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The presidency briefed on the EU/US initiative to unblock progress on reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Ministers held an exchange of views on the future of EUFOR Operation Althea. They agreed to revert to the latter at their next meeting in January.
Ministers also approved a draft European Council declaration on Iran which draws attention to Iran's continued failure to comply with international obligations and signals the EU's readiness to begin a new phase of work on the pressure side of the dual-track approach, which the Government welcome.
Ministers agreed conclusions that called for the resumption of negotiations leading to a two-state solution within an agreed time-frame; referred to Jerusalem as the future capital of two states and declared that the EU will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders; emphasised the importance of the United States' efforts; welcomed and encouraged Palestinian efforts on state-building and improving law and order;
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Ministers agreed to forward the presidency's draft declaration to the December European Council for adoption, which the Government welcome. The declaration notes that an international conference is to be held in London in January 2010, underscores the EU's readiness to support President Karzai in meeting his commitments, and highlights the need to maintain a comprehensive approach to the challenges in Afghanistan, building on a combination of political/ civilian development and military instruments.
The council will be asked to reach a political agreement on a regulation on the rights of passengers in bus and coach transport, which also amends Regulation 2006/2004 on co-operation between national authorities responsible for the enforcement of consumer protection laws. While the scope of the regulation remains unresolved prior to the Transport Council, other key UK concerns with the original proposal have been addressed and the Government hope that a satisfactory political agreement can be reached.
The council will be asked to reach a general approach on an amending regulation on structures for the management of the European satellite radio-navigation programmes. The Commission will also give a progress report on the Galileo programme. Regulation 683/2008
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There will be a progress report on a directive on the deployment of intelligent transport systems (ITS). My officials have been negotiating to secure amendments to the draft directive which better align it with UK interests. Good progress has been made on those areas of concern to the UK.
There will also be a progress report on a proposed directive on aviation security charges. The UK will work towards achieving a fair and proportionate outcome that balances the interests of passengers and airports.
The council will be asked to reach a general approach on a directive on reporting formalities for ships arriving in and/or departing from EU ports. The UK supports this measure in principle as it should lead to a streamlining of administrative procedures to be followed by ships. It will be important to ensure that the implementation timetable allows member states sufficient time to adapt existing national systems to the new requirements.
The council will be asked to adopt conclusions following on from the Commission's communication A sustainable future for transport: Towards an integrated, technology-led and user friendly system, which was debated by the council in October. The UK believes the council conclusions to be a good outcome. They provide the Commission with a clear and useful steer and I expect to be able to sign up to the conclusions at the council.
The council will be asked to adopt a decision authorising the Commission to negotiate an agreement with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), providing a general framework for enhanced co-operation. The UK supports this proposal. There are significant gains to be had from closer co-operation between the Community and ICAO, notably in the field of aviation safety. The presidency has made clear that the draft mandate does not affect relations between individual member states and ICAO, nor does it affect the arrangements for preparing Community positions for meetings of the ICAO Council.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): On 7 July the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution published its report on Fast-track Legislation: Constitutional Implications and Safeguards (HL 116, 2008-09). The government response was published on 7 December (HL 11, 2009-10).
The report recommended that where the Government were proposing expedited legislation they should provide an explanation of why the legislation should be fast-tracked. The Government accept in principle the committee's recommendation that, for all Bills which are to be passed with unusual expedition, an explanation of the reasons for using a fast-track procedure should be provided.
I am therefore informing the House that any future legislation which will be subject to expedited procedures will contain a full explanation in the accompanying Explanatory Notes to the legislation. The explanation will address the questions set out in paragraph 186 of the committee's report:why is fast-tracking necessary? what is the justification for fast-tracking each element of the Bill? what efforts have been made to ensure that the amount of time made available for parliamentary scrutiny has been maximised? to what extent have interested parties and outside groups been given an opportunity to influence the policy proposal? does the Bill include a sunset clause (as well as any appropriate renewal procedure)? If not, why do the Government judge that their inclusion is not appropriate? are mechanisms for effective post-legislative scrutiny and review in place? If not, why do the Government judge that their inclusion is not appropriate? has an assessment been made as to whether existing legislation is sufficient to deal with any or all of the issues in question? have relevant parliamentary committees been given the opportunity to scrutinise the legislation?
The Video Recordings Bill, which has been introduced in this House today, is the first Bill to be fast-tracked since the committee published its report. The Explanatory Notes to this Bill reflect the new approach.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Davies of Oldham): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am placing in the Libraries of the House today copies of the Government's second update report detailing the progress made in implementing the recommendations contained in Sir Michael Pitt's report on the 2007 summer floods.
We continue to make significant progress. We have introduced our Flood and Water Management Bill, which implements Pitt recommendations that require legislation and will strengthen co-ordination, improve accountability and reduce the impact of future floods.
set up a £7.7 million Flood Forecasting Centre, jointly run by the Environment Agency and the Met Office, which is already providing important services to local authorities and emergency responders, helping them to be better prepared for potential flooding;
strengthened arrangements for local and national co-ordination in the event of an emergency, as recently tested in Cumbria-for example through publishing updated emergency response and recovery guidance;
announced that local communities across England will benefit from £16 million funding to help them tackle surface water flooding, including £9.7 million made available to 77 local authorities for areas where the risk and potential impact of surface water flooding could be highest;
issued guidance to regulators on protecting essential services; local action includes reinforced defences at Mythe water treatment works in Gloucestershire and flood defences at East and West Hull sewage pumping stations;
invested in building capacity, including funding local authority places for the Environment Agency's flood management foundation degree and developing an NVQ level 2/3 course on flood risk management;
The progress report explains the further steps we are taking to implement Sir Michael's recommendations. The risk of flooding remains and the recent events in Cumbria underline once again the importance of this work. The Government remain determined to enable us better to anticipate and deal with the impact of flooding.
Today I am publishing the Government Fraud Report for 2008-09. Copies of the document entitled, Fraud report 2008-09: an analysis of reported fraud in Government departments, have been deposited in the Libraries of the House and will be available on the HM Treasury website.
Today I have deposited copies of The Freedom of Information Act 2000-Statistics on Implementation in Central Government: Q3-July-September 2009 in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Hillsborough tragedy on 15 April 1989 at the FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was the worst disaster in British sporting history. 96 people died and hundreds more were injured. The tragedy was of such national and international significance that it served to act as a watershed in the subsequent minimisation of safety risks at football matches and similar sporting events.
There have been a number of examinations of the circumstances surrounding the disaster over the years. Following the 20th anniversary of the tragedy in April 2009, the Prime Minister asked the then Secretaries of State for the Home Office and for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Justice Secretary, to consider how to bring about maximum possible public disclosure of governmental and other agency documentation on the events that occurred and their aftermath. In order to bring about this disclosure I am today announcing the creation of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.
The Hillsborough Independent Panel will work in partnership with government and other public agencies to oversee the disclosure process. It will also consult those most affected by the disaster: the Hillsborough
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The independent panel will be provided with access to Hillsborough documentation held by Government and local agencies relevant to events surrounding the tragedy in advance of the normal 30-year point for public disclosure. The fundamental principles will be full disclosure of documentation and no redaction of content, except in the limited legal and other circumstances outlined in the full terms of reference and disclosure protocol which will be placed in the Library of the House and made available on the Home Office website.
Where Government records are covered by the well established convention on access to papers of a previous Administration-in particular papers which indicate the views of Ministers, such as Cabinet material or ministerial policy advice-representatives of the previous Administration are being consulted and their consent to the release of those papers sought.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): During the debate on 10 December in the House of Lords on the Commonwealth's shared goals in democracy and development Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked about eligibility of Commonwealth and Republic of Ireland citizens for membership of the House of Lords. The Government undertook to set out the background to the issue in more detail and
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It was suggested to the Government in April 2009 by the House authorities that the drafting of the Electoral Administration Act 2006 (the 2006 Act), and modifications made by that Act to Section 3 of the Act of Settlement 1701, could be interpreted to have inadvertently cast doubt on whether Commonwealth and Republic of Ireland citizens are eligible for membership of the House of Lords and to hold certain offices under the Crown.
The Government have been examining possible interpretations of the changes made by the 2006 Act carefully. Although one possible interpretation would have the effect which has caused concern, this was clearly not the intention of Parliament when passing the 2006 Act, and the Government would disagree with any suggestion that changes should be made in the way that eligibility is regarded.
The relevant provisions are complex. Section 18 of the 2006 Act included provisions about eligibility for membership of the House of Commons, which were intended to ensure that only persons with indefinite leave to remain in the UK are eligible to be Members of the House of Commons. The Act also extended this provision to elections to the European Parliament, the Greater London Authority, local authorities, and the devolved legislatures. The provision was enacted in response to concerns that elected representatives should be able to serve their term of office in full in the UK. The provision was commenced on 1 January 2007.
Section 18(7) of the 2006 Act repealed the first entry in Schedule 7 to the British Nationality Act 1981. That entry had modified the application of Section 3 of the Act of Settlement which concerns eligibility for membership of both Houses of Parliament, the Privy Council and certain offices under the Crown by disapplying part of it in relation to Commonwealth and Republic of Ireland citizens, allowing such citizens to be Members of either House and to hold offices under the Crown.
This change was made in consequence of the provision at Section 18(1) of the Electoral Administration Act 2006, which substituted a new modification of Section 3 of the Act of Settlement that applies only for the purposes of membership of the House of Commons: under its terms, Commonwealth citizens who do not have indefinite leave to remain in the UK are prevented from being members of the House of Commons. However, since the drafting of the legislation did not contain provisions expressly saving the first entry in Schedule 7 to the British Nationality Act 1981 in relation to membership of the House of Lords and other offices under the Crown, a question has been raised about whether the eligibility of Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland citizens for membership of the House of Lords and other positions is affected.
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