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Written Statements

Volume 493: debated on Friday 12 June 2009

Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 12 June 2009

Business, Innovation and Skills

National Minimum Wage

My right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Lord President of the Council has made the following statement.

I am pleased to announce that the Government have today written to the Low Pay Commission setting out the remit for their 2010 report.

The Commission is asked to:

Monitor, evaluate and review the national minimum wage (NMW) and its impact, with particular reference to the effect on pay, employment and competitiveness in the low paying sectors and small firms; the effect on different groups of workers, including different age groups, ethnic minorities, women and people with disabilities and migrant workers and the effect on pay structures.

Review the levels of each of the different minimum wage rates and make recommendations for October 2010. The Commission is also asked to make provisional rate recommendations as appropriate for October 2011.

Consider the detailed arrangements for an apprentice minimum wage under the NMW framework (as set out in the NMW Act 1998), and to recommend the rate and arrangements that should replace the existing exemptions, together with the timing for its introduction.

The Commission is asked to do this with reference to:

a) the issues and groups to which they have particular regard when reviewing the established rates, as laid out above;

b) the need to ensure that sufficient volume, quality and sectoral variety of apprentice places are available to meet Government targets, in particular when the education participation age is raised in England in 2013 and 2015; and

c) the effective functioning of the education market and young peoples’ choices with reference to the level of financial payment available on other education and training routes.

Report to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills by the end of February 2010.

The new terms of reference for the Low Pay Commission follow the Government’s acceptance of the Commission’s recommendations in their 2009 report on introducing a minimum wage for apprentices.

Copies of the remit have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Defence

NATO Training Mission for Afghanistan

At the Strasbourg-Kehl summit in April 2009, NATO agreed to establish the NATO training mission for Afghanistan (NTM-A) to help support the development of a capable and self-sustaining Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP). This accords with the UK’s policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan announced by the Prime Minister on 29 April 2009 and is essential to the long-term stability of Afghanistan. Following discussions on the NTM-A’s tasks with my NATO colleagues this week, I can announce the UK will contribute to the mission by leading the ANA’s combined arms training school. The school will be multinational and will provide “train the trainer” courses across Afghanistan for ANA instructors in junior officer, non-commissioned officer (NCO), infantry support weapons, armour and artillery training. The school represents a new stage in the development of the ANA’s training. The UK will therefore be able to transfer some of its personnel already engaged in ANA training to the school and so there will be no need to increase UK force levels. The UK will also continue to provide mentoring teams for the ANA and ANP in Helmand province and ANA officer candidate training in Kabul.

Energy and Climate Change

EU Energy Council

I am pleased to outline the agenda items for the forthcoming Energy Council in Luxembourg on 12 June where Andy Lebrecht, deputy permanent representative to the EU, will represent the UK.

The first item on the agenda will be a discussion of the Commission’s proposal for a Council directive imposing an obligation on member states to maintain minimum stocks of crude oil and/or petroleum products.

I also expect the Commission to give a progress report on its proposals for directives of the European Parliament and Council on the labelling of energy-related products, the energy performance of buildings, and the labelling of tyres. These were part of the Second Strategic European Energy Review which the Commission produced in November 2008.

Over lunch, I expect that representatives will discuss informally the location of the Association of Energy Regulators. The candidate cities are Ljubljana, Bratislava and Bucharest.

Finally, there will be short items of information on international relations in the field of energy.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

DEFRA (Departmental Report)

My 2009 departmental report, which contains information on progress against the Department’s strategic objectives, public service agreement target, the challenges ahead and summary expenditure plans for 2008-09, will be laid before Parliament today. The report is also available on DEFRA’s website.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

General Affairs and External Relations Council

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 15 June in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State for Europe will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

Preparation of the 18-19 June European Council

The GAERC will discuss the presidency’s agenda for the June European Council. The European Council will focus on EU institutional issues, including Ireland’s guarantees on the Lisbon treaty and Commission President Barroso’s re-appointment.

The Council will also discuss the economic, financial and social situation, taking “first decisions” on financial regulation based on the Commission’s proposals on the de Larosière report as well as examining the progress of the G20 summit outcomes. There will also be a discussion of climate change funding mechanisms in order to help develop an EU position ahead of the Copenhagen climate change conference in December. Illegal migration in the Mediterranean is likely to be discussed, as is the Ukraine/Russia gas dispute.

Finally, on external issues, we expect coverage of the situation in Afghanistan / Pakistan, the Middle East and Burma.

The Government support these discussions at the June European Council. In particular, we welcome the continued co-ordinated EU response to the economic and financial situation.

Enlargement

The Council is likely to take stock of the progress of accession negotiations with Croatia, delayed due to Slovenia blocking the nine chapters ready for opening or closing. The Government believe that bilateral disputes should not delay the accession negotiations. We continue to urge both countries to find a mutually acceptable solution to their territorial dispute and support the efforts of Commissioner Rehn to facilitate this.

External Relations

Middle East Peace Process (MEPP)

The GAERC is likely to reiterate EU support for a two state solution in accordance with previous agreements between the parties; access to Gaza and a comprehensive, regional approach. We also expect Ministers to express their support for the US commitment to the MEPP, and reaffirm the EU’s readiness to work in close co-operation with the US and other international partners towards achieving a lasting peace. The EU-Israel Association Council will take place in the margins of the GAERC.

Cuba

Ministers may discuss Cuba on the occasion of the annual review of the EU’s common position and the parallel review of the recently re-instated EU-Cuba political dialogue. The Council is likely to adopt conclusions which: renew the EU’s commitment to the common position and dual track engagement with Government and civil society; confirm the continuation of the political dialogue; and express concern at the lack of concrete progress on our human rights concerns. The Government remain concerned about the human rights situation in Cuba, but continue to support a policy of engagement. Continuation of the political dialogue will allow more time for it to achieve results.

Burma

On Burma, we expect the Council to discuss developments in the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, and in particular the need for a robust EU response in the event of a guilty verdict. It is not yet clear whether a verdict will come before the GAERC. Were Aung San Suu Kyi to be subjected to a further period of house arrest, or worse, imprisoned, this would remove the last shred of credibility from elections planned for 2010. In such circumstances we would expect the Council to issue strong conclusions outlining the steps the EU planned to take in response.

Western Balkans

On the Western Balkans, Ministers will agree conclusions on visa liberalisation, regional co-operation, and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The UK is not a party to the Schengen agreement and so does not participate in decisions on visa liberalisation. On BiH, the EU will underline the importance of further reform, and reaffirm its commitment to the five objectives and two conditions that need to be completed before transition from the office of the high representative to a solely EU special representative-led mission can occur. Ministers may also discuss co-operation by the countries in the region with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

AOB

Moldova

Ministers may discuss the EU’s relationship with Moldova, and the current political uncertainty following the failure to elect a new President and the requirement for new parliamentary elections. They will emphasise the importance of holding free and fair elections.

Illegal Migration

There will be a short discussion of illegal migration in the Mediterranean region, at the request of Greece. We expect Ministers to focus on increasing and strengthening co-operation in Europe to tackle the increasing flows of illegal migration. The UK supports this and recognises the particular challenges that are faced by Greece and other Mediterranean countries. We are also keen to further the UK’s bilateral relationship with Greece on migration through the provision of technical advice and assistance.

Georgia

Ministers’ discussions are likely to focus on the continued role of the EU monitoring mission (EUMM), whose mandate is due for renewal in September. Ministers are also likely to take into account the outcome of discussions in New York on the renewal of the UN mission’s mandate, and the possibilities for increased co-operation between international missions on the ground.

Overseas Security Information (Business)

My noble Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Davies of Abersoch) has made the following written ministerial statement:

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is committed to providing British companies with information on a range of security related issues they might face when operating or investing overseas.

On 1 May the Government launched a new product, titled “Overseas Security Information for Business” (OSIB), which will provide this information free of charge through the web site of UK Trade and Investment. The intention is to give useful support to British business in order that it can successfully meet the key security related challenges of doing business overseas and to improve their competitiveness.

The information provided will be both generic and country specific. While OSIB is an FCO/UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) initiative a great deal of its added value is the result of bringing together systematically a range of sources of information from across Government. The new product will cover issues such as political security risks, bribery and corruption, physical and personnel security, the terrorist threat and organized crime. It is presented in a co-ordinated and easily accessible way, including links to useful non-governmental web sites.

OSIB will complement the information and advice already made available through the FCO travel advice to British nationals who travel or reside overseas. Also, it will draw on, and complement, information provided by our Embassies and High Commissions, who in many cases already have arrangements in place to exchange information on security issues with locally based British companies and to provide information on request to business visitors.

In setting up this new product the Government have worked closely with business in order that the product can best meet business needs, and reflect business advice. UKTI intend to establish shortly a joint advisory group, to be chaired by a business representative, comprising a cross section of business, and officials from the Government Departments most closely involved in the initiative. We anticipate that the joint advisory group will meet three times per year. It will provide direction to OSIB and facilitate collaboration with key international business security associations.

OSIB supersedes the previous security information service for business overseas (SISBO), a joint business/FCO venture which closed on 30 April. The FCO and UKTI have worked closely with the SISBO board to achieve a successful transition from SISBO to OSIB.

Northern Ireland

Chief Constable's Annual Report

I have received the annual report for 2008-09 of the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland which is being laid before Parliament today as a Command Paper.

Copies of the report are available from the Library of the House.

Wales

Departmental Report

I have today published the Wales Office’s 2009 departmental report. Copies will be available in the Vote Office and on the Wales Office website from 12.00.

Work and Pensions

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 8 June 2009 in Luxembourg. I represented the United Kingdom.

The main agenda item at the Council was the preparation of the social and employment aspects of the June European Council to be held on 18 and 19 June. There was also a ministerial exchange of views on the Lisbon agenda post-2010.

In introducing the main policy debate, the Czech presidency emphasised the contribution of the 7 May employment summit held in Prague and the Commission’s 3 June jobs communication. Member states, including the UK, welcomed the Commission communication and its emphasis on skills and the reform agenda. A number of member states, including the UK, highlighted budgetary concerns about the European social fund proposals.

The Council adopted without comment the Council decision on the guidelines for employment policies of the member states and endorsed the Employment Committee opinion on skills and mobility. The Council adopted conclusions on flexicurity in times of crisis, on social services as a tool for active inclusion and on equality for women and men in active and dignified ageing. The Council also adopted conclusions on the inclusion of the Roma. There was also a discussion of the Commission proposal to extend social security rights to third-country nationals. The UK is not opted-in to this proposal. The presidency concluded that further preparatory work on the proposal was needed.

The Council noted progress reports on revision of the directive on pregnant workers and on the directive on equal treatment of the self-employed. The Council also noted a presidency progress report on the anti-discrimination directive. The incoming Swedish presidency underlined its hopes of continuing work and reaching political agreement in November.

Under Any Other Business, the Council took note of information from the Commission on the status of implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Council noted reports from the presidency of conferences it had hosted.

At the Ministers only lunch, there was a discussion on post-2010 successor to the Lisbon strategy. For the UK, I stressed the importance of the skills agenda and the importance of undertaking reforms to improve productivity and employment potential.