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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 22 February 2010


Council for Financial Stability

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): I have today deposited in the Libraries of both Houses copies of the minutes of the first meeting of the Council for Financial Stability, which was held on 14 January 2010.

The Council comprises the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who chairs the Council, the Governor of the Bank of England and the Chairman of the Financial Services Authority. The Council is responsible for considering emerging risks to the financial stability of the UK and global financial system, and co-ordinating an appropriate response by the UK's authorities.

At the first meeting of the Council, the Governor of the Bank of England, the Chairman of the Financial Services Authority and I discussed the following issues:

The Financial Services Bill currently before Parliament provides for the establishment of the Council in statute, including the requirement to publish minutes of its quarterly meetings. The Government have moved to the new arrangements ahead of the passage of the Bill.

Tax Information Exchange Agreement

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): A Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) was signed with San Marino on 16 February 2010.

The text of the TIEA has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs' website. The text will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

Home Department

Fraudulent Use of Passports (Investigation)

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson): Following a formal request from the Emirati law enforcement authorities the Serious Organised Crime Agency is conducting an investigation into the apparent use of counterfeit British passports by those suspected of murdering a Hamas official in Dubai recently. The investigation is at an early stage but a number of avenues of inquiry are expected to be followed. Since this is a criminal investigation it would not be appropriate to comment on it at this stage.

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Based on the limited information available, the Identity and Passport Service is satisfied that the passport records identified are genuine UK passports, issued in the UK between September 2001 and January 2006, and that the photographs and signatures provided by the Dubai authorities do not match those on IPS records. These pre-date the time when biometric UK passports started to be issued.

UK Border Agency Strategy

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): I am today publishing a new strategy entitled "Protecting our Border, Protecting the Public". Copies will be available in the Vote Office and in the Libraries of both Houses.

Since its creation in 2008, the UK Border Agency has become one of the UK's largest law enforcement bodies, operating across the UK and in 135 countries overseas. It stands at the forefront of efforts to protect the United Kingdom from overseas threats posed by dangerous people, goods and materials, while at the same time enforcing our immigration rules and facilitating the flow of legitimate travel and trade on which our economy depends.

This document both clarifies the extent of our law enforcement activities and sets out our vision as to how, over the next five years, we will develop our capability to protect the public from the harm caused by illegal immigration and smuggling. It also sets out how the agency will support the work of its criminal justice partners in tackling non-immigration crime committed by foreign nationals in the UK.

In support of the wider Government priority of tackling organised crime, the document identifies tackling organised immigration and smuggling crime as a key priority for the agency, with particular focus on the detection of class A drugs at the border and the targeting of groups that facilitate illegal entry or stay in the UK. The underlying themes of the strategy include encouraging compliance with our immigration rules, the benefits of disrupting criminal activity before it reaches our shores and greater targeting of the assets of criminal groups.

Tackling border and immigration crime and protecting the public is a responsibility that the UK Border Agency shares with law enforcement partners, such as the police and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency. The UK Border Agency has much to contribute, for example through the e-Borders programme; but success will be multi-agency. We already have strong partnership arrangements; our regional immigration crime teams for example, are comprised of both border agency and seconded police officers. We also have local immigration teams across the country that work alongside the police, HM Revenue and Customs, local authorities and other local partners to ensure compliance with, and enforce, our immigration laws.

This strategy explains our relationship with the wider law enforcement community and sets out how we will work more closely together to deter, disrupt, detect and deal with crime, in order to make the UK a hostile environment for criminals and a safer place for the public.

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Accommodation and Support Service

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Maria Eagle): I am today announcing that the Government have awarded a new national contract for the Bail Accommodation and Support Service to Stonham.

This follows a competitive tender conducted in accordance with Public Sector Procurement Directive (2004/8/EC). Stonham offered the best overall bid in terms of quality of service and cost relative to the other bids received and will take over the service from ClearSprings on18 June 2010 for an initial three years.

Stonham is a third sector organisation and registered charity, and one of the UK's largest providers of housing and support for vulnerable and socially excluded people.

The primary aim of the Bail Accommodation and Support Service is to provide accommodation and support services to enable the courts and prison governors to make greater use of conditional bail and early release on home detention curfew, in appropriate cases. The scheme allows defendants without an appropriate address, who would otherwise have been granted bail by the courts, to be bailed. It helps to ensure that prison is reserved for people who really need to be there: not people who the courts judge to be suitable for bail or who prison governors judge may be placed on home detention curfew.

Prime Minister

Informal European Council - 11 February 2010

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): I attended an informal meeting of the European Council in Brussels on 11 February.

Leaders discussed the financial situation in Greece. They fully supported Greece's commitment to ensure that the ambitious targets set in the stability programme for 2010 and the following years are met. The euro area member states committed to take determined and co-ordinated action to safeguard financial stability in the euro area as a whole.

The leaders also discussed the Europe 2020 strategy, the successor to the Lisbon strategy for jobs and growth. There was support for the ideas contained in the UK's compact for jobs and growth and agreement on the need to co-ordinate activity to achieve a higher level of growth. I look forward to the publication of the Commission's detailed proposals on 3 March.

The leaders also discussed climate change, Iran and Haiti.


Revised Code for Crown Prosecutors

The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): My right hon. Friend the Attorney-General has made the following written ministerial statement:

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Informal Meeting of EU Transport Ministers

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): An informal meeting of EU Transport Ministers took place on 12 February 2010 in La Coruña, Spain. I represented the United Kingdom. The two topics for discussion were aviation security and the Commission's action plan on urban mobility.

The priority on aviation security was to discuss the additional security measures introduced in member states post-Detroit and the future evolution of aviation security within the EU. The UK, along with most member states, highlighted the need for a review and reinforcement of EC current baseline measures and the application of new technologies, including but not limited to advanced imaging technology (AIT), subject to appropriate safeguards. It was noted that the European Commission would shortly be producing a report on the use of new technologies (including AITs), as a first step to a future legislative proposal to allow their use as a primary screening technology within the EU, a move supported by the UK. The presidency emphasised that the threat posed a global challenge which required a single response and that technology must play a fundamental role in EU strategy to protect the public. The presidency expressed satisfaction at the consensus reached, which would be developed in a joint strategy within the framework of the European Union. The UK will be participating in further EU, ECAC and ICAO meetings over the next few weeks and months to continue to work internationally to build on existing aviation security standards and
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using and developing new technology, in order to make things harder for the terrorist, but to continue to facilitate and protect genuine passenger journeys.

On the action plan on urban mobility, the priority was to prepare draft conclusions which will be considered at the Transport Council in June. The UK joined several other member states in supporting the principles of the action plan, in particular, the Commission's approach of promoting and supporting the development of sustainable urban mobility policies, while maintaining that the principle of subsidiarity is vital in the field of urban transport. The presidency emphasised the need to implement sustainable plans to promote greater
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integration of infrastructure planning and to find alternatives to the use of private vehicles through the use of public and non-motorised means of transport. The UK agreed that there is a role for the Commission to play in overcoming the lack of evidence surrounding urban mobility and facilitating the exchange of best practice. An observatory, as suggested in the action plan, could achieve this goal, but it is vital that it has clear terms of reference, objectives and a work programme agreed by member states. The UK position remains clear that the action plan should not lead to further legislation, and that cities and city regions should retain the freedom to pursue and implement locally relevant solutions.

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