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Written Statements

Volume 458: debated on Monday 26 March 2007

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 26 March 2007

Treasury

Issuer Liability: Davies Review

My written statement of 26 January 2007 announced the terms of reference for the independent review of issuer liability that I invited Professor Paul Davies QC, Cassel Professor of Commercial Law at the London School of Economics to carry out.

His discussion paper "Liability for Misstatements to the Market" is being published today. This sets out his analysis of the problem and invites comments on the issues arising. Copies of the paper are available in the House Library and can be downloaded from the HM Treasury website at www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/davies.

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ECOFIN

The Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held on 27 March in Brussels. The items on the agenda are as follows:

Implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact

Stability and Convergence Programmes

Ministers will be invited to adopt Council Opinions on the Stability Programmes of Belgium and Spain, and on the Convergence Programmes of Latvia, Bulgaria and Romania. The UK supports a prudent interpretation of the SGP that takes account of country-specific factors including debt sustainability, the economic cycle and public investment.

General Budget of the European Union

Council Priorities for the 2008 Budget

Ministers will be invited to adopt Conclusions agreeing the Council's Budget Guidelines for the 2008 EC Budget. These guidelines are a set of broad principles that are designed to inform the subsequent and more detailed discussions on the level of appropriations required for the different areas of the Budget. These guidelines reflect the UK's desire to see a greater emphasis on the principles of budgetary discipline and sound financial management in the establishment of the 2008 EC Budget. Through these principles, the Council has underlined the importance it attaches to compliance with the financial framework and the strict respect of the annual limits therein.

Progress Report on the Commission Action Plan towards an Integrated Internal Control Framework

Ministers will hear a presentation from Commissioner Almunia updating them on the European Commission's progress in implementing its Action Plan towards an Integrated Internal Control Framework. The UK Government support the Commission's efforts to improve financial management of the EU Budget and announced to Parliament on 20 November 2006 that the UK would take a lead in showing how member states could improve their own management of EU funds.

Financial Services

Directive on Prudential Assessment of Acquisitions in the Financial Sector

Ministers will be asked to approve text amending the supervisory review process for cross-border mergers and acquisitions in the financial services sector, as adopted by the European Parliament on 13 March, and thus to confirm political agreement on the directive. The UK welcomes moves to bring greater transparency to the supervisory approvals process.

Directive on Payment Services in the Internal Market

Ministers will be asked to discuss the Presidency's proposal for harmonising the legal and technical provision of payment services across the EU, ahead of a vote in the European Parliament in April. The UK Government support a Directive that encourages competition and innovation in a single market for payment services.

Valuation Office Agency

I have today set the following key performance indicators for the Valuation Office Agency for 2007-08:

Customer satisfaction

To achieve overall customer satisfaction of 88 per cent.

Operations

Contain reductions in the 2005 rating lists to a maximum of 4.2 per cent. of the total compiled list rateable value, over the entire life of the lists

Enable prompt issue of correct bills by local authorities through clearance of rating reports within an average of 18 working days and council tax reports within an average of 14 days (England) and 16 days (Wales)

Ensure that 96 per cent. of new council tax bandings are right first time

Enable prompt issue of tax assessments by clearing all HMRC initial appraisal cases for inheritance tax within an average of eight days and for Capital Gains Tax within an average of 12 days

People

All staff to have the core skills and competencies for their role within six months of taking up post

Value for Money

To improve productivity by 3 per cent. in 2007-081

To improve Value for Money on Inheritance Tax work by 5 per cent.

1 Work undertaken in Local Taxation network and excludes rating appeal and other associated work

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management

I am pleased to announce that the review by Government (the UK Government and the devolved administrations) of the long term management of the UK's solid low level radioactive waste (LLW), started on 18 March 2005, has been completed and that the revised policy statement is being published today. Copies of the policy statement have been placed in the Library of the House.

The LLW policy review process complements the ongoing work Government are carrying out on the policy for the management of higher activity radioactive wastes under our Managing Radioactive Waste Safely programme, following recommendations made by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) in July 2006.

The public consultation on the review of solid LLW management policy was held between 28 February 2006 and 31 May 2006. Some 150 responses were received and a summary of the Government's response to them is also being placed in the Library of the House. As made clear when the consultation was announced, unlike the higher activity wastes, paths for the long term management and disposal of LLW already exist but the review was needed for the following principal reasons:

With the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA's) decommissioning and clean-up programme underway, there will be greatly increased arisings of LLW over the coming decades, and this is already starting to happen;

there will be insufficient long term capacity at the national LLW disposal facility near Drigg in Cumbria to deal with this waste, and the future capacity of this facility is currently under review;

while other disposal routes for certain types of LLW have been used (eg by disposal on or near the site of arising, by controlled and uncontrolled burial to landfill and by incineration), the availability of these other routes has diminished in recent years;

finding small scale treatment and disposal routes for the least radioactive LLW, which are very important for the non-nuclear sectors (hospitals, research and education establishments, and the oil and gas industry) is proving increasingly difficult.

The revised policy puts providing public safety at the forefront of dealing with LLW, and recognises that much LLW has very low levels of radioactivity and can be disposed of in a variety of ways while posing a negligible risk to human health or the environment. The revised policy will:

require very high levels of safety to be maintained through the use of a risk assessed approach, and the preparation of plans and safety cases that are acceptable to the regulatory bodies (including the Environment Agencies and the Health and Safety Executive);

allow greater flexibility in the management of the wide range of LLW that already exists, and will arise in future from the NDA's activities and other nuclear and non-nuclear industry arisings;

seek to minimise the amount of LLW for disposal by application of the waste hierarchy applied in other areas of waste management - avoidance of generation, minimisation, reuse and recycling - prior to disposal;

emphasise the need for effective consultation and public involvement in the development and delivery of LLW waste management plans

make the NDA responsible for development of a UK-wide strategy for the management of nuclear industry LLW, including the identification of the need for additional LLW disposal capacity and facilities;

initiate the first steps towards development of a UK-wide strategy for the management of non-nuclear LLW. The first step in this will be for Government, in conjunction with the NDA, to undertake a study which will give a clear picture of arisings across the UK.

Further information, including the full policy statement, is available at www.defra.gov.uk/environment/radio activitv/waste/index.htm.

Northern Ireland

North/South Implementation Bodies and Tourism Ireland Limited

I have today placed in the Libraries of the House papers relating to decisions that have been taken during the period 28 October 2006 - 1 March 2007 which relate to the North/South Implementation Bodies and Tourism Ireland Ltd under the terms of the Exchange of Notes of 19 November 2002 (Cmnd 5708).

Foyle Carlingford and Irish Lights Sector

IP/FCILC 25 Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries Draft Order

IP/FCILC 26 Foyle Area and Carlingford Area (Licensing of Fishing Engines) Amendment) Regulations 2007

IP/FCILC 27 Extension of the Terms of Office of Board Members

Food Safety Sector

IP/FS 17 IP Business Plan for 2007 and Budgets 2007-08

IP/FS 19 Appointment of Chief Executive Officer

IP/FS 20 Code of Conduct for Members of Safefood, the Food Safety Promotion Board, the Staff of the Body and Members of the Advisory Board.

IP/FS 21 Extension of the Terms of Office of Board Members

Language Sector

IP/LAN 41 Staffing for Tha Boord O Ulstèr-Scotch (Ulster Scots Agency Cross Border Project)

IP/LAN 42 Staffing for Tha Boord O Ulstèr-Scotch (Ulster Scots Agency)

IP/LAN 43 Extension of the Terms of Office of Board Members

Special European Union Programmes Body

IP/SEU 23 - North/South Pension Committee - Interim Executive Resource

IP/SEU 24 - Special EU Programme Body Annual Report and Accounts for 2005

IP/SEU 25 - Special EU Programmes Body Staffing

Trade And Business Sector

IP/TB 18 Change to the Terms of Appointment of the Chief Executive of InterTradeIreland

IP/TB 19 Extension of the Terms of Office of Board Members

Inland Waterways Sector

IP/WI 21 Business Plan and Budgets 2007

IP/WI 22 Two 99 Year Leases of River Shannon Frontage at Coothall, Co Roscommon to Mrs Maura Doherty

IP/WI 23 99 Year Lease on the Shannon Erne Waterway at Lanesborough, Co Roscommon to Fast Fit Doors Ltd

IP/WI 24 99 Year Lease on the Shannon Erne Waterway at Cullyleenan, Ballyconnell, Co Cavan to Cullyleenan Properties

IP/WI 25 99 Year Lease on the Shannon Erne Waterway at Kilcorby, Belturbet, Co Cavan to Kilcorby Chalets Ltd

IP/WI 26 Employee Code of Conduct

IP/WI 27 - Lease of Part of a Waterway to Dublin Docklands Development Authority to Facilitate the Construction of a Walkway Structure at Grand Canal Plaza.

IP/WI 28 - Lease of Part of a Waterway to Gerard Conefrey at Keshcarrigan, Co Leitrim to Facilitate the Construction of a Private 26 Berth Marina and Car Parking Area

Tourism Sector

IP/TOU 26 - Membership of Board of Tourism Ireland Limited

Prime Minister

European Summit (24-25 March)

EU Heads of State and Government met in Berlin over the weekend 24-25 March to mark the 50th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome. The Berlin Declaration recalls the historic achievements of the last 50 years, and looks ahead to the challenges that we the countries of the European Union need to face together. Copies of the Declaration have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Trade and Industry

Royal Mail

Further to the statement that I made to the House on the financing framework for Royal Mail letters business on 8 February this year I am pleased to confirm that this has now been completed and put in place. The legal documentation was finalised last Friday, 23 March, in line with the timetable I set out.

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations

Producer responsibility under the UK WEEE Regulations will begin from1 July 2007. Non-statutory Guidance to assist business affected by the regulations to understand their obligations and identify the most appropriate method to discharge them was published in February 2007. This document will be reviewed and amended on a regular basis to ensure clarity in light of experience.

In the early part of 2007 the DTI held a series of road-shows for producers and distributors across the UK. In addition the environment authorities arranged seminars for prospective Producer Compliance Schemes and the Distributor Take-back Scheme (DTS) operator held workshops to raise awareness of the opportunities the regulations offer Local Authorities. This awareness raising activity was supplemented by a number of placed articles and features in the trade press.

It is encouraging to see the active engagement of all affected parties involved. For example:

The environment authorities in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have approved 37 Producer Compliance Schemes to help producers of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) discharge their obligations under the Regulations,

There is evidence of increased investment by the waste management and treatment sector to increase the existing capacity to deal with WEEE as it arises; and

Distributors and local authorities are working with the DTS operator to develop a network of designated collection facilities using the existing local authority waste collection infrastructure.

A public awareness campaign will begin in the coming months to inform consumers of the regulations and the positive role they can play in ensuring WEEE is separately collected, treated and reprocessed to the standards required by the regulations to secure the environmental benefits the WEEE system will offer.

At the time of laying the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations (WEEE) 2006 (SI 3289), the Government indicated that they were considering introducing partial producer responsibility from 1 April 2007. However, following extensive discussions with industry, the Government have decided not to take this forward.

Officials within my Department will continue direct dialogue with trade associations and other representative bodies to ensure a practical, effective and workable WEEE system is established within the UK.

Transport

School Initiatives Grant

I would like to update the House about the grants to increase walking to school that I announced on 22 November 2006. I have today placed in the House Libraries the grant determination under Section 31 of the Local Government Act 2003 in respect of this grant.

This statement and the grant determination set out how the Department for Transport (DFT) intends to allocate the money for the first year (2007-8).

Funds will go to a total of 3,231 schools. The grant is targeted mainly at primary schools, and more than one in six primary schools across the country will receive this funding. 1,903 schools will receive grants to start or significantly expand walking buses, and another 1,328 will receive grants to set up other walking initiatives. This new investment is expected to see the number of walking buses across England triple.

Funding in years two and three will be dependent on individual schools demonstrating they have saved the required number of extra car trips and expect to continue doing so.

These payments are being made as part of the Government's Travelling to School project to reduce car use for journeys to school. DFT is providing the money and is working closely with the Department for Education and Skills (DFES) and the Department of Health to integrate walking buses and other walking initiatives into the Healthy Schools initiative and promote healthier lifestyles.

The grants will be paid through DFES to Local Authorities (LAs) for onward transmission to the successful school through the DFES Standards Fund. This has been identified as the grant mechanism that is simplest to administer.

The grant determination sets out the amount each LA will receive. The amount distributed to each LA is based on the number of schools in their area that have made the required commitment and demonstrated a reasonable expectation of saving five return trips per school day for a walking bus, which will receive £1,000 a year. Other walking initiatives must save 2.5 return trips on average and will receive £500 a year.

The required number of car trips to be saved is based on an assessment of the number needed to ensure that the scheme represents high value for money, taking account of the environmental, health and other benefits from the walking buses and other walking initiatives.

I am also placing in the Libraries of the House an Explanatory Note, setting out the list of schools that will receive the grants.

Defence

Depleted Uranium Oversight Board

The Depleted Uranium Oversight Board (DUOB) was established in 2001 to oversee a screening programme for veterans of the 1991 Gulf conflict and subsequent Balkans operations concerned about possible exposure to depleted uranium. Testing based on the analysis of urine samples for trace quantities of uranium isotopes was offered between 2004 and 2006. A total of 496 applicants completed the test.

The final report of the DUOB is now available and can be accessed from the website www.duob.org.uk

The board was unable to achieve complete consensus on the interpretation and significance of the test results. However, no evidence of the excretion of depleted uranium was found in the urine of any of the test participants. According to mainstream scientific and medical opinion, this means that none had suffered an exposure to DU of sufficient magnitude likely to cause a risk to their health.

I welcome these findings and believe they will have provided valuable reassurance and peace of mind to the veterans concerned.