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Improvements to the online self assessment return to make navigation easier, improve the layout, and enhance the customer experience of completing the online return.
Independent research shows that the customer reaction to the new short tax return and guide is overwhelmingly (90 per cent.+) positive in terms of how easy it is to understand, clarity and ease of use.
Preliminary research from the current pilot for the redesigned main tax return shows that the majority of the unrepresented taxpayers taking part find the return easier to understand than the current return.
HMRC has a public service agreement (PSA) target to provide simple processes for business and individuals to meet their responsibilities and claim their entitlements easily and at minimum cost. Results from the survey in 2005-06 indicate that the overall satisfaction of small businesses that complete their own tax returns (SA, PAYE and VAT) has already been improved to the levels required by that PSA target.
|Hours (unrepresented)||Hours (represented)|
Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment his Department has made of the environmental impact on river dependent ecosystems of the large scale use of antiviral drugs. 
Ian Pearson: The Environment Agency has recently reviewed its work programme on human pharmaceuticals, using updated data on their use and ecotoxicity, in order to prioritise future work. The findings of this review will be published in the spring, and will include a list of those human pharmaceuticals most likely to pose a risk to aquatic ecosystems.
Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment his Department has made of the effect of changes in the Common Agricultural Policy on programmes aimed at increasing biodiversity in the UK. 
Barry Gardiner: The reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in June 2003 has reduced the environmental impact of agriculture. This has been achieved by removing an incentive to intensify production and requiring compliance with a range of environmental conditions (cross compliance) which will promote good environmental practice. These changes were implemented in January 2005. A monitoring observatory, the Agriculture Change and Environment Observatory, has been set up and will report on changes to farming practice as a result of CAP reform.
Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what (a) incentives and (b) support his Department provides for farmers to encourage and enable programmes aimed at protecting and increasing biodiversity in the UK. 
In England, over 3.8 million hectares are now covered by ES agreements, with first year payments of more than £142 million already made. We are well on target for achieving 60 per cent. of agricultural land to be covered by ES agreements by next year.
The Higher Level Stewardship scheme will provide additional benefits, particularly for biodiversity action plan priority habitats and species, via a more intensive, but carefully targeted, approach to habitat management.
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what account he has taken of climate change when estimating the level
of protection against flood events for Canvey Island; and what account was taken in the initial design of the protection. 
Ian Pearson: The effects of climate change which will tend to increase the problem of flood risk (such as sea level rise, increased rainfall and storm frequency) have been taken into account in the planning being undertaken by the Environment Agency for their Thames Estuary 2100 project.
For over a decade, Defra has advised coastal operating authorities of the allowances they should build into the design of coastal defences to take account of sea level rise caused by a combination of climate change and long term geological tilt. These allowances reflect a precautionary approach and are kept under review as further understanding of the likely impact of climate change develops. We have recently issued further guidance to help operating authorities.
In addition, the UK and China enjoy a positive dialogue at official level, which takes place through the UK-China Working Group on Climate Change. This was launched in September 2006 with four key areas of focus: reviewing and developing ongoing climate science collaboration between the UK and China; exploring possibilities for restructuring the energy market towards a low carbon future; securing further Chinese engagement in the renewable energy and energy efficiency partnership (REEEP); and adaptation to climate change through phase 2 of the Climate Change Impacts on Agriculture project. The first meeting of the Working Group took place in December 2006 in Beijing and further meetings will be held annually.
Chris Huhne: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will list the (a) technical and financial contracts, (b) technical consultants used on a call-off basis and (c) financial consultants used on a call-off basis by (i) his Department and (ii) its agencies since 1 April 2005; and what the (A) nature and (B) cost of the assignment for each consultant was. 
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the total
liability to his Department would be in circumstances of immediate termination of all (a) public/private partnerships and (b) private finance initiative contracts. 
The core-Department is currently undertaking one private finance initiative (PFI) project to provide office facilities at Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge. There are, however, a number other PFI and PPP projects being undertaken by DEFRA's sponsored bodies i.e. non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) and public corporations. Information about the total direct liability to the Department or its sponsored bodies in circumstances of immediate
termination of each private finance initiative (PFI) and public/private partnerships (PPP) contract is set out in the following table. It must be stressed, however, that information on termination liabilities can be highly speculative as such liabilities depend on the exact circumstances of a termination, and that the costs involved to the Department will depend on these individual circumstances. The termination liabilities to the Department, for example, will be different if the Department itself voluntary terminates a contract compared to termination by another party. The liabilities to the Department arising from third party termination are particularly hard to determine in advance.
There is no specific penalty clause in the agreement for termination. These PPPs have shareholder agreements. If any party decides to exit from the agreement their shares have to be sold to their partners or a third party. Sale of these shares depends on the market, stage of project development etc.
|Although they are not DEFRA projects, the Department also provides support in the form of PFI credits to allow Local Authorities to enter into PFI contracts to provide waste recycling and management facilities. Since these PFI contracts are essentially between the Local Authority or Partnership and the Service Provider (i.e. PFI contractor), there will be no direct liability to DEFRA in a situation where a DEFRA sponsored PFI contract is terminated.|
Mr. Francois: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many of his Department's (a) computers and (b) laptops were stolen in each of the last nine years; and what the total value was of stolen computers and laptops in this period. 
|Number of items stolen||Estimated Value (£)|
|(1) Following the outsourcing of IT services to IBM in October 2004, computers/laptops are no longer classed as departmental assets as they form part of the overall contract for the provision of IT services with equipment therefore belonging to the contractor.|
Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether research projects into agriculture were affected by his Departments recent budget cuts; and if he will make a statement. 
DEFRA allocated over £150 million to research and development (R and D) in 2006-07, reflecting the value the Department places on research. As such while R and D budgets have been assessed as part of the wider departmental budgetary changes, they have been comparatively well-protected. For example, through managing the start dates of planned new work, savings of around 5 per cent. have been realised for 2006-07 from the Sustainable Farming and Food R and D Programme.
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many staff
were employed through employment agencies in (a) his Department and (b) each of its agencies in each of the last five years for which information is available; and what the (i) average and (ii) longest time was for which these temporary workers were employed in each year. 
Barry Gardiner: DEFRA came into being in June 2001. From information held centrally the numbers of personnel engaged through employment agencies in core-DEFRA in each of the last four financial years are:
|Financial year||Numbers of personnel|
Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps he is taking to incentivise local councils to encourage people to make their homes more energy efficient; and if he will ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for extra funding for councils to spend on this work. 
Ian Pearson: The 1995 Home Energy Conservation Act requires local authorities with housing responsibility to prepare a strategy for improving energy efficiency within residential accommodation in their areas and report annually on progress. Since 1996, local authorities have reported an average total improvement of approximately 16.7 per cent. The Government are carrying out a review that will help inform policy on local authorities, with the aim of generating more effective action from them, and will report in due course.
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