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Bellwin Scheme (North Yorkshire, Ryedale and Hambleton Councils)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Jim Fitzpatrick): Large areas of North Yorkshire experienced exceptional storm and flood damage on 19 June 2005. Given these circumstances I am satisfied that financial assistance under the Bellwin scheme is justified. A scheme will therefore be established under section 155 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. Grants will be paid to the authorities to cover 85 per cent. of the eligible costs above a threshold, which they have incurred in dealing with the storm and flood damage.


Council of Europe's Third Summit and Follow-up Activity

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I have arranged for copies of the Council of Europe's Third Summit declaration and action plan to be placed in the Library of the House.

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister represented the United Kingdom at the summit held in Warsaw on 16–17 May 2005.

At the summit, heads of state and Government adopted a declaration and action plan focusing the future work of the Council of Europe on its core areas of promoting and protecting human rights, rule of law and pluralist democracy.

A Council of Europe Committee has been set up in Strasbourg to supervise follow-up action to the declaration and implementation of the action plan.

EU Committee of the Regions (UK Members)

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The Government have decided to nominate four replacement UK members of the EU Committee of the Regions, to fill vacancies which had arisen in the UK delegation. The new members are: Councillor Sharon Taylor (East of England Regional Assembly); Councillor Dave Quayle (North West Regional Assembly); Councillor WJ Williams (Isle of Anglesey County Council); and Councillor David Parsons (Leicestershire County Council and East Midlands Regional Assembly). In accordance with the established procedure, all the nominations have been approved by the Council.
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The Government made the nominations following the usual consultation process with local and regional government. It has paid particular attention to maintaining the appropriate regional, political, gender and ethnic balance of the UK delegation. This balance is not affected by the nominations.

The Committee of the Regions was established by the Maastricht Treaty, as a consultative body with limited powers to give non-binding opinions on EU draft legislation. The UK delegation comprises 24 full members and 24 alternates.

2005 UN World Summit

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): The 2005 UN world summit took place in New York from 14–16 September. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for International Development and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs attended for the Government. At the initiative of the UK and other UN member states, the summit included a session devoted to financing for developments.

Overall, the summit delivered a worthwhile package of reforms and commitments. The full text of the outcome document is available at Negotiations on the document were at times difficult, reflecting the ambitious agenda and divergence of views between UN member states on several issues. As EU presidency, the UK played an important role in these negotiations. Follow-up work is now underway in several areas to implement the agreements reached.

The reforms agreed included:

genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity;

In some areas the outcome text did not meet our aspirations. Stronger language on terrorism, stating that the targeted killing of civilians is never justified and constitutes an act of terrorism, proved out of reach.
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Efforts to secure strong language on non-proliferation and disarmament (following disappointment at the non-proliferation treaty review conference) were unsuccessful. The EU pushed for more extensive reforms of the UN secretariat. Furthermore, opposition from some countries prevented more detailed modalities being agreed for the new human rights council.

Some have criticised the summit's outcome document as modest. However, as the Prime Minister said in his speech at the summit, "if we did what we have agreed on doubling aid, on opening up trade, on debt relief, on HIV/AIDS and malaria, on conflict prevention so that never again would the world stand by, helpless when genocide struck, our modesty would surprise. There would be more democracy, less oppression. More freedom, less terrorism. More growth, less poverty."

The Government are committed to the full and early implementation of the reforms. We will continue to work towards achieving reforms where we wanted to see greater progress.


Health Committee's Fifth Report of Session 2004–05

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jane Kennedy): The Government's response to the Health Committee's fifth report of session 2004–05 on the use of new medical technologies within the NHS, Cm 6656, has been published today. Copies have been placed in the Library.


Control Order Powers (11 June 2005– 10 September 2005)

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): Section 14(1) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (the 2005 Act) requires me to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on my exercise of the control order powers during that period.

The 2005 Act came into force on 11 March 2005. The second three month period ended on 10 September. During the period 11 June to 10 September, I made an order with the permission of the court under section 3(1) (a) of the 2005 Act on 5 September 2005 in respect of a British national.

I have revoked nine of the orders which I made in the previous quarter against individuak who were formerly certified under section 21(1) of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.

There are therefore three control orders currently in force.

I have refused three requests to modify the obligations in the control orders which I have made. A right of appeal exists in section 10 of the 2005 Act against a decision by the Secretary of State not to modify an obligation contained in a control order. None of those subject to a control order has exercised this right in respect of the refusals mentioned above.
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Financial Protection for Air Travellers

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Ms Karen Buck): The Government have decided not to implement the Civil Aviation Authority's recommendation for a £1 levy on all air passengers departing the UK.

The Government wish to thank the CAA for the enormous effort it has put into its analysis. But the attractions of the CAA scheme are outweighed by the disadvantages.

First, the levy would be compulsory. The Government do not believe that it should compel citizens to protect themselves against the failure of an airline. The Government do not require citizens to take out medical insurance or an E111, although it is wise to do so. We do not require people to insure their house contents, although most people choose to do so. Even in car insurance, the legal requirement is limited to third party liabilities.

Secondly, there is no logical reason why the State should organise refunds for this one group of consumers. The Government do not have schemes to refund those who order furniture from a store which goes bankrupt, or lose money to cowboy workmen, or make unfortunate stock-market investments.

That is why, on balance, we do not think it right to extend ATOL beyond the requirements of European law although we do wish to reduce its bureaucracy.

ATOL stems from the early 1970s when a family holiday abroad tended to be organised as a package and travel abroad was infrequent. It involved putting at risk a significant proportion of family income in advance of the holiday being taken. These days overseas travel is a lot more routine. UK residents made a record 41 million holiday trips abroad in 2003 compared with fewer than 7 million in 1971.

Next, the levy would reduce but not eliminate the difference in protection given to package and independent travellers. There would still be a 2-tier system, as people who assemble their own packages would have cover for their flight but not for loss of accommodation or car hire.

The Government appreciate that the Package Travel Regulations impose costs on tour operators which they see as an unfair competitive advantage for scheduled airlines. But the levy would replace this imbalance with another. The same £1 would purchase cover for the traveller who buys a low-cost flight to Europe for under £30 and for the traveller (perhaps the more affluent person) who books a 2-week package in the Far East or the Caribbean. The budget traveller pays a much higher percentage of his outlay to ensure there is enough money in the pot to refund to the long-haul package passenger should his tour operator fail.

The Government wish to respond to the two arguments it has heard why airline passengers should be given special protection compared to other consumers in the economy.

First, some travellers think they are protected when they are not, especially as the distinction between a package and independent travel is not always clear. The Government has committed itself to reduce regulatory
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burdens on business and only regulate where necessary in a light touch manner . A levy is a heavy-handed instrument to solve the problem of informing a population which has easy access to a multitude of information sources. Travellers are showing increasing sophistication in shopping around on the internet; and 170,000 households now have a holiday home abroad, about double over 10 years. Travel-in Europe has become particularly familiar since we have been part of the European community—whether for school trips, sports events, weekends, holidays or business.

The Government have already been working with the CAA and the airline industry to improve consumer information about insurance cover when booking flights. UK airlines have helped us develop a basic message for passengers making online bookings, and some have told us of plans to offer specific insurance as well as posting a message.

This is in addition to the information that is already available from the Air Transport Users Council, the CAA and other sources including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The FCO is going to update its website shortly to explain the protection available under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 if flight tickets are paid for by credit card. And some tour operators "sell" the protective benefits of a package more vigorously than others.

The second reason why air passengers are said to need special protection is that they may become stranded abroad in large numbers. The Government realise that not all travel insurance covers insolvency, but some does. The CAA's assessment and the example of EUjet this summer show that people will generally find their way home by other routes. Of course, they may incur some expense and inconvenience, particularly if they are not insured, but it is not fair to impose a levy on all air passengers just to provide cover for this. In the case of EUjet other, low-cost airlines stepped in to help and have told the Government they intend to learn lessons from the experience to improve the effectiveness of future voluntary rescue efforts. Similarly, when Swissair arid Sabena failed, other full-service airlines honoured the homeward tickets of passengers abroad.

The Government have been encouraged by the willingness expressed by airlines to put in place improvements to ensure travellers are able to make informed decisions about the need for insurance, and by airlines1 assurances that they would continue to take voluntary action on repatriation. The Government will be talking further to airlines in the coming weeks to ensure that effective voluntary measures are put in place as quickly as possible.

Nevertheless we recognise that the current bonding system for tour operators can be a barrier to market entry and tie up capital. The Government are therefore asking the CAA to review whether the system of ATOL bonds could be replaced with a less burdensome means of meeting tour operators' obligations to package holiday-makers under the Package Travel Directive, while at the same time replenishing the Air Travel Trust Fund following the passage of the Civil Aviation Bill.
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