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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 18 March 2003

INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Pakistan (Poverty Reduction Strategy)

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): We are committed to supporting Pakistan's economic and social reforms. The ambition is to eliminate poverty in Pakistan that currently condemns over 40 million of its people to live on less than $1 per day.

In October 2001, I pledged £105 million to Pakistan over three years (to December 2004) to support Pakistan's Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). Payments under this pledge are linked to the IMF reviews under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) and to the Government of Pakistan's commitment to poverty reduction.

The first tranche of £20 million against this pledge was disbursed in March 2002, as notified to Parliament. Following Pakistan's elections, and in view of continued progress against the PRGF, we plan to disburse a further £85 million between now and March 2005, including a second tranche of £20 million to be disbursed this month. Up to £55 million will be provided as support to the PRGF, and £30 million will be for the National Health Facility (NHF). Disbursements will be conditional on continued and concerted progress with the PRS and with the implementation of the NHF.

UK financial aid supports additional spending on poverty reduction in Pakistan, particularly in health and education. The Government of Pakistan, which is committed to sustained reforms in the health and education sectors, has agreed to increase public spending in those sectors by 20 per cent. in 2002–03 as against a general increase in public spending of 8 per cent. UK financial support underpins this trend.

PRS support will be disbursed against Pakistan's debt payments to the IMF, World Bank and the ADB, as this is the most efficient method of disbursing our financial aid.

TRANSPORT

Light Dues

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): I am pleased to announce that there will be no changes to the light dues rates for 2003–04. Current rates were set last year, when the rate was reduced to 40 pence per ton and a 40,000 tonnage ceiling was introduced to reduce the burden of light dues falling on the largest vessels. Rates were last increased in 1993. Efficiency savings have funded two replacement ships and met the costs of redeveloping the Oban depot. Rates were reduced in 1997 and 2002. We

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shall continue to work closely with the General Lighthouse Authorities to secure cost effective provision of GLA services and to keep future requirements for marine aids to navigation under review.

Additional investment is required to further reduce running costs. A review of the operation and management of the GLAs' 5 ships will be completed shortly. The replacement of two vessels over the next four years will reduce costs. Trinity House has already announced a depot rationalisation scheme. The Northern Lighthouse Board will close the Stromness depot in 2004. We are considering options to redevelop the Commissioners of Irish Lights depot at Dun Laoghaire. We believe that this work can be carried out within the existing income levels.

The Government remain committed to a cost recovery system. Taxpayers generally should not meet the costs of providing aids to navigation for shipping. It was disappointing that only 160 responses were received to our consultation exercise on the review of light dues. The results were inconclusive with no consensus on the way forward.

I therefore propose to carry out further work on a number of key areas. These include:


We will also publish a fuller response to the consultation exercise as soon as possible.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Home Ownership Taskforce

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): The Home Ownership taskforce, which I announced to the House on 5 February, will meet for the first time today, chaired by the right hon. the Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde. It will consider schemes currently available to potential homeowners on low or modest incomes and identify the most effective ways of promoting home ownership.

The terms of reference for the Task Force are as follows:


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The Home Ownership taskforce is due to report in the Autumn.

We are also publishing today the report, "Equity Shares for Social Housing", in fulfilment of our 2001 manifesto commitment to consider equity shares. Equity shares are one way to deliver our objectives to promote home ownership, increase asset ownership, and improve the image of social housing. The report concludes that the costs of introducing equity shares are likely to be substantial, while the scale of benefits is highly uncertain. We will continue to keep this issue under review.

ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS

Welfare of Laying Hens

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): We have recently completed a public consultation exercise on whether to ban enriched cages for laying hens in England at the same time as conventional barren cages are banned in 2012. I am pleased that some 1,000 people responded to this consultation.

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After a thorough consideration of the comments received and the available scientific and other evidence, I have concluded that as there is a lack of definitive evidence currently available there are insufficient grounds at present to justify a unilateral ban on enriched cages from 2012.

Because there are a range of issues to consider, not least the current stocking density set by the directive, I consider that a better approach would be to review the future of enriched cages on an EU basis, when the welfare of laying hens directive is next considered by the Agriculture Council in 2005.

By then it is hoped we will be in a stronger position to address some of the questions on the welfare concerns of enriched cages, as research programmes are completed. It is clear however, that it would be premature for producers to consider that existing cages could be adapted to meet the standards of enriched ones.

Quality Parish and Town Council Initiative

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Urban Quality of Life (Alun Michael): In November 2001 the Government issued a consultation paper on their proposals to develop the concept of quality town and parish councils first outlined in the Rural White Paper in November 2000. The proposals aimed to develop a framework for partnership working and equip local councils to take on a stronger role for the benefit of the local community.

I am pleased to announce the details of the quality parish initiative which the Government have developed in the light of the responses to consultation. The scheme has been developed jointly by DEFRA and ODPM with the collaboration of key stakeholders such as the Local Government Association, the National Association of Local Councils and the Countryside Agency.

The scheme sets some straightforward tests that parish and town councils have to pass before they are awarded quality parish or town council status. These tests for accreditation require a quality council to (a) have initially at least 80 per cent. of its seats filled by candidates who stood for election (rising to 100 per cent. for re-accreditation), (b) have a suitably qualified clerk (c) hold at least six council meetings each year, (d) publish annual reports (e) provide regular information to residents on parish activities; and (f) produce properly prepared and audited accounts. Applications will be assessed by county panels including people with experience of both principal authorities and town and parish councils.

The scheme also includes a model charter where all parish councils are encouraged to negotiate with principal authorities to set out how these tiers of local government can promote partnership working. Once granted quality status, local councils will be in a position to give their communities a better deal on local services and a stronger voice in decisions affecting peoples day to day lives.

Copies of the summary will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

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