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The UK Government welcome this declaration, which reinforces the approach that we set out in the revised Afghanistan strategy, which I announced to Parliament on 12 December 2007.

President Sarkozy, as well as signalling France’s welcome intent to re-engage fully in NATO’s military structure, confirmed his decision to deploy an additional battalion of French troops to the east of Afghanistan. This allowed President Bush to announce the movement of a substantial US force from the East, to Kandahar in the south. A number of other allies—including Canada, Poland, Romania and Slovakia—also announced increased contributions of troops, trainers, and helicopters, which were all warmly welcomed.

The alliance also made important political decisions on enlargement. Albania and Croatia were invited to start their accession, recognising the progress that both countries have made in their internal reforms and the role that they are playing in the region and beyond, including in Afghanistan.

The summit welcomed the commitment shown by Macedonia to NATO’s values and its contribution to NATO operations. The UK Government remain convinced that Macedonia’s rightful place is as a member of NATO and will continue to work for that to happen. We were disappointed that the alliance was not able to issue a membership invitation, but the summit did agree that an invitation will be issued. NATO leaders urged Greece and Macedonia to reach a mutually acceptable solution to the question of a name soon.

The summit also gave a clear commitment that Ukraine and Georgia will one day become members of NATO and offered support for their request for membership action plans. The Government look forward to a period of intense co-operation between NATO and both countries until they are admitted into NATO’s membership action plan.

The alliance had a frank and open exchange with President Putin on NATO-Russia relations. I and other NATO leaders welcome the Russian Federation’s assistance to ISAF’s efforts in Afghanistan, including through logistical support.

In partnership with President Sarkozy, we promoted the UK/France-led initiative to support helicopter capability upgrades and pilot training, aiming to make more helicopters available both in Afghanistan and for other multinational operations. Ten NATO partners made clear at Bucharest their intention to provide direct support for this initiative, and detailed discussions are now under way on the nature and extent of their involvement.

The Government remain convinced of the continued importance and relevance of NATO in international crisis management, but also that it must continue its process of reform to meet this challenge more effectively. I am therefore pleased that NATO accepted the UK’s offer to host an informal meeting of Defence Ministers this autumn specifically focused on reform. This will be an important opportunity to drive forward the modernisation of NATO and its capabilities transformation agenda.

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Further important work was set in hand on NATO missile defence, to support the planned deployment of a US missile defence capability in Europe.

Through all these actions at the summit, the alliance demonstrated its continued sense of purpose and contribution to European, transatlantic, and wider international security.

Working ever closer with other international organisations, notably the EU and UN, a strong and effective NATO remains at the heart of UK foreign and security policy, as was emphasised in the national security strategy announced to Parliament on 19 March. I look forward to the 60th anniversary of NATO next year and to a summit to be hosted jointly by France and Germany in Strasbourg and Kehl. The UK Government remain committed to playing a full role in the development of the alliance.


EU Transport Council

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Ms Rosie Winterton): I attended the transport session of the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council, held in Luxembourg on 7 April. The Slovenian Minister for Transport and Communications, Mr Radovan Zerjav, was in the chair.

There was a progress report and policy debate on the current package of road transport legislative proposals, namely: a recast regulation on common rules for access to the international road haulage market; a regulation on common rules concerning the conditions to be complied with in order to pursue the occupation of road transport operator; and a recast regulation on common rules for access to the market for coach and bus services. The presidency presented a compromise package, including a Commission proposal on cabotage—three domestic deliveries in seven days following an international laden journey—and an amended proposal on interconnected national registers. On cabotage, a significant number of member states regretted that the proposal was not more liberal. I spoke in support of regulated cabotage, which was only an 'add-on' to international journeys, but stressed that it should not be regular or systematic, which the Commission proposal would allow. I stressed the need to address safety concerns and enforcement alongside market opening. I welcomed the agreement in principle to establish interconnected registers, to enable member states to help each other to protect road safety through effective enforcement when operators are working internationally. The presidency concluded that the majority of member states could support the proposed compromises on cabotage and the registers, and that it would now work towards achievement of political agreements on the three proposals in June. We will continue to work with them and other member states towards achieving an acceptable outcome for the UK.

On rail freight, the Council adopted conclusions on the Commission communication “Towards a Rail Network giving Priority to Freight". The conclusions are acceptable to the UK.

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The Council reached a general approach on a regulation on implementation of the European satellite radio navigation programmes (EGNOS and Galileo). This follows on from the political guidelines set out in the November Transport Council conclusions on Galileo. This regulation sets the Community budget for the satellite navigation programmes between 1 January 2007 and 31 December 2013. It also aims to improve the governance of the programmes by applying a strict division of responsibilities. The text of the general approach is acceptable to the UK.

The Council reached a political agreement on a directive on airport charges. The directive aims to establish a framework of common principles to be respected by airport operators when they determine the charges to airlines for the use of airport services, as practices currently differ across member states. These measures aim to create a level playing field to avoid cases of discrimination and improve transparency. The agreed text of the directive is acceptable to the UK.

The Council reached a general approach on a regulation on a code of conduct for computerised reservation systems (CRS) to replace the existing regulation 2299/89. This aims to update and simplify the existing code of conduct and to promote competition between CRS providers, whilst maintaining safeguards against potential competitive abuses and ensuring the provision of neutral and comprehensive information to consumers. The text of the general approach is acceptable to the UK.

The Council adopted conclusions relating to a Commission communication entitled “An Agenda for a Sustainable Future in General and Business Aviation". The Conclusions are acceptable to the UK.

There were progress reports and a policy debate on two current legislative proposals in maritime transport. These are a directive on compliance with flag state requirements and a directive on the civil liability and financial guarantees of shipowners. These are the final two proposals of seven in the Commission’s latest maritime package, the other five having already been agreed by the Council. I joined Ministers who spoke against proceeding with these two proposals, which are widely regarded as unnecessary. Many noted the importance of global rule-making in these two areas, under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The presidency will now reflect on the views expressed on these two maritime dossiers.

These are all acceptable to the UK.

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Work and Pensions

Pension Transfer Values (Regulations)

The Minister for Pensions Reform (Mr. Mike O'Brien): New regulations on the calculation of pensions transfer values were laid on 11 April. The regulations come into effect on 1 October 2008.

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The regulations build on the very useful dialogue we have had with the pensions community about the way that pensions transfer values should be calculated.

The regulations are largely as we consulted on. However, the requirement that every assumption used in the calculation should be a “best estimate” has been changed in order to make the calculation more straightforward. The new requirement is that the assumptions, taken as a whole, should lead to a “best estimate” of the amount of the unreduced transfer value.

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