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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 7 May 2003


Driving Licences

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): Legislation that was laid before Parliament by the previous administration on 11 November 1996 and came into effect in January 1997 unintentionally exempted certain drivers from paying a fee for certain short term medical driving licences (that is licences which are restricted on account of the holder's medical condition). However the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) continued to charge such a fee. Corrective action is now being taken by the DVLA.

Until the age of 70 medical licence holders receive free renewals of their short period licences. This ensures that they are not at a financial disadvantage to those whose licences are not required to be renewed until they reach the age of 70. However, at 70 and every three years thereafter, non-medical licence holders must pay a renewal fee. The policy has always been that, in the interests of equity, medical licence holders should also be subject to this fee except that in cases where licences are granted for periods of less than three years they should not have to pay fees at intervals shorter than three years.

Between 1991 (when the over 70 renewal fee was introduced) and 1997, this is what the legislation was understood to have required and this is what happened. Regrettably the Regulations which were laid before Parliament on 11 November 1996 and came into force on 1 January 1997 changed the drafting of the relevant provision to the effect that medical licence holders were exempt from paying the three-yearly renewal charge at and after 70. This was not the intention. Although the policy was to charge these applicants a fee, and the DVLA operating instructions continued to reflect this, the legislation no longer provided for it. Unfortunately, it was not picked up at the time and consequently medical licence holders continued to be charged.

This was compounded in 1998 when the legislation was amended in respect of drivers of buses and lorries holding short period medical licences to bring it into line with the changes which took effect in 1997.

Consequently the DVLA will be refunding fees as appropriate, with interest. The fees to be refunded vary according to the number of licences renewed during the period and the value of payments made. Licences were generally for a three-year period but some shorter term ones were issued. It is possible that some drivers paid a renewal fee up to three times during the period. The cost of car licences varied between £6 and £8.50 and lorry and bus licences between £26 and £32.50 during the period.

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DVLA deeply regrets this matter and Ministers have insisted that measures are taken to refund those involved and to minimise the risk of this problem happening again. Now that the Agency has identified the problem it is taking action to identify all those drivers affected and will refund the payments made. Drivers affected need not take any action as payable orders will be automatically issued to them by the end of June.

There will inevitably be some drivers affected who have moved and not notified the DVLA of their change of address and some drivers who are now deceased. To handle these cases, DVLA has put in place a free helpline which such drivers or their next of kin can contact for advice on what they need to do to obtain payment. The helpline number is 0800 5877 664.


Education and Library Boards

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Paul Murphy): I have today, laid before Parliament the certified Statement of Accounts of the five Education and Library Boards for the period 1 April 1999 to 31 March 2000. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.


Census (England and Wales)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Ruth Kelly): The National Report on the 2001 Census for England and Wales is being laid before Parliament today. Copies are available in the Vote Office and the report is also accessible on the National Statistics website.

The report provides detailed statistics covering the wide range of topics included in the 2001 Census, and fills out the picture given by the key statistics report released on 13 February 2003 and the first results published on 30 September 2002. In particular it shows many relationships between census topics, for example the links between age, social group and health.

The printed report comprises a set of 145 tables presenting statistics at the national level, and an accompanying CD contains the corresponding figures for England and Wales separately, English regions, and local authorities in England and Wales, along with software to view, manipulate and download the data. The CD contains the equivalent to the entire set of 1991 Census County Reports, which were published in two printed volumes for each of the 55 counties in England and Wales over a 14-month period. The CD also contains an electronic version of the key statistics report released on 13 February.

A further set of tables covering migration and workplace statistics will be published in a supplementary report later in the summer.

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Intellectual Property Rights

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): Last September, the Government welcomed the report of the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights "Integrating Intellectual Property Rights and Development Policy" as a valuable contribution to the debate on the complex issues surrounding the interaction of intellectual property rights (IPRs) and development policy. I am now able to announce the publication of the Government's response. This is available in the Library of the House and on the websites of the Commission, the Patent Office and the Department for International Development.

The Government believe that IPRs can play a vital role in the course of the development process for developing countries today, just as they did, and continue to do, in the UK, other developed countries and the most successful developing economies. The Commission's report emphasises that a prerequisite for sustainable development in any country is the development of an indigenous scientific and technological capacity. As the Commission recognises, an IPR system is capable of being an important element in developing that capacity, notably in those countries which have already developed a scientific and technological infrastructure. But, as the Commission's report makes clear, an intellectual property system cannot of itself ensure a country attains its developmental goals. The degree to which this occurs depends on many different factors, particularly the economic, social and environmental policies it chooses to pursue, for example, openness to trade and effective governance.

We agree with the Commission that IPR regimes can and should be tailored to take into account individual country's circumstances within the framework of international agreements such as the Agreement on Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The Commission also raises the important issue of how technical assistance from developed countries and international organisations such as the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) can be provided so as to ensure that developing countries fully understand how to create an effective intellectual property system appropriate to their needs. The Government are committed to this goal, both in its own technical assistance programmes and in influencing those of international organisations.

In setting up the Commission, the Government's intention was to explore how IPRs could work better for developing countries within the overall framework of development policy. The Commission has found that intellectual property does indeed have a role to play in promoting development but it has made a number of detailed recommendations designed to improve the way these rules are developed and applied, both nationally and internationally.

The Government remain firmly committed to the effective protection of IPRs in order to stimulate continued innovation and creativity. This commitment is consistent with the use of various flexibilities in the

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TRIPS agreement by developing countries as the Ministerial Agreement on the WTO Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health in November 2001 demonstrated in one important area for developing countries.

I would like to thank the Commissioners for a comprehensive and well-written report. While there are those who disagree strongly with aspects of the report, just as others are in wholehearted agreement, nobody should ignore the importance of the issues it raises and the quality of its analysis. We hope it will continue to serve as a stimulus to ongoing debate on these important issues.


Iraq and Israel/Palestine Statement (28 April 2003)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Straw): During my oral statement on Iraq and Israel/Palestine, I said that the "United Nations Office of the Humanitarian Co-ordinator has said that it is about to declare the area to the south of Baghdad 'permissive'"— Official Report, 28 April 2003, column 21. It was in fact the Coalition's Humanitarian Operations Centre who made this statement. The UN have since declared the Basra Governorate to be at "Phase IV". This allows for the return of some international staff on a permanent basis. UN humanitarian agencies arrived in Baghdad on 2 May to establish a permanent presence.

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