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Women's Refuges

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): Some women's refuges will fall within the definition of "hostels" within the meaning of the Housing Benefit (General) Amendment (No. 2) Regulations 1999.

The purpose of the amendment is to make it easier for rough sleepers to gain access to hostel accommodation and to claim Housing Benefit. Many people in this position have drug, alcohol or mental health problems and are not in a position to supply a National Insurance number or sufficient information for one to be traced in support of their benefit claim. The amendment therefore underpins our commitment to reduce rough sleeping.

Women entering refuges should be able to supply such information even if they have left their home without being able to remove any personal possessions. Women entering refuges that do not fall within the definition of "hostels" should not, therefore, be disadvantaged.

Incapacity Benefit Abatement Exemptions

Lord Rix asked Her Majesty's Govnerment:

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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Under the Government's original proposals for taking some account of occupational and personal pensions in Incapacity Benefit, it was estimated that benefit expenditure would be reduced by £45 million in Year 1, £120 million in Year 2, £190 million in Year 3 and £550 million in Year 10 (net of tax £40 million, £100 million, £150 million and £410 million respectively). Revised savings esitmates are now £25 million in Year 1, £75 million in Year 2, £120 million in Year 3 and £330 million in Year 10 (net of tax £25 million, £60 million, £90 million and £260 million respectively). These estimates take into account both the exemption of people receiving the highest rate care component of Disability Living Allowance, and the increase from £50 a week to £85 a week in the threshold above which pensions begin to be taken into account for other recipients. Within this, the reduction in savings as a result of the Disability Living Allowance exemption is about £5 million in the first two years, £10 million in year 3 and £20 million in Year 10.

Incapacity Benefit Substitution for Severe Disablement Allowance

Lord Rix asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the savings to public funds as a result of tax liability from substituting Incapacity Benefit for Severe Disablement Allowance for severely disabled people under the age of 25.[HL4342]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Under the proposals in the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill, people disabled before the age of 20 (or 25 in some cases) will in future be able to receive Incapacity Benefit, at a long-term rate more than £26 a week higher than the rate of Severe Disablement Allowance. The cost of extending Incapacity Benefit to this group is estimated at £180 million in the long-term.

Incapacity Benefit is taxable, whereas Severe Disablement Allowance is not, but the available data on Severe Disablement Allowance recipients aged under 25 suggests that the great majority have no income other than benefits. Since the relevant rate of Incapacity Benefit is less than the single person's allowance, most young people who become entitled to Incapacity Benefit in future will not be liable to pay tax. The tax revenue from this measure would therefore be minimal; less than £100,000 per year in the short term. There are insufficient data to support a long-term estimate.

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Organophosphates: Committee on Toxicity Report

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect the Committee on Toxicity working party to publish their report on organophosphates.[HL4406]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): The Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment Working Group's report on organophosphates was endorsed by the full committee at the meeting on 19 October. The report will be published shortly and copies will be placed in the Library.

Department of Health: Expenditure Limit

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there are any proposals to amend the Department of Health Departmental Expenditure Limit/running cost limit for 1999-2000.[HL4647]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Subject to parliamentary approval of the necessary Supplementary Estimates for Class II, Votes 1 and 2, the Department of Health Departmental Expenditure Limit for 1999-2000 will be increased by £109,984,000 from £40,345,035,000 to £40,455,019,000. The increase is the net effect of changes to Class II, Vote 1 (Hospital, community health, family health and related services, England) of £207,861,000 made up of £114,058,000 in respect of the take-up of end year flexibility as announced by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on 27 July (Official Report, col. 393) and £100,000,000 for the take-up of departmental unallocated provision. In addition the following transfers will take place; £1,177,000 from Scotland (£47,000 for the High Security Infectious Diseases Unit and £1,130,000 for out-of-area treatments); £877,000 from Wales for out-of-area treatments and £7,464,000 from Class II, Vote 2 (Department of Health, administration, miscellaneous health and personal social services, England) (£662,000 for the Public Health Development Fund and £802,000 for regional professional development projects). The overall increase is partially offset by transfers of £8,364,000 to Wales, (£6,720,000 for high security psychiatric services and £1,644,000 for cross border adjustments for primary care groups); £4,800,000 to Class I, Vote 1 (Department for Education and Employment; programmes and central services) for the King's College Hospital/United Medical and Dental School merger and £2,551,000 to Class II, Vote 2 (£2,500,000 for publicity on Meningitis C vaccine and £51,000 for cancer prevention).

The increase of £770,000 for Class II, Vote 2 (Department of Health, administration, miscellaneous health and personal social services, England) is the net effect of transfers to Vote 1 of £4,913,000 (detailed

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above), £6,293,000 take-up of end year flexibility (mentioned above) for claims in respect of 1998-99 asylum seekers grant; £315,000 (£10,000 running costs) from Class IV, Vote 1 (Home Office administration, police, probation, immigration and other services, England and Wales) mainly for research; £500,000 (running costs) from Class IV, Vote 2 (Prisons, England and Wales) for prison health care services. The overall increase is partially offset by a transfer of £1,425,000 to Class I, Vote 1 (Department for Education and Employment; programmes and central services) for a contribution towards the healthy schools initiative.

The amount required for non-voted supplementary credit approvals for personal social services (DoH/LACAP) in England is to be increased by £1,353,000 from £18,700,000 to £20,053,000 in respect of take-up of end year flexibility entitlement as mentioned above.

The Department's gross running cost limit will be increased by £510,000 from £279,940,000 to £280,450,000 as detailed above.

All increases will either be offset by transfers to or from other Departmental Expenditure Limits (detailed above) or take-up of end year flexibility and will not therefore add to the planned total of public expenditure.

Beef Hormones and the Precautionary Principle

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the World Trade Organisation's Appellate Body is currently interpreting the precautionary principle as requiring "evidence of certainty of harm", and is adducing "absence of evidence of risk" as "evidence of absence of risk", whether the Appellate Body have done so in the recent cases of hormones in beef and, if so, whether they will encourage the European Commission to reject this opinion. [HL4337]

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): In the case of beef hormones the Appellate Body commented on the relationship of the precautionary principle to the WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) in the following terms:

"First, the principle has not been written into the SPS Agreement as ground for justifying SPS measures that are otherwise inconsistent with the obligations of Members set out in particular provisions of that Agreement. Secondly, the precautionary principle indeed finds reflection in Article 5.7 of the SPS Agreement. We agree, at the same time, with the European Communities, that there is no need to assume that Article 5.7 exhausts the relevance of a precautionary principle. It is reflected also in the sixth paragraph of the preamble and in Article 3.3. These explicitly recognise the rights of Members to establish their own appropriate level of sanitary protection,

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which level may be higher (i.e. more cautious) that that implied in existing international standards, guidelines and recommendations. Thirdly, a panel charged with determining, for instance, whether "sufficient scientific evidence" exists to warrant the maintenance by a Member of a particular SPS measure may, of course, and should, bear in mind that responsible, representative governments commonly act from perspectives of prudence and precaution where risks of irreversible, e.g. life-terminating, damage to human health are concerned. Lastly, however, the precautionary principle does not, by itself, and without a clear textual directive to that effect, relieve a panel from the duty of applying the normal (i.e. customary international law) principles of treaty interpretation in reading the provisions of the SPS Agreement. (Paragraph 124 Appellate Body Report)".

This ruling gives the current Appellate Body interpretation, and does not imply that the Appellate Body interprets the precautionary principle as requiring evidence of certainty of harm, nor does it imply that the Appellate Body is adducing "absence of evidence of risk" as "evidence of absence of risk". The European Community is bound by virtue of its membership of the WTO to comply with rulings of the WTO Appellate Body and to bring any measures which are found to be WTO incompatible into line. It is not therefore possible for the European Community to reject the Appellate Body's rulings.

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