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The Council adopted Conclusions expressing alarm at the humanitarian and security situation in Darfur. It urged the parties to the conflict to abide by the existing cease-fire agreements, respect the neutral role of the AU mission and ensure safe and unhindered humanitarian access throughout Sudan. It stressed the need for a political solution and reaffirmed its full support for the AU/UN initiative to revitalise the political track. It welcomed the Government of Sudan's acceptance of an
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AU/UN hybrid operation, but underlined the Council's expectation that the Government of Sudan should swiftly take action to facilitate the deployment of the operation. Ministers also underlined the importance of continued funding for the AU mission.

Relations with the Western Balkans

The Council adopted Conclusions welcoming renewed co-operation by the new Government in Belgrade with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the reopening of talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Serbia. On Kosovo, the Council reaffirmed its support for UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari and reiterated that his comprehensive proposal provides the basis for the settlement of Kosovo's status. It called for intensified efforts to reach agreement on a UN Security Council resolution on the issue.

Iran

The Council adopted Conclusions deploring the failure of Iran to comply with its obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747 and reasserting its full support to the Security Council including in its resolve, expressed in Resolution 1747, to adopt further appropriate measures.

Libya

The Council discussed the latest developments in the case of the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor sentenced to death in Libya in connection with the infection of children with HIV/AIDS in Benghazi. The Presidency and Commission briefed the Council on their joint visit to Libya. The Council will continue to watch the situation closely and hopes that the case can be resolved in a way that leads to the release of the medical workers.

MEPP

The Council discussed the latest developments in the Gaza Strip and called for a rapid resolution to the crisis. It expressed its full support for President Abbas and decided to resume normal relations with the Palestinian Authority immediately, including through direct financial support, through support to the Palestinian police, capacity building for Palestinian institutions and the resumption of the EU Border Assistance Mission in Rafah. It also pledged to do its utmost to provide emergency and humanitarian assistance to the population of Gaza and reiterated its call on Israel to release tax and customs revenues.

The Council met with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in separate session. The Council and Foreign Minister Livni agreed on the need to support President Abbas and moderate Palestinians, including through the release of tax and customs revenues to the Palestinian Authority, progress on the political track and co-operation with the Palestinian side on alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Strengthening EU-Arab League Relations

The Council discussed strengthening ties with the Arab League and tasked the relevant Council bodies to take forward consideration of the issue.


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Home Department

Family Asylum Policy

The Minister for Immigration and Asylum (Mr. Liam Byrne): I would like to update the House on the provision introduced in section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. This provision is intended as a means of influencing the attitudes and behaviours of unsuccessful asylum seeking families who are not taking steps to facilitate their departure from the United Kingdom to their country of origin. It does this by providing for the termination of support in cases where the assessment is that the family is not co-operating or placing themselves in a position where they can leave. The provision was piloted between December 2004 and December 2005 in three areas.

We introduced the provision because it is not right that families who have had their asylum claims carefully considered—including by the independent appellate authorities—should expect to remain in the United Kingdom indefinitely, even after it has been decided that they are not in need of international protection. It is preferable for all concerned if families agree to make a voluntary return home. This is a more dignified approach—and allows access to the reintegration assistance provided through the International Organisation for Migration. However the Border and Immigration Agency must be able to enforce return where a family refuses to make a voluntary return—including in cases where the co-operation of the family is required to obtain necessary passports or other travel documents.

In the form piloted section 9 did not significantly influence behaviour in favour of cooperating with removal—although there was some increase in the number of applications made for travel documents. This suggests that the section 9 provision should not be seen as a universal tool to encourage departure in every case. We therefore do not propose that the section 9 provision should be used on an indiscriminate basis by Border and Immigration Agency case owners in the future.

Since the pilot of the section 9 provision was undertaken the approach to dealing with asylum applications by the Agency has, however, undergone a significant transformation. Making fast track asylum decisions—and removing those whose claims fail—was one of the four objectives set out in the review we published last July. The new approach being taken by the Agency offers a more credible and sustainable end-to-end system. Specialist case owners are now responsible for managing the claimants and their cases through the whole system to either removal or integration as a refugee. Faster and higher quality processes are leading to a better deal for the well founded claimant. This is supported by a strong focus on ensuring that early steps are taken so that those whose claims are not successful leave the United Kingdom in a timely manner.

I have therefore decided that the section 9 provision should be available to case owners dealing with cases under our new end-to-end asylum process. While it will not be suitable on a blanket-basis, it is important that
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we retain an ability to withdraw support from families who are wilfully not co-operating in the process. Going forward it should be for case owners to take a view, based on an established relationship with the family and an intimate knowledge of the asylum claim which has not been successful, of which approach to encouraging departure is most likely to be effective. Case-specific close working with appropriate officials from the local authority will normally be required if the use of the section 9 provision is being considered.

A short report detailing the outcome of the pilot for the 116 families involved in the pilot and the 116 families used as a control group has been made available on the Border and Immigration Agency website.

Justice

Freedom of Information Act

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Vera Baird): My right hon. and noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, (Baroness Ashton of Upholland), has made the following written ministerial statement.

Legal Aid reform

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Vera Baird): My right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has today made the following written ministerial statement.

Duchy of Lancaster

Power of Information Review

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Hilary Armstrong): In February 2007 I commissioned Tom Steinberg, Director of mySociety and Ed Mayo, Chief Executive of the National Consumer Council to: “explore new developments in the use and communication of citizen and State generated public information in the UK, and to present an analysis and recommendations to the Cabinet Office Minister as part of the Policy Review”(1).

Their report ‘The Power of Information' was published on 7 June. Copies are available on the Cabinet Office website and have been placed in the Library for the reference of Members.


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The Government take three overarching lessons from this review. Government should:

Citizens themselves are already helping each other in online communities, and working towards the same goals as government on a range of policies, from parenting to health and financial management. The Government in particular agree with the reviewers' comparison between online mutual support and the nineteenth century co-operative and self help movements. The Government are concerned that this comparison should not be misused as a simplistic justification for a return to a laissez-faire approach.

The Government response welcomes the findings of the Review in general and sets out how its recommendations will be taken forward. Accordingly, the Government will make a progress report in December 2007. This response is not the Government's final word, but the beginning of a phase of policy activity to work through the review's recommendations and their consequences.

Copies of the Government's Response to the Power of Information Review have been placed in the Library for the references of Members and are also available in the Vote Office.

Northern Ireland

Chief Electoral Officer

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): The Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland, Douglas Bain, is responsible for all aspects of electoral administration in Northern Ireland, including the conduct of all elections and referendums, as well as electoral registration. In accordance with section 14 of the Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962—as amended by Section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006—the Chief Electoral Officer is required to submit an annual report to the Secretary of State.

I am pleased to announce that the annual report of the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland for the year 2006-07 has been laid before Parliament today. Copies are available in the Library.

Trade and Industry

Technology Strategy Board

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Alistair Darling): In my statement of 1 November 2006 I said that I expected the Technology Strategy Board to be formally inaugurated in the first half of the 2007-08 financial year.


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Following the sealing on 27 March of the Royal Charter establishing and incorporating the new body, I am today announcing that the new body will become operational as an executive non-departmental public body from 1 July.

I am also announcing the appointment of 11 board members for the governing body of the new Technology Strategy Board.

The newly-appointed board members are Graeme Armstrong, Nick Buckland, John Brown, Joseph Feczko, Anne Glover, David Grant, Jonathan Kestenbaum, Julia King, Andrew Milligan, Jeremy Watson and Peter Ringrose. Five of the 11 were Board members of the advisory Technology Strategy Board who have been appointed to serve on the new body, and six are new appointments.

The Technology Strategy Board will take on legal responsibility for delivery of a number of technology and innovation support activities from DTI. It will promote and support research, development and the exploitation of science, technology and new ideas to benefit business, increase economic growth and improve the quality of life in the UK. It will be responsible for delivering Government support to encourage business investment in technology and innovation across all sectors of the UK economy. It will deliver this in a range of ways, including Collaborative R and D, Knowledge Transfer Networks, Innovation Platforms and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships. It will also advise Government on areas where barriers exist to the exploitation of new technologies, and put forward recommendations as to how they can be removed.

Transport

East Midlands Rail Franchise

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): The Department announced on Friday 22 June that Stagecoach Midland Rail Limited (a subsidiary of Stagecoach group plc) has been awarded the East Midlands franchise which will begin on 11 November 2007 and will increase capacity, improve performance and begin the introduction of smartcard technology by 2010.

The East Midlands franchise brings together the current Midland Mainline operating out of London St. Pancras and the eastern section of Central Trains. The Department will receive a premium of £133 million over the life of the seven-year, four-month franchise.

A new timetable will be introduced in December 2008. This will support extra capacity, including a new hourly service between Kettering and London and a 9 per cent. increase in peak capacity into and out of London St. Pancras. Punctuality and reliability of 90.4 per cent. has been forecast. Stations will see investment of more than £5 million across the franchise area, including the creation of 1250 more car parking spaces, and 400 more bicycle spaces. More than £20 million will be invested in trains.


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The Government will continue to regulate fares for the franchise in line with national policy, currently RPI+1 per cent. As with all franchises, unregulated fares are the responsibility of individual operators. In the East Midlands the new operator has indicated possible average annual rises in unregulated fares of 3.4 per cent. above inflation. A single compensation policy for all passengers will be introduced during replacement rail franchises, commencing with the East Midlands and West Midlands.

With improving Passenger's Charter performance in punctuality and reliability the current discount system means that an increasing number of passengers receive no compensation for delays. Therefore discounts in renewal for season tickets valid between one month and one year in compensation for poor punctuality and reliability will be replaced by compensation based on delays to individual journeys, known as Delay/Repay. Under the new system, all passengers will be entitled to claim compensation for all delays, whatever their cause.

The changes will also start to standardise disparate compensation arrangements for single, return and weekly season ticket holders on different train operators.


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Work and Pensions

Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit

The Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform (Mr. Jim Murphy): The Social Security (Industrial Injuries) (Prescribed Diseases) Amendment (No.2) Regulations 2007 have today been laid before Parliament. The Regulations implement, from 1 October 2007, the recommendations set out in The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC)'s report on Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (command paper Cm 6098, published July 2004).

The principal recommendation made in the report was that the existing prescription for Prescribed Disease A11 be extended to recognise both the vascular and sensorineural symptoms of Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). This means that people who have sensorineural symptoms of the severity described in the regulations arising from working with the prescribed tools will now be covered by the terms of the prescription, whether or not they have the prescribed vascular symptoms. There are also three other minor amendments which:


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