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Written Statements

Volume 688: debated on Monday 22 January 2007

Written Statements

Monday 22 January 2007

EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council

My right honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Mr Geoff Hoon) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 22 January in Brussels. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mrs Margaret Beckett) and I will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Lisbon Strategy: Commission Annual Progress Report

The Commission is expected to present its annual progress report on the Lisbon reform strategy. The UK supports the Commission's approach, which includes country-specific recommendations.

External Relations

European Neighbourhood Policy

External Relations Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner is expected to present a communication on the European neighbourhood policy (ENP), published on 4 December.

The presidency will brief the council on a process for policy development. The UK supports the development of an ENP which offers good incentives for partner countries to reform.

Western Balkans

The council is likely to focus on the previous day's elections in Serbia with possible conclusions on the conduct of elections.

Ministers are also expected to discuss Kosovo. The UK will want to ensure continued support for UN Status Envoy Martti Ahtisaari and his intention to present recommendations shortly after the elections.

The council is also expected to adopt conclusions on Montenegro’s European partnership.

Middle East Peace Process

We expect the council to welcome the meeting between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas and to look for ways to build on this positive momentum to reinvigorate the peace process.

Sudan

President Bashir has shown a greater willingness to co-operate with the international community since the end of December. We need to test his commitment, particularly on the full implementation of UN support, including the hybrid force. The council will need to reinforce these messages.

We also expect the council to discuss finding funding for the African Union mission in Sudan.

Energy External Relations

The discussion will cover security of energy supply, energy efficiency and climate security. It will be an opportunity to discuss the importance of climate security to the EU's foreign policy priorities, given that an unstable climate could undermine the EU's ability to achieve its foreign policy objectives, from energy security to conflict prevention and poverty reduction.

Death Penalty

Italy is expected to raise EU strategy on the death penalty at the council. We welcome further work in this area.

Libya

We expect the council to adopt conclusions on the case of the Bulgarian and Palestinian medical workers convicted of intentionally infecting Libyan children with HIV and sentenced to death after a retrial.

Somalia

Ministers will discuss the current situation in Somalia. The council is expected to adopt conclusions highlighting that there is now an opportunity to advance international efforts to secure a sustainable solution in Somalia.

Iran

Ministers will discuss implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1737. The council is also expected to adopt conclusions.

EU: Vocational Education and Training

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Alan Johnson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I attended with the Scottish Executive Deputy Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, Mr Allan Wilson. The meeting was chaired by the Finnish Education Minister, Antti Kalliomaki.

The aim of the meeting was to give a further boost to EU work on vocational education and training (VET) by agreeing a Helsinki communiqué.

The format was a dinner and presentation of Leonardo da Vinci awards on the first evening, followed by a half day's meeting. All EU member states were represented. Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Macedonia and Croatia, the EEA countries and the social partners (UNICE, ETUC, CEEP), as well as the European Training Foundation (ETF) and the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP), had also been invited and the majority attended.

The Helsinki communiqué consolidates progress made so far in EU co-operation in vocational education and training (VET), and sets priorities in this area for the coming years. The main priorities identified in the communiqué follow on from the Copenhagen (2002) and Maastricht (2004) declarations and were agreed in the form of council conclusions on VET at the formal Education Council attended by Bill Rammell on 14 November 2006.

The communiqué highlights four priority areas:

Policy measures to improve the attractiveness and quality of VET.

Continued development and implementation of voluntary common EU tools: the European Qualifications Framework; European Credit Transfer System; Europass and the European Network on Quality Assurance in VET.

A more systematic, strengthened approach to mutual learning through the open method of co-ordination; and further development of statistical information so that progress can be evaluated.

Active involvement of stakeholders.

The council conclusions and Helsinki communiqué explicitly recognise the voluntary nature of co-operation in this area. The director of CEDEFOP gave a presentation, outlining the work that it had done to establish the basis on which progress could be measured. Commissioner Figel talked about progress on benchmarks and on the VET process generally. His main conclusions were:

progress in VET, following the Copenhagen declaration, was proceeding more quickly than in HE (the Bologna process);

there had been good progress on a number of benchmarks but on others it was disappointing (eg, early school-leavers, low achievements in literacy, numbers achieving upper secondary level qualifications);

there had been good progress on science and maths but perhaps the benchmarks had been set too low;

the gender gap was decreasing in maths and science but from a very low base;

and there was concern that education and training systems were still not providing young people with the skills they need for life and work.

In my intervention, I pointed out the links between welfare reform, pensions and VET. There has been a massive decrease in the number of unskilled jobs: there were no longer jobs for life but, with effective lifelong learning systems, it should be possible to offer employment for life. Training needs to be demand-led and vocational qualifications need to have real intellectual rigour and there is a big political imperative to tackle this agenda. There are important links with higher education, with research and development and science.

I also expressed my concern that the Education Council punches well below its weight in deliberations on the Lisbon agenda: education and skills should be at its heart but other councils seemed to have much more influence.

A number of delegates stressed the need to make the Helsinki communiqué readable so that it could be understood by citizens. It was important to share experience of what worked and what did not so that MS could learn from one another.

Farepak

My right honourable friend the Minister of State (Ian McCartney) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

When the House debated the collapse of Farepak on 7 November 2006 (col. 206WH), I undertook to keep honourable Members fully up to date on the progress of the investigations into the events. Honourable Members will wish to be aware that on 18 January the administrators of Farepak Food and Gifts Ltd, BDO Stoy Hayward, sent out its statement to customers and agents of Farepak. The statement explains what has happened in the administration to date, what the administrators propose to do while they are still appointed and what will happen when the administration ends.

The main purpose of the statement is for agents and customers to have the opportunity to consider and vote on the proposals of the administrators. The administrators recommend that Farepak should be placed in liquidation. Liquidators have wider powers of investigation and action than administrators. Creditors will have until 9 February 2007 to return voting forms to Voting Registration Department, Farepak House, Westmead Drive, Westlea, Swindon SN5 7YZ.

I am placing a copy of the statement in the Libraries of both Houses.

The DTI’s Companies Investigation Branch is continuing its wider investigation into the circumstances surrounding the collapse of Farepak.

Gulf Veterans: Mortality Data

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Mr Derek Twigg) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

As part of the Government’s continuing commitment to investigate Gulf veterans’ illness, data on the mortality of veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict are published regularly. The most recent figures for the period 1 April 1991 to 31 December 2006 are published today as a national statistic on the Defence Analytical Services Agency website.

The data for Gulf veterans are compared to those of a control group known as the “era” cohort, consisting of Armed Forces personnel of a similar profile in terms of age, gender, service, regular/reservist status and rank who were in service on 1 January 1991 but were not deployed to the Gulf. As in the previous release, the era group has been adjusted for a small difference in the age profile of those aged 40 years and over, to ensure appropriate comparisons.

Key points to note in the data are as follows. There have been 814 deaths among the Gulf veterans and 827 in the age-adjusted era comparison group. The 814 deaths among Gulf veterans compare with the approximately 1,331 deaths which would have been expected in a similar-sized cohort taken from the general population of the UK with the same age and gender profile. This reflects the strong emphasis on fitness when recruiting and retaining service personnel.

These statistics continue to confirm that UK veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict do not suffer an excess of the overall mortality compared with service personnel who did not deploy.

The full notice can be viewed at www.dasa.mod.uk.

Money Laundering

My honourable friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Ed Balls) has made the following Written Statement.

The Government are today publishing draft Money Laundering Regulations 2007 for consultation. The regulations implement the third EU money laundering directive, which was agreed in October 2005 during the UK's presidency of the European Union. The regulations have been developed in line with the three key principles of the Government's anti-money laundering and counterterrorist finance strategy—effectiveness, proportionality and engagement both domestically and with international partners. Implementing these regulations will further strengthen the UK's defences against money laundering and terrorist finance, and ensure a targeted response to specific threats.

Effectiveness means setting and implementing national and international standards that tackle the global threat of money laundering and terrorist financing. Proportionality means taking a risk-based approach to controls—being tough on new risks that emerge, while reducing burdens where the threat lowers. Engagement within the UK means working closely with business, regulators and law enforcement agencies to ensure that the system works. Internationally it requires co-operation with other Governments inside and outside the EU, including through the Financial Action Task Force, the international standard setter.

The regulations will introduce tough and targeted new measures to further strengthen our ability to tackle money laundering. In particular:

All sectors regulated for money laundering will be supervised for compliance: many firms that are subject to the Money Laundering Regulations are already monitored to ensure that they meet the requirements, including firms regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), casinos, lawyers and some accountants. We will now extend this approach so that all sectors under the regulations are supervised. This will include, for the first time, trust and company service providers, estate agents and consumer credit providers, as well as certain other accountants and financial services providers.

Supervision of money service businesses will be strengthened to ensure that persons running these businesses are fit and proper. New sectoral supervision of trust and company service providers will mean that those involved in the running of such firms will also need to pass a strict test to this effect.

There will be a new requirement for regulated firms to conduct enhanced due diligence in respect of customers and situations that pose a higher risk of money laundering and terrorist financing. This universalises the risk-based approach to customer due diligence that many already apply by requiring all firms to take extra checks at the high end of the risk spectrum.

The regulations make operational the Government's view that, where possible, casinos should identify their customers when they reach a threshold of €2,000 of chips exchanged or gambled—an approach recommended as international best practice by the Financial Action Task Force, but with a level stricter than the international requirement. In the view of law enforcement, money laundering in casinos below the sum of €2,000 is not a material risk provided proper checks are in place to ensure that this threshold is not exceeded without appropriate due diligence taking place. Those casinos that are able to demonstrate to the regulator that they have the systems in place for tracking and identifying higher risk individuals and for ensuring that criminals are not able to circumvent the threshold by gradually exchanging or gambling chips should therefore follow a threshold approach. Those unable to do so should continue, as they do now, to identify all their customers on entry.

In addition to taking tough action where the risks require it, we are reducing regulatory burdens where possible. For example:

Firms will be able to apply simplified due diligence in situations that the regulations classify as low risk. This means that fewer checks will need to be applied for certain products including the child trust fund and pension products where contributions are made solely by an employer.

Firms will have greater scope to rely on the customer identification checks conducted by others. In particular, specific provision for regulated firms to rely on the due diligence conducted by FSA-regulated firms and certain professionals will be introduced in the regulations. Going forward, the Government hope to widen the scope of this measure to include other sectors, subject to those sectors being able to demonstrate a high level of compliance with the Money Laundering Regulations. This is a deregulatory measure in line with the recommendation of the Better Regulation Task Force report on regulatory creep. It should improve the experience both of the firm and of the customer by removing duplication of identity checks.

Firms will have more flexibility in deciding which records to keep. Previously there was a preference in the law for firms to keep copies of documents as opposed to references such as passport numbers. The new regulations will place reference numbers on the same footing as copies for the purposes of record-keeping, reducing business costs and increasing flexibility.

The draft Money Laundering Regulations have been developed through an extensive process of consultation with all interested parties, including representatives of law enforcement, regulators and the industry itself. In July 2006 the Government published a consultation document setting out proposals for implementing the EU third money laundering directive. This consultation closed in October 2006 and the responses received have informed the draft regulations being published today. The Government will continue to work closely with all stakeholders as the regulations are implemented.

The Government will set out in greater detail how they will apply the principles of effectiveness, proportionality and domestic and international engagement more widely to the continuing challenge of detecting, deterring and disrupting money laundering and terrorist financing in the coming weeks. Copies of the consultation document published today are available in the Libraries of the House.

Nuclear Decommissioning: Appointment of Senior Adviser

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State (Alistair Darling) has made the following Statement.

I have selected Dr Tim Stone to be my senior adviser to lead the development of arrangements for the costs associated with potential new-build decommissioning and waste management and make proposals to me and to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, based on the principles set out in the energy review report, The Energy Challenge.

I am confident that Tim Stone, with his extensive background in investment and corporate banking, will play an important part in designing robust arrangements that ensure that for any new nuclear build that might come forward, the private sector meets the full decommissioning costs and its full share of long-term waste management costs.

Dr Stone is taking on this role on secondment from KPMG. The role will run for an initial period of one year from 22 January 2007.