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Learning Disability Services

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Liam Byrne): Today I am publishing "Valuing People: Making things better" the Government's third annual report on learning disability services. The report describes progress made in implementing the programme of action set out in the
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White Paper "Valuing People: A New Strategy for Learning Disability for the 21st Century" (Cm 5086) and comments on the National Director for Learning Disabilities report "The Story So Far—A New Strategy for Learning Disability for the 21st Century" which was published in March this year.

Valuing People is a cross-Government strategy. In last year's annual report, "Valuing People: Moving Forward Together", we described areas where Government Departments worked with learning disabled people to ensure that they could be more fully included in society. It recorded a wide range of activity covering many aspects of daily life. In this year's annual report "Valuing People: Making things better" we have described:

Today's report, like last year's, is written in an accessible form, using pictures and straightforward, jargon-free language. It is important that people with learning disabilities can see for themselves what is being done to improve the services they use and to increase the opportunities available to them to lead the type of life the rest of us take for granted.

Valuing People said that it would take a minimum of five years for its programme to be implemented. We are now over half way through that period and continue to make good progress. However, section three of today's report outlines where the Government acknowledge changes that still need to be made. We shall be working to address these issues in the near future.

Copies of "Valuing People: Government Annual Report on Learning Disabilities 2005—Making Things Better" have been placed in the Library.

Food Standards Agency

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Caroline Flint): The Food Standards Agency's annual report 2004–05 was laid before Parliament today. Copies will be placed in the Library.
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Justice and Home Affairs Council

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): The Justice and Home Affairs Council will be held on 1–2 December in Brussels. I shall be chairing the majority of the meeting and my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor will be chairing the items on civil justice. My noble friend Baroness Ashton of Upholland will also be representing the presidency.

One of the key issues for this Council will be counter-terrorism and the Council will be asked to recognise the significant progress which has been made during the UK presidency. This will include approving the EU Strategy on Counter-Terrorism, which is designed to complement the Counter-Terrorism Action Plan by providing a longer-term strategic direction. I am also hopeful that the Council will be able to agree the draft Strategy and Action Plan on Radicalisation and Recruitment, looking at the contributing factors involved and how they can be addressed.

Following on from the discussions by Heads of State at Hampton Court, there will be a strategic discussion at Council of the Commission's contribution to the European Council Paper on a Global Approach to Migration.

The Government have emphasised throughout the presidency, the importance that we have attached to the external dimension of Justice and Home Affairs issues. To reflect this, I hope to achieve agreement to the draft Strategy on External Relations at the Council. Linked to this, and following on from the useful discussions at the informal JHA Council I hosted in Newcastle, I hope that the Council will be able to agree draft Council Conclusions on increased EU Assistance to Combating Drugs in Afghanistan.

Another key priority for the UK presidency has been to raise the profile of EU work to tackle human trafficking. This is expected to result in the agreement to a wide ranging EU Action Plan at the Council, which I very much welcome.

On the Framework Decision on Simplifying the Exchange of Information and Intelligence Between Law Enforcement Authorities, the European Council's call for political agreement was reinforced at the July Council following the terrorist attacks on London. I hope that the Council will be able to agree to a general approach on this measure, though this will pertain solely to the text of the draft instrument and not to its annexes, allowing further time for consideration and fine-tuning of the detail.

Retention of telecommunications data is a complex dossier that has been subject to intense negotiation. Reaching a first reading deal with the European Parliament before the end of 2005 remains an ambitious but achievable goal. Subject to further progress in negotiations with the European Parliament and at Ambassador level this week there remains a good chance that the Council could reach political agreement
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on draft Directive text. In that case I am hopeful that a First Reading agreement could be reached with the European Parliament during our presidency.

The European Evidence Warrant will provide a fast and effective way of obtaining evidence from another Member State based on the principle of mutual recognition. There still remain issues to be resolved at the Council, notably around the grounds for refusal contained in Article 15, but I hope to be able to deliver a compromise that all Member States can accept so that we can reach a general approach on this important dossier.

In the area of civil justice, three items of business will be discussed: the European Order for Payment, Small Claims and the Directive on Certain Aspects of Mediation in civil and commercial matters. This reflects the priority which we as a presidency have given civil justice. Our citizens live increasingly cross-border lives: they live, work, buy and sell across Europe's borders. EU co-operation in civil judicial matters can bring practical benefits to the lives of citizens across Europe.

At the Council, I hope that we can reach a general approach on the European Order for Payment. On the European Small Claims regulation, I hope to confirm the emerging consensus on the key principles of an effective European small claims procedure. Our aim is to achieve an accelerated and simplified procedure, as contemplated in the Tampere conclusions and re-stated in the Hague programme, based on the principle of proportionality. Lastly we intend to use the Council to reach a broad agreement on the text of the draft Directive on Mediation, subject to outstanding questions of scope and subsidiarity and pending the opinion of the European Parliament. Progress in these areas will provide citizens and businesses with a means to resolve disputes more efficiently and at less cost.

There will also be a state of play report on the Framework Decision on Certain Procedural Rights in Criminal Proceedings, which will set out the progress that has been made on this dossier and the areas of contention that still remain to be taken forward under the Austrian presidency.

In the margins of the Council, the Mixed Committee will also meet with the Icelandic Minister in the Chair. There will be a further brief discussion of the draft Framework Decision on Simplifying the Exchange of Information in this forum. There is also going to be a report on progress on the technical developments for the Schengen Information System II, to look at whether more needs to be done to help meet the 2007 timetable. Finally, I am expecting the Commission to make a presentation on its Communication on Enhanced Interaction Between the Visa Information System, Schengen Information System II and Eurodac.

Finally, in the margins of the Council, representatives of the Member States, meeting inter-governmentally, will be looking to agree Draft Conclusions on Common Minimum Security Standards for ID Cards. This will be important in addressing the weak link in EU travel documentation.
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