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The presidency called for agreement on the Rapid Response and Preparedness Instrument on the basis of a compromise text which would have seen the previous proposal for Community finance to be available for the hire of civil protection equipment removed

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from the instrument entirely. This represented a major move towards the UK position. Community finance would have remained within the scope of the instrument for the transport of civil protection assistance to disasters inside and outside of the EU provided the member state sending the assistance met 50 per cent of the costs. The amount of Community expenditure available for transport would also have been capped at 60 per cent of the total spend available through the instrument. There was support for this proposal from most other delegations. However the UK was not prepared to agree the instrument at the council on this basis. The presidency agreed to send the item back to COREPER for further discussion. Following a further concession to the UK whereby the maximum amount of Community expenditure available for transport was lowered to 50 per cent, agreement was reached at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 11 December.

The council conclusions on the future of Europol were agreed in principle with just one issue to be discussed at ambassadorial level on the replacement of the Europol Convention with a council decision.

The EU counter-terrorism co-ordinator presented a stock-take report which noted good progress on developing EU counter-terrorism legislation, secure intelligence analyses from the EU's Situation Centre and international co-operation. The report also identified shortcomings identified in implementing the legislation and in national capabilities to respond to attacks. As such, it may be useful to note that the EU has recently begun to develop initiatives in the field of combating radiological and biological terrorism. The UK has been closely involved with this work since its inception, lending our considerable expertise in this field, and ensuring that this work progresses in a manner that adds value at the European level and is not detrimental to UK interests.

The presidency presented a progress report on the strategy for the external dimension of JHA, which had been agreed under the UK's presidency. It was noted that implementation of the strategy was progressing, but that more time would be needed before a full evaluation of results would be possible.

There were a number of AOB items: the European evidence warrant should be adopted early in the German presidency; European contract law, during which the Commission stressed that the project concerned better law-making, not a European code of contract law; progress on the PrĂ1/4m Treaty was noted and the German presidency indicated that it intended to attach priority to bringing the treaty into the EU acquis during its presidency. This would be discussed further at the JHA informal council in January.

At lunch on day 1 the Home Secretary took the opportunity to brief colleagues on the ongoing investigation into the death of Alexander Litvinenko. There was a brief exchange of views on violent video games where the Home Secretary emphasised the need to protect children, and others, from violent material and set out the UK's specific concerns about extreme pornographic material. Domestically the UK is proposing to make illegal the possession of a limited range of violent and extreme pornographic material and would like other member states to consider how they control

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the publication and distribution of such material. The Home Secretary urged that this work be taken forward under the German presidency. Judge Vassilios Skouris, president of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), gave a presentation on the ECJ's proposals for accelerated procedures for handling cases in the area of freedom, security and justice. Lunch items on day 2 included a presentation by Michel Barnier, diplomatic adviser to Nicolas Sarkozy, on disaster response and a presentation by Kristiina Kangaspunta, chief of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, followed by discussion of the EU action plan to combat human trafficking.

EU: Telecoms Council

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.

I represented the United Kingdom at the Telecoms Council in Brussels, on the morning of 11 December 2006. The council began with the presidency asking member states to approve the council resolution for a strategy for a secure information society in Europe. The resolution concentrates specifically on trust and security in the ubiquitous information society of tomorrow. There was a brief endorsement from the Commission after which three remaining linguistic and scrutiny reserves were lifted without discussion.

The presidency then presented its paper on the progress made in the council concerning the Commission proposal for a regulation on roaming on public mobile networks within the Community. In my intervention I welcomed this proposal, agreeing that there is definitely a need for control of wholesale and retail prices, but expressed my concern at the Commission's proposed course of action to achieve this reduction. I along with several other member states proposed the introduction of a sunrise clause on the imposition of an average (rather than maximum) retail cap. This would result in the best deal for consumers in terms of sustainable lower roaming prices, competition in the marketplace and continued innovation in the packages offered. I also referred to a co-authored UK and French paper setting out principles on how we believe the regulation should be structured (attached at Annexe A). I am pleased to report that the UK/French approach received considerable support.

The presidency concluded the discussion by emphasising the good progress that had been made on the dossier that would now pass to the German presidency for a conclusion before the summer.

Discussions then turned to the agenda items listed under any other business. The first of these was a presentation by the Finnish presidency on the i2010 conference, which it held in September. This was followed by an update on discussions that took place at the internet governance forum in October. As both of these presentations were fundamentally feedback on past events I did not intervene.

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Commissioner Reding then made a brief request to member states to sign the memorandum of understanding on eCall. ECall is an automated emergency call system which is able to report traffic accidents from the vehicles involved in the crash which in turn could improve the emergency services’ response time. The Government are yet to decide whether to sign the MOU. This is a DfT lead, on which I understand the House has received one Explanatory Memorandum (EM 1238/05 COM2005431 FINAL) and will shortly receive a supplementary EM (EM15932/06 COM2006723 FINAL).

The fourth and final item under AOB was an update on the debate about “116”, on the request of the French (this was a last-minute addition to the agenda). “116” is a draft decision from the Commission requesting all member states to allocate numbers (116 XXX) for pan-European services of societal value. In my intervention I agreed with the Commission on the importance of this service and supported the French proposal that one of these numbers, when the decision is adopted, (116 000) should be reserved for a hotline for reporting missing children. I concluded my intervention by affirming the United Kingdom's commitment to do everything that we can to take this initiative forward.

On conclusion of discussions on telecoms issues, Commissioner McCreevy, the Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, presented the third postal services directive. The directive proposes the full accomplishment of the internal market for Community postal services through the removal or reduction of obstacles that hinder the functioning of the internal market. I along with several other member states supported the Commission's proposal and highlighted the benefits that we have experienced in the UK, such as choice of provider, better service quality and improved value for money, following the liberalisation of our postal market at the beginning of this year.

The Telecoms Council concluded with the presidency thanking member states for all their assistance over the past six months and wishing the Germans good luck for their forthcoming presidency.

EU: Transport Council

Lord Davies of Oldham: My honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Dr Stephen Ladyman) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I attended the transport session of the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council, held in Brussels on 11 to 12 December. The Finnish Minister for Transport and Communications, Mrs Susanna Huovinen, was in the chair.

The council adopted conclusions on the Commission communication on its mid-term review of the programme for the promotion of short sea shipping. The conclusions are acceptable to the UK.

The council reached a general approach on a directive amending the current EU provisions on port state control. The general approach, reached on the basis of a compromise proposal, was acceptable to the UK.

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The council also reached a general approach on a decision concerning the ratification by EU member states of the 2006 consolidated maritime labour convention of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). This decision, enabling member states to ratify the convention, and incorporating member states’ and Community competence, is acceptable to the UK.

There was a Commission progress report on the regulation on liability of carriers of passengers by sea and inland waterways in the event of accidents.

The Commission gave a further report on progress in the PPP concession contract negotiations on the Galileo satellite navigation programme. It is keen to ensure that the main elements of the concession contract are in place by early 2007; was hopeful that the financial regulation setting out the financial and legal commitments for the public sector over the 20-year period of the concession contract could be finalised by autumn 2007; and expected that final signature of the concession contract could then take place by the end of 2007. I urged that the Commission ensure sufficient information is made available to the March transport council so that some preparatory work could be carried out before the important decisions that will need to be taken at the later June council. I underlined again the civil nature of the project, and called for better information for the council on economic returns versus cost.

The Commission announced that it would shortly issue a paper setting out its recommendations on future relations with non-EU countries in the Galileo programme. The Commission also reported on the recent publication of its Green Paper on Galileo applications. The paper invites comments from stakeholders on a host of issues relating to Galileo applications.

Over lunch Ministers discussed the member states’ bids for location of the Galileo Supervisory Authority (GSA). The UK's bid is for Cardiff and I spoke in favour of it. There are 10 other bids: from Greece, Spain, Belgium, Slovenia, Malta, Germany, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Italy and France. The presidency noted that all 11 bids met the criteria it had drawn up. It was not possible to reach a conclusion, so the Finnish presidency remitted the issue to the incoming German presidency.

The council adopted conclusions on the Commission's communication on freight transport logistics, entitled Freight Logistics in Europe—Key to Sustainable Mobility. The Commission plans to present an action plan for freight transport logistics in 2007. The UK supports this initiative from the Commission, and the proposal to develop an action plan and the conclusions are acceptable to us.

The council reached a general approach on a directive on retrofitting of blind-spot mirrors to heavy goods vehicles larger than 3.5 tonnes registered in the Community. The UK supports the objectives of this proposal, which extends the provisions of a type-approval directive adopted in 2003 (for new trucks) to the existing fleet. The directive will apply to lorries registered after 1 January 2000. I was able to accept the text of the general approach, in the interest of making progress on this important matter. I joined

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others in calling for the Commission to consider the addition of a mirror covering the front blind spot. A statement to this effect, recording the Commission's agreement, will be entered in the minutes.

The Commission reported on negotiations with the US on air transport. The situation was more complex now than at the previous transport council, since the proposed US rule-making procedure had been withdrawn. The Commission had accepted an offer of further talks in January to consider next steps. The Commission was disappointed with recent developments, but was determined to make progress and to continue to work towards a balanced agreement.

The Commission reported on the agreement reached with Russia on Siberian overflights. The agreement was widely welcomed in the council.

The council adopted a mandate authorising the Commission to open air transport negotiations with Ukraine. The UK supports this mandate.

The council reached a general approach on a regulation amending regulation 1592/2002, which established a framework for aviation safety regulation built around the European Aviation Safety Agency. The text of the general approach was acceptable to the UK.

Under AOB there were reports on the EU-Russia transport dialogue and on the ministerial conference on road safety held in Verona on 3 to 4 November. Agreed without debate were the following proposals, all of which were acceptable to the UK:

Regulation of the European Parliament and of the council laying down general rules for the granting of Community financial aid in the field of trans-European transport and energy networks and amending Council regulation (EC) No. 2236/95;Adoption of the council decision on the signing of a co-operation agreement on a Civil Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) between the European Community and its member states and the Kingdom of Morocco;Adoption of a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on public passenger transport services by rail and by road;Adoption of a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on common rules in the field of civil aviation security;Adoption of a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework for the approval of motor vehicles and their trailers, and of systems, components and separate technical units intended for such vehicles (“framework directive”;Adoption of a council regulation amending Regulation (EC) No. 1321/2004 on the establishment of structures for the management of the European satellite navigation programmes;Adoption of a council regulation amending Council regulation (EC) No. 876/2002 setting up the Galileo joint undertaking.

The GNSS agreement with Morocco was signed in the margins of the council, and I signed for the UK.

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Environmental Impact Assessment Directive

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have today issued a consultation document on The application of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive to ‘stalled’ reviews of old mineral permissions and periodic reviews of mineral permissions in England. This seeks comments on proposals for amending regulations relating to England to deal, first, with initial reviews of old mineral planning permissions which are undetermined and so “stalled” for want of environmental information. Secondly, comments are sought on proposals to apply sanctions to make the application of the environmental impact assessment Directive to all reviews of mineral planning permissions as effective as possible. Similar amending regulations are being proposed in relation to Wales.

The proposed regulations would put beyond doubt that the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations 1999, as amended by the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2000 (the 2000 regulations)—which include a sanction of suspension of operations for failing to provide the necessary environmental information—apply to stalled applications for initial reviews of old mineral permissions. These applications were submitted before the 2000 regulations came into force, and some have not been determined because necessary environmental information has not been provided.

Many mineral sites are operating under permissions granted many years ago which contained few, if any, conditions to mitigate the impact of mineral extraction. Uniquely within the planning system, legislation was introduced in the 1990s to review and update to modern environmental standards these old permissions which can last for many decades and to regularly review all mineral permissions. At that time, it was assumed that, because the reviews did not grant consent but merely updated mineral operating conditions, there was no need to apply the environmental impact assessment directive. However, subsequent court judgments established that conditions reviews did constitute “development consent” as defined in the directive, which had not, therefore, been fully transposed. Consequently, the 2000 regulations were introduced to apply the environmental impact assessment directive to these reviews.

Guidance issued with the regulations advised that they applied only to applications for review made after the 2000 regulations came into force on 15 November 2000. Operators of sites with applications for initial review which had not been determined by that date were asked to submit any necessary environmental information voluntarily. Most did so. But there are around 40 such applications in England which are “stalled” for a variety of reasons, including some where operators are refusing to provide

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environmental information when requested to do so by mineral planning authorities. There is currently no sanction to encourage them to do so and at active sites operations can continue under the terms of the original permissions with little or no mitigation of the environmental impacts.

Subject to consultation comments, the proposed amending regulations would apply the sanction of suspension for continuing failure to provide the necessary environmental information and so help to conclude these reviews and bring operations up to modern standards.

The consultation paper also proposes further sanctions to apply to all reviews of mineral permissions for failure to provide necessary environmental information. These are:

automatic suspension of operations if additional environmental information required to enable a determination of whether a review requires an environmental impact assessment is not provided;a requirement for mineral planning authorities to consider making suspension orders to secure environmental remediation where operations have been automatically suspended for a period of 12 months without provision of outstanding environmental information; anda requirement for mineral planning authorities to make orders prohibiting resumption of mineral working where operations have been automatically suspended for two years without provision of outstanding environmental information.

Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The paper is also available on the Communities and Local Government website at asp?id=1505253. The consultation period ends on 12 March 2007.

Immigration: Independent Inspectorate

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My honourable friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Liam Byrne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The House will wish to know that I am publishing today a consultation document on the establishment of an independent inspectorate for immigration. Copies of this consultation document have been placed in the House Library.

At present there are a wide range of bodies that monitor, inspect or advise on specific parts of the immigration system. What is currently lacking is a clear and consistent view of the overall system in a way that can provide confidence to the public and to Parliament that the system is working efficiently and effectively and, where there are problems, that these are being addressed in a way that is consistent with the Government's policies and objectives.

In order to deliver this we believe there is a strong case for introducing a new independent inspectorate. The consultation paper sets out our thinking on the role such a new body might have to conduct an effective

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assessment of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate including overall effectiveness, quality of decision-making, enforcement powers, access to information and the treatment of individuals.

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