11 Sep 2012 : Column 5WS

11 Sep 2012 : Column 5WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Treasury

Small Charitable Donations Bill

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): As a result of the announcement by the Chancellor at the 2011 Budget HMRC is developing a new online system for charities to claim gift aid, which is planned to be introduced in April 2013. Charities will use the same forms, procedures and IT to claim under the gift aid small donations scheme as for gift aid. The advance from the Contingencies Fund will enable HMRC’s IT provider to begin work on developing the elements of the system that are unique to the new scheme. Starting the work early gives the IT provider sufficient lead-in time to have the IT ready for the start of the gift aid small donations scheme in April 2013.

If the work on the new scheme were to be delayed until after Royal Assent then HMRC would incur increased costs of around £1.3 million. This is because, in order to avoid delaying the introduction of gift aid online, the IT system would need to be tested twice; first to test the IT that will deliver gift aid online and later to test the IT system from scratch, after the incorporation of the elements that are unique to the new scheme. Testing is a necessarily time-consuming and expensive process. There would be additional costs as a result of the delay because the IT to support the new scheme would not be implemented at the same time as gift aid online.

HMRC will absorb the capital and resource costs of developing the IT, subject to the passage of the Small Charitable Donations Bill.

Advance funding will allow for the development of the IT required to enable charities to make claims under the gift aid small donations scheme and for HMRC to make repayments and generally administer the scheme.

Parliamentary approval of £250,000 for this new service will need to be included in the estimates ambit for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £ 150,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Zimbabwe

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mark Simmonds): Following discussions between the UK and its EU partners, the EU announced on 23 July its decision to suspend with immediate effect the restrictions on appropriate measures covering EU development assistance and indicated that it would respond to a peaceful and credible constitutional referendum in Zimbabwe with a suspension of the majority of EU restrictive measures on all but a small core of individuals around President Mugabe, particularly those who will most directly influence the potential of violence in the next election.

11 Sep 2012 : Column 6WS

This followed the EU announcement in February 2012, where 51 people and 20 companies were removed from the list of those subject to an EU visa ban and asset freeze on the grounds that they were no longer involved in human rights abuses and in recognition of progress made so far in Zimbabwe and regionally in preparation for credible and peaceful elections in Zimbabwe. In February 2011, thirty-five people were removed from the list following significant progress in addressing the economic crisis in Zimbabwe and improving the delivery of social services.

There has been further progress in the last six months in Zimbabwe, including on the drafting of a new constitution; legislative progress such as the Electoral Amendment Bill and Human Rights Commission Bill being passed; and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) under the leadership of President Zuma reiterating their commitment to facilitate agreement among the parties in Zimbabwe on creating an environment conducive to the holding of free and fair elections. There have been continuing calls for the EU’s restrictive measures to be suspended in order to further support the reform process including from all parties to the inclusive Government, SADC and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Our aim is clear; we want to support the process towards free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. A peaceful and credible constitutional referendum would represent an important step along that path and it is right that the EU responds appropriately. The proposed move is not an endorsement of the content of the draft constitution itself but will demonstrate to reformers across the political spectrum that the EU is serious about responding to real progress on the ground and reflects our confidence in the facilitation process being undertaken by President Zuma and the leaders of SADC.

It also puts the onus on Zimbabwe to live up to their commitments. The constitution making process has been and continues to be, much delayed and the way forward is uncertain. The international community is monitoring developments closely. We will ensure there is a robust review process following any EU move on measures and that the EU has the ability to respond appropriately should the situation deteriorate.

Britain remains a committed friend to the people of Zimbabwe. UK aid to Zimbabwe in the 2011-12 financial year was £89 million—our largest ever programme. The funds are being delivered through multilateral partners and civil society partners and the EU decision on appropriate measures has no impact on the UK aid programme. Between 2011 and 2015 UK aid to Zimbabwe will provide almost 1 million more people with clean water, give more than 700,000 women access to family planning, create 125,000 new jobs and help 80,000 children complete primary education.

Transport

Fuel Quality Directive Transposition

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): Today I am publishing our response to the comments received in the consultation on our proposals

11 Sep 2012 : Column 7WS

to implement articles 7a to 7e of the EU fuel quality directive (directive 98/70/EC as amended by directive 2009/30/EC). The directive requires suppliers to reduce the lifecycle greenhouse gas intensity of many transport fuels.

The response sets out our decision to introduce new secondary legislation to transpose requirements of the fuel quality directive, including new annual reporting requirements for fossil fuels and biofuels.

The document also details our commitment to amend the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations Order 2007 (“RTFO Order 2007”) to include fuels used in non-road mobile machinery, a policy already announced to the House on July 16 when the Department published a related consultation response, Official Report, column 112WS.

An amendment made in December 2011 to the RTFO Order 2007 means that only biofuels meeting minimum sustainability criteria count towards renewable energy targets. Sustainable biofuels play an important role in our efforts to tackle climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector. However, concerns remain about the sustainability of some biofuels, especially around the issue of indirect land use change (“ILUC”) and we are pressing the European Commission and other member states to produce a robust method to address this issue. Pending that clarity we are taking a cautious approach to implementing the fuel quality directive.

The fuel quality directive introduces the requirement for many transport fuel suppliers to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of the fuels they supply by 6% in 2020. We will not impose on suppliers a greenhouse gas reduction obligation at this point. Instead, we will place an ongoing legal duty on the Secretary of State to propose any further measures necessary to ensure delivery of the requirements of the fuel quality directive. We will rely on the amended RTFO Order 2007 to deliver the greenhouse gas savings necessary under the fuel quality directive for the period up to 2014. We will also put in place a requirement for fuel suppliers to report on the greenhouse gas intensity of both the biofuel and fossil fuels they supply for use in land-based transport and for the associated uses listed in the directive.

11 Sep 2012 : Column 8WS

This approach allows us to transpose the fuel quality directive at the minimum cost to UK business.

I would like to thank all those who took the time to respond to the consultation.

Work and Pensions

Cold Weather Payments Scheme

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): I am pleased to announce that later today we intend to lay regulations to amend the cold weather payment scheme. The changes detailed in these regulations will come into force on 1 November this year, in time for the beginning of the winter period.

Following advice from the Meteorological Office the amendments will introduce one new weather station, Rostherne, to the scheme for winter 2012-13 and withdraw the current station at Woodford. As a result of the changes the postcodes that are currently linked to the withdrawn station will be reassigned to different weather stations.

The new station has been chosen to maintain weather station to postcode links that are at least as representative as the current arrangement.

I am writing to each Member who made representations about the administration of the scheme last winter to make them aware of the advice from the Meteorological Office.

Cold weather payments are separate from, and in addition to, winter fuel payments.

The amendments resulted from the Department’s annual review of the cold weather payments scheme. The review drew on expert advice from the Meteorological Office and took account of representations from benefit claimants and Members of Parliament.

For winter 2012-13 the cold weather payment rate will continue to be £25 for each seven day period of very cold weather.