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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 26 February 2007



The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): The Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held on 27 February in Brussels. The items on the agenda are as follows:

Implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact

Stability and Convergence Programmes

Ministers will be invited to adopt Council Opinions on the Stability Programmes of Slovenia, Portugal, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Ireland, France and Germany, and on the Convergence Programmes of Cyprus, the United Kingdom, Slovakia, Sweden, Poland, Malta, Lithuania, Hungary, Greece, Finland, Estonia and Denmark. The UK supports a prudent interpretation of the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) which takes into account the level of debt, the influence of the cycle and the level of public investment, and ensures that any recommendations reflect each Member State’s economic position.

Excessive Deficit Procedure

Ministers will adopt a Council Recommendation with a view to bringing an end to the situation of an excessive deficit in Poland. This Recommendation follows the Council Decision of 28 November 2006 establishing, in accordance with Article 104(8) of the Treaty, that the action taken by Poland in response to the Council recommendation of 5 July 2004 pursuant to Article 104(7) of the Treaty is proving to be inadequate.

Preparation of the European Council (8-9 March 2007)

ECOFIN will discuss three issues in preparation for the Spring European Council. These are:

Key Issues Paper

This discussion follows the orientation debate on the Key Issues Paper at the January ECOFIN. The Key Issues Paper is a set-piece document that both responds to the Commission’s Annual Progress Report on implementation of the Lisbon agenda and sets out ECOFIN’s priorities on economic reform issues as a contribution to the Spring European Council. Ministers will agree a final text.

Updating the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines 2005-2008

Ministers will finalise the draft of the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines for the Spring Council. Together with the Employment Guidelines, the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines recommend priority actions for Member States. They form part of the Lisbon Strategy for jobs and growth.

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Reducing administrative burdens

ECOFIN will be asked to agree Council Conclusions on reducing administrative burdens. The UK supports the draft Conclusions, which include a 25 per cent. target for the reduction of administrative burdens arising from EU legislation. This matches the UK’s own existing administrative burden reduction target.

General budget of the European Union

Discharge procedure in respect of the implementation of the budget for 2005

Commissioner Siim Kallas, responsible for Administrative Affairs, Audit and Anti-Fraud, will attend the discussion of the discharge procedure for the 2005 budget. Council will be asked to adopt Conclusions recommending that the European Parliament grant discharge to the Commission on the EU’s 2005 budget. The Government announced to Parliament on 20 November 2006 that the UK would take a lead in showing how Member States could improve their own management of EU funds.

Financial Services

Clearing and Settlement

Discussion of Clearing and Settlement covers both the ECB’s proposed Target 2 Securities project and the implementation and functioning of the Code of Conduct. Both initiatives are intended to address deficiencies in the European clearing and settlement landscape — an area where the Council has long been pressing for change. Ministers will be asked to agree Conclusions on Target 2 Securities, which establish issues the ECB should consider in making its final decision on the progression of the Target 2 Securities project, and will receive an update from the Commission on the Code of Conduct.

Constitutional Affairs

Boundary Commission

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) has made the following written ministerial statement.

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Trade and Industry

Enterprise Act 2002

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Alistair Darling): I have today issued an intervention notice under section 42(2) of the Enterprise Act 2002 in respect of British Sky Broadcasting Group's acquisition of a 17.9 per cent. stake in ITV plc. In accordance with Section 44A of the Enterprise Act, Ofcom will now investigate public interest issues that may arise as a result of this transaction and report to me by 27 April. In accordance with Section 44 of the Act, the Office of Fair Trading will report to me on the competition effects of the transaction by the same date.

As a general rule, Ministers have withdrawn from the regulatory consideration of mergers. However, having given careful consideration to the provisions of the relevant legislation and to the representations I have received, both from the parties directly concerned and from interested third parties, I believe that, in this case, it is appropriate for me to use the mechanism established by the Communications Act 2003 to ask Ofcom to conduct an initial investigation into the public interest issues that may be raised by this transaction.

I consider the statutory thresholds for making an intervention are met in this case in that (i) there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a relevant merger situation may have been created as a result of British Sky Broadcasting Group's acquisition of shares in ITV plc and (ii) there are grounds to consider that the public interest consideration specified at Section 58(2C)(a) of the Enterprise Act may be relevant. Formal advice from Ofcom will enable me to make a properly informed decision on whether the transaction should be referred to the Competition Commission for fuller investigation. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) announced on 12 January 2007 its provisional view that a relevant merger situation may have been created for the purposes of the Enterprise Act 2002 as a result of British Sky Broadcasting Group acquiring material influence over ITV plc. The OFT will report to the Secretary of State on 27 April on this and other competition issues raised by the transaction.

I wish to emphasise that a decision to issue an intervention notice in respect of this transaction only means there will be an initial investigation by Ofcom and is not determinative of whether the transaction actually gives rise to any substantive public interest concerns that may warrant making a reference to the Competition Commission.

In reaching this decision, I have had regard to the DTI’s Guidance document issued in May 2004 entitled “Enterprise Act 2002: Public Interest Intervention in Media Mergers Guidance on the operation of the public interest merger provisions relating to newspaper and other media mergers”. The Guidance states that, as a matter of policy, “save in exceptional circumstances” intervention would be considered

In this case, the acquisition by British Sky Broadcasting Group of its shareholding in ITV plc may have been in breach of an ownership rule that was
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removed by the Communications Act 2003. The relevant rule prohibited certain persons from holding two or more Channel 3 licences. In addition, circumstances of the kind envisaged in paragraph 8.8 of the DTI Guidance (a large number of news channels coming under single control) may apply.


Road Safety Strategy

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): I am pleased to announce today the publication of the second three-yearly review of our road safety strategy, and also of the Child Road Safety Strategy. Copies of the report and strategy are available in the Libraries of the House. The review document which is jointly promoted by DFT, the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly Government, fulfils the commitment in the March 2000 White Paper“Tomorrow's Roads—safer for everyone” to formally review our approach every three years.

We are now seven years into our road safety strategyand we have delivered much in that time. These developments have contributed to the good progress against our PSA targets. The review makes a general assessment of policy implementation to date and identifies those groups that remain more at risk and the key issues that still need to be tackled. The review then sets out what steps we intend to take to make Britain's roads safer.

The Child Road Safety Strategy, which updates the first such strategy published in 2002, takes a similar approach and sets out an action plan for what more can be done before 2010.

Work and Pensions

Independent Living Funds

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire):

On 3 May 2006 in a written ministerial statement, I announced details of a strategic review of the Independent Living Funds which has now concluded. On 9 October 2006 in a written ministerial statement I announced that, because of an extended period of consultation, the report would be published in February 2007.

The Independent Living Funds enable thousands of severely disabled people to live independently and the Government need to consider the future direction of the Funds in the light of both our goal of equality for disabled people and the wider context of proposed changes in social care. The consultants have made a large number of recommendations, and in order for Government to give proper consideration to the recommendations within it, the report’s publication will now be before Easter 2007.

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