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Written Statements

Volume 492: debated on Friday 8 May 2009

Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 8 May 2009

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Temporary Agency Workers Directive

Following my statement of 22 May 2008, Official Report, column 32WS, I am today launching a consultation on the implementation of the Directive on conditions for temporary (agency) workers—Directive 2008/104/EC—the “Agency Workers Directive”, which was published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 5 December 2008. Copies of the consultation paper, which includes a copy of the Directive, are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Government intend if possible to introduce the necessary legislation (regulations under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972) in this current parliamentary session.

The aim of the Directive is to ensure the protection of temporary agency workers by applying the principle of equal treatment, as set out in article 5—that the basic working and employment conditions (duration of working time, overtime, breaks, rest periods, night work, holidays and public holidays and pay) of temporary agency workers shall be, for the duration of their assignment at a hirer at least those that would apply if they had been recruited directly by that undertaking to occupy the same job. There are also other entitlements that aim to improve the situation for agency workers in other areas, for example, in terms of improved access to permanent employment and training. In order to liberalise the agency worker sector across the EU, the Directive also seeks to address restrictions and prohibitions on agency work which exist in many member states to see if they are justified.

Importantly, the Government secured text in the Directive allowing for a qualifying period before equal treatment is applicable, if this is provided for via an agreement between “social partners at national level”. This allows implementation on the basis of the agreement reached between the CBI and the TUC on 20 May 2008, under which agency workers will have an entitlement to equal treatment in relation to the basic working and employment conditions after 12 weeks in a given job. The consultation document makes clear the Government’s intention to follow this approach on this key point, and also sets out proposals or invites views on a range of other matters on which decisions are required to inform UK implementation

Agency work is a valued route into employment and there are currently around 1.3 million agency workers on temporary assignments across the UK in a range of public and private sector roles, playing a vital role in enabling employers to respond flexibly to changing business needs. In line with the Government’s twin objective of ensuring appropriate protections for agency workers while maintaining a flexible labour market, we support the principle in the Directive of ensuring fairer treatment for agency workers along with maintaining the combination of flexibility for workers and employers provided by the agency sector.

This consultation will run for 12 weeks, until 31 July 2009, after which we will publish the Government’s response. In line with normal practice for a change of this kind, we then intend to conduct a further consultation on the draft regulations, and to invite views on what practical advice users would welcome in the accompanying guidance.

Communities and Local Government

Local Government

I am today announcing a programme of action to help the people of Stoke-on-Trent restore to the city the good city governance necessary to respond successfully to the challenges Stoke faces today and to promote the city’s future prosperity.

As the Independent Governance Commission found last year, Stoke-on-Trent is a city with a damaged political system and deep-seated malaise in its politics.

The Governance Commission recognised that Parliament had legislated to abolish the mayor and council manager governance model that the city had adopted. It made 14 recommendations to be taken forward alongside this fundamental change to Stoke’s governance arrangements. The cornerstone of these recommendations is for Stoke-on-Trent to have a fresh start and clearer, more stable political leadership with whole council elections.

In early June, the old governance arrangements in Stoke will end and—as a result of a local referendum—new arrangements with the council electing a leader from among its members will replace the mayoral leadership. Despite accepting the Commission’s recommendations, the council have failed to progress the Commission’s key recommendations including the recommendation for whole council elections.

Government action and support are therefore now needed to help put Stoke-on-Trent’s governance on a sound basis for the future and rebuild the public’s confidence.

Accordingly, we are minded to intervene to make an order under section 86 of the Local Government Act 2000 specifying a scheme of whole council elections for Stoke-on-Trent city council from 2011. Before taking a final decision on the order we are allowing a short “soundings” period until the 18 June to provide an opportunity for interested parties to make representations to us.

We are adopting this approach having regard to the evidence presented by the Governance Commission, who judge that a move to whole council elections will materially strengthen the operation of local democracy in Stoke-on-Trent. This is reinforced by the Electoral Commission’s report on “The Cycle of Local Government Elections in England” which presents a compelling case for simplifying electoral cycles, concluding that the balance of evidence suggests that whole council elections are more likely to provide clarity to electors and stability to the council.

It will be important for this new start that the Governance Commission’s recommendation on reducing the size of the council is in place before 2011, together with new electoral arrangements necessary for facilitating effective and convenient local government. I am today therefore asking the Electoral Commission to respond to the Governance Commission’s recommendations and direct the Boundary Committee to undertake now an electoral review in Stoke-on-Trent, the results of which would be implemented in the 2011 elections.

The aim is that by the 2011 elections there is a realistic prospect of a revitalised political system and strengthened civic life in Stoke-on-Trent. To enable the focus of all to be on this 2011 new start and while this electoral review is being conducted, we are also minded to include in the order provision to cancel the 2010 elections for the city council. Those members of the council whose term of office is due to end in May 2010 would have their term extended by a year to 2011.

Subject to consideration of any representations we receive, our intention is to make the order as soon as practicable after 18 June.

To reinforce this new start, the Leadership Centre for Local Government have agreed to work with the council, supporting the recruitment of talented, dynamic, and diverse candidates to seek election to the council, thereby helping to revitalise and strengthen the politics of Stoke-on-Trent.

We are also providing support to strengthen civic life in Stoke-on-Trent. The council will receive funding to become a Take Part pathfinder, and participate in the expanded LINks programme that will support the development of civic engagement.

In addition to these steps that the Government can take, it remains important for the council itself to implement the other recommendations of the Governance Commission including the recommendation for reviewing councillors pay and cutting the number of councillors receiving special responsibility allowances (SRAs). The independent city council remuneration panel has now recommended that the number of SRAs be reduced from 42 currently to 23. The council needs to implement such a reduction as a matter of urgency, if the people of Stoke are to regain confidence in their elected representatives.

Rebuilding the politics of Stoke is essential if the significant service improvements achieved by the officers of Stoke, supported by the Stoke excellence board are to be safeguarded and continued. Accordingly, we will expand the external officer support group to help support the council’s senior officers in the transitional period during which the politics of Stoke are being rebuilt.

In addition, I am strengthening the transition board to support both the good governance of the city of Stoke-on-Trent and the continued improvement in the council’s delivery of local services. This will act as the governance and performance transition board. It will continue to be chaired by Professor Michael Clarke and to reinforce it with sector support I am also appointing Councillor Ken Taylor (Coventry), Councillor Stephen Houghton (Barnsley), Paul Sheehan (chair of West Midlands Regional Improvement And Efficiency Partnership) and Trudi Elliott regional director of GOWM.

The Government are committed to giving the people of Stoke-on-Trent and the city all the support they can. Over recent years the Government have invested some £690 million in Stoke-on-Trent, including on regeneration projects, housing sector renewal and improving college campuses. We have already announced further planned future investment of £500 million which includes the major BSF programme, investment in the university hospital and on housing market renewal.

And I can today announce that the Government have identified £40 million from the Homes and Communities Agency to back regeneration work in Stoke and North Staffordshire, including the City Waterside project which will transform the city centre so that residents and visitors can enjoy new walkways, canal side café’s, and open spaces. This investment will provide a new focus for development in the heart of the city. This project is promoted by the North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership and I will support the partnership in its proposals to change the constitutional arrangements to replace the mayor with the appointment of a new private sector chair to push forward essential economic development and regeneration projects like City Waterside for the new Stoke-on-Trent.

The west midlands regional Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, North (Mr. Austin), takes a close interest in Stoke, working to support the city alongside the lead officers in the main organisations operating in the area, including Advantage west midlands, Home and Communities Agency, Job Centre Plus, Learning and Skills Council, Strategic Health Authority, Highways Agency, GOWM, West Midlands LGA. This strong support from the regional Minister and agencies will continue.

The people of Stoke-on-Trent deserve a city which is well governed, with high quality public services, successful economic regeneration, and improved quality of life for all. I believe that the steps we are now taking provide the best possible opportunity for the people of Stoke-on-Trent to achieve this.

Home Department

Immigration Appeals

I am today publishing, in conjunction with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice), the Government’s response to our consultation “Immigration Appeals: Fair Decisions, Faster Justice”, published in August last year. Copies of our response have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Government intend to transfer the functions of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal into the First-tier and Upper Tribunal, to ensure that the system is fairer and faster, and that its decisions are respected and final. This will mean replacing the existing High Court review stage with an appeal to the Upper Tribunal, which will speed up the process significantly. The pressure on the administrative court will also be dramatically reduced, which will free up time to deliver justice for other users of the court.

Although the benefits of the unified tribunal system will apply to all immigration appeals, the response we are publishing today also includes a number of measures which focus on asylum cases. Taken together, we expect these measures will ensure that 90 per cent. of asylum applications have either been granted or have exhausted their appeal rights within 18 weeks. This is a significant improvement over the current system, where it can take up to 42 weeks for cases to reach this stage.

The proposals in our consultation stemmed from a small working group chaired by Lin Homer, chief executive of the UK Border Agency and Lord Justice Richards, a Court of Appeal judge. I am grateful to the members of the working group for their valuable insight and to all those who responded to the consultation. We have taken their comments on board and they are reflected in our response.

Animals (Scientific Procedures)

I have today published a consultation paper seeking views on the European Commission’s proposal published on 10 November 2008 for a directive on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. The proposed directive will replace Directive 86/609/EEC on which current United Kingdom legislation—the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986—is based.

The Government welcome the publication of the European Commission’s proposal for a revised directive. We support the Commission’s aim to harmonise the regulation of animal experimentation across the European Union. We also support measures to promote high welfare standards for laboratory animals and to promote the development and use of alternatives. At the same time we believe it is vital that regulation properly balances the protection of animals and the legitimate needs of science and industry while maintaining public confidence that animals are not allowed to suffer unnecessarily.

The consultation paper seeks views on the detailed and technical provisions of the draft directive with a view to informing the formal United Kingdom negotiating position. The consultation closes on 3 July 2009.

Copies of the consultation paper will be placed in the Vote Office and the Libraries of both Houses. It is also available on the Home Office website at: www.homeoffice.gov.uk.

Prime Minister

Information Commissioner

Her Majesty the Queen has approved the appointment of Mr. Christopher Graham as the next Information Commissioner with effect from 29 June 2009 for a period of five years. Mr. Graham will replace the present Commissioner, Richard Thomas, when he retires from the post on 28 June 2009.