Written Ministerial Statements
Thursday 15 June 2006
United Kingdom Coins 2007
Her Majesty The Queen has been graciously pleased to approve my recommendation that the following coin should be issued in 2007:
A £2 coin to mark the 300th anniversary in 2007 of the Act of Union between England and Scotland.
This coin will be in addition to a crown piece to celebrate the diamond wedding anniversary of Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness Prince Philip, a £2 coin to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade and a fifty pence to commemorate the centenary of the Scouting movement.
Collector versions of all these coins will be released at a premium above face value. In the case of the £2 coins and the fifty pence piece, during the course of 2007 versions will also become available at face value from banks and post offices.
Kandahar Airfield plays an essential role in the British and Allied military commitment to the rebuilding of Afghanistan, a role that is likely to increase as the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) expands into the south of the country. It is important, therefore, that collectively we ensure the airfield and the aircraft that use it are suitably protected.
The UK has been using Kandahar as a base for its Harrier GR7 Force since September 2004 and now has much of our deployed helicopter fleet there. It is only right that the UK shares some of the burden in protecting this joint facility. While we currently provide some help, we are well placed to make that help still more effective. We have a specialist airfield defence capability that few of our partners have and the skills it would bring will enhance security arrangements at Kandahar Airfield.
I have accordingly decided to commit the 130-strong 34 Squadron of the RAF Regiment to Kandahar Airfield. This unit will deploy within the next few weeks and join Afghan, Canadian, Romanian and US forces defending the airfield and its environs. I am confident that this is an appropriate national contribution to the crucial task of protecting a facility of central importance to the success of the wider NATO mission in Afghanistan.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Cattle and Eggs Regulations 2006
The Cattle Identification (Amendment) Regulations 2006, the Cattle Database (Amendment) Regulations 2006 and the Eggs (Marketing Standards) (Amendment) (England and Wales) Regulations 2006 were laid before Parliament yesterday and entered into force today, 15 June 2006.
These are technical amendments to the Cattle Identification Regulations 1998, the Cattle Database Regulations 1998, and the Eggs (Marketing Standards) (England and Wales) Regulations 1995. The European Union legislation which they originally implemented was subsequently updated with new regulations. These amendments update the cross-references to refer to this later European legislation. The current consultation on other changes to the two cattle regulations, which ends on 21 June, will be unaffected by this change.
The effect of not having updated the cross-references has been challenged in court. I do not want to take any unnecessary risks when it comes to enforcing this legislation, which is designed to protect public health, and so I am now closing that gap and making it absolutely clear what offences are punishable under the legislation. It is particularly important that cattle keepers comply with EU law on the identification and movement of cattle if public health is to remain protected. The step change in performance by the British cattle industry has been recognised in the lifting of the export ban on beef and bovines, and rigorous enforcement of the rules has been a factor in getting the ban lifted. The powers for enforcement of the egg regulations are subject to the same consideration and it is right that the enforcement powers be updated now by these minor amendments.
These amendments will put future prosecutions on a solid legal foundation. That leaves a question over previous prosecutions. I understand that there have been around 250 successful prosecutions in which the courts have interpreted the references to the EU legislation as being references to the updated EU legislation. The legal effect of the mismatch has not been tested until now. It is now for the court to decide what the effect has been and what consequences flow from that decision in respect of those who have already been convicted.
I must emphasise, however, that these convictions will have been obtained in respect of actions that breached the EU legislation designed to protect public health. I am satisfied that our enforcement procedures have been, and will continue to be, rigorous. Public and animal health has been protected by the work of our inspectors, and will continue to be so.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Since 29 March, former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, has been in detention at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown, indicted for crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed during Sierra Leone's brutal civil war.
Regional leaders and the wider international community judge his continued presence there to pose a considerable and immediate threat to regional security. An attempt to free him by force, for example, even if unsuccessful, could jeopardise the fragile security of Sierra Leone, Liberia and neighbouring states.
It is for this reason that regional leaders and the international community have supported the proposal to hold the trial outside the region, as is provided for in the agreement establishing the Court.
The Government of the Netherlands has agreed that it would allow the trial to take place before the Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in The Hague. If acquitted, former President Taylor would be free to leave the Netherlands. If convicted, he would serve any sentence imposed by the Court.
The Dutch offer is conditional upon a State agreeing now to allow former President Taylor, if convicted and should circumstances require, to serve his sentence in that State. Once that condition is met, the proposal to transfer the trial could be discussed again by the UN Security Council, where a draft Resolution establishing a legal basis for transfer is already in circulation.
At the request of the UN Secretary-General, I have therefore agreed that, subject to parliamentary legislative approval, the United Kingdom would allow former President Taylor, if convicted and should circumstances require, to enter the UK to serve any sentence imposed by the Court. This is entirely without prejudice to the eventual location or outcome of the trial. Former President Taylor's right to a fair trial must be respected.
Were the Court to acquit former President Taylor, we would not be required to allow him to come to the UK. Were he to be convicted, and subsequently released after serving a sentence, the expectation at this stage is that former President Taylor would leave or face removal from the UK.
By offering these assurances, we are removing one potential obstacle to allowing the trial to proceed. We are also demonstrating the UK's absolute determination to see the alleged perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes held to account.
The UK has a strong international reputation as one of the world's leading advocates for international justice. We played a key role in negotiating the establishment of the International Criminal Court as well as the establishment of other international criminal tribunals relating to the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, as well as the Special Court for Sierra Leone itself.
Agreeing to allow former President Taylor, if convicted and should circumstances require, to serve his sentence in the UK sends a strong signal of our willingness to combat impunity by assisting in bringing those who bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide to justice.
Former President Taylor's handover to the Special Court in Freetown was an historic day for the people of Sierra Leone and West Africa. The international community must not fail them by asking them to run the risk associated with his continued presence in Freetown. It is for that reason that we have decided to take this step.
The UK has been a key player in efforts to support Sierra Leone, Liberia and the wider region, as it seeks to bring an end to the cycle of destruction and violence which it has suffered for so long.
We were also instrumental in bringing peace to Sierra Leone, and have supported Sierra Leone as it has built on that peace, and worked to put the years of war decisively in the past. Our action today will help to close the chapter of conflict, by allowing the trial of former President Taylor to go ahead, which will determine the truth regarding his alleged involvement in Sierra Leone's vicious civil war.
Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (Annual Report and Accounts 2003-04)
I am today laying before Parliament, with the Comptroller and Auditor General, the annual report and accounts for 2003-04 for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. It is being laid before the Scottish Parliament by Scottish Ministers at the same time. The annual report and accounts will be published by 30 June.
The annual report and accounts describe the activities of the authority in paying financial compensation to victims of violent crime, under the terms of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1995.
Publication of the annual report and accounts is later than usual because of the need to bring the accounting for the tariff scheme cases fully in line with the requirements of Financial Reporting Standard 12 (provisions, contingent liabilities and contingent assets). The accounts estimate the final settlement value of cases in progress and the predicted value of applications which have not yet been received in respect of crimes that have already occurred. As a result, the balance sheet at 31 March 2004 shows net liabilities of £1,210 million and an operating deficit of £48.9 million.
In 2003-04 the Authority received 70,595 applications for compensation and resolved 77,487. The number of cases outstanding at 31 March 2004 was 84,990. The proportion of cases decided within 12 months was 74.4 per cent.
The annual report and accounts for 2004-05 is being finalised and will be laid before Parliament shortly.
Trade and Industry
Government Chemist Review 2005
My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science and Technology (Lord Sainsbury of Turville) has made the following ministerial statement:
“The ninth annual review of the Government Chemist has now been published. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of the House and sent to the devolved Administrations”.
EU Energy Council
Anne Lambert, Deputy Permanent Representative, UKREP, represented the UK at the Energy Council in Luxembourg on 8 June. Discussion focused on the EU's international relations, the internal energy market and sustainable energy.
On international relations, Commissioner Piebalgs summarised the EU's external energy priorities as a comprehensive energy agreement with Russia and coherent, systematic dialogues with key supplier, transit and consumer countries. He said that multilateral action would be most effective, citing the need for working together within the International Energy Agency and on an international agreement on energy efficiency. He provided updates on the energy community treaty for south-east Europe, on the EU-OPEC dialogue and on EU relations with Russia. On Russia, he said that the EU should develop a partnership of mutual self-interest covering investment, diversification, a reliability of supply and demand, third party access and non-discrimination; and that the Commission was considering a comprehensive energy agreement as part of the post-PCA—partnership and co-operation agreedment-relationship.
In welcoming the Commission's work, some member states emphasised that energy remained a national competence and that Energy Ministers should be informed and involved in agreeing Commission activity in advance. One member state emphasised that progress with Russia depended on establishing a relationship based on trust. Another member state stated that the relationship must be reciprocal and based on the energy charter treaty principles, ensuring that EU companies can operate freely in Russia.
The Council adopted conclusions on the internal market. The internal market had been on the agenda at the informal dinner on the eve of the Council, during which Commissioner Piebalgs detailed the next steps on the Green Paper:
A hearing on 21 September prior to consultation closing on 24 September.
A meeting of member states' Energy Directors General in September.
A document summarising the consultation to be issued in October for discussion at the November Energy Council; and
on 13 December, consideration by the Commission of the strategic energy review, the DG TREN Internal Market report and the final results of the DG COMP enquiry.
Other documents to issue between now and then would be the energy efficient action plan, communications on clean coal and nuclear, and the renewables action plan.
Discussion of the internal market during the formal Council focused on the role of regional markets, on steps needed to complete the market and on diversification. The Commission supported regional initiatives, while warning that these should not undermine the overall objective of a single energy market. The Commission said that it would continue to monitor and assess progress, reporting at the end of the year. Co-ordinated diversification of supply sources, relevant infrastructure and new technologies were also crucial. The strategic energy review would bring all this together.
All Ministers supported regional markets as a building block to developing a single market. Two Ministers said that existing regional markets could be extended to other member states and explicitly invited the UK to join the north-west market, which now involves Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Many Ministers emphasised the need to harmonise regional markets to ensure the development of the main objective of a fully functioning internal market.
The UK advocated political engagement in the development of regional markets and in effective unbundling and market transparency. Several member states supported the UK, though one viewed further unbundling requirements as unnecessary.
On diversification, many member states identified increased interconnection, development of renewables and energy efficiency technologies as the key drivers. Some member states pressed for the development of indigenous sources of supply, including nuclear power. Others wanted a common approach to diversification, but some noted that responses related to member states' individual circumstances.
One member state questioned the effectiveness of the EU emissions trading scheme carbon pricing policy, noting its significant impact on electricity prices. The Commission thought that the ETS fundamentally worked, though it needed refining before the next stage. Another member state thought security of supply more important than liberalisation, while another noted that it was developing security of supply indicators with the UK and the Commission.
On sustainable energy, the Council adopted conclusions on a biomass action plan. The Commission said that, in implementing this, priority would be given to a proposal on renewable heating and cooling and to the strengthening of the biofuels directive. The energy efficiency action plan would emphasise implementation and enforcement of existing legislation, measures to address energy consumption and financial incentives. The energy star negotiation with the US had concluded with agreement on significant improvements in standards and coverage. The Commission hoped other key consumer countries would join. Some member states emphasised the importance of updating labelling legislation.
In conclusion, Finland, the incoming presidency, identified its energy priorities as:
Developing European energy policy, particularly renewables and energy efficiency;
the Internal Market; and
The next Energy Council is scheduled for 23 November 2006.
EU Telecoms Council
I represented the United Kingdom at the Telecoms part of the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council on 8 June 2006.
The Council began with a presentation by the Commission on their recently published Communication—the “i2010 eGovernment Action Plan”; which was largely based on a Ministerial Declaration agreed at a conference in Manchester during our Presidency. The Action Plan highlights the social and financial benefits that can be gained through the implementation of an array of different eGovernment initiatives in helping to bridge the gap between citizens and administrators.
Ministers were asked to endorse a set of Council Conclusions responding to the eGovernment Action Plan. These focused on five major objectives: the need to promote eInclusion through national eGovernment strategies; the importance of user satisfaction in accessing eGovernment services; Government public procurement contracts which should be available in electronic format in all cases; convenient and secure authenticated access to public services in the EU; and the promotion of public debate and participation in democratic decision-making. As the substance of the above is compatible with the UK Government's Transformational Government Strategy, I leant my support to them.
The Presidency then introduced a policy debate on the future challenges for the EU's electronic communications regulatory framework which the Commission are currently reviewing, with a major Communication expected in July to be followed by legislative changes in December. In their presentation they highlighted the need to promote investment and innovation in the telecommunications sector and to ensure the framework met the needs of an ever-evolving and converging technology and business environment. In my intervention I stressed the necessity for full implementation of the current framework by all Member States and the importance of maintaining the complementary goals of investment, consumer protection and competition,
On the issue of wireless spectrum, I agreed with the Commission on the need to make the best use of this finite resource primarily through market-based management, which will hopefully create a favourable environment for the introduction in the market of new information communication technologies.
In the interventions from nearly all Member States there was a wide range of views though with the majority welcoming the approach of the Commission on both the maintenance of the regulatory framework, which was thought to be sound, and on introducing market-based mechanisms into spectrum allocation.
There was then a short exchange of views on the Commission's recent Communication on network and information security. The Presidency noted the overall problems that exist with regards to information security and the need to gain the confidence of citizens and enterprise by assuring them that ICTs and information systems are able to handle information in an accurate, confidential and reliable manner. Those Member States that intervened generally supported the Commission approach.
Due to a shortage of time it was not appropriate to comment on Commission Communications on the i2010 First Annual Report and the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) both of which were under Any Other Business. On the i2010 Annual Report the Commission highlighted the need for more work to prevent the EU falling further behind our main competitors; while on WSIS the Commission reported on development since the Tunis Conference and looked forward to the first Internet Governance Forum in Greece in November.
Finally the Austrian Presidency thanked the UK for the strong foundations that we laid during our Presidency.
Belvedere Energy from Waste Power Station
I have today granted consent to the application by Riverside Resource Recovery Ltd. to build an energy from waste power station in Belvedere, South East London. This decision was taken after careful consideration of the recommendations from the public inquiry inspector who oversaw two public inquiries that looked into this application in 2003 and 2005.
Today's approval takes into account the concerns raised, and includes a number of conditions recommended by the inquiry inspector to mitigate any impacts.
This energy from waste station will be fuelled by waste which would otherwise have to go to landfill. London has a serious waste problem, much of which it currently exports to landfill in the home counties. I agree with the inspector that even if London were to meet the ambitious recycling targets envisaged by the Mayor of London, there will still be ample residual waste to fuel the station. This decision will make an important contribution to tackling London's waste problem.
I am also pleased to see that waste transfer to the site will be primarily by barge along the River Thames.
Sustainable Distribution Fund
Further to the then Minister of State for Transport's written statement of 1 February 2005, it is now the Department's intention to increase the minimum budget available for the sustainable distribution fund from £22.6 million to £25.5 million for 2007-08, combining resource funding of £18.5 million and capital funding of £7 million. This fund is designed to secure the benefits of reduced pollution and congestion and better safety on a mode-neutral basis. In order to enable the freight industry to plan involving schemes supported by the fund, I also intend to allocate a resource budget of at least £18.5 million, for each of the financial years 2008-09 and 2009-10. The budget for capital expenditure from 2008-09, such as the freight facilities grants, will be set following the 2007 spending review.
The Department is today beginning the process to submit to the European Commission, for state aids clearance, a new grant scheme for intermodal rail freight—the rail environmental benefits procurement scheme. A summary of the proposed scheme is available on the Department's website at: www.dft.gov.uk and has been placed in the Library of the House.