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EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): During my oral answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) on 14 December 2004, Official Report, column 1515, I said the following: "Following an initiative by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), we now have a legally enforceable EU code of conduct on arms sales". I would like to clarify this statement. The code of conduct, as incorporated into the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria, serves as binding statutory guidance to the Government in our assessment of applications for strategic export licences under section 9(5) of the Export Control Act. The Government is therefore required to have regard to the criteria set out in the Code when assessing such applications. Export licensing decisions may be subject to judicial review, including on the basis of failure to have proper regard to such criteria. However, the code of conduct is not per se directly legally enforceable before the UK or European courts.



The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Mr. Desmond Browne): I have decided that the process of establishing the identity of passport applicants needs to be strengthened by introducing a requirement for some applicants to attend a passport office in person. The UK Passport Service has commenced work on the practical arrangements, including the acquisition of some 70 new premises, and expects to be able to introduce the requirement from late 2006. Adults who have not previously held a British passport in their own name will then be required to attend for a short meeting before a passport can be issued. This will be combined with enhanced checking of the information applicants provide.

This is part of a programme of improvements being developed by the UKPS to meet current and future needs for the security of passports as documents of identity. The programme will counter the misuse of passports in connection with illegal immigration, organised crime and terrorism. It will give individuals better protection from identity theft.

The UK is one of only a few western countries that does not currently require personal attendance before issuing a passport. The ability to send applications by post allows fraudsters to apply in false or stolen identities without fear of arrest and to make multiple applications in the hope of getting one through. It allows the possibility of passports being applied for with
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the photographs of people who are outside the UK and seeking to enter illegally. With the enhancements to the security of the passport document itself that biometric technology will bring, I have decided it is time to make equivalent enhancements to the process of establishing identity before issuing passports.

The requirement may in future be extended to other types of passport applications. This will certainly be the case if enrolment of fingerprints or iris images becomes necessary for passports or for identity cards. The process and infrastructure that UKPS is developing will therefore have the ability also to act as a building block for a future ID card enrolment network and system.

Kent Acts Report

The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): The Kent Acts report has been published today by command of Her Majesty. Copies of the report are available in the Vote Office and in the Library.

The report highlights how the implementation of the Kent County Council Act 2001 and the Medway Council Act 2001 (the Kent Acts) in Kent has contributed to overall falls in acquisitive crime in the county and asserts that national legislation would, if enacted, have benefits.

Further consultation will be undertaken in the new year to fully investigate the case for national legislation.

Budd Report

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): Sir Alan Budd has today delivered the report of his investigation into the handling by the Home Office of the application for indefinite leave to remain submitted by Leoncia Casalme in April 2003.

I welcome the report and thank Sir Alan and his team for their hard work in producing it so quickly. I particularly welcome his statement that he received full co-operation from the previous Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) and Home Office officials and that he does not believe that there was any attempt to destroy, conceal or withhold documents or information that was relevant to the inquiry.

The report sets out in detail how this case was handled and we need to learn from it. What went wrong here is that a case in which a Minister turned out to have a personal interest was dealt with, without that interest being clearly recorded. I have therefore asked the Permanent Secretary to ensure there are clear and formal rules for handling and recording all cases that are drawn to Ministers' attention.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside took full responsibility for this matter and resigned last week. I believe on the basis of this authoritative report the matter should now be closed.


National Physical Laboratory

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): In 1998 the DTI entered into a PFI
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arrangement with the contractor, Laser (Teddington II) Limited (Laser), to build and subsequently maintain new science facilities at the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington.

During construction of the facilities, Laser encountered a number of technical difficulties that significantly delayed completion and increased costs to a level that threatened the project's viability. In July this year Laser approached the Department with a proposal that an agreed termination of the PFI project represented the best available option for resolving these difficulties.

DTI has now agreed with Laser and their lenders to the termination of the PFI project on the following basis. The Department has made a termination payment of £75 million, based upon the principles of the termination provisions of the project agreement. This means that full ownership of, and responsibility for, the new facilities, which have an insurance value of £120 million, have been transferred back to the DTI.

Following this termination payment, net liabilities of £73 million on DTI's balance sheet will be extinguished and the Department will make significant cash savings from fees that would otherwise have been made in payment for the new facilities between now and 2023.
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This is an example of how the risk transfer principles of PFI arrangements can operate, with appropriate risks being ultimately transferred to the private sector to the benefit of the taxpayer.

DTI intends, wherever possible, to put to competitive tender the construction work needed to complete the facilities. DTI has also exercised its right to step into, in place of Laser, the support services management agreement, made between Laser and Serco Limited for the provision by Serco of support services at the site, thereby ensuring uninterrupted provision of these services.

The DTI is confident that these arrangements will enable the outstanding work on the new facilities to be completed so that NPL can continue to deliver world-class science and vital support for innovation, consistent with value for money for the taxpayer.


Occupational Pensions (Directive 2003/41/EC)

The Minister for Pensions (Malcolm Wicks): We have today placed in the Library copies of the transposition note setting out how the UK Government are implementing the provisions of directive 2003/41/EC, which concerns the activities and supervision of institutions for occupational retirement provision.

Although the Pensions Act 2004 is the principal legislative vehicle for fulfilling this obligation, there will also be some limited use of the regulation-making provisions of the European Communities Act 1972.