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Written Statements

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Disabled People: UN Convention

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.

Today the Government have responded to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ recommendation, in its report A Life Like Any Other? Human Rights of Adults with Learning Disabilities, that the Government should ratify the UN Convention on Disability Rights and the optional protocol without further delay or provide clear unambiguous details of any specific impediments to immediate ratification.

The response makes it clear that the UK does not ratify any international treaty until it is in a position to ensure that it can implement the provisions and therefore comply with its obligations. In addition, the European Community is, for the first time, a party to an international human rights convention and this will inevitably affect the ratification timetable. Given the duty on member states to co-operate with the Community, the UK would wish to take into account the European Commission’s proposal for Community Conclusion of the Convention which is still awaited.

Article 33 of the convention on disability rights is an unusual provision in UN human rights conventions. Article 33 requires states parties to the convention to establish national monitoring arrangements, and the Government have wished properly to consult the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Devolved Administrations about these arrangements. These consultations are continuing.

Ratification will be in respect of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Part of this process has required the Devolved Administrations and government departments to check their legislation, policies, practices and procedures against the convention’s provisions. This has inevitably taken some time. However, this phase of the work is now over and we are considering carefully the emerging findings. Our aim remains to ratify the convention by the end of this year.

The current position is that the Ministry of Defence has indicated that there is a need to enter a reservation in respect of service in the Armed Forces, consistent with the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 as amended (DDA) and Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation. Service in any of the naval, military or air forces of the Crown are excluded from the DDA’s employment provisions to preserve their combat effectiveness. The Department for Children, Schools and Families has indicated that there is a need to recognise that the general education system in the UK includes a range of provision, including mainstream and special schools which will require an interpretative declaration, and that there will also need to be a

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reservation in respect of disabled children whose needs are best met through specialist provision, which may be some way from their home. The Home Office has indicated that there may be a need to enter one or more reservations or declarations in respect of immigration, nationality and citizenship.

There are also a number of areas where we are continuing to explore whether there are any compatibility issues which may result in the need for an interpretative declaration or reservation. These are: measures relating to the exercise of legal capacity; aspects of mental health legislation; choice of place of residence; and cultural services (interpretive measures).

With regard to the optional protocol, the Government are aware of the importance that many disabled people and the committee attach to this issue. The Government are carefully considering their position as part of the convention ratification process in the light of the ongoing review by the Ministry of Justice of a similar optional protocol relating to the Conventionon the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against 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.

I represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Luxembourg on 29 April 2008.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

External Relations

Zimbabwe

I agreed council conclusions that underlined the EU’s deep concerns at the delay in announcing the results of the general election, condemned violence and called for moratorium on arms sales. Ministers agreed that SADC but also the AU had a crucial role to play and the EU should continue to work closely with African states to encourage their efforts to deliver a credible and genuinely democratic solution to the crisis.

I intervened to underline that it was clear that President Mugabe was in the process of trying to steal the election and that the EU needed to remain robust in exposing and condemning the violence and human rights abuses on the ground.

Middle East Peace Process

Ministers discussed developments since the Annapolis conference and the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting in London on 2 May and looked ahead to the Berlin conference in support of Palestinian Security and the Rule of Law on 2 June. Ministers underlined the importance of continuing to support the political process, and expressed concerns over the humanitarian situation in Gaza.



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Iraq

Ministers had an exchange of views on the situation in Iraq, following the Iraq Neighbours’ conference in Kuwait on 22 April. Ministers welcomed security improvements and progress on national reconciliation, but recognised that the situation remained fragile. Ministers also looked forward to the annual review of the International Compact with Iraq in Stockholm on 29 May.

Pakistan

High Representative Solana gave a read-out of his recent visit to Islamabad. I agreed the council conclusions reaffirming the importance of EU-Pakistan relations, including support for the development of regional and bilateral trade, education and democratic institution building. Ministers supported the Pakistani Government’s fight against extremism and progress on reinforcing democracy since the election on 18 February. Ministers also underlined the importance of supporting the Government of Pakistan to implement the Electoral Observation Mission’s recommendations for electoral reform to support the democratic process in Pakistan, improve transparency and help ensure participation of citizens in the election.

Burma

The council adopted a common position renewing restrictive measures against Burma for another 12 months. I also agreed council conclusions on Burma, which highlighted the council's ongoing concern about the situation in Burma, and in particular the deep flaws in the regime's 10 May referendum on a new constitution aimed at entrenching military rule. The council underlined its readiness to consider further restrictive measures in the light of developments. Ministers had an exchange of views on the text of the draft constitution and referendum on 10 May.

Piracy off Somali Coast

Ministers noted recent piracy incidents off the Somali coast, which they condemned.

Western Balkans

Discussion of the Western Balkans focused on Serbia. The council agreed on the signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia, which President Tadic signed in the margins of the council. I intervened to stress the importance of full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia remaining a condition in Serbia's EU accession process. The requirement for full co-operation was fully recognised in the council’s conclusions, which make clear that ratification of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and implementation of the interim agreement will be dependent on a council decision that Serbia is fully co-operating with the ICTY.

The council also expressed its readiness to sign the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina, following the recent adoption of legislation on police reform. The Government welcome Bosnia and Herzegovina's progress against the conditions for signing the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and hope that signature will take place rapidly.



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Georgia

Ministers agreed that the EU should reaffirm its support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in the light of recent developments. The Government support the presidency’s initiative to organise a visit to Georgia, to highlight the EU’s concerns and offer support in resolving tensions with Russia.

Russia

Ministers discussed adoption of the mandate for negotiation of a successor to the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement with Russia. Agreement was not possible at this GAERC. Ministers are expected therefore return to the issue at the May GAERC.

Flooding

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.

Last summer’s exceptional floods caused widespread damage and misery for thousands of people. But the response was equally exceptional—from local authorities and other local agencies, the police, fire and rescue services, the military and neighbours helping each other. The Government have been committed to playing our part and we have already made up to £88 million available so far to flood-hit communities to support their efforts to get back on their feet.

The costs of the floods to the country were significant. That is why in August we submitted an application to the European Union Solidarity Fund, which was set up specifically to help countries that have experienced extensive damage from natural disasters such as floods. We have worked closely with the Commission on this application and I can confirm that the European Commission gave clearance for the funding to be paid to the UK when it approved the amended EU Budget on 7 April. I welcome this clearance and recognise the key role played by Commissioner HÃ1/4bner in the EU’s decision to approve our UK application.

The European Commission’s clearance was for payment of around £110 million as a contribution to the cost of recovery from last summer’s floods. However, the UK’s special “abatement mechanism”, agreed between Government and the EU and in place since 1984, means that the net value to the UK of this allocation is an extra £31 million.

I therefore announce today that all this extra funding will be paid to flood-affected local areas. The money will be distributed through a new, one-off £30.6 million restoration fund to local authorities, police authorities and fire authorities in England, with the balance allocated to the Northern Irish and Welsh devolved Administrations. I propose that eligibility for payments from the new fund will be based on the costs incurred in dealing with the flood problems since the summer and that local authorities will be free to spend this money according to the local

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priorities they determine. I am starting a short consultation on this basis today.

The restoration fund will mean the Government have made up to £118 million available so far to local areas hit by last summer’s floods.

The Government will account for the spending of the EUSF payment directly to the European Commission so that local authorities eligible for payments from the new fund will not have to deal with the strict rules that govern EUSF and can concentrate on the job of leading the full recovery efforts in their communities.

Identity Cards

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

The fourth cost report of the National Identity Scheme is being laid before Parliament today. It sets out an estimate of the public expenditure likely to be incurred on the scheme over the next 10 years, in accordance with Section 37 of the Identity Cards Act 2006. It reports on developments over the past six months, since the third cost report was published on 8 November 2007.

Immigration: Migration Reform

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.

I am today announcing the next steps in our programme of comprehensive immigration reform for 2008. I am publishing statements of intent which set out how the points system will work for skilled migrants coming to fill vacancies here, and for those who come to the UK temporarily for cultural and other non-economic reasons.

The Points-Based System

The UK’s new points system is central to our plans for controlling the numbers and skills of people coming to the UK, and ensuring only those the UK needs from outside the EEA can come to work or study.

We began the points system earlier this year with arrangements for highly skilled migrants. The statements of intent I am publishing today outline details on how the system will work for skilled and temporary migrants.

These arrangements will significantly reduce the number of routes to the UK and will include five key changes for skilled workers.

First, all employers who wish to employ skilled migrants will need a licence, provided and monitored by the UK Border Agency. This will help ensure employers are fulfilling their obligations to the UK, for example, helping migrants to understand and comply with our immigration rules.



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Secondly, migrants will be required to show English language competence to assist with their effectiveness at work and their integration into British life.

Thirdly, all jobs will be required to meet the resident labour market test before a migrant can be recruited unless the job is in a certified shortage occupation or is a intra company transfer.

Fourthly, all migrants not filling jobs on the shortage occupation list will be required to earn points through their qualifications and prospective earnings.

Fifthly, there will be a maintenance requirement so that would-be migrants must prove they have the ability to support themselves for the first month they are here.

We are publishing the draft points pass mark today. The final points pass mark for the skilled tier of the points system will be informed by the work of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on economic needs and that of the Migration Impacts Forum on the wider effects of migration.

The MAC will produce shortage occupation lists for the UK, and Scotland only, showing where there are skills shortages that can be sensibly filled by migration through the points-based system.

Statement of intent for the temporary workers and youth mobility tier (tier 5)

Tier 5 of the points-based system covers temporary workers and the UK’s new international youth mobility scheme, allowing people to travel to the UK to satisfy primarily non-economic objectives including five sub-categories: creative and sporting; charity workers; religious; government authorised exchange; and international agreement.

As with our arrangements for skilled migrants:

all migrants will need a certificate of sponsorship from a licensed sponsor who will vouch that the migrant will comply with the terms of their stay in the UK, before they even arrive in the UK; and migrants must also meet the maintenance requirements, demonstrating that they can support themselves while they are here in the UK.

The tier 5 international youth mobility scheme will allow young people from partner nations to come to the United Kingdom for up to two years to work and travel, while young UK nationals enjoy similar experiences in those countries.

We are publishing these documents today so that those affected by the changes we are putting in place can prepare. We are also giving people the opportunity to comment on the documents. A statement of intent for students under the points-based system will follow later this year.

Copies of the statements of intent on the skilled migrant tier and the temporary worker and youth mobility tier have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The documents are also available on the United Kingdom Border Agency’s website at www.ukba. homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents/managing ourborders/pbsdocs/.



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