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5 Nov 2008 : Column WA55

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Written Answers

Wednesday 5 November 2008


Lord Dykes asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) make a vital contribution to the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. There are significant risks to working in Afghanistan, as recent tragic events have demonstrated. The travel advice provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is regularly updated and gives our best general assessment of conditions on the ground. We regularly update NGOs that have registered with our embassy in Kabul on threats to security. It is then up to them to make their own judgments regarding their operations, often in consultation with the security umbrella organisation, the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office.

Agriculture: Hill Farm Allowance

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): The Government are replacing the hill farm allowance with an uplands strand of the entry-level environmental stewardship scheme in 2010, which will reward upland land managers and farmers for delivering environmental and landscape benefits. An assessment of the social, environmental and economic impacts of this was prepared in 2006, which supported this decision. Testing has shown that our early proposals are accessible and workable for the vast majority of hill farmers. The Government recognise the importance of hill farming, and are committed to helping ensure that upland communities have a sustainable future. However, uplands entry-level stewardship (ELS) cannot be considered in isolation, comprising only one part of the support available to upland land managers and farmers—which also includes the single payment scheme and other schemes under the Rural Development Programme for England—and is not intended by itself to secure the future of sustainable hill farming. The Government assist by providing support for public goods that the market does not, and regional and local initiatives also have a role to play.

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The Government believe that CAP expenditure through Pillar 2 offers better value for money than Pillar 1 because it rewards farmers for the delivery of public benefits, particularly environmental outcomes. By supporting market prices, CAP payments that are coupled to production and other price support mechanisms maintain artificially high prices for EU consumers. Coupling also distorts the world market and, therefore, ability of farmers in developing countries to benefit from the market. There should be full decoupling for all sectors across the EU (no partially coupled support should remain) in order to remove trade distortion and ensure a level playing field for all EU farmers. Fully decoupled payments free farmers to determine their business activities on the basis of market and consumer demand.

Armed Forces: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Lord Moonie asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): UK Forces currently have available some 160 Desert Hawk aerial vehicles. A further 60 are on contract. Aerial vehicles that land away from the planned recovery area cannot always be recovered and in such cases it is not possible to determine whether these vehicles were damaged beyond repair. There are currently no air vehicles, which have been recovered, that are damaged to this extent.

Asylum Seekers

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): The UK Border Agency is committed to ensuring that all asylum applicants receive the same standard of care and consideration, irrespective of which office is handling the case. Various mechanisms are in place to ensure this is the case. Periodically, specific initiatives are trialled first in one region. If successful after evaluation, plans are then made to roll out that initiative across the other regions.

Banking: Iceland

Lord Crisp asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): The Government have put in place arrangements to ensure that all FSCS-eligible depositors in the Icelandic banks of Landsbanki, Heritable and Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander will receive their money in full. If a charity is eligible to claim compensation from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, it will be entitled to benefit from these arrangements.

British Overseas Territories: Historic Sites

Lord Jones of Cheltenham asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): The Government do not designate historical sites in the Overseas Territories, and there is no official definition of what constitutes an historical site in the UK or in the Overseas Territories. It is for the Overseas Territories to designate historical sites in line with local legislation.

Children: Second-hand Smoke

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): Evidence of the risk to health for children and adults from exposure to second-hand smoke (SHS) is well established. In 2004, the Government's independent Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health (SCOTH) advised in their publication Secondhand Smoke: Review of Evidence Since 1998 that:

Children are at greatest risk in their homes and the evidence strongly links SHS with an increased risk of pneumonia and bronchitis, asthma attacks, middle ear disease, decreased lung function and sudden infant death syndrome. It has also been shown that babies born to mothers who come into contact with SHS have lower birth weights.

Further evidence around the health risks from SHS exposure, including to children, was set out by the United States surgeon-general in his 2006 report The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke.

Provisions within the Health Act 2006 (c.28) and subsequent regulations made under powers within the Act require virtually all enclosed work and public places, as well as public transport, to be smoke-free. In July, the department published a report titled Smokefree England: One Year On that highlights high levels of compliance with the law.

The department recognises that the home and private cars are now the main location for the exposure of both children and adults to SHS. Views from stakeholders on what more could be done to protect children and adults from SHS were sought in the department's consultation on the future of tobacco control, which concluded on 8 September 2008. The department is currently considering the responses to this consultation.

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The SCOTH and Smokefree England reports, and the department's consultation document referred to have already been placed in the Library.

Construction Industry: Testing

Lord Taylor of Holbeach asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): I am not aware of a department or agency responsible for testing new sustainable products used in construction and other industries for longevity.

Many methods and sets of criteria for assessing and comparing the sustainability of products are used by government, businesses and others. These criteria vary depending on the product and the assessment being made, and there is no generic requirement for a product to have a guaranteed minimum lifetime.

Whilst a requirement for an extended product lifetime has the potential to reduce the use of resources in production and the generation of waste, extending product longevity would not necessarily lead to an overall benefit. There would be trade-offs between resource savings from longer life-spans and higher standards (such as greater energy efficiency, improved function, or higher safety standards) associated with newer products.

Regulation 7 of the England and Wales Building Regulations covers materials and workmanship, and requires that relevant building works must be carried out with proper materials in a workmanlike manner. Neither the regulation nor the associated approved document guidance set out any specific criteria relating to guaranteed levels of longevity.

The code for sustainable homes, which measures the sustainability of a new home against categories of sustainable design, includes a materials category. Points are awarded for products with lower life cycle (from manufacture to disposal) environmental impact, based on ratings from the Building Research Establishment green guide to specification for specific products or types of construction. One element of the methodology in the green guide is an estimated replacement interval for the product/system being assessed.

Cross-compliance Regulations

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): For the most part, cross-compliance is not new. The measures largely re-enforce existing legislation aimed at addressing some of the externalities of the farming industry that farmers should already be meeting. The cost of cross-compliance to farmers is estimated at 1.5 to 2 per cent, on average, of the value of the approximately £1.5 billion single payment. It is an efficient and proportionate way of getting compliance with basic environmental and other law without prosecution and criminalisation

There are three aspects to cross-compliance:

specific requirements known as statutory management requirements (SMRs);more general requirements requiring the land to be kept in good agricultural and environmental condition (GAEC); anda requirement to maintain a level of permanent pasture, not included in the crop rotation, for five years or more.

The requirement to maintain a level of permanent pasture is not currently a cross-compliance requirement for individual farmers.

SMRs were phased in over a three-year period, the final tranche—animal welfare—coming into force in January 2007. They comprise a number of articles from 19 EU directives and regulations and all member states must apply the same specific standards.

The EU regulations allow member states discretion to set GAEC standards that reflect the specific character of the regional or national area concerned, meaning that some GAEC standards will differ not only between member states, but between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, reflecting differing concerns and priorities, or farming practices and geography.

In order to reduce the burden of compliance with GAEC standards in England, Defra recently reviewed and updated guidance to farmers and as a result produced a substantially simplified handbook that gives detailed requirements and summary information on the standards, which are now grouped and colour coded according to the activities to which they relate. This improved guidance is estimated to have saved farmers around £1 million annually.


Lord Berkeley asked the Chairman of Committees:

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): The House of Lords offers an interest-free loan to all staff for the purchase of a bicycle for home-to- work-travel. We are currently assessing the benefits of the new government tax-free benefit to purchase a bicycle under the cycle-to-work scheme and will make any necessary recommendations in the near future.

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Lord Maginnis of Drumglass asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): The UK is committed to the EU General and Foreign Affairs Council conclusions of April 2004, reconfirmed in January 2007, aimed at supporting the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community and facilitating a settlement. In this context, the UK will continue to work closely with the EU Commission and presidency to ensure that, through financial aid and trade liberalisation, Turkish Cypriots are brought closer to Europe.

Ultimately, the Government believe that Turkish Cypriot isolation will only be fully lifted with the achievement of a comprehensive Cyprus settlement to reunite the island, acceptable to all Cypriots. The current settlement process represents the best chance Cypriots may ever have to solve this long-running problem. We urge both leaders to seize this opportunity.

Defra: Staff

Lord Taylor of Holbeach asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): The information requested could be provided only at disproportionate cost as no central records are maintained.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Defra fully supports the work of all our staff networks. Successful, business-focused staff networks are essential to the successful delivery of our diversity action plans. At a corporate level they work with the diversity team to represent the views of staff in their diversity strand and to drive forward progress on our diversity strategy.

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Part of this support includes allowing staff to attend network events in work time. Each staff network is allocated an annual budget. They agree with their committees how much money is assigned to support agreed events. All networks have to produce business plans which detail their expenditure (this excludes their members travel costs). Staff can join a network of their choice.

Defra has four networks:the Ethnic Minority Network—(for black and minority ethnic staff);DisNet—the Disability Network;Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Network; andWork-life balance Network

Defra, alongside many other government departments recognises that staff networks are instrumental not only in providing a forum for mutual support, but also in advising on corporate and departmental functions, policies and practices.


Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has informed me that it considers ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) to be a serious complication following stimulation of the ovaries with gonadotrophin drugs.

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