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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 4 December 2006

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

State Veterinary Service

The Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The 2005-06 annual report and accounts for the State Veterinary Service will be laid before Parliament today.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Cluster Munitions

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): I would like to set out our policy on cluster munitions and explain how we successfully promoted that policy at the recent review conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva. We fully share widespread concerns about the humanitarian impact of these weapons. Our policy is designed to address these concerns. Nevertheless, compelling and legitimate conditions may occur when our armed forces need to use these weapons. If so, we do so in strict accordance with international humanitarian law. We continue to urge other countries to do the same.

At the review conference the UK led an initiative to address the humanitarian impact of these weapons on the basis of consensus, including all major producers and users. We believe such an inclusive approach offers the best way forward to reduce the humanitarian impact of these weapons. The UK initiative was also consistent with Kofi Annan’s call at the conference for action within the existing (CCW) framework. Prior to the conference we announced our plan to withdraw from service by the middle of the next decade our so-called “dumb” cluster munitions and called on other countries to do the same. (Our understanding of a “dumb” cluster munition is one that has numerous submunitions, each of which has an explosive content. Additionally, the submunitions either do not have a target discrimination capability or they do not have a self-destruct, self-neutralisation or self-deactivation capability).

I am pleased to report that the UK’s efforts at the review conference were rewarded. It was agreed by consensus to hold urgent expert level discussions on the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions.

This is an essential preliminary step before launching any negotiations on legally binding instruments to address the use of cluster munitions. Not least because there has yet to be an internationally agreed definition of what constitutes a cluster munition; let alone those that “pose
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serious humanitarian hazards”, for which Norway and some other countries have demanded an immediate ban. The CCW experts meeting will consider the adequacy of existing international humanitarian law, whether it is being implemented diligently, and factors affecting the reliability of cluster munitions. They will report back to the next CCW meeting of states parties in 12 months. In the coming year the UK will play an active role in the discussions, pushing for effective outcomes.

We will consider carefully the results of these expert discussions before deciding whether and if so how to develop our policy on cluster munitions.


Smoke-free Legislation

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Caroline Flint): The Health Act 2006 makes provision for smoke-free premises and vehicles. The smoke-free provisions within the Act, which will make virtually all enclosed public places and workplaces smoke-free, will be implemented at 6am on Sunday, 1 July 2007.

The scientific and medical evidence is clear—second-hand smoke kills, causing a range of serious medical conditions including lung cancer, heart disease, and sudden infant death syndrome in children.

Smoke-free legislation is an enormous step forward for protecting public health, and will help to prevent the many unnecessary deaths caused every year from second-hand smoke. Smoke-free legislation in other countries has proved highly effective in protecting the health of workers, and will help to create more supportive environments for smokers to quit.

The Government are currently finalising the smoke-free regulations to be made under powers in the Health Act 2006, and they are expected to be laid before Parliament shortly.

National CJD Surveillance Unit

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Caroline Flint): The National Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Surveillance Unit’s (NCJDSU) 14th annual report has been published today. The report documents the unit’s findings in relation to sporadic, familial and iatrogenic Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) up to 31 December 2005. Copies have been placed in the Library, and the report is also available on the NCJDSU’s website at: www.cjd.ed.ac.uk.

Home Department

Justice and Home Affairs Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): The Justice and Home Affairs Council will be held on 4-5 December in Brussels. The Home Secretary and I will attend on
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behalf of the Home Office and the Attorney-General and Baroness Ashton will also attend on behalf of the UK.

There will be a public debate on the Hague programme review following debate at the September and October Councils. The presidency will also present its conclusions, which are currently under negotiation. The UK believes that the Hague programme has been a success as evidenced by agreements such as the European arrest warrant and the counter-terrorism strategy. We have debated proposals for changing decision making procedures and whilst supporting the need for effective evaluation and decision making we consider that the debate has indicated quite clearly that there is little appetite for using the passerelle at this stage and on that basis we think the current debate is effectively over. We should instead focus our energy on delivering practical measures that make a real difference to the safety and security of our citizens.

We expect the Council to agree the framework decision on taking account of convictions in the course of new criminal proceedings. The framework decision will create an obligation on member states to ensure that judges can take into account previous foreign convictions in the same way that they would take into account previous domestic convictions when sentencing an offender or making decisions on pre-trial supervision. The Government would welcome agreement on this instrument as they attach considerable importance to the whole package of measures on the exchange and recognition of convictions.

The presidency hopes to agree a general approach on the prisoner transfer framework decision, which would simplify and speed up the process of transferring prisoners between member states. Some member states have concerns on the issue of prisoner consent, however the UK believes that the package adds considerable added value over and above existing prisoner transfer arrangements.

The presidency will be looking for agreement that work should continue on a draft framework decision on certain procedural rights in criminal proceedings in the EU. The UK believes that a binding EU measure on criminal procedural rights is not needed as the proposal offers no new benefits to citizens over what the ECHR already guarantees. The UK, in co-operation with other members states, has proposed a draft political resolution that advocates practical measures member states could take to enhance compliance with ECHR standards.

The presidency will be seeking political agreement on the proposal establishing the Fundamental Rights Agency, the proposal authorising the European Commission to negotiate a co-operation agreement between the Council of Europe and the agency and the proposal establishing a Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Programme for the period 2007-13. The UK supports these proposals providing they are confined within the scope of community law and providing all references to the charter are adequately clarified.

The Commission will give presentations on its communications on the implementation of the follow-up to Hampton Court/Global Approach to migration and on reinforcing the management of the EU’s southern maritime border.

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Implementation of the Schengen acquis will be discussed under both the main agenda and in mixed committee, the various aspects being: the draft Council conclusions on the state of preparedness of the ten new member states towards implementation; the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II); SIS one4all; and a calendar for Schengen evaluation of the new member states in 2007. The UK welcomes the progress that has been made by the new member states towards implementing the Schengen acquis. While we understand the difficulties that delays to implementation of SIS II will cause them and will not oppose the proposal to connect them to SIS 1+ through the SISOne4all project, we have stressed the importance that any decision to proceed with this project is based on a full assessment of risks and benefits as well as the political imperative to meet the original Schengen timetable.

Third country nationals’ visa exemptions will also be discussed under the main agenda and in mixed committee. The UK does not participate in Regulation (EC) 539/2001 (The Common Visa List) and will not be participating in the application of this amendment; a general approach is due to be agreed at the Council. The proposal will enable holders of British National (Overseas) passports, British nationals with the right of free movement and British Overseas Territories Citizens/British Subjects to enjoy visa free access to the Schengen States. The UK continues to support the Commission and the Schengen states in their wish to include other categories of British nationals who cannot be considered EU nationals on the common visa list.

The presidency will be seeking agreement to the rapid response and preparedness instrument. The question of whether community finance should be available for the hire of civil protection equipment and transport of civil protection assistance to disasters remains outstanding. While strongly supportive of an effective and efficient EU disaster response capability, the UK has opposed these measures, arguing that this blurs the role of member states’ responsibility for civil protection. The UK has been successful in narrowing the scope of the proposals, however some concerns remain.

The presidency is seeking agreement to a new set of Council conclusions on the future of Europol, which agree that the Europol convention is replaced by a Council decision, set out its broad parameters and establish a roadmap for its negotiation. This will enable detailed negotiations on the legal framework to be commenced during the German presidency. The UK is supportive in principle of measures to make Europol’s legal instrument more flexible; we should be cautious not to widen Europol’s mandate to include serious crime which is not organised. To do so, would result in it spreading its resources too thinly, reducing its ability to add value in its core functions. The Commission will table a draft Council decision to replace the Europol convention. This would be subject to a detailed assessment and further approval by Ministers during the German presidency.

The EU action plan on best practices, standards and procedures for combating and preventing trafficking in human beings will also be discussed, focusing on the current state of play and the need for further action.
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The UK welcomes the presidency initiative to take stock of progress and would now like to see real progress on the action plan.

The counter-terrorism co-ordinator’s report on the implementation of the EU counter-terrorism strategy and of the EU action plan on radicalisation and recruitment will be discussed. The UK welcomes the continued focus on the effective delivery of these, as essential to the EU’s counter-terrorism work, both at EU level and nationally by member states. We support this regular report on the implementation of both the EU CT strategy and action plan (six-monthly) and the EU radicalisation and recruitment strategy and action plan (annually).

The Council conclusions on the South-east European Co-operative Initiative (SECI) will be discussed. The UK supports the draft conclusions and welcomes the increased law enforcement co-ordination in South-east Europe.

The report on the implementation of the strategy for the external dimension of JHA will be presented. The UK appreciates the report and looks forward to the external relations strategy being taken forward over the coming months. The Government are particularly keen to work with other member states, Europol, Frontex and the Commission to implement the recommendations from the various action oriented papers.

There are two AOB items on the agenda. These are a public deliberation on the state of play of the European evidence warrant for obtaining objects documents and data for use in criminal proceedings and the state of play of European contract law will also be discussed. On European contract law, the Commission annual progress report on the contract law project is about to be published. It is hoped that this will give information on the future direction of the project. A Green Paper on the review of the consumer acquis is also awaited.

As mentioned above the mixed Committee will discuss the implementation of the Schengen acquis and the Council regulation on visa exemptions for third country nationals.

The data protection framework decision is also on the mixed committee agenda. The UK supports the principle of the DPFD but there is more work to be done before agreement can be reached. Several member states support the UK on this.

Language and Citizenship Knowledge Testing

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): I am announcing today the date for introduction of the requirement that those seeking permanent settlement in the United Kingdom should demonstrate a knowledge of the English language and of life in the United Kingdom, as those seeking British nationality are already obliged to do. This requirement will come into force on 2 April next year.

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Knowledge of English increases both employment prospects and the ease with which people can carry out their day to day lives in this country. Knowledge of life in the United Kingdom will help those who settle here gain a greater appreciation of the civic and political dimensions of life here, as well as giving them practical help and support in areas such as the law, housing, education and engaging with the wider community. It will also help generate a greater sense of understanding of the rights and responsibilities that come with the acquisition of British citizenship, should they choose to seek this in the future.

In 2004 the Government introduced the language requirement for people wanting to obtain British nationality. In 2005, we introduced a second requirement that prospective citizens should show they know something of life in the UK. The citizenship testing system we introduced last November has worked well and has attracted considerable interest in other countries; Australia, for example, has recently published a public consultation document on the possible introduction of a similar system there.

We now need to move ahead once again. Applications submitted therefore to IND on or after 2 April next year will need to be accompanied by evidence that the applicant has passed the “Life in the UK” test or alternatively that they have progressed from one English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) level to the next, on a course that has utilised specially developed citizenship materials. A person who meets these requirements when seeking permanent settlement will not have to take any other form of test when he or she becomes eligible to apply for citizenship.

The handbook “Life in the UK: A Journey to Citizenship”, which needs to be studied by those intending to take the “Life in the UK” test, has been rewritten with the new requirements in mind and in the light of reactions to the first edition. Tests for both citizenship and settlement purposes conducted on or after 2 April 2007 will be based on the new edition of the handbook, which will be available early in the New Year.

International Development

Horn of Africa (Flooding)

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): The statement I made regarding flooding in the Horn of Africa released on 28 November 2006, Official Report, column 102WS contained an error. The contribution to address the effects of acute watery diarrhoea in Ethiopia was for £0.8 million, not £l million, and was made in November not October. The total funding for the floods response is therefore £5.8 million not £6 million, and the total humanitarian expenditure since April 2005 is £50.6 million rather than £50.8 million.

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