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The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The Government have decided upon a new approach to provide better and more timely information to both Parliament and the European Scrutiny Committees about the agendas and outcomes of EU Council of Ministers meetings.
The new system should promote a greater transparency of EU business within both Houses. The principal elements of the new system, which will take immediate effect in order to capture the first Councils of our presidency, are:
Written ministerial statements will be provided to Parliament no later than the day before a formal Council to provide as much information about the items on the agenda, why they are on the agenda, and what the UK as holders of the EU presidency hopes the Council will achieve. After the presidency, the statements will revert to setting out the national stance on each item. Written statements will not be produced before informal Councils. A copy of the statement will be sent to the Chairmen of both Scrutiny Committees;
Written ministerial statements will be produced within five working days of each Council. During the UK's presidency, statements on formal Councils will set out what the UK as presidency has delivered, and will replace, in the Commons and Lords respectively, the current system involving a parliamentary question and ministerial letter. Only after the presidency will the statements revert to setting out what the UK stance was in discussions. When reporting after an informal Council the statement will be of a more general nature and will not highlight member states' positions, including the UK's. A copy of each statement will be sent to the Chairmen of each Scrutiny Committee;
During parliamentary recesses, Ministers will revert to writing to the Chairmen of both Committees in place of written statements and arrange for copies of the letters to be sent to the Libraries of both Houses.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton):
The Government response [Cm 6624] to the report of the Joint Committee on the
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Draft Mental Health Bill [HL paper 791, HC 951] published on 23 March 2005 has been published today. Copies are available in the Library.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Following the advice of the security service and the Metropolitan Police given in the joint review of security at the Palace of Westminster, the concrete blockers around the perimeter will shortly be replaced with more effective steel barriers. Current vehicle access arrangements will remain unchanged. These measures were approved by the Joint Committee on Security on 4 July, and are made with the agreement of Mr. Speaker.
Further related measures will be taken during the summer recess. By the time the House returns in October, entry to Peer's car park and Black Rod's Garden will be possible only from the direction of Parliamentary square. Vehicles exiting these areas will only be able to turn left towards Lambeth bridge. Pedestrian access will remain unaffected. These measures will significantly enhance Parliament's security.
The Solicitor-General (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The annual report of the Crown Prosecution Service has been published and was laid before Parliament yesterday. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Alun Michael): I represented the UK at the EU Telecoms Council, which is part of the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council, in Luxembourg on 27 June, when the Council considered two issues of interest to the UK. These were the Commission's communication on the i2010 strategy and the world summit on the information society (WSIS).
Commissioner Reding presented her i2010 communication on future policy for information and communication technologies (ICT) in the context of the re-launched Lisbon agenda. She summarised the three main themes of the i2010 strategy as the creation of an open and competitive market for the digital economy, greater investment in ICT R and D and e-inclusion policies. She also emphasised that much of the i2010 strategy is for implementation at the national level and is covered by the integrated guidelines for the national reform plans which will be put forward in October.
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In a full round table, all member states endorsed the Commission's approach on the i2010 strategy, with many emphasising that ICT was fundamental to competitiveness and job creation, and others endorsing the explicit linkage to Lisbon through the mechanism of the national reform plans. One member state expressed concerns about the scope of the i2010 which includes broadcasting. A number of member states noted the dependence of the ICT R&D budget on overall budgetary discussions. Two member states also noted the need for a high-level steering mechanism to ensure proactive follow-up to the goals of the i2010 strategy. For the UK, I emphasised the importance of implementing the existing regulatory framework in order to support open and competitive markets and the need to encourage new technologies and services in order to support the re-launched Lisbon agenda.
In discussions of the world summit on the information society (WSIS), all member states emphasised the importance of the EU speaking with one voice at the summit in Tunis in November, a view which was strongly endorsed by the Commission.
There was one outstanding point of discussion on the wording of the proposed Council conclusions. These conclusions will set out the EU's approach in the final preparatory phase of the summit. One member state, with some support from others, was keen to see a reference to an international entity which would oversee the existing public-private internet governance structures in the US. Compromise wording was agreed following constructive co-operation between the UK and this member state in the margins of the Council meeting. This wording removed references to a specific
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entity while reflecting shared views on the relevance of existing international organisations and the need for a bottom-up public/private partnership with scope for governmental input.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): The Passenger and Goods Vehicle (Recording Equipment) Regulations 2005 were laid before Parliament today and will come into force on 5 August 2005. These new regulations will amend existing arrangements for the enforcement of European drivers' hours rules in order to:
The new regulations will affect the operators and drivers of heavy commercial vehicles. They do not introduce any new drivers' hours limits and their effect on law abiding drivers and operators will be negligible. Indeed, such drivers and operators should benefit competitively from better enforcement against law-breakers.