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Written Statements

Volume 458: debated on Monday 19 March 2007

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 19 March 2007

Defence

Armed Forces Compensation Scheme

The Armed Forces Compensation Scheme has been in force now for just over a year and a half. As is sensible with any new scheme, we have conducted an evaluation of its operation in the first year to identify any emerging issues. The evaluation is now complete and copies of the report are available in the Library of the House as well as on the MOD and Veterans Agency websites. The findings show some positive outcomes from the first year such as simpler, speedier arrangements for claimants and internal dispute procedures that result in fewer cases settled by appeal to the Pensions Appeal Tribunals. The issues identified, such as continuing to raise awareness of the scheme, will be taken forward by officials. The report recommends a fuller assessment of the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme after five years of operation.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council - 19 and 20 March

I will be representing the United Kingdom at this month’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels. The Welsh Environment, Planning and Countryside Minister, Carwyn Jones, will also attend.

The Council is expected to adopt conclusions on the Commission communication on “Employment in rural areas”.

The Council will hold a policy debate on a linked pair of proposals on the common organisation of the market in cereals aimed principally at dealing with the large increase in intervention purchasing of maize: one proposal will deliver extra short-term cash to compensate for high interest charges; the other will seek to overcome the problem by allowing the market to operate freely and abolish the intervention for maize.

The presidency will seek political agreement on the Commission’s proposal laying down rules for voluntary modulation in light of the December 2005 European Council future financing agreement for 2007-13. The proposal sets out the terms by which member states can voluntarily modulate from pillar 1 of the Common Agricultural Policy (direct payments) to pillar 2 (rural development). It is hoped that agreement will be reached on voluntary modulation.

There will be a policy debate on the Commission proposal on the common organisation of agricultural markets and agricultural products, based on a presidency questionnaire. The proposal aims to consolidate the existing 21 sector-specific Common Market Organisations into a single regulation, in an effort to streamline and simplify the legal framework.

A number of issues, as follows, will be raised under ‘any other business’:

The Environment Commissioner will give an update on, the impact the proposed strategy on soil protection would have on agriculture and the need to grant member states further subsidiarity discussed at the January Council.

There will then be written updates from the health and consumer protection Commissioner on avian influenza and the EC-Russian Federation veterinary agreement negotiations.

The presidency will update the Council on the outcomes of two recent conferences: “Fuelling the Future—Renewable Resources” and “Prevention for Health—Nutrition and Physical Activity—A Key to Healthy Living”.

The Agriculture Commissioner will then give an update on the WTO agricultural negotiations.

Over lunch, Ministers and the Commission will share experiences gained from the implementation of controls in food chains and discuss ways to further improve these control measures.

Transport

Light Dues 2007-08

Under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, the costs of the three General Lighthouse Authorities in the British Isles are met by light dues levied on ships using ports in British Isles.

I am pleased to announce that light dues rates and the tonnage threshold will remain the same for 2007-08. It is a tribute to the continuing efficiency gains of the GLA that rates have not increased in 14 years.

Last year light dues were cut by 4p per ton, representing a 10 per cent. reduction. I welcomed the industry’s assurance at that time that they accepted rates could rise in the future should the general lighthouse fund not be able to meet the cost of essential major capital projects.

It is a significant achievement that two major projects are well under-way—the redevelopment of the Commissioners of Irish Lights depot at Dun Laoghaire and the brand new GLA ships that will come into service later this year. These ongoing improvements will continue to ensure that the GLA provide the best possible service to merchant ships in UK and Irish coastal waters.

Greater London Authority Transport Grant for 2006-07 and 2007-08

The Greater London Authority (GLA) transport grant for 2007-08 has today been determined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport at £2,520.5 million, following consultation with the Mayor of London. This is a block resource grant provided by the Government to Transport for London (TfL) to support and improve transport services in London, including London Underground.

This grant determination is based on the Government’s five-year settlement for TfL of £2,544 million which was announced in July 2004, and includes a further £10.5 million for road safety partnership funding in London. Some £34 million of capital funding, which was included in the five-year settlement, will now be paid to TfL through a separate grant.

The GLA transport grant for 2006-07 has also been re-determined by my right hon. Friend at £2,390.305 million. This re-determination increases the Government’s grant this year to TfL by £1.305 million, reflecting additional funding for scoping work to make TfL’s Oyster estate interoperable with ITSO Smartcards of Oyster on National Rail and TfL’s urban bus challenge projects in 2006-07.