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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 8 November 2010


Double Taxation Agreement (UK and Qatar)

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): A protocol to the double taxation agreement with Qatar was signed on 20 October 2010. The text of the protocol has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs' website. The text will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

Cabinet Office

Departmental Business Plans

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr Oliver Letwin): Today, we are publishing business plans, publicly setting out how and when Government Departments will achieve the radical structural reforms needed to deliver the coalition's programme for Government.

Taken together, these plans will change the nature of Government. They represent a power shift, taking power away from Whitehall and putting it into the hands of people and communities; and an horizon shift, turning Government's attention towards the long-term decisions that will equip Britain for sustainable social success and sustainable economic growth.

The publication of these plans will bring about a fundamental change in how Departments are held to account for implementing policy commitments; replacing the old top-down systems of targets and central micromanagement with democratic accountability. Every month, Departments will publish a simple report on their progress towards meeting their commitments.

In addition, the second part of each business plan explains how Government will give people unprecedented access to the data they need-in a simple, easily accessible format-to scrutinise how we are using taxpayers' money and what progress we are making in improving society through our reforms.

These transparency sections of the plans are being published in draft to allow Parliament and the wider public to say whether each Department is publishing the most useful and robust information to help people hold the Department to account.

Select Committees will of course play a vital role in the task of holding the Government to account. Government Departments are contacting Select Committee chairmen to inform them of the new processes and to invite them to discuss the business plans in more detail.

Our reforms will give people the power to improve our country and our public services, through the mechanisms of democratic accountability, competition, choice and social action. By 2015, we will have made the structural changes set out in the programme for
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Government that are needed to secure the long-term prosperity and sustainability of our country.

The business plans are available on departmental websites and on the No.10 website at: http://www. number10.gov.uk/transparency.

Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and are also available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office.

Communities and Local Government

Fire and Rescue Service

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): On the evening of 4 November, following ongoing meetings, the Fire Brigades Union agreed to call off their 47 hour strike which was due to start at 10 am on Friday 5 and end at 9.00 am on 7 November. The proposed strike would have coincided with bonfire nights and Diwali-one of the busiest periods for fire and rescue services.

The two parties have agreed to refer their outstanding issues to the National Joint Council Resolution advisory panel, which comprises an independent chair and the joint secretaries of the National Joint Council for local authority fire and rescue services. The panel meets on 16 November. I very much hope that this process will result in agreement between the two parties without recourse to further dangerous and damaging strikes.

The two strikes witnessed in London on 23 October and 1 November, highlighted the need for all fire and rescue authorities to have in place robust business continuity plans which allow them to continue to provide a service to the public during a range of different types of disruption. I would encourage all fire and rescue authorities to satisfy themselves that they have such plans in place and to continue to strengthen these where necessary. I would like to thank all those who worked during these strikes, often in the face of serious provocation.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Beak Trimming (Laying Hens)

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): I am today laying an amendment to The Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) 2007 before Parliament, principally to extend the use of routine beak trimming of laying hens beyond 31 December 2010, while restricting the method used to the infra-red technique only. I know this is a significant issue for the House, as demonstrated by the large number of signatures for my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Peter Bottomley) (EDM 260). I therefore want to set out the background behind these amending regulations and explain this Government's approach to working towards a future ban on beak trimming.">http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm101112/corrtext/101112c0001.htm#column_4MC">[Official Report, 12 November 2010, Vol. 518, c. 4MC.]

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Currently, the UK makes use of a derogation in the EU Council Directive 99/74/EC on the welfare of laying hens, which allows for beak trimming of laying hens that are less than 10 days old if carried out by qualified staff. The procedure is only permitted to prevent feather pecking and cannibalism. The Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations 2007 implements this derogation but only allows routine beak trimming to be carried out until 31 December 2010, after which beak trimming of laying hens would be banned. The ban was put in place when the laying hens directive was implemented in the UK in 2002, allowing eight years to develop a strategy to manage birds without the need to beak trim. At the same time, the previous Government established the Beak Trimming Action Group, comprising representatives from industry, welfare groups, DEFRA, and scientific and veterinary professions. The group's task was to devise an action plan which would work towards the ban on beak trimming by the end of 2010-looking at changes to management practices or selecting birds that are less prone to feather pecking. However, progress in the control of injurious pecking under commercial conditions in England has not been sufficient to implement a ban on beak trimming without causing a significant risk to animal welfare. In the meantime, a new infra-red technique was developed and is now used to beak trim birds commercially, as an alternative to hot blading. Currently, the infra-red technique is the method used on 95% of all beak trimmed laying hens.

The Farm Animal Welfare Council reviewed the evidence in 2007 and 2009. On both occasions it recommended that, until an alternative means of controlling injurious pecking in laying hens can be developed, the proposed ban on beak trimming should not be introduced, but should be deferred until it can be demonstrated reliably under commercial conditions that laying hens can be managed without beak trimming, without a greater risk to their welfare than that caused by beak trimming itself. The Farm Animal Welfare Council recommended that infra-red beak treatment should be the only method used routinely, as the evidence indicated that it does not induce chronic pain.

While the Government's long-term goal is to ban routine beak trimming, the Farm Animal Welfare Council's advice represents a sensible and pragmatic approach in the circumstances we have inherited and is in the interests of laying hen welfare. A ban on beak trimming for laying hens at this current time would result in significant welfare problems through outbreaks of feather pecking and cannibalism. The Government consider it is therefore right that the legislation needs to be amended to remove the impending ban on routine beak trimming, which would otherwise come into force on 1 January 2011.

However, I want to emphasise that the Government see the proposed removal of the ban as very much an interim solution. The previous Government's consultation on proposals to amend the legislation, did not propose any date to review the policy or any date for a future ban. This Government have taken heed of the strength of feeling on this issue and decided to adopt the Farm Animal Welfare Council's recommendation of setting a review date of 2015. We will assess the output of this work, with a view to banning routine beak trimming in 2016. We are committed to working with the Beak Trimming Action Group to find solutions to this very
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complex issue and to establish an action plan, which will include the following key milestones leading up to a full review of beak trimming policy in 2015:

November 2010-Industry to be asked to carry out study tours to those European countries, such as Austria, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland where beak trimming is not carried out.

January 2011-The Beak Trimming Action Group (comprising key representatives from industry, welfare groups, scientific and veterinary professions) will be reconvened and I will attend the first meeting which will establish an action plan to develop a strategy to manage birds without the need to beak trim.

Spring 2011-Industry to feedback the experience of other countries to a meeting of the Beak Trimming Action Group.

Summer 2011-Beak Trimming Action Group to begin to consider the outputs of a three year intervention study by Bristol university, funded by the Tubney trust, on strategies to reduce the need for beak trimming with a view to ending the practice by 2016.

1 January 2012-the EU-wide ban on the keeping of laying hens in conventional cages comes into force. As the impact of feather pecking is greatest in systems of management which do not house birds in cages, the risk to the welfare of laying hens from injurious pecking is likely to increase after this time.

2012-2014-Hold regular meetings of the Beak Trimming Action Group to gather data from producers on their experiences in managing flocks over two cycles in alternative systems, which will be fed into the review.

2015-Review established to assess the achievements on the elimination of beak trimming to date. The review will advise whether a ban on routine beak trimming of laying hens will achieve the maximum welfare outcome, with a view to reinstating the ban in 2016.

2016-Provisional date for the ban on routine beak trimming of laying hens.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

NATO Parliamentary Assembly (New UK Delegation)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): The following will represent the United Kingdom at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

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government Equalities office

Parliamentary Oral Question (Correction)

The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Women and Equalities (Mrs Theresa May): I regret to inform the House that there was an inaccuracy in an answer given to oral question 19942 on 28 October 2010, Official Report, column 458.

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The response indicated that no recent representations had been received on the likely effect on women victims of domestic violence of reductions in funding to supporting people programme.

I can confirm that in fact Sandra Horley, CEO Refuge, sent a letter to the Minister for Equalities, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) on 3 August regarding this matter, copied to Ministers in CLG and DWP. My hon. Friend met Sandra Horley on 12 October to discuss Refuge and tackling violence against women more generally.

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