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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Tax relief is awarded in respect of contributions to occupational and personal pension schemes to encourage people to make pensions provision for their retirement. Adopting the same treatment for National Insurance contributions in respect of SERPS would result in a significant loss to the Exchequer which would have to be made good by an increase in the rate of taxation, or by corresponding reductions in other tax allowances.
The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): The Government are committed to a new and strong drive to develop renewable energy sources. In November 1997, the Government announced outline policy proposals for the fifth Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation Renewables Order in England and Wales (NFFO-5). The purpose of these orders is to secure additional generating capacity from renewables in order to help them enter the commercial electricity generating market. To date, 227 NFFO projects, comprising over 540 Megawatts (declared net capacity) of renewables generating capacity have been commissioned in the UK. NFFO arrangements currently in train will add about a further 1,000 MW by 2003. The Government expect to make an announcement about NFFO 5 in the autumn.
In June 1997 the Government initiated a review of new and renewable energy policy including what would be necessary and practicable to achieve 10 per cent. of UK's electricity needs from renewables by the year 2010 and what contribution new and renewable technologies could make to meeting greenhouse gas reduction commitments. The review is considering, inter alia, what further government support might be given to encourage the development of all forms of renewable energy. The Government expect to make an announcement about the review later in the summer.
Which parties have signed the Northern Ireland agreement.[HL2422]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): I refer the noble Lord to the reply I gave him during the debate on the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill on 29 June (Official Report, vol 591, col. 456).
The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): With the agreement of my colleagues the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretaries of State for Health, Defence, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Government published the report from the official group on organophosphorus (OP) products on 25 June 1998. The group was set up at the end of last year to review the processes for sharing information and achieving co-ordination between departments, to draw together scientific evidence and identify any gaps to be remedied; to examine those processes by which OPs are licensed, and to advise whether procedures should be changed.
The group's report is the most thorough review of all the issues relevant to the safety and control of these products ever carried out by Government. It is evidence of how seriously we take the public concern about organophosphorus compounds and their use.
The existence of the group has brought about more effective co-operation between the many government departments involved. This is in itself an important step forward, and the group will continue to serve this purpose. The group has formed two networks of departmental contacts to liaise on exchange of information and the planning of research projects. The aim is to ensure that departments work on complete and up-to-date information, and avoid conflicting decisions.
The group has made recommendations for early action to improve licensing procedures, the flow of information within government and to the public, and the range of expertise of the advisory committees from which the Government draw scientific advice. We intend to act on all these recommendations. To this end, the Freedom of Information Bill team has been alerted to the need for clear legal basis for the sharing of information relating to the licensing of medicines and pesticides, and action has begun to alter the membership of the advisory committees.
One important recommendation relates to a comprehensive literature review by the Institute for Environment and Health (IEH) of the scientific evidence on the effects of OPs on human health. The report on that study was published on 25 June 1998. This review presents a complicated picture; there remains uncertainty about the health effects of OPs. This uncertainty led the official group to recommend that the Government should seek views on this study from the Committee on the Toxicity of Chemicals in Food,
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am pleased to report that the Government's consultation paper Opening up Quangos received a good response. Over 400 replies were received from a wide range of individuals and organisations and the great majority of respondents broadly supported the thrust of the proposals for keeping the number of quangos to a minimum and for making those which remain more open, accountable and effective. I believe this shows the wide support that exists for opening up this area of government hitherto perceived as undemocratic and unaccountable. Copies of all the responses received (apart from those where confidentiality has been requested) have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The results of the consultation exercise--together with further proposals for improving the accountability and transparency of quangos--were published on 29 June in another place by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in Quangos: Opening the Doors. The proposals in this paper take account of all the comments received during the consultation exercise.
The action proposed in Quangos: Opening the Doors will make the business of quangos more open and the appointments system more transparent and accessible. It will enhance the accountability of quangos to their stake-holders through increased consultation, open meetings and better links with local government. Taken as a whole, I believe that the reforms in Quangos: Opening the Doors will require all quangos to carry out their important work in line with the basic democratic principles by which we conduct public business in this country. The proposals provide a basis for quangos to command public confidence and attract new people into this important area of public life.
The Government have agreed, in principle, the proposal for a 50:50 ratio of women and men for public appointments and a pro-rata representation of members of the ethnic minorities. A central feature of this work is a plan of action requiring all government departments to set robust targets with the aim of reaching this overall goal. As part of this process, departments have drawn up individual plans which contain specific goals and objectives for increasing the representation of women and members of the ethnic minorities on the boards of public bodies. These cover the period 1998-2001 and will be updated annually. Future plans will specifically address the Government's overall commitments to increase representation.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Large scale financial assistance has been provided by the official international community in support of programmes of economic adjustment in the Asian countries concerned, and will be vital for the restoration of confidence and financial stability in the economies of Asia. It is not possible to say exactly how much of this financing has been used to meet private sector debts. But a purpose of this approach has been to help countries regain access to the international capital markets, which Thailand and Korea have recently done. Both these countries have succeeded in substantially rebuilding their foreign exchange reserves.
It is important however that private sector creditors bear their share of the cost of adjustment in Asia, and participate in global efforts to resolve the current difficulties. This point was made strongly in the recent G7 Finance Ministers' report on Strengthening the architecture of the global financial system. The private sector debt restructuring agreements reached by Korea and Indonesia this year represent a significant achievement in this respect.
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