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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Business, Innovation and Skills

EU Competitiveness Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): The EU Competitiveness Council took place in Brussels on 25 and 26 May 2010. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable) represented the UK on EU internal market and industry issues on 25 May and the Minister for Universities and Science, my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr Willetts) represented the UK on EU research issues on 26 May. Andy Lebrecht, the UK's deputy permanent representative to the EU represented the UK when a Minister was not in attendance. A summary of those discussions follows.

The main Internal Market/Industry Council items discussed on 25 May were harmonisation of the marketing of construction products, energy-efficient vehicles, future revision of the trade mark system in the EU, the services directive, EU consumer rights, and the Mario Monti report on the EU single market.

The Council reached political agreement with UK support on a common position for a regulation on the marketing of construction products. Council conclusions were agreed on an EU strategy for clean and energy-efficient vehicles. In discussion the UK supported the strategy but stressed the need for a technology-neutral approach, which was also supported by several other member states.

The Council approved conclusions on the future of the trade mark system in Europe and the Commission confirmed their commitment to the harmonisation of EU trade marks systems and the enforcement of intellectual property rights. The Commission and the Spanish EU presidency gave an update on the implementation of the services directive, stressing the added value that full implementation would bring to the EU.

There was a ministerial lunchtime discussion on the recent Mario Monti report on the future strategy for the EU single market. The Council also debated the proposed EU consumer rights directive which seeks to harmonise consumer law to make cross-border trade easier. The UK stressed the importance of full harmonisation where this would be beneficial, while allowing member states to determine the right level of consumer protection and consumer rights.

The any other business items discussed covered a draft regulation on textile labelling, the Commission's EU digital agenda document, the latest EU consumer markets scoreboard and a legal framework for gambling and betting in the EU. There were also Commission reports on a recent European shipbuilding conference and on an informal EU Ministers meeting on tourism.

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The main Research Council items discussed on 26 May were the Commission's Europe 2020 strategy, ITER (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), the Global Monitoring for the Environment and Security (GMES) European earth observation programme, the Baltic sea research and development programme (BONUS) and the European research area.

On Europe 2020, the proposed EU-wide 3% GDP target for investment in research and development was debated by Ministers. The UK stressed the importance of research and innovation and said it was considering its national target. A number of member states said they wished to keep their national targets under review.

The Council discussed the status and long-term funding of ITER. The UK and a number of other member states recognised the scientific importance of ITER but stressed the need for careful negotiation on funding to avoid placing undue cost burdens on member states.

The Council also agreed conclusions on innovation which will contribute to the Commission's research and innovation plan. The presidency gave an update on progress on reaching agreements with the European Parliament on GMES and on BONUS. The Council also agreed conclusions on the European research area on the formation of a new more strategic committee.

The any other business items discussed covered updates on the Citizens agenda of Science and Innovation, the European Institute of Technology, European Co-operation in Science and Technology (COST) and the Strategic Forum for International Scientific and Technical Co-operation.

Communities and Local Government

Local Government (Doncaster)

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): I am announcing today a package of intensive measures that I am proposing to put in place to turn around Doncaster metropolitan borough council after 15 years of poor governance and dysfunctional politics.

Following a corporate governance inspection of the council, the Audit Commission published their report on 19 April 2010 which concluded that the council is not properly run, is failing, and lacks the capacity to improve. The commission recommended statutory intervention by the Secretary of State.

The then Government accepted the report, announced that Government would intervene, and sought representations from the authority and its partners by 25 May on the form that intervention might take. It also established an emergency advisory board to provide, if urgent decisions were needed, leadership and clear support to the council's acting chief executive.

I have considered carefully the Audit Commission's report and recommendations, together with the representations received from the council, including the mayor, and its partners about the form of any intervention.

I am satisfied that there is a strong case for intervention at Doncaster metropolitan borough council, and I have issued today to that authority a draft of a direction that I intend to make under section 15 of the Local Government Act 1999 specifying the form of intervention to be put in place at Doncaster, together with a draft explanatory memorandum.

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The intervention package that I am proposing has been developed working with the Local Government Association and others in local government. It consists of my giving directions on three matters: first, the appointment of a head of paid service who will provide officer leadership and recommend appointment of statutory officers; secondly, the appointment of three commissioners who will be responsible for other officer appointments and any other matter referred to them; and thirdly, the council's co-operation with an intervention and recovery board comprising the commissioners and other experts to provide external support and challenge.

The authority now has until the 23 June to make any representations it wishes on the draft direction. Having regard to any representations I receive, I intend to take a final decision on the form of intervention by the end of June.

Copies of the draft direction and explanatory memorandum have been placed in the Library of the House.


Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anne Milton): The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will meet on 7 and 8 June. The Health and Consumer Affairs part of the Council will be taken on 8 June.

Items on the main agenda are: patients' rights in cross-border health care; provision of food information to consumers; health inequalities; and national initiatives on salt.

The presidency is likely to ask Ministers for political agreement on the directive on the application of patients' rights in cross-border health care. They also propose to adopt Council conclusions on both the reduction of health inequalities and the reduction of salt in food. The United Kingdom supports the adoption of these two proposals. A policy debate is expected on a regulation on the provision of food information.

Under any other business, information will be provided from the presidency on the two aspects of the pharmaceutical package-proposals to reduce the threat from counterfeit medicines and strengthening of community pharmacovigilance. In addition, we expect the presidency to provide information in preparation for the conference of the parties to the framework convention on tobacco control to be held later this year.

Home Department

Justice and Home Affairs pre-Council Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): The Justice and Home Affairs Council is due to be held on 3 and 4 June in Luxembourg. the Secretary of State for Justice, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and I intend to attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed:

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Council conclusions on the Stockholm programme action plan are on the A points list for agreement without discussion, unless any member state intervenes. The conclusions emphasise that the Stockholm programme sets the agenda, note that there are inconsistencies between the action plan and the programme and urge the Commission to bring forward only those actions that are in full conformity with the programme.

Her Majesty's Government do not support every aspect of the Stockholm programme action plan and while we will support the Council conclusions I will make it clear that this does not imply our backing for the entirety of the Stockholm programme, in particular the idea of a European public prosecutor and a common asylum policy. The UK will consider whether or not to opt in to new legislative proposals resulting from the Stockholm programme on a case-by-case basis.

The Council, beginning in Mixed Committee with Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Switzerland-commonly referred to as the Schengen States-will hear a state-of-play report from the Commission on the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II). The Commission will also present a comprehensive global schedule and budget for the entry into operation of SIS II.

The Council will be asked to adopt conclusions encouraging member states to make more extensive use of automated border control systems at their external borders. The UK will not participate in these automated systems, or the EU passport regulation on which the automated systems will be based, as they build on elements of the Schengen acquis in which we do not participate.

The Council will receive an update on the progress of the visa liberalisation road maps for the western Balkan countries agreed by the EU in 2009. The UK does not participate in EU common visa policy, as it builds on an area of the Schengen acquis in which the UK does not participate.

After Mixed Committee, the presidency will present the first main assessment description report for internal debate (MADRID) report on internal security in the EU. The report is a combination of threat assessments from Europol, Eurojust and Frontex against which the Council will be invited to debate and consider priorities for future action. The Council will not however be asked to approve the report.

Next there will be a discussion on the most recent report from the counter-terrorism co-ordinator (CTC), Gilles de Kerchove, on the implementation of the EU strategy and action plan to combat terrorism. The report examines the nature of the threat, transportation security-especially in the field of land transport-monitoring of terrorist travel, and the connecting of internal and external security. The UK supports efforts made by the EU CTC to continue to drive forward EU action and co-operation on counter terrorism.

The Council will then be asked to accept the draft text and sign off the EU-US counter-terrorism declaration, the declaration is intended to provide a durable framework for EU-US counter terrorism co-operation. The UK supports the declaration.

Over lunch Interior Ministers will discuss the seat of the IT agency. The UK has not yet taken a view on which member state's application to support.

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The presidency will update Ministers on progress on the "European Pact to Combat International Drug Trafficking", which is designed to enhance operational co-operation of EU countries in the fight against drug trafficking. The pact focuses on three broad areas of activity: disrupting cocaine routes; disrupting heroin routes; and tackling the money flows. The UK supports the pact and looks forward to its implementation.

The Council will receive an update on the progress of negotiations with the US on the agreement between the European Union and the United States of America on the terrorist finance tracking programme (TFTP). The Council agreed in May a negotiating mandate for the Commission to undertake negotiations with the US.

The presidency will update Ministers on the EU-Russia JHA Permanent Partnership Council meeting of 25 and 26 May, which was held in Kazan at which possible EU-Russia visa liberalisation and migration dialogue were discussed.

The Commission will ask the Council to adopt conclusions on unaccompanied minors, outlining proposals for handling the large numbers of unaccompanied children who enter the EU annually.

The Council will debate the follow-up to the EU pact on immigration and asylum, in advance of the first annual debate on this issue scheduled to take place at the June European Council. The Council will also adopt conclusions on the Commission's first annual progress report on the implementation of the migration pact, which summarise activity since implementation of the pact and make recommendations for priorities in the coming year.

Under AOB, Malta has requested that the Council discuss a LIBE-European Parliament Civil Liberties Committee-study entitled "What system of burden-sharing between member states for the reception of asylum seekers?". The Council will also be updated on the progress of negotiations on the EU readmission agreement with Turkey and any further action required by individual member states to continue momentum on negotiations. The Czech Republic has asked the Commission to update the Council on their negotiations with Canada to lift the current visa requirement on Czech citizens.

On the second day of the Council, there will be a state-of-play report on the proposed directive on interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings. This is the first measure of the criminal procedural rights road map, and it aims to improve access to interpretation and translation for defendants. The presidency hopes to inform the Council about the first reading agreement with the European Parliament, which is expected to vote to approve the instrument, as amended, during the week commencing 14 June.

The Spanish presidency will be looking to agree on a general approach for a directive on the European protection order. This is a proposal by the Spanish presidency that aims to provide continuous protection to vulnerable people as they move from one member state to another

The presidency will seek to reach a general approach on the Commission proposal for a directive on combating human trafficking as the basis for the next stage of negotiations with the European Parliament. The text is broadly similar to the text of the proposal for a framework decision on which the Council reached political agreement
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last November. The Government are broadly content with this approach, although we have not yet decided whether to opt in and the proposal remains subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

The presidency will seek political agreement on a proposal to authorise enhanced co-operation in the area of the law applicable to divorce and legal separation-also known as Rome III. This will be the first time that enhanced co-operation has ever been used. The presidency will be seeking also to reach agreement on key elements of the draft regulation implementing enhanced co-operation in this area. The Committees will be aware that the UK did not opt in to the original Rome III proposal in 2006. The Government do not intend the UK to participate in the enhanced co-operation.

There is also due to be agreement to high-level political guidelines for future work on the proposed regulation on succession and wills. As the UK has not opted in to this proposal it will not participate in any vote on these guidelines.

The Council will look to confirm the adoption of a negotiating mandate for discussions with the Council of Europe on the EU accession to the European convention of human rights. The aim of the accession is to close the gap in judicial protection of fundamental rights in the EU by ensuring that the EU institutions, as well as the member states when implementing EU law, will clearly be subject to the convention. The UK supports the EU's accession to the ECHR.

Ministers will be presented also with a state-of-play report on e-Justice work and asked to endorse an updated road map setting out a timetable for future projects.

Under any other business, at the request of the Austrians, there will be an item on the academy for the fight against corruption. This was discussed recently at the CATS meeting for senior officials. This is likely to be a presentation by Austria outlining progress on the academy which is based near Vienna and is due to be operational in 2011. The academy aims to be a centre of excellence in anti-corruption education, research and professional training, and will be the first of its type in the world.

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