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Written Statements

Monday 15 November 2010

EU: Justice and Home Affairs Council

Statement

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Crime Prevention James Brokenshire and Kenny MacAskill the Scottish Secretary for Justice attended the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 8 and 9 November in Brussels.

The council began with mixed committee with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (non-EU Schengen states). The Commission provided an update on the progress of the second generation of the Schengen Information System II (SIS II). Since there were no major developments reported, it was suggested it may not be necessary to discuss SIS II at every council as was the present standing commitment.

Next the council noted progress towards an amending regulation on FRONTEX, the EU external borders agency. The new regulation is intended to increase the capacity of FRONTEX to strengthen the security and surveillance of the external Schengen borders, to develop relationships with third countries, and to better assist member states to return those with no right to remain in the EU. The UK is not directly affected as the amending regulation relates to those elements of the Schengen acquis in which we do not participate. However, the Government support the extension of FRONTEX's remit to allow it to handle the personal data of those suspected of involvement in criminality at the border. We believe that being able to gather and share these data with other agencies, such as Europol, is vital to FRONTEX's contribution to the fight against human trafficking and smuggling. The Commission confirmed that it had dropped its opposition to FRONTEX handling personal data, but emphasised that the purpose should be limited, with necessary safeguards on data protection and the respect of human rights.

The Commission updated council on the draft regulation establishing a network of immigration liaison officers, with a view to reaching agreement between council and Parliament before the end of the Belgian presidency. The amended regulation is intended to strengthen the EU's capacity to address illegal migration, and seeks to achieve greater benefit from immigration liaison officer (ILO) networks for FRONTEX and the Commission. The UK supported the proposal's aim to strengthen partnership working on illegal immigration, but objected to the failure of the text to reflect the application of the UK and Irish opt-in protocol. The UK had a right to opt in to measures pursuant to this part of the treaty and highlighted that a recital should be inserted to reflect the Government's decision to opt in. The UK would not be able to support agreement until that amendment was made.



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Next the council discussed the sixth report from the Commission on the maintenance of visa requirements with third countries. Commissioner Malmstrom said progress was being made on the lack of Czech-Canada reciprocity. The council then adopted an amendment to the common visa list to grant Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina nationals access to the Schengen area without an EU visa, subject to a strengthened monitoring mechanism to allow for a rapid suspension in the event of a sudden inflow. Ministers from Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina joined the council for this item to welcome the decision. The UK will not be affected by changes to the regulation on the common visa as it builds on elements of the Schengen acquis in which we do not participate.

Following mixed committee, the presidency gave a progress report on those dossiers being prioritised by the Belgian presidency under the common European asylum system noting that the council was close to agreement on the Dublin and Eurodac regulations, although several delegations intervened to argue for the inclusion in the latter of law enforcement access. The UK acknowledged the presidency's determined efforts to reach agreement on these measures, but thought the EU's emphasis should be on practical co-operation. The UK highlighted that support for Greece was vital, that the Greek action plan was a real step forward, but there was an urgent need to act with strong leadership by the Commission. The UK stated that in the right circumstances we could send asylum caseworkers to support Greece, but there had to be a proper funding source at EU level. The UK highlighted that Dublin should be supported, not suspended. Rather than legislation that would increase the rights of all asylum seekers (whether or not their claims were valid), member states should provide faster protection for those in need, whilst protecting EU asylum systems from abuse.

Over lunch Interior Ministers discussed solidarity in the field of immigration and asylum and, at the request of Germany, the aviation security incident involving cargo freight originating in Yemen. The UK updated on the current threat and its response to date. The UK also raised the importance of an EU PNR directive that included intra-EU flights.

The French Minister also informed the council of the establishment of a Mediterranean Office for Youth in 2011, an intergovernmental initiative to improve mobility for young people through, for example, work experience opportunities.

After lunch council conclusions on the creation and implementation of an EU policy cycle on organised crime (project Harmony) were adopted. The mechanism should allow an intelligence-led approach to prioritising and tackling agreed threats from serious organised crime.

The presidency then sought a firm political steer on the way forward for implementation of the Prum council decisions. The UK stated that it would not meet the August 2011 deadline for implementation. The UK acknowledged the offer of EU funding and suggested the deadline should be reconsidered. The UK could not support harmonisation of post-hit

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operational business rules. The presidency called on all member states to fulfil their commitments and make use of the support available.

Under AOB the Commission presented its initiative for a regulation on the marketing and use of explosives. The regulation proposes to limit access by the general public to specific chemicals that can be used to manufacture home-made explosives by restricting their use and possession above set concentration thresholds. There was no discussion.

The Hungarians called on the presidency and Commission to focus on the eastern partnership and on delivering a migration dialogue with the Russian Federation during discussions on the Prague Process-Building Migration Partnerships. The process is intended to implement strengthened practical and operational co-operation with main countries of transit and origin based on the global approach to migration-specifically the eastern migration route, which includes the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

On the justice day the Commission presented its proposal for a directive on attacks against IT systems which would replace the existing framework decision, which was part of a broader package of measures to combat cybercrime. The presidency looked forward to negotiations under the Hungarian presidency. The Government are considering whether the UK should opt in to this proposal.

There was an orientation debate on the European Investigation Order (EIO) which deals with cross-border requests for evidence in criminal proceedings. The UK supported the proposal but highlighted that some issues needed further debate at working-group level, in particular grounds of refusal. We needed to look further at cost, proportionality and dual criminality, in particular in relation to coercive matters. Proportionality must be a consideration in both the issuing and executing state. The presidency concluded that it would report on progress in December after further negotiations.

The presidency then provided an information point on the directive on the right to information in criminal proceedings. This is the second measure in the road map for strengthening criminal procedural rights and it aims to set common minimum standards and improve the rights of suspects and accused persons by ensuring that they receive information about their rights. The presidency stated that while progress has been made on this directive, it was essential to take account of the common law systems. The Commission reiterated this and encouraged member states to support the presidency in finding a solution that worked for all. The presidency will seek a general approach on this directive at the JHA Council on December 2 and 3.

The Commission presented the mid-term review of the drugs action plan and stressed the seriousness of the drug abuse problem in Europe and the need for implementation of the plan. It accepted that it was not the right moment to expect higher investment in drug prevention and treatment programmes but it was also not the moment to cut investment. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) presented its annual report which was published on 10 November.



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Over lunch Justice Ministers received a presentation from the presidency on whether EU action was required to enhance cross-border co-operation in border regions: this was intended to give guidance to the EU prosecutors forum at the end of November.

Pensions

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My honourable friend the Minister for Pensions (Steve Webb) has made the following Statement.

I am pleased to announce that for 2011-12 the rates for both the PPF administration levy and the general levy will remain at the same levels set for 2010-11.

Some of the administrative resource costs of the Pensions Regulator (tPR), the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), the Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) and the Pensions Ombudsman (PO) are recovered through levies raised on pension schemes. The rates for these levies are set in regulations.

Levy rates in year are set to avoid frequent changes and do not directly reflect forecast future costs but also take into account accumulated deficits or surpluses in expected levy collection. In holding rates stable, the Government are seeking to avoid additional cost pressures on pension schemes. The rates have remained unchanged since 2008; this stability will be welcomed by levy payers, pension scheme trustees, members and sponsoring employers.

Lord Freud: My honourable friend the Minister for Pensions (Steve Webb) has made the following Statement.

Starting from today, the Government are running a study exercise to look at ways of making better use of the data they hold about individuals, both from DWP administrative records and those of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs in order to help improve take-up of pension credit.

This study has been designed to meet the following objectives:

provide information about how people might feel about a system which makes more use of personal information that the Government already hold to pay people pension credit without the need for a claim; evaluate ways of using the data available to the Government to improve take-up under the current pension credit regime; deliver evidence about how in the long term a reshaping of the benefit or acquisition of better data might enable the Government to radically streamline the process for awarding pension credit.

This study will involve making awards of estimated pension credit to a randomly selected group of some 2,000 pensioners who, based on the personal information held, appear to be entitled to pension credit but not claiming it. These payments of benefit will be made for 12 weeks without those selected first needing to have made a claim. The first payments will be made in December and conclude in March 2011.

At the end of the study there will be a thorough evaluation, with initial findings expected from summer 2011.



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Sport

Statement

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Hugh Robertson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Following my Statement of 20 July (Official Report, col. WS 62-64) on the coalition Government's priorities for sport, I am today announcing the community sport and mass participation Olympic legacy programme, Places People Play.

Places People Play will be delivered by Sport England, in partnership with the British Olympic Association (BOA), the British Paralympic Association (BPA) and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG.) It is a £135 million lottery-funded initiative that will help build and upgrade sports facilities, protect playing fields and create sporting opportunities and challenges to encourage people up and down the country to get into sport-whether that be as a participant, leader or volunteer. This investment has been made available through the Government's lottery reforms that have resulted in more lottery money going to sport.

This programme will help to deliver Lord Coe's commitment to a lasting sports legacy to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Over the coming months Sport England will engage with the national governing bodies of sport and other key delivery partners to ensure that this commitment is realised.

Terrorism: Finance

Statement

The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government are committed to reporting quarterly on the operation of the UK's terrorist asset-freezing regime. We believe this is essential to ensure transparency and accountability of the regime. The Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Bill will enshrine the commitment to report quarterly to Parliament in law.

This report covers the period July to September 2010.1

Asset-freezing designations

In the quarter July to September 2010, the Treasury gave no new directions under the UK's domestic terrorist asset-freezing regime.

During this quarter, the EU added seven people to EC Regulation 881/2002, implementing the UN al-Qaeda and Taliban asset freezing regime established under UNSCR 1267.

As of 30 September 2010, a total of 205 accounts containing just under £290,0002 of suspected terrorist funds, were frozen in the UK.

Reviews under the Terrorism Orders

The Treasury keeps domestic asset-freezing cases under review and completed 34 reviews in this quarter. From these 34 reviews 13 persons had their designations revoked.



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The Terrorism Order 2009 contains a provision that designations made under the previous Terrorism Orders 2001 and 2006 expired on 31 August 2010 and that beyond 31 August, freezes can only be made, or renewed, under the 2009 order. All persons subject to domestic terrorist asset freezes in the UK are now subject to the 2009 order and benefit from the additional safeguards set out in that order compared to the previous orders.

Licensing

Maintaining an effective licensing system is important to ensure the overall proportionality and fairness of the asset-freezing regime, whether the individuals concerned are subject to an asset freeze in accordance with a UN or EC listing, or domestic terrorism legislation. A licensing framework is put in place for each individual on a case-by-case basis. The key objective of the licensing system is to strike an appropriate balance between minimising the risk of diversion of funds to terrorism and meeting the human rights of affected individuals and their families. Licences contain appropriate controls to protect against the risk of the diversion of funds for terrorist finance.

Eighteen licences were issued this quarter in relation to 15 persons subject to an asset freeze under the al-Qaeda and Taliban and domestic terrorism regimes.

Of these 18 licences, 11 revoked and replaced earlier licences. There were no variations to licences this quarter.

Proceedings

In the quarter July to September 2010, no proceedings were taken for breaches of the prohibitions of the Terrorism Orders or the al-Qaeda and Taliban (Asset-Freezing) Regulations.

Developments

The Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Bill-The Bill has completed its passage through the House of Lords and Second Reading in the House of Commons takes place on 15 November 2010.

Kadi v Commission-Yassin Abdullah Kadi was listed under EC Regulation 881/2002. This regulation gives effect to the UN al-Qaeda and Taliban asset freezing regime (UNSCR1267) in the EU. Mr Kadi challenged his listing under this regulation, arguing that it breached his fundamental rights under European law.

On 30 September the European General Court upheld Mr Kadi's challenge, annulling the EC regulation, in so far as it applied to Mr Kadi. The judgment will take effect on 10 December unless an appeal is lodged, in which case it will be stayed until the appeal has been decided.

The Kadi case concerns how EU member states implement their obligations to freeze the assets of sanctioned individuals under the UN al-Qaeda and Taliban regime. It does not concern the UK's domestic terrorist asset freezing regime.

1 The detail that can be provided to the House on a quarterly basis is subject to the need to avoid the identification, directly or indirectly, of personal or operationally sensitive information.

2 This figure reflects account balances at time of freezing and includes approximately $58,000 of suspected terrorist funds frozen in the UK. This has been converted using exchange rates as of 15.10.10. Future fluctuations in the exchange rate may impact on the contribution this sum makes to future totals of suspected terrorist funds frozen.


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