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The council will be asked to agree the draft conclusions on child alerts, which invite member states to introduce and develop national mechanisms for alerting the general public in the event of a presumed abduction of a child whose safety is seriously compromised. The UK is happy to agree the draft conclusions.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting (Lord Carter of Barnes): I am pleased to confirm the agenda items for which BERR has responsibility at the forthcoming Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council (Telecoms Council) in Brussels on 27 November 2008.
The first substantive item on the agenda is the review of the EU regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services, which is on the agenda for a political agreement. The French presidency is working hard to achieve agreement on the three elements of this package: amending the directives on a common regulatory framework, authorisation and access (often referred to as the better regulation directive); amending the directives on universal service, users rights and e-privacy (often referred to as the citizens directive); and the regulation on the new European Electronic Communications Market Authority.
Although, at present, we still expect a political agreement to be reached (on the whole package) there remains some doubt whether concerns by some member states on individual issues, such as on functional separation, may lead to the better regulation package to be rejected. There is more confidence on the citizens rights package and on the authority, where there have been significant improvements over the past few months better reflecting UK objectives. The proposed authority no longer has a role in spectrum management or in security and is a smaller, more efficient and independent body intended to be a disseminator of best practice to the 27 national regulatory authorities (NRAs). However, the Commission continues to propose the creation of an agency, giving rise to concerns that it would not be properly independent, and would risk becoming bureaucratic and inefficient. This is unacceptable to the UK, and I shall confirm this point.
The French presidency compromise text proposes the formalisation of the European Regulators Group (ERG) in Community law and supported by a separate secretariat. This is much more concordant with UK objectives for the creation of a small and efficient source of independent regulatory expertise which would not be subject to external influence. I will consequently be strongly supporting the presidency compromise text at the council, and urging other member states to do the same.
The citizens directive has also improved; it no longer risks extending privacy obligations on to private networks, includes greater powers for NRAs to protect citizens and consumers and contains more robust protection for disabled users.
The better regulation directive is where the French presidency is focusing its last-minute efforts, and the UK has also been working extremely hard to realise our own objectives. However, given the potential this package has to deliver real economic benefits to every European citizen and enterprise, and the time pressures we are under to reach an agreement before the current term of the European Parliament expires, there is a real need to balance our outstanding concerns against the need to give the presidency (now the French, shortly to be the Czech Republic) the necessary mandate to negotiate of behalf of all member states with the European Parliament and the European Commission.
In my interventions on the regulatory framework, I intend, while congratulating the presidency on its hard work and achievement in bringing forward these near-agreed texts, to express concern that on several substantive issues the approach being taken is conducive to neither enhanced competition across the European Union nor better regulation. I will particularly highlight, though this will depend on the exact detail in the final texts, our disappointment that there is not more robust language on the political independence of regulators, the liberalisation of spectrum or functional separation as an access remedy.
This package is subject to co-decision, so the final text voted upon at the council will have to be negotiated and compromised with the European Parliament, which shares many of the UKs objectives. The Commission, which will also have a key role in these co-decision negotiations, also shares many of the UKs objectives.
I will endeavour to keep you informed at these key stages, but subject to developments over the coming days I am likely to reserve the UK position on these elements of the package, pending a better outcome in the forthcoming discussions with the European Parliament and the European Commission.
I fully support the aims and objectives of the proposal, with its rationale of consumer benefit and protection. I consider that the proposed price caps for voice calls and SMS messages strike the right balance between the consumers interest in low prices, and the operators' legitimate aspirations for the profit margins which are the foundation for sustainable and innovative services. It should be noted that these caps are concordant with
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I also concur with the need to avoid bill shock for those downloading data on their mobiles when abroad, albeit tempered by the need to ensure that transparency, meaning the customer being aware of what they might be billed, can be provided without disproportionate cost or complexity. The UK has consequently submitted alternative text introducing a flat-rate charge which we consider will reduce the need for costly and possibly ineffective systems changes. I will be speaking in support of this approach and the rationale for it.
I also agree with the Commission that the rapid evolution of the data market, coupled with the existence of alternative sources of supply (such as wi-fi hotspots), means that it would be inappropriate to consider retail price controls for data at this stage. I will be speaking in support of the Commission on this point at council, should others move to include retail price controls for data.
At the House of Lords scrutiny committee hearing of 17 November 2008, I explained some of the history of the roaming regulation and that the national regulatory authorities had requested that the Commission act to address a cross-border issue that could not be tackled effectively by individual member states. I also explained why it was better to set a maximum price cap rather than an average one, as the latter would reduce the possibility of competitive pricing between suppliers. There are also practical difficulties associated with introducing an average cap as price controls effectively take money out of the market that could be used for investment and could lead to higher prices. We also discussed the possible waterbed effect of roaming caps; although the evidence is largely anecdotal at the moment, we have seen some increases in pre-pay domestic rates, but elsewhere competition has limited price increases. We will, of course, continue to monitor this situation.
This will be followed by a presentation from the Commission and discussion on second periodic review of the scope of universal services in communications networks. I am pleased that this is on the agenda as I recently deposited an Explanatory Memorandum about this communication. As you will be aware, I have welcomed the initialisation of this debate on broadband as a universal service, given the importance of broadband in the digital Britain work the department is engaged on. I am confident the debate will identify the best way forward for the European Union on this important issue, not least on such aspects of funding options, whether there should be a minimum capacity for all citizens and how member states should avoid anti-competitive situations.
During the council debate, I intend to briefly intervene to welcome the Commission communication and to outline some of the thinking taking place in the UK around the importance of broadband as an economic and social driver.
The final item of substance is adoption of the council conclusions on future networks and the internet. The UK objective for this agenda item is to ensure that the Commission proposals provide a suitable basis for ensuring that the future internet remains open and
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I believe that it is important to engage all the relevant stakeholders in the broadband/next generation network debate and to examine all the relevant areas including private investment, economic and social value, regulation and the public sector. Currently, I am of the view that roll-out of NGNs in the UK should be private sector led and that the public sector should limit its interventions to addressing clear market failures.
On the Internet of Things, I believe that the seamless connection of devices and sensors to everyday items through fixed and wireless networks will have a profound impact on society in the future, particularly in the way that they interact with individuals, businesses and governmental organisations. I agree with the European Commission that security and privacy issues are of prime importance and that it is imperative that these features are designed into systems and infrastructures, and thus EU R&D funding should be directed into this area.
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 House will wish to know that the Government are publishing tomorrow, Friday 21 November 2008, a consultation paper on draft secondary legislation to be proposed under the Identity Cards Act 2006, including a draft code of practice on civil penalties. Copies of the document, Identity Cards Act Secondary Legislationa consultation, will be placed in the Vote Office and the Libraries of both Houses tomorrow.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Baroness Vadera): My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Liam Byrne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
On 11 Junemy predecessor told the House (Official Report, col.485) of two lost Joint Intelligence Committee assessments and announced that the Cabinet Secretary had asked Sir David Omand to carry out a full investigation of the circumstances of the case. He undertook to keep the House informed of Sir Davids conclusions.
Sir David Omands review was carried out in the summer. His report could not be finalised pending the outcome of the internal disciplinary process and the police investigations. With the conviction of the individual responsible under Section 8(1) of the Official Secrets Act on 28 October, those processes are now
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Sir David concluded that the documents were mislaid because of the direct actions of the officer and that even if all the current security procedures had been followed to the letter, the inadvertent removal of the documents, though less likely to have occurred, could still have happened. He judged that the loss was not a preventable accident given the mistakes made by the individual. He has also observed that no security system that is both affordable and allows for the efficient conduct of business will provide proof against all forms of human error; and that the key determinant of good security has always been and remains staff with high morale and sense of purpose. Sir David said he had no reservations in that regard about the staff of the Joint Intelligence Organisation, who are highly security-aware.
Sir David has recommended a number of additional and affordable measures covering security education, practical procedures and emergency arrangements that would reduce some of the more likely human failings. He has also made suggestions about strengthening governance of the future development of security policy. An example of the sort of measures recommended that can be made public without damaging security is the introduction of spot checks. All the recommendations have been accepted: many have already been implemented, but some depend on changes to accommodation in hand and will be implemented when those changes have been made.
It is a matter of utmost concern to the Government that this breach of security has happened. We will take all steps to ensure that all individuals who work within the Joint Intelligence Committee staff observe the procedures that are necessary for security. We will continue to do everything necessary to safeguard sensitive intelligence material so that we safeguard the British national interest.
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.
On 6 October, I asked the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Vernon Coaker) to undertake an assessment of minority ethnic recruitment, retention and progression nationally across the police service. This assessment gave us the opportunity to consider the recent cases as well as look to the future of minority ethnic recruitment, retention and progression when current race employment targets for the police service, set in 1999, come to an end in 2009.
The assessment is now complete and I am grateful to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Association of Police Authorities (APA), police staff associations, the national police diversity staff support associations, the Post Lawrence Project Group including Doreen Lawrence and others who contributed to this work.
The assessment confirms that the police service has come a long way and made good progress since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report (1999) by Sir William MacPherson and the Secret Policeman Programme (2003). Over the years we have seen positive changes in relation to race equality which have also benefited other minority groups. These positive changes have been due to the commitment of many police officers and police staff and prominent community members such as Doreen Lawrence and other independent chairs of the Post Lawrence Project Group. It is important to emphasise that we are not starting from point zero on equality. A lot has been achieved but we should not be complacent and recognise that we still have a lot to do.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Lord Adonis): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick) has made the following Ministerial Statement.
The department has today published a consultation paper on improving compliance with road safety laws. It puts forward proposals across a range of road safety topics, and follows up a number of key commitments from the 2007 review of our road safety strategy, Tomorrows roads: safer for everyone. We will take a more wide-ranging approach to road safety when we consult on our post-2010 strategy next year.
While we are progressing towards our target of reducing the number of road casualties by 2010, there are still too many people being needlessly killed or
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On drink-driving, we invite general views on reducing the drink-drive limit and describe what we are doing to obtain better evidence on this issue. We also propose wider use of targeted road blocks to catch and deter drink-drivers, and to address procedural loopholes which currently hinder drink drive enforcement.
On drug-driving, current evidential requirements make it very difficult for the police to enforce. We want to explore creating a new offence of driving with an illicit substance in the body for drugs that are known to be impairing.
On careless driving, there is a burden involved in taking cases to court, which is unnecessary in the majority of cases, where drivers plead guilty, and which impedes enforcement in cases where no collision has occurred. We propose to make careless driving a fixed penalty offence.
Some of the issues are complex. We want to be sure that new initiatives are soundly based on solid evidence, and that we can take account of all the implications. This is an important consultation and we hope this document will encourage as many people and organisations as possible to respond with their suggestions and comments.
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