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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 20 December 2005

TREASURY

HM Revenue and Customs Investigation

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (John Healey): In a letter to the Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee on 29 September 2004 (a copy of which was deposited in the Library of the House), I reported that the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) was conducting an investigation—Operation Gestalt—into Customs and Excise's handling of a series of excise diversion frauds on the London City Bond in the mid-1990s.

I can today update the House on significant developments in the police investigation.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) yesterday received confirmation that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have considered a report from the MPS relating to allegations of non-disclosure to the Butterfield Review involving two very senior then serving officers, Terry Byrne and David Pickup, and also Sir Richard Broadbent, former Chairman of Customs and Excise. The CPS have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to charge any of these individuals with a criminal offence and that further work on this matter would not be justified.

The Chairman of HMRC, David Varney, has confirmed that the Department will now discuss with David Pickup a return to work in accordance with the Department's procedures. Terry Byrne retired from HMRC in November 2004 on reaching the age of 60.

I made clear in my letter of 29 September 2004, and HMRC has also consistently stated, that it would be wrong and unjust to prejudge the outcome of investigations, and that the term "under investigation" should not be taken to mean that charges would follow. This has been an extremely difficult and unpleasant period for the individuals concerned. It is, however, necessary that reports of serious alleged wrongdoing are properly and independently investigated.

The MPS's Operation Gestalt investigation continues. A total of 12 current and former HMRC officials at present remain under investigation. The Department has in place established contact and welfare arrangements to support those officers affected. The priority of the Department continues to be to ensure that: the MPS receive HMRC's full and active co-operation with the investigation; the rights of all individuals involved are protected; and the Department's ongoing law enforcement operations are maintained while the investigation is ongoing.
 
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CABINET OFFICE

Cabinet Office Autumn Performance Report 2005

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): I have today published the Cabinet Office 2005 Autumn Performance Report (Cm 6725). Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

DEFENCE

SKYNET 5

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): I am pleased to announce that we have been able to agree to a change to the already successful Skynet 5 PFI deal, to enable a revised risk mitigation approach to be adopted.

Rather than relying on space insurance to cover satellite loss in an unpredictable insurance market, as under the original deal the revised approach is built upon increasing the in-orbit constellation. Instead of two satellites in orbit, there will now be three satellites, with a part built fourth satellite available as a back up to a satellite loss throughout the satellite launch phase, which ends in late 2008. The MOD requirement will continue to amount to two satellites, which means that an in-orbit spare will be available; delay in building a replacement satellite in the event of a loss would therefore be avoided. Continuous operational capability can therefore be maintained.

This innovative approach to risk management is fully consistent with the aims of smart acquisition and it shows how a PFI deal can evolve over time, to continue to provide our armed forces with the best available capability at the right price.

ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): The European Union Agriculture and Fisheries Council will meet in Brussels from 20 to 22 December 2005.

I will chair for the agriculture items and my hon. Friend, the Member for Exeter, (Mr. Bradshaw) will chair for fisheries issues. My hon. Friend, the Member for Dorset South, (Jim Knight) will be in the UK seat.

The Council is expected to adopt conclusions on the Commission's communication for simplification and better regulation of the common agricultural policy.

We also hope to reach political agreement on Community measures for the control of avian influenza and related expenditure under the veterinary fund.

We expect the Council to adopt the first stage of the European Community and United States agreement on trade in wine.

At the request of Germany, the Council will discuss the implementation of cross compliance rules under the CAP single payment scheme.

The Council will vote on a proposal to authorise the use of genetically modified maize variety 1507.
 
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The main fisheries item is the annual negotiation on total allowable catches and fishing quotas for next year, where we hope to reach political agreement. We also hope to secure agreement on total allowable catches and quotas in the Baltic and recovery measures for sole stocks in the Bay of Biscay.

Under any other business, the Fisheries Commissioner will update the Council on proposals for restructuring the fisheries sector and on the EU action plan on simplification of the Common Fisheries Policy. The Agriculture Commissioner will update the Council on the outcome of the WTO negotiations in Hong Kong. Demark will raise the issue of export refunds for live bovine animals. Italy will draw the Commission's attention to the situation in the poultrymeat market, following the recent avian influenza outbreak in Europe. The Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection will update the Council on that outbreak and outline proposals for an EU action plan on the protection and welfare of animals. Spain will draw attention to repeated outbreaks of the animal disease, blue tongue, arising from North Africa and request resources to control its spread.

FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH AFFAIRS

Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): States Party to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) met in Geneva, 5–9 December. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss and promote common understanding and effective action on the content, adoption and promulgation of codes of conduct for scientists.

The States Party to the BTWC agreed by consensus a politically binding report where, inter alia, States Party stressed the need to undertake activities at the national and international levels and recognised the following:

(a) while the primary responsibility for implementing the convention rests with States Party, codes of conduct, voluntarily adopted, for scientists in the fields relevant to the convention can support the object and purpose of the convention by making a significant and effective contribution, in conjunction with other measures including national legislation, to combating the present and future threats posed by biological and toxin weapons, as well as by raising awareness of the convention, and by helping relevant actors to fulfil their legal, regulatory and professional obligations and ethical principles;

(b) codes of conduct should reflect the provisions of the convention and contribute to national implementation measures;

(c) a range of different approaches exists to develop codes of conduct in view of differences in national requirements and circumstances;

(d) codes of conduct should avoid impeding scientific discovery, placing undue constraints on research or international co-operation and exchange for peaceful purposes;

(e) science should be used for peaceful purposes only but has the potential to be misused in ways that are prohibited by the convention, and therefore codes of
 
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conduct should require and enable relevant actors to have a clear understanding of the content, purpose and reasonably foreseeable consequences of their activities, and of the need to abide by the obligations contained in the convention.

Further, States Party recognised that all those with a responsibility for, or legitimate interest in, codes of conduct should be involved in their development, promulgation and adoption and agreed on the value of codes of conduct applying not just to scientists, but to all those involved in scientific activity, including managers and technical and ancillary staff.

On the content of codes of conduct, recognising the principles listed above, States Party agreed on the importance of codes of conduct being:

(a) compatible with national legislation and regulatory controls and contributing to national implementation measures;

(b) simple, clear and easily understandable both to scientists and to wider civil society;

(c) relevant, helpful and effective for guiding relevant actors in making decisions and taking action in accordance with the purposes and objectives of the convention;

(d) sufficiently broad in scope;

(e) reviewed regularly, evaluated for effectiveness, and revised as necessary.

On the adoption of codes of conduct, recognising that it is important to build on and co-ordinate with existing efforts and avoid imposing burdensome and duplicative measures, the States Party agreed on the value of:

(a) demonstrating the benefits of codes and encouraging relevant actors to develop codes themselves;

(b) using existing codes, mechanisms, frameworks and bodies as far as possible; and

(c) tailoring adoption strategies according to the needs of each relevant sector.

On the promulgation of codes of conduct, recognising that codes of conduct will be most effective if they, and the principles underlying them, are widely known and understood, the States Party agreed on the value of continuous efforts on promulgation through appropriate channels.

States Party were also encouraged to inform the Sixth Review Conference in 2006 of any actions, measures or other steps that they have taken on the basis of the discussions on codes of conduct to facilitate the conference's consideration of the work.

The preceding meeting of experts held in Geneva in June 2005 had prepared the way for this political decision making. At this earlier meeting, levels of attendance and participation were excellent with 82 States Party contributing to international discussion and sharing of expertise on codes of conduct for scientists. States Party were also able to benefit from the input, expertise, and experience of a number of
 
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international and non-governmental organisations and science stakeholders. A multi-agency delegation represented the United Kingdom. Sir David King, Chief Scientific Adviser, made a well-received presentation on his code of ethics for Government scientists, which is currently being piloted across Government. UK officials also made four presentations on different aspects of the subject.

Ambassador John Freeman, on behalf of the United Kingdom, led the international work on this subject in 2005 and chaired both the meeting of States Party and the meeting of experts. I am sure Members will join me in expressing appreciation for the work and efforts of Ambassador Freeman to achieve consensus on a report that reflected the large measure of agreement that exists on the subject under discussion. Moreover the level of active participation and engagement over the last three years of the current work programme is an indication to us that States Party recognise both the importance of the selected subjects and also the value of the work programme more generally in contributing to strengthening the convention.

At the meeting of States Party, delegations also agreed the dates for a preparatory committee to the Sixth Review Conference of the convention in 2006. The preparatory committee will be held in Geneva, 26–28 April 2006. The Sixth Review Conference will be held in Geneva, 20 November–8 December 2006, with the precise dates to be confirmed by the preparatory committee.

The UK is one of the three depositaries to the convention and will continue to work co-operatively, both nationally and internationally, through 2006 in preparation for a successful conclusion to the Sixth Review Conference.

I will keep the House informed of developments and outcomes in 2006.


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