cost of extending AMIS’s mandate to continue its current operations and to implement expansions under the DPA as $343 million (£175 million). Finding these funds will require a concerted international effort and the UK is fully committed to playing its part. As an important donor to AMIS and in recognition of the urgent need to sustain its work, the UK will give a further £15 million to support the force for its extended mandate.

This contribution brings the total British assistance to AMIS for this financial year to £35 million. The previously committed £20 million has been funding ground fuel contracts, airlift for Nigerian and Rwandan battalions and military observers. It also includes a cash contribution of £13.5 million to cover personnel and catering costs for the period October to December. These are vital running costs for AMIS to continue its operations. As well as taking a lead in committing UK funds, we are also encouraging other donors to make new pledges to sustain the mission.