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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 6 and 7 December 2007. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (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 jumbo meeting of Interior and Employment Ministers who met to discuss the links between migration, employment and the Lisbon agenda. Commissioner Frattini highlighted legal migration as key to delivering the Lisbon agenda and addressing the
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demographic challenges facing the EU. The UK underlined our commitment to the Lisbon agenda and stated that the key to achieving it was to increase labour market participation, ensure national flexibility in legal migration, to combat illegal migration and to ensure integration and cohesion issues were taken into account in legal migration policy development. Every member state intervened and consistent themes emerged similar to those made by the UK but, in general, member states felt that these decisions were primarily for individual states.

The Council then moved on to the mixed committee which included Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. The presidency began by congratulating all concerned on the historic achievement of the extension of the Schengen acquis to the member states who joined the European Union in 2004. There were also updates on the Schengen Information System (SIS) communication network which was still on schedule to be completed within the prescribed timescale and the SIS II programme. The presidency spoke of the two key issues surrounding the SIS II programme: the overall timescale and the migration of data. The migration issue will be discussed at the informal JHA Council of the Slovenian presidency in January. The Commission said the timescale for delivery of SIS II in December 2008 was still technically possible.

There was a report on the progress made on the directive for common standards and procedures in member states for returning illegally staying third country nationals. As we are not yet convinced of the need for common standards in this area, the UK has not opted into this directive.

The main agenda began with agreement to Council Conclusions on mobility partnerships and circular migration in the framework of the global approach to migration. The presidency compromise was accepted after some textual amendments were made at the request of one member state to ensure references to circular migration were not becoming permanent.

Interior Ministers attended a presidency lunch with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Antonio Gutteres. He set out the UNHCR’s expectations of the next stage of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and urged greater international co-operation between countries in regions of origin, transit and arrival. The Commission announced the results of the Green Paper on the second phase of the CEAS and detailed their timetable for proposals next year. The UK urged caution in timing of the second phase of the CEAS.

The report on the implementation of the counter-terrorism strategy was introduced by the presidency and the new EU Counter-terrorism co-ordinator, Gilles de Kerchove. He focused on the exchange of information and emphasised the importance of member states fulfilling their commitments under the 2005 decision on sharing information with Europol and Eurojust. Gilles de Kerchove commented on the importance of creating synergies between, for example, police, customs and judicial information and outlined the development of “check the web”, common principles of data protection, and the implementation of Council decisions. The presidency agreed with Gilles de Kerchove on the importance of the relationship between Europol and Eurojust and work with the US. Work on these and other areas will continue under the Slovenian presidency.

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The presidency welcomed the First Reading agreement on the weapons directive with the European Parliament. The UK congratulated the presidency on this outcome. There had been raids in Manchester seizing real and imitation firearms and this clearly underlined the importance of this issue. It is hoped this will be adopted under the Slovenian presidency.

The presidency hoped to conclude chapters vi, vii and ix of the Europol Council decision, subject to the outcome of decisions on budget neutrality, bold posts and immunity. However, after the UK and other member states confirmed their continuing parliamentary scrutiny reserves and member states raised further concerns about the voting regime, it was concluded that that these areas would need to be resolved at a later stage.

The incoming Slovenian presidency congratulated the Portuguese presidency for their achievements, particularly on SISOne4All. They announced that under their presidency, they would continue to take forward work on Europol, PrĂ1/4m, the weapons directive, readmission agreements and CEAS. They also set out their future presidency programme and announced that their informal Council would take place in January at Brdl Castle.

The presidency also announced that the EU could now support the European Day against the Death Penalty as all reserves had been lifted. It would be celebrated on 10 October every year.

The presidency introduced the proposal to update the 2002 framework decision on combating terrorism to bring it in line with the Council of Europe convention. This was an important subject matter, and there was a delicate balance to be achieved to ensure that fundamental rights were protected whilst terrorism was effectively tackled. The Commission emphasised the importance of responding to terrorist use of the internet as a criminal matter not as freedom of expression. Most member states welcomed the proposed changes to the framework decision and the Commission’s comments on the dividing line between freedom of expression and criminal acts.

The presidency presented achievements so far in work on e-justice. The Commission will increase funding in 2008 and produce a communication in May or June setting up an overall e-justice strategy.

The presidency confirmed agreement to the latest text on choice of law in contractual obligations (Rome I). The Government consider that the text now improves on the Rome convention and addresses earlier concerns about potential loss of legal and financial services to other jurisdictions. The UK will consult its stakeholders as soon as possible as to whether it should now opt into the text.

The Council conclusions on Eurojust were adopted without debate. Slovenia announced it would address the issues raised during their presidency. The Government support the conclusions but have made clear previously that any future proposals should focus on ensuring that Eurojust fulfils its potential within its current powers.

A general approach was reached on mutual recognition of suspended sentences, alternative sanctions and conditional sentences. The Government considered that the text balanced the different interests of member states and respected the differences between legal systems,
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while remaining proportionate. Accordingly, the UK was able to support a general approach.

The presidency gave an update on the framework decision of the European supervision order and confirmed that it was finalising the draft text in co-operation with the Commission and the incoming presidencies on the basis of the mandate provided from the September JHA Council.

The presidency reported that the recent EU-Russia JHA ministerial had gone well and included discussions on narcotics, particularly from Afghanistan and the signature of a memorandum of understanding on financial crime.

The two common positions on the review mechanism and asset recovery in relation to the UN convention against corruption were noted briefly by the presidency but no member state intervened.

The presidency noted the successful outcome of the diplomatic session on The Hague convention on maintenance and observed that this text was a good basis for work on the Community’s draft regulation on the same topic.

The presidency announced the important outcomes achieved at the European-Mediterranean migration summit. The statement agreed at the Summit was balanced and comprehensive and included various projects to be taken forward. The Commission had announced €5 million to finance the projects agreed.

During the Justice Ministers’ lunch, the Commission reported on the first meeting of the Justice Future Group, on which common-law countries are represented by the Attorney-General of Ireland. There was a general discussion.

One member state noted that consistency was needed between security needs and the Community work to set a standard for the ammonium nitrate content of fertiliser. The Commission agreed and said work would start in the new year.

International Development

International Development Association (IDA 15)

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I wish to inform the house that the UK intends to make a contribution of £2134 million to the 15th replenishment of the International Development Association (IDA 15) which is the part of the World Bank group that provides assistance to low-income countries. This is the largest single contribution the UK has made to the World Bank. It represents a 49 per cent. increase over the UK’s commitment of £1430 million to IDA 14. IDA 15 will cover the period from July 2008 to June 2011.

Collectively donors agreed to a target level for IDA 15 of $42 billion (£21 billion) of which about 75 per cent. is expected to come from donors and the remainder from internal Bank finances. Other donors have yet to finalise their contribution to IDA 15. Final decisions on contributions are expected next week in Berlin.

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The money provided to IDA will be used by the World Bank to help countries accelerate progress towards the millennium development goals by supporting primary education, basic health services, clean water and sanitation, environmental safeguards, business climate improvements, infrastructure and institutional reforms. This work paves the way toward economic growth, job creation, higher incomes and better living conditions.

The large UK contribution reflects evidence of the effectiveness of the World Bank in working with partner governments in helping to foster sustainable growth and improvements in the living standards of people in the poorest countries. The World Bank works through a country-based model of development aligning its support behind a country’s own poverty and growth strategy.

Negotiations on IDA 15 have been ongoing since March this year and the Bank and donors have agreed to a number of significant changes which will improve the way in which IDA works to deliver the MDGs—including:

The detailed outcomes of the negotiations are recorded in a replenishment report and available on the Bank’s website. Donors and borrowers meet midway through each IDA period to review progress and measure the performance of the Bank against the agreed benchmarks.


Restraint in Juvenile Secure Settings

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): On 8 October my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Beverley Hughes) and I announced the appointment of Andrew Williamson CBE and Peter Smallridge CBE as independent co-chairs of the review of restraint in juvenile secure settings. The Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families have joint responsibility for the review.

My right hon. Friend and I undertook to report to the House on progress on the review.

On their appointment, the chairs and Ministers expressed a wish for the review to be open and
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transparent, and that they expected wide consultation. Since then, the chairs have met a wide range of interested parties. The chairs are also visiting all secure training centres and a range of young offender institutions and secure children’s homes to learn first hand about restraint and to hear of the experiences and views of both young people and staff.

The chairs have invited all interested parties to submit written evidence to the review by 7 December. They will now be considering that evidence. However, the chairs are prepared to receive written submissions after 7 December.

The chairs intend to continue consultation, with a view to reporting their recommendations to Ministers by 4 April 2008.

Cabinet Office

Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Gillian Merron): In my written ministerial statement of 26 July 2007, I referred to the actuarial review of employer contributions payable under the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme (PCSPS). Hewitt, the PCSPS Scheme Actuary, has now completed its review.

The review concerns the level of contributions payable by employers who participate in the PCSPS. The review does not cover member contributions which are specified in the PCSPS rules.

The review recommends that employer contribution rates should fall from an estimated average of 19.4 per cent. of employers’ pay bills to an average of 18.9 per cent. This reduction will come into effect from April 2009.

Copies of Hewitt’s report “Review of the Accruing Superannuation Liability Charges (ASLCs) as 31 March 2007” together with a supporting report entitled “Analysis of Scheme Experience between 1 April 2003 and 31 March 2007” have been placed in the Library.

Data Handling Procedures in Government

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Edward Miliband): On 21 November, the Prime Minister announced that he had asked the Cabinet Secretary, with the advice of security experts, to work with Departments to ensure that all Departments and all agencies check their procedures for the storage and use of data.

The Cabinet Secretary has provided an interim progress report, which I have today placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The report further sets out a number of initial recommendations relating to the framework within which data are handled, which the Government accept.

A final report on the work is expected in spring 2008.

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Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Charging Scheme (Accounts for 2006-07)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): The Dartford-Thurrock Crossing charging scheme account for 2006-07 is published today under Section 3(1)(d) of the Trunk Road Charging Schemes (Bridges and Tunnels) (Keeping of Accounts) (England) Regulations 2003. A copy of the accounts will be placed in the Library of the House.

Transport Personnel

The Secretary of State for Transport (Ruth Kelly): The Government need to be sure at all times that the right measures are in place to counter the evolving threat from international terrorism. To achieve this, we need regularly to consider and evaluate specific security measures to ensure that we have the balance right in the light of changing circumstances.

In the last two years, the Department has been helped greatly in this process by the findings of two separate reviews into the management and application of security on transport infrastructure: “Policing at Airports” by Stephen Boys Smith and Lord West’s wider ranging “Review of the Protection of Crowded Places, Critical National Infrastructure and Transport Infrastructure”.

Following on from Lord West’s review, which focused on physical infrastructure, and to continue this process of ongoing appraisal of the security framework, the Government have commissioned an independent review of how personnel security is delivered across the transport sector, including through background and identity checks and related measures. The review will examine the extent to which current arrangements cover all and only the right transport workers, and whether they do so to the correct and proportionate degree. It will provide an important and timely health check of current personnel security arrangements across the sector.

The review will be conducted by a team led by Stephen Boys Smith, who led the 2006 independent review of airport policing. This new review team will engage closely with all relevant elements of the transport sector as it carries out its work. A summary of the review’s terms of reference has been placed in the Library of the House and published on my Department’s website.

I have asked Stephen Boys Smith to provide an initial report to me in the new year setting out in detail the scope of the work that he will carry out and a timetable for the delivery of his final conclusions. Following completion of the review, I will publish a summary of its recommendations.

I would encourage all parts of the transport sector to work with Stephen Boys Smith to ensure a full and effective review and maintain a robust, but proportionate, framework for transport security.

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