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Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I will be representing the United Kingdom at this month's Agriculture and Fisheries Council.

This being the first Council of the Austrian Presidency, the new Chairman of the Council will start by setting out his Presidency work programme.

The Energy Commissioner and the Agriculture Commissioner will then jointly present the Commission's Communication on a Biomass action plan. It covers four broad areas: use of biomass in heating and electricity generation; use of biofuels for transport; cross-cutting issues such as information campaigns; and research. There will also be an exchange of views on the action plan, during which I will intervene to welcome the initiative.

The Agriculture Commissioner will then present her proposal on organic farming, which aims to simplify and improve the structure of current regulations, setting out the scope of organic production and definitions for organic food. She will also present a proposal on changes to the rules for protected geographical indications and traditional specialties for agriculture products, which need changing to comply with a WTO ruling. These are simply presentations of the proposals to the Council with no discussion likely at this stage.

Cyprus will seek Council approval for a national state aid which it wishes to pay farmers and others as compensation for debts arising following the Turkish military intervention there.

In the afternoon, the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection will present the Commission's action plan on animal welfare. He will also update the Council on the Avian Influenza outbreak including the outcome of the Donor Pledging Conference in Beijing and the situation in Romania and Turkey.
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There will be a lunch at which the Agriculture Commissioner will update the Council on the outcome of the WTO agricultural negotiations in Hong Kong and the next steps.


Strategic Health Authorities

The Secretary of State for Health (Ms Patricia Hewitt): In my statements of 18 October 2005, Official Report, columns 49–50WS, and 1 December 2005, Official Report, columns 36–37WS, I set out the need to streamline strategic health authorities (SHAs) and strengthen primary care trusts (PCTs) and the timetable and process for local consultations on these changes. Local consultations on changes to the boundaries of SHA began on 14 December 2005, Official Report, columns 151–153WS.

The NHS Chief Executive, Sir Nigel Crisp, has now announced the appointment of 11 people who will lead the transition between current and future SHAs. The transition leads will take on this responsibility from 1 February until, subject to the final results of the consultation, new SHAs are created. Their task will be to oversee the creation of the new system over the next six months and specifically to:

These arrangements are being made for essential business continuity purposes. They do not prejudice the outcome of the consultation on the future shape of SHAs and each current SHA Board will remain accountable to the Department of Health for their part of the NHS until Ministers determine whether, following the consultation, to establish new SHAs. Existing SHAs will remain responsible for managing the consultation process following Commissioning a Patient-Led NHS.

The transition leads will ensure consistent management of the outcome of the consultation process across the cluster. Following the consultation process, if Ministers decide to establish new SHAs, the transition leads will be responsible for oversight of the process for establishing the new SHA, until permanent appointments are made. We expect to make permanent appointments to any new SHAs, if necessary, in the summer.

We have emphasised that it is essential to ensure that the transition leads are creating a new system locally which works effectively with all our partners and stakeholders and, particularly, promotes joint working between health and social care and in the field of public health.

The following have agreed to be SHA transition leaders:

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Identity Fraud

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): Further to Baroness Scotland's statement of Wednesday 18 January, the Paymaster General and I are this afternoon meeting senior figures in law enforcement and the banking sector to discuss action against ID fraud. The significance of ID fraud has been further emphasised by recent attempts by organised criminals to defraud the tax credit system.

The meeting will discuss further ways of improving joint working on ID fraud, in particular through developing the work of public-private groups like the Home Office-led Identity Fraud Steering Committee (IFSC). Criminals who target the public sector are also likely to target the private sector. The meeting will also be discussing ways of ensuring the maximum appropriate sharing of information to protect public and private sector organisations from ID fraud.

As Baroness Scotland set out in her statement, the introduction of a secure national identity scheme/identity cards scheme using biometric information will make a step change in protecting people from identity fraud. As part of the work of the Ministerial Committee on ID cards, HMRC and the Home Office continue to evaluate the role of the national identity register in combating identity fraud.

At the meeting, the Paymaster General and I will be proposing a four step action programme to be taken forward urgently over the next few months under the Identity Fraud Steering Committee:

First, Government will explore with CIFAS—the UK's Fraud Prevention Service—the procedures for notifying them of the details of employees whose identities have been compromised as a result of large scale ID theft. This will help ensure that employees whose records have been stolen will not suffer adverse impact on their credit ratings and protect their identities from further abuse.

Secondly, the IFSC will take forward urgently plans to encourage credit reference agencies and CIFAS to share information with the public sector, for example by welcoming public sector organisations into the CIFAS membership. It will also work to ensure public sector organisations take full advantage of these new opportunities, for example by becoming full members of the CIFAS network. This will ensure that the details of criminals who defraud, for example, the tax credit system are shared in the same way as those criminals who attack private sector organisations. This will enable partners in both the public and private sector to detect and prevent identity related crime.
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Thirdly, the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) will carry out a strategic review of all suspicious activity reports relating to tax credit and identity fraud to inform the strategy to tackle this threat.

Fourthly, HMRC will produce an assessment of the typical profile of frauds committed to assist the banks in identifying suspect payments and accounts, enabling them to make timely suspicious activity reports to NCIS and SOCA.


Energy Review

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): Further to the statement made, by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on 29 November 2005 launching the Energy Review, I am pleased to inform the House that the Government have today launched the public phase of this Review, and that I have written to all MPs to inform them of the launch.

The consultation has a broad scope and will consider both energy supply and demand. The consultation reinforces the Government's commitment to the four main policy goals as set out in the 2003 Energy White Paper:

The consultation document sets out the energy challenges we are currently facing, and invites responses to the evidence presented as well as asking what more should be done to secure clean, affordable energy for the long term, I am keen to stimulate a wide-ranging and informed debate on energy policy issues.
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I have made copies of the consultation document, "Our Energy Challenge: securing clean, affordable energy for the long term" available in the Vote Office and the Libraries of the House. Copies and further information are also available on the Internet at

The key questions posed by the consultation document are:

Comments are also invited on:

The Government have a genuinely open mind on solutions. However, it is clear that there are no simple "one-technology" answers. The Review will take account of the evidence gathered during the consultation when developing its proposals.