The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): This is to clarify the position of the civil settlement procedure for serious tax evasion offences, known commonly among tax professionals as "Hansard", following the introduction within HM Revenue and Customs of a new single procedure on the 1 September 2005 for dealing with cases of fraud civilly.
Both former HM Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue had procedures for tackling serious acts of evasion using civil sanctions. Following the creation of HMRC it is important for the efficient and effective administration of the tax system, that there should be a single process to resolve both direct and indirect tax losses where they result from the same fraudulent behaviour.
HMRC reviewed their procedures and following consultation with external stakeholders, introduced a new single procedure for handling fraud cases civilly on 1 September 2005. This builds on and replaces former procedures inherited from both former Departments such as the Revenue's "Hansard" and Customs' VAT "New Approach".
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Des Browne): Legislation governing public service pensions requires public service pensions to be increased annually by the same percentage as additional pensions (State Earnings Related Pension and State Second Pension). My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announced on 6 December 2005, Official Report, column 74, that benefits such as additional pensions will be increased by 2.7 per cent. in line with the annual increase in the retail prices index up to September 2005. Public service pensions will therefore be increased by 2.7 per cent. from 10 April 2006, except those which have been in payment for less than a year, which will receive a pro-rata increase.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander):
The General Affairs and External Relations Council
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(GAERC) was held on 12 December in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs chaired the Council as presidency and I represented the UK on certain agenda items.
The presidency outlined the results of the 7 December conclave and other discussions, and noted that it aimed to issue a revised negotiating box on Wednesday 14 December, with a view to achieving consensus at the European Council on 1516 December. There was no further discussion.
The Council also had a short discussion of the Commission and Council papers setting out priority actions for improving migration managementwith a focus on Africa and the Mediterraneanwhich were mandated by the Hampton Court summit.
Kosovo: High Representative Solana and Commissioner Rehn presented their joint paper on the EU's future role in Kosovo. They underlined the fact that the EU should prepare for an enhanced post-status role but should not prejudge the end of the status process. The presidency noted that the EU would continue to act under UN authority for the foreseeable future.
Macedonia: the Council discussed the Commission's opinion that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia should be granted candidate country status and agreed that the decision should be referred to the European Council. The Council agreed short conclusions reflecting this decision.
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Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner briefed the Council on progress under the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), one year after its launch, and identified key priorities for 2006. She noted that seven ENP action plans had now been negotiated and formally adopted (with Israel, Jordan, Moldova, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Tunisia and Ukraine) and that partners had begun implementing the agreed priorities, in line with clear timetables. She also noted that the ENP had strengthened and expanded the scope of the EU's political dialogue with a number of Mediterranean countries and facilitated the regular discussion of issues such as democracy, human rights and governance.
Ferrero-Waldner identified the completion of the next five ENP action plans (with Egypt, Lebanon, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia), preparation of an ENP Country Report on Algeria and the smooth transition between the existing neighbourhood programmes (200506) and the new cross-border co-operation programmes (200713) as priorities for 2006. The Council supported Ferrero-Waldner's assessment and also highlighted the importance of reviewing the implementation of existing action plans.
The Council discussed the EU-Africa strategy. The Council agreed that the strategy would play a crucial role in directing clear and substantive EU engagement with Africa in coming years. The Council agreed the strategy and submitted it to the European Council.
The Council discussed the deterioration of the situation in Ethiopia-Eritrea over the last few months and the recent Eritrean request that European and North American members of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) should be withdrawn. The presidency noted that an EU mission, led by my noble Friend the Minister for Africa (Lord Triesman of Tottenham), would visit the region on 17 December. Council conclusions were agreed, calling for co-operation with UNMEE and early progress on border demarcation.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jane Kennedy):
We have received the Annual Report and Accounts of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency for 200405 which has been laid before Parliament today in accordance with the
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requirements of sections 5(2) and 5(3) of the Exchequer and Audit Departments Act 1921. Copies have also been placed in the Library.
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