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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 28 November 2007

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Energy Council

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): I will represent the UK at the forthcoming Energy Council in Brussels in the morning of 3 December.

There are two substantive items on the Council agenda—the Internal Gas and Electricity Market, on which there will be a progress report and, we hope, a policy debate; and energy technologies on which, following presentations by the presidency and commission on the draft European Strategic Energy Technologies plan, there will also be a policy debate. The third item on the agenda is “International relations in the field of energy” (which will be an information item only).

The item on the internal market will focus on the commission’s third package of proposed legislation to improve the functioning of the internal market in electricity and gas. This includes proposals to amend the existing directives on common rules for the internal electricity market and for the internal natural gas market; a proposal to establish an agency for the co-operation of energy regulators; and proposals to amend the existing regulations on conditions for access to the network for cross-border exchanges in electricity and on conditions for access to the natural gas transmission networks. We hope that Ministers will have a full opportunity to debate this important topic. The UK Government support the thrust of these Commission proposals, and consider them as vital for the further development of the internal market.

On the energy technologies item, presentations by the presidency on its “Vision” paper and by the commission on its draft Communication on a European Strategic Energy Technology Plan will be followed by a policy debate. The UK welcomes both the plan and the presidency paper, given the need for a strategic approach to technology in Europe, and we welcome its proposed approach to improving collaboration between organisations and countries—both within the EU and internationally.

The only other agenda item covers “International relations in the field of energy”. This is an important issue for the UK, though will only be an information item at this Council. The Portuguese presidency and the Commission will report on a number of developments on the EU’s relations with Brazil, Africa and Russia; on the Energy Community treaty; on a proposed international platform on energy efficiency; and on other EU initiatives in the international field.

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Culture, Media and Sport

Education, Youth and Culture Council

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): A meeting of the Education, Youth and Culture Council was held on 15 and 16 November. Anne Lambert, UK Deputy Permanent Representative, represented the UK for the culture agenda items taken on 16 November.

The presidency presented the joint statement that had been agreed at the first EU-Russia Permanent Partnership Council (PPC) on 25 October. The statement offered the prospect of further cooperation between the two partners. The UK was clear, with support from many other member states, that the work of cultural institutes had to be at the heart of any follow-up to the PPC. The presidency agreed that this issue would need to be taken forward in the drafting of an EU-Russia cultural action plan to be discussed under the Slovenian presidency.

The Council adopted the resolution on the European agenda for culture in a globalising world. The introduction of the Open Method of Co-ordination for Culture was broadly welcomed on the understanding that it was voluntary, proportionate and reflected the needs of the culture sector. There was general agreement that the future cultural agenda should prioritise the contribution that culture makes to the economy (including providing better data to measure this), intercultural dialogue and cultural relations with third countries.

The UK was content with this outcome and supported the adoption of the resolution.

The Council adopted a decision on the selection of Turku (Finland) and Tallinn (Estonia) to host the European Capital of Culture event for 2011.

Home Department

Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I have placed in the Library of the House the first Annual Report to Home Office and HM Treasury Ministers on the Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) regime to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. The reporting system is a key element in the United Kingdom’s defences against money laundering and terrorist financing.

The Report has been prepared by a multi-agency Committee, under the chairmanship of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), which includes the financial services sector, police, other law enforcement agencies, and the Financial Services Authority.

The Government welcome the good progress that SOCA and the other participants have made to ensure that the reporting system is operating effectively to help deter, detect and disrupt those involved in these crimes and in holding them to account. It is also recognised
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that there is more to be done to maximise the benefits of the system. The Home Office and HM Treasury will be working closely with SOCA to take this forward.

The Government are providing law enforcement agencies with additional resources to improve financial investigation. Last year the Home Office allocated £58 million to agencies involved in the recovery of the proceeds of crime from money launderers and other criminals. Of that total, £15.5 million went to police forces in England and Wales, much of which has been invested in increasing financial investigation capacity. Further allocations will be made this year.

For its part the Association of Chief Police Officers issued comprehensive best practice guidance to all forces last year on conducting money laundering investigations through the use of financial investigation techniques.

The strategy agreed by the Home Office, HM Treasury, SOCA and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in February 2007 in “The financial challenge to crime and terrorism” set out our shared vision for building on our success to date. The overall goal is a SAR system that addresses the threats to the UK from crime and terrorism, contributes to the reduction of harm and the recovery of the proceeds of crime while minimising the costs of compliance to industry.

International Development

Bangladesh (Cyclone Sidr)

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Tropical cyclone “Sidr” hit Bangladesh late on the 15 November. In addition to wind speeds of 240 km per hour, people living on the coast were struck by a devastating storm surge—a wall of sea-water 10 to 15 foot high. The official death toll is 3243 (19:00, 26 November) with many more injured and an estimated 7 million people affected. The UN estimates that at least 2.6 million of these people will require immediate life and livelihoods relief assistance for the next two to three months. We know that further support for livelihoods recovery will be required beyond that time frame.

Although the cyclone has had a devastating impact on people, the casualties and damage could have been much worse without the early warning system and 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.

We now know that approximately 1.24 million homes have been damaged—and the poorest, whose houses were mainly made of thatch have been worst affected. More than 1.84 million acres of crop land has been damaged, including a loss of about 800,000 metric tons of rice. Other impacts include loss of livestock—over 523,723 animals perished, damage to the fishing and shrimp industries, and damage to infrastructure including tube wells, toilets, schools, clinics and roads.

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But relief is getting through. The Government of Bangladesh and relief organisations including the UN acted swiftly—food, water and medical assistance are now reaching the majority of people. However, because of the vast area affected—31 of the total of 64 districts—and the remoteness of some communities, there are still gaps in provision. In total, over US$191 million has been promised to the Government and NGOs from the international community. The Government of Bangladesh have welcomed this assistance and efforts to co-ordinate this relief are underway. This disaster has followed swiftly on the heels of a major flood which affected Bangladesh in August and September—affecting some of the same districts as the cyclone.

The UK Government were one of the first to commit funds to the cyclone “Sidr” relief efforts. The Department for International Development announced an initial contribution of £2.5 million within days. These funds, channelled through the UN, are already providing immediate relief in the form of food and safe water to 70,000 families, as well as essential non-food items such as clothes, blankets, mosquito nets and utensils. These are vital—many families lost everything they own in the cyclone. We will also be repairing the homes of over 16,000 vulnerable families, and paying local people to undertake clean up operations to restore essential community infrastructure, for example removing debris that is contaminating water supplies. DFID announced an additional £2.5 million on Friday which is being used for short to medium-term water, sanitation and hygiene needs. These were identified by our humanitarian experts as a particular priority. The partners we are working with—Oxfam, Save the Children UK and CARE International—are already using these funds to provide life-saving clean water.

I am pleased to announce today a further £2 million allocation—taking the total UK Government assistance to £7 million. These additional funds will provide essential non-food items including blankets, which are essential during the cold season which is fast approaching in Bangladesh. We will also use the funds to restore livelihoods and address ongoing public health needs. The UK stands ready to provide further support as required, and is pushing for improved coordination of the relief efforts.


Convicted Rapists and Protecting Victims

The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has made the following Written Ministerial Statement:

“Today the Government are issuing its response to the consultation “Convicting Rapists and Protecting Victims—Justice for Victims of Rape”.

The consultation document set out a range of proposals which aimed to improve the outcome of rape cases through further strengthening the existing legal framework and improving our care for victims and witnesses.

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The consultation paper dealt with four issues—the consent element in the offence of rape, general expert evidence, hearsay evidence and special measures for witnesses.

In summary, our conclusions following the consultation are as follows: firstly, a judgment in the Court of Appeal has clarified the circumstances in which capacity to consent can be affected by intoxication, and there is accordingly no need for a further change to the law in this area. Guidance for criminal justice practitioners, including the judiciary, will help ensure that the law is properly understood and enforced. We will continue to look for ways in which information concerning the psychological reactions of rape victims can be presented to juries other than
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through evidence called by the prosecution. We have decided to legislate when Parliamentary time allows to make all complaints of rape by victims to friends, family and others automatically admissible as evidence at trial, irrespective of the time that may have passed since the alleged offence. Finally, on the subject of special measures, we have decided to change the law to make video recordings of rape victims automatically admissible as evidence-in-chief in criminal trials.

We believe this considered package of measures will make a valuable contribution to the successful prosecution of rape cases. A copy of the full consultation response will be available in the Libraries of both Houses and can be downloaded from www.homeoffice.gov.uk and www.cisonline.org .”

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