Previous Section Index Home Page

EU Competitiveness Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Jim Fitzpatrick): My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science and Technology (Lord Sainsbury of Turville) has made the following ministerial statement:

I attended the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on 29-30 May. The first day was chaired by Martin Bartenstein, Austrian Minister for Economics and Labour, with Ursula Haubner, Austrian Minister for Social Security and Consumer Protection chairing the consumer items.

Day 1 Monday 29 May

The first day was dominated by negotiations on the services directive, which started over lunch and continued into the evening. The other main items on Monday were discussions on Consumer Credit, Sustainable Development and Better Regulation.

Services Directive

The Council reached a political agreement on a common position on the Draft Services Directive, with the UK voting in favour. Lithuania and Belgium abstained. The agreement was based largely on the European Parliament's first reading opinion and the
6 Jun 2006 : Column 21WS
Commission's subsequent amended proposal, modified to take account of member states’ views in particular on the scope of the directive and on the country of origin principle. The revised proposal also contains stronger screening mechanisms, which oblige member states to review their legislation against the “better regulation” criteria in the directive.

Better Regulation

The Council took note of a presidency progress report on Better Regulation. The report gave a short account of work in progress under the Austrian presidency as regards impact assessments, simplification of legislation, screening of pending legislative proposals and assessing and reducing administrative costs. I welcomed the progress made by the Commission and the presidency in taking forward this important agenda and I led member state interventions by stressing the need to match rhetoric with action, in particular on special provisions for SMEs and setting targets for reducing burdens. A number of other member states also emphasised the importance of driving forward the Better Regulation agenda.

Sustainable Development

The Council held a policy debate on the review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy. The strategy is being discussed in a number of formations of the Council, including the Energy and Environment Councils, with a view to reaching agreement at the European Council meeting on 15 and 16 June. The presidency had circulated a set of questions in advance of the Council to which member states responded in writing. The presidency provided a summary of these responses in the Council meeting.

Consumer Credit

The Council held a policy debate on a draft “Directive on Consumer Credit”. Again, the presidency had circulated a number of questions in advance of the Council to which member states responded in writing. The questions were on harmonisation, early repayment and cross-border comparability of consumer credit agreements. The discussion in the Council focused primarily on the central question of maximum harmonisation and mutual recognition within the directive. I welcomed the objective of opening up the single market in consumer credit, but emphasised that any directive would have to maintain levels of consumer protection, and should be based on a rigorous analysis of costs and benefits.

AOB agenda items:

The Council took note of information from the Polish delegation on EU import duties on primary aluminium: requesting the Commission to suspend import duties on raw aluminium. I supported this request along with a number of other member states.

On Euro V. the Council took note of information from the French delegation concerning the proposal for a Regulation aimed at limiting emissions from light vehicles. Several delegations intervened in support of the French delegation.

On Public Procurement, the Council took note of the information provided by Germany (along with France and Austria) asking the Commission to withdraw its draft interpretative communication on regimes for below-threshold procurements. I supported this request, along with a number of other member states.

6 Jun 2006 : Column 22WS

The presidency gave short reports about conferences on REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals), Consumer Protection and Tourism. It also noted presentations by the presidency on Clusters, and by Commission Vice President Gunter Verheugen on the communication “A new tourism policy: towards a stronger partnership for European tourism”.

Day 2 Tuesday 30 May

The second day was devoted to research and space business. Elisabeth Gehrer, Austrian Minister for Education, Research and Culture chaired the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) items. Hubert Gorbach, Austrian Vice Chancellor and Federal Minister for Transport, Innovation and Technology chaired the space item.

A General Approach was agreed on the draft Regulation laying down the Rules of Participation for the FP7. The UK voted in favour.

The Council also reached agreement on a general approach on the FP7 for research and technology development. The UK voted in favour. The Council also considered the Euratom framework programme, but did not reach agreement.

Lunch and other AOB items:

The Council took note of information from the Commission on its recent communication on modernising universities and on ITER but there was no discussion.

On Space Policy, the Council took note of information by the presidency on the main results of a conference on GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security System) which was held in Graz on 19-20 April, as an input for the future elaboration of the European Space Programme. The Council also took note of information by the Commission on the state of play concerning developments towards European space policy and the roadmap foreseen for future developments in this area.

EU Energy Council

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): There is an Energy Council in Luxembourg in the morning of 8 June, at which the UK will be represented.

Informal discussion at the pre-Council dinner on 7 June will cover the European Commission's Green Paper: “A European Strategy for Sustainable, Competitive and Secure Energy”, published on 8 March. The need for a new European Energy policy was one of the main agreed outcomes from discussion between EU Heads of Government at Hampton Court last October during the UK's presidency of the EU. Before the Council, the UK intends to submit its initial written response to the Green Paper. The UK's final response to the Green Paper will await the conclusions of the UK's domestic energy review.

The main substantive item on the main Council agenda will be the internal energy (electricity and gas) market, on which Ministers will have a policy debate. The presidency has prepared questions to guide the debate and Ministers will be asked to agree Council conclusions on progress on the single market's implementation. The proper functioning of the single market in electricity and gas is a high priority for the UK. This item is expected to take up the bulk of the Council's time.

6 Jun 2006 : Column 23WS

Under the agenda item of sustainable energy production and consumption, Ministers will be asked to agree Council conclusions on the Commission's Biomass action plan. Under the same heading, the Commission will provide information to the Council on two energy efficiency initiatives: the consultation process on the Commission's “Energy Efficiency” Green Paper and negotiations for an agreement between the US and European Community on the coordination of energy-efficient labelling programmes for office equipment (Energy Star II).

The presidency or Commission will also provide information on International Relations in the field of Energy, encompassing the conclusion of the Energy Community Treaty and the EU's relations with OPEC and with Russia.


Portable Security Barriers (London Stations)

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The UK's railway system is a network made up of 2,500 stations and 11,000 miles of track. It carries one billion passengers a year. The British public understand that an aviation-style closed security system on a rail network of this size is unworkable.

However we must still aim to cut down the risks as much as possible, whilst still allowing people to go about their day to day business.

No single security measure is either foolproof or capable of mitigating every threat so we need to examine a range of available measures. It is therefore important that we not only consider both existing and emerging security solutions, but that we subject them to trials in authentic environments to see how effectively they can contribute towards keeping our networks as safe and efficient as possible.

We announced on 10 March 2005 that the Department for Transport had identified a package of short, medium and long-term measures to enhance rail counter-terrorist security.

As part of continuing work to investigate new ideas and ways of improving current measures, we intend to carry out two trials—at Waterloo and Victoria stations—to test the practicalities of deploying and maintaining portable access control barriers in an operational environment. These trials are scheduled to start during June and will last for about 11 weeks.

The sites for these trials were selected following consultation with the British Transport Police, and with Network Rail and the suppliers of these barriers we developed layout arrangements and deployment methodologies tailored to each site. However the objective is to cause minimal disturbance to the station's operations and the flow of passengers throughout the day.

I wish to emphasise that these trials are part of a much broader package of work being carried out by my Department and other stakeholders to determine practical and pragmatic solutions for the short and long-term protection of the public at rail stations. They are not in response to any specific threat information nor should they be viewed as indication of a heightened threat level.

6 Jun 2006 : Column 24WS

The sole purpose of these trials is to test the application of the barriers in a genuine rail environment. They are not direct measures to enhance security at these stations. No decisions have been taken on the future use of this equipment, and the data and feedback we gain during the trials will inform the broader package of work to which I referred.

Night-Flying Restrictions (Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted)

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport announced publication of the second stage of a consultation exercise on night restrictions to apply at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports from October 2005 until the end of the summer season 2012, 9 June 2005, Official Report, column 58WS. That consultation paper took into account all relevant responses to the stage one consultation paper issued on 21 July 2004.

The stage 2 consultation paper also announced our intention to extend the current night restrictions regime for a further year to end on 29 October 2006. This decision was confirmed, when the former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport announced the movements limits and noise quotas to apply for the summer 2006 season, 15 December 2005, Official Report, column 177WS.

I have now decided on the restrictions that will apply from 29 October 2006 to October 2012. Full details of the decision and the reasons for it are set out in the document “Night Flying Restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted” including Annex A, the final Regulatory Impact Assessment, and Annex B, Assessments to comply with European Directive 2002/30, copies of which have been placed in the House Library.

The decision takes account of all the responses that we received to the consultation. In order to remove uncertainty on an element which had given rise to particular concerns, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport announced on 8 May 2006, Official Report, columns 61-62 that we had decided not to increase the night-time movements limits at Heathrow during the period 2006 to 2012. This is but one aspect of the full decision that I am publishing today.

As in the previous regime, the new night restrictions regime for Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted recognises both a night period, 2300-0700 hours, and a night quota period, 2330-0600 hours. During the whole of the night period, the noisiest types of aircraft (classified as QC/8 or QC/16) may not be scheduled to land or to take off and they are effectively banned from doing so (other than in the most exceptional circumstances) in the night quota period. The next noisiest types (QC/4) may also no longer be scheduled to operate in the night quota period. In addition, during the night quota period movements by most other types of aircraft (including the new QC/0.25 category) will be restricted by a movements limit and a noise quota, which are set for each season. The seasons change with the clocks.

Unlike previous night restrictions regimes, the new restrictions take account of environmental objectives and specific noise abatement objectives for each airport. These objectives have been decided following consultation
6 Jun 2006 : Column 25WS
and are an integral part of my present decision. The objectives are set out in the document “Night Flying Restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted”. The decision also includes the requirement for the airports to adopt the specified night-noise-related criteria to determine which residents should be offered sound insulation to be paid for or contributed to by the airport.

I consider that for each airport the decision strikes the appropriate balance between the need to protect local communities from excessive noise and the benefits that services can bring to the national, regional and local economy.

The restrictions will be implemented by notice under section 78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982.

Work and Pensions

Ocupational Pensions

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. John Hutton): I have placed copies of the Government’s full response to the Ombudsman’s report in the Library.

6 Jun 2006 : Column 26WS

Remploy Review

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire): On 16 March I advised Parliament of my intention to engage consultants to conduct a strategic review of the future business options for Remploy Ltd., in the context of the Government's strategy for supporting greater numbers of disabled people into employment. PricewaterhouseCoopers were subsequently appointed to carry out the review working with Stephen Duckworth of Disability Matters.

The consultants have provided regular updates to me and were due to present their final report on 31 May. However, before they submit their final report, I have asked the review team to do some more detailed work. This is to ensure that we are in the best possible position to be able to make robust decisions about Remploy’s future in full knowledge of the implications of those decisions.

While this will prolong uncertainty for Remploy employees, it would be wrong to make decisions that will impact on their future—and the many more disabled people we want to help into work—without all the relevant information and proper consideration of the implications of decisions. I will make a further statement before the summer recess.

    Index Home Page