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Written Statements

Volume 495: debated on Friday 3 July 2009

Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 3 July 2009

Treasury

ECOFIN

The Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held in Brussels on 7 July 2009. The following items are on the agenda:

Presentation of the presidency work programme

The new Swedish presidency will present its ECOFIN work programme for the second half of 2009, which Ministers are invited to debate in line with article 8 (4) of the Council’s Rules of Procedure.

Follow up to the 18 and 19 June European Council

a) Financial supervisory framework

Following conclusions adopted at the June ECOFIN and by Heads at June European Council, the presidency is expected to outline its strategy for taking forward work on European financial supervision and regulation. The UK is content with the outcomes of both meetings; having secured among other safeguards, commitment in both sets of conclusions that any new powers granted to existing or proposed bodies would not impinge in any way on member states’ fiscal responsibilities.

b) Climate change financing

Heads at the June European Council agreed conclusions on the financing of climate change. The presidency will outline its strategy for member states to reach agreement on a negotiating mandate at the October European Council. The UK believes that work should continue to ensure the EU reaches agreement on the key issues suitably in advance of the Copenhagen conference in December.

Preparation for the G20 meetings

Ministers will exchange views after a meeting of G20 deputies to be held in Basel on 27 and 28 June. This will begin preparation of further meetings in London of G20 Deputies on 3 and 4 September and G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors on 4 and 5 September. The Government look forward to working with the presidency and member states to ensure that work taken forward at G20 complements work at EU level.

Pro-cyclicality

Following on from progress made at the informal ECOFIN in April, Ministers will be asked to adopt Council conclusions on pro-cyclicality. The Government agree that banks will need to build counter-cyclical buffers in good times, and strongly support ongoing technical work through the Basel Committee to examine the forces that contribute to pro-cyclicality in the financial system and possible mitigating options, as well as the efforts by the EU which complement work by the G20.

Implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact

a) Adoption of legal acts in the excessive deficit procedure

ECOFIN will be expected to adopt Council decisions for member states having breached the 3 per cent. budget deficit criterion, formally entering these countries into the Excessive Deficit Procedure. Council recommendations will also be issued for the correction of these excessive deficits.

b) Adoption of Council opinions on updated stability and convergence programmes

The Council will be asked to adopt Council opinions on the updated stability and convergence programmes of Slovenia, Slovakia, Austria, Belgium and Romania.

Any Other Business

Medium-term Budgetary Objectives (MTOs) and Implicit Liabilities

Following from ongoing work at committee level, ministers will exchange views on the incorporation of implicit liabilities into Medium-term Budgetary Objectives (MTOs). As a country which is neither in the Euro-area nor a member of the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERMII), the UK is not obliged to set a numerically defined MTO. Any changes to the methodology of incorporating implicit liabilities into MTOs should not change countries’ obligations under the Stability and Growth Pact.

Communities and Local Government

Code for Leasing Business Premises

I am today publishing a report by the University of Reading on the dissemination and use of the 2007 Code for Leasing Business Premises.

The property industry introduced the present version of this voluntary code in response to continuing Government concern about the degree of flexibility in the commercial property leasing market and the lack of information and advice available to small businesses about the implications of property leasing. The new code is an excellent document which, if implemented, would make a big difference. Besides a code of practice for landlords, the code provides step-by-step guidance for tenants taking out leases and a “heads of terms” document enabling them to see at a glance the commitments they would be taking on.

We undertook to monitor the implementation of the code. As a first step, we commissioned Reading University to study the dissemination and use of the code once it had been in place for a year.

This report about dissemination and use of the 2007 Code paints a very disappointing picture. It suggests that small business tenants are not receiving any substantive information on the code from any source. Except for some well-advised major tenants, the code is not a primary tool for the negotiation of new leases.

If parties do not know about the code and do not use it, it will have no impact. The property industry has asked us not to legislate in this area, and we have held back to give the 2007 Code a chance to work. But if the more substantive research shows that the market has not responded, legislation is bound to come back on to the agenda.

I call on the property industry, while there is still time, to redouble efforts to disseminate and use the code—every tenant negotiating a lease should have a copy and be encouraged to use it. In particular, the professions—surveyors and solicitors—have a special responsibility for making it available. A professional, modern industry will surely have an interest in ensuring that its customers are fully and properly informed about the leasing choices they are making. The UK commercial property industry should be a world leader, not just in its level of sophistication, but also in the fairness with which it operates.

Copies of the report have been placed in the Library of the House.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Correction to Oral Answer

In my response to the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) during oral questions on 30 June 2009, Official Report, column159, I said:

“In respect of India, he will know that British aid now amounts to about £240 million over this spending review period, but it is on a declining trend, and by 2011 will have stopped, not because of the Indian nuclear programme but because India is becoming a richer country. It is clear from international development legislation since 1997 that development aid should be directed according to poverty, and that is the basis on which India is pulling itself away from aid, according to its own wealth-generating potential”.

It has been brought to my attention that the information I gave in my response was incorrect. We have no plans to scale down the provision of aid to India, nor to stop the provision of aid by 2011. Our aid expenditure under current spending plans amounts to £285 million in 2008-09, £275 million in 2009-10, and £280 million in 2010-11. These figures reflect India’s continuing levels of poverty, with over 450 million Indians living on less than $1.25 a day, but also its own achievements in generating wealth.

Health

NHS Pay Review Body Report

I am responding on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the 24th Report of the NHS Pay Review Body (NHSPRB) (Cm 7646) which has been laid before Parliament. Copies of the report are available in the Vote Office. I am grateful to the chair and members of the NHSPRB for their report.

We welcome the NHSPRB’s 24th Report and accept most of its conclusions and actions which we will take forward.

The NHSPRB made one recommendation of a short term national Recruitment and Retention Premium (RRP) for pharmacists working in the NHS, paid at Agenda for Change (AfC) pay bands 6 and 7.

After careful consideration, I have decided to reject this recommendation because:

the recruitment and retention difficulties vary widely in England but are not significant in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland so a national RRP, which would be applied UK wide, is inappropriate;

in England, local recruitment and retention difficulties will be best addressed by increasing supply and using local recruitment and retention premia where needed alongside other local initiatives to support the training and development of junior pharmacists; and

the additional expenditure that would be required to implement the national RRP is unreasonable at a time when resources available to the NHS and the wider economy are being tightened and efficiency savings required from the NHS increased.

I am grateful, however, that the NHSPRB has highlighted difficulties retaining junior pharmacists in the NHS in England and, to address those concerns, the following actions are being taken forward:

the Modernising Pharmacy Careers Programme Board, chaired by Dr. Keith Ridge, the Chief Pharmacist for England, and responsible for the development of the pharmacy workforce in England, is working with the strategic health authorities to increase the number of pre registration pharmacy training places in the NHS from 2010;

updated guidance about the use and application of local recruitment and retention premia has been given to the NHS Staff Council which will consider it as part of its wider review of RRPs. The NHS Staff Council, made up of NHS employers and unions, is responsible for overseeing the Agenda for Change pay system;

we will draw local employers attention to the recommendations and deliberations of the NHSPRB about use of remuneration to resolve local pharmacy vacancy challenges, thereby informing their decision about whether paying a local RRP is appropriate; and

the NHS will continue to make use of specific local initiatives to support the training and development of junior pharmacists, for example, flexible working, protected study time and funding to support study for post graduate diplomas.