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The Council began with a presentation by the Commission on their recently published Communicationthe i2010 eGovernment Action Plan; which was largely based on a Ministerial Declaration agreed at a conference in Manchester during our Presidency. The Action Plan highlights the social and financial benefits that can be gained through the implementation of an array of different eGovernment initiatives in helping to bridge the gap between citizens and administrators.
Ministers were asked to endorse a set of Council Conclusions responding to the eGovernment Action Plan. These focused on five major objectives: the need to promote eInclusion through national eGovernment strategies; the importance of user satisfaction in accessing eGovernment services; Government public procurement contracts which should be available in electronic format in all cases; convenient and secure authenticated access to public services in the EU; and the promotion of public debate and participation in democratic decision-making. As the substance of the above is compatible with the UK Government's Transformational Government Strategy, I leant my support to them.
The Presidency then introduced a policy debate on the future challenges for the EU's electronic communications regulatory framework which the Commission are currently reviewing, with a major Communication expected in July to be followed by legislative changes in December. In their presentation they highlighted the need to promote investment and innovation in the telecommunications sector and to ensure the framework met the needs of an ever-evolving and converging technology and business environment. In my intervention I stressed the necessity for full implementation of the current framework by all Member States and the importance of maintaining the complementary goals of investment, consumer protection and competition,
On the issue of wireless spectrum, I agreed with the Commission on the need to make the best use of this finite resource primarily through market-based management, which will hopefully create a favourable environment for the introduction in the market of new information communication technologies.
In the interventions from nearly all Member States there was a wide range of views though with the majority welcoming the approach of the Commission on both the maintenance of the regulatory framework, which was thought to be sound, and on introducing market-based mechanisms into spectrum allocation.
There was then a short exchange of views on the Commission's recent Communication on network and information security. The Presidency noted the overall problems that exist with regards to information security and the need to gain the confidence of citizens and enterprise by assuring them that ICTs and information systems are able to handle information in an accurate, confidential and reliable manner. Those Member States that intervened generally supported the Commission approach.
Due to a shortage of time it was not appropriate to comment on Commission Communications on the i2010 First Annual Report and the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) both of which were under Any Other Business. On the i2010 Annual Report the Commission highlighted the need for more work to prevent the EU falling further behind our main competitors; while on WSIS the Commission reported on development since the Tunis Conference and looked forward to the first Internet Governance Forum in Greece in November.
The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): I have today granted consent to the application by Riverside Resource Recovery Ltd. to build an energy from waste power station in Belvedere, South East London. This decision was taken after careful consideration of the recommendations from the public inquiry inspector who oversaw two public inquiries that looked into this application in 2003 and 2005.
This energy from waste station will be fuelled by waste which would otherwise have to go to landfill. London has a serious waste problem, much of which it currently exports to landfill in the home counties. I agree with the inspector that even if London were to meet the ambitious recycling targets envisaged by the Mayor of London, there will still be ample residual waste to fuel the station. This decision will make an important contribution to tackling London's waste problem.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman):
Further to the then Minister of State for Transport's written statement of 1 February 2005, it is now the Department's intention to increase the minimum budget available for the sustainable distribution fund from £22.6 million to £25.5 million for 2007-08, combining resource funding of £18.5 million and capital funding of £7 million. This fund is designed to secure the benefits of reduced pollution and congestion
and better safety on a mode-neutral basis. In order to enable the freight industry to plan involving schemes supported by the fund, I also intend to allocate a resource budget of at least £18.5 million, for each of the financial years 2008-09 and 2009-10. The budget for capital expenditure from 2008-09, such as the freight facilities grants, will be set following the 2007 spending review.
The Department is today beginning the process to submit to the European Commission, for state aids clearance, a new grant scheme for intermodal rail freightthe rail environmental benefits procurement scheme. A summary of the proposed scheme is available on the Department's website at: www.dft.gov.uk and has been placed in the Library of the House.