Previous Section Index Home Page

Pension Credit

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Andrew Smith): Payment of the new Pension Credit began on 6 October. I can now report the following progress on applications for the new entitlement; figures represent the period up to 6 October 2003.

There are now around 1.9 million pensioner households on our systems being paid Pension Credit, which represents over 2 million individuals. All those who were receiving Minimum Income Guarantee have now been transferred automatically onto Pension Credit. Of the awards made 1.15 million pensioner households (over 1.3 million pensioners) will get more than they would have before.

Our direct mail campaign is continuing, supported by a major advertising campaign on TV and in the press which began in September. We have now written to some 1.6 million households and will have written to all pensioner households by June 2004. We are continuing to work with partner organisations, such as Help The Aged, Age Concern and Citizens Advice, amongst others, both at a national and local level, to encourage eligible people to take up their entitlement.

We have made good use of an advance application period, which began in April, to ensure that our systems and procedures are working as they should and we have recruited extra staff and invested in new infrastructure to meet the additional demands of the new entitlement.

There is plenty of time for pensioners to apply for Pension Credit. To ensure that pensioners do not lose out, there is a twelve month backdating provision until October 2004. This will allow applications to be backdated to October 2003, where entitlement exists, or to the date entitlement begins if this is later.

I am placing a chart showing progress so far in the Library. From November onwards, I will provide more detailed monthly progress reports on take up of Pension Credit.


Utility Street Works

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty): Regulations under section 74 of the New Road and Street Works Act 1991 came into force in April 2001. These allow highway authorities to charge utility companies for works in the street which overrun an agreed deadline.

Following the implementation of these powers my Department appointed consultants, Halcrow, to monitor their effectiveness in reducing disruption on the highway. Copies of Halcrow's first annual report were placed in the libraries of both Houses last autumn.

Halcrow have now produced their second annual report on these powers: Assessing the Extent of Street Works and Monitoring the Effectiveness of Section 74 in Reducing Disruption. The report consists of two

14 Oct 2003 : Column 6WS

volumes; Volume 1 is the main report and Volume 2 contains accompanying tables and charts. Copies of each have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.


Criminal Cases Review Commission

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): I am pleased to inform the House that Mr. Ian Nichol has been appointed as a member of the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Copies of the press release relating to this appointment are available in the House Library.

UK Passport Service

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): On 1 September 2003 the Criminal Records Bureau became an independent Agency in its own right and the UK Passport Service was re-established as a separate Agency. The UK Passport Service and Criminal Records Bureau will now operate under separate Framework Documents. The UK Passport Service Framework Document has been published today and copies have been placed in the Library of the House.


Intergovernmental Conference (Rome)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): On 4 October the Prime Minister and I attended the opening session of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) in Rome. The Conference has been convened to enable member states to make decisions on a future Constitutional Treaty in order to ensure that an expanded European Union is both more effective and more accountable. Its starting point is the draft Treaty produced by the Convention on the Future of Europe, placed before the House this August as Command Paper 5897.

On 9 September we issued a White Paper (Cm 5934) setting out the Government's approach towards the IGC. As we said in that White Paper, the draft Treaty is a good basis for starting the IGC negotiations. It consolidates existing Treaties into a clearer and more comprehensible text, but one which does not alter the fundamental constitutional relationship between the member States and the Union. It provides for the more efficient decision making processes which will be needed in an enlarged Union of 25 members. For example, it proposes a new position of full-time Chair of the European Council, which will make the Union more efficient, by ending the frequent changes of direction and priority inherent in the rotating Presidency system. It also reinforces the role of national Parliaments in the European Union, and the application of the principle of subsidiarity.

We do not regard the draft treaty as perfect: as for many other member sates, there are some points in the text which we want to change and others which we need to examine in more detail. Final decisions at the IGC are

14 Oct 2003 : Column 7WS

by unanimity and, as our White Paper stated, we will only accept a final text which makes it clear that issues like tax, defence and foreign policy remain the province of the nation State.

This first detailed session of the IGC, attended by Foreign Ministers, agreed that, when the Council of Ministers is legislating, its proceedings should be as open as possible. It also agreed that the provision in the draft Treaty for establishing a legislative Council, which we opposed, would be dropped.

The European Council of 16 and 17 October will continue discussion of the draft Treaty. In the meantime Foreign Ministers met in the context of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, on 13 October. We hope for agreement on a final text in sufficient time to allow for signature of a treaty, as provided in the conclusions of the Thessaloniki Council, as soon as possible after 1 May 2004. In the interim we will of course continue to keep the House informed of progress, including through Ministerial appearances at the IGC Standing Committee.

Iraq: Export Licence Application

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): Following consultation with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade and Industry recently approved a further licence to export military list goods to Iraq. The arms embargo against Iraq remains in place under United Nations Security Council resolution 1483 (2003), with the exception of arms and other related material required by the Coalition Provisional Authority to serve the purposes of this and other related resolutions. Accordingly, Her Majesty's Government consider it appropriate to grant exemptions for the export of sub-machine guns and pistols that are to be used by private security firms contracted to provide close protection for employees of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq. The export is consistent with the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. Future applications will continue to be assessed on a case by case basis against the UN embargo and consolidated criteria, taking into account the circumstances prevailing at the time.

Council of the European Union

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): The forthcoming business in the Council of the European Union is as follows:

7BrusselsJustice & Internal Affairs
9–10RomeDefence (Ministerial Informal)
13–14BrusselsTransport, Telecom & Energy Council
16–17BrusselsGeneral Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC)
20–21BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries Council
27–28BrusselsEmployment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs
27BrusselsEducation, Youth & Culture Council
BrusselsJustice & Internal Affairs (Informal Council)
BrusselsEnvironment Council
6BrusselsEU-Russia Summitt
6BrusselsJustice & Internal Affairs (Informal Council)
6–7CataniaEuropean Conference on Employment
17–18BrusselsGeneral Affairs and External Relations (GAERC)
17–18BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries Council
18 MilanEuropean Conference on Immigration & Labour Market
24–25BrusselsEducation, Youth & Culture Council
27–28 BrusselsJustice & Internal Affairs (Informal Council)
28BrusselsEU & Western Balkans JHA Ministers Meeting
1–2RomeEuromed Meeting
1–2BrusselsEmployment, Social Policy Health and Consumer Affairs Council
1–3RomeInformal Public Administration Ministerial
4–5BrusselsTransport, Telecom & Energy Council
5–7RomeClosing Conference for the European Year of the Disabled
8–9BrusselsGeneral Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC)
9BrusselsEU and Western Balkans Foreign Ministers meeting
15–17BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries Council
22BrusselsEnvironment Council
8BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries Council
16–17BrusselsEmployment & Social Policy (Ministerial Informal)
16–17Ireland (venue tbc)Informal Employment and Social Policy
22–23Ireland (venue tbc)Justice & Home Affairs (Ministerial Informal)
26–27BrusselsGeneral Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC)
19BrusselsJustice & Home Affairs (Ministerial Informal)
23–24BrusselsGeneral Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC)
23–24BrusselsJustice & Home Affairs (Ministerial Informal)
26BrusselsEducation, Youth & Culture Council
2BrusselsEnvironment Council
4–5BrusselsEmployment, Social Policy, Health & Consumer Affairs Ministerial
8–9BrusselsTransport, Telecom & Energy Council
11BrusselsCompetitiveness Council
22–23BrusselsGeneral Affairs & External Relations (GAERC)
22–23BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries Council
31BrusselsJustice & Home Affairs (Ministerial Informal)
23–24BrusselsEconomic & Financial Affairs
26–27BrusselsGeneral Affairs & External Relations (GAERC)
26–27BrusselsAgriculture & Fisheries Council
29–30BrusselsJustice & Home Affairs (Ministerial Informal)

14 Oct 2003 : Column 9WS

Next Section Index Home Page