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Written Statements

Volume 712: debated on Monday 29 June 2009

Written Statements

Monday 29 June 2009

Broadcasting: Digital Switchover

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Ben Bradshaw) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and I have been made aware that the digital switchover help scheme (the help scheme) has sent out a number of inaccurate letters regarding eligibility for help under the scheme. This was as a result of incorrect or incomplete information provided by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). 

The help scheme is run by the BBC under an agreement with the Government.  It offers older and disabled people help to switch one TV to digital during switchover in their region.  People are eligible if they:

are aged 75 or over;

have lived in a care home for six months or more;

get or could get disability  living allowance, mobility supplement, attendance allowance or constant attendance allowance; or

are registered blind or partially sighted.

There are two categories of letters involved: letters sent to people who were not eligible; and letters sent to people informing them that they would have to pay a £40 charge when they were, in fact, entitled to the help for free.  The DWP apologises for these mistakes and has informed the Information Commissioners Office. DCMS, DWP and the help scheme are working closely to ensure that these errors do not occur again.

Letters sent to people who are ineligible

The first set of letters has offered help to people who are not eligible for the help scheme.

Approximately 65,000 people were incorrectly sent a letter telling them that they were eligible for help.  Almost all live in the Llandudno postcode area; some are in the Llandrindod Wells area and there may be small numbers in Liverpool, Chester, Newport and Lancaster. 

The help scheme and DWP will today write to around 55,000 ineligible people who have not already applied for help or responded to the original letter.  This letter apologises for the error and for any inconvenience that may have been caused. 

If someone who received the original letter has already applied for help, they will get help exactly as if they had been eligible in the first place.  We believe that this will be fewer than 2,000 people.

The Digital Switchover (Disclosure of Information) Act 2007 allows the DWP to disclose some limited information to the BBC or eaga, the contractor appointed by the BBC to run the scheme.   Such information, however, should only relate to people who are eligible for the help scheme. 

Letters stating that help was available for £40 instead of for free

It costs £40 to participate in the scheme except where eligible people are also entitled to certain income-related benefits.  Unfortunately a second batch of letters has been sent to people stating that they would have to pay £40 to participate in the scheme when they should have been informed that it was available to them for free. These are recipients of the income related component of the new employment and support allowance which was introduced in October 2008.  These people should have been entitled to free help from the scheme and the DWP is urgently working to establish the numbers and names.  We believe the numbers affected to be small. 

Once the people affected have been identified by DWP, letters will be sent to them apologising for this error and making it clear that they can have assistance under the scheme for free.  Anyone who has already participated in the scheme will have their £40 reimbursed as soon as possible.

The DWP has now made the necessary changes to the way in which they identify people eligible for free help and are confident that this error will not happen again.

Climate Change

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Ed Miliband) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today publishing The Road to Copenhagen (Cm 7659), setting out the Government's priorities for the forthcoming international climate change negotiations in Copenhagen this December.

The Copenhagen summit is a critical moment in the fight against dangerous climate change. Climate change is a global problem, with direct consequences for the future prosperity and security of the United Kingdom. It can only be addressed through a comprehensive global agreement between all countries represented at the Copenhagen conference.

To show ambition matching the science, an agreement must aim to limit global temperature increases to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, the point beyond which the risks of dangerous climate change become greater. It must be effective, driving low carbon investment and with monitoring of outcomes to ensure commitments made are kept to. And it must be fair, particularly in helping the poorest countries adapt to the consequences of climate change.

To achieve these goals, the Government's priorities for the Copenhagen agreement are:

ambitious action to reduce emissions. Global emissions must peak and start to fall before 2020 and be at least 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050, if temperature increases are to be limited to no more than 2 degrees. The Government are therefore calling for firm, binding targets from developed countries; and significant action by developing countries with appropriate support from developed countries, to reduce their emissions below “business as usual” levels;

a reformed, expanded carbon market to support emissions reductions, and action to extend flows of carbon market finance over time, including: the establishment of new sectoral carbon trading systems in advanced developing countries by 2020 at the latest; sectoral crediting in other developing countries where appropriate; and a reformed clean development mechanism;

a new international framework for low-carbon technologies to be more rapidly developed and deployed; including new low carbon development strategies in which individual countries assess their own technology needs; capacity building support; and incentives to encourage international collaboration;

commitments to deep reductions in emissions from deforestation, halving tropical deforestation by 2020 and achieving zero net loss of forest by 2030; with new short-term financing mechanisms; and more comprehensive arrangements to account for emissions reductions from deforestation and land use;

enhanced support for developing countries to adapt to climate change, with adaptation integrated into national development planning processes; support for developing countries in prioritising their own adaptation needs; and greater international support for better sources of information on climate risks and adaptation expertise;

commitment to provide international finance that is adequate, additional, predictable and timely, through a combination of sources including the carbon market, potential new automatic mechanisms, and a small, limited proportion of official development assistance (ODA). All countries except the least developed should contribute, using a transparent and dynamic formula based on emissions and ability to pay, and based on the understanding that developing countries will receive significantly more than they contribute. The UK remains committed to our target of providing 0.7 per cent of our gross national income as ODA by 2013 and will provide finance for climate change that is new and additional to this. All ODA will be climate proofed and up to 10 per cent of ODA will be used for activities which achieve both poverty reduction and climate objectives; and

reformed international institutional arrangements which ensure an equal voice for developing countries and that decisions on spending priorities are made at the country level; simple, efficient and effective mechanisms for allocating finance to priority areas and countries that need them most, consistent with international standards of financial management; and robust monitoring, reporting and verification arrangements.

With our EU partners, the Government will be working intensively over the next six months to press for a global agreement which reflects these priorities, including through the negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); full participation in the Major Economies Forum convened by the United States Government; the G8; and the G20.

Copies of The Road to Copenhagen will be placed in the Libraries of the House.

Company Articles

Statement

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Ian Austin) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have today published a consultation paper that proposes new prescribed articles for right to manage (RTM) Companies. Act (the 2002 Act).

The Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 introduced a right for long leaseholders to take over the management of the premises containing their flats without proving any fault on the part of their landlord. Prescribed memorandum and articles of association were provided to govern the operation of these companies. These reflected current company law requirements.

With the changes that are being made by the Companies Act 2006 there is now a need for these prescribed documents to be updated for RTM companies that are incorporated on or after 1 October 2009. This is to ensure consistency between the requirements of these RTM companies and other companies.

The consultation seeks views on the proposed updated company articles and will run for seven weeks until 16 August 2009. The Government would welcome responses to their proposals up until that date.

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

Education: Further Education Building Programme

Statement

My honourable friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs (Kevin Brennan) made the following Statement.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) is announcing today a shortlist of 13 further education building projects which are proceeding to the next stage of development. The 13 projects announced today have been prioritised from over 180 projects submitted to the LSC as part of the latest round of the FE capital programme.

The LSC has been working in close consultation with the sector to use transparent and objective criteria to inject funds where they will have greatest impact for learners, employers and communities, to get building work started quickly, and to get best value for the taxpayer.

The LSC examined all projects which are ready to proceed quickly and then applied the following criteria: the education and skills impact; contribution to local economic and regeneration priorities; co-dependency (for example, where there is significant leverage of third-party funding or another important project that is dependent on the college project); the current condition of the estate; and value for money.

The 13 colleges will now be asked by the LSC to make cost reductions to their initial project plans, to maximise borrowing within prudent limits, and to examine other possible sources of funds, while at the same time maintaining the planned project benefit for future learners and enabling construction to proceed rapidly. The aim of the LSC is to deliver best value for money for the taxpayer and to fund the maximum possible number of projects.

The 13 colleges are:

Barnsley College;

Bournville College;

Furness College;

Hartlepool College of Further Education;

Kirklees College;

Leyton Sixth Form College;

Manchester College—Wythenshawe;

North West Kent College;

St Helens College;

Sandwell College;

South Thames College;

Tresham Institute of Further and Higher Education, Corby; and

West Cheshire College.

Discussions between these colleges and the Learning and Skills Council will take place as a matter of urgency. All 13 colleges will receive funding only if the overall cost is reduced. The reductions required are significant but manageable.

For colleges which have not been selected to proceed this year, the next steps start this autumn when the Learning and Skills Council will further consult with the sector to agree a robust, fair and transparent process for prioritising the capital investment programme for the next Spending Review period starting in 2011-12. The size and scope of the programme will depend on the outcome of the next Spending Review.

Many colleges have incurred development costs for projects which will not now be going ahead in the short term. The Learning and Skills Council has a contingency fund to mitigate the impact of potential aborted costs on the financial health of colleges. This will be limited to those appropriately incurred within the terms of the capital programme.

The investment announced today will have a significant beneficial impact on the colleges, their learners and on local communities.

Budget 2009 announced an additional £300 million of capital investment in further education as part of a fiscal stimulus package which has enabled a number of projects to be funded this year. This Government have an excellent record on investment in FE capital and since 2001, 700 projects—at nearly 330 colleges across England—have been funded.

Mistakes were made by the Learning and Skills Council in carrying out the FE Capital programme. In April of this year, Sir Andrew Foster completed an independent report on how this whole situation arose. He concluded that “a good policy has been compromised by the manner of its implementation”. There is now new leadership to the organisation and measures in place to ensure that there will be no repeat of those mistakes as the programme moves forward.

The Government remain committed to the FE capital investment programme, and this will continue into the next Spending Review. The Learning and Skills Council will in the mean time help colleges whose projects are not proceeding in the short term to draw up a revised estates strategy and to examine other possible sources of finance such as collective approaches to private financing and borrowing.

Equality Bill

Statement

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Government Equalities Office (Michael Jabez Foster) has made the following Statement.

The Equality Bill, which is currently before Parliament, will outlaw unjustifiable age discrimination against adults aged 18 or over in the provision of services and the exercise of public functions. It also includes powers to make exceptions from the ban.

We often treat people differently according to their age and this is often appropriate because people’s needs, expectations and circumstances change with their age. Age-based treatment can play an important role in ensuring that people of all ages can participate socially and economically in their community and that services meet people’s differing needs and are delivered efficiently, benefiting individuals and society in general. Different treatment because of age will continue to be allowed when it can be objectively justified or where there are exceptions to the ban on age discrimination.

The powers will be used to put in place a number of specific exceptions, to allow age-based treatment to continue. This will provide a greater degree of legal certainty for service providers to ensure that they do not end beneficial practices or withdraw services out of concern that they may be open to legal challenge. It will also ensure the process of having to justify age-based treatment does not undermine service providers’ ability to continue to provide the service or function on an economic basis or at all.

The consultation issued today Equality Bill: Making it workEnding age discrimination in services and public functionsA consultation outlines how we are developing our proposals for particular services where we think additional legal certainty is important to encourage beneficial practices and services to continue. It asks specific questions to help shape the exceptions from the ban and obtain further information. The consultation runs until 30 September 2009.

We are placing copies of the document in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies will also be available on the Government Equalities Office website at www.equalities.gov.uk.

India

Statement

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce that Her Majesty the Queen has invited the President of the Republic of India, Her Excellency Shrimati Pratibha Devisingh Patil, to pay a state visit to the United Kingdom from Tuesday 27 October to Thursday 29 October 2009. The visit will further the close relations that exist between the United Kingdom and the Republic of India.

Taxation: Avoidance

Statement

My right honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Stephen Timms) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has today published a consultation document on the implementation of a code of practice on taxation for banks.

The Government are committed to developing and safeguarding a UK tax system whereby everyone pays their fair share. Tax avoidance compromises the effectiveness of the tax system and unfairly results in a greater tax burden being borne by compliant taxpayers. This undermines public confidence and imposes significant costs on society.

The Government have consistently tackled avoidance since 1997—making reforms to the tax system, introducing the disclosure regime and closing legislative loopholes. We vigorously challenge tax avoidance, through the courts if necessary. The UK also plays a leading role in international efforts to counter avoidance through sharing of information and intelligence.

Tax avoidance schemes continue to be developed and marketed and it is right that the Government act to close them. No country has found an agreed or enforceable definition of avoidance—much avoidance reduces tax in ways that go beyond the spirit, but not the letter, of the law.

We seek to ensure that anti-avoidance rules are properly targeted so that they only affect those aiming to avoid tax and where appropriate, to consult with businesses on the detail of the legislation. Business has welcomed this approach and it has led to better legislation. We continue to develop our strategy and practice for tackling tax avoidance and we are today publishing a code of practice for banks which builds on the key themes of good governance and transparency with HMRC that have been key components of the Government’s approach to the administration of company tax.

Banks play a vital role in the UK. They are important contributors of tax, and banks, alongside firms in other sectors, will want to arrange their tax affairs efficiently. But it is clear that some banks have been involved in tax avoidance that goes well beyond reasonable tax planning. Given their access to capital and financial markets as well as their range of contacts, banks are uniquely placed to enter into transactions designed to avoid tax, offer transactions of this sort to their customers, or simply to provide the very large amounts of funding and other financial instruments these transactions can require. The code seeks to change behaviours and attitudes towards tax avoidance in the banking sector.

We, and the public, rightly expect banks, and financial services firms more generally, to show a high degree of responsibility, the highest standards of corporate governance and to have an open, transparent and professional relationship with HMRC. When the Government have provided significant support to strengthen the financial system, it is right that measures are taken to introduce a higher level of public transparency. This will not happen overnight and we need to work with the banks and other stakeholders to achieve it.

This consultation is a starting point in changing the behaviour of banks in relation to tax avoidance. Over the coming months we will be speaking to banks to develop a shared understanding of where banks should draw the line, where we want them to raise and resolve issues with HMRC and to ascertain the appropriate level of accountability for behaviours at a senior level that they can achieve; and what they can expect from HMRC in return.

The consultation document can be found on HMRC’s website at www.hmrc.gov.uk. A copy has also been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Taxation: Double Taxation

Statement

My right honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Stephen Timms) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

A double taxation agreement with the State of Qatar was signed on 25 June 2009. The text of the agreement has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs’ website. The text will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

Veterinary Medicines Directorate

Statement

My honourable friend the Minister for Food, Farming and the Environment (Mr Jim Fitzpatrick) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The 2008-09 annual report and accounts for the Veterinary Medicines Directorate was laid before Parliament on 26 June.