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Economic Partnership Agreements

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My honourable friend the Minister for Trade and Investment (Ian Pearson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I would like to update the House on how the UK has sought to deliver its position on the economic partnership agreements (EPAs) that are currently being negotiated between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and also to highlight our objectives in 2006, which is a critical year for the EPA process. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Department for International Development (DfID) published a position paper in March 2005 called Making EPAs Deliver for Development, which was outlined in a Ministerial Statement made by Patricia Hewitt, then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, on 22 March 2005. That Statement set out the Government's view that EPAs should be designed to deliver long-term development, economic growth and poverty reduction, and that in its work on EPAs, the EU should take a non-mercantilist approach and not pursue any offensive interests. Since then, we have made progress in taking forward some of these goals, particularly in reinforcing the underpinning principle that these trade agreements should be tools for development in the ACP.

The UK position paper has helped to give EPAs a much higher profile among EU member states. During 2005, we used our presidency of the EU to ensure that there was more and better dialogue on EPAs both with other EU member states and with the European Commission about the shape these agreements should take. At ministerial and official levels, we aimed to ensure that the crucial role of EPAs in development was fully recognised and that the trade and development aspects of EPAs are discussed coherently.

We established a technical "EPA Expert Group", involving trade and development officials which is chaired by the Commission. We have also established an informal EPA network of EU development officials which facilitates informal dialogue on the critical issues and helps us work more closely with other EU member states. EPAs were discussed at the first meeting of director-generals of trade and development in the EU, and at the informal meeting of EU development ministers. We have been pleased to see a more pro-development approach reflected in, for example, the European Commission staff paper, Trade and Development Aspects of the EPA Negotiations published in November 2005, as well as in the EU-Africa strategic partnership agreed at the European Council in December 2005.

The UK Government have continued to work closely with the ACP countries in order to understand their views and help support their development interests in the EU policy debate. For example, my
 
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right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development met with the chief ACP negotiators in October 2005, where he listened to their concerns on the slow disbursements of development assistance for EPAs. Since then, the Government have agreed with several other EU member states and the European Commission that we will jointly work to co-ordinate our bilateral and multilateral development assistance for EPAs. DfID has been continually developing their EPA research programme to provide new evidence to inform the policy dialogue. This research is practical and policy-oriented and includes exploring how ACP countries can ensure that any liberalisation that they undergo is paced and designed in a way that works for them. DfID has also expanded its technical assistance programme to support the ACP and promote a more level playing field in the negotiations. For example, DfID is helping the Caribbean region to decide how to structure its offer to the EU on market access in goods. This support has been well received by the ACP and we have received very positive feedback from the ACP negotiators.

During 2006, we will build on the progress achieved so far, and continually press for agreements that are in the interests of ACP countries' development, economic growth and poverty reduction. We will also push to ensure that the review of the negotiations provided for in the Cotonou agreement is both comprehensive and fully involves the participation of the ACP. From a UK perspective, we believe that the review should first aim to take stock of progress across all the ACP regions on specific priority issues and confirm that each ACP regional group can make its own decisions on the timing, pace, sequencing and product coverage of market opening. The review should also help steer the EPA process during 2007 towards the conclusion of the negotiations. We continue to develop our specific priorities based on the principles above, in response to discussions with the ACP.

We will also work to ensure that there is more systematic assessment of whether development aspects are properly incorporated into EPAs, as well as to check that the impact of implementing the agreements does not cause harm to ACP countries in the longer term. To this end, we will support the establishment of an improved monitoring mechanism that will check progress against development objectives.

We will continue to work closely with the Commission, other EU member states and the ACP as the negotiations continue. Obviously, the Commission is charged with representing the balance of EU opinion, but we will prioritise our objectives and
 
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advance clearly on our pro-development approach, ensuring that the UK voice carries the maximum weight.

Firth of Forth: Nature Conservation Sites

Lord Davies of Oldham: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Alistair Darling) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I announced on 21 November that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency would co-ordinate a public consultation to assess the implications for relevant nature conservation sites in the Firth of Forth, of Forth Ports' revised and amplified oil spill contingency plan.

The consultation has been launched today, and will last for a period of 12 weeks. The consultation package comprises the submitted oil spill contingency plan material and supporting information from Forth Ports and Scottish Natural Heritage. The consultation is limited to assessing the implications of the plan for the protected sites, in view of their conservation objectives, with a view to ascertaining whether the plan will adversely affect the integrity of the sites concerned.

Details on how to take part in the consultation are available on the Maritime and Coastguard Agency's website (www.mcga.gov.uk).

Incapacity Benefit

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Anne McGuire) has made the following Written Statement.

It has been brought to my attention that the reply I gave the honourable Member for Bury St Edmunds, David Ruffley, on 30 January 2006, Official Report, Commons, col. 248W, did not contain an adequate explanation of shortcomings in the data provided. I apologise for this oversight.

The figures in the last two columns of the table provided are not comparable over the time series given.

Due to an operational decision at the time of transfer, between 1993 and 1995, many existing invalidity benefit cases had their start-dates reset at the time of transfer to the incapacity benefit system, resulting in an underestimate of long-term IB cases prior to May 2000.

The information is in the tables.
 
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Incapacity Benefit and Severe Disablement Allowance claimants by duration of claim each May 1997–99.


All DurationsUp to three monthsThree to six monthsSix months toone yearOne to two yearsOver two years
May 19972,848,800173,000156,500227,600352,0001,939,700
May 19982,795,200154,500132,300223,300357,3001,927,800
May 19992,754,800149,600129,300198,300320,1001,957,600









 
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Incapacity Benefit and Severe Disablement Allowance claimants by duration of claim each May since 2000


All DurationsUp to three monthsThree to six monthsSix months to one yearOne to two yearsTwo to five yearsOver five years
May 20002,737,800170,900136,800206,500308,800745,5001,169,300
May 20012,808,600170,500143,900214,700311,500704,0001,264,000
May 20022,822,200163,500132,600196,300313,000673,0001,343,800
May 20032,829,700158,700133,600195,800286,700662,6001,392,300
May 20042,825,000152,900130,900188,400286,100639,0001,427,600
May 20052,784,000138,200118,400180,600271,500614,9001,460,400




Source: DWP Information Directorate, 5 per cent samples from 1997 to 1999 and work and pensions longitudinal study 100 per cent data thereafter.
Notes:
1. Figures for the years 1997 to 1999 have been produced using 5 per cent data and have been rated up in accordance with the Great Britain WPLS 100 per cent IB/SDA totals.
2. Figures are rounded to the nearest hundred.
3. "Claimant" figures include all incapacity benefit (IB) and severe disability allowance claimants, including 113 credits only cases.





 
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