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Written Statements

Volume 403: debated on Wednesday 9 April 2003

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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 9 April 2003

Environment, Food And Rural Affairs

Over-30-Month Scheme

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(Mr. Elliot Morley)

In 1996 at the height of the BSE crisis the then Government and European partners introduced a raft of measures aimed at protecting public health, supporting the market and restoring consumer confidence in beef.The OTMS was introduced to provide an outlet for cattle affected by the over-30-month rule which bans beef from cattle more than 30 months old from being sold for human consumption. It is operated under EU Regulation 716/96 and farmers are paid for animals more than 30 months old which are slaughtered and destroyed. The Scheme costs around £400 million a year, and more than £3.2 billion has been spent on it since 1996.The over-30-month rule is currently being reviewed by the Food Standards Agency; although no decisions have been taken, it is possible that the review will lead to changes and that beef from older cattle will again be available for human consumption, subject to testing negative for BSE.This possibility offers exciting new challenges and opportunities for the UK beef industry. It has led the Government to take a number of strategic actions to assist the industry in preparing for an orderly return to more normal market conditions.Our officials asked the European Commission to reduce the rates paid to farmers for animals entering the OTMS. On 28 March the EU Beef Management Committee unanimously agreed a proposal by the European Commission. The rates for cows will fall by 20 per cent. and the rate for steers, heifers and bulls by 8 per cent. The new rates, which reflect changes to market prices elsewhere in the EU since 1997, are 0.64 euros per kg liveweight for cows and 0.83 euros per kg liveweight for other animals.The new rates will come into effect on 28 April and will apply to all animals slaughtered from that date. This action will ensure that taxpayers do not pay farmers prices well above the level that they could expect to get on the market and will help discourage the entry of cattle which may be slaughtered for beef following any changes to the rule.Our officials are setting up a core stakeholders group to explore with the industry the way forward if the rule is changed. They will be talking to the European Commission about how any disruption to the beef market can be minimised and any further changes to the Scheme that may be required.

The UK currently imports 30 per cent. or around 290,000 tonnes of its domestic beef requirement. Changes to the rule are expected to allow large quantities of cow beef for manufacturing and some prime beef for retail use onto the domestic market which will assist in reducing the import requirement and increasing the availability of both prime quality and cow beef for export. In order to capitalise on these increased supplies for export and to minimise domestic market distortion, my officials have alerted the European Commission to our intention to seek a change to the 30 month limit in the Date Based Export Scheme (DBES), in line with any change to the over thirty month rule.

Our officials are also working with stakeholders to ensure that effective arrangements for BSE testing and removal of vertebral column will be in place.

South Downs National Park

In April 2000, the Countryside Agency decided that the South Downs met the criteria for a National Park. The Agency consulted widely on proposals for a National Park before making a Designation Order on 18 December 2002. The Agency submitted the Order to the Secretary of State on 4 February 2003 and placed it on public deposit from 27 January 2003 to 28 February 2003. As a result, around 5,000 objections and representations, including many expressions of support, have been received. The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 requires an inquiry be held into a Designation Order if a local authority has objected and the objection is not withdrawn. Several local authorities have made objections and, so far, have not withdrawn them. Consequently, a local inquiry will be called.A letter is being sent to all those who have made objections or representations advising them of the intention to hold an inquiry and what the scope will be. A copy will be placed in the library of the House. The inquiry is expected to start towards the end of this year. In the period up to its start, the Countryside Agency will negotiate with objectors to see if their concerns can be overcome, enabling them to withdraw their objections.The Countryside Agency has also advised that a National Park Authority should be established for the South Downs so the inquiry will hear representations on that related issue. Objections will also be heard into the Countryside Agency's Orders to revoke the designations of the Sussex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the East Hampshire Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These areas will largely be contained in the South Downs National Park, if the Designation Order is confirmed, and the proposed de-designation is consequent on the proposal to establish a National Park.

Northern Ireland

Antrim-Lisburn Railway Line

Following a formal submission under Section 60(2) of the Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 from Northern Ireland Railways, I have decided to give my consent to the discontinuance of rail services on the Antrim-Lisburn railway line in Northern Ireland. I will be informing Northern Ireland Railways forthwith. I am placing a memorandum setting out the background to this decision in the House of Commons Library, the House of Lords Library and the Northern Ireland Assembly Library.I should make it clear that this statement relates to the branch line running from Antrim via Crumlin, Glenavy, Ballinderry and Knockmore on to Lisburn. There will continue to be rail services between Antrim and Lisburn via Belfast. The future of services on this line has been under review for some considerable time. I have given this matter careful consideration. I have reached my decision against a backdrop of other competing transportation priorities in Northern Ireland, taking into account financial feasibility, value for money and wider social and economic considerations. The need for services on this line has been assessed according to future population growth and the condition of the existing infrastructure and rolling stock requirements. Translink (the public transport operating group in Northern Ireland) have estimated that to retain regular services on this line would require track maintenance costs of £565,000 per annum and in due course a sum of £13 million to modernise the line. These costs, in addition to the allocation of rolling stock, cannot be justified, at least for the foreseeable future.Services on the line have been reduced since June 2001. Prior to this, there were 11 train services each way on weekdays, 9 on Saturdays and 3 on Sundays. Even when full services operated on the line less than 160 passenger journeys per day originated or terminated at stations on the line. In 1998–99 the passenger activity on this line accounted for 0.82 per cent. of the total usage of the Northern Ireland Railway network. Translink estimate that the current average patronage level is in the region of 70 passenger journeys per day.Services will, therefore, be discontinued from June 2003 onwards. However, I am approaching this matter in the following manner:

abandonment of the line is not being considered at this stage;
the line will be maintained to a standard that will enable trains to use it in emergency circumstances, albeit under strict safety rules and speed restrictions. This arrangement will be reviewed after one year of operation to ascertain the actual usage of the line for diversionary purposes. The review will consider the full range of options for the future usage of the line at this stage;
Translink is committed to consult proactively with local people affected by the discontinuance of services to ensure that bus substitution and regular bus services are integrated with the aim of providing enhanced bus services; and
the possibility of the line being modernised to become part of a Belfast-Lisburn-Antrim-Belfast passenger circle line, as envisaged in the "Regional Development Strategy for Northern Ireland 2025", remains a longer-term possibility. This would depend on there being a robust financial, economic, social and transportation case showing it to be a worthwhile use of resources, and on the agreement of the Executive that it was an affordable priority within a future Budget.

In reaching this decision I was fully cognizant of the importance which the Northern Ireland Assembly accorded to improving public transport in Northern Ireland, manifested in the Assembly's approval of the strategic direction and underlying principles of the "Regional Transportation Strategy for Northern Ireland 2002–12" last July. I am fully committed to the development of public transport in Northern Ireland. In the December 2002 Budget, an extra £40 million was allocated for the bus replacement programme over the next 3 years, and an extra £40 million has been allocated for the ongoing modernisation of the core railway network in Northern Ireland over the same period. 'These allocations are over and above the resources already allocated for the purchase of new trains and for rail safety.

However, significant challenges lie ahead if we are to provide quality and frequently used bus and rail services, and to tackle the wider transportation challenges in Northern Ireland. This will inevitably lead to difficult choices about priorities, and the requirement is to target investment where the value for money and transportation outturns can be fully justified.

I acknowledge that the discontinuance of services on the Antrim-Lisburn line will be disappointing to communities serviced by the line. However, the cost of maintaining the services could not be justified, given the very low level of passenger usage; and bus substitution services will be made available by Translink. Getting the balance right between competing transportation priorities is a challenge for all of us.

Discretionary Social Fund

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
(Mr. Desmond Browne)

I am pleased to announce that the Northern Ireland Discretionary Social Fund budget for 2003–04 will be £56.60 million; £11.7 million will be allocated to grants; £44.80 million to loans and £0.1 million will be held as a contingency reserve. The new allocations represent an increase of £5.6 million over the initial gross budget set at April 2002. This increase will be funded through higher loan recoveries, plus an increase in net treasury funding of £1.88 million for this year. The £1.88 million is the first of three annual increases from a £8.2 million boost for the discretionary Social Fund announced in the Autumn 2002 pre-budget Report.The Community Care Grant budget has been increased by £0.94 million to £11.7 million. This will provide more help to customers, in particular families with children and the disabled.The loans budget has been increased to £44.8 million, an increase of £4.66 million on the initial 2002–03 loans budget. To improve the fairness of the scheme, budgets will be allocated in a way that will over time achieve greater consistency of outcome for customers wherever they live.Details of the individual District budget allocations, together with a note explaining the basis on which they have been made, have been placed in the House of Commons Library today.


Debt And Reserves Management Report

I am pleased to announce that the Debt and Reserves Management Report 2003–04 is being published today.Copies are available in the Library of the House.

Lord Chancellor

Children And Family Court

I am pleased to announce that the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) has published its Corporate Plan for 2003 to 2006. The Plan contains details of CAFCASS's Key Performance targets set by my Right Honourable and Noble Friend, the Lord Chancellor. These targets are set out below:

In public law no less than 80 per cent. of cases should be allocated within 7 days.
In private law cases at least 95 per cent. of requests in the month should be allocated 10 weeks before the filing date.
Carry out during 2003–04 a customer satisfaction survey to inform the development of a service improvement action plan.
All new recruits to have received induction training within 16 weeks of joining.
Sickness absence rate of no higher than 5 per cent. (equivalent to 12 days per person per annum).
Manage our funding to live within, subject to a 1 per cent. tolerance limit, our resource allocation.
During 2003–04 develop a demonstrably robust methodology for calculating unit costs and assess the baseline position, to inform specific key performance indicators from 2004–05.
Copies of the Corporate Plan have been placed in the libraries of both Houses. Further copies of the Corporate Plan may be obtained from CAFCASS.

Home Department

Rehabilitation Offenders

The report of the review of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, Breaking the Circle, was published in July 2002 The comments of consultees have now been fully considered and the Government's response is published today. Copies of the response have been placed in the Library.

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Dual-Use Exports (Zimbabwe)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Bill Rammell)

The Government have approved the export to Zimbabwe of a Travelling Wave Tube (TWT) which has been repaired in the UK. A TWT is radar equipment used for air traffic control.The export licence was initially rejected because the TWT appeared on the military list. Its export would therefore have contravened the EU Arms Embargo on Zimbabwe.The TWT has since been modified so that it is no longer suitable for military use. As a result, DTI Technologies Unit re-rated the TWT making it now a dual-use good.The decision to overturn the original rejection was made after discussion with Export Control section of Defence Intelligence Service. They have established that the equipment is for use at Bulawayo and Harare airports. There is no Zimbabwe air force facility at Bulawayo. There is one near the civil airport in Harare, but the military have their own radar. We are therefore satisfied that the TWT is for civilian use only.This decision underlines our policy that targeted sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe should not affect the lives of ordinary people unconnected with the Mugabe regime.


Armed Forces Personnel Administration Agency

The Key Targets have been set for the Chief Executive of the Armed Forces Personnel Administration Agency (AFPAA) for the Financial Year 2003–04. The Targets build upon progress made by the Agency since it formed on 1 April 1997, and are set against the following groupings.

Service Enhancement—Joint Personnel Administration (JPA)

The delivery of a procurement strategy for JPA by February 2004 to enable the submission of a Main Gate Business Case to the Defence Investment Approvals Board during Financial Year 2004—05.

Service Enhancement

In total 96 per cent. of all change projects (Major change) to be delivered within agreed project tolerances; 95 per cent. of all other change to be delivered in accordance with the AFPAA Change Control Steering Group (CCSG) approved plans.

Delivery of Service

To make 99.9 per cent. of all pay payments by the due date (excluding late payments caused by events determined to be outside the control of the Agency).

Error rate of accuracy to be kept within 0.1 per cent. per volume of payments. To make 99 per cent. of all pension payments (including new awards) by the due date (excluding late payments caused by events determined to be outside the control of the Agency).

Error rate of accuracy to be kept within 0.1 per cent. per volume of payments.

Business Improvement

To determine, implement and maintain a responsive and flexible Business Improvement Plan endorsed by DCDS(Pers) and have recorded baselines for all areas of improvement contained within the plan by 31 March 2004.


To reduce the unit cost by 0.5 per cent. in 2003—04 which will contribute to a 12 per cent. reduction, over a four-year period, from 2002—03 for delivery of core Pay and Personnel Administration.