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Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what steps the Government have taken to assist low income families with paying their water bills; 
Jane Kennedy: The Government are aware of concerns about the level of water charges and the issue of affordability is one which the Government take very seriously. The cross-Government review of water affordability in December 2004 recommended:
the vulnerable groups regulations should be extended to increase eligibility. Since publication the regulations have been extended to include children under 19 and in full-time education and a more inclusive list of qualifying medical conditions;
a local pilot scheme on water affordability should be carried out. The pilot study is complete and the results are available on DEFRA's website;
companies should spread and deliver best practice. DEFRA has worked closely with the Consumer Council for Water and other stakeholders to encourage best practice by companies in administrating the vulnerable groups tariff; and
studying the effects of the charging system. DEFRA has been working closely with water companies and Ofwat to look at the likely distributional consequences of a range of tariffs for water consumers and will report to Ministers later this year.
In August 2008 DEFRA launched an independent review of water charging and metering, which is led by Anna Walker and will look in particular at social, economic and environmental concerns. The review is due to conclude in spring 2009.
Bill Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will (a) update and re-issue the Protecting WhalesA Global Responsibility document and (b) send the document to all governments intending to attend the 61st annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Portugal between 22 and 26 June 2009; when he next plans to discuss whaling with his foreign counterparts; and if he will make a statement. 
Huw Irranca-Davies: The UK has led efforts to recruit more conservation-minded countries to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) through our publication Protecting WhalesA Global Responsibility (endorsed by the Prime Minister and Sir David Attenborough), which has already been sent to over 60 countries urging nations to protect these species worldwide.
The UK has also recently circulated a document to members of the IWC entitled The International Whaling Commissionthe way forward. This document encourages countries participating in the current discussions over the future of the Commission, to ensure the conservation of cetaceans remains the highest priority.
Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The costs of deploying troops on military operations are calculated on a net additional basis and audited figures are published each year in the MODs Annual Report and Accounts. Costs of peacekeeping operations for financial years 1997-98 to 2006-07 were:
|Military Operations - Costs: 1997 to 2007|
|Current prices (£ million)|
|(1) Prior to Financial Year 2001-02 costs were recorded on a cash accounting basis and therefore are on a different basis to subsequent years where recourse accounting costs are included.|
Assessment of the degree of disablement is by comparing the condition of the individual as disabled by service with the condition of a normal healthy person of the same age and sex. From this time a distinction has always been drawn between assessments of under 20 per cent. and those of 20 per cent. or more. The reason why the threshold was originally set at 20 per cent. is not known.
Before 1 April 1962, awards to other ranks with an assessment of less than 20 per cent. were in the form of a weekly allowance for a prescribed period followed in some cases by a terminal lump sum gratuity. For officers only gratuities were paid. A change in 1962 aligned the treatment of all members of the armed forces, so that since that date, all awards for disablement assessed at less than 20 per cent. have been in the form of a one off gratuity, regardless of rank.
Assessments of 20 per cent. or more have always given rise to a continuing pension for all ranks. As part of a periodic review of the War Pension Scheme one of the options under consideration is to raise the 20 per cent. assessment level at which a pension becomes payable for new claims.
Kelvin Hopkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will review the appropriateness of the minimum age at which people can join the armed forces; and if he will (a) make it his policy that those under the age of 18 years may not take a direct part in hostilities in any circumstances and (b) renew the Government's declaration on the UN optional protocol on the Convention on the Rights of the Child in relation to armed conflict. 
Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The Government made clear in their interpretive declaration when ratifying the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict that the armed forces would continue to recruit from age 16, but made a clear commitment to take all feasible measures to ensure that those who had not yet reached the age of 18 years old did not take a direct part in hostilities. The Government remain committed to meeting their obligations under the protocol and there are no plans to change the interpretive declaration.
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