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Agreement was reached on parts of an implementing regulation for social security co-ordination regulation 883/04, specifically on the chapters covering administration of unemployment and family benefits and the corresponding parts of an annexe to the regulation.

The council had a policy debate based on the recent Commission communication on services of general interest. I stressed, as did the majority of others, that social services were important, both to individuals and more widely, and that quality was crucial. I also emphasised the need for subsidiarity and local and flexible delivery. While there was some common ground, the debate identified great diversity of situation and approach within and between member states and Ministers stressed the need for subsidiarity and exchange of experience and best practice. It was concluded that further work was needed in this area.

The council adopted conclusions on flexicurity and endorsed a joint opinion of the Employment Committee and the Social Protection Committee on the subject. It also adopted conclusions and endorsed an Employment Committee opinion on future prospects for the European employment strategy in the context of the new cycle of the Lisbon strategy. The council also adopted conclusions on active inclusion of people furthest from the labour market, women and poverty, as part of the Beijing platform, and on balanced roles for women and men, as well as

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a resolution on follow-up to this year’s European Year of Equal Opportunities for All.

Slovenia outlined its priorities on employment and social policy for its forthcoming presidency, starting in January, which will include employment of the young, equal opportunities and demography as the three key presidency themes.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Dawn Primarolo) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 5 and 6 December 2007. The health part was held on 6 December. I represented the UK.

The council adopted conclusions on the Portuguese presidency theme of health and migration in the European Union. In a policy debate, Ministers discussed the challenges and opportunities in health presented by migration.

Ministers welcomed the Commission’s EU health strategy, on which council conclusions were adopted. There was agreement that the EU strategy needed to complement national strategies and that subsidiarity must be respected. I highlighted the importance of tackling health inequalities.

Conclusions were also adopted on organ donation and transplantation and on nutrition and obesity, responding to Commission communications on these subjects, and the presidency presented a progress report highlighting recent activities on the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Over lunch, there was an informal discussion on health services, on which Commission proposals are expected shortly. Ministers urged caution: it is important to avoid creating inequalities through a system that allows a few to shop around for care. The proposals should not go further than the ECJ jurisprudence and member states should be able to use prior authorisation systems for hospital care.

Slovenia outlined its priorities in health for the forthcoming Slovene presidency. Cancer will be its main priority. It will also take forward work on anti-microbial resistance and highlight the implementation of policies on tackling alcohol-related harm and co-operation in the area of pricing and reimbursement of pharmaceuticals.

Finance Bill 2008

Lord Davies of Oldham: My right honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government took action against two types of avoidance schemes involving the leasing of plant or machinery at PBR 2007. Further disclosures and other evidence indicates that two further types of avoidance schemes involving the leasing of plant or machinery have placed, and could continue to place, substantial sums of tax at risk.

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Tax avoidance is unfair on the majority of taxpayers and can undermine the funding of public services. The Government are determined to take appropriate and prompt action to counter tax avoidance. Therefore, the Government propose to introduce appropriate legislation in the 2008 Finance Bill which will be effective from today, 13 December 2007.

A draft of the material that will be contained in Finance Bill 2008, together with draft Explanatory Notes and background material, will be published today on HMRC’s website at HMRC’s technical note giving the relevant background to this measure has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and is also accessible on HMRC’s website.

Freedom of Information Act 2000

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.

Today I have deposited copies of The Freedom of Information Act 2000Statistics on Implementation in Central Government: Q3July-September 2007 in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. This is the quarterly monitoring statistics report analysing the performance of central government in the third full year of freedom of information.

Government: Central-Local Concordat

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

I am informing the House that I have signed the Central-Local Concordat on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government. The concordat was co-signed by Sir Simon Milton, chair of the Local Government Association.

This historic new written agreement establishes for the first time a framework of principles for how central and local government work together to serve the public. Central government departments and councils have committed to uphold these principles.

The concordat meets a key commitment set out in the Governance of Britain Green Paper earlier this year in delivering a fundamental transformation in the way we govern. It sets out the rights and responsibilities of central and local government.

It is explicit that powers are best exercised at the lowest effective and practical level, enshrining the Government’s commitment to decentralisation and devolution of power to councils, communities and citizens.

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In addition, it sets out key priorities that central and local government will deliver together, including tackling anti-social behaviour and crime, delivering good local services, creating more opportunities for young people and promoting enterprise. It is an important step towards building local communities that enjoy economic prosperity, safe and stable streets and estates, a clean environment and opportunities for all citizens to shape their own futures.

A copy of the concordat has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Guantanamo Bay: Return of UK Residents

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The House will be aware that, with the agreement of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, I wrote to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on 7 August to request the release from Guantanamo Bay and return to the UK of five men who, while not UK nationals, had been legally resident in the UK prior to their detention. These are the only individuals now at Guantanamo who have been identified as having been given leave to enter or remain in the UK under the Immigration Acts.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary and I decided to seek the release of the five in light of work by the US Government to reduce the number of those detained at Guantanamo and our wish to offer practical and concrete support to those efforts. In reaching this decision, we gave full consideration to the need to maintain national security and the Government’s overriding responsibilities in this regard.

Detailed and constructive discussions have since taken place between the British and US Governments, considering the circumstances of each individual case. The US agreed on 10 December that three of the five men—Mr Jamil El Banna, Mr Omar Deghayes and Mr Abdennour Sameur—will be returned to the UK shortly, as soon as the practical arrangements can be made. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been in contact with the families and legal representatives of Mr El Banna, Mr Deghayes and Mr Sameur to let them know of this decision.

I should add that the decision to make this request does not constitute a commitment that they may remain permanently in the UK. Their immigration status will be reviewed following their return and the same security considerations will apply to them as would apply to any other foreign national in this country. As always, all appropriate steps will be taken to protect national security.

The US Government have expressed significant additional security concerns with regard to the cases of the other two men covered by the original request—Mr Shaker Aamer and Mr Binyam Mohammed. They have so far declined the request for the release and return of Mr Aamer and we are no longer in active

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discussions regarding his transfer to the UK. We are still discussing with the US the case of Mr Mohammed, although again the US Government are not inclined to agree to his release and return.

Moving ahead, we will continue to discuss with the US Government how best we can work with them to see the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. We will continue to encourage our allies to consider taking steps similar to our own to reduce the numbers of those detained at Guantanamo Bay, such as accepting the transfer of eligible detainees, thereby hastening the closure of the detention facility.

Justice: Advisory Committee on Civil Costs

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

In September, I announced that I was establishing an Advisory Committee on Civil Costs and that its chair would be Professor Stephen Nickell. I undertook to make a further announcement on the membership of the committee and its programme of work.

The members of the committee are Steve Brooker (National Consumer Council), Dominic Claydon (representing the Association of British Insurers), senior costs judge Peter Hurst, Professor Simon Roberts, district judge Monty Trent and Fraser Whitehead (representing the Law Society). Additional members may be co-opted on to the committee for specific issues, if appropriate. The committee will commission research, collect data and receive submissions as required from a wide range of stakeholders to ensure that recommendations are evidence-based and underpinned by economic analysis.

The first thing that I have asked the committee to do is to provide advice to the Master of the Rolls on the guideline hourly rates for solicitors for the summary assessment of costs. The committee will then consider any fixed recoverable costs proposed following our consultation, Case Track Limits and the Claims Process for Personal Injury Claims. It will subsequently review the fast-track trial costs. I will then make further decisions on the future programme of work. The Ministry of Justice will fund the committee and provide the secretariat.

Local Government: Pensions

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.

The Government’s commitment to provide decent final salary pensions for those employed by local authorities and other organisations associated with local government is matched by the need to ensure that members’ pensions are secure, affordable and viable, as well as fair to taxpayers, who guarantee their security.

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The Government see it as critical to maintain stability of costs in the scheme over the years ahead, particularly in the new-look local government pension scheme (LGPS) in England and Wales from 1 April 2008. The intention remains to ensure that no additional costs are imposed on taxpayers or employers. This objective is central to any considerations involving amendments to the scheme’s regulatory framework.

A statutory consultation with all scheme stakeholders in England and Wales on proposals to extend the current levels of protection in the scheme for older employees began on 5 July 2007 and ended on 1 October 2007. The protections were originally introduced by the Local Government Pension Scheme (Amendment) Regulations 2006 and the Local Government Pension Scheme (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2006 and took effect from 1 October 2006. The draft proposals would involve amending the regulations to provide a full, rather than a tapered, protection for the period 2016 to 2020, together with appropriate off-setting savings for the estimated cost of this benefit improvement.

To ensure the continuing solvency of the scheme and to meet the Government’s standing policy on ensuring no adverse effects on taxpayers, the costs of implementing any scheme amendments to improve the level of protections would need to be provided from within the scheme.

The costings for the additional rule of 85 protections were provided by the Government Actuary’s Department (GAD), based on the data provided for the 2004 LGPS actuarial valuation exercise. GAD estimated that the capital cost of removing the current tapered protections between 2016 and 2020 was some £0.35 billion to £0.4 billion. In pay-roll terms, this equates to about 0.1 per cent or some £25 million annually for 20 years.

If no agreed means of providing the necessary resources to extend the proposed level of protection emerges from the consultation, it will be necessary to retain the present level of protection.

The responses received to the recent consultation exercise have been considered carefully and analysed against agreed criteria regarding affordability and legality, as set out in the department’s consultation letter of 5 July. The consultation has demonstrated strong views from all stakeholders in terms of both the level of protections and affordability.

I wish, however, to be clear about the most recent position in the scheme regarding costs, the likely numbers of potentially affected older scheme members and the range of other cost-influencing variables.

In the light of these representations, I have taken no final decision on the outcome of the statutory consultation exercise and, in view of the data from the 2007 LGPS actuarial valuations, which are due to become available early in the new year, I have decided to ask the Local Government Pension Scheme Policy Review Group, with the assistance of GAD, to undertake a fresh costings exercise using emerging data from the 2007 LGPS actuarial valuations. This will allow a new

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assessment of the current cost position and provide an opportunity for all the interested stakeholders to engage fully in the review process.

The exercise for the updating of costs is expected to be completed early in the new year. A final decision on the proposed amendment, within the policy parameters of affordability and legality, will then be made, taking full account of any further representations that may be made by stakeholders.

Ministry of Defence: Innovation Strategy

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has today launched its strategy for creating greater innovation within the defence supply chain. The MoD innovation strategy builds on the defence industrial strategy (DIS) published in 2005 as a defence White Paper (Cm 6697). The DIS set out a commitment to achieve a better understanding of the innovation process within the defence supply chain.

The new innovation strategy identifies the main challenges to innovation in delivery of our defence capability. It expresses actions to address these challenges in terms of five distinct pillars. These pillars show our intent to articulate our capability needs better, provide transparency in how we translate these needs and aspirations through to delivery of capability, highlight our commitment to open architectures, which will in turn foster insertion of new or improved technology, demonstrate our commitment to new business models that provide incentives for both customers and suppliers to achieve greater innovation and communicate our desire to maintain the pace of the MoD’s acquisition processes.

Ministry of Defence: Intelligence Staff Estate

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Bob Ainsworth) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

This Statement follows on from that made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence on 3 July 2006 (Official Report, Commons, col. 28WS), which covered the intent to close RAF Brampton. Once DE&S units have vacated the site, the Programme to Rationalise and Integrate the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) Estate (PRIDE) will relocate those remaining to RAF Wyton. The programme’s aim is to collocate a number of Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) departments to one state-of-the-art purpose-built facility at RAF Wyton. New service accommodation will be constructed at RAF Wyton in order to accommodate those moving to the base.

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In order to maximise the benefits of DIS collocation at RAF Wyton, PRIDE increment 2 will move the Joint Aeronautical and Geospatial Organisation headquarters and elements of 42 Engineer Regiment (Geographic) currently based at Hermitage, west Berkshire, to join the Intelligence Collection Group headquarters and Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre at RAF Wyton. The Royal School of Military Survey, currently at Hermitage, will assimilate with other training elements at the DIS site at Chicksands. Our intention is that these moves will lead to the disposal of the Hermitage site, subject to continued value for money being proven.

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