The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): The G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting was held on 6 and 7 November. A copy of the Communiqué and a progress report on the economic and financial actions of the London, Washington and Pittsburgh G20 summits prepared by the UK Chair have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Ian Lucas): I am setting out today the Government's response to the recent Insolvency Service consultation on encouraging company rescue.
In launching the consultation, the Government identified the importance of maintaining an effective and fair corporate insolvency framework that enables viable businesses facing temporary difficulties to turn themselves round, helping to preserve jobs and livelihoods. The consultation document invited views on a number of possible measures to further enhance the existing regime, including moratoria for companies that need a breathing space in order to agree restructuring proposals with their creditors, and measures to promote increased access to rescue finance.
More than 50 businesses, individuals, and representative bodies responded to the consultation. The majority of respondents supported the Government's view that despite the challenges faced by business in the current difficult economic conditions, the existing statutory framework for company rescue is performing well, and continues to compare well internationally.
The moratoria proposals were broadly welcomed. Respondents made a number of helpful comments and suggestions as to how the potential benefits could be maximised, while minimising the risks to creditors. The Insolvency Service will be taking forward more detailed development of the relevant proposals over the coming months, building on feedback received from the consultation.
In relation to rescue finance, the views of respondents were more divided. A number suggested that in practice the availability of new finance for companies seeking to restructure was less of an issue than had been indicated, and that the need for legislative change was not apparent. Stakeholders also recognised the need to balance the benefits of possible legislative changes against some of the risks, particularly if changes had a negative impact on the behaviour of lending institutions towards businesses in general. Having considered the consultation responses on this issue, the Government have decided that it will not for the moment be taking forward the finance-related proposals. We will however continue to work with stakeholders to monitor the position going forward.
Copies of the non-confidential responses to the consultation are being published today on the Insolvency Service website: www.insolvency.gov.uk, together with a summary of those responses.
The Minister for Children, Young People and Families (Dawn Primarolo): I have today placed in the Library of the House the Government's response to the fifth annual report of the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group.
The Government welcome the recommendations made in the independent advisory group's fifth annual report and acknowledge the valuable contribution the group makes to the strategy and its implementation. We have carefully considered and responded to all of them. The Government have taken forward all the major recommendations including making sex and relationships education statutory within personal, social, health and economic education from 2011, and investing more than £45 million in improving young people's awareness and access to effective contraception.
The Government are also taking forward other recommendations of the group to improve the ways that local services work together to prevent teenage pregnancy and improve outcomes for teenage parents and their children-with better co-ordination between education, children's and health services. As a key issue of health inequalities, child poverty and social exclusion, Government are urging local areas to continue prioritising and investing in their local teenage pregnancy strategy to help accelerate progress.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband):
On 5-6 November, I visited Bosnia and Herzegovina. During my visit I met with the three member joint presidency, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Prime Minister of Republika
Srpska and leaders of seven political parties. I also met with representatives of civil society and visited the International Commission For Missing Persons.
The British Government are strongly committed to Bosnia and Herzegovina's security and stability. Our vision is of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a fully functioning state making real progress towards membership of the EU and NATO. In my meetings with Bosnia and Herzegovina's political leaders, I reconfirmed the UK's commitment to the processes of EU and NATO enlargement, and to Bosnia and Herzegovina's future membership of both organisations. I emphasised the need for compliance with the Dayton framework. I made clear UK concern about the prolonged slowing down of reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and stressed that without genuine action to unblock reforms there was a risk of Bosnia and Herzegovina falling behind the rest of the region on its path to membership of the EU and NATO.
I made clear that the UK wanted to see the transition of the international presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Office of the High Representative to a European Union Special Representative but only on the basis of full completion of the conditions and objectives set by the Peace Implementation Council in February 2008. I encouraged the party leaders to redouble their efforts to make progress on the outstanding conditionality.
In this context, I urged Bosnia and Herzegovina's political leaders to engage wholeheartedly and constructively in the EU/US initiative to reinvigorate the reform process. The initiative offers an important opportunity for Bosnia and Herzegovina's political leaders to engage together in order to find a way through some of the blockages. This initiative is evidence of the international community's strong engagement: it needs to be met with a corresponding political will on the part of Bosnia and Herzegovina's leaders.
In my meetings with the joint presidency and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I welcomed Bosnia and Herzegovina's election to non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council in 2010-11. This will be an important opportunity for Bosnia and Herzegovina to contribute to addressing threats to international peace and security. The United Kingdom looks forward to developing a close partnership with Bosnia and Herzegovina on UN Security Council business including through intensified policy exchanges and the provision, by our Embassy in Sarajevo, of capacity-building workshops.
I visited the headquarters of the International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP) which is based in Sarajevo and saw at first hand the pioneering DNA-based work carried out by ICMP to identify the remains of missing persons. This work makes a vital contribution to peace and stability in the region and to regional and international judicial processes. The British Government are a strong supporter of ICMP's work.
I also had valuable meetings with representatives of civil society including with representatives of non-governmental organisations who have been partners of the UK in taking forward project work under our conflict prevention and strategic programme funds. I also met with British members of the EU military and policing missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 16 and 17 November in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, my noble Friend the Minister of State for International Defence and Security, Baroness Taylor, and I will represent the UK.
The GAERC will discuss the presidency's draft agenda for the December European Council. We expect the European Council to focus on the economic and financial situation, with a view to reaching agreement on the Commission's proposals for financial supervision and regulation. The December European Council will also adopt the EU's new work programme (the "Stockholm programme") setting out priorities for EU cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs from 2010-14. There may also be discussions on a new Lisbon strategy post-2010, enlargement and external issues.
Ministers will discuss the post-2010 successor to the Lisbon Strategy for Jobs and Growth. The successor strategy should build on the economic and structural reform programme set out by the initial strategy. At the October European Council, EU leaders agreed to draw up a European strategy for jobs and growth, to secure a strong and sustainable economic recovery. The October European Council stressed the importance of reforms to strengthen the internal market, deliver investment in the industries and jobs of the future, promote increased trade and strengthen the financial sector.
On the basis of a presidency report, Ministers are expected to discuss the priority areas for the EU sustainable development strategy (SDS) and how these should be delivered. We expect conclusions to be adopted by the December European Council, which will influence the decision on whether there should be a fundamental review of the strategy, due by 2011 at the latest. A recent review identified a number of areas where the EU is not on track to meet the targets in the SDS, and considered how its principles could influence policy-making more effectively. The Government support strengthening these aspects of the EU SDS and also ensuring that it is well co-ordinated with other EU strategies such as the Lisbon strategy.
Discussion will focus on the forthcoming EU-Russia summit on 18 November. The Government welcome the presidency's close consultation on plans for the summit and support the priorities identified in the agenda. If a wider discussion opens up, I will seek to debrief partners on my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's recent visit to Moscow.
Ministers will discuss preparations for the EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv on 4 December. Ukraine is an important neighbour of the EU and a key country within the new
eastern partnership. The summit is also important because it will take place in the month before presidential elections. We want the presidency to use the summit to further stimulate Ukraine's democratic development, promote political and economic reform, deepen the process of European integration through the new association agreement and help Ukraine consolidate its sovereignty.
Ukraine has been badly hit by the global economic crisis and the summit offers an opportunity to reiterate the EU's strong support for the IMF programme that has been put together to help Ukraine get through the crisis. A package of EU macro-financial assistance might also be offered subject to the IMF programme remaining on track. Ukraine is a key transit country for Russian gas and is therefore of great importance to the EU's energy security. We want the presidency to use the summit to help ensure Ukraine remains a reliable partner on energy issues.
EU Foreign and Defence Ministers will discuss Operation Atalanta and wider EU engagement on Somalia in separate sessions. On Atalanta, discussions will focus on the operation's six-monthly report. There may also be calls to make a decision on a proposed training mission for troops loyal to Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG), and member states may be pressed to indicate what resources they are able to contribute.
We support the concept of the EU providing support for training of TFG security forces but planning needs to ensure that any mission would be workable and genuinely contribute to progress in Somalia. EU support must be co-ordinated and agreed with other international community actors in the region (UN, AU, US and bilateral efforts from member states) and the TFG through the Joint Security Committee mechanism and funds must be set aside with a mechanism in place to ensure that all trained troops are paid upon return to Somalia.
After an introduction from the presidency, Foreign Ministers will have a short discussion on how to bring about improvements in civilian capabilities for European Security and Defence Policy missions. The discussion will bring together a set of work streams pursued by the current presidency on civilian ESDP, including a revised framework for deploying civilians rapidly through the EU, a new concept for undertaking EU police substitution missions and a short report on member states' progress in developing the mechanisms to deploy civilians overseas.
We anticipate that the discussion will focus on the issue of finding more highly skilled civilians to deploy through ESDP missions, particularly the EU policing mission in Afghanistan. The Government have been supportive of the presidency's efforts to harness civilian capability from across Europe to deploy on ESDP missions because it is at the heart of the EU's ability to undertake more effective crisis management.
Ministers may discuss recent developments and review whether progress has been sufficient to continue the suspension of the travel ban. Ministers may also look more widely at the EU's engagement, and assess what instruments it has at its disposal to bring about change. We will argue that there has not been sufficient progress
to warrant lifting sanctions at this time, although we would be prepared to see the suspension of the travel ban continue for a defined period.
Ministers will discuss Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), including the role of EUFOR Operation Althea. The Government support the ongoing presence of EUFOR in BiH. The presidency may also debrief member states on the current EU/US "Butmir" initiative: the Government fully support this effort to increase the pace of reform in BiH.
Foreign and Defence Ministers will have an overarching discussion looking back at 10 years of European Security and Defence Policy and its future development. Considerations will be based around the Council conclusions on ESDP as well as a declaration marking its tenth anniversary. The conclusions are wide ranging and include: current ESDP missions and operations; cooperation with partners, including NATO, the UN and Third States; conflict prevention; gender and human rights; and both civil and military capability development. The Government have been supportive of the presidency's active engagement in this field.
Ministers will consider the EU's approach to democracy building in external relations, and will adopt conclusions, which we fully support. We particularly welcome the fact that they are a joint initiative (from the development and human rights working groups) and that they set out an Agenda for Action which could lead to real change in how the EU delivers support to democracy in its external relations. This is not about increased conditionality; rather it is about using what the EU already has more effectively and in a more coherent and coordinated manner.
The focus of the Foreign and Development Ministers' joint discussion on Afghanistan will be how the EU can work to support the new Afghan Government, ensuring that it is able to deliver on President Karzai's commitments to address corruption, governance and reintegration. Ministers will discuss how to fast track implementation of the Council Secretariat/Commission paper on enhancing EU engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Government support the paper, and looks forward to seeing a worked up implementation plan.
The European Defence Agency Steering Board will meet in Defence Ministers' formation on 17 November. As consensus has not yet been reached on a three year financial framework, on current plans Ministers will be presented with the agency's draft work plan and budget for 2010 only, though we continue to pursue the prospect of reaching an acceptable three-year agreement. Ministers will also be given updates on six European Defence Agency projects. For two of these projects, Ministers will be asked to approve political declarations: on European military airworthiness requirements and on a level playing field for the European defence equipment market. We support both of these initiatives.
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