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The Secretary of State for Health (Ms Patricia Hewitt):
Section 4(1) of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003 provides that an NHS trust may make an application to Monitor (whose statutory name is the Independent Regulator of NHS foundation trusts) for authorisation to become an NHS foundation trust, if the application is supported by the Secretary of State.
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I am today announcing that I support Luton and Dunstable Hospital NHS Trust in its bid to become an NHS foundation trust, as part of wave 2A of NHS foundation trust applications. The trust can now apply to Monitor for authorisation as an NHS foundation trust, and set up new governance arrangements including recruiting members and holding elections to the board of governors. Section 6 of the 2003 Act sets out the matters to be taken into account by Monitor and the terms under which authorisation of NHS foundation trust status can be given.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): The Justice and Home Affairs Council will be held on 2728 April 2006 in Luxembourg. I shall be attending the meeting with my noble and learned Friend, the Attorney-General, and my noble Friend Baroness Ashton will also be attending. I thought it would be useful if I were to outline the main issues I expect to be discussed at this Council meeting. While I would normally have made this statement earlier, the presidency tabled a large amount of the Council business for discussion at preparatory meetings this week and I wanted to be able to give the House the most accurate picture possible of what I expect to be discussed.
In the mixed committee formation prior to the Council itself, there will be a discussion of the French initiative to raise the charges on the processing of Schengen visa applications. The UK does not opt into this measure and so will not participate in this discussion. The presidency will seek views from member states on certain issues concerning the legal base for the second generation Schengen Information System, as well as updating on the state of play.
There is likely to be a political discussion of the proposal for a Council decision on the improvement of police co-operation, especially at the internal borders. The presidency has put forward two options: first to accept the text as currently drafted; or second, for the Council to agree to suspend negotiations on this measure. The Government feel that the outstanding issues could be resolved with more time, but that it will not be able to accept the text as currently drafted without the option of dual criminality applying for cross-border surveillance. We believe that it is reasonable to seek to apply dual criminality in this area, where not to do so would mean that police officers from one member state could conceivably have greater powers than domestic officers on the territory of another member state.
There will also be an update on the state of play in discussions on the proposal for a data protection framework decision to regulate the handling of personal data within the fields of police and judicial co-operation. The aim of the proposal is to enhance the sharing of intelligence in the fight against crime and terrorism by providing common standards for the handling of data.
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The Government fully support the broad objectives of the proposal, but are working to ensure that the ultimate framework is not overly-bureaucratic or so onerous that it actually has the effect of reducing the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies. In particular, we continue to question whether the proposal can or should apply to all domestic processing.
In the main Council format, there will be presentations and discussions on the issue of human trafficking. This was one of my main priorities for the UK presidency and we made great progress agreeing the action plan. The presidency, the Commission and Europol will give an update on the implementation of the action plan. The Council also intends to adopt Council conclusions on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings on the basis of the EU action plan and including trafficking in connection with major international events, with specific reference to the 2006 football World cup. There will also be a presentation on the implementation of the EU external relations strategy, which was again agreed under the UK presidency.
The presidency will be seeking to make progress, following attempts in 2004, on agreement of a list of safe countries of origin with regard to asylum claimants. The UK has already seen the benefits of working closely with countries which are generally safe, as this can act to deter unfounded asylum claims. The Government will support the presidency in its efforts to agree an EU list, but it will of course be important to ensure that the right countries are on the list.
I understand that the presidency has invited Peter Sutherland, the United Nations Secretary-General's special representative, to make a short presentation to the Council on the UN high-level dialogue on international migration and development. I am pleased that there will be this opportunity for discussion as the Government believe that migration can be a positive force for development.
Rome II, law applicable to non-contractual obligations, is on the agenda for political agreement on all articles. The UK will support this but certain concerns remain and political agreement in the Council is unlikely to be the end of the negotiations. The effect on the law of defamation is not yet finally resolved although it was clear from discussion at the JHA Council in February that excluding defamation from the scope of Rome II was the only realistic way of securing political agreement on this issue. We regard this as acceptable and can support it in the Council. The UK has concerns about the scope of Rome II and it is likely that we shall reiterate these concerns during the Council. The UK will also continue to urge further improvements on product liability and unfair competition.
The document on judicial co-operation in civil matters will be presented in order to raise awareness among justice ministers. The Committee on "Civil Law Matters" is tasked with ensuring uniformity and coherence in European Community legislation in the area of civil law particularly those covered by articles 65 and 293 of the EC treaty. This is just an item for the Council to take note of. The UK supports the Civil Law Committee Opinion.
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The Council is being invited to open formally the new N-Lex system and to take note of the presentation on the new EUR-Lex system. The UK fully supports these two initiatives in increasing access to justice across the EU and in allowing European citizens to have direct access to the law of every member state in electronic form.
It is clear from negotiations up to this point that the framework decision on procedural rights as it is currently drafted will not be agreed by the Council. The presidency has proposed the creation of an ad hoc working party to explore alternative approaches. The UK will support the presidency's proposal for this working party when it is discussed at the Council.
The presidency will seek to have a discussion on some of the outstanding issues on the European Evidence Warrant (EEW). The UK is broadly content with the framework decision as it is currently drafted, having made a great deal of progress on it during the UK presidency, and we believe it will be an important part of the mutual recognition agenda. However, concern has been expressed about the clarity of the definitions of those offences to which the principle of dual criminality would not apply. The UK feels that the same principle should apply in this measure as in the European arrest warrant and that a more strict definition of these offences is not necessary. There are also likely to be discussions of whether data retained under the Directive on the Retention of Telecommunications Data should be included in the scope of the EEW. All member states agree that it is too soon to apply mutual recognition principles to this area of judicial co-operation, and are therefore content to leave this to the second stage EEW (which is due in 2007).
There will also be a discussion of one of the remaining issues on the framework decision on the enforcement of sentences. The presidency has suggested a compromise that would mean that double criminality would not be required for the majority of cases for the purposes of prisoner transfers, but would allow those member states that wish to continue to apply the principle to do so. The Government believe this provides an effective compromise as a basis for further discussions.
We expect the Council to reach a general approach on the agreement between the EU and Norway and Iceland on a surrender procedure, subject to final consideration of the form to be used for requesting extradition. The UK supports enhanced extradition arrangements with Norway and Iceland along the lines of the EAW model and therefore supports the presidency's efforts to bring this negotiation to a close.
Finally, there is likely to be a presentation by the presidency regarding a high level political dialogue between the Council, Commission and European Parliament on the fight against terrorism, which was agreed as part of the EU counter-terrorism strategy in December.
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