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The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): The British and Irish Governments held multi-party talks, with the Northern Ireland political parties, at St. Andrews on 10-13 October 2006. The aim of the St. Andrews summit was to focus discussion on achieving the restoration of the political institutions in Northern Ireland.
The outcome of the summit culminated in the St. Andrews agreement between the British and Irish Governments. The progress made at St. Andrews was significant and has subsequently brought us, with this weeks historic statement by the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Fein, to the brink of a stable future for the government of Northern Ireland. The Government will continue to do everything it can to support the political parties in Northern Ireland in taking the final step towards restoration.
A total breakdown of the costs for the talks held at the St. Andrews summit, which were shared by the British and Irish Governments, has been published on the Northern Ireland Office website today. I have attached a copy of the costs to this statement and a copy will be placed in the Library of the House.
|Cost Breakdown for the St. Andrews Summit 11-13 October 2006|
The Fairmont St. Andrews Hotel (including offices for the delegates and accommodation for the Government delegations)
Hire of conference facilities, catering for officials and delegates
The Solicitor-General (Mr. Mike O'Brien): My right hon. Friend the Attorney-General has made the following written ministerial statement:
I am today announcing that with effect from 3 April the Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office (RCPO) will make charging decisions in all indictable only, either way or summary offences investigated by HM Revenue and Customs.
The Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office was established in April 2005. Under section 37(A)(l)(a) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, as inserted by the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and as amended by the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005 the Director of Revenue and Customs Office is empowered to issue guidance on charging. A copy of the guidance has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
I welcome this development which recognises the enormous progress made since the independent Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office was established. This move has also been welcomed by HM Revenue and Customs investigators, who have worked closely with RCPO in identifying issues to be covered in the guidance.
The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): I promised to keep this House informed of the Governments progress to put in place measures to avoid a repetition of the devastating impact on Farepak customers caused by the demise of the company last autumn.
Upon the collapse of Farepak, the Government acted quickly to set up the Farepak Response Fund, which secured £8 million. Thereafter, the Government have sought to work with the industry in order to provide added protection for consumers. While the urgency of
the situation which existed ahead of Christmas may have passed, I have remained as committed to this issue as I was when it first arose. Today, I am pleased to announce that discussions with the industry have led to an agreement between industry and Government which I am confident will lead to far greater consumer protection in the future.
Since the collapse of Farepak, the remaining hamper companies have been taking payments towards Christmas 2007. My immediate priority therefore has been to concentrate on securing early action to ensure that these payments are protected as far as possible to avoid a repetition of the situation where some of the poorest families in Britain, who had budgeted for Christmas, paid the price for the collapse of Farepak.
Since last autumn, the Government have been in discussions with the existing companies in this sector to develop an industry-led scheme to provide better safeguards for pre-payments through independently controlled, ring-fenced accounts, similar to the scheme that protects National Lottery prize money in the event of Camelot becoming insolvent. The purpose of these ring-fencing arrangements is to ensure customers money could only be credited to the customers and agents should the company go bust, thereby avoiding another situation like Farepak. The key points of the proposal are:
The customers' money would be placed in a separate account and held on behalf of the customers.
Control of this account would rest with independent trustees and not with the company.
The money would be released to the company by the trustees only to satisfy the customers orders, and not for other business activities or expenses of the business.
The arrangements would be formally defined as a trust deed and would be subject to trust law.
I am pleased to report that the industry have agreed to safeguard pre-payments through trust arrangements on these lines, thereby protecting the interests of consumers within the Hamper industry. The companies are now working to introduce these accounts over the coming weeks. We think that effective safeguards of this type will provide the reassurance consumers are looking for in this industry. We therefore strongly welcome this move.
To increase consumer confidence further, we are also working with the industry to ensure these arrangements are monitored by a new, strengthened trade association. We will be looking for the trade association to put in place effective procedures through a reinforced code of practice to monitor the companies and ensure these accounts are established and operated correctly.
The trade association will have a strong independent elementindependent directors will have responsibility for ensuring compliance with the code of practice. In particular, the code will be monitored by an independent Director of Compliance, free from association with any hamper company. Consumer concerns and consumer rights will be monitored by an independent Director of Consumer Affairs. We expect the companies to make the appointments in the next few weeks.
We will continue to work with the industry to ensure these measures are put in place as quickly as possible.
I believe this move is an important step and welcome the commitment of the industry to seek to protect their customers.
In the longer term, the advice received from the Office of Fair Trading and the Financial Services Authority on a range of options to protect consumer interests in this industry will be considered alongside the findings of the two investigations into Farepak by the Administrators and DTIs Companies Investigation Branch. I hope to come back to the House once we have had a chance to consider all these issues.
With respect to the ongoing investigation into the administration of Farepak, the Administrators have a statutory requirement to report to the Secretary of State within six months of their appointment. Their report is expected no later than 13 April 2007. The Insolvency Service will then consider the Administrators report and consider whether there are grounds for requiring further investigation - for example, with a view to bringing proceedings to disqualify the directors of Farepak Foods & Gifts Ltd. from acting as directors to any other company.
DTIss Companies Investigation Branch is continuing its wider confidential investigation into the circumstances surrounding the failure of Farepak. I do, of course, recognise the understandable desire for a speedy enquiry, but the investigation needs to be both thorough and fair, and it would not be appropriate to give an estimate for its conclusion. The victims of the collapse of Farepak have the right to expect that a comprehensive investigation has taken place.
I will provide further details to hon. Members in due course.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I attended the transport session of the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council, held in Brussels on 22 March. The German Minister for Transport, Building and Urban Affairs, Mr Wolfgang Tiefensee, was in the chair.
Two aspects of the Galileo satellite navigation programme were on the agenda.
The Presidency and Commission reported to the Council on the current difficulties with the concession contract negotiations for the PPP and the impact on the overall development of the project. There has not been any recent progress on the negotiations because of internal problems amongst the partners in the consortium bidding to run the Galileo PPP. In light of the delays, the Presidency recently convened a meeting with the consortium but no satisfactory solution had been found to the current deadlock. At Council it was therefore necessary to consider what action could be taken to get the process back on track. The bidding consortium has now been given a deadline of 10 May 2007 to take the necessary measures to allow negotiations to move forwards effectively. If the deadline is not met then, the Commission will begin to develop alternative options for taking forward the Galileo project. A more detailed discussion on these issues would then follow at the June Transport Council. Council Conclusions, acceptable to the UK, were agreed to this end.
The Council adopted a Decision setting out the framework for third country participation, as Associated Members,
in the Galileo Supervisory Authority. The Decision, with which the UK is content, authorises the Commission to open negotiations with non-EU countries that apply, with final approval resting with the Council.
There was unanimous support for an EU-US Air Services Agreement. The Presidency reported that, following the most recent negotiations with the US, the proposed text for a first stage agreement had been considerably improved and was a good starting point for reaching a full Open Aviation Area. However, negotiations should resume quickly making further progress on a second stage. A number of Ministers spoke to welcome the Agreement. I pointed out that the UK accounts for a 40 per cent. share of the EU-US market. The deal on the table did not go the full way to achieving a fully liberalised Open Aviation Area, so it was essential to have a clear timetable for delivering stage 2 agreements and have real leverage if the negotiations did not proceed as we wished. I proposed a mechanism be established for the automatic withdrawal of rights by the EU if an agreement had not been reached within the timetable set down in the draft agreement. Each Member State would decide which rights it would wish to withdraw. This suspension would apply unless the Council agreed unanimously otherwise. In addition, it was proposed that the start of the agreement be delayed until 30 March 2008 to give airports and airlines more time to prepare. These points were agreed and are reflected in the Council Conclusions, which were adopted unanimously.
The Council adopted a Decision on the signature and provisional application of the agreement reached with Russia on Siberian overflights, including the establishment of a cost equalisation mechanism during the transitional period. We strongly welcome this agreement and support the Decision.
There was a debate on the contribution of the transport sector to the Lisbon strategy. The Presidency put questions to Member States for this debate, focusing on how to stimulate consumer demand for cleaner vehicles and how to ensure that rail, shipping and inland waterways play their part. Most Member States focused on the proven or potential benefits of: taxation measures for vehicles or fuels; alternative fuels (particularly biofuels); eco-driving; eco-labelling; information campaigns to buyers and drivers; and new technologies. The UK was among those which expressed support for the Commission's proposal for mandatory CO2 limits for cars and light vans, while pointing to the need to work towards even lower limits by 2020. The Commission summarised its plans for sustainable transport, including car CO2 reduction; an action plan for logistics and a green paper on urban transport; and binding biofuels targets.
Under AOB, the Commission presented two recent Communications: one on extension of trans-European transport axes to neighbouring countries, including those in Asia and Africa; and the other on the implementation of the SESAR programme for the modernisation of the European air traffic management system. The Presidency is aiming for a decision at the Transport Council in June on the establishment of the SESAR joint undertaking.
Among items adopted without debate was an amending Regulation on the accelerated phasing-in of double-hull or equivalent design oil tankers.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): I have today laid before both Houses of Parliament a draft revised edition of the highway code containing alterations proposed to be made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pursuant to section 38.of the Road Traffic Act 1988. In accordance with section 38 of the 1988 Act the proposed revision will not be made until after the end of a period of 40 days beginning with the day on which the alterations were laid.
The draft revised edition of the highway code takes account of responses to the public consultation held between February and May 2006.
I have also today published the response to consultation reporting on the results of the consultation on the proposed revision of the highway code.
The most significant issues raised during consultation were:
a variety of cycling-related issues
road users attitudes and greater consideration for vulnerable road users.
Copies of the response to consultation have been placed in the Library of each House of Parliament.
The response to consultation is also available from the DSA website at: www.dsa.gov.uk: or by telephone on: 01234 744054.
The revised highway code is planned for publication in summer 2007.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): ): My answer to parliamentary questions UIN 126098, 9 March 2007, Official Report, cols 2262-2264W, regarding traffic volumes for each concrete section of the national trunk road network and UIN 126096, 12 March 2007, Official Report, Col 20-22W, regarding the proportion of the concreted trunk road network which has had quieter surfacing installed since July 2005, contained several inaccuracies.
Copies of the amended tables have been placed in the Libraries of the House.
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