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Written Statements

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 12 June 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 12 June 2008



The Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 14 May 2008. I attended for the UK. Items on the agenda were as follows:

Quality of Public Finances: Efficiency of Public Expenditure on Social Transfers and Education

Member states adopted Council conclusions on the quality of public finances. The conclusions followed a discussion at the Informal ECOFIN in Brdo, Slovenia in April. This builds on conclusions on the quality of public finances agreed under the German and Portuguese presidencies in 2007. ECOFIN will return to this work in early 2009.

Western Balkans Investment Framework

Member states adopted Council conclusions on the next steps on the Western Balkans investment framework. The UK supports work on the investment framework, which will bring together the donor funding streams for the Western Balkans, and is a priority for the Slovenian presidency. The Commission and EIB committed at ECOFIN to continue to support the framework.

Financial services

i) Financial Stability Arrangements: Supervision, including an Update of the Roadmaps

Ministers agreed a unified set of Council conclusions on arrangements on financial stability and supervision, building on the EFC draft Council conclusions on supervision and an update of the roadmaps on “Review of the Lamfalussy Process”, “Strengthening EU Arrangements for Financial Stability”, and “On Actions Taken in Response to the Financial Turmoil”. The UK supports this work, which should help ensure that actions taken by the EU complement those taking place at international level. The UK also welcomes the inclusion in the conclusions of the UK proposals for supervisory colleges, intended to improve cross-border supervisory co-operation.

ii) Communication on Financial Education

The Council agreed to conclusions on financial education, which suggested some initiatives and practical assistance for helping member states to improve the levels of financial education within their countries. The UK recognises the potential value of this work, on which the UK has a strong track record at domestic level.

iii) White Paper on Mortgage Credits

Member states agreed to Council conclusions on a possible single market for mortgages. The Commission will now continue its consultation on mortgages. The UK supports voluntary initiatives that may improve EU market efficiency rather than harmonising consumer protection rules.

Preliminary Draft General Budget 2009

The Commission presented the preliminary draft general budget (PDB) for 2009 to the Council. This sets payment appropriations at 116.7 billion euros, or 0.90 percent. of EU/GNI. Negotiations on the PDB will now be taken forward at the July Budget ECOFIN Council.

Dialogues with Third Countries: Economic and Financial Issues

The Council received an oral update from the Commission on the state of play of the dialogues with third countries, and discussed the economic and financial issues of the EU-US summit preparation and the ASEM Finance Ministers’ Meeting. Ministers also heard a report on the outcomes of the 13 May Transatlantic Council.


i) Indirect Taxation: Fight against Tax Fraud

The Commission gave an oral debrief to the Council on the state of play of the consideration of measures to combat tax fraud. This followed the request by the December 2007 ECOFIN and discussion at the March ECOFIN. Member states were unable to agree Council conclusions on VAT fraud, and will return to the subject at future meetings of ECOFIN. The Commission also committed to bring forward in the autumn new proposals on conventional measures to combat fraud. The UK remains strongly supportive of work that will help in the fight against missing trader intra-community (MTIC) and other VAT fraud, while remaining committed to minimising the burdens on legitimate businesses.

ii) Savings Taxation

The Commission provided an informal oral report on the functioning of the savings tax directive, in view of recent developments involving Liechtenstein investment vehicles and following the request of the March ECOFIN Council. In recognition of the importance of ongoing work to combat tax evasion, Ministers and the Commission agreed an accelerated timetable for the production of the final report, which the Commission will produce and will then be followed up by specific proposals on extending the directive. The UK strongly supports the Commission’s continued dialogue with third countries with a view to bringing them into the savings tax directive.

iii) Good Governance in the Tax Area

Member States agreed conclusions containing a specific provision on good governance in the tax area. This will now be added to relevant agreements to be concluded by the Community and its Member States with third countries.

Strategy for the Evolution of the Customs Union

The Council adopted the conclusions on the Strategy for the evolution of the Customs Union on the 40th anniversary of the Union’s creation. The UK supported the conclusions, which reiterated the main points of the Commission communication endorsing the role of customs with regard to the trade, financial and security interests of the Customs Union and supporting the need for common strategic objectives.

‘Any Other Business’: Discussion of Food Prices

In advance of the June ECOFIN, the UK requested that the presidency add to the agenda a discussion of the rising cost of food and other commodities in recognition of the severe effect on consumers in the EU and in the developing world.

Global Economy

The Treasury is today publishing “Global Commodities: a long-term vision for stable, secure and sustainable global markets”. Copies are available in the Vote Office and have been deposited in the Library of the House.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

General Affairs and External Relations Council

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 16 June in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the European Council on 19-20 June

We expect the June European Council to focus on the policy implications of high global food and commodity prices, including oil. We need a co-ordinated international response to the challenges posed, and to ensure that we do all in our power to maintain open markets, fair trade and sustainable economic growth. We will push for all partners to reaffirm their development commitments and give fresh impetus to the achievement of the millennium development goals. We expect some discussion of Lisbon treaty implementation, though we continue to stress that no decisions can be made prior to ratification of the treaty. We also expect discussions on freedom, security and justice, and will be pushing for Heads’ consideration of EU input into external relations priorities such as Western Balkans, Burma and Zimbabwe.

External Relations

Western Balkans

Kosovo, Serbia, and Macedonia will probably be the focus of discussion. On Kosovo, Ministers will discuss the adoption of the new constitution on 15 June and progress made in deploying the EU police and rule of law mission, EULEX. The Government continue to support the reconfiguration of international presences in Kosovo, which should continue and intensify following the adoption of the new constitution. On Serbia, Ministers are likely to discuss the latest developments in ongoing coalition negotiations. The Government continue to hope a new Serbian Government will make further progress towards the EU. On Macedonia, Ministers are likely to discuss the recent elections and the reruns that will have taken place on 15 June. The Government are strongly concerned over incidents of electoral malpractice and violence and looks to the Macedonian Government to take the necessary action to prosecute those involved. It also hopes the new Macedonian Government will continue to press ahead with reforms needed to progress towards the EU.

In addition to discussion in these areas, Ministers will also sign Bosnia-Herzegovina’s stabilisation and association agreement. The Government welcome this progress and look forward to Bosnia and Herzegovina building on the agreement to advance reforms.

Middle East

Ministerial discussion is expected to focus on the situation on the ground in Gaza, the West Bank and southern Israel, highlighting the need for progress on the political process. Discussion may also focus on the EU’s relationship with Israel ahead of the EU-Israel Association Council which will be held the same day. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is expected to debrief partners on his 8-9 June visit to Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories.

On Lebanon, the Government welcome the Doha agreement that brought an end to last month’s crisis in Lebanon. President Sleiman’s election provides and opportunity to rebuild political and economically in the interests of all communities in Lebanon. Agreement on a Government of national unity is a crucial next step.

The Government are committed to supporting the process initiated at Annapolis, which has put the Israelis and Palestinians on a path to real negotiations in 2008, leading to a final settlement of two states living side by side in peace and security.

Great Lakes

Conclusions on the Great Lakes region are expected to acknowledge the progress made towards peace in the region in recent months. The conclusions will emphasise member states’ duty to act to prevent support from reaching the Hutu FDLR militia. The Government recognise the role played by the FDLR in destabilising the region and firmly support such action by EU partners. The GAERC will also focus on the continued suffering caused by abuses of human rights in DRC and call for reform of the security sector in that country. Respect for the rule of law and an end to impunity for those guilty of the worst abuses of the civilian population are crucial. Embedding them is part of a wider effort to improve governance and security as DRC emerges from conflict.


We expect detailed conclusions on Sudan, expressing concern over the recent fighting in Abyei, urging respect of the North-South comprehensive peace agreement. We also support conclusions that condemn the Justice and Equality Movement’s attack on Omdurman on 10 May. We supported discussion of further measures against any party impeding the Darfur peace process, blocking UNAMID aid or obstructing humanitarian access.


The Government expect the Council to discuss the current situation in Zimbabwe with particular focus on conditions on the ground in advance of the second round of elections and the continued escalation of state-sponsored violence.


We expect detailed discussion of Iran at this GAERC, following the visit of Javier Solana and E3 political directors to Tehran. Solana will brief on the trip and his delivery of the refreshed E3+3 engagement offer. Following the commitment at the December European Council to consider further EU action in light of a new UN Security Council resolution, the Government fully support the strengthening of EU sanctions and will continue to press partners to take a firm stand on this issue. We will be pressing for a robust EU implementation of UN Security Council resolutions in July in the form of a new common position.


The Government expect discussion of China to focus on the upcoming Olympics and attendance by EU Heads of Government/State. Following links made between the March violence in Tibet and calls to boycott the Olympics, the European Parliament has called for a common position on member state attendance; a call which the Government do not support. The Government will be stating that it is for individual member states to decide on Olympics attendance and that our position is clear; my right hon. Friend the Olympics Minister will attend the opening ceremony and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will attend the closing ceremony. The Government are opposed to boycotts of any part of the Olympics, whether at national or EU level.


Although discussion of this topic is not yet a certainty, it is likely to focus on the process of the Doha negotiations over the coming weeks. The Government expect partners to express a range of views both on the current state of the negotiations and on the content of the revised texts (issued on 19 May). The Government strongly support the negotiating process led by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, and our objective at the GAERC will be to ensure continued member state support for the European Commission, in order that it can negotiate the best possible DDA deal in 2008.


The Council will discuss the current humanitarian and political situation in Burma. We will highlight the continuing severity of the humanitarian crisis, the need for continued pressure on the regime to live up to its commitments on access and the need for the EU and other donors to provide political and practical support to the UN, ASEAN and NGOs on the ground. We will also seek to draw the Council’s attention to the continued lack of political progress, the regime’s unacceptable decision to press ahead with its bogus referendum and to extend the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi by a further year.

Home Department

Control Order Powers (11 March - 10 June 2008)

Section 14(1) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (“the 2005 Act”) requires the Secretary of State to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on the exercise of the control order powers during that period.

The level of information provided will always be subject to slight variations based on operational advice.

Control orders continue to be an essential tool to protect the public from terrorism, particularly where it is not possible to prosecute individuals for terrorism-related activity and, in the case of foreign nationals, where they cannot be removed from the UK.

As stated in previous quarterly statements on control orders, control order obligations are tailored to the individual concerned and are based on the terrorism-related risk that each individual poses. Each control order is kept under regular review to ensure that the obligations remain necessary and proportionate. The Home Office continues to hold control order review groups (CORGs) every quarter, with representation from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, to keep the obligations in every control order under regular and formal review and to facilitate a review of appropriate exit strategies. During this reporting period, five CORGs were held in relation to the orders currently in force. In addition, further meetings were held on an ad hoc basis as specific issues arose.

During the period 11 March 2008 to 10 June 2008, six non-derogating control orders were made and served, one control order was renewed in accordance with section 2(6) of the 2005 Act and two control orders were revoked. One further non-derogating control order was made but has not yet been served.

In total, 15 control orders are currently in force, three of which are in respect of British citizens. Two individuals subject to a control order live in the Metropolitan Police service area; the remaining individuals live in other police force areas. All of these control orders are non-derogating.

During this reporting period, 70 modifications of control order obligations were made. 31 requests to modify a control order obligation were refused. A right of appeal exists in sections 10(1) and 10(3) of the 2005 Act respectively against decisions by the Secretary of State to renew a non-derogating control order or modify an obligation imposed by a non-derogating control order without consent, and against decisions by the Secretary of State to refuse a request by a controlled person to modify any such obligation. Eleven appeals have been lodged with the High Court by controlled persons relating to modifications to orders or the renewal of orders in this reporting period. One application for judicial review and interim relief was also submitted to the High Court.

Four judgments have been handed down by the High Court in control order cases during this reporting period. Three of these judgments have related to the substantive reviews of control orders under section 3(10) of the 2005 Act. A judgment in the case of Secretary of State for the Home Department v. AE was handed down on 20 March 2008; the court upheld the necessity of the control order on national security grounds and ruled that the control order hearing complied with Article 6 of the ECHR. In the same judgment, the court dismissed an appeal by AE against the increase in the length of his curfew, but upheld an appeal relating to the restrictions on visitors to AE’s residence. On 9 April 2008 a judgment was handed down in the case of Secretary of State for the Home Department v. AF. The court found that further disclosure of closed material by the Secretary of State would be necessary in order for the hearing to comply with Article 6 of the ECHR. The control order remains in force while an appeal by the Secretary of State is considered by the Court of Appeal.

The judgment in the case of Secretary of State for the Home Department v. AH was handed down on 9 May 2008; the court upheld the necessity of the control order on national security grounds and ruled that the control order was compliant with Article 5 and Article 3; the court also ruled that the hearing complied with Article 6 of the ECHR. In addition, an oral judgment was handed down in the case of GG on 2 May 2008 in which an application for interim relief was refused by the High Court.

The Secretary of State has lodged three appeals with the Court of Appeal in this reporting period. Appeals were lodged on Article 6 grounds against the High Court judgments in the cases of AN and AM which were handed down in the previous reporting period. An appeal was also lodged against the judgment in the case of AF handed down on 9 April 2008. Three appeals have been lodged by, or on behalf of, controlled persons with the Court of Appeal. AE is challenging the judgment handed down on 20 March 2008 on Article 5 and Article 6 grounds. Special advocates in the case of AF have lodged an appeal against the closed judgment handed down on 9 April 2008. AH has applied for permission to appeal the judgment handed down on 9 May 2008.

Innovation, Universities and Skills

“Work Skills”

Today my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and I are publishing a Command Paper, “Work Skills”, setting out the progress made since we jointly published the January 2008 Command Paper: “Ready to Work, Skilled for Work: Unlocking Britain’s Talent”. Copies of which are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

The paper firstly sets out how we are making the skills system more responsive to the needs of both individuals and employers, and how we are extending the principle of rights and responsibilities to those with skills needs which are preventing them from finding work.

In today’s global economy Britain must compete through higher levels of skills. We must take advantage of new opportunities, new jobs and new industries and make sure that all the people and places across the country are able to benefit.

We are determined to unlock the talent and potential of all our people. We therefore need to give people the skills that will be required in both today’s and tomorrow’s labour market.

To achieve this, we are extending entitlements to training for young adults in work and also looking at how everybody can have their own personal skills account so that they can get the training that they need and the jobs that they want.

The right skills are crucial to getting people who are out of work into a decent job or helping them start their own business. And they are also crucial to getting a better job too. We will now make sure that when people sign on for benefits, they sign up for skills as well. Increasingly, addressing skills needs where they are preventing someone from returning to work will be an important part of receiving out-of-work benefit.

The paper also shows how we are radically improving how our welfare and skills services are delivered. This will ensure our services work more closely together, and that they are driven by those who know best how to shape support to meet local needs.

With this package of proposals we will develop the talents and skills of our people and build stronger foundations for the future success of Britain and her people.

Leader of the House


Parking Contravention Regulations

The Secretary of State for Transport has today laid a statutory instrument which amends the Civil Enforcement of Parking Contraventions (England) General Regulations 2007. This action arises out of an anomaly created by the Traffic Management Act 2004 affecting the ability of non-Metropolitan district councils to employ civil enforcement officers to enforce in off-street car parks.

The SI will enable parking attendants appointed by a local authority under Section 63A of the Road Traffic Regulation Act to take enforcement action in limited circumstances—mainly off-street car parks—in districts outside London where the councils have the power to enforce parking contraventions.

Dartford - Thurrock River Crossing

In December 2006 we consulted on proposed changes to charges for use of the Dartford crossing to address continuing congestion pressures. The proposals were to tailor charges better to the conditions at the crossing, including raising cash charges to £1.50 for cars in the daytime and removing charges altogether at night when traffic flows more freely.

In response to that consultation exercise there were calls to introduce a discount scheme for local residents. The Government announced that they would develop a discount scheme for consultation, whilst going ahead with the proposed increases.

We launched a consultation on the local discount scheme on 16 February 2008, and it closed on 16 May 2008. 67 responses were received.

The Government are today publishing a summary of responses and our conclusions following the consultation exercise. I am placing copies in the Library of the House. The Government have taken careful note of the responses received and have concluded that the scheme should be implemented as proposed, subject to removing to the requirement for an initial sum to be credited to accounts. The key proposals relating to eligibility, the annual administration fee, entitlement to 50 free journeys, and journeys charged at 20p thereafter, are confirmed.

The Government expect to implement the scheme in the autumn, along with the other changes on which we consulted in 2006-07. This included raising cash charges for cars from £1 to £1.50. The Government wish to highlight the fact that car drivers who opt to pay via a Dart-TAG and account will still be able to cross for £1, regardless of where they live.

We are aiming to introduce the changes in the autumn and we will confirm the precise date when the order is laid.

Work and Pensions

Agency Targets and Business Plans

On 27 March 2008, I issued a Written Statement (Col 21 WS) announcing the annual performance targets in 2008-09 for the executive agencies of the Department for Work and Pensions.

One of the targets for the Pension, Disability and Carers Service—“Clear new applications and changes of circumstances to pension credit within an average of 15 working days”—was incorrect.

The correct target should have read “Clear new applications to pension credit within an average of 15 working days”.

A further target for the Pension, Disability and Carers Service—“Achieve 82 per cent. of customers satisfied with the service they receive”—requires clarification.

An explanatory footnote is required to explain that the 2008-09 customer satisfaction survey will focus on customers of the former Disability and Carers Service. The target of 82 per cent. will relate to the former agency and not all the customers of the Pension, Disability and Carers Service.

For completeness the full set of targets is set out below:

Performance Standards

Performance Standards for Pension Customers

To deliver an annualised value of new successful pension credit applications of £767 million and to secure at least 250,000 successful new pension credit applications.

Achieve an accuracy rate of 92 per cent. on new claims and changes of circumstances to pension credit.

Achieve an accuracy rate of 98 per cent. on new claims and changes of circumstances to state pension.

Clear new applications to pension credit within an average of 15 working days.

Clear at least 95 per cent. of new claims to state pension within 60 days.

Performance Standards for Disabled People and Carers

The number of disability living allowance/attendance allowance cases referred to the tribunal service to be no more than 4.5 per cent.

Achieve 82 per cent. of customers satisfied with the service they receive.1 2

Clear new claims for disability living allowance within 38 days.

Clear new claims for Attendance Allowance within 16 days.

Clear new claims for carer’s allowance within 13.5 days.

Reduce the costs of processing benefits to £34.35.

Achieve an accuracy rate of 94 per cent. on decisions on claims for disability living allowance.

Achieve an accuracy rate of 94 per cent. on decisions on claims for attendance allowance.

Achieve a financial accuracy rate of 98 per cent. for carer’s allowance.

1The 2008-09 customer satisfaction survey will focus on customers of the former Disability and Carers Service. The target of 82 per cent. will relate to the former agency and not all the customers of the Pension, Disability and Carers Service.

2The Disability and Carers Service had adopted the same methodology for establishing a base for customer satisfaction since 2004, whilst continuing to review the structure of the MORI poll. 2007 provided the opportunity to expand the scope of the annual survey to better represent the cases where benefit is disallowed. From 2004-05 to 2007-08 the results of the survey are comparable. For 2007-08 an additional figure for the revised baseline will also be provided that will be used for target and comparison purposes for 2008-09.

Joint Performance Standards for the Pension, Disability and Carers Service

To have less than 1 per cent. of calls receiving an engaged tone.

To have at least 93 per cent. of calls answered by an advisor.

We aim to reduce staff sickness absence to less than 8.2 average working days lost.

We will undertake, throughout the year, specified checks and other actions designed to prevent and detect fraud and correcting fraud and error in a minimum of 50,600 cases as a result.

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 9 June 2008 in Luxembourg. The UK was represented by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs. Health and Consumer Affairs issues were taken on 10 June.

Political agreement was achieved on the working time and agency workers directives. A good outcome was achieved for the UK on both these important dossiers. On working time we secured the continued right for individuals to opt out of the 48-hour week, with no suggestion of end date or phasing out—for which many others have pressed; a work-life balance provision that is in keeping with current UK policy on the right to request flexible working; a secure solution to the problems raised by the SiMAP and Jaegar judgments meaning that inactive on-call time does not have to count as working time; satisfactory safeguards on use of the opt-out, with necessary flexibility for short-term contracts; and a maximum cap of 60-65 hours, depending on the circumstances.

The agreed text on agency workers will enable us to implement the recent CBI-TUC agreement in full, setting a 12-week qualifying period for equal treatment and addressing a number of subsidiary issues as set out in that agreement.

The Council adopted conclusions on enhanced administrative co-operation on the posting of workers for the provisions of services.

Political agreement was reached on a Council decision on the 2008-10 employment guidelines. The presidency and Commission emphasised the primary importance of their implementation and the Chairman of the Employment Committee presented an opinion from the Committee on youth unemployment, which he hoped would be helpful to the Council as the Lisbon deadlines approach.

A partial general approach was agreed by the Council on a chapter covering financial provisions of the implementing regulation for social security co-ordination regulation 883/04, and additionally, the Council also agreed a general approach on some outstanding annexes for regulation 883/04.

Council conclusions were adopted on skills for young people. The UK stated our commitment to increasing skills for all, including young people and disadvantaged groups, by 2020. This was essential in the face of globalisation and there is a useful role for collaboration at European level on analysis and policy responses. The European skills review would also be invaluable in this respect.

The Council also adopted three sets of conclusions as part of the review of implementation of the Beijing platform for action on gender equality. The three areas covered were the elimination of gender stereotypes; women in political decision making; and indicators on the girl child.

Under ‘any other business’, the presidency reported that progress has been made on the worker mobility directive on supplementary pensions, but there were still some outstanding issues to be resolved. They also gave a report on events that had been organised by Slovenia during their time as presidency.

The chair of the Social Protection Committee gave an update on social services of general interest. The Committee will report to the Council again in December.

Several newer member states tabled a declaration on the draft decision establishing a year against poverty and exclusion in 2010. Whilst they were content for agreement to be reached at first reading with the European Parliament, they pressed for a Community financial contribution for projects of greater than 50 per cent. to be considered in future programmes; however, the Commission defended the current 50 per cent. approach.

Reports were also received from the Commission on the activities of the expert group on demographic issues and on policies and instruments to improve inclusion of Roma across the Union.

France outlined its priorities on employment and social policy for their forthcoming presidency starting in July. The emphasis would be on legislation, including proposals expected before the end of the year on a revision of the 1994 European Works Councils Directive; a new anti-discrimination directive; and a package of measures on work-life balance. France also expects to deal with the European Parliament opinions on the agency workers and working time directive. Their main non-legislative priority would be to debate the EU’s renewed social agenda, starting at the July informal meeting of Ministers.