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18 Oct 2006 : Column WS81

Written Statements

Wednesday 18 October 2006

EU: Lahti Summit

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The informal summit of European Union heads of state and government will be held on 20 October in Lahti, Finland. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister will represent the UK.

The Government welcome the opportunity the Lahti summit provides for EU leaders to take forward the “delivery agenda” agreed at the Hampton Court summit last October, during the United Kingdom's presidency of the EU. This will help the EU respond to the challenges of the 21st century: improving European innovation and research; ensuring Europe's universities can compete globally; tackling the energy challenges all member states face; addressing citizens' concerns on security and on migration.

In particular, Lahti will concentrate on EU external energy policy and innovation. There will also be discussion of immigration and of Darfur, as well as diner with President Putin.

At Lahti, we will underline the importance of climate security in the EU's discussion of energy; for example, through the extension of the emissions trading scheme and developing clean coal technology. Delivering our climate change goals is bound up with improving our competitiveness and fostering jobs, growth and innovation. Lahti will be an opportunity to set a clear political framework for future work.

The discussion of external energy issues will also ensure we maintain the momentum of the Hampton Court agenda, for example by mainstreaming energy into the EU's relations with third countries. Energy will also feature in the discussions with President Putin over dinner. This will also be an opportunity to consider the future of the strategic relationship between Russia and the EU.

The other main theme at Lahti will be innovation.

The Government believe there are two major challenges for the EU in this area. First, a fragmentation of effort in research; and, secondly, Europe's relative weakness in getting to market the high quality research and innovation carried out by its research base and universities. Lahti should make progress on the key aspects of improving the EU's innovation performance, such as intellectual property rights and the links between business and education.

Heads of government will also discuss the situation in Darfur, at the request of the Prime Minister. It is important that EU heads send a clear message underlining the urgent need to implement the peace deal agreed in May.

We also expect a discussion of migration issues, bearing in mind recent experience in Spain. Member states agreed at Hampton Court to a series of commitments as part of the global approach to migration. It is important that the EU continues to prioritise delivery of those actions.

The Government will provide a Written Statement to the House next week on the outcome of the Lahti summit.

EU: Transport Council

Lord Davies of Oldham: My honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Dr Stephen Ladyman) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I attended the transport session of the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council, held in Luxembourg on 12 October. The Finnish Minister for Transport and Communications, Mrs Susanna Huovinen, was in the chair.

The council held a debate on the communication, Keep Europe—Sustainable mobility for our continent, the Commission's mid-term review of the 2001 Transport White Paper. Ministers generally welcomed the new focus on “co-modality” (getting the best from each transport mode) and other themes included better regulation, road safety, tackling environmental impacts, efficient logistics and financing of infrastructure. I was among Ministers who spoke in favour of aviation emissions trading and continuing rail liberalisation.

The Commission introduced its communication, Freight Transport Logistics in Europe—the key to sustainable mobility, and reaffirmed its commitment to bring forward an action plan in the autumn of 2007. The presidency aim is for council conclusions on the communication to be agreed at the December council.

The council reached a general approach on two regulations providing for the Galileo Joint Undertaking (GJU) to be closed and for its responsibilities to be transferred to the European GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA). The GJU is to be wound up by amending Council Regulation (EC) No 876/2002 which set it up, and its responsibilities are to be transferred to the GSA by amending Council Regulation (EC) No 1321/2004 which had established and defined the responsibilities of the GSA. In response to the commission's report on the progress of Galileo in its communication, Taking stock of the Galileo programme, the council also adopted a set of council conclusions which urged more tangible progress. The texts of the two regulations and the council conclusions were acceptable to the United Kingdom.

During debate on wider aspects of the programme including the concession contract, I reiterated the UK's position that Galileo was a civil programme under civil control. In discussions on third country participation in Galileo, the Commission said it was essential to define the roles and terms for third country participation and that it was reflecting further on these issues before bringing forward a draft mandate for relations with international partners. The Commission announced that a Green Paper on applications for the programme will be published by the end of the year.

The council reached political agreement on the regulation on common rules in the field of civil aviation security, which will replace the 2002 regulation. The agreed text was acceptable to the UK. The commission noted that the events in August in London demonstrated the importance of agreeing this legislation as soon as possible. The presidency will continue its contact with the European Parliament, to work towards agreement on the text.

I provided a summary of the UK response to the August security events and lessons learnt. I thanked the Commission and other member states for their work in reaching a prompt agreement on new security measures.

The Commission gave a progress report on EU-US air transport negotiations: it reported that no progress had been made since the previous council, due to the political situation in Washington. However, they reaffirmed their commitment to delivering a balanced deal. Movement from the US would be needed in order to achieve this. They were ready to continue their efforts to encourage the US to move forward, so that the target date of 31 December, as agreed at the last EU-US summit, might be respected. While understanding the frustration expressed at the lack of progress, I pointed out that we were still some way from reaching a balanced deal. But without significant progress from the US side, we were in danger of getting nothing. The presidency summed up the discussion with presidency conclusions.

The Commission provided council with an update on discussions with Russia about payments for Siberian overflights. The Commission is aiming to reach agreement in time for the EU-Russia summit in Helsinki on 24 November.

Under any other business, the Presidency gave a report on the EU-Russia Permanent Partnership Council (PPC) meeting on transport on 8 September.

Agreed without debate were: a council decision on signature of the Transport Protocol of the Alpine Convention; and adoption of the regulation establishing the second Marco Polo programme for the granting of Community financial assistance to improve the environmental performance of the freight transport system (“Marco Polo II”).

Housing: Decent Homes Strategy

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government are today announcing 49 schemes, involving 38 local authorities that will ensure social rented homes meet and maintain minimum standards of decency. These schemes should deliver around £3 billion of investment, of which at least £1.8 billion will be levered in from the private sector. They will tackle over 80,000 non-decent homes, and ensure that a further 100,000 are maintained at the standard that tenants have a right to expect.

These new schemes, which are subject to continuing consultation with tenants, will establish arrangements to transfer local authority social housing to registered social landlords.

Some 29 schemes have been awarded places on the disposals programme. These schemes are in Blaby, Braintree, Bracknell, Brighton, Castle Morpeth, Castle Point, Daventry, Fenland, Gedling, Gravesham, Harborough, Lewisham (two schemes), Mole Valley, North Shropshire, Oswestry, Rochford, Salisbury, Sheffield (five schemes), South Kesteven, South Northamptonshire, Sutton, Three Rivers, Watford, and Wellingborough.

A further 18 schemes have had places on the transfer programme held open primarily for further discussions to take place over covering funding gaps arising from negative housing stock valuations. These schemes are in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Cannock, Chester le Street, Crawley, LB Havering, Manchester (four schemes), NW Leicestershire, Plymouth, Ribble Valley, Salford, Tamworth, Torridge, LB Tower Hamlets (four schemes) and Wansbeck. I expect all these schemes to gain programme places over the coming months.

These schemes mark our continuing commitment to ensuring that all social sector tenants have the decent homes that they deserve, and keeps the decent homes strategy firmly at the heart of the sustainable and mixed communities’ agenda. Many of the schemes will encompass works outside the properties to ensure that it is both homes and local neighbourhoods that receive investment to ensure they are both good places to live in.

The results of the round 6 ALMO programme will be announced later in the year.

Railways: Thameslink

Lord Davies of Oldham: My honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Dr Stephen Ladyman) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

My right honourable friends, the Secretaries of State for Transport and Communities and Local Government have decided to grant legal powers and planning consents to Network Rail in respect of its Thameslink 2000 rail enhancement scheme.

The scheme involves extending and upgrading the existing Thameslink network, by providing for more frequent and longer trains to serve 121 more stations than at present. Planning permission and statutory powers for the scheme are being given, together with listed building and conservation area consents and consents for consequential rail closures.

These decisions accord with the recommendations of the inspector who held a public inquiry last year into the scheme. My right honourable friends are satisfied that earlier deficiencies in the design of the scheme that were identified following the initial inquiry held in 2000-01 have been satisfactorily addressed.

It is important to note that these decisions do not amount to a final go-ahead for the project. They are made without prejudice to a decision on funding for the scheme, which the Department for Transport is currently considering separately. Furthermore, none of the authorised rail closures can take place unless the Thameslink scheme is implemented.

The decisions, and the reasons for them, are explained in full in three separate decision letters, copies of which have been placed in the Libraries of the House with a copy of the inspector's report of the public inquiry. These documents are also being placed on the department's website.

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