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Written Statements

Volume 492: debated on Wednesday 20 May 2009

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Treasury

UK Debt Management Office

The UK Debt Management Office (DMO) has today published its business plan for the year 2009-10. Copies have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and from DMO’s website, www.dmo.gov.uk.

Defence

Armed Forces' Pay Review Body

The Supplement to the 2009 Report of the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body (AFPRB) making recommendations on the pay of service medical and dental officers has been published today. I wish to express my thanks to the Chairman and members of the review body for their report. I am pleased to confirm that the AFPRB’s recommendations are to be accepted in full, with implementation effective from 1 April 2009.

The AFPRB has recommended an increase in basic military salary of 1.5 per cent. for all defence medical services (DMS) medical and dental officers, and all reserve equivalents. In addition, the AFPRB recommended a 1.5 per cent. increase in the values of national clinical excellence awards and distinction awards, DMS trainer pay and general medical practitioner associate trainer pay.

Copies of the report are available in the Vote Office.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture Council

The Minister responsible for farming and the environment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy), and the Under-Secretary responsible for the natural and marine environment, wildlife and rural affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), represented the United Kingdom at April’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg. Richard Lochhead also attended.

There were only five substantive agenda items—three for fisheries and two for agriculture—and a number of AOB items.

On fisheries, the Council adopted conclusions, which had been agreed in advance, welcoming the Commission’s recent action plan on sharks. The action plan set out some principles and future work streams regarding the conservation of sharks, rays and chimeras, which are vulnerable species.

The Commission then gave a brief initial presentation of the Green Paper on Common Fisheries Policy Reform. It stressed that there was a need for fundamental reforms and insisted that member states should not stand in the way of necessary reform; the long-term interest of all was in creating sustainable fish stocks. A more thorough discussion on the Green Paper will take place at the Council in May.

Next, the Commission introduced its communication on the sustainable development of Community aquaculture. It had concerns that EU production was stagnating while demand was increasing, the gap being filled by imports from third countries. It warned, however, that there was no additional funding available. There will be a full debate on this issue at the June Council.

There were four fisheries AOB items. Spain highlighted its concern about the problem of Somalian piracy and called on the Council to take appropriate measures that might include extending the range of the EU NAVFOR Somalia/ATALANTA operation and the establishment of an operating base in the area.

The Netherlands then explained that the official Dutch control body had recently prevented exports of glass eels outside the Community. They wanted a similar ban at EU level.

The Netherlands also raised concerns that the increased activity in coastal zones of gill net fishing has had a negative effect on the porpoise population. They called for EU measures to limit the use of gill nets and entangling nets for all vessels not just the over 10 metre ones.

The Commission expressed its concern that the slow implementation of the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) budget commitments by member states was delaying the spending of the available funds. They identified the main problem as being delays in putting the management and control plans in place.

On agriculture, the presidency introduced its questionnaire seeking member states views on CAP simplification to date; Commission ambition regarding further simplification; and the role Payment Agencies might play in the debate going forward. Member states rehearsed familiar views, all of whom supported further simplification with an emphasis on control burdens and cross compliance. Denmark tabled a list of 39 specific proposals for simplification, which 12 member states, including the UK, signed as co-sponsors. Denmark called for the creation of a high-level group for simplification to consider its proposals and for a commitment from the Commission to report on progress to the October Council.

The Commission then presented its Communication on Less Favoured Areas (LFAs) stressing that its review was limited to intermediate LFA; that is, areas with natural handicaps, encompassing neither mountainous regions nor areas with specific handicaps. The Communication responded to a call from the Council for reform in 2005 and to a 2003 Court of Auditors report, which pointed up shortcomings with the existing instrument. Application of the existing instrument was flawed on two counts: (1) it was based on socioeconomic criteria, whereas the challenge was to address land-use problems not income levels; and (2) there was little coherence at EU level about what constituted an area with a natural handicap leading inevitably to inequalities.

The Communication also constituted the initiation of a technical exercise wherein member states were required to simulate the application of biophysical criteria for areas with natural handicaps, reporting back to the Commission with detailed maps of their findings in six months’ time. Only after the completion of this technical exercise would the Commission come forward with legislative proposals. The new definition would not come into force until the next programming period; that is, post-2013. The presidency concluded that it would put draft Council conclusions to the June Council.

There were four agriculture AOB items. Denmark tabled a paper urging the Commission to take a more proportionate approach to financial corrections in respect of farm payment irregularities. Flat-rate corrections often overstated the real risk for Community funds. The process was also too drawn-out and needed to be speeded up.

Germany called on the Commission to permit partial payments to be advanced to farmers before the opening of the existing payment window and without checks having being completed on the respective claims.

Ireland rehearsed the March Council debate on the perceived difficulties in the dairy sector, eliciting merely a reiteration of the Commission’s position.

Belgium rehearsed the March Council debate on the perceived difficulties in the pigmeat sector, again eliciting merely a reiteration of the Commission’s position.

Health

Lord Archer's Report (Government Response)

I am today publishing the Government’s response to Lord Archer’s independent inquiry report on NHS supplied contaminated blood and blood products.

I thank Lord Archer for his very thorough report. The Government have the greatest sympathy for those who have been affected, and deeply regret that these events came about following NHS treatment.

I have carefully considered the recommendations of Lord Archer, particularly relating to payments for infected individuals and their families. My full response details the action we are taking, but I want to highlight the following points.

The Macfarlane Trust and Eileen Trust provide ex gratia lump sum and discretionary payments to, respectively, haemophiliacs and others, who contracted HIV from infected blood and blood products, and their dependents. Over £45million has been paid out to date and there are currently around 600 beneficiaries.

I recognise Lord Archer’s concern about financial relief. I therefore intend to increase the funding available to the Macfarlane and Eileen Trusts to allow them to move to a system of annual payments for infected individuals. The current average annual payment is around £6,400. I intend that in future payments of £12,800 per annum would be made to each infected individual, thus eliminating the need for them to make repeated detailed applications. I will also increase the funding available to the trusts so that the trustees can make higher payments to dependents. Payment to dependents will continue to be decided on a case-by-case basis—and left to the decision of the trustees.

The Skipton Fund provides lump sum payments to people infected with hepatitis C from infected blood and blood products. To date £97million has been paid out to over 4000 individuals.

The Skipton Fund will continue to make payments to people infected with hepatitis C and I commit to reviewing it in 2014 when the fund will have been in existence for ten years.

I understand Lord Archer’s desire to establish a committee by statute to advise Government on the management of haemophilia in the United Kingdom. My view is that it is better to build on existing arrangements and expertise, rather than risk disrupting or duplicating those arrangements via legislation.

I have therefore decided instead to invite the Haemophilia Alliance, which comprises patients, haemophilia doctors, and others involved in their care, to meet with Government twice yearly. The Department of Health will host these meetings and representatives from the Health Departments in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland will be invited to participate in this new formal arrangement.

I will also commit £100,000 per annum funding to the Haemophilia Society over the next five years.

Measures are already in place to help to prevent similar events from happening in the future. The Government receive expert advice on safety measures from the independent advisory committee on the safety of blood tissues and organs (SaBTO), and NHS Blood and Transplant is responsible for ensuring a safe and sufficient supply of blood to England and Wales. I will also ensure strong links are made between SaBTO and the Alliance.

The full response to Lord Archer’s report has been placed in the Library of the House and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.