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Written Statements

Wednesday 28 November 2007

Bangladesh: Cyclone Sidr

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for International Development (Baroness Vadera): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development (Douglas Alexander) has made the following Statement.

Tropical Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh late on 15 November. In addition to wind speeds of 240 kilometres per hour, people living on the coast were struck by a devastating storm surge—a wall of seawater 10 to 15 feet high. The official death toll is 3,243 (19:00, 26 November) with many more injured and an estimated 7 million people affected. The UN estimates that at least 2.6 million of these people will require immediate life and livelihoods relief assistance for the next two to three months. We know that further support for livelihoods recovery will be required beyond that timeframe.

Although the cyclone has had a devastating impact on people, the casualties and damage could have been much worse without the early warning system and contingency measures taken by the authorities. The Government of Bangladesh have acted promptly to bring relief to the affected people and the UK is glad to be supporting this response.

We now know that approximately 1.24 million homes have been damaged—and the poorest, whose houses were mainly made of thatch, have been worst affected. More than 1.84 million acres of cropland have been damaged, including a loss of about 800,000 metric tonnes of rice. Other impacts include loss of livestock—over 523,723 animals perished—damage to the fishing and shrimp industries, and damage to infrastructure including tube wells, toilets, schools, clinics and roads.

But relief is getting through. The Government of Bangladesh and relief organisations including the UN acted swiftly—food, water and medical assistance are now reaching the majority of people. However, because of the vast area affected—31 of the total of 64 districts—and the remoteness of some communities, there are still gaps in provision. In total, over US$191 million have been promised to the Government and NGOs from the international community. The Government of Bangladesh have welcomed this assistance and efforts to co-ordinate this relief are under way. This disaster has followed swiftly on the heels of a major flood that affected Bangladesh in August and September, including some of the same districts as the cyclone.

The UK Government were one of the first to commit funds to the Cyclone Sidr relief efforts. The Department for International Development announced an initial contribution of £2.5 million within days. These funds, channelled through the UN, are already providing immediate relief in the form of food and safe water to 70,000 families, as well as essential non-food items such as clothes, blankets, mosquito nets and utensils. These are vital—many families lost everything

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that they own in the cyclone. We will also be repairing the homes of over 16,000 vulnerable families and paying local people to undertake clean-up operations to restore essential community infrastructure—for example, removing debris that is contaminating water supplies.

DfID announced an additional £2.5 million on Friday, which is being used for short to medium-term water, sanitation and hygiene needs. These were identified by our humanitarian experts as a particular priority. The partners we are working with—Oxfam, Save the Children UK and CARE International—are already using these funds to provide life-saving clean water.

I am please to announce today a further £2 million allocation, taking the total UK Government assistance to £7 million. These additional funds will provide essential non-food items including blankets—these are essential during the cold season, which is fast approaching in Bangladesh. We will also use the funds to restore livelihoods and address ongoing public health needs. The UK stands ready to provide further support as required and is pushing for improved co-ordination of the relief efforts.

Crime: Money-laundering

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Crime Reduction (Vernon Coaker) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have placed in the Library of the House the first annual report to Home Office and HM Treasury Ministers on the suspicious activity reporting (SAR) regime to combat money-laundering and terrorist financing. The reporting system is a key element in the United Kingdom’s defences against money-laundering and terrorist financing.

The report has been prepared by a multi-agency committee, under the chairmanship of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), which includes the financial services sector, police, other law enforcement agencies and the Financial Services Authority.

The Government welcome the good progress that SOCA and the other participants have made to ensure that the reporting system is operating effectively to help to deter, detect and disrupt those involved in these crimes and in holding them to account. It is also recognised that there is more to be done to maximise the benefits of the system. The Home Office and HM Treasury will be working closely with SOCA to take this forward.

The Government are providing law enforcement agencies with additional resources to improve financial investigation. Last year, the Home Office allocated £58 million to agencies involved in the recovery of the proceeds of crime from money-launderers and other criminals. Of that total, £15.5 million went to police forces in England and Wales, much of which has been invested in increasing financial investigation capacity. Further allocations will be made this year.

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For its part, the Association of Chief Police Officers issued comprehensive best practice guidance to all forces last year on conducting money-laundering investigations through the use of financial investigation techniques.

The strategy agreed by the Home Office, HM Treasury, SOCA and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in February 2007 in The Financial Challenge to Crime and Terrorism set out our shared vision for building on our success to date. The overall goal is a SAR system that addresses the threats to the UK from crime and terrorism and contributes to the reduction of harm and the recovery of the proceeds of crime, while minimising the costs of compliance to industry.

Crime: Rape

The Attorney-General (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): Today the Government are issuing their response to the consultation Convicting Rapists and Protecting Victims—Justice for Victims of Rape.

The consultation document set out a range of proposals that aimed to improve the outcome of rape cases through further strengthening the existing legal framework and improving our care for victims and witnesses. The consultation paper dealt with four issues: the consent element in the offence of rape, general expert evidence, hearsay evidence and special measures for witnesses.

In summary, our conclusions following the consultation are as follows. First, a judgment in the Court of Appeal has clarified the circumstances in which capacity to consent can be affected by intoxication, and there is accordingly no need for a further change to the law in this area. Guidance for criminal justice practitioners, including the judiciary, will help to ensure that the law is properly understood and enforced. We will continue to look for ways in which information concerning the psychological reactions of rape victims can be presented to juries other than through evidence called by the prosecution. We have decided to legislate when parliamentary time allows to make all complaints of rape by victims to friends, family and others automatically admissible as evidence at trial, irrespective of the time that may have passed since the alleged offence. Finally, on the subject of special measures, we have decided to change the law to make video recordings of rape victims automatically admissible as evidence in chief in criminal trials.

We believe that this considered package of measures will make a valuable contribution to the successful prosecution of rape cases. A copy of the full consultation response will be available in the Libraries of both Houses and can be downloaded from and

EU: Education, Youth and Culture Council

Lord Davies of Oldham: My right honourable friend the Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism (Margaret Hodge) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

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A meeting of the Education, Youth and Culture Council was held on 15 and 16 November. Anne Lambert, UK deputy permanent representative, represented the UK for the culture agenda items taken on 16 November.

The presidency presented the joint statement that had been agreed at the first EU-Russia Permanent Partnership Council (PPC) on 25 October. The statement offered the prospect of further co-operation between the two partners. The UK was clear, with support from many other member states, that the work of cultural institutes had to be at the heart of any follow-up to the PPC. The presidency agreed that this issue would need to be taken forward in the drafting of an EU-Russia cultural action plan to be discussed under the Slovenian presidency.

The council adopted the resolution on the European agenda for culture in a globalising world. The introduction of the open method of co-ordination for culture was broadly welcomed on the understanding that it was voluntary and proportionate and reflected the needs of the culture sector. There was general agreement that the future cultural agenda should prioritise the contribution that culture makes to the economy (including providing better data to measure this), intercultural dialogue and cultural relations with third countries. The UK was content with this outcome and supported the adoption of the resolution.

The council adopted a decision on the selection of Turku (Finland) and Tallinn (Estonia) to host the European Capital of Culture event for 2011.

EU: Energy Council

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office & Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Lord Jones of Birmingham): My honourable friend the Minister of State for Energy (Malcolm Wicks) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I will represent the UK at the forthcoming Energy Council in Brussels in the morning of 3 December.

There are two substantive items on the council agenda: the internal gas and electricity market, on which there will be a progress report and, we hope, a policy debate; and energy technologies, on which, following presentations by the presidency and Commission on the draft European strategic energy technologies plan, there will also be a policy debate. The third item on the agenda is international relations in the field of energy, which will be an information item only.

The item on the internal market will focus on the Commission’s third package of proposed legislation to improve the functioning of the internal market in electricity and gas. This includes proposals to amend the existing directives on common rules for the internal electricity market and for the internal natural gas market; a proposal to establish an agency for the co-operation of energy regulators; and proposals to amend the existing regulations on conditions for access to the network for cross-border exchanges in

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electricity and on conditions for access to the natural gas transmission networks. We hope that Ministers will have a full opportunity to debate this important topic. The UK Government support the thrust of these Commission proposals and consider them as vital for the further development of the internal market.

On the energy technologies item, presentations by the presidency on its vision paper and by the Commission on its draft communication on a European strategic energy technologies plan will be followed by a policy debate. The UK welcomes both the plan and the presidency paper, given the need for a strategic approach to technology in Europe, and we welcome its proposed approach to improving collaboration between organisations and countries, both within the EU and internationally.

The only other agenda item covers international relations in the field of energy. This is an important issue for the UK, although it will be only an information item at this council. The Portuguese presidency and the Commission will report on a number of developments on the EU’s relations with Brazil, Africa and Russia; on the Energy Community Treaty; on a proposed international platform on energy efficiency; and on other EU initiatives in the international field.

EU: Transport Council

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Rosie Winterton) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I will attend the second Transport Council of the Portuguese presidency, which takes place in Brussels on 29 and 30 November.

The council will be asked to agree conclusions on taking forward the Galileo satellite navigation programme. EU Ministers concluded at the June council that the public-private partnership process had failed and that the negotiations with the prospective concessionaire should end. The Commission’s subsequent proposals for taking forward the deployment through a public procurement were published in September and were presented to Ministers at the October council. At that council, Ministers called for an integrated decision by the end of this year. Following the agreement reached at ECOFIN on Friday on the financing of Galileo, at this forthcoming council Ministers will be asked to agree conclusions aimed at defining the general principles covering governance and a public sector procurement of the system. If it is the view of the majority of member states that the project should proceed, the Government will continue to work to implement an overall management structure that ensures transparency, clear lines of governance and a clear contract between the Commission and ESA as procurement agent. The Government will also seek to ensure the maximum possible competition in procurement. This will provide opportunities for new entrants and SMEs and deliver value for money for the Community and maximum opportunities for UK industry.All these objectives are

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in line with the commitments given to Parliament, which were set out in the European Standing Committee debate on Monday 26 November.

The council will also be asked to agree conclusions on the Commission’saction plan on freight transport logistics.The conclusions are general in nature and give no specific commitments in respect of legislative proposals. We are generally content with the majority of the proposals in the action plan and we support the fact that the Commission has mainly opted for non-legislative measures. We have reservations, however, concerning the Commission’s intention to consider the potential for modification of vehicle weight and dimensions under directive 96/53/EC and to update the 2003 proposal on intermodal loading units to technical progress, both of which we believe are unnecessary.

There will be a policy debate on progress made on the renewedEU sustainable development strategy adopted by the European Council in June 2006.On the basis of this debate and another conducted in the Environment Council on 30 October, the presidency will prepare input to the conclusions of the December European Council. I shall draw attention to our recently published transport strategy Command Paper and stress the important contribution that EU initiatives on new car CO2 emission targets and on inclusion of aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme can play in meeting UK and European climate change objectives.

The council will be asked to reach a political agreement on two legislative proposals in maritime transport. First, there is a regulation on the liability of carriers of passengers by sea and inland waterways in the event of accidents (incorporating the Athens convention into EC law). The Government are keen to reach political agreement on the text of this measure. The Government are now broadly content with the proposal for a regulation in the light of the amendments made by member states in negotiation. In particular, the Government would not wish to be bound by the setting of maximum limits of compensation but agree that member states should have the flexibility to apply the provisions of the Athens convention to domestic sea-going voyages and, together with almost all member states, agree with the European Parliament that the measure should not apply to voyages on inland waterways. Our previous concerns in respect of subsidiarity have been resolved by the changes made in negotiation. The second maritime measure is a recast directive designed to update the existing directives relating to ship inspection and survey organisations. The proposal seeks to establish mutual recognition of the certificates that the organisations issue, introduces a financial penalty system to address poor performance and places a requirement on the organisations to create a new certification system to improve their oversight. The Government expect that it will be possible to reach a political agreement, although some drafting issues relating to the proposed financial penalty system need refinement.

In road transport, there will be progress reports on two proposals: a recast regulation on common rules for access to the international road haulage market; and a regulation on common rules concerning the

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conditions to be complied with to pursue the occupation of road transport operator. Negotiations on both these proposals continue and, we hope, will go forward under the Slovenian presidency.

The council will aim to reach a political agreement on each of three proposals on rail interoperability and safety that have been negotiated together. These are: a directive on interoperability of the Community rail system, combining three previous directives; a directive amending the 2004 directive on rail safety; and a directive amending the 2004 directive that established the European Rail Agency. The October council reached a general approach on the first two of these. The UK supports the objectives of the Commission’s proposals and welcomes any initiative that improves cross-acceptance of rolling stock and simplifies and modernises the technical part of the regulatory framework for rail. The texts being put to the council are acceptable to the UK.

The council will aim to reach a general approach on a directive on airport charges, which aims to establish a framework of common principles as to how airports determine their charges for aircraft landing and take-off and for handling of passengers. As part of this, the

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directive requires the establishment of independent regulators. In negotiation, the UK has sought a proportionate text that does not impose unnecessary regulatory burdens on airlines or airports, and a number of amendments to this effect have been made to the draft.

The council will aim to reach political agreement on a recast regulation on common rules for the operation of air transport services in the Community (the “third package review”). This consolidates the three existing regulations of 1992, which established the aviation single market. The proposal seeks to update the regulations in the light of experience of the single market. The UK broadly supports the proposal, in particular on pricing and consumer protection.

Two issues of aviation external relations are on the agenda. The council will be asked to adopt decisions giving the Commission mandates to negotiate with Jordanon a Euro-Mediterranean aviation agreement and with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on an agreement regarding aviation security audits and inspections and related matters. The UK iscontent for both mandates to be granted by the council.

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