5 Dec 2011 : Column 1WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 5 December 2011

Treasury

ISA Reinstatement (Failure of Financial Firms)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): I am today announcing the Government’s intention to make changes to the ISA rules that will benefit investors whose ISA savings have been affected by the failure or default of a financial firm. This includes ISA investors affected by the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

Under current ISA rules, an individual can pay into their ISA a total amount up to the relevant subscription limit each year. The 2011-12 subscription limit for “adult ISAs” is £10,680, of which £5,340 can be in cash.

Where an ISA is affected by the failure or default of a financial firm, any reinstatement of sums held in the account at that point, or investment of any subsequent compensation received, is currently treated as a new ISA subscription, and therefore counts towards the normal annual limit.

We intend to change the ISA rules to permit investors affected by such a failure or default to make certain ISA investments over and above the normal subscription limits.

We intend that investors who have lost their cash ISA will be permitted to reinstate up to the balance of their account at the time of the firm’s failure in a new ISA, outside the normal subscription limits.

Where a stocks and shares ISA has been affected, we intend that the investor will be permitted to invest any compensation (or any similar payment) derived from assets held within their ISA in a stocks and shares ISA, outside the normal subscription limits.

We propose to apply different arrangements for cases in which Lehman Brothers was, at the time of its collapse, the sole counterparty to an ISA product. Affected investors will be permitted to reinstate up to the balance of their ISA at the time of this collapse, outside the normal subscription limits. This is irrespective of whether any compensation has been paid to the investor.

Further details can be found in the HM Revenue and Customs ISA bulletin, published today—a copy of which I have placed in the Library. I have asked HM Revenue and Customs to consult ISA managers and other interested parties on the detailed rules required to implement these changes. I anticipate that draft amending regulations will be made available for consultation in the new year, and that finalised regulations will be laid in spring 2012.

The changes we intend to make will provide a principles-based approach which—together with the Financial Services Compensation Scheme’s deposit guarantee scheme and other compensation arrangements—will enable investors whose ISAs are affected by the failure or default of a financial firm to continue to benefit from

5 Dec 2011 : Column 2WS

tax-advantaged savings. They also demonstrate the Government’s commitment to ensure that the ISA remains a secure, accessible and tax-advantaged saving product.

Communities and Local Government

Local Government Finance

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): This Government are determined to support businesses—large and small—to support growth and build a stronger economy. In support of those aims, the Government announced two important business rates measures in the autumn statement. We will:

double the levels of relief available to small business ratepayers for a further six months on top of the existing two-year scheme; and

enable business ratepayers to defer payment of 60% of the RPI increase (5.6%) in their 2012-13 business rates bills.

Extending the period for which levels of small business rate relief are doubled means that eligible small businesses will benefit from significant additional reductions in their business rates bills throughout the whole of 2012-13. Approximately half a million businesses in England are expected to benefit, with about a third of a million businesses paying no rates at all for that period.

We have also listened to business concerns about the RPI increase for 2012-13. We are therefore giving businesses the option of spreading the increase over three years. Businesses will be able to defer payment of 60% of the RPI increase in their 2012-13 rates bills until 2013-14 and 2014-15. This will give businesses flexibility to manage their rates bills in the current economic climate and help their cash flow.

Those measures are in addition to the ones that we are already delivering through the Localism Act 2011. Through the Act we are:

simplifying the process for claiming small business rate relief;

waiving £175 million of backdated business rates demands levied on businesses, including some in ports;

giving local authorities wide-ranging, discretionary powers to grant business rates discounts; and

ensuring that all future business rates supplements projects will have to be put to the ballot so that liable businesses can decide whether to impose the business rate supplement upon themselves.

Taken together, the support provided through these measures will help businesses across the country to prosper.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Single Payment Scheme

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): I am pleased to confirm that as at the end of 1 December, the first day of the 2011 single payment scheme (SPS) payment

5 Dec 2011 : Column 3WS

window, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) had released payments totalling over £1.2 billion (71.6% of the estimated total fund) to some 84,600 English farmers (80.8% of the estimated total of eligible claimants). Payments to farmers will continue to be made as soon as validation of their claims is complete, with the values adjusted to reflect any significant outstanding overpayments from previous years. There remains much to do, but this promising beginning places RPA in a good position to meet its first SPS 2011 performance indicator, namely to pay 78% of the total estimated fund value to a minimum of 86% of eligible claimants by the end of December 2011.

In line with the commitment in my statement of 8 November, Official Report, column 12WS, RPA will write in early December to those farmers who are unlikely to be paid during the month in order to both explain the additional work that is required to validate their claim and provide an indicative time scale for how long that type of work can take. While it will not be possible to provide specific dates when payments will be made, I hope the additional information being supplied this year will help farmers with business planning.

I will continue to keep the House informed on the agency’s progress.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

EU Foreign Affairs Council

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I attended the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) in Brussels on 1 December.

The FAC was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland. A provisional report of the meeting and all conclusions adopted can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/126518.pdf

The agenda items covered were as follows:

Western Balkans

The discussion focused largely on Serbia, and the EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. All expressed concern at implications for the dialogue of recent violence in northern Kosovo. I made clear the UK’s strong support of enlargement in general, but on the basis of meeting the required conditionality. I also stressed the importance of Kosovo’s EU aspirations. The General Affairs Council will return to this issue on Monday.

On Bosnia and Herzegovina, I emphasised the importance of focusing attention on the need for political progress on the ground, including the formation of a state-level Government.

Iran

Ministers agreed conclusions (see link) setting out the EU’s serious and deepening concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme following the latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which clearly set out possible military dimensions. They also decided to intensify pressure against the nuclear programme by sanctioning another 180 individuals and entities.

5 Dec 2011 : Column 4WS

I took the opportunity to thank EU Ministers for their support during and since the attack on our Embassy in Tehran. All my counterparts expressed solidarity and the need for a united response, and a number have already recalled their ambassadors for consultations. Ministers agreed to issue the following response from the Council:

“The Council is outraged by the attack on the British Embassy in Tehran and utterly condemns it. It is a violation of the Vienna Convention. It also deplores the decision to expel the British Ambassador from Tehran. The Council considers these actions against the UK as actions against the European Union as a whole. The EU is taking appropriate measures in response.”

After the meeting I made the following statement:

“Today, the EU demonstrated clear unity and solidarity with the UK on the outrageous attacks on our Embassy in Tehran. No difficulty in relations can excuse the Iranian regime’s complete failure to protect diplomatic staff and property. That is why yesterday I announced the closure of our Embassy in Tehran and the Iranian Embassy in London. This is also why the EU and wider international community have expressed universal condemnation. I welcome the fact that France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands have recalled their Ambassadors in Tehran for consultations.

I strongly welcome the EU’s decision to intensify pressure on Iran following the IAEA’s report by sanctioning another 180 individuals and entities. These include those directly associated with the nuclear programme and entities associated with the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The EU made very clear that it will not bow to Iran’s intimidation and bullying tactics. We will not back down and agreed today to work on further sanctions, including in the areas of finance and energy, by the next Council meeting. We want Iran to come to the table and negotiate meaningfully about its nuclear programme. Despite events this week we still want a diplomatic solution.”

Iraq: Camp Ashraf

Baroness Ashton briefly raised Camp Ashraf and the interest the European Parliament was taking on this issue. Member states agreed that this was an issue for the UN and Iraq rather than the EU.

Southern Neighbourhood

Over lunch, Ministers had a positive exchange of views about Syria with the Arab League secretary-general, Nabil El Araby. Ministers agreed conclusions (see link above) and further EU sanctions against the Syrian regime. After the meeting I made the following statement:

“I strongly welcome this substantial further package of EU sanctions, targeted on President Assad, his regime and those who support them. This tenth round of sanctions aims to increase pressure on the Syrian regime to stop the continuing violent repression of the Syrian people. EU sanctions stand alongside measures introduced by Turkey yesterday including the freezing of assets belonging to Assad and individuals in the regime, and the Arab League’s decision to impose unprecedented sanctions. I welcome these moves which send a clear message that the Syrian regime’s actions have left it isolated.

EU sanctions are part of a broad international response to the horrific abuses perpetrated by a regime that has lost legitimacy. The UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry report, issued on 21 November, highlighted the systematic and wide ranging nature of these abuses including through compelling testimony from many of those who have suffered at the hands of the Syrian regime. The UK worked closely with international and regional partners to secure a third UN Human Rights Council special session on Syria, on Friday 2 December.

The UK continues to support the Arab League’s efforts to bring an immediate end to the violence and supports the work of Syrian oppositionists towards realising the aspirations of the Syrian people for freedom, dignity and a new political system.”

5 Dec 2011 : Column 5WS

On Egypt, Ministers agreed conclusions (see link above) welcoming the peaceful start to elections but expressing serious concern at the recent violence and calling for a swift transfer to civilian government.

Ministers agreed conclusions on developments in the Southern Neighbourhood and the EU’s response to the Arab spring, including the need for an offer of market access to Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco (see link above). The Council also acknowledged through Conclusions (see link above) the Polish presidency’s initiative to create a European Endowment for Democracy.

Middle East Peace Process

Ministers also had a short exchange of views with the Arab League secretary-general about the latest developments in the middle east peace process.

Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)

Ministers agreed a useful package of CSDP measures (see link above) focused on improving the EU’s contribution to international security on the ground. They agreed to prepare for a small, focused and carefully calibrated civilian CSDP mission in the Sahel, focusing on policing, security, infrastructure development and regional training; and affirmed the EU’s readiness to assist the new Libyan authorities if requested. In line with the UK’s priorities in the Horn of Africa, Ministers agreed to plan for a new mission to help countries in the region improve their own civil maritime security.

These new operations fit well with our vision of CSDP, bringing together a range of security tools for practical effect in areas where NATO, which remains the cornerstone of our security, would not be engaged. In order to improve the coherence of this effect in the Horn of Africa, Ministers agreed to consider activating on a temporary ad hoc basis the existing EU Operations Centre, designed for low-intensity small-scale civilian or civil-military missions that do not require a military headquarters. This could bring together the EU’s work to strengthen regional maritime capacities in Somalia and the wider Horn of Africa region with its existing military training for Somali security forces, currently run through the EU’s planning staffs. The EU’s naval counter-piracy mission Atalanta will continue to be run from the UK’s military operational headquarters at Northwood. This further demonstrates that the EU has all the structures it needs for effective crisis management and does not require new, costly and duplicative institutions such as a permanent EU operational military headquarters - something this Government will never agree to. Council agreed that, without prejudice to the treaties, any future decisions on planning and conducting EU operations will be taken on the basis of unanimity and inclusiveness.

Ministers also highlighted the importance of improving Europe’s civilian and military capabilities, and of strengthening the EU’s partnerships with NATO, the UN and others. We hope that the focus of debate on CSDP will now shift from institutions to practical outcomes, effectiveness and real missions that actually make a difference in the world and can improve our own security and that of other countries within the EU and beyond.

Public Records (Colonial Documents)

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): Further to the statements to the House by the Foreign Secretary on 5 May, Official Report, column 24WS and 30 June

5 Dec 2011 : Column 6WS

2011,

Official Report

, column 66WS, I wish to inform the House of our plans to make available to the public, over the next two years, the large collection of colonial administration files currently held by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

The timetable for transfer of these files to the National Archives (TNA), which has been approved by Professor Badger, the independent reviewer appointed by the Foreign Secretary, follows our undertaking to move rapidly to put these papers into the public domain.

In keeping with this Government’s commitment to transparency and openness, the entire collection of migrated files will be transferred to TNA. None of the papers will be destroyed. Redactions will be kept to an absolute minimum, for example in order to comply with the Data Protection Act. We expect that 99% of the material will be available for the public to read.

The files will be reviewed and transferred in alphabetical order of the colonial territory concerned with the exception of Kenya, Cyprus, British India Ocean Territory (BIOT) and Malaya, which will be prioritised because there has been particular interest. The first batch of files, representing around 16% of the total collection, is expected to be available for public view at TNA in April 2012. This will include material from Aden, Anguilla, Bahamas, Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Brunei as well as the BIOT and Malaya files and the first tranche of papers from Kenya and Cyprus. Given the volume of material from Kenya and Cyprus, the remaining files will be reviewed and transferred in batches over the following months.

The aim is to have all the papers transferred before the end of 2013. We will be publishing a more detailed timetable on the FCO’s website.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): My noble Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Lord Howell of Guildford, has made the following written ministerial statement:


On 23 November, Official Report, House of Lords, column 1051, I said that part of the Dumfries and Galloway constabulary would embrace the question of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s condition and that we were awaiting the precise details of his health from the Libyan Government.

I would like to clarify that the Government have not asked the Libyan Government to provide information about Mr al-Megrahi’s health. The terms of Mr al-Megrahi’s release from prison on licence specify that he has to comply with a number of conditions set by the Scottish Ministers. These conditions include the submission of a monthly medical report to East Renfrewshire council. As I said on 23 November, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have passed on a request from the devolved Administration to the Libyan chargé d’affaires in London asking the Libyan authorities to assist in ensuring that the supervision arrangements of Megrahi’s licence are observed.

The Dumfries and Galloway constabulary’s investigation concerns the involvement of others, with Mr al-Megrahi, in the Lockerbie bombing. The Government will continue to support the police in following any new leads, including any new information that may come to light concerning Mr al-Megrahi.

5 Dec 2011 : Column 7WS

Home Department

Missing Children and Adults

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): Safeguarding vulnerable members of our society is a key priority for this Government and I am writing to inform the House that we have today published a cross-Government missing children and adults strategy which seeks to ensure we are doing all we can to safeguard missing children and adults and to support their families. A copy of the strategy has been placed in the House Library.

There are an estimated 360,000 reports of people going missing in the UK each year amounting to approximately 200,000 missing people. Children and young people make up approximately two thirds of the missing reports and account for an estimated 140,000 children who go missing every year in the UK. Although the vast majority of people who go missing return or are found quickly, many vulnerable children and adults suffer harm and exploitation while missing and some never return.

Identifying and ensuring the safest return possible for these vulnerable children and adults is a key part of the police service’s child protection and wider safeguarding role. However, tackling missing persons issues requires a multi-agency response and co-ordination across a range of policies and operational partners including the police, local authorities and the health sector.

Following the recent all-party parliamentary group (APPG) inquiry into support for families of missing people in July 2011, I accepted the overarching recommendation that there should be a cross-Government outcomes policy framework for missing persons. I also accepted the principles behind the inquiry recommendations, including that we can and should do better in the support we provide to families and announced that I would lead development of a cross-cutting strategy on missing children and adults.

Evidence from the APPG inquiry and consultation with stakeholders and key delivery partners showed that, although we have the right policies and responsibilities in place to tackle this issue, agencies are not always clear about these roles and responsibilities, nor do they always recognise the risks of harm that vulnerable children and adults face when missing.

With this in mind, the strategy I have published today provides a framework in which we can all work to collectively deliver the best protection possible for missing children, adults and their families. It includes a small

5 Dec 2011 : Column 8WS

number of strategic objectives which we believe provide the right foundations for any effective local strategy and provides a framework for local areas to put in place their own arrangements. I believe this strategy provides a core framework against which local agencies with a role in tackling this important issue can review the strategy they have in place with their local partners—and consider whether they can and should be doing more.

With the right priority and focus on this issue, and by ensuring we are all working together in the most effective way possible, I believe this strategy will help support the step change in delivery needed at a local level to ensure we provide vulnerable missing children and adults and their families with the help, protection and support they need.

Work and Pensions

Independent Living Fund

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Miller): The independent living fund (ILF) operates as an executive non-departmental public body of the Department for Work and Pensions and provides discretionary cash payments to disabled people to support independent living.

In a written statement on 13 December 2010, Official Report, column 85WS, I announced that, having reviewed the role of the ILF, the fund would remain closed permanently to new applications, but that the care and support packages of current users would be protected until the end of this Parliament.

That decision followed an independent review of the ILF in 2007 which recommended reform to ensure long-term sustainability, and reflected a commitment to ensure that the care and support needs of all disabled people are delivered equitably as part of local authorities’ broader independent living strategies in line with local priorities and accountability.

We committed to a formal consultation in 2011 on how existing users would be supported in the future. That consultation should be placed in the wider context of the reform of the care and support system and will therefore now take place in spring 2012, alongside the publication of the planned White Paper on the future of care and support in England.

DWP remains committed to working with the Scottish Government and Welsh Assembly Government on options for the future support for users in Scotland and Wales.