8 Nov 2007 : Column 15WS

8 Nov 2007 : Column 15WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 8 November 2007


UK Unclaimed Assets Scheme

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Kitty Ussher): The summary of responses to the consultations on a UK Unclaimed Assets Scheme has been published today. Copies are available in the Vote Office, Printed Paper Office and have also been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

This publication also sets out the Government’s response to the two consultation proposals for a UK unclaimed assets scheme. The consultation had two stages. In March, the Government released “A UK Unclaimed Assets Scheme: A Consultation”. In May, the Government released “Unclaimed Assets Distribution Mechanism: A Consultation”.

Following on from these consultations, the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill was introduced in the House of Lords on 7 November. A final impact assessment has also been published today, copies of which are also available in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill builds on the Government’s consultation and enables the transfer of money in dormant bank accounts to be made available for distribution in the community, while protecting consumers’ right to repayment.

Double Taxation Convention (United Kingdom and New Zealand)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jane Kennedy): A Protocol to the Double Taxation Convention with New Zealand was signed on 7 November 2007. After signature, the text of the protocol was deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs’ website. The text of the protocol will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.


Service Personnel

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): We are asking a lot of our service personnel, who are performing magnificently on operations across the world, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. In turn, it is only right that we support them as best as we can.

8 Nov 2007 : Column 16WS

As a result of the recent high tempo of operations we have quite rightly seen a greater focus on the support that we offer to our people and their families—both in theatre and at home.

Over the last year we have made significant improvements to the welfare package and to the support that we provide. These include: a rebate on council tax and a tax-free operational allowance for those on operations; an increase in financial support provided for coroners dealing with inquests along with additional support for bereaved families; extension of the mental health assessments and provisions for both veterans and those serving on operations; a commitment to spending £5 billion over the next decade on accommodation; and a significant pay rise for junior soldiers, sailors and airmen and women.

There have been significant improvements to in-theatre medical treatment and facilities and it is widely recognised that we provide first class clinical treatment for those injured through both the NHS and the defence medical services. Better treatment and better equipment mean that our personnel are surviving injuries that they would not have previously survived. As a result we have a number of casualties and personnel sustaining serious injuries who will need enduring support. As a Government we are committed to making sure that the care pathway from initial injury to rehabilitation is as good as it can be.

We also acknowledge that some of the accommodation for service personnel and their families is not up to scratch and we are now rectifying decades of under investment. But we have also said that we want to ensure our forces have the opportunity to get on the housing ladder if they wish and we are looking for the best mechanism to achieve this.

We believe that now is the right time to take stock and for the Government to set out its agenda for service personnel, their families and veterans. Our intention, therefore, is to publish a Command Paper setting out our existing support and in the context of the challenges facing our service personnel today and in the future, the Government’s vision for further support. We believe that we are doing a lot to enhance the support we offer our forces in areas like accommodation, education, health care, family support, transition to civilian life, caring for our casualties. However we can do more in all of these areas and we are committed to doing so.

We envisage engagement with key external stakeholders from the charity sector and our service families’ federations.

Also, we will conduct a parallel study into encouraging greater engagement, understanding and pride in the UK armed forces by the nation as whole.

We expect that both these studies will be published in spring 2008.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Coexistence of GM and Non-GM Crops

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): In 2006 DEFRA consulted stakeholders on proposals for managing the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops in England, should approved GM varieties be grown here commercially in the future. The proposals
8 Nov 2007 : Column 17WS
were consistent with the Government’s overall policy on GM crops, as set out in the parliamentary statement made by the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett), on 9 March 2004, Official Report, column 1379.

A factual summary of the consultation responses has been published on the DEFRA’s website at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/crops/index.htm. We are grateful to everyone who responded and have considered the various comments made very carefully. It is clear that before our coexistence plans can be finalised we should await various developments that could have an important bearing on how we move forward. These include the following:

Receipt of New Scientific Evidence

Seed Thresholds

No commercial GM cultivation is expected in England for several years, but it remains our intention to have appropriate coexistence measures in place beforehand. We will clarify in due course how we intend to proceed in the light of the expected developments noted above, and having considered the consultation responses from stakeholders.

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I represented the United Kingdom for the agricultural items at this month’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg. The Minister with responsibility for marine, landscape and rural affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), represented the UK for fisheries items. The Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead, also attended.

The Council adopted a decision authorising Romania to grant national aid to its farmers to assist with the aftermath of recent drought conditions.

The Council reached political agreement on a proposal amending the common agricultural policy financing rules by making it compulsory for member states to publish data on CAP payment beneficiaries; extending Commission powers to suspend or reduce payments under certain conditions; and providing the Commission with an additional 12 months to carry out certain controls on CAP expenditure.

8 Nov 2007 : Column 18WS

The Council also reached agreement on fishing quotas for the Baltic sea for 2008, despite troubled experiences in Baltic sea fisheries this year.

The Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner presented the Commission communication on the new EU Animal Health Strategy for 2007-13.

The Council held a discussion, based on a presidency questionnaire, on the Commission’s proposal on the reform of the EU wine sector. The discussion covered: the proposed national envelopes; the possible use of national envelope money to fund decoupled payments under the single payment scheme; and the scope of the proposed grubbing-up scheme. I intervened to support the principle of national envelopes, but argued that a greater proportion of funding should be used for rural development measures to help producers adapt to the reform. I also intervened to support the use of national envelope money to enhance payments under the SPS and the proposed voluntary grubbing-up scheme that will provide a dignified way out for those farmers most affected by the greater market orientation of the wine sector following the reform.

The Council held an exchange of views on the EU/Norway fisheries agreement for 2008. The UK sought to set responsible levels of fishing while also maintaining the economic viability of the EU fleets involved.

A number of issues, as follows, were raised under any other business:

Spain expressed concerns at the closure of the bluefin tuna fishery as a consequence of overfishing of national allocations by some member states.

Poland called for the introduction of relief measures to alleviate difficulties in the pigmeat sector. The Agriculture Commissioner reported that the Pigmeat Management Committee on 18 October had indeed adopted a proposal to introduce private storage aid from 29 October; as regards export refunds, the Commission did not think that these would be appropriate to address the difficulties faced in the pigmeat sector, although the situation would be kept under review.

Sweden, supported by five other member states, drew Council’s attention to recent evidence showing maltreatment of animals during transport and called for full compliance with existing rules.

UN Convention on Climate Change Pre-COP Meeting

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): Between 23 and 25 October, I attended the pre-COP ministerial conference of the parties meeting in Bogor, Indonesia. The traditional purpose of the pre-COP ministerial is to narrow down the range of options likely to be discussed at the Conference of the Parties (COP), later in the year.

The UN climate negotiations beginning in Bali this December will be crucial if we are to secure a comprehensive international framework by 2009. The Bali meeting must see the launch of broad and comprehensive negotiations that include all parties and all relevant issues. The pre-COP meeting was a valuable opportunity for Ministers who will be negotiating in December to begin to map out and explore the difficult issues and to start building consensus for some of the essential elements.

8 Nov 2007 : Column 19WS

The meeting was successful. The EU has done a lot of preparatory work on options for the structure of post-Bali negotiations. The meeting helped to test these propositions against the emerging views of other key players and identified where common ground and potential trade-offs exist with other items on the agenda for Bali. It highlighted many points of consensus between 40 parties present on some key issues, such as: the need for a Bali roadmap towards a fair and balanced multilateral framework beyond 2012, and the need for a process under the convention to further explore and negotiate contributions from developing countries to this framework alongside the continuation of negotiations on further commitments for developed country parties under the Kyoto protocol.

These provide a promising foundation for the discussions in Bali, but perhaps even more valuable was the opportunity to get into the detail on the type of process that needs to be put in place at the COP and on substance. Building trust and developing a full understanding of the positions and concerns of other parties on matters of substance is essential if we are to secure an ambitious outcome in Bali.

There is now considerable support for launching broader negotiations but there is also a range of views about what those broader negotiations could look like. Some parties are committed to securing one process encompassing all the current tracks in the negotiations on future action, while others want to see the convention and Kyoto tracks remain separate, at least for now. Likewise, there was emerging agreement on key elements of an international framework; mitigation, adaptation, technology and investment and finance, although the full details of these four elements and what they might encompass are not universally agreed. Further negotiations will also be needed in order to secure an overall end date of 2009.

It is now essential that we follow up this positive meeting with intensive outreach to our key partners and interlocutors in order to iron out these crucial details and the UK will be carrying out an extensive lobbying effort, both at ministerial and official level, to give the last vital push before Bali.

Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): My right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs promised the House of Commons on 8 March 2007, Official Report, column 1651 in answer to a parliamentary question to commission:

and place the information in the Library of the House

I have today deposited copies of the report giving the proportion of UK produce supplied to Government Departments and also supplied to prisons and
8 Nov 2007 : Column 20WS
hospitals under contracts negotiated by HM Prison Service and NHS Supply Chain. A copy of the report is also on the PSFPI website at:


DEFRA has also published on the PSFPI website the report of an Ipsos MORI survey conducted in the schools sector during the period March to July 2007 that covered 81 local authorities and 255 schools. Commissioned to gauge awareness of the Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative (PSFPI) in schools and local authorities, the report also contains answers to questions on the proportion of tenders from small and local producers. This information was made known to MPs in a written parliamentary answer of 17 October 2007, Official Report, column 1074W.

Govenment Decontamination Service (Business Plan)

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): I have set the Government Decontamination Service (GDS) the following performance targets for 2007-08.

Further details are given in the CDS business plan for 2007-08 copies of which are available in the Libraries of both Houses.


NHS Foundation Trusts

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The chairman of Monitor (the statutory name of which is the Independent Regulator of NHS foundation trusts) announced last week that, in accordance with section 35 of the National Health Service Act 2006, Monitor had decided to authorise the following NHS acute and mental health trusts as NHS foundation trusts from 1 November;

Monitor's announcement brings the total number of NHS foundation trusts to 79. A copy of Monitor's press notice has been placed in the Library.

Next Section Index Home Page