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Western Balkans

The Council agreed Conclusions on the Commission's progress reports on the Western Balkans and reaffirmed the EU's policy based on conditionality as set out in the Stabilisation and Association Process. This includes full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Iran

High Representative Solana briefed the Council on recent discussions between the E3 and 3 (France, Germany, UK and China, Russia, US) on Iran's nuclear programme.

Code of Conduct

The Council discussed a draft common position defining common rules governing the control of exports of military technology and equipment. The draft common position builds on the EU code of conduct on arms exports introduced in 1998.

China arms embargo

The Council exchanged views on the China arms embargo.

Litvinenko

The Foreign Secretary gave a brief readout of developments in the Alexander Litvinenko case, including related public health issues.

Afghanistan

High Representative Solana noted that a joint Council Secretariat/Commission Fact Finding Mission was in Afghanistan to consider possible future EU activities in the Rule of Law sector.

The Commission reaffirmed its long-term commitment to reconstruction: it would pledge 150 million Euros per year for the period 2007-13.

The Council adopted Conclusions reaffirming the EU's ongoing support for Afghan reform and encouraging the Government of Afghanistan to fulfil their commitments under the Afghanistan Compact.

China Council Conclusions

The Commission welcomed the Council's endorsement of the recent Communication on China Negotiations with China on a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement would start in January 2007.

The Council adopted Conclusions on the EU's strategic partnership with China including collaboration on climate change and non-proliferation.

ATHENA review

The Council agreed a draft decision amending ATHENA, the mechanism administering common costs of EU operations with military or defence implications.

AOB: Belarus

The Council exchanged views under AOB, at Lithuania's request, on the proposal to temporarily withdraw Generalised System of Preferences from Belarus.

Health

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Caroline Flint): The Government have today laid before Parliament a Command Paper (Cm 6989)
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detailing proposals for revision of the law on assisted reproduction and embryo research. Copies have been placed in the Library.

The proposals are the outcome of a wide-ranging review, which included a public consultation in 2005. The paper also provides more details on the proposed Regulatory Authority for Tissue and Embryos (RATE) which will replace existing regulatory bodies (the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority, and the Human Tissue Authority).

These proposals will go on to form a Bill to be published in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny.

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence- Good Practice Guidance

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Andy Burnham): “The Good Practice Guidance on Managing the Introduction of New Healthcare Interventions and Links to NICE Technology Appraisal Guidance” has been placed in the Library.

This good practice guidance responds to a number of requests received by the Department to update guidance originally issued in 1999 (HSC 1999/176). As it is no longer possible to issue health service circulars, this refreshed guidance is being issued as good practice guidance.

The updated guidance clarifies the intent of the advice originally published in HSC 1999/176 and expands on the advice that the National Health Service use existing arrangements to access the publicly available evidence by providing a list of available evidence resources. This list of resources provides a broad selection of different organisations that provide information on new healthcare interventions. By clarifying what these sources of evidence are, the NHS should be able to use this guidance as the starting point when making decisions on the use of new healthcare interventions.

Finally, and most importantly, the refreshed guidance makes clear that primary care trusts should not refuse to provide treatments simply because guidance from NICE is awaited and explains that the role of NICE is not to assess every healthcare technology intended for use in the NHS.

The purpose of the section on the three month funding direction is to clarify the original intention of the direction, which was recognition of the fact that it can take some time to put the necessary funding arrangements in place to make a health care intervention available to NHS patients. However, this direction does not intend for the three months to be used as a waiting period prior to implementing NICE guidance.

Home Department

Immigration and Nationality Directorate

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): I am pleased to announce the publication of the independent Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) Complaints Audit Committee (CAC) annual report for the year 2005 to 2006. Copies are available in the House and on the Immigration and Nationality Directorate website.


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This is CAC’s 12th report. Its role is to monitor the effectiveness of IND’s procedures for handling complaints. The annual report highlights a number of areas where IND needs to improve its performance, supported by a number of specific recommendations, many of which confirm findings of the IND review in July.

We very much welcome the report and its findings, which chime with July’s IND review.

For the first time this year IND’s response, which includes full details of the work it is doing to improve its complaint-handling procedures, has been published at the same time. Copies of this are available with the CAC’s report.

Animal (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): I am pleased to inform the House that I have today placed in the Library the annual report of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate for the year 2005. This is the second annual report published by the Inspectorate.

Publication of the report honours a commitment given by the Government in response to a recommendation of the House of Lords Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures in July 2002 that more information should be made available about the work of the inspectorate.

In the Government’s response, published in January 2003, we welcomed the Select Committee’s endorsement of the integrity of the inspectorate and of the important contribution that it has made to the welfare of animals in designated establishments. We also recognised that public awareness of the valuable job done by the inspectorate needed to be improved and concluded that this could be remedied, at least in part, by the publication of an annual report on its work.

The inspectorate’s second annual report published today provides an account of how the inspectorate has carried out its main tasks and other work in 2005, and contains a particular focus on two important areas.

First, it gives a brief introduction to the issue of the acquisition of non-human primates for use in scientific procedures and details the acceptance process and criteria used to determine the suitability of overseas centres that propose to supply UK laboratories with such animals.

Secondly, it addresses in detail the growing use of fish in scientific procedures and explains their major uses during the year. This focus on fish includes information on the role of genetically altered fish, the types of housing required, water quality and other general issues to explain handling, methods of identification and how behaviour is judged as well as environmental enrichment.

The report explains what the inspectors do and how they do it, and provides details of the inspectorate’s staffing and structure, ways of working, professional background and skills, and training and development.

The report also explains the inspectorate’s key role in assessing and advising Home Office Ministers and
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officials on applications for personal and project licences and certificates of designation under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. It also provides details of the inspection system, through which compliance with licence authorities granted under the 1986 Act is monitored and provides information about visiting patterns and practice and the number of visits carried out during the year.

I commend the report to Members.

Northern Ireland

Salmon and Inland Fisheries (Annual Report 2005)

The Paliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Maria Eagle): Copies of the Salmon and Inland Fisheries Annual Report of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure for 2005 have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The document provides details of the Department’s activities to conserve, protect and develop salmon and inland fisheries under the provisions of the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966, as amended, and includes statistical information and income and expenditure details for the 2005-06 financial year.

Prime Minister

Cabinet Committees/Policy Review Working Groups

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I have placed a copy of the current list of Cabinet Committees, their full membership and terms of reference in the Libraries of both Houses. I have also placed the membership of the Policy Review Working Groups in the Libraries of both Houses. Details are also available on the Cabinet Office website.

Transport

Dartford-Thurrock River Crossing

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): The Government are today launching a 12-week consultation on their proposals for changes to the charging regime at the Dartford-Thurrock River Crossing (the Crossing). A draft charging order, consultation document and regulatory impact assessment have been drawn up and are available for inspection.

The Department has been reviewing the charging regime in the light of current traffic levels, likely future demand and broader transport policy considerations. The proposed charging regime sets charges for cash payment and discounts for those who pay by an electronic ‘Dart-Tag’ and pre-pay account.


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Cash ChargeTag Charge

Day charges (6am-10pm)

Night charges (10pm-6am)

Day charges (6pm-10pm)

Night charges (10pm-6am)

Cars

£1.50

Free

£1.00

Free

2 Axle Goods

£2.00

Free

£1.75

Free

Multi Axle Goods

£4.00

Free

£3.20

Free


The Government are also seeking comments on suggestions from local Members of Parliament that discounts be made available for local residents, and comments on proposals for reinvestment of the revenue collected through the charging scheme.

The draft charging order authorises the exemption from the charging regime of certain motor vehicles as set out in schedule 4 to the draft charging order and enables variations to be made to the regime in line with the retail price index.

Notice of the consultation has today been given in the London Gazette. Notices will follow in the appropriate local newspapers. Consultation documents are available on the Department for Transport’s website at: www.dft.gov.uk/roads/dartfordconsultation, and at Dartford borough council and Thurrock council offices. Copies will be placed in the House Library. Respondents to the consultation can send their views to the:

The Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Road User Charging Scheme accounts for 2005-06 are published today under section 3 (1) (d) of the Trunk Road Charging Schemes (Bridges and Tunnels) (Keeping of Accounts) (England) Regulations 2003. A copy of the accounts will be placed in the House Library.

UK Vehicle Register

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): In my statement of 24 July 2006, Official Report, columns 94-96WS, I promised that the Department would carry out a review of progress on implementing new measures in respect to the release of data from the UK vehicle register.

The report of that review has now been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.


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