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The European Space Council will convene in the morning and will be chaired by German State Secretary Peter Hintze and Dutch Economics Minister Maria van der Hoeven. The main item on the agenda will be the adoption of a Resolution on the European Space Programme.
The remaining items on the agenda relate to research and will be chaired by Annette Schavan, the German Research Minister. The first issue to be dealt with in this section of the Council will be the Commission proposal for the European Institute for Technology. UK broadly supports the objectives of the proposal but there remain a number of outstanding issues including budget and governance.
Following on from this there will be a presentation from the Commission on the establishment of the ARTEMIS joint undertaking to implement a joint technology initiative in embedded computer systems. This will be followed by a presentation by the Commission on a regulation setting up the innovative medicines initiatives joint undertaking. The UK supports the establishment of joint technology initiatives in principle.
This will be followed by an exchange of views on the Commissions Green Paper The European Research Area: New Perspectives. The UK supports the launch of a debate on the future of the European research area.
The next item on the agenda will be on research infrastructures in the European research area (ESFRI). There will be an exchange of views followed by the adoption of Council conclusions. The UK welcomes the ESFRI road map and supports the Council conclusions.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I have today published my Department's Annual Report for 2007. Copies have been laid before Parliament and placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Report sets out the Department's activities and achievements over the last year. It also describes the
Department's future expenditure plans for the period of the spending review 2004.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will be held on 30 May in Brussels. The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, My hon. Friend, the Member for Stirling (Mrs. MsGuire), who has responsibility for disabled people, will be representing the UK. Health and Consumer Affairs issues are being taken on 31 May.
The Council will consider the adoption and a policy debate on the Commission's published Communication on a new health and safety strategy for 2007-2012, published on 21 February 2007. The Council will be invited to adopt a draft Resolution on the strategy. It generally welcomes the strategy, but reinforces calls on the Commission to simplify the legislative framework and reduce administrative burdens. The UK will support the Resolution.
The Council will aim to reach agreement on a partial general approach on both the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council implementing Regulation (EC) No 883/04 on the co-ordination of social security schemes and the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 883/ 2004 on the co-ordination of social security systems, and determining the content of Annexe XL. The UK is content, but will be making a statement for the Council minutes to make clear that our agreement to the provisions for healthcare is provisional and subject to future discussions on the proposal for health services.
The Council will receive an amendments package for Regulation (EEC) No 1408/71 on the application of social security schemes to employed persons, to self-employed persons and to members of their families moving within the Community. This amendments package is non controversial.
The key agenda item will be the Presidency hopes to get political agreement on a directive for improving the portability of supplementary pension rights. Depending on the outcome of current negotiations, we are likely to support the Presidency proposal.
The Council will seek adoption of the draft conclusions on the importance of family-friendly policies in Europe and the establishment of an Alliance for Families. The UK supports this initiative on the
basis that the Alliance works with existing EU structures and does not duplicate work.
The Council will seek adoption of the conclusions pertaining to the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. The Presidency has chosen to work on the theme of The Education and Training of Women and has produced a report including a set of indicators. The UK supports the text.
The chair of the Social Protection Committee (SPC) will inform the Council on the progress on a communication on Social Services of General Interest. The SPC has discussed Member State responses to a consultation on whether significant problems exist between modernising social services and applying EU competition policy. There will be further EU level evaluation before any conclusions are drawn and any proposals brought forward.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry outlined a package of measures on 14 December 2006 to put the Post Office network on a stable footing, Official Report, columns 1026-28, volume 454.
The Government remained committed to allowing people to get their pension or benefit in cash at the post office if they chose to do so, and a range of accounts were already available at the post office that made that possible;
The current Post Office card account contract ended in March 2010 and that the Government had decided to continue with a new account after 2010. The new account would be available nationally and customers would be eligible for the account on the same basis as they are now;
That European Union procurement rules required the Government to tender competitively for this new product.
My Department has now started this process by submitting a notice which will appear in the Official Journal of the European Union. I will arrange for a copy of the notice to be placed in the Library. The key elements of the notice are:
The procurement will cover the provision of end to end services (e.g. card acquisition and maintenance, and payments of cash) for a simple card-based customer owned account;
The customers should be able to access their cash at an ATM and personal teller outlets (across a counter) located throughout the UK;
The size of the personal teller network is expected to be in the region of 10,000 outlets.
We will be joined in the procurement exercise by HM Revenue and Customs, the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency and the Northern Ireland Social Security Agency.
Details of the successful bidder(s) will be announced in due course with our aim being to sign contracts in the first part of 2008.