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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office & Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Lord Jones of Birmingham): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (John Hutton) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The CEMEP report describes how major economic opportunities are emerging from the growing imperative of climate change and how the UK can take a lead in seizing these opportunities and become the best place to do business.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): The Justice and Home Affairs Council was held on 8 and 9 November 2007 in Brussels. My right honourable friend, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Jack Straw), the Solicitor-General for Scotland (Frank Mulholland), my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Bridget Prentice) and my honourable friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Meg Hillier) attended on behalf of the UK..
The council opened with a lunch for Interior Ministers where the presidency reported on the work of the future group on home affairs following the meeting of Interior Ministers in Madeira on 28 and 29 October, including immigration; information-sharing (including SIS); internet access; counterterrorism; and justice. The group had stressed the need to look at enhancing the operability of existing databases, rather than the creation of new ones. The Commission noted that a key issue for the future group was the desire for more integrated management of the EU's external borders and sees a need for an integrated EU returns policy. It also stressed the need for better co-ordination between Ministries of Justice and Home Affairs in relation to counterterrorism.
The council began with the mixed committee which included Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. Work will continue to find a compromise on the directive for returning illegally staying third country nationals.
The expansion of the Schengen area to the new member states was welcomed. The presidency emphasised the importance of Schengen and acknowledged the efforts which had been made by the new member states to meet the Schengen acquis and the efforts of the Portuguese team in driving forward SISOne4A11. The formal decision on evaluation will be taken at the December council after the European Parliament has voted.
The presidency noted that Schengen Information System (SIS) II remained the priority and SISone4All was not the end of the process. The Commission said it continued making good progress on the central SIS system. Most member states are now connected to the SIS II network and so can make use of the central testing facilities. By mid-January it should be possible to assess the legal, financial and technical detail of implementation in detail. Slovenia said that SIS II would be a top priority for its presidency.
A general approach was reached on the data protection framework decision. The presidency emphasised the importance of data-sharing and of protection of personal data and the need to bring this work to a close after two years of negotiations. The UK welcomed the text and called for swift resolution of the remaining minor issues while retaining its parliamentary scrutiny reserve.
The main agenda began with a discussion of interior issues. Progress was made on Chapters 2 and 3 of the Europol council decision on the collection and storage of data. The presidency indicated that it would take some or all of the outstanding issues on the council decision to the December JHA Council. The Europol implementation plan was adopted to set out the steps and timescales for the introduction of community financing for Europol from January 2010.
Subject to parliamentary scrutiny reserves, a general approach was reached on the PrĂ1/4m implementing agreement which will put into practice the PrĂ1/4m arrangements for the exchange of data on fingerprints, DNA and vehicle registration contained in the original council decision agreed in June. The presidency will now convene a technical group to consider the technical annexe to the agreement.
The presidency also welcomed a general approach, subject to parliamentary scrutiny reserves, including the UK, on the council decision on the special intervention units in crisis situations. They will operate on a voluntary basis and will make financing the ATLAS network easier. The ATLAS network is an informal co-operation structure between special intervention units in the European Union. This draft decision will be a positive step forward for many member states which do not possess a great deal of experience in such scenarios and will formalise the current practice whereby specialist UK police units endeavour to share best practice with police forces across Europe. The voluntary nature of the proposal means that while the impact on the UK will be minimal, other member states with limited capacity to deal with crises may derive significant benefit from it.
The Commission presented its latest proposals on legal migration (two draft directives proposed in October). It set out the poor performance of the EU in attracting highly qualified workers in comparison with the US and Canada. The blue card directive on the conditions of entry and residence of highly skilled workers was introduced to improve this by reducing competition between member states. The Commission emphasised that this was not a quota system and that member states would make the decision on entry. The proposals were generally welcomed but some noted concerns. The presidency promised a longer discussion at the December council.
In reporting the outcome of the EU-Western Balkans Ministerial Forum on Justice and Home Affairs in Brdo on 4 and 5 October, the presidency reported good progress on document security and border management from the western Balkan countries. There was less optimism on police and judicial co-operation and organised crime and corruption. Slovenia announced that organised crime would be a priority under its presidency.
An EU-LACLatin, American and Caribbeanseminar will take place in May 2008 in Lima and will focus on migration. The Commission reminded the member states of the importance of close co-operation with countries with which the EU had common cultural and language ties such as Latin America.
At the start of the second day, Justice Ministers reached a political agreement on the mediation directive. The UK congratulated the presidency on its efforts regarding this important measure for citizens.
There followed a lengthy exchange of views on the draft framework decision on the mutual recognition of suspended sentences and alternative sanctions. The Justice Secretary and the Scottish Solicitor-General intervened to emphasise the need for proportionality and to make it clear that the issuing state had discretion not to transfer sentences to states that were unable to take on full responsibility for both supervision and enforcement, and to argue that the instrument should respect the rights of victims. The presidency concluded that there had been broad agreement to the compromise package and it was positive about a successful outcome in December.
Council conclusions on cybercrime were adopted. The Commission outlined its intention to establish a European cybercrime training platform with the Police College (CEPOL) and Europol. It also wants to prepare in early 2008, with member states and the private sector, a European code of conduct for public-private co-operation. It also confirmed that its report on implementation of the framework decision on attacks against information systems was due in early 2008.
Council conclusions on the trafficking of human beings were also adopted. Some member states called for further work on this. The Commission will produce a questionnaire dealing with the protection of victims and details of implementing measures in member states. It will then produce a manual to help member states evaluate their progress in the fight against trafficking.
The council was closed with a working lunch for Justice Ministers who listened to a presentation and had a first exchange of views on the implications of the ruling of the European Court of Justice on ship source pollution in relation to community competence in criminal law matters.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My honourable friend, the Minister of State (Michael Wills), has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Land Registry will today launch a formal consultation exercise to seek views on proposals for a new order to add two new triggers for compulsory registration of title and provide for the effect on non-compliance with the duty to apply for registration in relation to the first of those triggers. Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Library of both Houses. Copies have also been placed in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office. Copies are also available on the internet at www.consultations.landregistry.gov.uk/inovem/consult.ti/system/listConsultations?type=0
Under the Land Registration Act 2002, when certain events affect an unregistered legal estate in land, the owner must apply to Land Registry for first registration of his title. Such events are often referred to as triggers.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government (John Healey) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I have today published a summary of responses received in response to the Government's stakeholder
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On 27 March Ministers announced that of the 26 proposals received from authorities wishing to obtain unitary status, 16 proposals were judged to have at least a reasonable likelihood of achieving the outcomes specified by the criteria set out in our invitation to council. We issued a 12-week consultation, Proposals for Future Unitary Structures: Stakeholder Consultation, seeking views on the extent to which the 16 proposals, if implemented, would achieve the outcomes specified by the criteria in our invitation.
We are very encouraged by the very strong response to this consultation, which has provided us with a range of evidence and views that have helped to inform and clarify the Government's consideration of the proposals. I am also grateful to honourable members for their continued and ongoing comments on unitary proposals in their areas.
On 25 July I announced to the House the nine unitary proposals that my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State, was minded to implement, having considered all the available relevant information including the responses received in response to the stakeholder consultation.
Those proposals included Bedford Borough Council's proposal for a unitary Bedford. I explained that implementing that proposal meant that we must consider the future local government structures for the remaining county area, and that we intended formally to invite all the other councils in Bedfordshire to propose a unitary solution that would meet our five criteria for that remaining area.
Today the Secretary of State has invited Bedfordshire County Council, Mid-Bedfordshire District Council, and South Bedfordshire District Council to make a proposal for future unitary local government structures for that remaining area. This invitation, made under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, provides that a proposal may be submitted by a single council or jointly by two or more councils, and that any proposal should be received by 17 December 2007.
The guidance sets out the outcomes any proposal should seek to achieve and matters which the councils should take into account in formulating any proposal. These matters include Bedford Borough Council's unitary proposal which I told the House on 25 July we were minded to implement. At that time I also explained that we were asking that council to undertake further work and submit additional information on the financial viability of their proposal. On the basis of a preliminary assessment of the additional information and representations that we have now received from the council and others, the Secretary of State remains minded to implement Bedford Borough Council's proposal.
We are satisfied that the remaining area of Bedfordshire needs unitary local government to complement any unitary Bedford council. This invitation is an opportunity to propose the creation of a new unitary council which will promote that area's prosperity, empower its people and communities, and ensure the delivery of high quality local public services to all who live and work there.
I have also placed a copy of the invitation and guidance to the county and district councils of Bedfordshire in the Library of both Houses, and these documents can also be found on the website of the Department for Communities and Local Government at www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/unitarystructures.
On 1 April 2004 my right honourable friend the Member for Torfaen announced the Governments intention to establish public inquiries into the deaths of Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson and Billy Wright, following reports by Mr Justice Cory.
In line with that Statement, my predecessor and my right honourable friend the Member for Neath subsequently agreed a number of measures to ensure that the inquiries would, while having the resources to establish the full facts in each case, operate in a cost-effective manner. These measures included maximum hourly rates payable for publicly funded legal representation by counsel and solicitors; and a 40-hour cap on hours that might be claimed in any given week. The chairmen of all three inquiries have taken seriously the need to ensure that the inquiries operate in a cost-effective manner, and I am grateful to them for that.
The inquiry considering the death of Robert Hamill is now under way under the chairmanship of Sir Edwin Jowitt. Following representations from him my predecessor granted his request to be converted into an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 under Section 15 of that Act.
Section 40(4) of the Inquiries Act contains a power for a Secretary of State to place conditions or qualifications on any awards that the chairman of the inquiry may make under Section 40(1) and 40(2) in respect of compensation, expenses or legal representation. After discussions with the inquiry, I have decided today to issue the following notice of determination under Section 40(4) in respect of awards for legal representation. This notice will not alter the substance of those sections of the inquirys costs protocol concerned with the award of funding for legal assistance: but it will reinforce the limits on hourly rates that may be claimed by legal representatives.
These measures, which will help ensure continued value for money, have been discussed with the chairman of the inquiry and I know will have the support of honourable and right honourable Members and the general public.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has determined under Section 40(4) of the Inquiries Act 2005 (the Act) that the power of the chairman of the Robert Hamill inquiry to award amounts in respect legal representation under Section 40(1) and (2) of the Act to persons eligible for an award under Section 40(3) shall be subject to the qualifications and conditions set out below, which supplement and are in addition to the terms and conditions in the costs protocol on the public funding of legal assistance published by the inquiry on 19 November 2007.
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