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Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 28 October 2005


Challenge Fund

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Don Touhig): I am pleased to announce the extension of the department's Veterans Challenge Fund. This Fund was established on 1 April 2003 for a fixed initial period of three years to provide a mechanism for MOD to pump prime activities which address an identifiable gap in the existing activity or knowledge supporting the Government's Veterans Programme. Some £2 million was allocated to the Fund over the three-year period.

I am delighted that the Challenge Fund has been successful in allowing the MOD to wholly or partly fund projects and support partners in a practical way. I am confident that the continuation of the fund, with a present allocation of £750,000 per year, will support a variety of projects that will benefit veterans. Further details on eligibility and the application process can be found at http://www.veteransagency.mod.uk/pdfolder/vasecpdfs/challenge.pdf/


Genetically Modified Maize

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Caroline Flint): The Agriculture and Fisheries Council of the European Union met on 24–25 October and voted on a proposal to authorise food ingredients derived from the genetically modified maize line MON863. As the vote did not result in the necessary majority either for or against the proposal, the Regulatory Committee procedure for implementing powers requires that the proposal is passed back to the European Commission to adopt the implementing act.

The Government regret that it was necessary to vote on this authorisation, through a scrutiny override, before parliamentary scrutiny has been completed and before the debate recommended by the European Scrutiny Committee. The United Kingdom had previously supported this authorisation because there was adequate evidence that the necessary criteria for authorisation—namely safety, consumer information and nutritional quality—had been met. In the absence of a clear majority among member states at that stage, the decision was later referred to the Council with a
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deadline of three months for a further vote. It is unfortunate that this period coincided with the summer recess and it was therefore not possible to complete the scrutiny process before the vote. I wrote to the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee on 20 October setting out this position. The Government are, nonetheless, fully committed to the need for national Parliaments to have proper oversight of EU issues and the subject of the authorisation of food ingredients from MON863 maize will be debated in European Standing Committee in due course.


Race Relations Act

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): In light of the recent major increase in asylum claims by Eritreans, which does not seem to be justified by the country situation, I have made an authorisation under section 19D of the Race Relations Act 1976 (as inserted by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000) of three months' duration. This authorisation enables staff in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate to subject persons of Eritrean nationality or national origin to more intensive questioning, and their applications to enter or remain in the United Kingdom or for asylum to more rigorous investigation, than arrivals of other nationalities or national origins. The purpose of the authorisation is to gather intelligence about the pattern of arrival of Eritreans or entrants of Eritrean national origin.

We will review the continued need for this authorisation before its expiry. In addition, the independent Race Monitor appointed under section 19E of the Race Relations Act 1976 (as amended) will submit a report to the Home Secretary for submission to Parliament on the likely effect of authorisations made by Ministers and on how they are operated in practice by officials.

A copy of the authorisation has been placed in the House Library.


Appointment of Special Representative

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I am pleased to announce the appointment of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean as my special representative to assist the Government's efforts to conclude memoranda of understanding and associated arrangements, to facilitate the deportation from the UK of foreign nationals who represent a threat to the national security or whose presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good, with a number of middle east and north African countries.