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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 31 October 2005


Annual Report and Accounts 2004–05

The Secretary of State for Defence (John Reid): On 28 October I published the Ministry of Defence's Annual Report And Accounts 2004–05. It combines the Department's Annual Performance Report and Departmental Resource Accounts in a single document that provides a comprehensive overview of the MOD's financial and non-financial performance. For the second successive year the Comptroller and Auditor General has approved the accounts without qualification.

The report shows that once again the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence delivered what they were required and resourced to do during a busy and challenging year. It reflects the broad and diverse range of operations and tasks undertaken during the year, and the Armed Forces and Ministry of Defence's continuing vision of being a force for good in the world. It also details the sizeable progress the Ministry of Defence has made towards achieving the efficiency targets set by Her Majesty's Treasury in the 2002 and 2004 Spending Reviews, and the considerable progress already made in delivering the capabilities and reformed force structure set out in the July 2004 Command Paper "Delivering Security in a Changing World: Future Capabilities".

Copies of the annual report and accounts have been placed in the Library of the House. It is also available online from the Department's internet site at www.mod.uk.


Local Government Finance

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Phil Woolas): On 19 May 2004, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister published a consultation paper asking for views on options for the principles to be used in amending the 2003–04 Local Government Finance Report and the 2004–05 Local Government Finance Report in the light of revised population statistics. This consultation exercise closed on 10 August 2004.

After consideration of the views expressed by local authorities in consultation, we decided to postpone the issuing of the Amending Report for 2004–05 until after the mid-2004 population estimates had been published to ensure that all possible revisions to the data used in the 2004–05 settlement were included. This decision was announced on 18 November 2004.

Due to the postponement of the 2004–05 Amending Report, an Amending Report for 2005–06 will now also be required, and we are now publishing full details of our proposals for the 2004–05 and 2005–06 Amending Reports. Copies of all related documents have been
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placed in the Vote Office and the Library of the House. They are also available on the ODPM website at: www.local.odpm.gov.uk/finance/0607/grant.htm.

This announcement launches a period of consultation on the Amending Reports for 2004–05 and 2005–06. The consultation will close on the same date as the forthcoming consultation on proposals for the 2006–07 local government finance settlement, the date for which will be announced in due course. This will allow local authorities some additional time to consider the effects of the Amending Reports in their budgeting proposals.


Environment Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I attended and chaired the meeting of the Environment Council in Luxembourg on 17 October 2005. I was accompanied by the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, Elliot Morley, in the UK seat.

The agenda consisted of three substantive items: policy debates on the REACH chemicals legislation and on better regulation, and agreement of conclusions on climate change.

On the REACH chemicals dossier, Ministers were invited to comment on a compromise text prepared by the UK presidency. There was widespread support for the balance struck in the text between achieving a high level of protection for human health and the environment, and limiting the impacts on industry, and several Ministers stressed their view that this balance should not be changed in the final compromise. Environment Ministers, and also the Commission, strongly supported the UK Presidency's aim of reaching political agreement on REACH at the November Competitiveness Council. Ministers' views were also sought on two specific issues within the dossier, in order to inform the continuing negotiation. The Council was fairly evenly split on the question of whether substances in articles should be subject to a separate, specific regime. The final question was o n the notification of substances of very high concern, where the Presidency approach was widely supported although a number of Member States thought there was scope for an exemption where exposure of humans and the environment to such substances could be excluded.

Council adopted a set of conclusions on climate change. The conclusions underlined the EU's commitment to delivering on its Kyoto Protocol targets and its financial commitments on climate change, and agreed our approach for the forthcoming COP11-COP/MOP1 in Montreal. We looked forward to the adoption of the Marrakech accords, and expressed our wish to obtain agreement on a process for beginning negotiations at Montreal on a post-2012 framework.

Also in relation to climate change, we heard a point from Poland under Other Business that suggested some issues for review in relation to the EU's emissions trading scheme.

At lunch we were joined by-the Chair of the European Parliament's Environment Committee, Karl-Heinz Florenz, and began our discussion of "Better Regulation", which was continued in a formal Council debate after
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lunch. There was strong support within the Council for the view that better regulation tools, and in particular impact assessments, could help in delivering better environmental outcomes in the most effective way. It helps to provide a mechanism for the integration of environmental considerations into all Community policies, as the Treaties require. A number of delegations noted the importance of considering the costs of inaction in evaluating the options, and there was widespread agreement that impact assessment must assist in political decision-making, not replace or delay it.

A relatively short list of AOB points included, in addition to the emissions trading item above, information from the Commission on its communication on tackling the climate change impacts of aviation emissions, and on progress on its proposal for a review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy. Spain and Portugal reported on the 5th meeting of the Ibero-American Forum of Environment Ministers, and the Netherlands raised the issue of the need for adequate funding for environmental matters in the 7th Research Framework Programme and the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme.

Denmark requested an urgent future discussion on the potential benefits of, and the need for further EU funded research on, genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Luxembourg submitted a paper calling for a discussion focused on the need for change to the EU's approvals regime for GMOs. The Commission suggested that a full debate would be best timed after a WTO hearing on GMOs expected early next year. The Presidency concluded that a significant number of delegations wanted a debate, and it was agreed that the Commission would produce a short paper as the basis for a short, initial discussion at the 2 December Environment Council.

Avian Influenza

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): In my oral statement to the House on Wednesday 26 October I said that the Chief Veterinary Officer and I had ordered a general review of our quarantine arrangements and procedures to be undertaken. I am pleased to announce today that Professor Nigel Dimmock, Emeritus Professor of Virology at Warwick University has agreed to chair the review.

The terms of reference for the review are:

The review will be led by Professor Dimmock and the membership will be drawn from independent experts in a range of fields including virology, logistics, veterinary science and animal behaviour. The review team will examine the current arrangements for the quarantine of captive birds; they will be able to talk to practitioners and experts in the field as well as examining existing guidance and procedures. They may also want to visit quarantine premises.
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Debby Reynolds, the Chief Vet, and I have asked Professor Dimmock to report his findings as speedily as possible. We hope to receive his report, which we will publish, within around one month.

I am most grateful to Professor Dimmock for taking on this important task. The advice of his expert review team will enable us to ensure that our avian quarantine arrangements are as up to date and effective as they can be in the face of the significant challenges we face from the rapid worldwide spread of highly pathogenic zoonotic disease.

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