Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

15 Jun 2009 : Column WS51

15 Jun 2009 : Column WS51

Written Statements

Monday 15 June 2009

British Coal Compensation


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): On 19 May 2009 (Official Report, col. WA 283), I responded to a Written Parliamentary Question from Lord Lofthouse (HL 3425) in which he asked the Government how many solicitors have yet to appear before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) to answer allegations of professional misconduct in the handling of cases under the British Coal respiratory disease litigation and British Coal vibration white finger litigation.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) kindly supplied the necessary information, detailing 68 solicitors from 14 solicitors firms yet to appear before the SDT in relation to coal health compensation claims. This included Michael Foxford, John Didsbury, Conal Gallagher, Carlos Lopez, Jamie Patton, Paul Pickering, William Robbins, Moira Boyce, Judith Bell, Christine Harris, Susan Liver, Catherine MacCracken, Adele Gallagher, Gail Peterson and Rhonda Rosenfield of Birchall Blackburn LLP in Preston.

We have since been notified by the SRA that, unfortunately, the information supplied had not been updated to reflect the fact that the decision to refer a number of solicitors of Birchall Blackburn LLP had been rescinded in January 2009. As such, only Michael Foxford and Moira Boyce of Birchall Blackburn LLP face allegations relating to the handling of coal health claims.

Business: Overseas Security


The Minister for Trade and Investment (Lord Davies of Abersoch): The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is committed to providing British companies with information on a range of security related issues they might face when operating or investing overseas.

On 1 May the Government launched a new product, titled Overseas Security Information for Business (OSIB), which will provide this information free of charge through the website of UK Trade and Investment. The intention is to give useful support to British businesses in order that they can successfully meet the key security related challenges of doing business overseas and to improve their competitiveness.

The information provided will be both generic and country specific. While OSIB is an FCO/UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) initiative, a great deal of its added value is the result of bringing together systematically a range of sources of information from across government. The new product will cover issues such as political security risks, bribery and corruption, physical and personnel security, the terrorist threat and organised

15 Jun 2009 : Column WS52

crime. It is presented in a co-ordinated and easily accessible way, including links to useful non-governmental websites.

OSIB will complement the information and advice already made available through the FCO travel advice to British nationals who travel or reside overseas. Also, it will draw on, and complement, information provided by our embassies and high commissions, which in many cases already have arrangements in place to exchange information on security issues with locally based British companies and to provide information on request to business visitors.

In setting up this new product the Government have worked closely with business in order that the product can best meet business needs and reflect business advice. UKTI intends to establish shortly a joint advisory group, to be chaired by a business representative, comprising a cross-section of business and officials from the government departments most closely involved in the initiative. We anticipate that the joint advisory group will meet three times per year. It will provide direction to OSIB and facilitate collaboration with key international business security associations.

OSIB supersedes the previous Security Information Service for Business Overseas (SISBO), a joint business/FCO venture which closed on 30 April. The FCO and UKTI have worked closely with the SISBO board to achieve a successful transition from SISBO to OSIB.

Correction to Commons Written Answer


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

I regret that the information given in my Written Answer to the honourable Member for South Cambridgeshire (Andrew Lansley) on 11 May 2009 (Official Report, col. 627) was incorrect.

Details of consultant-led and midwife-led maternity units have been placed in the Library.

Devolution: Commission on Scottish Devolution


The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Davidson of Glen Clova): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On behalf of the Government I welcome the publication today of the final report from the Commission on Scottish Devolution.

The commission was set up by the Scottish Parliament and supported by the UK Government. The commission's remit was:

“to review the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 in the light of experience and to recommend any changes to the present constitutional arrangements

15 Jun 2009 : Column WS53

that would enable the Scottish Parliament to serve the people of Scotland better, improve the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament, and continue to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom”.

The commission, under the chairmanship of Professor Sir Kenneth Calman, has produced a detailed report, based on sound analysis, a robust evidence base and extensive engagement with people in Scotland. I welcome in particular the efforts the commission made to engage as widely as possible, through public events across the country, through oral and written evidence, a public questionnaire and through its website.

I welcome its conclusion that the devolution settlement in Scotland has been a remarkable and substantial success. We are approaching the 10th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament receiving full legislative competence, and there is broad support in Scotland and across the UK for the devolution settlement. The Scottish Parliament has established itself firmly in public life, bringing greater accountability to the people of Scotland, and innovation in both policy and working methods.

The Government agree with the commission's conclusion that, in order to serve the people of Scotland better, and to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom, the institutions of the United Kingdom and Scotland must be able to work together effectively. The Government have already taken steps to reinvigorate the Joint Ministerial Committee and to ensure close working with the Scottish Government, in particular in the face of the global economic downturn. We will consider the commission's recommendations in this area carefully.

Ten years on, the Scottish Parliament needs to have the financial responsibilities to match its ambitions for Scotland. We asked the commission to examine the options for improving financial accountability. The commission outlines a new financial model that would give significantly more responsibility to the Scottish Parliament for decisions on tax and spending in Scotland. The commission's model empowers and requires the Scottish Parliament to make a decision on the balance between taxes and public spending. Its recommendations draw from the work of Professor Anton Muscatelli's group of independent financial experts.

The Government agree that financial accountability could be achieved by moving to a system where a greater proportion of the Scottish Parliament's budget comes from its own decisions. We welcome the commission's model which provides a promising and well-evidenced basis on which we can work with the Scottish Parliament and others to bring forward practical proposals. The suggested changes are complex and require detailed and careful consideration. The Government will assess and explore how to implement these proposals. We agree with the commission's recommendation that any change should be introduced in a phased way to manage the risks of instability in public finances and of windfall gains or shocks and will take this into account in developing proposals.

The commission proposes further changes to the powers and functions of the Scottish Parliament, based on the work of a task group led by Sir David Edward.

15 Jun 2009 : Column WS54

I am grateful for its careful consideration of this important area. Its work highlights the range and depth of responsibilities which the Scottish Parliament already has. It broadly endorses the existing settlement but recommends adjustments. The Government are willing to adjust the devolution settlement, where there is benefit to the people of Scotland and where it will strengthen Scotland's place within the Union.

A steering group comprising parties involved in the Calman commission process, chaired by myself, will help the UK Government and the Scottish Parliament plan how to take forward the Calman recommendations and deliver stronger devolution within a stronger United Kingdom.

The Government warmly welcome this report, copies of which have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and the Vote Office. I am grateful to Sir Kenneth and the members of his commission for their work. I look forward to working with colleagues, partners and stakeholders here and in Scotland to take forward the report.

EU: Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council


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 (Jonathan Shaw) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 8 June 2009 in Luxembourg. I represented the United Kingdom.

The main agenda item at the council was the preparation of the social and employment aspects of the June European Council to be held on 18 and 19June. There was also a ministerial exchange of views on the Lisbon agenda post-2010.

In introducing the main policy debate, the Czech presidency emphasised the contribution of the 7 May employment summit held in Prague and the Commission's 3 June jobs communication. Member states, including the UK, welcomed the Commission communication and its emphasis on skills and the reform agenda. A number of member states, including the UK, highlighted budgetary concerns about the European Social Fund proposals.

The council adopted without comment the council decision on the guidelines for employment policies of the member states and endorsed the Employment Committee opinion on skills and mobility. The council adopted conclusions on flexicurity in times of crisis, social services as a tool for active inclusionand on equality for women and men in active and dignified ageing. The council also adopted conclusions on the inclusion of the Roma. There was also a discussion of the Commission proposal to extend social security rights to third country nationals. The UK is not

15 Jun 2009 : Column WS55

opted-in to this proposal. The presidency concluded that further preparatory work on the proposal was needed.

The council noted progress reports on revision of the directive on pregnant workers and on the directive on equal treatment of the self-employed. The council also noted a presidency progress report on the anti-discrimination directive. The incoming Swedish presidency underlined its hopes of continuing work and reaching political agreement in November.

Under any other business, the council took note of information from the Commission on the status of implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The council noted reports from the presidency of conferences it had hosted.

At the Ministers only lunch, there was a discussion on post-2010 successor to the Lisbon strategy. For the UK, I stressed the importance of the skills agenda and the importance of undertaking reforms to improve productivity and employment potential.

EU: Energy Council


The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (David Kidney) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to outline the agenda items for the forthcoming Energy Council in Luxembourg on 12 June where Andy Lebrecht, Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, will represent the UK.

The first item on the agenda will be a discussion of the Commission's proposal for a council directive imposing an obligation on member states to maintain minimum stocks of crude oil and/or petroleum products.

I also expect the Commission to give a progress report on its proposals for directives of the European Parliament and Council on the labelling of energy-related products, the energy performance of buildings, and the labelling of tyres. These were part of the second strategic European energy review which the Commission produced in November 2008.

Over lunch, I expect that representatives will discuss informally the location of the Association of Energy Regulators. The candidate cities are Ljubljana, Bratislava and Bucharest.

Finally, there will be short items of information on international relations in the field of energy.

EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council


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

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 15 June in Luxembourg. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State for Europe will represent the UK.

15 Jun 2009 : Column WS56

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the 18 and 19 June European Council

The GAERC will discuss the presidency’s agenda for the June European Council. The European Council will focus on EU institutional issues, including Ireland’s guarantees on the Lisbon treaty and Commission President Barroso's reappointment.

The council will also discuss the economic, financial and social situation, taking first decisions on financial regulation based on the Commission’s proposals on the de Larosière report as well as examining the progress of the G20 summit outcomes. There will also be a discussion of climate change funding mechanisms in order to help develop an EU position ahead of the Copenhagen climate change conference in December. Illegal migration in the Mediterranean is likely to be discussed, as is the Ukraine/Russia gas dispute.

Finally, on external issues, we expect coverage of the situation in Afghanistan/Pakistan, the Middle East and Burma.

The Government support these discussions at the June European Council. In particular, we welcome the continued co-ordinated EU response to the economic and financial situation.


The council is likely to take stock of the progress of accession negotiations with Croatia, delayed due to Slovenia blocking the nine chapters ready for opening or closing. The Government believe that bilateral disputes should not delay the accession negotiations. We continue to urge both countries to find a mutually acceptable solution to their territorial dispute and support the efforts of Commissioner Rehn to facilitate this.

External Relations

Middle East Peace Process (MEPP)

The GAERC is likely to reiterate EU support for a two-state solution in accordance with previous agreements between the parties; access to Gaza and a comprehensive, regional approach. We also expect Ministers to express their support for the US commitment to the MEPP, and reaffirm the EU’s readiness to work in close co-operation with the US and other international partners towards achieving a lasting peace. The EU-Israel Association Council will take place in the margins of the GAERC.


Ministers may discuss Cuba on the occasion of the annual review of the EU's common position and the parallel review of the recently re-instated EU-Cuba political dialogue. The council is likely to adopt conclusions which: renew the EU's commitment to the common position and dual track engagement with government and civil society; confirm the continuation of the political dialogue; and express concern at the lack of concrete progress on our human rights concerns. The Government remain concerned about the human rights situation in Cuba, but continue to support a policy of engagement. Continuation of the political dialogue will allow more time for it to achieve results.

15 Jun 2009 : Column WS57


On Burma, we expect the council to discuss developments in the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, and in particular the need for a robust EU response in the event of a guilty verdict. It is not yet clear whether a verdict will come before the GAERC. Were Aung San Suu Kyi to be subjected to a further period of house arrest, or worse, imprisoned, this would remove the last shred of credibility from elections planned for 2010. In such circumstances we would expect the council to issue strong conclusions outlining the steps the EU planned to take in response.

Western Balkans

On the western Balkans, Ministers will agree conclusions on visa liberalisation, regional co-operation, and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The UK is not a party to the Schengen agreement and so does not participate in decisions on visa liberalisation. On BiH, the EU will underline the importance of further reform, and reaffirm its commitment to the five objectives and two conditions that need to be completed before transition from the Office of the High Representative to a solely EU special representative-led mission can occur. Ministers may also discuss co-operation by the countries in the region with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).



Ministers may discuss the EU's relationship with Moldova and the current political uncertainty following the failure to elect a new president and the requirement for new parliamentary elections. They will emphasise the importance of holding free and fair elections.

Illegal Migration

There will be a short discussion of illegal migration in the Mediterranean region, at the request of Greece. We expect Ministers to focus on increasing and strengthening co-operation in Europe to tackle the increasing flows of illegal migration. The UK supports this and recognises the particular challenges that are faced by Greece and other Mediterranean countries. We are also keen to further the UK’s bilateral relationship with Greece on migration through the provision of technical advice and assistance.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page