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Written Statements

Monday 18 December 2006

Armed Forces: Army Base Repair Organisation

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Adam Ingram) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In March 2006 I announced to the House that following a number of developments, primarily the decision to extend the depth repair programme for the FV430 fleet of armoured vehicles, the previously contemplated rationalisation of four of ABRO's business units, including the closure of ABRO's armoured vehicle facility at Donnington, would need to be reconsidered.

Further work has reinforced the decision I made in March. A major rationalisation of ABRO's operational capacity and capability on the scale previously contemplated (including closure of the Donnington armoured vehicle facility) is not likely to be required in the short to medium-term because of the volumes of repair, upgrade, maintenance and overhaul work. The market in which ABRO operates will continue to evolve in the medium to longer-term, in line with the demands of the military customers and the potential introduction of new arrangements for supporting land-based military equipment.

The Government remain committed to modernising our Armed Forces. To this end, we must continually look for more efficient support solutions to enable us to invest more resource to support our men and women at the front line. To enhance the future prospects of the organisation, ABRO, like all providers of equipment support, will therefore need to build on the improvements it has already made to its efficiency and effectiveness, in particular to the infrastructure supporting its operational capacity and capability. I have asked ABRO to pursue these further improvements with renewed vigour.

ABRO expects to announce plans to deliver this objective during the early part of 2007. Where required, ABRO will of course consult staff and trades unions about any changes impacting staff.

Boundary Commission

The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): I should like to inform the House that I have made the following appointments under Schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986:

The honourable Mr Justice Lloyd Jones, appointed as deputy chairman of the Boundary Commission for Wales, for a period from 1 January 2007 to 31 December 2008;

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Mr Michael Lewer, CBE, QC, reappointed as a member of the Boundary Commission for England, for a period from 1 January 2007 to 7 October 2007; andMr Robin Gray, reappointed as a member of the Boundary Commission for England, for a period from 1 January 2007 to 17 May 2009.

Companies Act 2006

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Truscott): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Industry and the Regions (Margaret Hodge) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Companies Act 2006, which received Royal Assent on 8 November 2006, will bring major benefits to business by modernising and simplifying company law. The noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, made a Statement to the House of Lords on 2 November 2006 in which he explained that it is our intention to commence all parts of the Act by October 2008. As part of our implementation of the Act, I intend to commence some provisions early next year.

With effect from 1 January 2007, I intend to commence provisions in the Act relating to changes to the first company law directive. These changes are in large part designed to ensure increased facilities for e-communications with the national registrar of companies. With effect from 20 January 2007, I intend to commence the following provisions linked to implementation of the transparency obligations directive:

the provisions on company communications to shareholders and others, which include provisions facilitating electronic communication;provisions concerning a public company's right to investigate who has an interest in its shares; andSection 463, which sets out a statutory basis of directors' liability to the company in relation to the directors’ report (including the business review) and the directors’ remuneration report.

I also intend to commence all powers to make orders or regulations by statutory instrument with effect from 20 January 2007. I intend to commence some self-contained provisions of the Act from 6 April 2007, including:

the provisions in Part 28 of the Act implementing the takeovers directive;provisions extending the community interest company regime to Northern Ireland; andSection 1281, which amends Part 9 of the Enterprise Act 2002 to enable public authorities, in certain circumstances, to disclose information where the information is to be used in civil proceedings or otherwise for the purpose of establishing, enforcing or defending legal rights.

I also intend to repeal the following free-standing provisions of the Companies Act 1985 with effect from 6 April 2007:

Section 41 (authentication of documents);Sections 293 and 294 (provisions relating to directors aged 70 and over in public companies or private companies which are subsidiaries of public companies);

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provisions in Part 10 of, and Schedule 13 to, the Companies Act 1985 relating to the disclosure of share dealings by directors and their families;Section 311 (prohibition on tax-free payments to directors);Sections 323 and 327 (prohibition on directors’ dealing in share options);Sections 343 and 344 (special procedure for disclosure of dealings in favour of directors by banks);Section 358 (a power for companies to close the register of members);Section 438 (a power for the Secretary of State to bring civil proceedings on a company's behalf);Section 720 (a requirement for certain companies, including insurance companies, to publish periodical statements); andSection 729 (a requirement that the Secretary of State shall prepare an annual report to Parliament of matters within the Companies Acts).

I also intend to commence the provisions about fees payable to Companies House under the new Act. The provisions about fees under the old Act will still remain in force until all the repeals of provisions in that Act have been brought into force.

The Government consulted in August on the application of the Companies Act 2006 to existing companies. The consultation focused on a number of difficult transitional issues affecting company constitutions, which will arise for existing companies when the Act is commenced. I am today publishing a summary of the responses and the Government's conclusions, together with the individual responses where respondents have given their consent for their full response to be made public. We will consult in February 2007 on the policy issues related to secondary legislation which will need to be made under the Act, and on further transitional issues.

Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004

The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): I am very pleased to announce that I plan to implement Sections 1 and 12 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 on 1 July 2007. This confirms the commitment given by the Prime Minister on 6 December 2006.

Section 1 will make the breach of civil orders made under the Family Law Act 1996 a criminal offence punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. The Family Law Act 1996 provides victims with the non-molestation order and the occupation order. Victims can apply to a court for a non-molestation order to forbid someone using or threatening violence and/or harassing, pestering or intimidating them. Victims can also apply for an occupation order to enforce their entitlement to remain in occupation of the home, make the respondent leave the home, or regulate the occupation by both parties.

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Section 12 extends the powers on restraining orders under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to cover all violent offences. It also provides the courts with the power to make an order where a person is charged, pending trial, or where a person is not convicted but the court considers that it is necessary to make an order to protect the victim. The benefit is that a court may make a restraining order even if a defendant has been acquitted of other charges but the court considers there is sufficient evidence of harassment that it is necessary to protect a person from harassment by the defendant.

Both of these measures will significantly strengthen the suite of measures available to courts. Earlier measures already introduced included:

Making common assault an arrestable offence so that a police officer may arrest without a warrant under Section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. This provided the police with significant extra powers in respect of domestic violence and violent offences generally.Amending the eligibility criteria in the Family Law Act so that same-sex relationships are treated in the same way and to offer the same level of protection to people in relationships who are not living together.

Electoral Administration Act 2006

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Electoral Administration Act received Royal Assent on 11 July 2006. The Act aims to tackle four areas at the core of a healthy democracy by improving access, improving confidence, extending openness and transparency of party financing and maintaining professional delivery of elections. A third of the Act was commenced in September 2006. This second commencement order commences the vast majority of the remaining provisions within the Electoral Administration Act, including:

late registration;

anonymous registration;

introduction of new personal identifiers to absent voters;

regulation of loans and donations; and

handling of election documents.

These provisions, while coming into force on 1 January 2007, will not apply to any elections between 1 January 2007 and 3 May 2007.

Provisions relating to anonymous registration and observers, while commenced from 1 January 2007, will not take effect until June 2007 and 31 January 2007 respectively.

The only sections that will not be commenced relate to:

remaining provisions relating to core;

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provision of signatures in polling stations;

reporting donations to include details of the nature of donation; and

regulation of loans to Northern Ireland etc.

The Government are committed to improving access and engagement in the democratic process. Increased registration is one way to achieve this. Some 3.5 million people entitled to vote are not registered. We have therefore commenced provisions that allow anonymous registration for a person who believes that having their name and address on the register would put at risk the safety of themselves, or others in their household. In addition, people will now be able to register 11 days before the poll, whereas in the past the deadline was between six and eight weeks before the poll.

We have also brought into force a requirement for all persons applying to vote by post or proxy to provide their signature and date of birth. At elections, postal voters must provide these identifiers on their postal voting statement when they cast their vote. The Government believe this, along with the introduction of new election offences, represents a comprehensive set of legislative changes that will improve confidence in the electoral system.

Energy: Wind Farms

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Truscott): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Alistair Darling) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have today granted consents under Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 for the construction and operation of the Thanet and London Array offshore wind farms.

The consents have been granted to Thanet Offshore Wind Ltd (a subsidiary of Warwick Energy) and London Array Ltd, a consortium comprising Shell Wind Energy, E-on Renewables UK and Core Energy (itself comprising Farm Energy and DONG). When complete, the London Array project will be the largest wind farm in the world with the potential to generate 1GW of green energy. The Thanet proposal will generate up to 300MW.

In taking these decisions, I have considered representations about the possible impact of the projects on a range of environmental and other features and interests and taken advice from a range of stakeholders. I have concluded that the impacts envisaged by those making representations will either be of low significance or can be mitigated or avoided through the use of suitable conditions in the Electricity Act consent or in the licences for those projects that are to be issued by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985. I was also aware that the developers have made changes to the proposed works in order to provide further mitigation for some of the potential impacts.

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EU: Justice and Home Affairs Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Nationality, Citizenship and Immigration, Home Department, has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Justice and Home Affairs Council was held on 4 to 5 December 2006 in Brussels. The Home Secretary, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, and I attended on behalf of the UK.

The Finnish presidency opened the council with the “A” points list which was approved. These included general approaches on taking account of convictions in new criminal proceedings (an important measure that requires member states to ensure that judges can take into account previous convictions in other member states—when, for example, sentencing—in the same way that they would take into account previous domestic convictions) and the draft Council regulation (a measure that applies only to Schengen member states) listing the third countries whose nationals must be in possession of visas when crossing the external borders of member states.

The presidency presented its draft conclusions on the Hague programme review. Discussion focused on two elements of the conclusions: the passerelle and the wording with regard to the assessment of progress made in the areas of criminal and judicial co-operation. On the passerelle, there was robust discussion with some member states seeking to have reflected in the text the need for further work to explore the possibilities in the passerelle and a reference to the constitutional treaty. The UK opposed these suggestions strongly, noting that the majority of member states were against further work on the passerelle. The Home Secretary made clear additionally that there should not be any link to the constitutional treaty and that, given the limited support for the proposed use of the passerelle, the current debate should be regarded as over. A number of other member states joined in opposing reference to possible European Council discussion of the passerelle. The final text states that, “the subject of decision making would remain under consideration by the Council [i.e. the JHA Council]. This would be brought to the attention of the European Council in December”.

On the Hague programme review more generally, the agreed conclusions reflect the UK views that proposals or initiatives for new instruments at EU level should be based on a rigorous assessment of their potential impact and welcomes the progress made in implementing the programme to date.

The council reached political agreement on the regulation establishing the Fundamental Rights Agency on a basis that avoids any formal extension of the agency's remit to the areas covered by Title VI and any reference to the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the operative part of the regulation. Both of these elements were essential to enable the UK to agree the regulation. The text of the regulation will be formally adopted at a council in January 2007. The

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Commission is expected to implement the transitional arrangements from the existing European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.

No agreement was reached on the Prisoner Transfer Framework Decision. The presidency, with the support of the UK and a number of delegations, pushed hard for agreement on the latest text on the basis that it represented a compromise package for all. However, one member state maintained that the text did not go far enough to meet its concerns about the need for prisoner consent and the right of the executing state to determine whether transfer to its territory would facilitate social rehabilitation. Work will continue in the council on the outstanding issues.

The presidency asked whether the council wished to pursue work on a binding framework decision on procedural rights in criminal proceedings, pointing out that it and a non-binding resolution on practical measures (which had been put forward by six member states) were not mutually exclusive. Several member states, including the UK, preferred the non-binding text, arguing that the framework decision added no value for the citizen and created legal uncertainty. A large majority of member states were in favour of a binding instrument or prepared to be flexible. However, within the majority there was disagreement on whether a binding text should contain explicit derogations so as to protect national law. The issue would be taken up by the German presidency who are making it a priority of their presidency to reach agreement on a binding text.

Commissioner Frattini presented the Commission's communications on the global approach to migration and reinforcement of the southern maritime border. These were welcomed by the council, though it was noted that there was more that needed to be done. The UK introduced a paper on behalf of the G6 and underlined our wish for succinct, practically focused conclusions from the European Council. Work needed to be done to build partnerships with third countries and effectively planning the management of the southern maritime border.

The second-generation Schengen evaluation system (SIS II) and interim solution to connect the new member states to SIS I (SISOne4All) were discussed at length. A majority of member states wished to proceed with SISOne4All given their view that the political implications of delaying the lifting of internal borders were serious. The UK stressed its support for measures to allow the new member states to join the Schengen area as soon as possible, but also reiterated its concerns about costs, timetable and technical feasibility. The presidency proposed a compromise text on the basis that only those member states connected to SIS I would be liable for the extra costs resulting from the extension of the network, thereby excluding the UK and some other states from liability. The council conclusions were agreed on this basis.

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