Friday 20 April 2007
EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council
My right honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Geoff Hoon) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 23 April in Luxembourg. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett) will represent the UK.
The agenda items are as follows:
World Trade Organisation/Doha Development Round
The Commission is expected to update the Council on its latest contacts, including the G4 Ministerial in New Delhi.
Bilateral Mandates for Negotiations of Free Trade Agreements and Association Agreements
The Council is expected to agree mandates for the Commission to negotiate free trade agreements with the ASEAN countries, India and South Korea and association agreements with the Central Americas and Community of Andean Nations.
Gulf Co-operation Council
Commissioner Mandelson is expected to brief the Council on progress on negotiations between the EU and the Gulf Co-operation Council on a free trade agreement.
The presidency is expected to brief the Council on preparations for the EU/US summit on 30 April including plans for a declaration covering political, economic and climate change issues. The Government support the presidency’s objectives for the summit, particularly its desire to move transatlantic co-operation on economic and climate security issues forward.
The Council is expected to discuss recent developments in Sudan and will be briefed by UN Special Envoy for Darfur Jan Eliasson. Although the Government of Sudan have now accepted the second phase of the UN support for the African Union peacekeeping force, it has yet to accept the third phase, a hybrid African Union/UN force. The Government want the EU to maintain pressure on Khartoum to accept the full African Union/UN peacekeeping force as well as the ceasefire and reinvigorated political process agreed in Addis Ababa last November.
The Council is expected to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe and adopt conclusions, which the Government will argue should condemn recent and ongoing human rights abuses and extend the EU’s visa ban list in response while welcoming the commitment of the Southern African Development Community to engage in efforts to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe.
The Council is expected to discuss the situation in Somalia and to adopt conclusions expressing concern about the recent violence in Somalia, stressing the importance of implementing UNSCR 1744 in addressing the political, security and humanitarian challenges in Somalia. The Government will stress the need for the EU to continue to work for full implementation of UNSCR 1744, particularly for the National Reconciliation Congress in Mogadishu to convene as soon as possible and for the rapid deployment of further elements of the African Union’s mission to Somalia.
The Council is expected to discuss the presidency’s plans for an EU Central Asia strategy and agree conclusions noting the second round of EU/Uzbekistan expert talks on Andizhan and the decision to establish a regular, results-oriented human rights dialogue with Uzbekistan. The Government support the presidency’s plans to increase engagement in the region, which it will want to ensure reflects the EU’s human rights concerns.
The Council is expected to agree a common position implementing UNSCR 1747. The Government will underline Iran’s lack of progress against United Nations Security Council, International Atomic Energy Agency and EU benchmarks and the consequent need to maintain international pressure, which is beginning to prompt debate within the regime.
The High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, is likely to brief the Council on contacts with Ali Larijani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, as part of the EU’s agreed twin-track approach.
The presidency is expected to update the Council on the situation in the western Balkans. The February Council conclusions set out the EU’s support for former President Ahtisaari’s proposals on Kosovo’s status and make the restart of stabilisation and association agreement talks with Serbia conditional on concrete action by a new Serb Government on co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The Government fully support this position.
Middle East Peace Process
The Council is expected to welcome the Arab League peace initiative and to extend the temporary international mechanism for support to the Palestinians for three months, while setting out that the EU’s long-term goal is to resume direct budgetary assistance once there is a Palestinian Government whose policy and actions reflect the three quartet principles. The Council should also highlight the importance of building the capacity of Palestinian institutions, a position that the Government support as essential in achieving success in political negotiations.
International Moratorium on the Death Penalty
Italy has asked to discuss EU action to promote a global moratorium and eventual abolition of the death penalty. The Government fully support this important EU objective.
Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency
My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Caroline Flint) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I have received the business plan for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which has been placed in the Library.
The agency has an important role in protecting public health in the United Kingdom by ensuring that all medicines and medical devices in the UK work and are acceptably safe. The business plan for 2007-08 sets out specific key and high-level targets for the agency for the coming year.
Personal Injury Claims
I have today published a consultation paper, Case Track Limits and the Claims Process for Personal Injury Claims.
The paper reviews the case track limits for civil claims as provided for in Part 26 of the Civil Procedure Rules. It proposes that the fast-track limit should be increased to £25,000, but that there should be no change to the small claims limits, including those for personal injury and housing disrepair claims.
The paper also considers ways to improve the claims process for personal injury cases to make it more timely, proportionate and cost-effective. It makes proposals for a new system based around the principles of early notification of a claim; early admissions of liability; the removal of duplication of work; fixed time periods and fixed recoverable costs.
Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and can be obtained free on the department’s website at www.dca.gov.uk/consult/confr.htm#full. The closing date for consultation is 13 July 2007.
My honourable friend the Financial Secretary (John Healey) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Statistics and Registration Service Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, will establish an independent Statistics Board that is outside ministerial control and reports to Parliament. The board will have statutory responsibilities to promote and safeguard the production and publication of official statistics that serve the public good, and the quality and comprehensiveness of those statistics.
To ensure that the funding arrangements for the new board reinforce statutory independence, the Government have taken the decision to set funding for the Statistics Board outside the normal spending review process and to guarantee the board funding certainty over a period of five years. The 2007 Budget announced the funding settlement of £1.2 billion over the next five years for the new Statistics Board. The settlement applies to the years 2007-08 to 2011-12 and provides planning and funding certainty for the development of the new board and the effective discharge of its remit from the intended establishment of the new system by spring 2008.
The Bill provides for the Government’s intention that the board will be constituted by a majority of external, non-executive members selected through open competition. As I announced at Second Reading of the Bill on 8 January 2007 (Official Report, Commons, col. 35) the Government’s aim is,
“to have appointed a shadow chair, with appropriate support for that chair, before the start of the new system, so that many of the crucial aspects of planning for the implementation can be steered and led by that shadow chair. I hope that the appointment will be made during the course of this year”.
Given the importance of having these non-executive positions filled at an early stage, the Treasury is starting recruitment process for the chair and non-executive directors of the new board.
Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £305,500 for this new body will be sought in the main estimate for the Treasury. However, no expenditure from within this voted provision will take place until Parliament has also approved the Statistics and Registration Service Bill. Pending that approval, this expenditure will be met by a repayable cash advance from the Contingencies Fund. This expenditure will be met from within the Treasury’s existing budgetary provision and does not imply an increase in its departmental expenditure limit.