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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 20 July 2006


Double Taxation (Poland)

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): A new Double Taxation Convention with Poland was signed on 20 July 2006. After signature, the text of the convention was deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs’ website. The text of the convention will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.


The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): At its meeting of 11 July 2006, the Economic and Financial Affairs Council took note of a presentation from the Finnish presidency on its work programme for the Council during the second half of 2006. Priorities include addressing the challenges of globalisation, efficient functioning of the internal market and further economic and structural reforms.

ECOFIN adopted a 104(12) Decision abrogating Cyprus’s Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) and Council Conclusions on Portugal’s progress in addressing its EDP.

Council adopted a decision allowing Slovenia to adopt the Euro as its currency as from 1 January 2007.

ECOFIN adopted a set of conclusions regarding the first year of the revised Stability and Growth Pact.

Council discussed the renewal of the EIB’s external lending mandates, which will set the amounts and strategic priorities of the EIB’s operations outside the ED. The Council requested the Economic and Financial Committee to oversee further work on the proposal and will discuss this again at its meeting on 10 October.

ECOFIN was briefed by the Commission on economic dialogues with third countries and held an exchange of views. The UK welcomed the economic content of the EU-US Vienna Declaration as well as further ECOFIN discussion on the key issues for these dialogues.

ECOFIN adopted Council conclusions on a Commission proposal for the funding of the International Accounting Standards Board.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury represented the UK.

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Income Support/Job Seekers Allowance

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): The Chief Secretary made a statement on 12 July 2005, Official Report, column 723, on timing of the phased transfer on to child tax credit (CTC) of the remaining families with children receiving family support through Income Support/Job Seekers Allowance.

Following further consideration of the proposed timetable, I have decided that the transfer should be deferred until 2007. My decision reflects the fact that it is extremely important to safeguard continuity of support for children among this particularly vulnerable group. The postponement will allow a number of planned tax credits measures, which I announced at the pre-Budget report, some of which require system changes, to be introduced before support for these families’ children is transferred to child tax credit.

I will make a final decision next year on whether the transfer should go ahead in 2007 as currently planned. My decision will again be taken in the light of the importance I attach to ensuring the continuity of support that these families receive for their children. Families will continue to receive financial support through their benefits until they are transferred on to child tax credit.

It remains the Government’s firm intention to migrate all income-based support for children into a single, seamless system of support delivered through child tax credit.

Culture, Media and Sport

Government Indemnity Scheme

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy): On 26 January 2006 I made a statement to the House regarding the Government Indemnity Scheme. In that statement, we reported a figure of £1,286,220,279 as the contingent liability of non-national museums as at 30 September 2005.

It has since been brought to my attention that the non-national museums' contingent liability figure, produced by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, should have been £1,292,909,094.


Northern Ireland Future Allowances and Charges

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): On 1 August 2005 the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced the start of the normalisation programme outlined in the Joint Declaration. Stage 1 of this programme will be complete by 31 July 2007 and, at that time, operation banner will end. An allowances and charges package specific to the operational, security and welfare
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circumstances of operation banner is currently in place. With the end of operation banner, however, Northern Ireland will no longer be classed as an operational theatre and, as a result, there will be a number of changes to the package. On 1 August 2007, personnel serving in Northern Ireland will commence payment of food and accommodation charges, and contributions in lieu of Council Tax on the same basis as those elsewhere in the United Kingdom and overseas. Other provisions associated with operational status will also cease, such as operational telephone allowance, welfare entertainment, free e-blueys and the award of operational medals. Other Northern Ireland-related allowances, including: Northern Ireland resident’s supplement, which is paid to all personnel serving on permanent assignment in Northern Ireland, in recognition of the impact of the security situation on them and their families; Northern Ireland journeys, which allows personnel and their accompanying families to return to Britain regularly to obtain respites from the pressures of living in Northern Ireland; and other lesser provisions will be retained for the time being, but will be kept under review as the normalisation programme progresses.

Gulf Veterans

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom Watson): A key principle of the Government’s approach to addressing the health concerns of veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict is that there should be appropriate research into veterans’ illnesses and factors that may have a bearing on these.

As a key part of that research, the Ministry of Defence has sponsored an investigation by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Porton Down, into the possible health effects of the combination of vaccines and tablets given to troops at the time of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict to protect them against the threat of biological and chemical warfare. The main body of work involved monitoring multiple factors in marmosets for up to 18 months following the administration of vaccines and/or pyridostigmine bromide (the active ingredient in nerve agent pre-treatment tablets). Interim results were announced on 1 April 2003, official report, column, 55WS.

Papers reporting final results from two elements of the main study have now been published in the online version of the journal “Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior” and hard copy publication will follow. A summary of the papers is available on the “Articles in Press” section of the journal’s website: www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00913057. The papers report that there were no long-term changes of biological significance in cognition, muscle function, general health, brain electrical activity and sleep that could be attributed to administration of vaccines and/or pyridostigmine bromide.

The publication of these findings in a peer-reviewed journal should be welcomed by Gulf veterans in addressing a key area of concern to them. It represents a further step towards meeting the Department’s
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commitment to investigate these issues. Further results on the immunological aspects of the study will be published in due course.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Advisory Committee on Pesticides

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): The Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP) has agreed to trial arrangements to publish the detailed record of its meetings.

The ACP will continue to publish a short summary minute of meetings within three weeks of a meeting. This is published on the ACP website and supports a requirement under the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees to publish material suitable for a lay readership.

This will be followed with the publication of the full detailed record two to three months after the meeting. This timescale is necessary to allow the Committee's members to review the draft at their subsequent meeting and for consultation with relevant stakeholders to ensure that any commercially confidential information is not disclosed.

Partners for Water and Sanitation

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): I am pleased to welcome the publication of the fourth annual report from Partners for Water and Sanitation (PAWS) on 28th July. The UK tri-sector partnership is proof this partnership model can produce and deliver tangible, measurable results.

PAWS continues to evolve, providing a solid platform where partners from Government, civil society and business can work together with the people within Africa to develop sustainable solutions in the delivery of water and sanitation services. This report marks a key milestone in the Partners for Water and Sanitation, and outlines the progress made at national and local levels in the four African partner countries—South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda and Ethiopia—including scoping visits and exchange programmes.

It is particularly encouraging to see the partnership is making progress in translating words into actions within its partner countries. I look forward to the continuing progress of the partnership in providing support, building capacity and developing sustainable solutions in partner countries.

Copies of the report will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

GM Crops

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): Defra has today published a consultation paper on proposals for managing the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops in England,
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should GM crops be grown here commercially in due course. The paper is consistent with the Government's overall policy on GM crops, as set out in the parliamentary statement made on 9 March 2004.

The proposals relate to managing coexistence between farms and focus on the specific measures that would be needed for crops of maize, beet, potato and oilseed rape. It is proposed that the key measures required for an effective co-existence regime will be implemented on a statutory basis, with other, less significant measures to be applied via an industry code of practice.

The Defra paper also seeks views on a number of related issues:

No commercial GM cultivation is expected in the UK before 2009 at the earliest, but we need to prepare for this possibility in good time, so that farmers are clear what rules would apply.

Copies of the consultation paper will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and will also be available on the Defra website at http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/crops/index.htm. The deadline for responses to the paper is 20 October 2006.

Crop Spraying

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): My noble Friend the Minister of State Lord Rooker has today published the Government's response to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) report “Crop Spraying and the Health of Residents and Bystanders”. This response sets out the Government's view on the recommendations made by the Royal Commission and indicates how we intend to address them. I have placed copies of the response in the Library of each House.

Firstly, I would like to thank the Royal Commission for producing this report which was requested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael) when Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environment Quality, to examine the science on which the current pesticide approvals system is based and the reasons for people's concerns about possible adverse health effects from pesticide spraying.

The Government recognise the clearly genuine concerns of some residents and bystanders about the spraying of pesticides, Government can, and will, do more to address these concerns.

I firmly believe that these concerns are best addressed at the local level through dialogue between residents and farmers to identify and understand the issues and to develop mutually agreeable solutions. I also believe that this can be achieved most rapidly through a voluntary approach that allows for innovative and flexible solutions.

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Existing voluntary schemes such as Farm Assurance and the Voluntary Initiative have demonstrated how effective non-statutory approaches can be in changing behaviour. I want to see schemes such as these playing a crucial role in ensuring that both farmers and the public can have a greater mutual understanding of the problems they each face. These schemes have the potential to provide farmers both with the practical support and the incentive to be good neighbours in this regard and I will be discussing with these organisations and others how this might be achieved.

I believe that the proposals set out in the Government's response, a number of which are already underway, can achieve the majority of outcomes envisaged by the Royal Commission without the need for additional burdensome regulation on the agricultural sector.

The Government have also noted the concern of both the Royal Commission and some members of the public with how the risks to residents and bystanders are considered in the approvals process. To address this concern I have requested a complete review of the model used to assess resident and bystander exposure as part of the pesticide approvals process.

The current approvals process is adequate with clear safety margins built in. However, I recognise that it needs to be more clearly demonstrated to the public that approvals are based on high quality underpinning science. To address this the revised exposure model will give more explicit consideration to a wider range of possible exposure routes and will reflect modern farming practices. The research to develop this model has already begun. A former member of the Royal Commission was one of the peer reviewers for the proposal before it was approved and Defra's Chief Scientific Adviser will ensure the development of the model meets acceptable scientific standards.

The UK is also taking a primary role on this issue in Europe, taking the lead in revising the guidance on acceptable exposure limits, including the assessment of resident and bystander exposure, for the European Commission.

The Government have considered the findings of the report very thoroughly alongside additional independent scientific advice. The Department of Health has sought the views of the Committees on Toxicity and on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment on the report's health recommendations and Defra has additionally considered advice from the Chief Scientific Adviser and the Advisory Committee on Pesticides on the wider recommendations of the report. In addition to this scientific advice we have also considered the views of interested parties from all sides of the debate.

The scientific advice we have received is clear that there is insufficient evidence to support the Royal Commission's recommendations for additional regulatory measures on safety grounds. Introducing regulations for other reasons such as perceived nuisance from spraying would be incompatible with the Government's Better Regulation policy. We have therefore decided against introducing any new regulations at this time.

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Animal Products (Import Controls)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The Annual Review of Controls on Imports of Animal Products for the financial year 2005-06, as required under the Animal Health Act 1981 (as amended by the Animal Health Act 2002), will be laid before Parliament tomorrow.

Copies of the Review will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and on the Defra personal food imports website www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/illegali

Hard copies will be available on request.

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