Tuesday 1 May 2007
Aviation: Air Passenger Duty
My honourable friend the Financial Secretary, John Healey, has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Budget 2007 stated that the aviation industry had suggested to the Government that the way in which air passenger duty defined different classes of travel could send inappropriate environmental signals and cause market distortions for, for example, “business class only” flights and premium-economy-type seats. We confirmed in the Budget that we are prepared to consider changes to the definition if these could be done on a broadly revenue-neutral basis, and we confirmed that we would be discussing further with the industry how this could be achieved.
Today I am taking forward this commitment through the publication of a consultation document, a copy of which is being placed in the Library of the House and made available on the HMRC website.
EU: Justice and Home Affairs Council
The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council took place in Luxembourg on 19 and 20 April 2007. The UK was also represented by the Attorney-General and the Lord Advocate of Scotland.
The council started with the adoption of the A-points list. Amongst these were a proposal for the establishment of the fundamental rights and citizenship funding programme. The council rejected the European Parliament’s amendments on the Rome II regulation on the law applicable to non-contractual obligations.
The presidency presented guidelines to direct future work on the Rome III regulations on matrimonial law. A long discussion exposed a range of views amongst member states, in particular on the question of setting rules on applicable law in the absence of a choice by the spouses. Following several drafting changes the presidency concluded that its paper had been agreed.
The presidency presented guidelines to direct future work on the regulation on maintenance obligations. Notwithstanding points raised by four member states the presidency noted consensus on guidelines as drafted.
The presidency's package of provisions on the Rome I regulation on applicable law in contractual obligations was agreed subject to a Commission reservation on the removal from Article 3 of references to European contract law.
The council agreed a presidency paper on the purpose, content and scope of the common frame of reference in European contract law, which mandates future work to determine the council’s position.
There was lengthy discussion of the draft framework decision on criminal procedural rights. The UK has no disagreement on the objective of the proposal (to raise standards across the EU); however, Lord Goldsmith argued strongly for limiting the scope of the framework decision to European arrest warrant (EAW) cases, with action on wholly domestic cases to be pursued via a package of concrete practical measures, backed by a strong political resolution. The presidency put forward an oral proposal along these lines but including a review clause to re-examine the scope in three years’ time. The proposal also contained a commitment to look at whether there could legally be a formal opt-in allowing some member states to apply the framework decision to domestic cases and work to try to define “cross border” more widely than the EAW. The presidency will take forward work on this basis and has set the June JHA Council as a deadline for agreeing the main principles.
A general approach was reached on the racism and xenophobia framework decision, subject to parliamentary scrutiny reservations from several member states, which were acknowledged in the presidency’s press release. In order to accommodate the concerns of those member states that wanted the framework decision to cover Stalinist crimes, the council agreed a declaration that deplores all totalitarian crimes, makes reference to the Berlin declaration of 25 March 2007 and contains a commitment by the Commission to organise a public hearing on crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by totalitarian regimes.
Day two of the council opened in mixed committee format with Norway, Iceland and Switzerland.
First, it was reported that implementation of SISOne4All was proceeding according to plan and Portugal’s proposal for monitoring arrangements was agreed. The second generation Schengen information system timetable also remains on target for December 2008.
The proposal for rapid border intervention teams (RABITs) was discussed with the presidency urging rapid adoption, in light of the expected summer pressures. A general approach was reached on the current text. The Commission suggested that formal approval could be taken before the June JHA Council so that RABITs could be up and running as soon as possible.
Frontex gave presentations on the European patrols network and the central record of technical equipment, to which the UK has contributed. The Commission also described recent Frontex operations off the coast of Senegal.
Over lunch the presidency updated the council on the state of play on the data protection framework decision.
On the visa information system (VIS) the Lord Advocate put forward the UK’s position that direct access for the UK to the VIS would strengthen work against terrorism and crime across the EU. She underlined that the UK was offering to provide data on a reciprocal basis. The council understood this need and would work to ensure access for the UK and Ireland. There was a discussion of the presidency proposed compromise package, which was broadly agreed subject to further detailed discussion. The presidency and the Commission will have a further political trilogue with the European Parliament with a view to reaching a first reading agreement as soon as possible.
There was some discussion on the future of Europol, with the presidency stressing the priority it put on securing operational improvements. The June JHA Council would be invited to agree Articles 1 to 9 of the council decision and to resolve the questions of funding and staffing. Europol director (Max-Peter Ratzel) confirmed that all the Europol protocols were now in force, which should result in more joint investigation teams and greater third-party involvement in Europol work files.
Member states discussed the situation of Iraqi asylum seekers in the EU and in Syria and Jordan. There was broad support for the humanitarian effort in the region led by UNHCR, to which the UK has made a significant contribution. This issue was subsequently addressed in the conclusions of the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 23 April.
The Commission informed the council that the two communications on the global approach to migration and a legislative proposal on illegal working could be expected before the June council. Its directive on illegal working would propose a mix of criminal and administrative sanctions.
Finally, the presidency reported that the EU/US/Russia troika meeting had discussed counter-terrorism and operations to combat drug smuggling in Afghanistan. A high-level group would be established to discuss combating terrorism and hopefully agree a common definition of terrorism. Meanwhile EU/US discussions focused on passenger name records (PNR), data protection and visas. A high-level group on data protection was working to establish a set of common principles. If no new agreement could be reached by 31 July, the existing interim agreement would be extended.