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Written Statements

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Correction to Commons Oral Answer

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

During Department for Work and Pensions Oral Questions on Monday 19 October, in response to a supplementary from the honourable Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Joan Humble), I said that:

"My honourable friend is right, and we must ensure that we also help young people who have different disabilities and need additional help with different ways into work. She may also be interested to know that the proportion of disabled people in work has increased by about 7 per cent, to more than 50 per cent, in the past eight years, so for the first time there are more disabled people of working age in work than there are out of work-precisely because of the kind of programme that my honourable friend talks about". (Official Report, col. 630).

The correct Answer is as follows:

"My honourable friend is right, and we must ensure that we also help young people who have different disabilities and need additional help with different ways into work. She may also be interested to know that the proportion of disabled people in work is now 47.5 per cent compared with 42 per cent 10 years ago and over half of working age disabled people are now in work or claim to be actively seeking employment-precisely because of the kind of programme that my honourable friend talks about".

I apologise to the honourable Lady for these inadvertent errors.

Courts: Northern Ireland

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Jack Straw) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Northern Ireland Court Service main estimate for 2009-10 includes £64.5 million in respect of legal aid, intended to enable the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission (NILSC) to discharge legal costs and meet its administration costs during 2009-10. Expenditure on legal aid in 2009-10 is forecast significantly to exceed existing provision because the NILSC is dealing with a high volume of very high cost criminal cases and a higher level of civil and criminal business.

Accordingly, parliamentary approval for additional resources of £20,000,000 will be sought in a winter Supplementary Estimate for the Northern Ireland court service. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £20,000,000 is being met by a repayable cash advance from the Contingencies Fund. The additional resources will enable the NILSC to discharge its statutory obligation to meet bills within the provision available to it.



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Arrangements have been put in place to ensure that very high cost cases are paid in a timely manner. There is a programme of reform aimed at reducing the cost of criminal legal aid and delivering reform to civil legal aid which will control cost and target funding on priority cases.

EU: General Affairs and External Relations Council

Statement

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead): My honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) was held on 26 and 27 October in Luxembourg. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and I represented the UK.

The agenda items covered were as follows:

General Affairs

The full text of conclusions adopted, including "A" points, can be found at http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/gena/110776.pdf.

Preparation of the 29 and 30 October European Council

The October European Council agenda covered economic and financial issues, climate change and institutional issues.

On economic and financial issues, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary strongly supported the need for the European Council to deliver a message on jobs and growth.

On climate change, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary noted that, with Copenhagen only 40 days away, we needed to agree a strong EU position to maintain the international momentum in negotiations. In particular, we needed to give a credible range of figures on global public finance.

On institutional issues, the presidency and the Czech Republic briefed Ministers on the latest developments concerning the Lisbon treaty. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary noted that we were broadly content with the substance of the presidency's Lisbon treaty implementation report, but he stressed two points: first, that Governments needed time to consult their national parliaments on some of the decisions which would need to be taken to implement the Lisbon treaty; and secondly, that it must be clear, for the avoidance of doubt, that the UK and Ireland's justice and home affairs opt-in protocol would apply both to old Third Pillar measures being re-presented as First Pillar measures, and to the decision on the establishment of the Committee on Internal Security (COSI). Ministers also broadly agreed guidelines for the European External Action Service (EAS) for approval at the European Council, but noted that full details of the EAS would be provided by the high representative for consultation once the treaty had entered into force.

Baltic Sea Strategy

Ministers adopted conclusions endorsing an EU strategy for the Baltic Sea region, which the Government support.



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AOB: Climate change

The presidency debriefed Ministers on the use of EU demarches to lobby 115 countries on climate change ahead of the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen. The issue would also be discussed at EU summits with third countries, including those with the US, China and India, in the run-up to Copenhagen. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary supported these efforts and highlighted the publication in the UK of the 4 degree map, which looks at the implications across the board of a 4 degree temperature rise. It showed that climate change was a foreign policy issue with serious implications, including for security.

External Relations

The full text of all conclusions adopted can be found at http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/gena/110805.pdf.

Iran

High Representative Solana briefed Ministers on latest developments on the nuclear issue. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, with support from several member states, said that the EU needed to be ready to take action. He also gave an update on the detention and trial of a local member of British embassy staff.

Western Balkans

The presidency debriefed Ministers on the joint EU-US initiative to make progress on blocked reform priorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Government fully support this initiative.

Afghanistan/Pakistan

The presidency introduced an action plan for enhancing EU engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which all Ministers welcomed. The Commission welcomed President Karzai's agreement to the second round of elections, which has since been cancelled. It hoped that the EU election observation mission (EOM) would have at least 100 observers and 150 support staff, but would welcome support locally.

The presidency and High Representative Solana both stressed the importance of getting the EUPOL police training mission up to full strength. The presidency challenged member states to increase their contribution before the next council.

I underscored the importance of a unified EU and broader international effort, going well beyond military engagement alone. The new EU strategy was robust but it needed firm action and resources behind it. I welcomed the Commission's decision to organise the EOM for the second round; underscored the importance of a strong EU presence and offered UK support; and announced that the UK would deploy four more policemen to EUPOL from January 2010. I also offered the UK's support to Spain in its preparations for the next EU-Pakistan summit in 2010.

Ministers adopted conclusions that welcomed the decision of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to hold a second round in the presidential elections; committed to redeploying the EOM to observe the second round; expressed concern about the security situation in Pakistan, while supporting the Government

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in their fight against terrorism; set out the main aspects of the EU action plan; and called for implementation of the plan without delay.

Middle East Peace Process

The presidency and High Representative Solana introduced a discussion of the MEPP which highlighted the importance of launching negotiations between the parties and the need for the EU to remain focused on its contribution to implementation of a future peace agreement.

Sri Lanka

The presidency and Commission expressed concern over the serious humanitarian situation. Member states shared this concern. I noted that while there had been some progress with increased numbers leaving the camps recently this needed to be sustained. Member states also expressed concern about the human rights situation in general, including freedom of the media.

The conclusions reflected these concerns and called on the Government of Sri Lanka to allow internally displaced persons to return to their homes as soon as possible and to allow improved access for humanitarian agencies.

AOB: Moldova

The presidency reported on the 15 and 16 October troika meeting with Moldova. Several member states supported a package of EU measures to the new Moldovan Government: financial assistance, pushing ahead with a dialogue on visas, moving ahead with negotiations on a deeper association agreement and a deep free trade deal. The Commission said that it was looking at macrofinancial assistance. The presidency concluded by welcoming these ideas. The Government support an ambitious programme of EU engagement and assistance with the new Government.

AOB: Somalia

This item was dropped from the agenda.

AOB: Freedom of Religion

Italy called for the EU to take a more consistent and active role in protecting religious freedom, and requested conclusions at the November GAERC. The presidency undertook to consider the request and revert.

EU-Indonesia

In the margins of the council my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary signed an EU partnership and co-operation agreement with Indonesia.

"A" Points

The council adopted conclusions or decisions, without discussion, on:

approval for signing the EU-Syria association agreement, Uzbekistan: focused on human rights, but lifting the remaining EU sanctions (an arms embargo);Guinea: imposing an arms embargo and travel ban on regime members in Conakry;Great Lakes: focusing on humanitarian situation in the east;Sahel: setting the EU's intention to develop a new strategy;Yemen: adopting an EU action plan; andHuman rights dialogue with Indonesia.

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Migrant Workers: Bulgaria and Romania

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My honourable friend the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration (Phil Woolas) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today confirming that the restrictions on working in the United Kingdom currently applied to Bulgarian and Romanian nationals will continue until the end of 2011.

I announced on 18 December 2008 that these restrictions would remain in place subject to a review of the position by the end of 2009. I have re-examined the case for continuing those restrictions. The Government remain committed to the principle of free movement of workers within the European Union and acknowledge the benefits that intra-EU migration brings to the UK both as an exporter of British workers to other member states and as a result of the role of migration from other member states in meeting labour shortages in important sectors of the UK's economy.

However, the Government have chosen a gradual approach to Bulgarian and Romanian workers' access to the UK's labour market. Given the current labour market situation, it is important that we continue to give weight to the need to protect the interests of the resident workforce. In March of this year, we accordingly tightened resident labour market testing requirements for non-EEA workers seeking admission under tier 2, and the entry criteria for those coming under tier 1, of the points-based system. I have concluded that, in the

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light of these considerations, the current restrictions applied to Bulgarian and Romanian workers should continue.

The annual quota for the seasonal agricultural workers scheme (SAWS) will remain at 21,250 places for 2010 and 2011 and the annual quota for the sectors based scheme (SBS) for the food processing sector will remain at an annual level of 3,500 places for 2010 and 2011. I will refer the question of the quota level for the SAWS to the Migration Advisory Committee if evidence emerges to suggest that it is inappropriate.

The current restrictions may be extended for a further two years beyond the end of 2011 on the basis of serious labour market disturbance. Any decision to extend the restrictions will be informed by a further evidence-based review of the position.

Taxation: Information Exchange Agreements

Statement

The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My right honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Stephen Timms) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

A tax information exchange agreement (TIEA) was signed with the Commonwealth of the Bahamas in Nassau on 29 October 2009.

The text of the TIEA has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs' website. The text will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.


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