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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 20 November 2007


2007 UK Convergence Programme

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Kitty Ussher): Copies of the 2007 UK Convergence Programme have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Employment Agencies and Employment

The Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs (Mr. Pat McFadden): The Government have laid the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2007 in Parliament for debate in the House of Commons and the Lords. These regulations amend the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003.

These amending regulations make further provision for the proper conduct of employment agencies and employment businesses; they increase protection for work-seekers, reduce certain regulatory burdens on employment businesses and also make minor clarifications to the 2003 regulations.

The Government published a consultation paper on “Protecting Vulnerable Agency Workers” at the beginning of the year. This consultation paper followed up the commitment to take forward measures identified in the Success at Work, the Government’s 2006 labour market strategy paper.

Measures set out in the consultation document included giving work-seekers a clear right to withdraw from accommodation, transport or other services provided by an agency without suffering any detriment, and banning the taking of fees at casting sessions held by talent-spotting agencies, and possibly for up to a week afterwards, to give would-be entertainers and models the protection of a cooling off period. We are now taking these proposed measures forward into legislation following widespread support from those who responded to the consultation paper.

We are also introducing a measure, proposed in the consultation paper, to ease administrative burdens on employment businesses, by reducing the information requirements where they provide workers for very short assignments, of less than five days duration.

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In the consultation the Government made clear its aim that amendments to the existing regulations should come into force in April 2008.

The South West of England Regional Development Agency

The Minister for Competitiveness (Mr. Stephen Timms): I have decided to appoint the new board members listed as follows.

Ellen Winser

Brian Robinson

The new appointments will all be for a period of three years.

I have also decided to re-appoint Nick Buckland for a further period of three years.

The appointments will begin on 14 December 2007 and will expire on 13 December 2010.

I have placed further details of the new appointments in the Library of both Houses. They were all made in accordance with the code of practice of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

Biographies for those appointed

Ellen Winser—After 25 years in the City where she was the first woman to be taken into partnership by a London firm of stockbrokers (James Capel and Co.) and one of the first women members of the Stock Exchange, Ellen went off long distance sailing with her husband in 1990. In the next five years they visited 40 countries and sailed 50,000 miles. On return Ellen became involved with a variety of organisations in Cornwall and was also chairman of Liontrust Asset Management plc from 1996 to 2004. She is now Chairman of the Governors of Truro College and is also Chairman of the Trustees of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, a governor of the University of Plymouth and a director of Pendennis Shipyard Ltd. She was Chairman of Sutton Harbour Holdings plc from 1997 until earlier this year and was a director/trustee of Cornwall Care Ltd. for eight years. She became a Deputy Lieutenant for Cornwall in 2003.

Brian Robinson—Has a track record developed in the financial services sector initially as an underwriter and then switching to marketing where he played a key role in the merger of Eagle Star Insurance and Zurich Financial Services. More recently he has turned his efforts to the SME sector, starting a Marketing and Risk Consultancy in 2002 and a Credit Management Software Company in 2004.

He was elected to the Forest of Dean District Council in May 2007 and was appointed Chairman of the Corporate Scrutiny and Review Committee and in December he joins the cabinet with a portfolio of Efficiency and Finance. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute and Chartered Institute of Marketing.

Nick Buckland—Has spent 20 years working as a senior manager in the UK IT industry, mainly for US companies. In 1996 he took a career change taking an interest in a number of activities. He holds a number of non-executive directorships in a variety of companies including a veterinary clinical pathology laboratory, an
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integrated marketing company, an IT integrator and a rural tourism company. He is Chairman of Tamar Science Park and is Managing Partner of an IT headhunting organisation, and sponsorship management consultancy. He represents the RDA on the Devon and Cornwall Learning and Skills Council and is a member of the BERR Technology Strategy Board. He is an observer on the Regional Science and Industry Council.

He also sits on the boards of Finance Cornwall, Finance South West, Cornwall Enterprise and is a Governor of Plymouth University. He has a BSc in Mathematics, is a Fellow of the British Computer Society, the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications and the RSA. He is also a member of the Chartered Management Institute, the Institute of Directors and the Royal Institution. He is a Chartered Engineer, Chartered Information Systems Practitioner and a European Engineer.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Commonwealth heads of Government Meeting (Kampala - November 2007)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The Commonwealth Heads of Government will hold their biannual meeting in Kampala on 23 and 25 November 2007.

The purpose of this statement is to inform the House about the Government’s objectives for the meeting.

The Commonwealth today is as important to the UK as ever. That is why the Prime Minister and four other members of Government—the Secretary of State for International Development, Baroness Vadera, Lord Malloch-Brown and I—will attend the Heads of Government meeting. It is a group of countries which cuts across traditional regional, economic groupings and, with a fundamental set of principles in common, is well placed to take action and move the debate forward on issues of critical, global importance. Its strengths are the democratic values it shares and its willingness to scrutinise its members and hold them to account; the size of its constituency, with over a quarter of the world's population living in Commonwealth nations; and its diversity.

The Government are optimistic about what can be achieved at CHOGM. We will be seeking outcomes, in particular, that will give positive impetus to the climate change debate, re-focus attention on the millennium development goals, promote education for all and recognise the vital importance of trade to all Commonwealth members.

Uganda’s chosen theme for CHOGM—“Transforming Commonwealth societies to achieve political, economic and human development”, fits well with UK priorities. Climate Change, the Millennium Development Goals, Trade, and Education issues must be urgently addressed if the poorest Commonwealth countries are to fulfil their potential.

CHOGM will also provide the platform for valuable discussion on other issues of common concern, including extending Commonwealth membership and working to fight radicalism and intolerance.

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Specific outcomes that the Government hope to achieve from CHOGM include the following:

Climate Change: CHOGM, coming just a week before the UN meeting in Bali, provides an excellent opportunity to underline the scale and urgency of the climate threat. We hope Commonwealth Heads will send an unequivocal message that to achieve climate security we need a high-ambition, UN-based global framework with developed countries taking on binding emission reduction commitments. We also hope Heads will agree to ensure that all Commonwealth countries, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, can assess the implications of climate change for their economies.

Millennium Development Goals: Four Commonwealth countries, India, Ghana, Canada and the UK, have already signed the 31 July Call to Action Declaration. We hope that Commonwealth countries will agree that a wide group of international stakeholders must take urgent action to get the Commonwealth and the world back on track to meet these goals. We also hope they will urge the UN Secretary-General to convene a UN meeting in 2008 that brings together Heads Of Government with leaders from the private sector, civil society and faiths to recommit to and accelerate the action that is needed.

Education: Within the Commonwealth there are about 30 million children of primary school age who are not enrolled in education. We want the Commonwealth to accelerate and sustain access to primary education for all, including working to eliminate gender disparities in education. We will be urging Heads of Government to endorse the agreements made at the Commonwealth Education Ministers’ meeting in Cape Town in December 2006. Our objective is that Commonwealth countries will place a renewed emphasis on education quality at all levels, and the measurement and improvement of learning. Together we will examine how we can make demonstrable progress on vital literacy, counting and writing outcomes for primary aged children.

Trade: We will urge our Commonwealth counterparts to join us in calling for the early, pro-development conclusion of the Doha Round, which will benefit the poorest of the Commonwealth countries. We will also be calling on all CHOGM countries in a position to do so to extend Aid for Trade to Commonwealth developing countries. Aid for Trade projects are often best done at a regional level between trading neighbours and the Commonwealth is well placed to support such regional co-operation.

The Commonwealth is rightly proud of the values that define it. Its preparedness to scrutinise members in serious or persistent violation of the Harare Principles is a useful tool in bringing governments to account. CHOGM will focus international attention on Uganda. During CHOGM UK Ministers will raise progress in the Northern Uganda peace process with the Ugandan Government, as well as internal governance and human rights.

The Government are also deeply concerned by situation in Pakistan. CMAG has sent a clear message. The Government hopes that Pakistan will send the right response before CHOGM.

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Middle East

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I visited Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Egypt between 17 and 20 November. I met Presidents Abbas and Peres, Prime Ministers Olmert and Fayyad, Foreign Ministers Livni, Malki and Aboul Gheit as well as French Foreign Minister Kouchner, Ministers Barak and Suleiman, the Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, and the leader of the Likud Party, Benjamin Netanyahu. I also heard different perspectives from students, business people, university directors and deans, journalists and civil society activists. I spoke to them all about the current situation in the region, the prospects for progress towards a just and lasting settlement of the Middle East conflict, preparations for the forthcoming Annapolis meeting, the post-Annapolis process, and how the UK can contribute.

The bedrock of our approach on the Middle East Peace Process is threefold—first, to be unstinting in our support for the principle of a two-state solution; second, to give every support to all those who are committed to peaceful progress in the region; and third, to support economic, institutional and social development across the OPTs. The focus now must be on: maximising consensus for a positive outcome at Annapolis; launching a process of negotiations between the parties that makes real progress during 2008 towards the shared goal of a viable Palestinian state next to a secure Israel; and developing practical contributions from international partners towards economic, social and security goals.

I do not underestimate the difficulties but my firm conclusion is that there is now a real opportunity for making progress. The leadership commitment of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the full engagement of the US, the important Arab Peace Initiative, and the united support of EU countries, are all key components of progress. I was impressed by the level of seriousness on all sides. I urged all my interlocutors to seize the opportunity that Annapolis represents—a political horizon to break the freeze that has existed for several years.

We are working closely with our international partners to support the Annapolis process, led with real determination by the US. As the Prime Minister has noted, the road from Annapolis will be as important as the road there. Although as both sides have made clear, it is for them to negotiate the details of a two-state solution, the international community has offered its support and encouragement and the UK stands ready to help them move forward.

For the UK this means supporting the Palestinian leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad in two key areas: security and economic development.

Security is fundamental to a just solution. I visited Jericho to see the EU’s civil police training mission (EU COPPS), a mission initiated by the UK which underlines our continuing commitment to enhancing the security capacity of the Palestinian Authority. I am pleased that the UK has been able to increase its commitment by £1.2 million. We are also working closely with General Dayton, the US Security
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Co-ordinator, and his team including through the provision of additional security advisers.

Economic development is crucial in building a viable Palestinian state. The Prime Minister announced last week a commitment of up to $500 million to Palestinian development, conditional on progress towards peace and creating the necessary conditions. We are working closely with Tony Blair, who announced the first major projects yesterday. His work will be central to delivering a future Palestinian state with strong institutions and a robust economy. We are preparing for the Donors Conference to be hosted by France in Paris on 17 December.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza continues to give cause for concern. We recognise Israel's security dilemma, and deplore the rocket attacks that endanger Israeli citizens. It is equally imperative that measures in response be consistent with international law and not cause suffering to innocent civilians. We have made clear our determination to continue supporting all the Palestinian people. In addition to the significant sums we have just pledged, the UK provided in 2007: (i) £100 million over the next five years to UNRWA; (ii) an additional £1 million bilateral contribution to the Red Cross’ work in the West Bank and Gaza; and (iii) £15 million through the Temporary International Mechanism. Restrictions on movement and access, both through the crossings into Gaza and the restrictions in the West Bank, have serious economic, social and security consequences that require the urgent attention of the Palestinian Authority and Israeli Government.

Over the next week I will continue to urge all parties to take decisions which create the conditions and confidence for a successful conference and follow-up. I welcome the statement of Prime Minister Olmert yesterday about settlements and outposts. I look forward to further commitments from all those concerned with this conflict to make a practical and political contribution to a meaningful process of negotiations. Such a process is vital to regional and global stability. The UK will play its full part in this drive.

International Development

Bangladesh (Cyclone Sidr)

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Tropical cyclone “Sidr” hit Bangladesh on 15 and 16 November. The death toll is uncertain but likely to rise to about 10,000 people. Some 300,000 houses have been destroyed. Many crops have been destroyed and large tracts of agricultural land damaged. This will make livelihoods for hundred of thousands of farmers difficult for at least the next six months. Government and relief organisations are providing emergency relief in the affected areas. In total, around US$ 25 million has been promised to the Government and NGOs from the international community.

Although the cyclone has had a devastating impact on people, the casualties and damage would have been much worse without the early warning system and
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contingency measures taken by the authorities. The Government of Bangladesh have acted promptly to bring relief to the affected people and the UK is glad to be supporting this response.

The Department for International Development has announced a contribution of £2.5 million for immediate cyclone relief efforts. The money is being channelled through the UN, and will help provide food, water, medical treatment, and housing repairs. A rapid UN assessment is being completed in the next 48 hours. We will consider our response to additional needs identified, monitor delivery in conjunction with the UN and help the Government of Bangladesh. Further funding will be considered over the next few months.

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