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Written Statements

Volume 513: debated on Monday 12 July 2010

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 12 July 2010

Cabinet Office

National School of Government

The 2009-10 annual report and accounts for the National School of Government have been laid before Parliament today. The report has been placed in the Library of the House for the reference of Members and copies will be made available in the Vote Office.


Children's Commissioner for England

I am today announcing that the Government have commissioned Dr John Dunford OBE, currently general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, to carry out an independent and consultative review of the office, role and functions of the Children’s Commissioner for England. Dr Dunford has wide practical experience of the reality of children’s lives. I have written to him today to set out the remit of this review and would like to take this opportunity to provide the House with further details.

The education, health and well-being of children are vitally important for our society. The Government are committed to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child (UNCRC) and believe it is vital that children and young people have a strong, independent advocate to champion their interests and views and to promote their rights.

The role of Children’s Commissioner for England was created by the Children Act 2004 with a remit to promote awareness of the views and interests of children in England. I would like to acknowledge the work that the current commissioner, and her predecessor, have done to this end and make the voices of children and young people heard.

It is now over five years since the first Children’s Commissioner for England took up office but the role and remit have not yet been reviewed. There is continued debate about the remit of the post: as compared to its counterparts in other countries and the devolved Administrations; its public profile; and the impact it has had.

The Government have committed, in our coalition agreement, to increase accountability and review the cost of quangos and, therefore, I agree with the broad consensus that it is now time to take stock of the office, role and functions of the Children’s Commissioner for England through a detailed and considered review. This will provide an opportunity for the Government to consider the views of a wide range of partners on how Government can best promote children’s interests.

The review will take a wide-ranging and independent look at the office, role and function of the Children’s Commissioner. Dr Dunford will determine how the review will be conducted but I have asked him to ensure maximum opportunities to consult are taken and to consider the broad spectrum of opinions on this issue including the views of children and young people. With this in mind, I understand that Dr Dunford will be launching a call for evidence and I am sure he will be keen to secure the opinion of parliamentarians.

In particular I have asked for the review to cover three key aspects:

1) The powers, remit and functions of the Children’s Commissioner.

2) The relationship with other related functions supported by Government.

3) Value for Money.

A copy of my full remit letter to Dr Dunford is available in the House Library.

I have asked Dr Dunford to provide me with an update in mid-October and a full report by the end of November. I will then consider the recommendations and the implications for any further action by Government, including the need for any legislative change.

The current role and functions of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner will of course continue during the period of this review.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council (June)

My hon. Friend the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary with responsibility for the natural environment and fisheries, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg on 29 June. Richard Lochhead MSP also attended. This was the last Agriculture and Fisheries Council under the Spanish presidency.

On fisheries Commissioner Damanaki set out a fairly clear picture of the current state of fish stocks. The Commission had published its annual policy statement which set out the framework for determining what catch limits would be proposed for 2011, once the scientific advice was published. However, it proposed more strict catch limits for over-exploited stocks to reach the level of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) by 2015, in line with agreements at the 2002 Johannesburg World Sustainable Development Summit.

Most fishing member states commented. The UK stressed the following points (with a number of member states supporting each):

Achieving MSY should be done pragmatically given differences of scientific opinion, and the difficulty of establishing targets for single stocks in mixed fisheries;

Catch limits for stocks with insufficient data should be set as per last year, rather than reduced in line with catches as proposed;

Catch quotas (rather than current landing quotas) should be more widely used on a pilot basis in order to reduce discarded fish;

The quality and coverage of scientific data should be improved, including using industry input.

The Commission welcomed broad support on its approach, but remained firm on pleas for certain stocks; fisheries could not remain sustainable with current levels of fishing and numbers of vessels; changes needed to be made.

Damanaki also pressed the need for radical and fundamental reform of the common fisheries policy (negative economic outlook for most fleet segments; overcapacity driving down profitability leading to unsafe fishing practices, non-EU crew and leading to undue pressure on fishing stocks; negative social aspects; the amount of aid directed to the industry; low employment forecasts). A new regime should include a mix of individual transferable rights and effort management for limiting fishing opportunities and be operated on a much more regionalised basis.

The UK lead the support for this (against French, German and Polish defence of much of the current regime) emphasising the following points:

Simplified and decentralised decision-making with a more regionalised CFP;

Move away from rigid quota rules; rights for fishing should be transferrable within a member state;

Support for the social and cultural aspects of fishing in coastal communities;

Reduce discarded fish;

Greater integration of fisheries with other marine policies, especially environmental;

No additional regulation of aquaculture at EU level, external fisheries policies to be consistent with internal ones.

There were two points raised under any other business—the Commission emphasising the importance of immediately submitting national programmes for take up of the European Fisheries Fund (EFF); and Ireland drawing attention to Iceland’s recent declaration of a very large unilateral quota for mackerel in its waters (with the Faroes also threatening similar action). The UK stressed the vital importance of the mackerel stock to its industry being the most important to it economically. The present actions by Iceland and Faroe Islands were threatening the future sustainability of the stock. The Commission were encouraged (lead by the UK) to adopt a strong position to defend EU interests. The Commission undertook to talk to both countries.

Finally on fisheries, Ministers had an informal discussion on the future of the common market organisation of fisheries.

On agriculture, Council conclusions on the international competitiveness of the European agri-food model adopted as an A item without any comments.

Commissioners Ciolos (Agriculture) and Dalli (Health and Consumer Protection) made presentations on simplification and better regulation. This responded to ongoing pressure from the Council to reduce burdens that affect the competitiveness of the sector, and recognising that these can originate from across the Commission. Attention was drawn to the work the Commission had already completed to simplify existing CAP regulation, but noted too that simplification would not halt there; they would adopt a further simplification package in October. The longer-term reform of the CAP would be a further opportunity for simplification.

Eighteen member states, including the UK, had submitted a political memorandum on CAP simplification. This called for continued simplification now and in CAP reform post-2013, a more risk-based approach to financial controls, to dispense with the use of flat-rate financial corrections, and to proceed in cases of financial irregularity with an eye to the real risk to Community funds. The UK also outlined the newly established UK task force assessing the burden of farm regulation, while drawing particular attention to the complexity, cost and disproportional nature of the Commission’s financial control regime.

Next, the presidency sought confirmation of member states’ voting intentions on the Commission’s proposals to approve the placing on the market for food and feed use (but not cultivation) of five new varieties of genetically modified maize and to renew one existing authorisation. The six draft decisions were referred to the Council under the comitology rules having failed to attract a qualified majority in support when first tabled at the Regulatory Committee earlier this year. Since there was neither a qualified majority in support nor against in the Council, it fell to the Commission to adopt the decisions under its own competence.

Ciolos then introduced the dairy quarterly report which, like its two predecessors, continued to show strongly positive trends for all dairy commodities. The Commission flagged its intention to adopt a dairy package later in the year responding to the final report of the High Level Group on the dairy sector. The incoming Belgian presidency said it would debate the High Level Group report at the July Council.

There were three points raised under any other business. Greece urged the Commission to take action in respect of Argentina’s apparent breach of its WTO commitments in blocking imports of Greek canned peaches. The Netherlands encouraged Ministers to attend a conference it would be hosting on 31 October to 5 November in The Hague on food security and climate change. Poland drew attention to the floods that had recently inundated parts of the country.

Agriculture and Fisheries Council (July)

My hon. Friend the Minister of State with responsibility for agriculture and food will represent the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 12 July.

This will be the first Agriculture and Fisheries Council under the Belgian presidency, and they will present their Work programme. Discussions will also take place on the following:

Report of the High Level Group on Milk;

Report on the German Alcohol Monopoly;

Proposal for a regulation amending the Single Common Market Organisation (CMO) regulation with regard to the aid granted in the framework of the German Alcohol Monopoly.

Work and Pensions

Ageing Well Programme

I am pleased to announce Ageing Well, a new programme designed to support local authorities to improve their services for older people. The key aim of the programme is to provide a better quality of life for older people through local services that are designed to meet their needs, and which recognise the huge contribution that people in later life make to their local communities. The programme consolidates current best practice from local authorities and the lessons learned from earlier pilot activities and will be delivered by Local Government Improvement and Development. An essential aspect of the programme is to help authorities to improve efficiency while still delivering quality services.

Ageing Well recognises that local concerns need local solutions and will encourage authorities to take the lead to work in partnership with other local organisations to develop imaginative approaches to the issues faced by their particular communities. We want to help local authorities to use their resources effectively, to promote well-being in later life, to ensure that older people can live independently for longer, to engage older people in civic life and to tackle social isolation by recognising older people’s potential. The programme is driven by this Government’s view that older people in our society deserve every opportunity to age well, in communities that value their experience.