The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Angela Eagle): I am today publishing Proposals for a Legislative Reform Order to amend Lloyds Act 1982. Copies have been deposited in the Libraries of the House. This consultation document sets out proposals to modernise the governance arrangements of the Society of Lloyds, to remove administrative burdens, and to get rid of outdated restrictions which impede the efficient functioning of the market. The proposals complement the market-related reforms that Lloyds is already pursuing, which the Government support, and which are geared to maintaining the competitiveness of Lloyds in the global marketplace.
The Governments reforms are being proposed under the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 and satisfy the pre-conditions and constraints of that Act. Chapter two of the consultation document provides the legal analysis for this. As required under the Act, the Government are now consulting widely on the reforms.
The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Angela Eagle): HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has awarded contracts to Citibank N.A. and Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC to provide clearing bank services to the Department (including the Office of HM Paymaster General), and National Savings and Investments (NS&I). These services are currently provided by the Bank of England (the Bank). The Bank announced in July 2004 that it would withdraw from the provision of retail banking and clearing services to its commercial customers including Government Departments, building societies and other corporate customers.
The contracts are for five years with the option to extend on an annual basis for a further two years. Migration to the new banking suppliers will start later this year and is scheduled for completion by the end of 2009.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 10-11 March in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and I will represent the UK.
The European Council will focus on the key issues that concern EU citizens: economic stability, jobs, and growth and climate change. The Government want the EU to build on the ambitious climate change targets set by the spring European Council in 2007, and to agree an outline for further work on the security implications following the report by the High Representative.
The Government would also welcome progress on the 2007 spring European Councils commitment to develop 12 carbon capture and storage demonstration plants by 2015. On jobs and growth the Government expect progress on delivering the next stage of the Lisbon process. This should include improved ambitions on building skills and entrepreneurship, through measures such as a skills review and continued reduction of the regulatory burdens on small business in particular.
The Government will be looking for strong European Council conclusions on opening up network markets, particularly in energy and telecoms. On financial stability and sovereign wealth funds, the Government will support a broad international approach.
The June 2007 European Council invited the High Representative and the Commission to produce a report on the impact of climate change on international security issues. This will be discussed at the spring European Council. The Government very much welcome the report as an important first step in understanding the implications of climate change for European foreign and security policy interests. The Government want the European Council to build on and amplify the conclusions of the report and ensure they lead to more detailed work, including through the development of action plans to mainstream climate change into security planning and policy making.
Discussion is likely to focus on the substance of the agriculture and non-agricultural market access texts issued on 8 February and the structure through which the negotiations will be taken forward. The Government support the new texts as a basis for further progress and is encouraging partners to continue to engage in the process led by Pascal Lamy, the WTO Director-General, on the basis of these texts. The Governments objective at the Council will be to encourage continued support for the Doha round, given its importance for both poverty reduction and the global economy
The Government is committed to supporting the process initiated at Annapolis, which has put the Israelis and Palestinians on a path to real negotiations in 2008, leading to a final settlement of two states living side by side in peace and security. The Governments position is that Israeli security is absolutely fundamental to a just solution, and Palestinian hardship can only be tackled through a political process that creates an economically and socially viable Palestinian state at peace with Israel.
The Council is also likely to discuss Lebanons ongoing political crisis. The Government remain deeply concerned by the continued lack of a President in Lebanon and Syrias role in obstructing a deal. The Government believe it is important that the EU continues to support the efforts of the Arab League to broker a solution and provide continued political and practical support to the Government of Lebanon. The Government will support conclusions that underline both the EUs continued strong support for the Arab Leagues mediation efforts and the urgent need to resolve the crisis.
The Government expect the Council to agree conclusions underlining the EUs concern at the humanitarian, political and economic situation in Zimbabwe and drawing attention to reports on conditions on the ground prior to elections. The Government remain deeply concerned about conditions in Zimbabwe, especially in the run-up to the elections, and will continue to closely monitor the situation.
The Government expect the focus of the discussion on Georgia to be on providing assistance to the Georgians ahead of their parliamentary electionsexpected in May to ensure that they are an improvement on the standard achieved during Georgia's presidential election in January. We are supportive of this aim, and of good EU support to Georgia across a range of issues, including on conflict resolution.
Following the adoption of a new UN Security Council resolution (1803) on Iran on 3 March, the Government will press for progress at EU level as soon as possible. This includes EU implementation of the resolution by way of a common position and the consideration of further EU measures as signalled in the conclusions of the December European Council. The Government fully support strengthening EU sanctions against Iran in response to its refusal to comply with its international obligations and will press partners to continue to take a firm stand on this issue.
Foreign Ministers will discuss developments in the western Balkans since the 18 February GAERC, particularly those following Kosovos declaration of independence on 17 February. There are likely to be conclusions on Bosnia and Herzegovina and on the Regional Co-operation Council. On Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Government strongly support the decision by the Peace Implementation Council on 26-27 February to extend the mandate of the High Representative until key objectives and conditions are met, including a positive assessment of the situation in Bosnia based on full compliance with the Dayton peace agreement.
The UK supports the Regional Co-operation Council, which succeeded the international community-led stability pact in February 2008, because it will enable the countries of south-eastern Europe to play a greater role in fostering peace, democracy, respect for human rights and economic prosperity within the region.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held in Brussels on 28 February 2008. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, the Solicitor-General for Scotland and I attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following issues were discussed at the Council:
The Council opened with a discussion on the proposed move from member state to community financing for Europol. Two of the pre-conditions had already been met (bold posts/rotations/instructions and the question of immunities). Only the issue of budget neutrality remained. A number of member states, including the UK, continued to press for further clarification on the financial implications and maintained their parliamentary scrutiny reservations pending such clarification. The presidency reminded member states that it was one of their priorities to reach agreement on this Council decision by April 2008.
There were still differences between member states on the main issues relating to the returns directive such as re-entry bans, access to judicial review and upper limits on detention. The presidency stated that it was still aiming for a first reading deal by June. The UK has not opted in to this directive.
The presidency stressed the need to conclude ratification on the EU-US agreements on extradition and mutual legal assistance and asked the member states who have not yet completed their domestic and bilateral procedures to do so as soon as possible. The Commission supported this.
During the discussion on the framework decision for combating terrorism, the presidency introduced its proposals for a recital on proportionality and additional text on freedom of expression. The Commission supported this proposal and stressed the need to complete this instrument as soon as possible. The UK welcomed these changes while maintaining the parliamentary scrutiny reserve. The presidency indicated that it wished to reach a general approach at the April Council.
Under the Mixed Committee, the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) was discussed. The presidency stated that the central SIS roll-out is likely to be delayed. A revised timetable for the delay would be available in April, but it is expected that the central system go-live date will be pushed back from December 2008 to September 2009. The presidency established a SIS II Friends of the Presidency group to ensure ministerial oversight and political commitment to the programme. The group comprises of some those member states who will be migrating from SIS I and SISone4all to SIS II. These include Germany, Portugal, France, Czech Republic, Sweden, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Norway and Poland. The Commission will submit a revised timetable to the June Council.
At the Interior Ministers lunch there was a discussion on the US Memoranda of Understandings (MoU) on visa waiver. A moratorium was agreed on further member states signing MoUs until the EU-US troika meeting in March. The High Level Contact Group and SIS II were also mentioned.
At the lunch for Justice Ministers the Commissions proposal to set up a forum for discussion of EU justice
policy and practice was considered. The Commission stressed that the forum would not substitute for the role of other institutions. Discussion focused on who would participate and the extent to which the forum would, in practice, influence the development of policy. There were also exchanges on parliamentary scrutiny reserves maintained by some countries; these were blocking formal agreement to various third pillar measures which would have to be renegotiated if they could not be adopted before the coming into force of the Lisbon treaty.