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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 19 November 2007

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Commission on Environmental Markets and Economic Performance

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Mr. John Hutton): My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for DEFRA, DIUS and I are publishing today the report to Government by the Commission on Environmental Markets and Economic Performance (CEMEP).

The CEMEP report describes how major economic opportunities are emerging from the growing imperative of climate change and how the UK can take a lead in seizing these opportunities and become the best place to do business.

The Government’s response to the CEMEP will be published in 2008.

Communities and Local Government

Local Government

The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): I have today published a summary of responses received in response to the Government’s stakeholder consultation on proposals for future unitary structures in England, and placed a copy in the Libraries of both Houses.

On 27 March Ministers announced that of the 26 proposals received from authorities wishing to obtain unitary status, 16 proposals were judged to have at least a reasonable likelihood of achieving the outcomes specified by the criteria set out in our Invitation to Council. We issued a 12 week-consultation, “Proposals for Future Unitary Structures: Stakeholder Consultation”, seeking views on the extent to which the 16 proposals, if implemented, would achieve the outcomes specified by the criteria in our invitation.

We are very encouraged by the very strong response to this consultation, which has provided us with a range of evidence and views that have helped to inform and clarify the Government’s consideration of the proposals. I am also grateful to hon. Members for their continued and ongoing comments on unitary proposals in their areas.

On 25 July I announced to the House the nine unitary proposals that my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State, was minded to implement, having
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considered all the available relevant information including the responses received in response to the stakeholder consultation.

Those proposals included Bedford borough council’s proposal for a unitary Bedford. I explained that implementing that proposal meant that we must consider the future local government structures for the remaining county area, and that we intended formally to invite all the other councils in Bedfordshire to propose a unitary solution that would meet our five criteria for that remaining area.

Today the Secretary of State has invited Bedfordshire county council, Mid-Bedfordshire district council, and South Bedfordshire district council to make a proposal for future unitary local government structures for that remaining area. This invitation, made under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, provides that a proposal may be submitted by a single council or jointly by two or more councils, and that any proposal should be received by 17 December 2007.

We have also today issued guidance to those councils, to which they are required by the Act to have regard when responding to the invitation.

The guidance sets out the outcomes any proposal should seek to achieve and matters which the councils should take into account in formulating any proposal. These matters include Bedford borough council’s unitary proposal which I told the House on 25 July we were minded to implement. At that time I also explained that we were asking that council to undertake further work and submit additional information on the financial viability of their proposal. On the basis of a preliminary assessment of the additional information and representations that we have now received from the council and others, the Secretary of State remains minded to implement Bedford borough council’s proposal.

We are satisfied that the remaining area of Bedfordshire needs unitary local government to complement any unitary Bedford council. This invitation is an opportunity to propose the creation of a new unitary council which will promote that area’s prosperity, empower its people and communities, and ensure the delivery of high quality local public services to all who live and work there.

I have also placed a copy of the invitation and guidance to the county and district councils of Bedfordshire in the Libraries of both Houses, and these documents can also be found on the website of the Department for Communities and Local Government at: http://www.communities.gov.uk//publications/localgovernment/unitarystructures

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (2008-11)

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): On 23 May 2007, Government published its consultation on the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT), previously referred to as EEC 3. In that consultation the Government proposed to impose the CERT mechanism to 2011 at around
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double the level of activity of the current EEC 2005-08. It proposed to extend its scope to include, in addition to energy efficiency measures, microgeneration and other measures for reducing the consumption of supplied energy. It proposed to introduce new approaches for innovation and flexibility and to maintain a focus on low-income consumers.

Following this consultation the Government have been taking account of the responses received, alongside further analysis, to finalise the framework for the CERT. Our intention remains to double the level of activity required by energy suppliers in order to deliver overall lifetime carbon dioxide savings of about 154 MtCO2, equivalent to annual net savings of 4.2 MtCO2 by 2010.

A CERT of this level will deliver significant energy saving benefits to householders, with about 8 million householders likely to benefit directly. The CERT will also offer new support for a wide range of innovation with particular incentive for microgeneration activity, potentially supporting about £200 million worth of activity.

We intend to announce further details and lay the relevant Statutory Instrument before Parliament shortly.

Home Department

Justice and Home Affairs Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held in Brussels on the 8-9 November 2007. My right hon. Friend, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Bridget Prentice), the Solicitor General for Scotland (Frank Mulholland) and I attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following issues were discussed at the Council.

The Council opened with a lunch for Interior Ministers where the presidency reported on the work of the Future Group on home affairs following the meeting of Interior Ministers in Madeira on 28 and 29 October, including immigration; information-sharing (including SIS); internet access; counter-terrorism; and justice. The group had stressed the need to look at enhancing the operability of existing databases, rather than the creation of new ones. The Commission noted that a key issue for the Future Group was the desire for more integrated management of the EU’s external borders and to see a need for an integrated EU returns policy. They also stressed the need for better coordination between Ministries of Justice and Home Affairs in relation to counter-terrorism.

The Council began with the mixed committee which included Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. Work will continue to find a compromise on the directive for returning illegally staying third country nationals.

The expansion of the Schengen area to the new member states was welcomed. The presidency emphasised the importance of Schengen and acknowledged the
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efforts that had been made by the new member states to meet the Schengen acquis and the efforts of the Portuguese team in driving forward SISOne4All. The formal decision on evaluation will be taken at the December Council after the European Parliament has voted.

The presidency noted that Schengen Information System (SIS) II remained the priority and SISone4All was not the end of the process. The Commission said they continued making good progress on the central SIS system. Most member states are now connected to the SIS II network and so can make use of the central testing facilities. By mid-January it should be possible to assess the legal, financial and technical detail of implementation in detail. Slovenia said that that SIS II would be a top priority for its presidency.

The presidency reported that a bidding process had been undertaken to ensure there would be no break in the service of the SIS Communication Network.

A general approach was reached on the Data Protection Framework Decision. The presidency emphasised the importance of data sharing and of protection of personal data and the need to bring this work to a close after two years of negotiations. The UK welcomed the text and called for swift resolution of the remaining minor issues while retaining its parliamentary scrutiny reserve.

The main agenda began with a discussion of interior issues. Progress was made on chapters 2 and 3 of the Europol Council decision on the collection and storage of data. The presidency indicated that they would take some or all of the outstanding issues on the Council decision to the December JHA Council. The Europol implementation plan was adopted to set out the steps and timescales for the introduction of Community Financing for Europol from January 2010.

Subject to parliamentary scrutiny reserves, a general approach was reached on the PrĂ1/4m Implementing Agreement which will put into practice the PrĂ1/4m arrangements for the exchange of data on fingerprints, DNA and vehicle registration contained in the original Council decision agreed in June. The presidency will now convene a technical group to consider the technical annex to the agreement.

The presidency also welcomed a general approach, subject to parliamentary scrutiny reserves (including the UK), on the Council decision on the Special Intervention Units in crisis situations. They will operate on a voluntary basis and will make financing the Atlas network easier. The “ATLAS network” is an informal cooperation structure between special intervention units in the European Union. This draft decision will be a positive step forward for many member states who do not possess a great deal of experience in such scenarios and will formalise the current practice whereby specialist UK police units endeavour to share best practice with police forces across Europe. The voluntary nature of the proposal means that while the impact on the UK will be minimal other member states with limited capacity to deal with crises may derive significant benefit from it.

The Commission presented their latest proposals on legal migration (two draft directives proposed in October). They set out the poor performance of the EU in attracting highly qualified workers in comparison to the US and Canada. The “blue card” directive on the conditions of
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entry and residence of highly skilled workers was introduced to improve this by reducing competition between member states. The Commission emphasised that this was not a quota system and that member states would make the decision on entry. The proposals were generally welcomed but some noted concerns. The presidency promised a longer discussion at the December Council.

In reporting the outcome of the EU-Western Balkans Ministerial Forum on Justice and Home Affairs in Brdo on 4 and 5 October, the presidency reported good progress on document security and border management from the Western Balkan countries. There was less optimism on police and judicial cooperation and organised crime and corruption. Slovenia announced that organised crime would be a priority under its presidency.

An EU-LAC (Latin, American and Caribbean) seminar will take place in May 2008 in Lima and will focus on migration. The Commission reminded the member states of the importance of close co-operation with countries with whom the EU had common cultural and language ties such as Latin America.

At the start of the second day Justice Ministers reached a political agreement on the mediation directive. The UK congratulated the presidency on its efforts regarding this important measure for citizens.

There followed a lengthy exchange of views on the draft framework decision on the mutual recognition of suspended sentences and alternative sanctions. The Justice Secretary and the Scottish Solicitor-General intervened to emphasise the need for proportionality and to make it clear that the issuing state had discretion not to transfer sentences to states that were unable to take on full responsibility for both supervision and enforcement, and to argue that the instrument should respect the rights of victims. The presidency concluded that there had been broad agreement to the compromise package and it was positive about a successful outcome in December.

Council conclusions on Cybercrime were adopted. The Commission outlined its intention to establish a “European cybercrime training platform” with the Police College (CEPOL) and Europol. It also wants to prepare in early 2008, with member states and the private sector, a European code of conduct for public-private cooperation. It also confirmed that its report on implementation of the framework decision on attacks against information systems was due in early 2008.

Council conclusions on the Trafficking of Human Beings were also adopted. Some member states called for further work on this. The Commission will produce a questionnaire dealing with the protection of victims and details of implementing measures in member states. It will then produce a manual to help member states evaluate their progress in the fight against trafficking.

The Council was closed with a working lunch for Justice Ministers who listened to a presentation and had a first exchange of views on the implications of the ruling of the European Court of Justice on ship source pollution in relation to Community competence in criminal law matters.

The next JHA Council will be held in Brussels on 6 and 7 December.

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Land Registry

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): Land Registry will today launch a formal consultation exercise to seek views on proposals for a new order to add two new “triggers” for compulsory registration of title and provide for the effect on non-compliance with the duty to apply for registration in relation to the first of those triggers. Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies have also been placed in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office. Copies are also available on the internet at:

Under the Land Registration Act 2002, when certain events affect an unregistered legal estate in land, the owner must apply to Land Registry for first registration of his title. Such events are often referred to as “triggers”.

The purpose of the proposed order is to add to those events already listed in section 4 of the Land Registration Act 2002 the following events as triggers for compulsory registration:

The proposals are intended to help create a land register that is as comprehensive as possible and thus make transactions in land and property in England and Wales simpler and more efficient.

Subject to the outcome of the proposals, it is anticipated that the order would be made during 2008.

Northern Ireland

Robert Hamill Inquiry (Legal Costs)

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): On 1 April 2004 my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) announced the Government’s intention to establish public inquiries into the deaths of Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson and Billy Wright, following reports by Mr. Justice Cory.

In his statement to the House that day my right hon. Friend said:

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