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Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 14 July 2006

Communities and Local Government

Tackling Overcrowding and Temporary Accommodation

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): During the passage of the 2004 Housing Bill the Government made commitments to consider whether it is possible to devise an approach to overcrowding that provides for some incremental improvement in standards over a period; and to consult on how the new section 216 powers could be used to amend the statutory overcrowding standards in Part X of the Housing Act 1985.

The Government are today publishing a discussion document on “Tackling Overcrowding in England” which sets out options for revising the outdated definition of overcrowding and developing long-term solutions. This document is designed to stimulate and garner ideas about how best we can tackle the problems of overcrowding. DCLG officials will be actively engaging stakeholders in discussions, which will conclude on 15 September 2006. Copies of the document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Government are also providing a £51 million package for tackling overcrowding and increasing the number of settled homes for people in temporary accommodation. The funding announced today is focused on two key areas:

£21 million will be made available for immediate action to tackle overcrowding, by increasing the supply of family homes in London. This could include converting existing homes to create extra bedrooms; adding extensions to existing council stock; building or purchasing additional homes, or buying back right to buy homes. Five coordinators will also be funded to work across London to tackle the most immediate problems of overcrowding.

Some £30 million will also be provided to fund an extra home pilot, which could help to deliver up to an extra 1,000 settled homes for families who are currently in temporary accommodation.


Annual Report and Accounts 2005-06

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I am pleased to announce that I am today publishing the Ministry of Defence's Annual Report and Accounts
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2005-06. 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 a third successive year the Comptroller and Auditor General has approved the accounts without qualification. For the first time, this year we have achieved this in time for publication before the summer recess.

The report shows that once again the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence delivered what they were required to do during a busy and challenging year. It reflects the broad and diverse range of operations and tasks undertaken during the year, including a number in support of the output of other Government Departments. It details the progress the Ministry of Defence has made towards achieving the Public Service Agreement and efficiency targets agreed with Her Majesty's Treasury in the 2004 Spending Review, and in delivering the capabilities and reformed force structure set out in the July 2004 Command Paper “Delivering Security in the Changing World: Future Capabilities”. It also sets out the defence contribution against the Government's wider sustainability goals.

Copies of the Annual Report and Accounts will be placed in the Library of the House. It is also available online from the Department's internet site at www.mod.uk.

Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary)

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Minister for Defence Procurement (Lord Drayson) has made the following written ministerial statement.

Porton Down

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom Watson): On 21 November 2000 the then Minister for Veterans Affairs (Dr Lewis Moonie) announced a package of measures intended to address emerging concerns that some Porton Down volunteers might have suffered unusual ill health because of their participation in trials at the Chemical Defence Establishment, Porton Down. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has sought to address these concerns through a number of measures. These include a Historical Survey of the Porton Down Service Volunteer Programme 1939-1989 (the period of most interest to volunteers) which is published today. It sets out a full description of the size and shape of the studies in which volunteers took part, and explores their ethical aspects. Also, the MOD is funding an independently run epidemiological
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study, overseen by the Medical Research Council, to assess the incidence of cancer and mortality among former Porton Down volunteers. The study is expected to report in 2007 and it is hoped that the results will be published in peer reviewed literature shortly thereafter.

Copies of the Historical Survey will be placed in the Library of the House and it will also be available on the MOD website at:


The Survey has been conducted by MOD officials who had no previous professional contact with Porton Down. No member of Porton Down staff was involved in determining the ground the survey should cover or the documents which were to be consulted. Porton Down's advice has been sought in order to clarify explanations of scientific matters (for example, the effect of agents and treatments on physiology and the metrics used to measure doses and exposures). They have not had any further editorial involvement.

I would like to place on record my deep appreciation of Professor Sir Ian Kennedy's contribution as the independent supervisor to this project. I know that the survey team appreciated his valuable guidance. Sir lan's assessment of Porton Down's conduct appears at the end of the survey. It draws on the descriptions of the trials conducted by the Chemical Defence Establishment, the information presented on how service volunteers were recruited, and on Dr Alasdair Maclean's analysis of ethics codes/guidelines and practice. No attempt has been made by the MOD to summarise Sir lan's assessment, to avoid any inadvertent changes in meaning or language.

Sir Ian identifies a small number of trials spread over several decades which he considers amount to serious departures from what should have been done. However, he is clear that they are few in number. Sir Ian also warns that these studies must be viewed in the historical context of both the Second World War and the Cold War. The MOD welcomes Sir lan's view that ‘a very great debt of gratitude is clearly owed to those who volunteered to take part in the research at Porton and to those who carried it out'.

The MOD takes the health of veterans very seriously indeed. We are seeking to address the concerns of former volunteers who are worried about their health and it is for this reason that the MOD established an independent Medical Assessment Programme (MAP) at St Thomas' Hospital in London. Attendance at the MAP is free of charge but is conditional on the provision of details of participation in the Porton Down Service Volunteer Programme and access to individual NHS medical records. If volunteers have concerns about their health and are interested in attending the MAP they should contact Porton Down on their Helpline number (0800 7832521) in order to obtain their records of attendance. Volunteers also have the opportunity to inspect their own records relating to the trials in which they took part at Porton Down. Alternatively, they can contact the MAP direct on the MAP Helpline 0800 169 5401 or ask their GP for a referral. The MOD welcomes the publication of this Historical Survey today as being complementary to these existing resources.

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UK Gulf Veterans' Mortality Data

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom Watson): As part of the Government's continuing commitment to investigate Gulf veterans' illnesses openly and honestly, data on the mortality of veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict are published regularly. The most recent figures, for the period 1 April 1991 to 30 June 2006, are published today as a national statistic on the Defence Analytical Services Agency website.

The data for Gulf veterans are compared to that of a control group known as the ‘Era cohort’ consisting of armed forces personnel of a similar profile in terms of gender, service, regular/reservists status and rank, who were in service on 1 January 1991 but were not deployed to the Gulf. As in the previous release, the ‘Era' group has been adjusted for a small difference in the age profile of those aged 40 years and over, to ensure appropriate comparisons.

Key points to note in the data are:

These statistics continue to confirm that UK veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict do not suffer an excess of overall mortality compared with service personnel who did not deploy.

The full notice can be viewed at http://www.dasa.mod.uk

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

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

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

The Agriculture Commissioner will present the Commission's communication analysing the situation on the EU wine market and setting out various options for the reform of the current regime. Following the presentation, the Council will hold its first exchange of view on the communication structured around two questions posed by the presidency. I will intervene to welcome the initiative and stating the UK's views in response to the questions.

At the request of France the Council will discuss the WTO agricultural negotiations.

There will be a policy debate on the Commission's proposal laying down rules for voluntary modulation in light of the December 2005 European Council future
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financing agreement for 2007-2013. This proposal sets out the terms by which member states can voluntarily modulate from pillar 1 of the Common Agricultural Policy (direct payments) to pillar 2 (rural development). I will welcome the proposal because of its vital importance for the UK given our reliance on the voluntary modulation mechanism since 2001. I will also touch upon the need for flexibility in the proposal to allow for voluntary modulation to continue to operate in a way which meets member states' needs.

Under any other business, the Fisheries Commissioner will update the Council on the EC/Mauritania fisheries agreement.

France will request an update from the Commission on the emergency measures to conserve anchovy in the Bay of Biscay.

Austria will draw attention to the Commission's proposed changes to the agricultural state aids rules. The UK supports many of the proposed changes but has concerns about some of the animal and plant health aspects of the proposal.

The Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner will then update the Council on developments with regard to Avian Influenza H5N1.

Central Science Laboratory Annual Report and Accounts 2005-06

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The 2005-06 annual report and accounts for the Central Science Laboratory will be laid before Parliament today.

Copies will be available in the Libraries of the House.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Finnish Presidency of the European Union: Agenda for the General Affairs and External Relations Council

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 17 July in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Presentation of the Presidency Priorities

The Finns will present their Presidency programme. They will cover a number of important areas over the next six months, including follow-up to the Hampton Court agenda initiated under the UK Presidency. Their informal European Council meeting in Lahti on 20 October will focus on innovation and energy. They also plan to take forward work in key areas such as climate change, enlargement, security, migration and emergency and crisis response. We welcome these priorities.

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