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Written Statements

Thursday 6 December 2007

Adoption: Guatemala

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing a suspension of adoptions of Guatemalan children by UK residents in response to concerns about adoption practice in Guatemala. The suspension takes effect immediately.

We have had long-standing concerns about the adoption process in Guatemala, as evidenced by the imposition of additional procedural checks administered by the British Embassy in Guatemala and the UK's objection to Guatemala's accession to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of intercountry adoption in 2003.

I am now introducing a suspension of adoptions in response to new evidence which demonstrates that there are insufficient safeguards in the Guatemalan adoption system to prevent children being adopted without proper consents being given and improper financial gain being made by individuals in the adoption process. In particular, there is a trade in babies being sold for overseas adoption and mothers are being paid, or otherwise encouraged, to give up children for adoption. Such practices are, of course, contrary to the principles of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of intercountry adoption and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I have given careful consideration to the position of UK prospective adopters currently in the process of adopting from Guatemala. I have decided that the suspension will take effect at the point when a certificate of eligibility is sent to Guatemala by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (or, in a Northern Ireland case, by the Department for Health, Social Services and Public Safety). This is the last point in the application process administered by the DCSF (or the DHSSPS).

Applications already sent to Guatemala will be not be prevented from proceeding in the usual way—subject, of course, to the usual checks—but only in exceptional circumstances will I consider that any other application may proceed. A decision about any application for an exception to the suspension will take account of the best interests of the child and all the facts of the particular case.

I understand that the Guatemala authorities intend to legislate so as to implement the Hague convention in the coming months, but I consider that the nature of the information currently held means we must act now. I will, of course, consider the effect on the ground of any changes to adoption legislation and practice in Guatemala, in keeping the suspension under review.



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Buses

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

I have today made details available of our proposed distribution of special grant funding to local authorities to meet the additional costs of the new statutory minimum bus concession.

Around 11 million older and disabled people will gain better access to vital services and leisure opportunities from 1 April 2008 when the statutory bus concession is extended to free off-peak local bus travel anywhere in England. By removing the issue of local authority boundaries as a barrier to free bus travel, no older or disabled person in England need be prevented from bus travel by cost alone and this represents a major step forward in tackling in social inclusion for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Additional funding of £212 million will be provided by special grant for the period 2008-09, followed by £217 million for 2009-10 and £223 million for 2010-11. This is in addition to the funding that the Government provide each year, through the formula grant process, for the existing statutory minimum concession of free off-peak local bus travel. The Government are confident this additional funding is sufficient to meet the total cost to local authorities.

A full breakdown of the amounts for each authority will be available on the DfT and CLG websites shortly. The distribution reflects responses received to our consultation on the special grant which closed on 23 November. We will publish a summary of responses shortly. The grant will be paid under section 88B of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 and a full report will therefore be laid before the House in due course.

Counter-Terrorism Bill

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

We are today publishing further documents in relation to the forthcoming Counter-Terrorism Bill. We are publishing a letter I have sent today to the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee setting out how the Government intend to legislate on pre-charge detention of terrorist suspects; a report by Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, on the proposals for the Counter-Terrorism Bill and a paper summarising the results of the public consultation on the proposals for the Counter-Terrorism Bill. Copies of all three documents are available in the House Libraries.

Criminal Justice: Women

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My right honourable friend the Minister of State (David Hanson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.



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I am today publishing a Command Paper—the Government’s response to the report by Baroness Corston of a review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system (Cm 7261). Copies are available on the official documents website at www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm72/7261/7261.asp

The paper indicates how the Government are responding to the 43 recommendations made by my right honourable and noble friend Lady Corston in her report. I am delighted that it has been possible to accept almost all the recommendations.

Secondly, it gives a commitment to produce a detailed delivery plan within the next six months that will provide the mechanism by which all the commitments identified in the response will be implemented. This will be driven forward by establishing a new cross-departmental Criminal Justice Women’s Unit based in the Ministry of Justice.

I am very grateful to my right honourable and noble friend for the report which provides a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the many and complex issues affecting women offenders and women at risk of offending. The Government agree that more needs to be done to address these issues and to tackle problems at an earlier stage—in the community in particular. The duty of the Government is to protect the public but it is right that we continue to look at how the penal system treats women and, importantly, to look at what is most effective in preventing reoffending.

My right honourable and noble friend considered that the key to success was the need for high level governance and better mechanisms for cross-departmental working. I am therefore very pleased that we are able to set out in the Government response the action that will be taken to improve governance arrangements. The inter-ministerial group on reducing reoffending will provide the governance for this work, we will establish a cross-departmental Criminal Justice Women’s Unit within the Ministry of Justice, and we have identified a ministerial champion—my honourable friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Ministry of Justice, Maria Eagle—who will have responsibility for taking forward this work.

The response also sets out a number of ways in which services for women in the criminal justice system will be developed.

I would like to thank my ministerial colleagues and officials in their departments who have contributed to the development of this response. I look forward to working with them, and our non-government stakeholders, in taking forward these commitments together. I am determined to make sure that more is done to ensure that we have in the 21st century a system that is properly responsive to the needs and characteristics of women.

EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Jim Murphy) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.



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The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 10 December in Brussels. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband) will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the European Council on 14 December

The council will discuss preparation of the European Council on 14 December in Brussels. The Government expect the European Council to focus on discussions of the mandate for a Reflection Group (Group of the Wise), and the adoption by the council of a declaration on globalisation. The presidency will seek, with the Government's strong support, a signal from the European Council that, with the signing of the Lisbon treaty on 13 December, the EU now has a stable institutional framework for the foreseeable future and should focus on delivering concrete results for its citizens.

Discussion at the European Council is also expected to cover justice and home affairs; a renewed commitment to the Lisbon strategy for jobs and growth; energy and climate change; and external relations where the Government's priorities will be Kosovo and Iran.

2007 Enlargement Package

The council is expected to take stock of progress on EU enlargement following the publication of the Commission's enlargement strategy and progress reports on 6 November. The Government hope the council will adopt conclusions reaffirming their commitment to enlargement on the basis of the conclusions of the European Council in December 2006, while welcoming the Commission's reports and recommendations for further progress. This will encourage continuation of reform efforts by all the candidates and potential candidates.

Middle East

The council is expected to welcome the progress made at the Annapolis Conference and to discuss the forthcoming Paris donors’ conference. The council is also expected to adopt conclusions focusing on the Annapolis Conference and EU action in support, including work to strengthen Palestinian security capacity through expansion of the EU mission to support the Palestinian civilian police, and the Paris donors' conference in December. The Government are committed to supporting the shared goal at Annapolis, “to immediately launch good faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception, as specified in previous agreements”.

The council is also expected to discuss Lebanon, following the departure of President Lahoud on 23 November. The Government remain concerned about the divisions between the Lebanese Government and the opposition over the election of a successor, which has been a major cause of tension in Lebanon. There now appear to be encouraging signs of progress.

The council is expected to adopt conclusions urging a swift, peaceful and democratic outcome to the process. The Government welcome the EU's sustained engagement on Lebanon and continue to support French efforts to facilitate a compromise between the Lebanese political parties.



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Burma

Burma has been added to the agenda at the Government's request to maintain EU focus on Burma and to support the work of the UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Sergio Pinheiro. The Government also want the council to take stock of the continuing detailed, follow-on work on EU sanctions being undertaken following decisions at the October and November councils.

Sudan

The Government want the council to send a strong statement on Sudan-Darfur and Chad through conclusions reiterating the EU's support for the ongoing UN-African Union- (AU) led efforts to achieve a sustainable peace settlement in Darfur. The Government also expect the council to call on all parties to do all they can to ensure prompt deployment of an effective AU-UN peacekeeping force, UNAMID, which will assume authority from the current AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) by 31 December 2007, and to call for the early deployment of the planned EU mission to Chad and the Central African Republic.

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.

The Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council took place in Brussels on 29 November - 3 December. I attended the first two days, as Europe Minister in the Department for Transport. The Portuguese Minister for Public Works, Transport, and Communications, Mr Mario Lino, was in the chair.

The council agreed conclusions on the Galileo satellite navigation programme. The conclusions define the general principles covering governance and public sector procurement for the programme. The transport council conclusions place a €3.4 billion cap on costs in this financial perspective. The European Commission is identified as the overall programme manager, to be advised by member states. An independent project management team will also review progress and advise the Commission. The conclusions also emphasise the importance of competition in the supply chain, including multiple simultaneous procurement streams. The UK minutes statement, supported by Sweden, stresses the need for review by independent experts at key decision points, including when finalising the contract between the Commission and the European Space Agency for the procurement of the system, at the end of the current in orbit validation phase (in 2010), and once quotes have been received from industry for the deployment phase, as well as regular review of costs, risks and likely revenues from the services to be offered by Galileo.

The council agreed conclusions on the Commission’s action plan on freight transport logistics. The action plan, published in October as part of a non-legislative “freight package”, identifies 35 short and medium-term actions for the promotion of a more efficient freight sector. In general, we support the Commission's objective

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of an efficient freight transport logistics industry which will promote long-term growth and at the same time address issues such as congestion, noise, pollution and CO2 emissions. We support the Commission's approach in facilitating discussions with industry to provide benchmarking and best practice information for logistics providers.

There was a policy debate on progress made on the renewed EU 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. In the field of transport, the Commission concentrated on its initiatives on the internalisation of external costs, intelligent transport systems and the freight logistics action plan. A communication drawing lessons from these is planned for June 2008. I drew the council’s attention to the UK’s new sustainable transport strategy, emphasising that transport has to be at the heart of economic planning and social policy, and make a contribution to public health and social inclusion.

The council reached a political agreement on three legislative proposals in maritime transport. The first is a regulation on the liability of carriers of passengers by sea and inland waterways in the event of accidents, incorporating the main provisions of the Athens Convention 2002 into EC law. The Athens Convention provides for compensation for death or injury or loss due to an accident at sea. The agreed text of the regulation is acceptable to the UK. Shortly before the council, the draft recast directive amending existing directives governing the activities of ship inspection and survey organisations (classification societies), was divided into a directive and a regulation, as had been requested by a number of member states, including the UK. The new directive contains the provisions directed at member states, and the regulation contains the provisions directly applicable to recognised organisations (“ROs”, the classification societies approved to work in the EU). The regulation will give the Commission the power to levy fines on ROs for non-compliance, after consulting member states. The Commission and the council issued a joint statement on their intention to see similar rules applied at international level. The agreed texts of the directive and the regulation are acceptable to the UK.

Under other business, the Commission presented its recent communication on ports policy. The Commission also proposed that the current Commission observer to the International Maritime Organisation be replaced by a Community observer. The Commission would like the council to take a decision on this in April. I was among Ministers who stated their preference for a decision to be made in the light of a more general review of the Community’s role in international organisations, planned for 2009.

The council reached a general approach on a directive on airport charges, which aims to set common principles for the levying of charges for aircraft landing and take-off and the handling of passengers at Community airports. The threshold for application of the directive in the compromise text is 5 million passengers per year or the largest airport in

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a member state which has none reaching that figure. The agreed text was acceptable to the UK. It is more proportionate than the initial proposal and enables current UK economic regulation practices to continue.

The council reached a political agreement on a recast regulation on common rules for the operation of air transport services in the Community (the “third package review”) This regulation consolidates three existing regulations of 1992, which established the aviation single market. The proposal seeks to update the 1992 regulations in the light of experience of the single market. It closes certain loopholes and ensures clarity and consistent application of the common rules across all member states. The agreed text is acceptable to the UK.

Two issues of aviation external relations were on the agenda. The council adopted decisions giving the Commission mandates to negotiate with Jordan on a comprehensive aviation agreement, and with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on an agreement regarding aviation security audits and inspections and related matters. The principal aim of the latter is to reduce duplication of audits. Both mandates are acceptable to the UK.

In road transport, there were 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 conditions to be complied with to pursue the occupation of road transport operator. Some key issues remain to be resolved: on the former proposal, the rules for access to domestic haulage markets (“cabotage”), and on the latter, the establishment of, and access to, national registers of operators.


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