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The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair):
The purpose of the Informal Meeting of EU Heads of State or Government on 27 October was to set a clear direction on how Europe responds to the challenge of globalisation. There is a strong sense in the European Union that we need to reconnect Europe with the
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concerns of its citizens and a strong feeling among the leaders of the EU that we have to get Europe moving in the right direction.
The European Commission produced a paper for the meetingEuropean Values in the Globalised Worldthat sets out very clearly: the challenge facing Europe; what Member States should do in response; and, what might most effectively be done at European level. There was broad agreement to both the analysis in the paper and its ideas on the way forward.
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We also discussed the Commission's proposal for a globalisation adjustment fund. This is not about bailing-out failing firms or standing in the way of globalisation, but about helping those individuals affected by change to retrain and to acquire new skills. The Commission will now develop a full proposal on this.
EU leaders also agreed further work in some key areas for Europe's future competitiveness, economic prosperity and security. The Commission, the UK Presidency and the incoming Austrian Presidency will decide how to take work forward in the areas of:
Research and Development: We need to encourage greater business and industrialinvestment in areas such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, and Pharmaceuticals so that Europecan have world-beating companies in the technologies of the future. And we need to look atpossible new ways of supporting innovation, for example through the venture capital market orexploring the scope for increased European Investment Bank funding.
Addressing the demographic challenge: We need to share practical solutions for family-friendly policies, better child care, and work life balance provisions. We also need to tackle barriers to the greater participation of older workers in the labour market.
Energy: The Commission paper makes clear that global demand is increasing while supply remains tight. We need to: diversify the sources of our energy; develop a properly integrated European Grid and a genuinely open energy market; ensure a coherent and operational approach to the EU's relationship with major energy suppliers, for example Russia and OPEC; and, put energy efficiency and clean technologies at the heart of our agenda.
We also agreed that the Commission, building on the Hague Programme, should look at further work on illegal immigration, crime and security. Taking account of recent Spanish and French ideas on tackling illegal immigration, we need to work more effectively in partnership with source and transit countries, particularly Sub-Saharan and North Africa. We shall: hold an EU-African Ministerial conference on migration issues; strengthen our border controls, including through the use of latest technology, for example biometrics; accelerate plans for a rapid reaction capability of immigration officers; and, make sure that EU funding and development aid are more strategically targeted.
On crime and security, we must work more effectively with countries outside the EU on Justice and Home Affairs issues, such as terrorism and human and drug trafficking. We shall develop an EU counter-terrorism strategy focused on: preventing radicalisation; protecting our infrastructure; and, ensuring better co-operation and exchange of information so that our law enforcement can effectively pursue terrorists and respond to attacks.
Javier Solana, High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union, working with the Presidency, will take forward work on the CFSP aspects of defence and security. We shall look to improve our capabilities by: increasing levels of research spending; exploiting opportunities for research collaboration; tackling capability gaps (air to air refuelling, heavy lift); and, collaborating as partners on training. We shall ensure that our crisis management structures can meet new demands on them including responding to natural disasters. We shall look to increase CFSP funding. We shall bring forward a comprehensive EU strategy for Africa in December.
As Presidency, the Government also made clear that agreeing a broad direction for Europe's economic development, and some priorities for action at a Community level, would help to set the context for agreeing the next financial perspective for Europe's budget from 2007 to 2013. We shall try to reach agreement on this at the December European Council.
Iran: We condemned in the strongest terms the comments in respect of the State of Israel attributed to President Ahmadinejad of Iran. Calls for violence, and for the destruction of any State, are manifestly inconsistent with any claim to be a mature and responsible member of the international community, and raise serious concerns about Iran's role in the region and its future intentions.
Syria: We welcomed the report of the UN International Investigation Commission under Judge Detlev Mehlis and expressed our full support for the UN Security Council's determination to see justice done in this case.
South Asian Earthquake: We expressed our sympathy and solidarity for all those affected by the South Asian earthquake, and pledged to do all that we can to help with this on-going tragedy as winter approaches.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): I announced in July that because of the very substantial increase in the estimated cost of the proposed Stonehenge tunnel there would be a detailed review of the options to ease congestion on the A303 and improve the setting around Stonehenge.
The review will carefully assess a number of options together with the results of the public consultation exercise before making recommendations to Government early next summer.
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the BFI inspection report on Perth and Kinross Council today and copies have been placed in the Library.
In 200405, Perth and Kinross Council administered some £24 million in housing benefits, about 11.6 per cent. of its gross revenue expenditure. The council had made significant improvements in the time taken to process new claims from 71 days in the second quarter of 200405 to 48 days by the end of 200405. However, this was still within the bottom quartile of performance for all councils.
Delays were occurring at all stages of the claims process. These were most significant in registering claims, identifying the need for further information and referring appropriate cases to the Rent Officer within statutory time limits.
Inaccurate performance was being reported against the Statutory Performance Indicator for the speed of processing changes of circumstances. The council was reporting an average of eight days to process a change yet the findings from a sample of cases showed that it was taking an average of 26.5 days.
Quality issues were identified in 30 per cent. of the cases sampled. Benefit had been paid on incomplete claim forms, incorrect dates had been used resulting in underpayment of benefit, and requests for backdating had been overlooked.
Inadequate control and poor monitoring of performance meant that members and senior officers had insufficient assurance about true levels of performance. This was compounded by a failure to implement audit recommendations.
Further assurance and internal security issues were found in the quality of verification, post opening arrangements, recruitment and vetting of benefits staff, procedural guidance and management checking.
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