Further to the written statement concerning the positions I intended to take at the Telecommunications Council held on 12 June 2008, I am pleased to be able to report back on the main conclusions and topics of discussion.
The Telecommunications Council took place on 12 June 2008 under the chair of the Slovenian presidency, where I represented the United Kingdom. As expected, the Commission review of the electronic telecommunications framework was the main focus and the discussion was based around three questions, set by the presidency, on next generation networks (NGN), institutional arrangements and spectrum.
After an introduction from Commissioner Reding, there was a full exchange of views on the review with nearly all member states participating. There was a general acceptance on a need to embrace market mechanisms on spectrum, and also that functional separation is a useful remedy of last resort to encourage competition. There were, however, some negative views being expressed about Commission powers and the need for a single European Electronic Communications Market Authority. On next generation networks, there was general support for a predictable regulatory framework that would encourage investments by operators.
I intervened to support the Commissioners aim of reaching early agreement on the review amongst member states and with the European Parliament. I noted the importance of NGN, and stressed the importance of competition in ensuring successful introduction. I emphasised that the UK did not support regulatory holidays to promote the introduction of new services, and that there was clear evidence of the success of functional separation in the UK. I supported the Commission having new powers of last resort to veto decisions made by national regulators where these have not followed best practice. On spectrum, I said that we do not want enforced harmonisation and that a market-led approach is the best way to ensure both that spectrum is used and also to encourage the development of innovative services.
Council conclusions on the digital dividend were adopted with very little discussion. These conclusions were endorsed by Commissioner Reding who believes that there is a win-win situation for both broadcasters and for new players providing innovative products.
Over lunch, I and other Ministers in attendance discussed the proposed European Electronic Communications Market Authority. The majority supported either an enhanced European Regulators Group (ERG) as an advisory body or nothing at all. I supported the enhanced ERG provided it was an independent advisory body as part of the revised legal framework with a scope limited to giving economic market advice to the Commission. The consensus was for a simple body that would be accountable to stakeholders. It would not be involved with information security or spectrum matters, but rather concentrate of advising on matters of economic regulation.
The Council conclusions on i2010 were adopted with very little discussion. Commissioner Reding spoke of the need to raise the targets for broadband deployment across member states and to utilise public/private partnerships to this aim.
The general approach for a proposal for extending the mandate of ENISA was introduced and the importance of this was stressed. The Commission are supportive of a three-year extension, and this was approved with very little discussion.
The Commission provided information on its Communication regarding advancing the internet-action plan for the deployment of internet protocol version 6. It was claimed that the existing pool of internet addresses would run out in three years unless this upgrade took place. Member states, stakeholders and content providers were called upon to act. There is a target for 25 per cent. of users to be IPv6 by 2010.
Portugal produced a paper on broadband indicators stating the importance of mobile technologies when compiling statistics for broadband availability. Commissioner Reding was supportive, and said that her proposals took this into account.
The presidency gave an update on the procedure for the selection of mobile satellite services (MSS) operators. Some states are unhappy with the proposed procedure as it could result in 50 per cent. of the EU not being provided with coverage. The proposed MSS decision will, however, be agreed at a Council in the next few weeks.
The final item was a request by the Netherlands for SMS roaming prices to be reduced at the earliest opportunity. There was no substantive discussion on this item.
The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): A meeting of the Education, Youth and Culture Council was held on 21-22 May. The Welsh Assembly Government Minister for Heritage, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, represented the UK for the cultural and audiovisual agenda items taken on 21 May.
The Council also discussed creative content online, in advance of a Commission recommendation of the Parliament and the Council in the autumn. A number of member states shared the UK view that new business models should be allowed to develop naturally through the market, and that new EU legislation risked stifling innovation. However, there was broad support for EU action to address piracy and illegal downloads.
A number of smaller member states were keen to prevent the loss of cultural diversity which they felt resulted from monopoly distributors. Member states also welcomed the Commissions new content online platforma forum for further discussion.
The presidency updated the Council on telecoms networks and services. They had produced a compromise proposal but some difficult issues remained, including on spectrum trading. The Slovenian presidency would present a report in June and then pass to the forthcoming French presidency.
The Belgian delegation raised anti-Semitic broadcasting originating outside the EU and therefore not covered by EU legislation. The Commission encouraged Member states to deal with such broadcasts through dialogue with the third countries involved.
Council conclusions on intercultural competences were agreed without discussion. Council conclusions on the 3rd work plan for culture 2008-2010 were also agreed by the Council. This followed on from discussion at the November 2007 Culture Council that established the priorities for 2008-2010. The presidency reported back on the establishment of an open method of co-ordination for culture and proposed a timetable for future work. This was unanimously agreed: only Cyprus and Greece called for greater emphasis on the return of stolen goods.
Under any other business, Swedensupported by some other delegationscalled for reduced rates of VAT on books to be widened to include audiobooks. The Netherlands went even further and called for digital books to also be included. The UK and Germany were more cautious: the ECOFIN Council is the appropriate forum for such discussions.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): The 2007-08 annual report and accounts for the Central Science Laboratory will be laid before Parliament today. Copies will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): The 2007-08 annual report and accounts for the Pesticides Safety Directorate will be laid before Parliament today. Copies will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): This statement corrects Mondays written ministerial statement on the Rural Payments Agency, 16 June 2008, Official Report, column 38WS.
To have paid 75 per cent. by value of valid 2008 Single Payment Scheme (SPS) claims by 31 January 2009 and 90 per cent. by value of valid 2008 SPS claims by 31 March 2009.
To process and pay at least 90 per cent. of valid claims, by volume, for Trader and Rural Development Implementation Schemes (TARDIS) within ministerial guidelines and 99 per cent. within the set EU Commission deadlines or in their absence 60 days of receipt of the claim.
To record 98 per cent. of notifications of births, deaths and movements of cattle on the Cattle Tracing System (CTS) within 14 days of their receipt.
To make 98 per cent. of all Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) payments in accordance with agreed Service Level Agreement (SLA) targets.
To demonstrate an improving trend in customer satisfaction by achieving an annual average customer satisfaction score of 6.5 as measured through surveys of external customers and demonstrating a reduction in complaints.
To demonstrate a 10 per cent. reduction from the 2007-08 year in the cost of administering the RPA without compromising service delivery.
To minimise disallowance risks and make payments accurate to within 2 per cent. materiality for all subsidy schemes under RPAs direct management.
To demonstrate improved capacity and capability to deliver services and implement change.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): The report of the Casey review, Engaging Communities in Fighting Crime, is published today. Copies will be placed in the Library of the House.
The report acknowledges the vital role the public play in working with neighbourhood police teams and local authorities to help make communities feel safe and secure, helping set local policing priorities, and building public confidence in crime fighting agencies. It sets out proposals to put the interests of the public and the law-abiding majority first.
The review was commissioned by the Prime Minister and the report considers five areas: putting victims, witnesses and other law-abiding citizens first; fighting crime and delivering justice for communities; a new approach to crime statistics; the citizen's role in tackling crime; and freedoms and accountability.
The Casey review report is also available from the Cabinet Office website at http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/ crime.
The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The written parliamentary statement issued on 3 June 2008, Official Report, column 57-58 WS, on Burma Cyclone Nargis stated that none of the UKs assistance will go through the Burmese regime. This statement reflected a reply I gave to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) on 2 June.
On 10 June I was informed that there were conflicting reports over the destination of 9,000 plastic sheets that DFID had delivered to Save the Children for distribution to victims of the cyclone. These reports indicated that the Burmese Ministry of Social Welfare had requested these sheets from Save the Children. I immediately asked officials to make enquiries to ascertain the facts. The permanent secretary of the Department for International Development concluded these enquiries and updated me on 17 June. The permanent secretary also expressed our strong concern to the chief executive of Save the Children on the same day.
These enquiries confirmed that on 6 June, Save the Children was approached through the Burmese Ministry of Home Affairs for plastic sheets to repair schools. After discussion with the UN humanitarian co-ordinator and despite attempts to negotiate alternative arrangements, Save the Children handed the remaining 9,000 sheets in their warehouse to the Ministry of Social Welfare on 7 June.
Save the Childrens own enquiries indicate that, to date, 5,800 of the sheets have been distributed in Laputta township to repair housing, including for teachers. Save the Children was not involved in the distribution, although they have been able to monitor how the sheeting has been used. The remaining sheets are in the warehouse of the Laputta township Co-ordination Committee and Save the Children plan to monitor their distribution.
These 9,000 sheets were part of an overall consignment of 131,000 sheets that had been delivered by DFID to international NGOs, the Red Cross and the UN to assist the victims of the cyclone. The 9,000 sheets represent around 0.25 per cent. of the total £27.5 million committed by the UK for humanitarian assistance in Burma.
On 17 June the permanent secretary wrote to the chief executive of Save the Children expressing concern over this episode and noting that Save the Children would secure replacement of the 9,000 sheets and distribute these through their own independent channels as soon as possible, as originally agreed with DFID. The UN has offered to help Save the Children secure replacement plastic sheets quickly.
DFID staff are re-checking with other partners through which we channel funds and goods. We have not found evidence of any other incident yet of UK goods or funding being channelled through the Burmese regime. We will continue to monitor the delivery of UK assistance to our UN, NGO and Red Cross partners for the victims of the cyclone.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): The Legal Services Act 2007 establishes a new regime for handling complaints about the provision of legal services with the creation of the Legal Services Board (LSB) and the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC). The LSB will be an over-arching regulator and the OLC will deal with all complaints about regulated legal service providers.
The OLC will be a new organisation that is completely independent of the legal profession. Therefore, once the OLC becomes fully operational, the professional bodies own arrangements for handling complaints will cease and the government bodies with oversight of thesethe Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman (OLSO) and the Office of the Legal Services Complaints Commissioner (OLSCC)will no longer be required.
Based on current planning assumptions, the LSB will become fully operational early 2010 and the OLC will become fully operational in late 2010. Therefore, in line with the current timetable, the OLSCC will close in March 2010 and the OLSO will close no earlier than December 2010.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): Today I am publishing a revised draft version of the charter for the bereaved for comment. The charter describes the services bereaved people can expect to receive from a reformed coroner system, and sets out the rights of redress if services are not delivered. It additionally explains appeal rights against particular decisions taken by coroners in individual cases. The charter makes it clear that the needs of bereaved people will be at the centre of the reformed system.
Public consultation on the charter was previously undertaken in 2006 when it was published alongside the draft Coroners Bill. There were further informal consultations with those who work within the current system, and several voluntary sector groups which interact with it, during 2007. Changes were made as a result and are reflected in this new draft, together with the changes made as a result of consultation on the Bill, which I announced in March. I am publishing the charter now to provide a further opportunity for comments in advance of the planned introduction of a Coroners and Death Certification Bill in the next Session of Parliament. As with the draft Bill, it is my intention to publish an updated version when the Bill proper is introduced.