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Written Statements

Volume 486: debated on Thursday 22 January 2009

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 22 January 2009

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

National Minimum Wage

The Low Pay Commission (LPC) has asked for the Government’s agreement to delay making recommendations on the national minimum wage (NMW) this year. The recommendations were due to be made by the end of February; the request is to extend this to 1 May. The Government have agreed.

The Low Pay Commission made this request to allow them to take account of two further months of data, including the Bank of England’s inflation report, employee job figures for December, GDP figures for the fourth quarter of 2008, and updates on average earnings.. The Government agree that the LPC recommendations should be based on the best available evidence.

The delay will not impact on the planned date for entry into force of the new rates, on 1 October.

Treasury

Tax Information Exchange Agreement (United Kingdom/Guernsey)

A new Tax Information Exchange Agreement with Guernsey was signed on 20 January 2009, alongside an arrangement amending the 1952 arrangement with Guernsey for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income. After signature, the text of the agreement and the arrangement were deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs’ website. The texts will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

Defence

Armed Forces Day

I wish to announce today that the Government have selected Chatham Historic Dockyard to be the host for the 2009 Armed Forces Day national event.

We announced our plans to hold an Armed Forces Day when we published our response to the Report of Inquiry into National Recognition of our Armed Forces in October last year1. The intent is to provide an occasion during which the whole nation has the opportunity to show its appreciation for the contribution made to society by all those who serve and have served in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.

The title “Armed Forces Day” has been chosen to reflect the wider armed forces family of serving personnel (both regular and reserve), veterans and the cadet forces. This sense of inclusiveness is reflected in the strapline for the Day: “Honouring Britain’s Armed Forces, Past, Present and Future”.

Building on the success of previous Veterans Day celebrations, we plan to mark the occasion with a wide range of community-led events taking place in towns and cities around the country. Last year, we supported over 100 such events and we expect a similar level of activity this year. To provide a focus for the national recognition, we also intend to support a national event and a number of local authorities and other organisations have also submitted bids to be the national event host. There were a number of compelling bids that offered excellent prospects to host a prestigious and fitting event, but against stiff competition, we have selected Chatham Historic Dockyard to be the host for the 2009 national event.

I will be writing to all Members of Parliament soon setting out more details of our plans for the Day.

1The Government’s Response to the Report of Inquiry into National Recognition of our Armed Forces, October 2008.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Household Waste Incentives

Powers in the Climate Change Act allow up to five local authorities in England to pilot household waste incentives schemes.

The Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), wrote to authorities in June 2008 asking for expressions of interest in piloting a scheme to be sent in within eight weeks after Royal Assent. That date fell yesterday.

No local authorities have so far expressed an interest in taking up these powers. The powers are of course voluntary and were introduced in response to requests from local government. As with all local issues, decisions on waste management are best taken by local government.

There are a range of tools available to local authorities to help them manage their waste more sustainably. Local authorities are working hard to reduce the amount of waste thrown away and increase the amount recycled, and we have seen great progress, with recycling quadrupling in the last 10 years.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

General Affairs and External Relations Council

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 26 January in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Presentation of the Czech Presidencys Priorities

The presidency will outline their priorities: Economy, Energy and Europe in the World. In practice, this is likely to mean a focus on enlargement, the Eastern Partnership, energy security, single market, economic recovery, post-2013 Lisbon strategy and better regulation, which the Government support.

We also expect the presidency to present their plans for the Eastern Partnership, which they have said will be a key agenda item for the spring European Council on 19 and 20 March. We support the Eastern Partnership, and will work closely with the presidency, Commission and EU partners to develop the initiative. The presidency plans a Summit of Heads of State from the EU 27 and Eastern partner countries on 7 May to launch the partnership.

Energy Security

The Council will discuss the presidency’s priority of Energy Security with particular reference to the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute and its impact on the EU. We support the presidency and Commission’s handling of this dispute and agree with President Barroso that it has done long-term damage to both parties’ reputations as reliable energy partners. We welcome the recently announced agreement by the two parties, and the resumption of gas flow through Ukraine, and hope this will prove to be a long-term, sustainable solution. The situation of the last few weeks cannot be allowed to happen again.

In the longer-term the dispute has highlighted the need to tackle EU energy security as a whole. We therefore expect Ministers to discuss the EU Strategic Energy Review (SEER2), released on 13 November 2008, and look ahead to the adoption of an ambitious action plan at the spring European Council on 19 and 20 March. This will be an important step in ensuring a more coherent EU energy policy. The action plan needs to focus on increasing diversification of energy supplies for the EU and interconnection within the EU, greater transparency of gas flows and improving our ability to respond to supply disruptions. At the same time, the EU needs to increase its energy efficiency and continue to work towards the creation of a fully functioning internal energy market. The SEER2 identifies six strategic energy infrastructure projects. The UK particularly welcomes concrete actions to develop the southern gas corridor, which would bring Caspian gas into the EU via Turkey thereby diversifying both the sources and routes of energy supply.

External Relations

Middle East Peace Process (MEPP)

The Middle East Peace Process, and more specifically Gaza, will be high on the Council’s agenda. The GAERC will follow two other EU ministerial meetings which the presidency has convened at short notice to discuss Gaza: an EU-Israel Foreign Ministers meeting on Wednesday 21 January and a meeting between the EU and the Egyptian, Turkish, Palestinian and Jordanian Foreign Ministers on Sunday 25 January.

The outcome of the GAERC will depend in part on developments this week, and the outcomes of these other meetings. But we hope that the Council will welcome the cessation of hostilities in Gaza and call for all parties to make the current ceasefire permanent through the full implementation of UNSCR 1860.

We also expect Ministers to discuss the EU’s specific contribution to the peace process, including a focus on: the provision of urgent humanitarian assistance; efforts to reopen the Gaza crossings, including exploring the EU’s readiness to relaunch EUBAM Rafah, its border monitoring mission; and efforts to tackle arms smuggling into Gaza. Ministers are also likely to discuss how best to support inter-Palestinian reconciliation and galvanise the international community behind the wider MEPP and the Arab Peace Initiative.

Russia/Ukraine

We expect Ministers to consider the long-term implications of the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute for the EU’s relations with both countries.

Zimbabwe

We expect conclusions to express serious concern at the failure of the regime to respond to the deepening humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. We anticipate inclusion of a call for regional states to pave the way for the establishment of an equitable power-sharing agreement in Zimbabwe. We expect a call for investigations into links between illicit diamond trading in Zimbabwe and the regime. Conclusions should also note the extension and renewal of targeted measures against individuals and entities associated with the Mugabe regime’s violence and human rights violations. The EU will also reaffirm its commitment to the alleviation of suffering through the provision of aid.

Guantanamo Bay

We expect Ministers to welcome President Obama’s commitment to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, in line with the EU’s long standing position. We also expect Ministers to discuss the issues surrounding closure, including any requests by the US for assistance and whether the EU might consider a collective response.

The UK and China: A Framework for Engagement

The Government today are launching “The UK and China: A Framework for Engagement”. This document sets out our policy towards China over the next four years.

The paper states that, while China is already one of the world’s top four economies, we are probably still only in the early stages of its re-emergence. China’s impact on UK interests is already critical, and it is growing. Chinese markets and investments are increasingly important for UK business. More broadly, Chinese policies are enormously significant for our global agenda: addressing the need for economic, financial and institutional reform through mechanisms such as the G20, managing global pressure on resources, promoting lower carbon growth and sustainable development, achieving the millennium development goals (MDGs), and reducing conflict and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. On security issues, China is a pivotal member of the UN Security Council and its regional relations will be key to Asian stability.

The framework offers three pillars for the UK’s response to this challenge and sets out the series of outcomes we are working for under each. The outcomes are in places aspirational and by necessity subject to review. In a period of economic uncertainty, achieving our targets in trade and economic co-operation will be particularly challenging.

The three pillars are:

Getting the best for the UK from China’s growth: this is about encouraging China to see the UK as a global hub, and boosting our business, educational, scientific and cultural gains from the bilateral relationship. It is also about ensuring the UK has the right domestic policies in place to benefit from China’s growth.

Fostering China’s emergence as a responsible global player: this is about encouraging an approach of responsible sovereignty on international and global issues, from proliferation and international security to sustainable development and climate change. It is also about helping China to define its interests increasingly broadly.

Promoting sustainable development, modernisation and internal reform in China: this is about influencing China’s evolving domestic policies, helping China manage the risks of its rapid development and, over time, narrowing differences between us. Greater respect for human rights is crucial to this.

Our strategy also sets out the tools at our disposal to pursue these aims: regular interaction with our Chinese counterparts from the Prime Minister down, our growing network of diplomatic posts, the European Union, and our co-operation with other partners within the EU, with the US and with others. Working towards the outcomes we want will require patience, persistence and effective partnership. We will be candid where we disagree but we will ensure that the relationship remains characterised by co-operation, not confrontation. Building a progressive, comprehensive relationship with China will be a major priority in the years ahead.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Cyprus: De-mining

The UK is committed to supporting the settlement negotiations ongoing in Cyprus aimed at reunifying the island. The current negotiations offer the best chance there has ever been at finding a solution to the Cyprus problem.

The UK Government believe the key work done by UN development programme staff in removing land mines in the buffer zone in Cyprus is important in supporting the settlement negotiations. The work has been a highly successful confidence building measure and was vital in enabling the Ledra street crossing point to open.

I expressed my concern about the shortfall in funding for the Mine Action Centre in 2009 during the House of Commons Adjournment debate on Cyprus on 15 January 2009, Official Report, column 454 and underlined my belief that its important work should continue. Therefore I am today announcing a UK donation of €50,000 to the UN Mine Action Centre in Cyprus.

The work to remove landmines in the buffer zone has been largely funded by the EU to the sum of €9 million along with donations from Slovenia, Canada and Hungary. The UK donation of €50,000 will cover the running costs of the Mine Action Centre for February and March while the longer-term, sustainable funding is secured to enable this vital work to continue.

I am delighted that we have been able to lend financial support at a critical time to such a high profile confidence building measure with a proven track record of success. I look forward to seeing the centre’s work at first hand during my next visit to the island in February.

Home Department

Justice and Home Affairs Council

The Justice and Home Affairs informal Council was held on 15 and 16 January 2009 in Prague. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice and I attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. The first day of the informal Council focused on interior items, whilst the second day dealt with justice issues. A planned debate on EU drug policy did not take place but will be added to the agenda of the next JHA Council on 26 and 27 February 2009.

On the implementation of the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II), the Commission noted that while significant problems remained, consultants had concluded that the architecture of the system did not need to be fundamentally revised. However, a four-month time period is needed to fix the current problems and provide sufficient stability in the central system for testing to resume. The Commission proposed a new, more focused programme management structure to help deliver this test/repair approach, which involved member state experts.

Delegations expressed frustration at the delays and costs incurred and recommended a thorough analysis of what could be repaired and what was beyond repair. Analysis of what had taken place needed to begin in parallel with a full examination of the alternatives with clear timescales in place. It was also argued that any alternative scenarios needed to take into account the investments already made, something upon which the presidency gave assurances. The UK noted that everyone needed to pull together to solve the current situation.

Delegations were divided on when a decision should be taken on the options available, with some, including the UK, arguing for April, and others, including the Commission, suggesting that June was more viable. The presidency brought the debate to a close by noting that an alternative solution should be scoped in parallel to the ongoing work to test and analyse the current system, and a taskforce approach to testing would be implemented to offer greater scrutiny by member states’ experts. The February JHA Council will be asked to confirm this approach.

On the use of modern technology for security purposes, the presidency stressed the importance of the core values of mobility, security and privacy in taking forward this work. The Commission emphasised the need for a coherent common strategy to enable information sharing and interoperability, covering all aspects of law enforcement information exchange across the EU. The UK also stressed the need for a broad strategy, but one which was not artificially constrained by the treaty pillars, and which drew on operational needs. The UK agreed that balance of privacy and data sharing was important. In subsequent interventions there was general support for a broad strategy in the area of EU information access that looked at the practical needs and that could then be reflected in the post-Hague JHA work programme. There was also a sense that this work should be taken forward through existing Council structures rather than through the creation of new groups.

On the related issue of the use of modern technologies in border control, migration management and asylum policy, there was clear support for the use of modern technologies to improve border management, including the use of biometric data to manage external borders. There was also broad support to develop the use of Eurodac. The presidency noted that existing mechanisms should be combined to enhance the effectiveness of border management work and said that the entry/exit system and registered traveller system would be ongoing areas of work for its presidency. The Commission recognised the possibility of an automated border system for those with biometric travel documents, but noted that a requirement to make the collection of such data binding would require a change to the current legislation. The Commission thought that new systems should only be developed once the legal instrument had been agreed, and systems needed to be developed in an integrated manner, across all levels (national and EU). The Commission also said that there would be an agency to manage IT systems, which would improve the process and enable member states to be more involved. The UK welcomed the presidency’s proposals, noting its extensive use of data in border management, which facilitated travel as well as being a tool for law enforcement and migration management. It was important to learn from one another, and agree on the basic principles and benefits for citizens, for example in the use of passenger name records.

During a working lunch the presidency sought views on the international protection of children, with particular emphasis on the use of IT, including SIS II. The Commission raised the issue of the still small number of member states who currently have an early warning child abduction system in place. The UK called for support on a number of related issues: the work being undertaken by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre to tackle the sale and distribution of abusive images; for member states to consider participation of their law enforcement agencies in the virtual global taskforce (an international collaboration of law enforcement agencies who lead work to tackle child sexual abuse and exploitation both on and offline in their respective countries) to broaden its use within the EU; for consideration of an EU-wide child abduction taskforce and use of a website to exchange information and child alerts. Other delegations stressed the importance of concerted effort at EU level, mentioning specifically the role of internet service providers (ISPs), while warning against duplication of existing Interpol work in relation to child pornography.

As regards the debate on the future of mutual recognition of court decisions and judgments, there was a general sense that mutual recognition should remain the cornerstone of judicial co-operation. However, there were also widespread calls for better implementation and for improved evaluation of existing instruments, and for minimum procedural safeguards in order to enhance trust in each others’ systems. The UK stressed the importance of proportionality in the way instruments were applied, and called for existing standards under the European Convention on Human Rights to be better observed.

During the debate on succession and family law, general support was expressed in principle for a proposal that dealt with problems arising from succession and wills involving property in more than one country. However there was widespread caution as to the detail, with some delegations calling for work to proceed slowly and taking full account of the diversity of member states’ legal systems. During a short discussion on family law, some states observed that it would be better to focus on implementation of agreed measures before proceeding further. A number of delegations spoke in favour of enhanced co-operation where negotiations on family law measures among all member states had not led to agreement. Nonetheless, the Commission indicated it did not consider that there was the critical mass to proceed with a proposal under enhanced co-operation on choice of law in divorce (following from the failure to reach agreement on Rome III).

Over lunch there was a discussion about e-justice. The presidency announced that they are going to produce a manual listing the location of video-conferencing facilities in every member state. The Commission said that member states would be able to request funding to help them to improve their video-conferencing capabilities.

Justice

Boundary Commission for England

I should like to inform the House that I have made the following appointments under schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986:

Mr. David Elvin QC, appointed as a Member of the Boundary Commission for England, effective from 12 January 2009 until 11 January 2014; and

Mr. Neil Pringle, appointed as a Member of the Boundary Commission for England, effective from 1 July 2009 until 30 June 2014.

Rome I Regulation

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lord Bach, has made the following written ministerial statement:

“I am today announcing the United Kingdom’s participation in the European Community Regulation, on the law applicable to contractual obligations (Rome I). The regulation will provide for uniform choice of law rules in contract for all member states (except Denmark) and will come into force on 17 December 2009. The decision to participate follows the United Kingdom’s successful negotiation of the proposed regulation. The regulation now improves on the 1980 Rome convention and will give greater legal certainty for business and consumers in Europe.

I would also like to announce the publication of the response paper to the public consultation on whether the United Kingdom should participate in the Rome I Regulation. The consultation period ran from April to June 2008. The responses received to this consultation were almost unanimous in support of the United Kingdom’s participation.

As a result of the positive response to the consultation, the United Kingdom notified the European Commission and the Council of its intention to participate in the Rome I Regulation. The Commission, on 22 December 2008, adopted a decision to extend the application of the Rome I Regulation to the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom will be required to implement the regulation by 17 December 2009, at the same time as all other participating member states.

Copies of the Rome I response paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses”.

Cabinet Office

Olympic Funding

The Olympic Funders’ Group1 met yesterday and agreed to allow the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) to access £394 million of funders’ contingency. This decision provides £68 million, to meet the funding requirements of the International Broadcast Centre/Main Press Centre (IBC/MPC), and £326 million to support the construction of the Olympic village. The overall £9.325 billion public sector funding package remains unchanged.

As a result of good progress being made by the ODA, this investment is affordable from the overall contingency funds available and the contingency provision still available exceeds the assessed value of remaining risks. Alongside other contingency allocations, this means that around £1.5 billion of contingency funds remain available. The additional funding required is due to the shortage of private sector funding and the deterioration in the property market as a result of the current global economic downturn.

IBC/MPC

The IBC/MPC is still planned to be built as two permanent structures, with some temporary elements for games-time, based in Hackney in the north-west corner of the Olympic park as originally planned.

The IBC/MPC will accommodate 20,000 broadcasters and journalists in 2012. It is anticipated that it will contribute to a strong employment legacy post 2012 for the area.

The overall cost of the venue has reduced from £380 million to a new budget of £355 million. The original budget assumed a private sector contribution of £160 million which is no longer available, with £220 million from the ODA budget. As a result, £68 million of funders’ contingency is being provided to bridge the funding gap. This allocation by funders is in addition to £67 million that is being made available from ODA Programme Contingency2, to provide a total budget of £355 million.

The public sector will retain ownership of the asset and the ability to bring in private sector funding at a later stage. The new budget includes funding to ensure that the buildings left in legacy have the flexibility to be adapted to a wide range of uses, to maximise the potential employment opportunities after the games.

Village

The Olympic village is planned to have up to 3,000 apartments, fewer than in original plans, but the IOC requirements for athletes during the games can still be met with this reduced number. The village will house up to 17,000 athletes during the Olympics and over 6,000 during the Paralympics.

The funders’ group have agreed to allow the ODA access to a further £23l million in contingency, to maintain the momentum of the project while discussions on private sector financing continue, following the agreement last year that the ODA could spend an initial £95 million this financial year. The total contingency for the village is therefore £326 million.

The ODA is continuing to negotiate with Lend Lease (the anticipated private developer), and the banks, in terms of the private investment for the Olympic village, and this decision on the funding available will enable good progress to continue to be made on site. Negotiations are also continuing with Registered Social Landlords (RSLs), in relation to the provision of affordable housing, which also contributes to the funding of the overall project.

The Olympic village will provide up to 3,000 homes after the games, of which around 30 per cent. will be affordable, creating a core part of the legacy plans for the future regeneration of the Lower Lea valley.

Contingency funds available

The £9.325 billion public sector funding package announced in March 2007 included £2.7 billion of contingency. Some £0.5 billion was released to ODA when its baseline budget was confirmed at the end of 2007, and £0.238 billion was allocated as contingency for security. Some £2 billion of contingency therefore remained available for the ODA. Further details on the total public sector funding package and the ODA baseline budget is available from the “London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games Annual Report: January 2008”.

Of the £2 billion remaining available in the baseline budget, only £35 million (as set out in the table below) has been allocated to projects other than the village and IBC/MPC. Taken together with the decisions now being announced, the ODA have now, in total, been given access to around 25 per cent. of the £2 billion contingency remaining at the time of the baseline budget, leaving around £1.5 billion of contingency remaining available.

Part of the funding required is controlled by the Olympic Lottery Distributor (OLD) and the OLD board will consider the issue in due course.

A full picture on the contingency released for other projects, and an update on the overall picture across the programme, will be contained within the next 2012 annual report due to be published next month.

1The Ministerial Funders’ Group is Chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Alistair Darling), and also consists of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Yvette Cooper), Minister for the Olympics (Tessa Jowell), Culture Secretary (Andy Burnham), Communities Secretary (Hazel Blears) and Transport Secretary (Geoff Hoon). The Mayor of London attends but is not a member.

2Programme contingency is for risks managed by the ODA, in relation to delivering a programme of projects on this scale, on a tightly constrained site, against an immovable deadline. Funders’ contingency is to cover other risks, beyond the project and programme level—principally risks outside the control of the ODA.

Previously Agreed Contingency Releases

Funders’ Contingency

Programme Contingency

Total

£m

£m

£m

Various - balance of funding required after savings -see below

21.5

Olympic Stadium (roof steel strengthening)

8.2

Handball Arena (acoustics and HD lighting)

2.3

Handball Area (increased seating capacity)

2.4

Olympic Stadium (resilience)

0.7

Totals

3.1

32.0

35.1

The £21.5 million programme contingency referred to above was released in September 2008, as a result of the net balance of funding required following:

budget increases required on a number of projects, including powerlines and legacy requirements for the aquatics centre, and new budgets for sustainability and technical reviews;

savings arising on various other projects including: enabling works, various transport projects and structures bridges and highways.

Prime Minister

Council of Europe/Western European Union

Lord Chidgey has been appointed as a full member of the United Kingdom Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Assembly of Western European Union in place of Lord Russell-Johnston.