16 Oct 2002 : Column 847W
Miss Melanie Johnson: I represented the UK at the Competitiveness Council of Ministers in Brussels on 30 September. This was the first meeting of the new Competitiveness Council, which is an amalgamation of the Internal Market, Industry and Research formations.
The five specific programmes of the sixth R&D Framework programme were adopted and there was political agreement on legislative dossiers covering public procurement (the utilities directive) and fertilisers (fertilisers regulation). In addition, there was political agreement on two company law dossiers: the updating of the First Company Law Directive on filing and disclosure of company documents in the light of new technology; and the modernisation of the EU Accounting Directives to take account of the adoption of International Accounting Standards as the reporting regime for the EU's listed companies.
There was a Presidency report on the proposed discussions at the Nyborg informal, of the methods of working of the new CC formation and a progress report on the proposed 25 amendment (including some overlap with the 23 amendment) to the marketing and use of dangerous substances directive to include controls on further carcinogens, mutagens and substances toxic to reproduction.
There were Commission presentations on the streamlining of the annual economic and employment policy co-ordination cycles and two reports: the State of the Internal Market for Services and Second Biennial Report on Mutual Recognition in the Internal Market.
The Commission also reported that bilateral talks with Korea had failed to reach agreement, and the Commission confirmed that it would now implement the decision as agreed by the Council in Junenamely to launch the WTO case against Korea together with the reintroduction of the limited and temporary shipbuilding subsidies.
Over lunch Professor Jaap Winter reported on the consideration by the High Level Group on Company Law of corporate governance issues in the light of large-scale corporate collapses in the US. The Group's approach was to explore ways in which to improve standards of corporate governance, where necessary,
16 Oct 2002 : Column 848W
and strengthen the role of shareholders within a flexible EU framework. When the formal session resumed conclusions supporting the development of an EU Action Plan were adopted without debate.
The UK voted in favour of political agreement on the public procurement directive and fertilisers regulation as well as the updating of the First Company Law Directive and the modernisation of the EU Accounting Directives. The UK was also in favour regarding the adoption of the five specific programmes of the sixth R&D Framework programme and the Council conclusions, on the Commission's Action Plan on Better Regulation and on the development of an EU Action Plan on corporate governance.
Discussion at this Council centred on the issue of liberalisation of the EU's electricity and gas markets. There was also a short presentation of the European Commission's proposals for directives for Community-level oil and gas stocks.
The majority of Member States agreed that full legal separation of transmission and distribution system operators was essential for the creation of a genuinely competitive electricity and gas internal market. A minority maintained reserves as they had doubts about the necessity of legal unbundling, arguing that there were other ways to guarantee transparency and fair access to the networks.
Supporting the majority, the UK said the current proposed exemption threshold of 100,000 customers for distribution operators was too high, because it would exclude a large part of the market in some Member States. The UK could not accept the postponement of legal unbundling for those operators until 1 January 2005, since unbundling was as essential for non-household customers as it was for household customers. The UK emphasised that the need for political agreement was particularly important in the light of the increasing consolidation across Europe. If we did not put in place the conditions needed to ensure non-discriminatory access to networks for all market players, and this meant legal unbundling, there was a danger that incumbents might be able to use their dominant positions to thwart competition. The Commission agreed that legal separation of both transmission and distribution network operators was essential, reminding delegations that this need not imply any transfer of assets.
On public service obligations, there was split between those preferring the universal service provisions to apply to all final customers and those, including the UK, wishing to limit them to household customers only.
16 Oct 2002 : Column 849W
Discussion on access to gas storage generated strong support for a UK-inspired compromise whereby non-competitive segments of the market would be subject to regulated third party access, while competitive segments could use negotiated access. But some Member States maintained a preference for negotiated access only.
Nearly all Member States emphasised the need to complete the full internal market as soon as possible, supporting the dates of 2004 for opening the non-domestic sector and 2005 for the domestic sector. The Commission agreed on these operative dates, but signalled the possibility of flexibility to achieve consensus.
The Commission presented proposals for two directives containing new arrangements for stocking oil and gas within the Community, explaining that the main objective was to improve security of supply of oil and gas. The Commission argued that the EU's arrangements for emergency oil stocks needed updating to take account of the current political situation; and that the development of gas as a fuel of choice for electricity generation meant that special arrangements were needed to guarantee security of supply, particularly in view of the rising proportion of gas imported into the EU.
The UK disagreed, arguing that the existing oil arrangements of the International Energy Agency had proved to be both flexible and adequate, and that the gas measure was premature until the internal market was functioning properly.
Candy Atherton: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, what steps his Department has taken to simplify the application process for accessing funding from UK European Structural Funds programmes; and what discussions his Department has had with UK and European partners on the simplification of the application process for accessing funding from UK Structural Funds Programme. 
Alan Johnson: The DTI, in co-ordination with other Government Departments, has been at the forefront of discussion with other Member States and the European Commission on all aspects of simplification of Structural Funds administration. The UK has drafted papers on this issue for consideration by the Structural Funds Management Committees, and as a result of this work, Commissioner Michel Barnier called a meeting of Regional Policy Ministers on 7 October during which the Commission proposals for simplification were discussed. The UK gave its support to these proposals and will be working with the Commission and other Member States on their practical implementation.
16 Oct 2002 : Column 850W
The Prime Minister: Yes, I have appointed Mrs. Gill Bennett who is a visiting Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, as the official historian to write the official biography of Sir Desmond Morton.
Tony Baldry: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what archaeological surveys have been conducted by (a) her Department, (b) the County Archaeological Office and (c) English Heritage in respect of the sites identified for development as asylum accommodation centres; if the Government will publish the reports; and what further plans the Government have to commission such surveys. 
From the outset of the Accommodation Centre project, archaeology has been dealt with in accordance with government guidance as set out in PPG 16 ''Archaeology and Planning''. At the site option screening stage, archaeology was one of many factors used to identify sites where an Accommodation Centre might be developed without significant adverse impact to heritage interests, to preclude other sites where unacceptable impacts would occur and to identify those possible sites where desk studies, field evaluation or other archaeological measures would be necessary.
Archaeological desk and field evaluation studies have been commissioned by the Home Office for the Accommodation Centres proposed at Newton, Bicester and Pershore. Field evaluation trenching has also been undertaken at Newton and Bicester, and is under consideration at Pershore.
At Newton and Bicester the results of the desk and field studies have been submitted as part of the planning notification process, and documentation for Pershore will similarly form part of the planning submission. In due course, if development goes ahead any archaeological investigations in advance of development will be published in accordance with government guidance and archaeological best practice.