Written Ministerial Statements
Wednesday 17 November 2010
Business, Innovation and Skills
Parliamentary Written Question (Correction)
I regret that my written parliamentary question response of 11 November, Official Report, column 478-79W, which referenced the future direction of the right to request time to train, gave an answer which was premature. The policy is still under active consideration until final decisions can be made.
We have consulted widely on the future of this legislation under our review of regulations introduced by the previous Government since the beginning of 2010. We are considering carefully the differing views expressed and will announce the way forward in due course.
Additionally, I would like to clarify that we are putting an end to the practice of unsolicited credit card cheques through a voluntary agreement with the credit card issuers rather than by legislative means.
EU Extraordinary Competitiveness Council (10 November 2010)
My noble Friend the Minister for Innovation and Skills, Baroness Wilcox, has today made the following statement:
An extraordinary EU Competitiveness Council took place in Brussels on 10 November 2010. This comprised a discussion on suggested amendments by the Belgian presidency to the Commission proposal for an EU patent language regulation in an attempt to overcome the concerns of some member states.
I represented the UK and Andy Lebrecht, the UK’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, represented the UK when a Minister was not in attendance. A summary of the discussions follows.
The UK and the majority of member states supported the presidency compromise amendments subject to the text being acceptable to all member states. The UK also emphasised commitment to an EU patent that works for business.
The presidency proposed a final compromise following the first round of debate and an extended session including bilaterals. The compromise was acceptable to the UK and the majority of other member states; however Spain still considered the language regime proposed would be discriminatory, while Italy and Poland still expressed concerns over the length of the transitional period.
Despite many concessions having been made in an attempt to achieve progress, the presidency concluded that it is not possible to achieve the required unanimity, but that they will now reflect on how to capitalise on the momentum created.
Employee-led Mutual Organisations
Today, I am setting-out the steps the Government are taking to support workers to establish employee-led mutual organisations.
Every Government Department will put in place a “Right to Provide”—a right for public sector workers to take over the running of services.
These rights will not be uniform across Departments because each Department’s requirements will be different. The rights will be as far reaching as possible, but we accept there will be areas where it will not be possible to mutualise, for example, because of security or operational stability concerns. It will be for Departments to set these areas out.
Cabinet Office will work with Departments to explore where public procurement processes allow for staff forming a mutual to be awarded a contract to continue providing services. Mutuals will have to negotiate contracts with the applicable Department or local commissioning body, which show how they will provide services while minimising administration and overheads.
In developing and implementing these new rights it is important that central Government lead by example. I will announce today that the Government will develop a right for civil servants directly employed by Departments to form mutuals. In the wider public sector workforce, it will be necessary for Government to work with local public sector bodies and employers.
The Government will not seek to dictate what is best for employees and for the users of services; rather the precise model of mutualisation should follow the service being provided; this could for example include joint ventures.
I am establishing a “challenge group” in Government to advise me and other ministerial colleagues about how we can best enable the success of this policy. This group will convene key policymakers and experts to drive the changes to policy and process necessary across Whitehall.
From spring 2011, the Government will invest over £10 million to fund a programme of support for some of the most promising and innovative mutuals so that they reach the point of investment readiness. This will build on the work of leading organisations in the sector to develop a network within which public sector employees, investors and public service commissioners can develop viable businesses.
The new suite of Rights to Provide are part of the Government’s broader commitment to ensure that a much wider range of organisations can deliver excellent and efficient public services. The Government will publish a White Paper on reform early next year, setting out where we can go further to shift power away from central Government to citizens, communities and independent providers.
Economic and Financial Affairs Council (11 and 15 November 2010)
I represented the UK at Budget ECOFIN on 11 November, resuming on 15 November. The Council meeting took place alongside a meeting of the Council-European Parliament conciliation committee on the 2011 EU budget.
At a time of unprecedented economic and financial difficulty throughout the EU, the Government had made clear that a 6% increase in the 2011 EU budget above 2010 levels, called for by the Commission and the European Parliament, was unacceptable. In July the UK voted against Council’s position calling for a 2.91% increase in the budget, with six other member states. This position was nevertheless adopted by a qualified majority. At the European Council on 29 October, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister led 12 other EU leaders in stating clearly that we could not accept any budget increase beyond the level agreed by the majority in Council.
The Government’s aim at these Budget ECOFIN and conciliation committee meetings was to agree a budget for the EU in 2011 at the level of a 2.91% increase. The European Parliament said it was prepared in principle to accept this figure. The Government believe that agreement could have been reached on the 2011 budget in these terms, fulfilling the conciliation committee’s mandate.
However, the European Parliament also demanded an outcome on a number of broader, strategic budgetary issues. These included text on an increased role for the European Parliament in discussions of the next financial framework and the EU’s own resources, as well as a provision for flexibility to increase spending in the EU budget in future years.
The Government were not prepared to accept these conditions for agreement to the 2011 budget. At a time of widespread austerity measures, the Government believed that the over-riding priority for these meetings was to agree on next year’s EU budget, and that it was inappropriate to condition agreement to progress on these longer-term political issues. A number of member states expressed similar concerns.
The European Parliament was not prepared to agree the 2011 budget in these circumstances, ending the negotiating session on 11 November and declaring the conciliation committee’s deadline reached on 15 November. The committee therefore ended without agreeing a budget for next year. The Commission must now present a new draft budget for 2011 as a basis for further negotiations.
The Government strongly believe that there was a prospect for agreement on the 2011 budget at these meetings. Both Council and the European Parliament said they could have accepted a budget increase of 2.91% in 2011 compared to 2010 levels. However, the Government were simply not prepared to enter an agreement on the much wider demands from the European Parliament, on issues not immediately related to the 2011 budget. In these circumstances, the Government believe it was better for UK taxpayers not to reach agreement yesterday at all, rather than making a bad agreement which was counter to the interests of UK taxpayers.
The Government will continue to engage constructively in further negotiations aimed at securing agreement to a 2011 EU budget.
Culture, Media and Sport
Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council
The Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council will be held on 18-19 November in Brussels. Culture, audio-visual and sport issues will be taken on 18 November. The Deputy UK Permanent Representative, Andy Lebrecht, will be representing the UK for the culture and audio-visual section of the Council. The Minister for Sport and the Olympics, will represent the UK for the sport section of the Council.
The first item on the agenda will be a progress report from the presidency on the ongoing negotiations on the proposal for a European heritage label (EHL). The EHL is a proposal that builds on an informal process launched independently by a group of member states in 2007. The designation is intended to focus on the promotion of sites that “symbolise and strengthen European history and heritage”, rather than conservation. Although the UK does not oppose the creation of the EHL in principle, the Government have reservations about the need for a new scheme that presents the potential for duplication of the UNESCO world heritage list. The UK has actively supported the voluntary nature of the scheme; opposed any additional cost burdens; and supported changes to make the scheme as light touch as possible. As this item will only be a progress report from the presidency, no formal agreement on the proposal will be reached at the Council meeting.
The presidency will seek the adoption of a decision on the selection of a city to host the European capital of culture event for 2015. Belgium and the Czech Republic are the EU member states eligible to nominate cities for 2015. Belgium has put forward the city of Mons for the title. The UK will support this proposal. The selection procedures for the Czech Republic are still ongoing and are due to be completed in early 2011.
The Council will be invited to adopt conclusions on the work plan for culture 2011-14. The conclusions take into account the final reports from the culture open method of co-ordination (OMC) groups and the Commission report on the implementation of the European agenda for culture, noting the member states support for continuing the OMC work. The work plan sets out six priority areas. These are: cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and accessible and inclusive culture; cultural and creative industries; skills and mobility; cultural heritage including mobility of collections; culture in external relations; and culture statistics. The implementation of the work plan will be achieved by four new OMC groups, presidency seminars and Commission activity. The UK will support the adoption of these conclusions.
The Council is expected to adopt Council conclusions on the role of culture in combating poverty and social exclusion. The conclusions address the need to consider cultural policies in the fight against poverty and social exclusion. The UK welcomed these conclusions especially as this year has been designated as the European year of combating poverty and social exclusion. The UK will support the adoption of these conclusions.
The Council will be invited to adopt conclusions on European film heritage, including the challenges of the digital era. The conclusions focus on the need to safeguard the cultural heritage of film in the light of evolving digital technologies. They invite member states to adapt existing legal deposit arrangements to cover film, to promote voluntary deposit and suitable arrangements for preservation, exhibition and use of films, including digitisation of film heritage and film archive education and training. The UK is broadly supportive of the aims of the conclusions and intends to support their adoption.
The Council is expected to adopt the Council conclusions on the opportunities and challenges for European cinema in the digital era. The conclusions aim to promote the use of digital technologies for film distribution, including for art-house and rural cinemas, to promote access to European works, cultural and linguistic diversity and social cohesion. The conclusions welcome Commission plans to provide funding through the MEDIA programme before the end of 2010 to support digitisation. The UK intends to support the adoption of these conclusions.
There will then be a discussion of a presidency paper on the cultural and audio-visual strands of the digital agenda. The paper asks questions on which cultural and audio-visual strands should be considered a priority in the digital agenda and how this can be reflected. The Deputy Permanent Representative will intervene to outline the two UK priorities. The first priority is the need to address the fragmented state of the European digital market to reduce burdens on business, to make it easier for consumers to get access to legitimate content and to reduce piracy. The UK’s second overarching priority in respect of the cultural and audio-visual strands of the digital agenda is digital literacy and skills.
Under the sport section of the meeting, the Council is expected to adopt a resolution on the creation of high-level structured dialogue between representatives of the sport movement and EU public authorities. The new structured dialogue process will bring together the high-level sports movement and EU public authorities once per presidency, in the margins of the Council meeting. This could potentially be an important and influential group, with senior sport figures taking key seats. The UK will support the agreement of this resolution.
The Council is invited to adopt the Council conclusions on sport and social inclusion, demonstrating the value that it places on sport. The conclusions highlight the power of sport to break down social barriers and promote social inclusion. The conclusions invite the member states to take action at domestic level. The UK has a strong story to tell on sports’ performance in these areas and will support the adoption of these conclusions.
There will then follow a policy debate on social inclusion in and through sport. The presidency has posed questions on specific projects running in member states aimed at promoting sport among socially disadvantaged groups and what priorities member states envisage for work at EU level in this field. The Minister for Sport and the Olympics will intervene to highlight examples of initiatives in the UK and to welcome the new working group on social inclusion in sport in which the UK is taking a leading role.
The Council is also invited to adopt Council conclusions on the role of the EU in the fight against doping. The conclusions intend to recognise officially the need for appropriate co-ordination on issues concerning the EU and member states’ dealings with the World Anti-Doping Agency. The UK intends to support these conclusions.
Under any other business there will be an information point from the Luxembourg delegation on a draft extended partial agreement on the Council of Europe cultural routes programme. There will also be an information point from the Bulgarian delegation on the charity campaign for the recovery of the Triumph Theatre in Haiti. I do not foresee a need to intervene on either of these.
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (6-7 December 2010)
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will meet on 6-7 December. The health and consumer affairs part of the Council will be taken on 7 December.
Legislative items on the main agenda, on which the presidency are likely to ask Ministers for political agreement are: a directive on prevention of the entry into the legal supply chain of medicinal products which are falsified in relation to their identity, history or source and a regulation on provision of food information to consumers. The UK supports the adoption of both of these proposals.
The presidency are also expected to propose the adoption of Council conclusions on the following:
investing in Europe’s health work force of tomorrow: scope for innovation and collaboration;
a co-ordinated action for stimulating, measuring and valorising pharmaceutical innovation;
innovative approaches for chronic illnesses in public health and health care systems;
supply of radioisotopes; and
lessons to be learned from the HlNl pandemic—health security in the European Union.
The UK supports the adoption of these Council conclusions.
Under any other business, information will be provided from the presidency on a recast of the three directives on medical devices, on the fourth conference of the parties at the WHO framework convention on tobacco control, which took place on 15-20 November 2010, and on a number of conferences that took place under the Belgian presidency. In addition, we expect the Commission to provide information to the Council on the proposals for a directive and a regulation on information to the general public on medicinal products subject to medical prescription.