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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 5 March 2007

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Environment Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): The Government today have issued a UK Government “Sustainable Procurement Action Plan”, which together with the HMT report on “Transforming Government Procurement” (published 23 January), provides their response to the report of the sustainable procurement task force, chaired by Sir Neville Simms.

The task force presented its report to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on 12 June. It set out recommendations in six key areas for achieving the Government goal to be a leader in sustainable procurement in the EU by 2009. DEFRA, HM Treasury and other Government Departments have worked closely together to produce a response setting out how Government will take this forward.

The action plan sets out the Government’s ambition to achieve a low carbon resource efficient public sector and actions designed to move towards this. It focuses on delivery of the operational targets for the Government estate launched alongside the task force report on 12 June, with action focused on policies, performance frameworks and procurement practice, working with the supply-chain to provide the innovative eco-technologies and solutions that will be needed.

Copies of the UK Government “Sustainable Procurement Action Plan” have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The operational targets for the Government estate can be found on the Government sustainable development website at:

Home Department

Corruption/Bribery Law Reform (Government Response)

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): I am announcing the publication today of the summary of responses and next steps arising from the Government’s consultation paper on reform of the laws of bribery. The consultation sought views on proposals on how to amend the bribery law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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The consultation has confirmed that there is broad support for reform of the Prevention of Corruption Acts. The Government remain committed to a fundamental reform of our bribery laws and we shall bring forward legislative proposals as soon as we are in a position to do so.

It is clear that there is significant and influential opposition to the Government’s draft Bill of 2003 and we have therefore concluded that that Bill is unsuitable for presentation to Parliament. However, no consensus has emerged from the consultation as to what the scheme of new offences should look like. There remains fundamental disagreement between stakeholders as to which of a number of differing models should be adopted. I regret to conclude that there is insufficient support for any one particular model to justify its being submitted to Parliament at this time.

The Government are therefore asking the Law Commission to undertake a thorough review of our bribery laws with a view to fundamental reform and in so doing to look at the full range of structural options for the scheme of bribery offences. Since the Law Commission last considered this area of law the context of reform has moved on. The Law Commission will take into account the issues and views that have emerged during the course of our work since the introduction of the 2003 draft Bill. This includes additional practical experience of UK law enforcers in operating the existing law and other countries’ experience of implementing international conventions in this area. We are also asking the Law Commission to look at the wider context on corrupt practices so that it will be clear how existing provisions complement the law of bribery. This part of the review will comprise a summary of provisions and not recommendations for reform. I have written to the Law Commission today setting out the agreed terms of reference for their review. A copy of the terms of reference is attached.

We are asking the Law Commission to prioritise its review and to produce a draft Bill. We will make additional resources available to expedite the process.

The consultation also sought views on a separate operational proposal to amend and enhance the Serious Fraud Office’s powers in foreign bribery cases. This proposal was on balance favourably received. We shall take forward this proposal as soon as a suitable legislative vehicle has been identified.

Copies of the summary of responses and next steps document will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The document will also be available on the Home Office website at: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/about-us/haveyoursay/responses

Law Commission’s Terms of Reference—Bribery

1. To review the various elements of the law on bribery with a view to modernisation, consolidation and reform; and to produce a draft Bill. The review will consider the full range of structural options including a single general offence covering both public and private sectors, separate offences for the public and private sectors, and an offence dealing separately with bribery of foreign public officials. The review will make recommendations that:

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2. The process used will be open, inclusive and evidence-based and will involve:

3. The review will also look at the wider context on corrupt practices to see how the various provisions complement the law of bribery. This will provide the wider context in which the specific reform of bribery law can be considered. This part of the review will comprise a summary of provisions, not recommendations for reform.

Offensive Weapons

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty): I have today published a consultation paper, “Banning Offensive Weapons”, which seeks views on further measures to restrict the supply of weapons which are being used in violent crime.

The Government’s primary concern is public safety and the consultation paper provides an opportunity to contribute to and shape the debate on whether we should ban the sale and import of “samurai swords” and other weapons, and whether to provide exemptions to the ban for certain activities.

Copies of the consultation document are available in the House Library and on the Home Office website at: www.homeoffice.gov.uk. We should be glad to receive views by 28 May 2007.

International Development

Burma (Internally Displaced People)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): The Government are extremely concerned about the humanitarian situation in Burma, and are committed to increasing the amount of aid reaching vulnerable people affected by conflict.

The Department for International Development (DFID) recognises the importance of improving information-sharing and coordination between groups working from Thailand and those working inside
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Burma in supporting internally displaced people (IDPs). I welcome the fact that a UN humanitarian co-ordinator has been designated for Burma and that the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will strengthen its office in Bangkok so that it can play a more active role in support of work in eastern Burma. DFID will participate fully in this coordination process.

DFID has found that community based groups working inside Burma are best able to reach some of the conflict areas, and many of the 400,000 internally displaced people living at the edge of the conflict. Assistance by these groups inside the country complements assistance coming across the border.

While several Governments fund cross-border work, the UK is the only country funding the community-based groups inside Burma. Therefore we have decided to increase the level of DFID’s support to those groups and have committed £400,000 in 2007.

DFID acknowledges the importance and value of cross-border aid, especially in supporting many of the 100,000 internally displaced people living in conflict areas in eastern Burma. In response, DFID will remove the existing restriction on the use of its funds in this way.

Copies of the Paper on DFID “Assistance for Burmese Refugees and Internally Displaced People” will be placed in the Library of the House of Commons.

Trade and Industry

European Company Law Directives

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): My Department is today launching three consultations on implementation of European Company Law Directives.

The first of these is the consultation on the implementation of the Statutory Audit of Annual and Consolidated Accounts Directive (Directive 2006/43/EC). This directive is in part a response at EU level to the corporate scandals of earlier in the decade. It updates the provision on auditor qualification, ethics and registration as well as providing for external quality assurance, public oversight and investigations. There are also provisions for co-operation between audit regulators, both within the EU and with third countries. In respect of listed companies, there are new provisions on audit committees, and the oversight of third country auditors. Existing UK law already provides for many of the requirements of the directive, and only minor adjustments will be required in these areas. There are, however, some areas, such as audit committees and the provisions for third country auditors where new provision will be needed. The Government propose to build on the existing UK audit framework in its implementation of these provisions, and options are set out in the consultation document. This directive must be implemented in the UK by 29 June 2008.

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The second consultation document concerns implementation of a directive which amends EC Accounting Directives, (the fourth and seventh Company Law Directives, Bank Accounts and Insurance Company Accounts Directive) (Directive 2006/46/EC). This directive was part of the EU company law action plan, produced by the Commission in 2003, reflecting issues arising from the post-Enron environment. The overall objective of this directive was to “further enhance confidence in the financial statements and annual reports published by European companies” (EU Commission) by improving access to reliable and complete information. This directive must be implemented in the UK by 5 September 2008.

And finally, the third consultation being published today is looking at the implementation of the cross-border mergers directive in the UK (Directive 2005/56/EC). This directive aims to establish for the first time a legal
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facilitative framework enabling cross-border mergers between companies within the European Economic Area (EEA). This directive also deals with employee participation issues where participation rights exist in any of the merging companies or under the law of the member state in which the company resulting from the merger will be registered. This directive must be implemented by 15 December 2007.

These consultative documents will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and will be available on the DTI website.

These consultations ask a wide range of questions about the scope of the directives concerned and suitability of the implementing measures proposed. We welcome views from all stakeholders with an interest in these areas.

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