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Armed Forces Pensions and Compensation

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): The House of Commons Defence Committee published its report on armed forces pensions and compensation on 16 December 2003 (HC 96). The Government's response is published today in a Command Paper (Cm 6109), ahead of the second reading debate on the Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Bill on Tuesday 20 January. Copies are available in the Vote Office from 12 o'clock.

Normandy Landings (Commemoration)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): I am pleased to announce that Her Majesty The Queen and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have accepted invitations from the President of France to attend commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the Normandy Landings in France in June this year. Further information about the programme, including attendance by other members of The Royal Family and representatives of the Government, will be issued in due course.

TREASURY

Museums

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng): The "Securing the Best for our Museums: Private Giving and Government Support" report has been published today and copies are available in the Libraries

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of both Houses and in the Vote Office. Copies will also be sent to the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales.

I appointed Sir Nicholas Goodison to lead a review of the effectiveness and efficiency of support to regional and national museums and galleries to help them acquire works of art and culture of distinction that might otherwise be sold abroad, and to make those items accessible to the public. This review was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Budget 2003. The review is now complete and the "Securing the Best for Our Museums: Private Giving and Government Support" report contains Sir Nicholas Goodison's findings and recommendations.

The Government will carefully consider the recommendations ahead of Budget 2004 and as part of the 2004 Spending Review.

Tax Avoidance

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): Legislation to prevent tax avoidance using transactions in strips of Government bonds is to be included in Finance Bill 2004. The legislation applies to holdings of such strips where the profits or losses are chargeable to income tax and addresses the artificial creation of losses that can be set against other income. The changes will have effect from today.

A copy of today's Inland Revenue News Release giving the relevant background to this measure is being deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and is also accessible on the Inland Revenue's website: http://www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk/

TRADE AND INDUSTRY

Oil and Gas Production

The Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services (Mr. Stephen Timms): I am pleased to inform the House that I am today offering ATP Oil and Gas (UK) Ltd. an oil and gas production licence on seaward block 2/15 in the northern North Sea.

The successful applicant will have a fixed period in which to decide whether or not to accept the offers.

The DTI undertook an environmental screening assessment to ensure compliance with environmental legislation, and concluded that