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VAT: Transitional Arrangements

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Under the Sixth VAT Directive "transitional" arrangements, the UK is able to exempt or zero rate a number of transactions and items. The two main ones allow the UK to: retain all its current zero rates on social items such as food, public transport, books and newspapers and children's clothing (Article 28(2)(a) of the Sixth VAT Directive 77/388/EEC); and exempt from VAT burials and

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cremations and building land (Article 28(3)(b) of the Sixth VAT Directive 77/388/EEC).

It was originally envisaged that the transitional arrangements would only last until 31 December 1996 when they would be replaced by a "definitive" (common) VAT system. However the Commission has not yet put forward legislative proposals for key elements of the replacement Common VAT system. Until it does so and they are unanimously agreed by member states, the "transitional" arrangements continue automatically.

EU Council Recommendation 11393/97

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publish Council Recommendation 11393/97 of 28 October 1997.[HL131]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The European Union Council Recommendation 11393/97 was sent, along with an explanatory memorandum, to the European Legislation Committee of the House of Commons and the Select Committee on the European Communities of the House of Lords on 17 November 1997. The documents were deposited in the Libraries of both Houses on 19 November 1997.

GPs and Secondary Health Services in Scotland

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What role general practitioners in Scotland will have (equivalent to the role proposed for general practitioners in England under the proposals in the White Paper Designed to Care) in commissioning secondary health services.[HL135]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): The proposals for reorganising the NHS in Scotland, set out in the White Paper Designed to Care, assume that GPs will continue to have a key role in the design and delivery of healthcare services for patients. GPs will be fully involved in the development of their health board's health improvement plan (HIP) which sets the service strategy for both acute and primary care trusts.

In addition, the joint investment fund (JIF) provides a mechanism for ensuring that primary and secondary care clinicians have the opportunity to work together to improve services across primary and secondary care.

Arms Sales to Algeria

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the value of British arms sales (if any) to Algeria in each year since 1992.[HL147]

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The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): The MoD is currently working with the FCO and the DTI to assemble information for the Government's first annual report on Strategic Export Controls. The report will include details of export licence applications for UK Military List items and details of such equipment exported with annual values. When the report is issued, I will write to the noble Lord in regard to the information requested for previous years and a copy of my letter will be placed in the Library of the House.

Medicines Control and Medical Devices Agencies

Lord Ewing of Kirkford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for the future of the Medicines Control Agency and the Medical Devices Agency.[HL243]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman): The Department of Health is carrying out a study to identify the longer-term organisational arrangements which will best support the effective regulation of pharmaceuticals and medical devices carried out by the Medicines Control Agency and the Medical Devices Agency respectively. The terms of reference for the study have been placed in the Library.

Miners' Respiratory Diseases

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Answer by Lord Sainsbury of Turville on 16 November (H.L. Deb., col. 1116) regarding miners' respiratory diseases and the issue of medical assessments, what is their best estimate of the number of plaintiffs too weak or ill to be moved to a specialist.[HL18]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): At this stage, the department's claim handlers are unable to estimate the numbers involved, as the details provided by claimants are insufficient to allow a judgment about the extent of the individual's disability.

Victims of Nazi Persecution: Return of Assets

Lord Graham of Edmonton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to return to victims of Nazi persecution assets which they confiscated in the United Kingdom under Trading with the Enemy legislation.[HL190]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: This Government are revolted by the treatment meted out by the Nazis to Jews

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and other minorities during the Second World War. We have the greatest sympathy for the victims and their relatives. This is why, in June 1998, we appointed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, to advise on a scheme for determining claims from victims of Nazi persecution for the return of assets, where practicable and subject to validation, placed in the UK, which were confiscated by HM Government during the Second World War. We have now received the noble and learned Lord's recommendations and I am pleased to confirm that the Government will quickly put in place a claims scheme based on them. A copy of the Government's response to the main recommendations has been placed in the Library of the House.

The scheme will have the following main features: any victims of Nazi persecution who had assets in the UK confiscated by HM Government under the Trading with the Enemy legislation, and who have not already been compensated, will be eligible to make a claim; the Government will pay compensation at today's values in respect of valid claims to the original owners or their heirs; and claims will be determined by a panel of three independent assessors comprising a legal chair; someone with financial expertise; and someone with an understanding of belonging to a minority group.

This Government are aware that time is of the essence to victims of Nazi persecution and their families. We shall therefore establish the claims scheme as a matter of urgency so that claims for compensation may be met as soon as possible. The terms of reference of the assessors, a claims form and guidance on how to apply will be made available as soon as is practicable.

My department has already received a number of potential claims and we shall be writing to these individuals to inform them of the procedure. We shall also be updating my department's enemy property website, adding further lists of names and details of the claims scheme as they emerge. We are also in touch with the main interest groups and together with them we shall ensure that the scheme gets the widest publicity.

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for proposing a solution which allows the Government to meet the claims of victims of Nazi persecution while addressing the practical problems of meeting the standards of propriety expected in public expenditure in circumstances some 50 years after the event. The UK owes victims of Nazi persecution a debt of honour. That debt can now be repaid.

Transport Safety

Lord Williams of Elvel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they intend to implement the review of the arrangements for transport safety announced in the transport White Paper.[HL239]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): The White Paper on the future of transport A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone announced the Government's intention to

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review the arrangements for transport safety, including those for accident investigation.

In carrying out this review, we will address recommendations from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee that transport safety regulation should be focused on a single independent authority as a means of separating safety regulation from operational responsibilities. As the Select Committee's recommendations have potentially wide-reaching implications for the current institutional framework, the review will embrace all transport modes and consider the roles and responsibilities of a number of organisations concerned with transport safety.

The aim of the review is a modern institutional framework designed to deliver continued improvements to transport safety and secure public confidence. It will focus on the principles that should govern the organisational and regulatory arrangements for transport safety, including those for personal security, and cover the main areas of public concern, from the setting of safety standards to the investigation of accidents. In particular, it will address institutional obstacles that are seen to act as a constraint to better regulation of safety and consider whether there are aspects of the current organisational arrangements that could give rise to conflicts of interest. It will not address the substance of policies for the operational safety of individual modes taken forward within the current institutional framework.

An inter-departmental steering group has been set up to guide the review which will work to the following terms of reference: "to consider whether a more integrated or unified approach to transport safety across modes would be more effective, produce a safer travelling environment and secure best value for money". The review will involve representatives of the transport industries and those working in them, together with consumers. We have set up a small advisory panel to provide an independent sounding board and external influence on the work of the review. There will also be consultation in the spring on the organisational and operational principles that should apply to any new arrangements for transport safety.

Our aim is to complete the review process and announce decisions in about 18 months.

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