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Written Statements

Volume 450: debated on Monday 16 October 2006

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 16 October 2006

Treasury

UK National Reform Programme

Economic reform in Europe is vital to the prospects for growth and jobs in the UK. The challenges of globalisation mean that all EU member states must pursue real structural reforms to create a Europe that becomes more competitive as the route to delivering full employment and opportunity for all, and where flexibility and fairness advance together.

Under the Lisbon strategy for jobs and growth, relaunched in 2005, the Government welcomed the introduction of national reform programmes. In October 2005, the Government published the first UK national reform programme (NRP), setting out priorities for national economic reform.

Today the Government published an update on the UK NRP, which reports on its comprehensive programme of long-term reform to deliver strong economic performance and employment growth in the UK now and in the future. This update demonstrates how Britain is leading economic reform in Europe, showing how an approach based on openness, free trade, competition and investment—in science, technology and skills—represents the right response to the challenges of globalisation.

Copies of the UK National Reform Programme: Update on progress 2006 are available in the Libraries of the House.

Culture, Media and Sport

Switchover Dates (Wales, West Country and Granada)

This statement is issued in conjunction with the Minister for Industry and the Regions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge).

In September 2005, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport announced that the UK would switch over to fully digital TV broadcasting between 2008 and 2012. This will bring enormous benefits to all viewers, the broadcasting industries, the creative industries and the UK economy.

Today Digital UK, the independent body leading digital switchover, announces the detailed switchover dates for the Wales, West Country and Granada TV regions.

The timetable for these regions follows below, together with the timetable for the Border TV region that was announced in July 2006. These are the calendar quarters during which each main transmitter (and the many associated relay stations that carry its signal) will cease broadcasting analogue television, and begin transmitting a boosted digital signal. This will make digital TV through an aerial available to virtually all homes in each region.

Maps showing the location of transmitters in the Border, West Country, Wales and Granada TV region have been placed in the Library.

Border

Timing

Main transmitter to switch (with associated relays)

Q4 2008

Selkirk, serving Scottish Borders

Q2 2009

Caldbeck, serving Cumbria, Dumfries & Galloway and the Isle of Man

Note: the Cumbrian town of Whitehaven and its surrounding area will lead out switchover in October 2007.

West Country

Timing

Main transmitter to switch (with associated relays)

Q2 2009

Beacon Hill, serving south Devon

Stockland Hill, serving south-west Somerset, parts of west Dorset and south-east Devon, including Exeter

Q3 2009

Huntshaw Cross, serving north Devon

Redruth, serving west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly

Caradon Hill, serving much of Cornwall and Devon, including Plymouth

Wales

Timing

Main transmitter to switch (with associated relays)

Q3 2009

Preseli, serving south-west Wales

Carmel, serving south Wales

Q4 2009

Llandonna, serving north-west Wales, including Anglesey

Moel-Y-Parc, serving north-east Wales

Q1 2010

Blaenplwyf, serving west and central Wales

Long Mountain, serving east-central Wales

Wenvoe, serving south-east Wales, including Cardiff

Granada

Timing

Main transmitter to switch (with associated relays)

Q4 2009

The entire Granada region will switch to digital in this quarter, when the Winter Hill transmitter and its associated relays—serving Lancashire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Cheshire, are converted.

Further information on switchover can be found at www.digitaluk.co.uk and www.digitaltelevision.gov.uk

Education and Skills

Schools (Weapons Screening)

Schools must be safe places for both pupils and staff. Incidents involving knives and other weapons in school are rare, but we need to give headteachers stronger powers to act if they suspect a knife or another weapon is in their school. The Violent Crime Reduction Bill, currently being debated at Report stage in the House of Lords includes new powers for head teachers to search pupils if the heads suspect their pupils are carrying a weapon.

We will also provide guidance for schools on screening all their pupils for weapons using technology such as airport style walk-through metal detecting arches or hand held metal detecting wands. Screening can be carried out on all pupils, without their consent and without suspicion that a weapon might be found, provided it is carried out in a way that respects pupils' privacy. If screening indicates a weapon may be present, school staff could then use the new power included in the Violent Crime Reduction Bill (VCRB) to carry out a hands-on search. We plan to issue full guidance to schools on screening and hands-on searches if the VCRB receives Royal Assent.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Finnish Presidency (General Affairs and External Relations Council)

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 16-17 October in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs will represent the UK at the Development and Trade Ministers' discussions.

The agenda items are as follows:

Development Ministers

Good governance

The Council will agree Conclusions and discuss a Commission Communication that proposes principles and concrete actions to improve governance in developing countries with a focus on Africa, Caribbean and Pacific countries. This includes the provision of €3 billion in funds from the 10th European Development Fund (ACP countries only) whose release will be linked to a Governance Profile assessing partner governments' performance on, and commitment to, governance issues.

Orientation debate: complementarity and division of labour

Development Ministers will agree Conclusions and, as part of the annual "Orientation Debate" on development issues, the Council will debate two aspects of aid effectiveness (complementarity and division of labour) based on questions from the presidency. The questions focus on how donors should organise themselves at the country-level, as well as cross-countries and sectors, to be more effective.

AOB: UN Reform

The UK has asked for reform of the UN development system to be put on the agenda as an AOB item in the context of the forthcoming report of the Secretary General's Panel on UN system-wide coherence.

Migration and Development

Development Ministers will discuss migration informally over dinner, based on questions from the presidency covering the links between migration and development and follow-up to the UN High Level Dialogue on migration in September.

Aid for Trade

The Council will agree Conclusions on Aid for Trade and, in a joint session, Trade and Development Ministers will debate questions from the Presidency. These questions will focus on the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), Aid for Trade, and Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs).

Joint session for Development and Foreign Ministers

Orientation debate on policy coherence for development and effectiveness of EU external action.

The Council will adopt Conclusions on integrating development concerns into Council decision-making. As part of the annual "Orientation Debate" on development issues the Council will debate policy coherence for development in the context of effectiveness of EU external action.

The EU strategy for Africa

The Council will review progress in implementing the EU Africa Strategy, agreed under the UK's presidency in 2005. This is an interim debate in advance of further discussion at the December Council with Conclusions expected to be agreed then and at the December European Council.

Session for Foreign Ministers

General Affairs

Enlargement

The Council will discuss Romania and Bulgaria's accession and agree Conclusions welcoming their accession in 2007.

External Relations

Sudan

We will want the Council to give a strong and consistent message to President Bashir of Sudan, calling for a cease-fire, full humanitarian access, UN deployment/support for the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) until the UN can take over and implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement. Funding of the AU Mission is another important issue, following its extension until the end of the year. The EU has agreed to continue support in coordination with the UN and other actors.

Zimbabwe

The Council will exchange views on the deteriorating of the situation in Zimbabwe at Malta's request.

Middle East Peace Process

The Council is likely to focus on President Abbas' efforts to form a Government of National Unity and the recent clashes between Fatah and Hamas. The UK will raise the need for effective plans to strengthen Palestinian institutions.

Western Balkans

The Council will discuss Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo. On Serbia our assessment remains that Belgrade has not yet done enough to demonstrate compliance with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to warrant restarting the Stabilisation and Association Agreement talks. On Bosnia the Council is expected to welcome the smooth conduct of elections as well as urging the need for progress on reform.

On Kosovo, the Council is expected to restate its support for the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, in his conduct of the political process to determine Kosovo's future status.

Iran

The High Representative for the Common and Security Policy, Javier Solana, will brief the Council on his recent contacts with the Secretary General of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Dr Ali Larijani. Solana reported to the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, UK China, Russia and US on 6 October that Iran was not prepared to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities, as required by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 1696. This is deeply disappointing. In Resolution 1696, the Security Council expressed its intention to adopt measures under Article 41 of the UN Charter if Iran did not comply.

Georgia

The presidency is expected to report back on its recent visit to Georgia (part of a Troika visit to the South Caucasus region, related to agreement of European Neighbourhood Action Plans in each South Caucasus country). This is likely to be followed by a discussion on the recent escalation in tension in Georgian/Russian relations.

Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)

The Council will discuss the EU's reactions to the announcement by the DPRK of a nuclear test. Developments in New York will influence the context of discussions.

AOB: EU-Ukraine Summit

Ukraine will be discussed under AOB at Polish request. It is likely that the Council will agree the need for the EU-Ukraine Summit to give a clear signal of support for ongoing reform in Ukraine.

Northern Ireland

European Strategy (Northern Ireland)

Today the Government launch Northern Ireland's first European strategy, ‘Taking Our Place in Europe.’

The strategy maps out a framework for Northern Ireland's engagement with Europe. Its challenge is to benefit fully from the European Union by participating proactively and confidently.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the signing of Europe's founding Treaty of Rome, it is timely that Northern Ireland uses the period of reflection to consider its role in the future of Europe. This strategy promotes a vision of a positive future for Northern Ireland, as the preferred European region of choice in which to live, work, study and invest.

The strategy, ‘Taking Our Place in Europe,’ sets out what needs to be done to engage with Europe, guiding the work of regional and local government in partnership with civil society. The Government wish Northern Ireland to speak with one voice, engaging with Europe on as many levels and as consistently as possible.

Northern Ireland must participate proactively in an outward and forward looking manner to:

Promote its interests within the European Union;

Raise its positive profile throughout Europe; and

Encourage participation in European matters throughout the region.

The strategy will be taken forward through a detailed action plan, derived from departmental documents. This action plan will include much of the detail of implementation and evaluation.

Copies of Northern Ireland's European strategy have been placed in the Libraries of the House and may also be downloaded from the website: http://www.ofmdfmni.gov.uk/european-co-operation.