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Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I must press the Minister a little more. He said that the visa regime is constantly under review. Can he give any indication, on the basis of the strength of the case that has been made by the noble Lord, when a decision is likely to be reached, bearing in mind that the visa regime has been in existence for over five or six years? A time must come when we conclude that arrangement.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I had hoped that I had indicated that there were a number of considerations. There is still the smuggling of arms by people who come into this country from the Balkans, women trafficking and the smuggling of drugs through those regions. I believe that the House will want us to feel confident that people who apply for visas and come in are subject to a proper and full regime. It is not 100 per cent certain among the refugees who have not returned to their homes that they yet feel confident, and they may turn elsewhere as well. We must be really certain about this in the interests of the security of our own country. I emphasise that the visa regime should not and will not be maintained for a minute longer than we believe is necessary.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I shall detain the House for one moment simply to say that we should take this opportunity to acknowledge the fact that our Principal Doorkeeper, John Kirtley, is retiring imminently. This will be the last occasion on which he carries the Mace from this House. There will be many other occasions, I am sure, when we can pay proper tribute to his service to this House, but I think it is right that on this occasion, I, on behalf of the whole House—all the parties and the Cross Benches—acknowledge the splendid service he has given to this House and to wish him the very happiest retirement.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: Hear, hear.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, may I add "Hear, hear" from these Benches, because the noble Lord forgot to mention the Bishops' Bench?

Written Statements

Tuesday 6 December 2005


 
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EU Presidency: Economic and Financial Affairs Council

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I will chair the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) on 6 December 2005. The Paymaster General, Dawn Primarolo MP, will represent the UK. Items on the agenda are:

Economic reform: Council will consider two reports from the Economic Policy Committee on responding to the challenges of globalisation and Lisbon national reform programmes.

Regulatory reform: Stock-take and look ahead to 2006.

Fiscal issues: VAT reduced rates; following discussion at ECOFIN in November, Ministers will consider a proposal on VAT reduced rates.

Fiscal issues: Code of conduct report; Ministers will discuss and be asked to adopt a report by the Code of Conduct Group.

Financial services: Post-financial services action plan; Commissioner McCreevy will give a presentation on the forthcoming Commission White Paper.

Combating terrorism: Payments regulation on wire transfers: ECOFIN will consider its general approach based on the Commission proposal.

Combating terrorism: Action plan update; council will take note of progress on the EU's Counter-terror Action Plan.

Oil market and related energy issues; Commissioner Piebalgs will update the council on the Commission's work.

EU Presidency: Energy Council

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My honourable friend the Minister of State for Energy (Malcolm Wicks) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I chaired, for the UK presidency of the EU, the Energy Council in Brussels on 1 December. Alun Michael represented the UK.

The council considered several matters of interest to the UK; chief among these were better regulation in the context of implementation of the EU's liberalised electricity and natural gas market, climate change and sustainable energy, and EU relations with third countries. There was an important and substantive debate throughout around the energy agenda
 
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discussed recently at Hampton Court, and the balance between our three key objectives of competitive markets, security of supply and tackling climate change. Member states recognised the important potential contribution from a European energy policy and supported Commission plans for taking this forward, through a Green Paper early in 2006, with a view to reporting to the 2006 December European Council.

On market liberalisation, there was broad consensus that secure electricity and gas supplies at competitive prices, delivered on open, transparent and competitive markets are crucial to Europe's competitiveness; and that full implementation of the second electricity and gas directives was crucial. The Commission report on the internal energy market and the competition inquiry into the energy sector highlighted areas for more work, including more effective action by the Commission and national regulators against anti-competitive behaviour. Member states saw no need for further legislation until there had been more investigation into key issues such as market concentration, long-term contracts and the impact of the Emissions Trading Scheme. They agreed that the main issues for developing an effective internal energy market—such as independent and effective regulation, the development of regional markets, effective unbundling, and transparency—could be done within the existing framework.

One member state rejected the Commission analysis of market shortcomings, claiming that a period of regulatory stability was needed and that competition contributed to the EU's energy problems as much as it helped to resolve them. Some member states expressed concern at their dependence on particular energy suppliers, noting that similar liberalisation to the EU's was needed in such countries.

Council conclusions were agreed on climate change and energy efficiency. Energy efficiency was recognised as making an important contribution to the three primary energy objectives. Member states saw the expected agreement on the Energy End-Use Efficiency and Energy Services Directive as welcome in this respect. Several member states expressed concerns about the operation of the Emissions Trading Scheme and the need to revise the scheme before the next phase.

On EU-third country relations, the presidency and Commission summarised progress on dialogues with key energy partners. On Russia, the successful Permanent Partnership Council held in October signalled real hope of progress. There would be a second ministerial meeting with OPEC on 2 December to develop the dialogue begun earlier in the year and promote mutual understanding. The energy treaty signed with south-east European countries would establish a neighbouring regional market on the same lines as the EU internal market. A key issue at the energy charter treaty's annual conference on 9 December would be how to take forward the negotiations on the transit protocol.
 
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EU Presidency: Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Industry and the Regions (Alun Michael) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I chaired the telecoms part of the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council of the UK's EU presidency in Brussels on 1 December 2005.

The council began informally over lunch, where I chaired a policy debate on the 2006 review of the regulatory framework for electronic communications markets. The council agreed that the framework plays a key role in the development of open and competitive ICT markets. There was broad consensus that its implementation needs to be improved and that the review of the framework is a high priority for 2006. I was pleased that the council gave a steer on the key issues for the review. These included the importance of competition and investment in next-generation networks, ensuring a light-touch regulatory approach and the importance of the needs of consumers.

The policy debate then continued in formal session with a focus on the future of EU spectrum policy. The council agreed that spectrum is a valuable economic and social resource and that its management needs to be more flexible and efficient. However, views were divided about the role that market-based mechanisms and harmonisation should play in determining spectrum policy. There was broad support for further discussion and analysis on this important issue, particularly in light of the spectrum which will be released by the switchover from analogue television.

I then chaired a policy debate on the Commission's i2010 Strategy. This was a public open session. I reported on the successful events held as part of our presidency, including the gathering of chief executives on 8 and 9 July and the i2010 and e-accessibility conferences held in London on 6 September and 21 October respectively. Evidence from the Disability Rights Commission prepared for the second of these conferences showed that websites that failed to meet the e-accessibility standards were 50 per cent more difficult for all individuals to use, demonstrating that accessibility is an economic issue as well as an equalities issue. There was broad support for the i2010 Strategy and its three objectives to promote open and competitive markets, to strengthen ICT research and to achieve an inclusive information society. The council discussed particular priority areas within the i2010 Strategy's three themes. These included the need for appropriate policy actions in the regulatory field, on broadband and content and on e-government and e-accessibility. There was agreement that the i2010 Strategy needs to be implemented effectively if its contribution to the Lisbon agenda is to be realised.
 
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I am pleased to report that at the end of this debate the council adopted council conclusions on the i2010 Strategy and on e-accessibility.

The council also adopted conclusions without debate on the subject of the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. These conclusions highlight the intention of member states to complete the switchover, as far as possible, by the end of 2012.

Finally, I reported on the successful outcome on Internet governance at the World Summit on the Information Society and I highlighted the key role of the EU under our presidency in facilitating the compromise position. The agreement reached will provide a sound basis for delivering enhanced co-operation, and the response from the commissioner and the council was very positive indeed.


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