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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 18 June 2008

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

EU Telecoms Council Meeting

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business and Competitiveness (Baroness Vadera) has made the following statement:

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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 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.

Audiovisual Items

The Council adopted the conclusions on media literacy, noting the forthcoming Commission study to develop indicators in this area.

A general approach was reached on the programme protecting children using the internet—a five-year funding programme with a €55 million budget aimed at tackling illegal and harmful internet content.

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 Commission’s new content online platform—a 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.

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The Commission summarised their communication on video games and pushed member states to implement the voluntary Pan European Game Information (PEGI) system for age rating of video games.

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.

Culture Items

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’, Sweden—supported by some other delegations—called 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.

Also under ‘any other business’, Greece announced the opening of its Parthenon museum. Ministers would be invited to the inauguration.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Central Science Laboratory

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.

Pesticides Safety Directorate

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.

Rural Payments Agency

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): This statement corrects Monday’s written ministerial statement on the Rural Payments Agency, 16 June 2008, Official Report, column 38WS.

I have set the Rural Payments Agency the following performance targets for 2008-09.

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Further details are given in the RPA strategy and business plan for 2008-09—2010-11 a copy of which will be provided to the Library of the House.

Home Department

Crime and Communities Review

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.

International Development

Burma Cyclone Nargis - (Written Statement Correction)

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 UK’s 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.

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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 Children’s 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.


Legal Services Ombudsman and Legal Services Complaints Commissioner

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.

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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 these—the 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.

Both offices have provided a very valuable service to consumers and I am sure they will continue to do so until the new arrangements become operational.

Coroner Reform (Draft Charter for the Bereaved)

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.

Copies of the draft charter for the bereaved have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

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