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Written Statements

Volume 499: debated on Wednesday 11 November 2009

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Treasury

G 20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting

The G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting was held on 6 and 7 November. A copy of the Communiqué and a progress report on the economic and financial actions of the London, Washington and Pittsburgh G20 summits prepared by the UK Chair have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Business, Innovation and Skills

Insolvency Service Consultation

I am setting out today the Government’s response to the recent Insolvency Service consultation on encouraging company rescue.

In launching the consultation, the Government identified the importance of maintaining an effective and fair corporate insolvency framework that enables viable businesses facing temporary difficulties to turn themselves round, helping to preserve jobs and livelihoods. The consultation document invited views on a number of possible measures to further enhance the existing regime, including moratoria for companies that need a breathing space in order to agree restructuring proposals with their creditors, and measures to promote increased access to rescue finance.

More than 50 businesses, individuals, and representative bodies responded to the consultation. The majority of respondents supported the Government’s view that despite the challenges faced by business in the current difficult economic conditions, the existing statutory framework for company rescue is performing well, and continues to compare well internationally.

The moratoria proposals were broadly welcomed. Respondents made a number of helpful comments and suggestions as to how the potential benefits could be maximised, while minimising the risks to creditors. The Insolvency Service will be taking forward more detailed development of the relevant proposals over the coming months, building on feedback received from the consultation.

In relation to rescue finance, the views of respondents were more divided. A number suggested that in practice the availability of new finance for companies seeking to restructure was less of an issue than had been indicated, and that the need for legislative change was not apparent. Stakeholders also recognised the need to balance the benefits of possible legislative changes against some of the risks, particularly if changes had a negative impact on the behaviour of lending institutions towards businesses in general. Having considered the consultation responses on this issue, the Government have decided that it will not for the moment be taking forward the finance-related proposals. We will however continue to work with stakeholders to monitor the position going forward.

Copies of the non-confidential responses to the consultation are being published today on the Insolvency Service website: www.insolvency.gov.uk, together with a summary of those responses.

Children, Schools and Families

Independent Advisory Group on Teenage Pregnancy

I have today placed in the Library of the House the Government’s response to the fifth annual report of the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group.

The Government welcome the recommendations made in the independent advisory group’s fifth annual report and acknowledge the valuable contribution the group makes to the strategy and its implementation. We have carefully considered and responded to all of them. The Government have taken forward all the major recommendations including making sex and relationships education statutory within personal, social, health and economic education from 2011, and investing more than £45 million in improving young people’s awareness and access to effective contraception.

The Government are also taking forward other recommendations of the group to improve the ways that local services work together to prevent teenage pregnancy and improve outcomes for teenage parents and their children—with better co-ordination between education, children’s and health services. As a key issue of health inequalities, child poverty and social exclusion, Government are urging local areas to continue prioritising and investing in their local teenage pregnancy strategy to help accelerate progress.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Bosnia and Herzegovina

On 5-6 November, I visited Bosnia and Herzegovina. During my visit I met with the three member joint presidency, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Prime Minister of Republika Srpska and leaders of seven political parties. I also met with representatives of civil society and visited the International Commission For Missing Persons.

The British Government are strongly committed to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s security and stability. Our vision is of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a fully functioning state making real progress towards membership of the EU and NATO. In my meetings with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political leaders, I reconfirmed the UK’s commitment to the processes of EU and NATO enlargement, and to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s future membership of both organisations. I emphasised the need for compliance with the Dayton framework. I made clear UK concern about the prolonged slowing down of reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and stressed that without genuine action to unblock reforms there was a risk of Bosnia and Herzegovina falling behind the rest of the region on its path to membership of the EU and NATO.

I made clear that the UK wanted to see the transition of the international presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Office of the High Representative to a European Union Special Representative but only on the basis of full completion of the conditions and objectives set by the Peace Implementation Council in February 2008. I encouraged the party leaders to redouble their efforts to make progress on the outstanding conditionality.

In this context, I urged Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political leaders to engage wholeheartedly and constructively in the EU/US initiative to reinvigorate the reform process. The initiative offers an important opportunity for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political leaders to engage together in order to find a way through some of the blockages. This initiative is evidence of the international community’s strong engagement: it needs to be met with a corresponding political will on the part of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s leaders.

In my meetings with the joint presidency and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I welcomed Bosnia and Herzegovina’s election to non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council in 2010-11. This will be an important opportunity for Bosnia and Herzegovina to contribute to addressing threats to international peace and security. The United Kingdom looks forward to developing a close partnership with Bosnia and Herzegovina on UN Security Council business including through intensified policy exchanges and the provision, by our Embassy in Sarajevo, of capacity-building workshops.

I visited the headquarters of the International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP) which is based in Sarajevo and saw at first hand the pioneering DNA-based work carried out by ICMP to identify the remains of missing persons. This work makes a vital contribution to peace and stability in the region and to regional and international judicial processes. The British Government are a strong supporter of ICMP’s work.

I also had valuable meetings with representatives of civil society including with representatives of non-governmental organisations who have been partners of the UK in taking forward project work under our conflict prevention and strategic programme funds. I also met with British members of the EU military and policing missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

General Affairs and External Relations Council

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 16 and 17 November in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, my noble Friend the Minister of State for International Defence and Security, Baroness Taylor, and I will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the 10 and 11 December European Council

The GAERC will discuss the presidency’s draft agenda for the December European Council. We expect the European Council to focus on the economic and financial situation, with a view to reaching agreement on the Commission’s proposals for financial supervision and regulation. The December European Council will also adopt the EU’s new work programme (the “Stockholm programme”) setting out priorities for EU cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs from 2010-14. There may also be discussions on a new Lisbon strategy post-2010, enlargement and external issues.

Post-2010 Lisbon Strategy

Ministers will discuss the post-2010 successor to the Lisbon Strategy for Jobs and Growth. The successor strategy should build on the economic and structural reform programme set out by the initial strategy. At the October European Council, EU leaders agreed to draw up a European strategy for jobs and growth, to secure a strong and sustainable economic recovery. The October European Council stressed the importance of reforms to strengthen the internal market, deliver investment in the industries and jobs of the future, promote increased trade and strengthen the financial sector.

EU Sustainable Development Strategy

On the basis of a presidency report, Ministers are expected to discuss the priority areas for the EU sustainable development strategy (SDS) and how these should be delivered. We expect conclusions to be adopted by the December European Council, which will influence the decision on whether there should be a fundamental review of the strategy, due by 2011 at the latest. A recent review identified a number of areas where the EU is not on track to meet the targets in the SDS, and considered how its principles could influence policy-making more effectively. The Government support strengthening these aspects of the EU SDS and also ensuring that it is well co-ordinated with other EU strategies such as the Lisbon strategy.

External Relations

Russia

Discussion will focus on the forthcoming EU-Russia summit on 18 November. The Government welcome the presidency’s close consultation on plans for the summit and support the priorities identified in the agenda. If a wider discussion opens up, I will seek to debrief partners on my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to Moscow.

Ukraine

Ministers will discuss preparations for the EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv on 4 December. Ukraine is an important neighbour of the EU and a key country within the new eastern partnership. The summit is also important because it will take place in the month before presidential elections. We want the presidency to use the summit to further stimulate Ukraine’s democratic development, promote political and economic reform, deepen the process of European integration through the new association agreement and help Ukraine consolidate its sovereignty.

Ukraine has been badly hit by the global economic crisis and the summit offers an opportunity to reiterate the EU’s strong support for the IMF programme that has been put together to help Ukraine get through the crisis. A package of EU macro-financial assistance might also be offered subject to the IMF programme remaining on track. Ukraine is a key transit country for Russian gas and is therefore of great importance to the EU’s energy security. We want the presidency to use the summit to help ensure Ukraine remains a reliable partner on energy issues.

Somalia

EU Foreign and Defence Ministers will discuss Operation Atalanta and wider EU engagement on Somalia in separate sessions. On Atalanta, discussions will focus on the operation’s six-monthly report. There may also be calls to make a decision on a proposed training mission for troops loyal to Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), and member states may be pressed to indicate what resources they are able to contribute.

We support the concept of the EU providing support for training of TFG security forces but planning needs to ensure that any mission would be workable and genuinely contribute to progress in Somalia. EU support must be co-ordinated and agreed with other international community actors in the region (UN, AU, US and bilateral efforts from member states) and the TFG through the Joint Security Committee mechanism and funds must be set aside with a mechanism in place to ensure that all trained troops are paid upon return to Somalia.

ESDP civilian capabilities

After an introduction from the presidency, Foreign Ministers will have a short discussion on how to bring about improvements in civilian capabilities for European Security and Defence Policy missions. The discussion will bring together a set of work streams pursued by the current presidency on civilian ESDP, including a revised framework for deploying civilians rapidly through the EU, a new concept for undertaking EU police substitution missions and a short report on member states’ progress in developing the mechanisms to deploy civilians overseas.

We anticipate that the discussion will focus on the issue of finding more highly skilled civilians to deploy through ESDP missions, particularly the EU policing mission in Afghanistan. The Government have been supportive of the presidency’s efforts to harness civilian capability from across Europe to deploy on ESDP missions because it is at the heart of the EU’s ability to undertake more effective crisis management.

Belarus

Ministers may discuss recent developments and review whether progress has been sufficient to continue the suspension of the travel ban. Ministers may also look more widely at the EU’s engagement, and assess what instruments it has at its disposal to bring about change. We will argue that there has not been sufficient progress to warrant lifting sanctions at this time, although we would be prepared to see the suspension of the travel ban continue for a defined period.

Joint Session of EU Foreign and Defence Ministers

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Operation Althea

Ministers will discuss Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), including the role of EUFOR Operation Althea. The Government support the ongoing presence of EUFOR in BiH. The presidency may also debrief member states on the current EU/US “Butmir” initiative: the Government fully support this effort to increase the pace of reform in BiH.

ESDP

Foreign and Defence Ministers will have an overarching discussion looking back at 10 years of European Security and Defence Policy and its future development. Considerations will be based around the Council conclusions on ESDP as well as a declaration marking its tenth anniversary. The conclusions are wide ranging and include: current ESDP missions and operations; cooperation with partners, including NATO, the UN and Third States; conflict prevention; gender and human rights; and both civil and military capability development. The Government have been supportive of the presidency’s active engagement in this field.

Joint Session of EU Foreign and Development Ministers

Afghanistan and democracy support in EU external relations

Ministers will consider the EU’s approach to democracy building in external relations, and will adopt conclusions, which we fully support. We particularly welcome the fact that they are a joint initiative (from the development and human rights working groups) and that they set out an Agenda for Action which could lead to real change in how the EU delivers support to democracy in its external relations. This is not about increased conditionality; rather it is about using what the EU already has more effectively and in a more coherent and coordinated manner.

The focus of the Foreign and Development Ministers’ joint discussion on Afghanistan will be how the EU can work to support the new Afghan Government, ensuring that it is able to deliver on President Karzai’s commitments to address corruption, governance and reintegration. Ministers will discuss how to fast track implementation of the Council Secretariat/Commission paper on enhancing EU engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Government support the paper, and looks forward to seeing a worked up implementation plan.

Meeting of EU Defence Ministers

The European Defence Agency Steering Board will meet in Defence Ministers’ formation on 17 November. As consensus has not yet been reached on a three year financial framework, on current plans Ministers will be presented with the agency’s draft work plan and budget for 2010 only, though we continue to pursue the prospect of reaching an acceptable three-year agreement. Ministers will also be given updates on six European Defence Agency projects. For two of these projects, Ministers will be asked to approve political declarations: on European military airworthiness requirements and on a level playing field for the European defence equipment market. We support both of these initiatives.

Defence Ministers will discuss Somalia. Please refer to the Somalia section under External Relations above for further information.

Ministers will discuss the implications of the Lisbon Treaty for Defence Policy informally over lunch. These will be initial, wide ranging, discussions aimed at stimulating the debate over how the provisions of the treaty that affect defence might be implemented. There will be no loss of sovereign control over the UK’s Armed Forces as a result of the Lisbon treaty.

Meeting of EU Development Ministers

Development Ministers will discuss EU delivery of Official Development Assistance (ODA) targets ahead of the 2010 collective commitment to 0.56 per cent. GNI. We expect strong language calling on member states to honour their targets, to set out timetables showing how they will do this, and calling on other donors to agree similarly ambitious commitments.

The Council will discuss how climate change considerations can be integrated into development discourse including a priority discussion on climate finance. conclusions will be adopted. While these do not form part of the official EU position for the UN framework convention on climate change conference in Copenhagen, we believe it is crucial that Development Ministers take this opportunity to discuss the relationship between ODA and climate finance and recognise that additional public finance over and above existing aid commitments is necessary.

Other items on the agenda include a Commission update on economic partnership agreements and a discussion of an operational framework on aid effectiveness and on policy Coherence for development.

Home Department

DNA and Fingerprint Retention

I am announcing today proposals on a new retention framework for DNA and fingerprints to be introduced though primary legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows. I am also today publishing on the Home Office website and placing in the Library of the House the responses to the consultation exercise on earlier proposals published in May 2009. I will also be placing on the Home Office website at: www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/cons-2009-dna-database/ a review of the research carried out in this area.

The UK has been at the forefront of using DNA in the detection of crime for many years, and it has played a key role in the conviction of numerous individuals for the most serious of crimes over the years; some 832 matches to the national DNA database were made in cases of murder, manslaughter or rape in 2008-09 alone. The Government are determined that DNA and fingerprints should continue to play a key role in public protection and the prevention and detection of crime.

In December 2008 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgment in the case of S and Marper found that the blanket retention of DNA profiles and fingerprints indefinitely where there had been no conviction represented a breach of article 8 of the European convention on human rights.

The Government undertook to give effect to the judgment and to amend domestic law accordingly. We published proposals in May 2009 in a consultation paper “Keeping the Right People on the DNA Database”. The consultation period ended in August and some 500 responses, the majority from individuals, were received. We have considered those responses carefully before bringing forward the proposals below.

The retention of biometric data remain a sensitive issue. Such data help in the detection and conviction of criminals and may also be used for identification purposes outside the criminal justice context. There is less argument about the retention of biometric information in respect of those who have been convicted of a criminal offence than there is in respect of those who have been arrested and had their DNA and fingerprints taken but were not subsequently cautioned or convicted. Achieving the appropriate balance between privacy and public protection, in a way which satisfies the ECHR judgment, has been our objective.

Since the publication of the consultation paper we have sought to further the evidence base through additional research. The research lends support to the public protection case for retaining the DNA of those who have been arrested for but not convicted of criminal offences. It suggests that we can go some way to reduce the retention periods originally proposed without compromising public protection, indicating that the chance of re-arrest, following an arrest with no further action, of individuals with no previous convictions remains higher than the chance of arrest in the general population for six years following the initial arrest.

DNA Samples—The ECHR judgment highlighted the particular sensitivity of retaining DNA samples as distinct from the profiles taken from them that are held on the national DNA database (NDNAD). Although not required by the judgment, we continue to believe that there is scope for destroying samples not only of those arrested but not convicted and but also of those who have been convicted. We propose that samples should not be retained beyond a six-month maximum, which is needed to ensure satisfactory loading of the profile taken from the sample onto the NDNAD. We do, however, propose to bring forward a power for the police to take a further sample should the defence of an accused person challenge the authenticity of the results of the analysis of the destroyed sample.

Convicted Adults—We propose the indefinite retention of DNA profiles of convicted adults in line with the consultation paper. This would also apply to people who are given a caution, warning or reprimand.

Unconvicted AdultsIn setting a proportionate retention period for the DNA profiles of unconvicted adults which does not compromise public protection, we have taken account of the improved evidence base and responses to the proposals in the original consultation paper. We propose a six-year retention period for the profiles of unconvicted adults, irrespective of the seriousness of the crime for which they were arrested. Although the ECHR suggested that the seriousness of the alleged offence should be a factor in determining what length of retention was proportionate, the best available evidence indicates that the type of offence a person is first arrested for is not a good indicator of the seriousness of offence he might subsequently be arrested for or convicted of in future. As the retention of the DNA of innocent people is not punitive, but rather a measure to facilitate the detection of future offences, the Government therefore conclude it is appropriate to have a single retention period.

Juveniles—While the evidence base does not support shorter retention periods for juveniles, we have, in setting a proportionate retention regime for juveniles, whether convicted or unconvicted, given weight to the comments in the ECHR judgment on juveniles, the United Nations convention on the rights of the child and the responses to the consultation paper.

Convicted Juveniles — We propose that the DNA profiles of convicted juveniles should be retained indefinitely for serious offences, and for five years for the first minor offence, with indefinite retention for a second conviction. This recognises that for many young people involvement in crime in their teenage years is often an isolated and minor incident. However, we also recognise that, for some young people, involvement in crime in their teenage years is a strong indicator of risk of further criminal activity into adulthood. We believe, therefore, that a limited retention period for a single conviction, with indefinite retention in the case of any further conviction, strikes the appropriate balance.

Unconvicted Juveniles — We propose that, where 16 and 17-year-olds are arrested for but not subsequently convicted of a serious offence, their DNA profile would be retained for six years (as for adults), taking account of the ages at which peak offending occurs. For all other juveniles, we propose a three-year retention period for DNA of those who have been arrested but not convicted whatever the offence for which they were arrested, and at whatever pre-18 age they were arrested at. This corrects a possible anomaly with the original proposal, identified by consultation respondents, that an individual arrested at age 10 might have had their DNA retained for eight years, whereas someone arrested at age 17 might have had their DNA retained for only year. It also provides an appropriately more lenient approach to juveniles who are arrested but not convicted, compared with those who do receive a conviction.

Fingerprints (Adult and Juveniles)— We propose that, in all cases, the same regime should apply to the retention of fingerprints as for DNA profiles. The ECHR judgment implied that fingerprints were a lesser intrusion of privacy, but we are not aware of evidence that suggests we should propose a different retention policy.

Additional Powers—In line with our aim to ensure that the right people are on the database our proposals in this area will, as we set out in the May consultation document, include giving the police the power to take fingerprints and non-intimate samples without consent from UK nationals or residents convicted of specified serious offences abroad at any time; to remove the existing statutory bar (in the Criminal Evidence (Amendment) Act 1997) on taking non-intimate samples from persons convicted of serious offences before 10 April 1995 who have been released from prison; and to give the police the power to take non-intimate samples and fingerprints post-arrest where the initial sample has proved inadequate for analysis even though a person is no longer in police detention.

Destruction of DNA and fingerprints profiles before the end of retention period—Currently, chief officers may consider the exceptional destruction of DNA and fingerprints under the exceptional case procedure. We propose to introduce greater transparency by setting out in statute more clearly defined criteria where deletion would be appropriate. This should bring greater clarity to the public and also the police.

Governance—It is important that, in addition to putting in place the proportionate regime for the retention of DNA and fingerprints set out above, we are also able to promote public confidence in the operation of that regime. We therefore propose to strengthen governance arrangements by placing the national DNA database strategy board on a statutory footing and by introducing to it a wider independent membership.

Terrorism and National Security—Material taken under any regime (including the Terrorism Act 2000) would be able to be retained beyond the six-year point where there is a case for doing so on the basis of a case-by-case review on national security grounds. This would require a review by a senior police officer every two years—although data would be deleted if it became clear between reviews that its retention would no longer be necessary. The policy for juveniles would be similar but would take account of the differential treatment proposed for juveniles more generally.

Transport

Third EU Directive on Driving Licences

The Department for Transport has today published a consultation document that outlines our proposals for implementing the third EU Directive on Driving Licences (Directive 2006/126/EC), adopted in December 2006.

Most features of the directive must be transposed into national law by mid-January 2011 and come into practical effect by mid-January 2013. In general, the directive harmonises definitions of vehicle sub-categories and rules on the duration of the validity of a licence; it introduces minimum standards for driving examiners and aims to ensure that no one can at any one time possess more than one licence issued by an EU state. Most of its provisions are consistent with current UK practice or with measures the Government anyway intended to take.

The main changes required by the directive to current practice in Great Britain are:

changes to the size categories of motorcycles, including a new medium-sized category;

an increase from 21 to 24 in the minimum age for motorcyclists gaining direct access to the most powerful motorbikes;

a new test or a training programme for younger motorcyclists wishing to progress in stages to the larger and more powerful machines (currently, unlimited access to all motorcycles is gained automatically after two years’ experience on less powerful machines);

drivers of medium and large buses and lorries must renew their licences and demonstrate continuing medical fitness every five years (the present requirement in Britain is five-yearly renewal only after age 45);

a new category for car and light van drivers wishing to tow a medium-sized trailer, with qualification via a test or a training programme.

Major changes to entitlement, for example, those applying to motorcyclists and drivers towing trailers outlined above, will apply only to people first acquiring driving licences on or after 19 January 2013. Drivers and riders will keep any entitlement they already have on that date.

The consultation document explains in detail the changes involved. We intend to introduce them in a way which involves the minimum amount of departure from current practice, at the least possible cost.

The estimated cost of implementing the directive is £10 million for developing the necessary systems and annual operating costs of £2.1 million thereafter. These figures would rise to £14.9 million and £3.1 million respectively if the training options for motorcyclists and drivers towing trailers were taken up (all figures in 2009 prices).

Some further changes will be required in the future. For instance, all paper licences must be withdrawn by 2033.

The consultation period will run until 11 February 2010. Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Library of the House. Further copies are available on the DfT website at: www.dft.gov.uk.

Depending upon comments received and the Government’s response, implementing regulations will be laid before Parliament in order to transpose the directive into law in Great Britain by the due date of January 2011. Separate arrangements apply in Northern Ireland, where driver licensing is a devolved matter.