Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

We announced in the Command Paper Ready for Work: Full Employment in our Generation our intention to require lone parents with older children who can work to look for work. This means that lone parents will no longer be entitled to income support solely on the grounds of being a lone parent. Instead, those who are able to look for paid work will make a claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance and be required to seek suitable employment actively.

We announced our expectation that this change would be introduced from October 2008 for lone parents with a youngest child aged 12 or over, and then from October 2009 and October 2010 when the youngest child turns 10 and seven respectively.

I now intend that the arrangements for new and repeat lone-parent customers with a youngest child of 12 or over will take effect a month later, in November 2008, to allow time to consider some additional flexibilities to Jobseeker’s Allowance. The Government have been working closely with a range of groups which represent the interests of lone parents and has had early advice from the Social Security Advisory Committee. Additional flexibilities to Jobseeker’s Allowance have been suggested to meet the specific needs of lone parents.

The Government intend to take forward a number of these suggestions in connection with proposals for regulations that I will provide to the Social Security Advisory Committee. I believe that the proposals will strike the right balance to ensure that Jobseeker’s Allowance remains focused on helping people look for paid work while accommodating the varied and individual circumstances that lone parents will face.

As has been discussed with lone-parent stakeholder groups, we intend that existing lone-parent recipients of income support with a youngest child aged 12 or over will be progressively moved from income support from early 2009.

Crime: Fraud

The Attorney-General (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The Government have today issued a consultation paper on a possible plea negotiation framework for introduction in England and Wales. The consultation period will run for three months and we are keen to hear from as many people as possible.

The consultation paper gives effect to one of the key recommendations of the fraud review published in July 2006, which was itself subject to a period of public consultation. The relevant recommendations in the review attracted a good deal of public support and my predecessor established a working group to devise an appropriate framework. That working group was chaired by Stephen Hockman QC, former chairman of the Bar Council, and consisted of representatives drawn from across the criminal justice system. The framework that group devised is the centrepiece of the consultation paper.

EU: Disability Benefits

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Anne McGuire) has made the following Statement.



3 Apr 2008 : Column WS123

I notified the House on 13 December that following the European Court of Justice decision of 18 October 2007 I would publish details of the eligibility criteria for payment of the disability benefits ((disability living allowance (care component), attendance allowance and carer’s allowance)) within the European economic area and Switzerland (EEA). I have now arranged for information to be placed on the Directgov (www.direct.gov.uk) and the Department for Work and Pensions (www.dwp.gov.uk) websites. This sets out which categories of customers in receipt of the benefits may continue to be paid if they move to another EEA state.

The interpretation of the judgment is particularly complex as these disability benefits are different in some respects to the other benefits covered by the European regulations. My officials are continuing their discussions with the European Commission on the eligibility of people already living in another EEA state who wish to claim from abroad. I will place further information on the websites once these discussions are complete.

A specialist section has been set up in the Pension, Disability and Carers Service to deal with queries. Customers who would like more information about the effects of the judgment should contact the address below:

Website: www.directgov.ukAddress: Exportability Co-ordinator, Pension, Disability and Carers Service, Room B120D, Warbreck House, Warbreck Hill Rd, FY2 0YE.Email: exportability.team@dwp.gsi.gov.uk

We anticipate that first payments will start to be made to eligible claimants from later this month.

EU: Economic and Financial Affairs Council

Lord Davies of Oldham: My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Alistair Darling) has made the following Written Statement.

The Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 4 March 2008. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury attended for the UK. Items on the agenda were as follows:

Implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact. Stability and Convergence Programmes: Second series of Member States.

Ministers adopted council opinions on the stability programmes of Austria, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Malta, Cyprus, Slovenia, and on the convergence programmes of the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, and Lithuania. The UK supports a prudent interpretation of the stability and growth pact (SGP) which takes into account the economic cycle, sustainability and the important role of public investment.

Preparation of the European Council (13-14 March)

Broad Economic Policy Guidelines 2008-10/11 and Country-Specific Integrated RecommendationsFollowing the orientation debate on these documents at the January ECOFIN and further drafting amendments in the Economic Policy Committee and Economic and Financial Committee, Ministers

3 Apr 2008 : Column WS124

adopted reports which were sent to the spring 2008 European Council. These reports included reformulated draft texts which were endorsed by heads as part of the launch of the next three-year cycle of the Lisbon strategy. The UK believes that implementation of the Lisbon strategy, including these recommendations, should now be a priority for member states.Financial stabilityMinisters prepared the spring European Council's discussion on issues related to financial stability on the basis of a report drafted by the Economic and Financial Committee which examined the causes and possible policy responses to recent financial market turbulence, preparing a contribution for Heads of State and Government on the matter. Ministers agreed that key issues for discussion were: improving transparency, valuation of financial products, strengthening prudential requirements and making markets function better. The UK believes that as a key global marketplace, the EU has an important role to play in the international response to market turbulence.Sovereign wealth fundsMinisters prepared the spring European Council's discussion on sovereign wealth funds, following the publication of a communication by the European Commission on the framework for investments made by sovereign wealth funds. The UK welcomes the Commission's recognition of the benefits of open trade and investment.

General Budget of the European UnionCouncil priorities for the 2009 budget

Ministers adopted conclusions agreeing the council's budget guidelines for the 2009 EC budget. These guidelines are a set of broad principles which are designed to inform the subsequent and more detailed discussions on the level of appropriations required for the different areas of the budget. The subsequent negotiations throughout 2008 will determine the amounts to be spent under each budget heading. The UK supports the conclusions, which place appropriate emphasis on maintaining budget discipline and sound financial management.

Taxation

Fight against tax fraud

At the March ECOFIN, Ministers had an initial discussion of a Commission communication on far-reaching changes to the VAT system to help to counter fraud. The issue will be re-examined at a future meeting. The UK is strongly supportive of work that will help in the fight against missing trader intra-community (MTIC) and other VAT fraud, while remaining committed to minimising the burdens on legitimate businesses.Taxation of savingsThe European Commission updated ECOFIN on its discussions with Singapore, Hong Kong and Macao with a view to bringing them into the framework of the Savings Directive. The Savings Directive enshrines the principle of exchange of information on taxation of savings and extends beyond the EU through agreements with third countries

3 Apr 2008 : Column WS125

and territories. The UK strongly supports the Commission's continued dialogue with these financial centres.Ministers also discussed the problem of cross-border tax evasion in the context of recent developments concerning Liechtenstein. The Commission offered to bring forward its report on the operation of the Savings Directive and Ministers welcomed this. The EU has an important role to play in combating tax evasion and the Savings Directive is a key instrument in promoting transparency.

EU: Foreign Ministers Informal Meeting

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.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (David Miliband) represented the UK at the informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers (“Gymnich”) in Brdo, Slovenia on 28 and 29 March 2008.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

Middle East Peace Process

The presidency and High Representative Solana briefed Ministers on recent developments in the region. Ministers reiterated their commitment to the Annapolis process, and agreed that the EU, in its capacity as a member of the quartet, should continue to focus on practical efforts to support the political process. The EU should focus particularly on continuing its work on Palestinian economic development and security sector reform, including capacity-building measures within the judiciary and police.

Ministers shared concern about Syria's policies in the Middle East and concluded that the EU needed to speak with one voice to Syria. While Ministers recognised Syria's importance in helping to resolve the conflict in the Middle East, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary emphasised the need to send a clear message that Syria's continued interference in Lebanon was unacceptable. He also called for the EU to do all it could to continue to support the Lebanese Government.

Russia

Ministers discussed how to take forward EU-Russia co-operation under the Medvedev administration. Ministers agreed that the relationship was strategically significant, not just in the context of economic sectors such as energy, but with regard to issues in the common European neighbourhood and promoting security and stability more broadly. The majority view was that swift progress on a mandate to open negotiations on a successor partnership and co-operation agreement with Russia would therefore be useful in providing a framework for the relationship. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary underlined the importance of maintaining EU unity when dealing with Russia.

Western Balkans

In a joint session with colleagues from the western Balkans countries, Ministers focused on the region’s prospects for joining the EU. The presidency’s subsequent

3 Apr 2008 : Column WS126

statement, which the Government broadly support, emphasised that it was important for the western Balkan countries to make rapid progress on political and economic reforms, reconciliation and protection of ethnic minorities; welcomed the Commission’s communication on the western Balkans; and called upon the EU to reaffirm its commitment to the success of enlargement within the region, so long as those countries aspiring to EU membership meet the established criteria.

Tibet

Ministers stressed their strong concern over events in Tibet. They stated that the EU condemned all violence and called for it to cease, while asking that those arrested be treated in conformity with international standards; wished to uphold the transparency of information and free access by the press to Tibet. Ministers also noted the Dalai Lama's recent public commitment to non-violence and to the autonomy not independence of Tibet; and called for substantive and constructive dialogue which addressed core issues such as preservation of the Tibetan language, culture and traditions. The Government support this position.

Intercultural Dialogue

Ministers discussed the release of “Fitna”, a controversial short film on Islam, by the Dutch MP Geert Wilders. They reaffirmed that the right of freedom of expression was a basic value of the EU but stressed the importance of respect for others’ religious beliefs.

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.

There will be a progress report and policy debate on three proposals in road transport: a recast regulation on common rules for access to the international road haulage market; a regulation on common rules concerning the conditions to be complied with in order to pursue the occupation of road transport operator; and a recast regulation on common rules for access to the market for coach and bus services. The Government welcome the intention to clarify and simplify the existing provisions. The proposed changes in the legislation should maintain and improve road safety whilst minimising the burdens on industry and they should help to reduce distortion of competition through greater levelling of enforcement and compliance between the UK and other EU road haulage and coach operators. However, we have some reservations, particularly in relation to the proposed definition of cabotage, the responsibilities of transport managers and the information to be included in the interoperable national enforcement registers. I will be raising these issues at the council.

On rail freight, the council will be asked to adopt conclusions on the Commission communication “Towards a rail network giving priority to freight”. The conclusions broadly welcome the communication and invite the Commission to devise measures to achieve the efficient operation of international rail freight services along cross-border corridors, mainly through improved co-operation between national infrastructure managers.



3 Apr 2008 : Column WS127

Key UK concerns with the communication have been addressed satisfactorily in the conclusions: the Commission’s suggestion of giving “priority to international freight” over domestic rail traffic (a problem for the UK and many other member states with mixed, passenger and freight, traffic) has been substituted with a more general objective of “facilitating efficient flows of international rail freight”; the Commission’s apparent preference for new legislation to achieve its objective has been mitigated by an invitation to consider also the consistent implementation and rigorous enforcement of existing EC legislation, alongside new legislation where this may be required; and the Commission has been invited to develop relevant alternative proposals on the basis of an appropriate analysis of their impact and their relative costs and benefits and in accordance with the principles of better regulation. The UK can be satisfied with this successful outcome which will enable it to support these conclusions in council.

In November, Ministers agreed conclusions on the Galileo satellite navigation programme defining the general principles for a public sector governance and procurement strategy for the programme. This council will be asked to reach a general approach on the text of a regulation to implement the agreement reached in November. The Government have sought to ensure the current text of the regulation provides for the implementation of sound project management principles where the risks can be effectively managed, a fair and competitive playing field for suppliers at all levels, including SMEs, and robust measures for the control of costs. I believe the current text meets the UK’s objectives. A number of issues remain under negotiation including the role and responsibilities of the European Parliament and ensuring a clear division of tasks between the Commission and the Galileo Supervisory Authority in the programme. It is possible that some of these will have to be resolved in discussions at council itself. The Government are keen to ensure an efficient decision-making process, project management and governance structure.

The council will be asked to reach a political agreement 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 handling of passengers. As well as setting standards for transparency and consultation, the directive requires an independent supervisory body to intervene in the case of disagreement over a decision on charges. As part of a political agreement, the UK supports the adoption of certain amendments proposed by the European Parliament where they strike a balance between the interests of airlines and airports without imposing unnecessary or disproportionate regulation.

The council will also be asked to reach a general approach on a regulation on a code of conduct for computerised reservation systems, to replace the existing Regulation 2299/89. The UK supports the proposed general approach which aims to update and simplify the existing code and bring it into line with other European legislation, whilst maintaining safeguards against anti-competitive behaviour.



3 Apr 2008 : Column WS128

The council will be asked to adopt conclusions relating to a Commission communication entitled “An Agenda for a Sustainable Future in General and Business Aviation”. The draft conclusions welcome the Commission’s overview of the sector and its coherent position on the future development of general and business aviation. We welcome recognition of the need for proportionality in any future European regulation, given the diverse nature of general and business aviation activities. We support the conclusions, which recognise that general and business aviation provides important social and economic benefits, and that there should be a common set of data on this sector, in order to contribute to safety improvements and a better understanding of the sector.

There will be progress reports and policy debates on two current legislative proposals in maritime transport. These are a directive on compliance with flag state requirements and a directive on the civil liability and financial guarantees of ship owners. The Government have consistently argued that the Commission has yet to establish either a compelling need or a robust better regulation case for these proposals. We recognise that the Slovenian presidency has made a significant effort to reach an agreed compromise on these proposals. Despite this effort, however, the majority of the member states, including the UK, are continuing to voice their strong concerns on both proposals and agreement is unlikely in the near future. There are five other maritime safety measures (ship classification, accident investigation, port state control, vessel-traffic monitoring and carrier liability) which risk being delayed due to the ongoing discussion on flag state and civil liability. The Government consider that it is more important to finalise these five other proposals rather than to continue to pursue agreement on flag state and civil liability at the present time.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page