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10 Dec 2002 : Column 256Wcontinued
Mr. Allan: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what assessment has been undertaken of the impact of the Government contract with Marine Odyssey Inc. for commercial salvage on an historic wreck upon the prospects for future UK accession to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage. 
Dr. Howells: It is not envisaged that there will be an impact, as this agreement is a unique pragmatic solution to a situation in which the archaeological heritage is at risk. It enables the Government to ensure that the site is excavated responsibly. Although the UK is not currently bound by the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, the Government has stressed from the beginning that the project must as far as possible be developed in line with the rules contained in the Annex to the Convention, which are seen as representing best practice for maritime archaeology.
Mr. Allan: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what English Heritage's role is in relation to proposed salvage operations on the wreck believed to be that of the 17th century warship, Sussex. 
Dr. Howells: English Heritage has this year become the Government's advisors on underwater heritage, and they have become involved in this project by chairing an independent Archaeological Review Group which is scrutinising the Project Plan to ensure that it complies with appropriate archaeological standards. They will also be asked for advice on post-excavation conservation, research and publication.
Mr. Allan: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what her policy is on the protection, management and care of historic wrecks of non-UK origin located in the UK's domestic waters. 
Dr. Howells: The Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 contains provisions which provide protection of wrecks in UK waters which are deemed to be of historical, archaeological or artistic significance, regardless of their
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origin. This is a devolved matter; the protection and management of wrecks in the waters of the devolved administrations is a matter for the relevant First Minister.
In England, the policy has long been for English Heritage to be granted powers to provide assistance in relation to archaeological sites which are situated below the mean low water mark. The National Heritage Act 2002 extended these powers with effect from 1 July 2002, and DCMS is in the process of drafting directions in consultation with the devolved heritage agencies and English Heritage.
Formal transfer of responsibility is expected to take place shortly, which will mean that English Heritage will be able to perform the functions for underwater archaeology that they can for land-based archaeology, for instance giving grants, contributing towards the costs of research, and providing educational facilities and services, public information and advice, and entering into certain agreements.
Mr. Prisk: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what representations he has received from (a) British Sugar, (b) the National Farmers Union, (c) the Country Land and Business Association and (d) other groups on the level of duty on bioethanol road fuel. 
John Healey: The Government will consider the development of the RDA pilots before taking a decision on the general roll-out of RDA-led management and coordination of business support. However, outside the pilot areas, RDAs have been given additional funding and flexibilities which will enable them to work with SBS and other business support providers to improve the coherence and quality of services for small businesses. In the north-east, for example, the RDA has launched a new strategy to improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the business support infrastructure.
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Huw Irranca-Davies: To ask TheChancellor of the Exchequer what steps the Government is taking to encourage the development of credit unions and community banking; and whether the Government has set targets for the development of credit unions and community banking. 
Ruth Kelly: The Government believes that the availability of financial products is essential to ensure access to wider mainstream services and is an important component in tackling social exclusion. There are a number of ways in which access to financial services can be improved and providers each have a different contribution to make. The Government has not set targets for growth in particular sectors it is ultimately for consumers to decide which services are most appropriate for them.
We are in the process of delivering a programme of legislative and regulatory changes to help improve the operational flexibility of credit unions. Universal banking services, using the post office network, will build on and extend the accessibility of bank accounts to areas without bank branches or ATM machines. New Deal of Communities partnerships have developed or are planning projects to counter financial exclusion. These and similar projects typically involve co-operation between local government, local agencies, financial service providers or voluntary groups.
Ruth Kelly: Information on the trends in growth of credit unions is set out in the table. Comprehensive data covering the different developments and initiatives in the provision of banking services at local or community levels is not centrally available.
|Number of Credit Unions||Number of members at end year||Total assets (#000)|
Mr. Hood: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the outcome was of the ECOFIN Council held on 3 December; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if he will make a statement. 
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Mr. Gordon Brown: I attended the ECOFIN meeting on 3 December.ECOFIN discussed a Presidency proposal on the taxation of savings. The proposal confirmed the agreement at the Feira European Council that the ultimate objective of the EU should be exchange of information on as wide a basis as possible. And it confirmed the rejection at Feira of an EU-wide withholding tax, which would have had severe implications for the London bond market.
ECOFIN discussed the Commission's negotiations with the third countries named in the Feira conclusions, and in particular the negotiations with Switzerland. The Presidency proposed that Switzerland should implement the OECD standard of exchange of information on request, and that the Commission should hold further discussions with them on this. The ultimate objective would be automatic exchange of
Under the Presidency proposal, Switzerland would be required to apply a withholding tax until moving to automatic exchange of information. The rate would be 20 per cent. for the three years from 2004 and 35 per cent. thereafter. Austria, Luxembourg and Belgium would be required to apply a similar rate of withholding tax until Switzerland move to the OECD standard of exchange of information on request, at which point they would have to move to automatic exchange of information. Austria, Luxembourg and Belgium would have to apply the OECD standard of exchange on request from no later than 2011. The other 12 member states would apply automatic exchange of information from 2004 as agreed at the Feira European Council.
I gave a report on our discussions with Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and the overseas territories in the Caribbean. I made clear that automatic exchange of information would apply in all the territories.
The Paymaster General (in her capacity as Chair of the Code of Conduct Group) presented the Code of Conduct Group's report on the rollback of harmful tax measures. The Presidency indicated that the Group's report, along with the third component of the tax package, the directive on interest and royalties, would be considered at the additional ECOFIN meeting later this month.
The Presidency invited Ministers to reach political agreement on the draft directive on energy taxation. As a number of other member states continued to have reservations with the text, the Presidency concluded that agreement was not possible at this stage and there would be a further discussion at the additional ECOFIN meeting later this month. The draft directive on VAT administrative co-operation will also be considered at the additional ECOFIN and I stressed that the UK was prepared to be constructive in reaching agreement on this. Ministers discussed a number of financial services issues. ECOFIN adopted conclusions on implementing streamlined legislative procedures (the so-called XLamfalussy model") across the financial services sector. There was a discussion on whether the new
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procedures should be implemented immediately or delayed pending further discussions with the European Parliament. The Presidency called a vote to decide this. There was a simple majority in favour of immediate implementation, which the UK supported.
The Commission presented its proposal for a revised directive on investment services. I expressed UK disappointment at the Commission's late amendment to the text on pre-trade transparency. This change would be anti-competitive and would deliver a poor deal for the retail investor. I also stressed that late changes such as this, which flew in the face of consultation results, were likely to undermine market confidence in the consultation process and the Lamfalussy arrangements.
ECOFIN noted the President of the European Court of Auditors presentation of the Court's annual report for 2001 and adopted conclusions on the streamlining of economic policy co-ordination processes and on the use of structural reform indicators.
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