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Written Statements

Volume 519: debated on Wednesday 1 December 2010

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Treasury

Fair Pay in the Public Sector

Will Hutton has today published the interim report of his review of Fair Pay in the Public Sector. The Government welcome the publication of this report and will give careful consideration to the findings so far. The Government look forward to the outcome of the final report in March and will respond in more detail once they are in receipt of this.

The report is available in the Vote Office and in the Printed Paper Office and it has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Periodic updates of the review’s work will be made available through the website located at: http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/indreview_willhutton_fairpay_tor.htm.

Business, Innovation and Skills

Telecoms Council

I am pleased to confirm the agenda items for which BIS has responsibility at the forthcoming Telecommunications Council in Brussels on 3 December 2010. I intend to represent the UK at this Council.

There are four substantive agenda items:

1. Proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the first Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP): A Progress Report and Exchange of Views.

This item is an exchange of views on the presidency report and questions for the discussion in relation to the Commission’s proposed RSPP (EM 13872/10). This is a proposal for draft legislation which codifies policy and legislative actions necessary for the efficient management of spectrum in the EU up to 2015.

The RSPP is seen by the Commission as a necessary key contributor towards broadband targets, especially for those geographically rural and remote areas that would rely on wireless technology to receive broadband services. This view is generally shared by the Council and the European Parliament. It follows on from the agreements reached on spectrum during the communications framework review.

Progress had been made in debating the draft legislation in the Council but the European Parliament is yet to start deliberations.

The questions tabled for discussion range from how spectrum management contributes to economic growth through issues related to a proposed inventory of spectrum in the EU to the deadlines related to the release of certain spectrum.

As efficient spectrum management is a key component of the Coalition’s broadband strategy, the main points of my intervention, taking into account the questions posed, will be:

to broadly welcome the proposals from the Commission which we do indeed think are important in terms of economic growth within the EU and for the development of mobile broadband services;

to welcome the breadth of the proposal but to caution any legislation mandating the use of spectrum for particular social or community purposes;

to welcome the approach by Commission of ensuring that spectrum for mobile broadband is made available as early as possible but caution on the imposition of rigid timelines that may not be realistic or match national circumstances; and

to wish the Hungarian presidency well in their deliberations on this important dossier with a hope that we might see an agreement before the summer of next year.

2. Proposal for a Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 460/2004 establishing the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) as regards its duration—A Progress Report

Proposal for a Regulation concerning the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA)—A Progress Report

These two items are progress reports from the Commission on the current status of the above two recently issued documents. (EM 14322/10)

The first progress report covers the proposal to amend the existing regulation, which established ENISA, in order to extend its duration for 18 months. (The purpose of the extension is to allow the continued operation of ENISA under its current remit whilst the new regulation is negotiated).

The second progress report covers the new regulation that renews and updates the mandate of ENISA.

As these items are progress reports and it is anticipated that no debate will take place, I am not planning an active intervention. However, should there be a debate; my intervention will reaffirm Her Majesty’s Government’s (HMG) current policies that are detailed in the relevant EM noted above.

3. Cross-fertilisation between the Europe 2020 flagship initiatives “A Digital Agenda for Europe” and “Innovation Union”—Adoption of Council Conclusions

This item covers the adoption of the above Council conclusions. These conclusions are member states’ views on the synergies between two of the EU Commission flagship agendas, namely the Innovation Union (EM14035/10) and the European Digital Agenda (EM 9981/10).

Thus, the conclusions contain elements of both flagship agendas, including stressing the need for accelerating the roll out of high-speed broadband which will help drive innovation, as well as recognising the importance of increasing EU spend on ICT research and development.

In the main, HMG welcomes these conclusions, and I intend to make the following comments:

welcome the adoption of these conclusions and pleased to see joined up thinking in linking together these two critical flagship agendas;

pleased to see that these conclusions recognise the importance of digital technologies as one of the key economic drivers for Europe’s future prosperity;

welcome the emphasis on the re-use of public sector data as a potential driver of private-sector led innovation; and

welcome the “active and healthy ageing” EIP pilot that will be jointly developed by DG-INFSO and DG-SANCO (the latter being the part of the Commission that deals with health issues).

4. European Broadband: investing in digitally driven growth—Adoption of Council conclusions

The last substantive item on the agenda is the adoption of the Council conclusions that specifically cover the European broadband strategy (EM 13874/10). This strategy is another component of the Commission’s “Broadband Package”.

The importance of broadband roll-out is noted under item 1 above and I plan to make the following interventions during the planned discussion on these conclusions:

HMG welcomes the adoption of these conclusions and hope that they will be taken note of by member states and the Commission to aid them in the rollout of super-fast broadband;

The UK recognises the value of these conclusions and will shortly publish a UK-wide broadband strategy, detailing HMG’s plan to ensure every UK citizen is able to access broadband; and

The EU broadband objectives are challenging, but by working together, and alongside the private sector, we can achieve them.

I will inform the House of the outcome of the discussion on this, and the preceding item in my post-Council statement.

This concludes the formal substantive business items for Council. However, there are three items that are covered by “Any Other Business”.

They are:

A. A report on the state of development of roaming services within the European Union—Presentation by the Commission.

This item will be coupled with a discussion over lunch preceding the Council. These items will be centred around the Commission’s recent Interim Report on the State of the Roaming Market (EM11711/10)

During the lunch, Ministers have been asked to consider and discuss three questions. In summary they cover issues relating to stimulating competition, the impact of technological change and the introduction of a price cap on the retail price of data while roaming.

During my lunch time discussion and any debate following the presentation from the Commission, I intend to make the following points:

we look forward to proposals from the Commission on how they intend to deal with the roaming issue when the current regulation expires in June 2012;

we fully support the call by the Commissioner for a functioning single market in mobile roaming services; especially with respect to data (which is of increasing importance for EU citizens); and

we would welcome high-level but detailed discussions between all interested parties on this issue to try—possibly using the same format as the recent meeting on net neutrality—and find a way forward that benefits consumers but also does not undermine competition, investment or innovation in the mobile sector.

B. Internet Governance Forum (IGF)—Briefing by the Commission and the Presidency.

I do not plan an intervention on this item but if the opportunity arises, I will reaffirm HMG’s policy lines that:

supports the multi-stakeholder approach on internet governance;

welcomes the agreements reached at the recent ITU plenipotentiary; and

anticipates a positive outcome to a vote in the UN General Assembly later in December to extend the mandate of the IGF for another five years.

C. The next presidency’ programme and events—Briefing by the Hungarian delegation

This item is a presentation from the Hungarian delegation on their plans once they assume the presidency of the EU (1 January 2011 to 30 June 2011).

I do not plan an intervention for this item but you may wish to note that my officials are in the final stages of planning a bilateral meeting with Hungarian officials so that we are able to capitalise upon any opportunities that may be presented by Hungary assuming the presidency.

Communities and Local Government

London Reforms and the Localism Bill

I am today announcing a new settlement for London which includes a package of measures to be included in the forthcoming localism Bill.

These far reaching proposals include measures which will significantly devolve power to the Greater London Authority, London boroughs and beyond and they will streamline the plethora of agencies in London’s public sector landscape. They are based on proposals put forward by the Mayor and London boroughs themselves. We have listened to key players in the capital and responded to their ideas.

The measures include:

The devolution of executive powers over housing investment from the Homes and Communities Agency to the GLA so that there is more decentralised control over housing investment decisions in the capital.

The abolition of the London Development Agency, with its city-wide roles on regeneration and management of European funding to be transferred to the GLA so that the mayor is directly accountable.

New powers for the Mayor of London to create Mayoral Development Corporations to focus regeneration where it is needed most, such as to help secure East London’s Olympic legacy, in partnership with London boroughs.

London boroughs will be given greater control over key local planning decisions that affect their local communities. The mayor will only consider the largest planning applications in future.

A more streamlined approach to mayoral strategies and increased powers of scrutiny for the London Assembly over these strategies, including the power to reject final strategies by a two thirds majority.

A new requirement for the GLA Group to publish details of all expenditure over £500 and openness rules will be extended to Transport for London.

These reforms will drive decision making back into the hands of the mayor and locally elected London leaders, streamlining the way London is run and paving the way for further devolution to London boroughs.

Cabinet Office

Diamond Jubilee Civic Honours Competitions

I am pleased to announce that the Government are today launching UK-wide competitions for a grant of city status and a grant of Lord Mayoralty (or Lord Provostship) to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. Local authorities throughout the United Kingdom who believe that their district, borough, town or city deserves consideration for either of these rare honours are invited to apply by the closing date of 27 May 2011.

Entry guidelines have been posted on the Diamond Jubilee section of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s website, www.culture.gov.uk. Copies have also been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. The document provides guidance on the contents of applications, as was the case for the competitions held for Her Majesty’s Golden Jubilee, as well as full details on the submission of entries.

In addition, for the first time in such competitions, the entry guidelines specify a standard format for entries. Local authorities are urged to use the standard format, which is intended to limit the costs of entering the competition and to introduce a fair basis for comparison between entries.

The honours will, however, continue to be rare marks of distinction conferred, on ministerial advice, under the royal prerogative, rather than rights to be earned by the meeting of specific criteria. All valid entries will receive individual consideration on their merits and the Government look forward to announcing the results of the competitions in the early months of 2012.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Single Payment Scheme

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) will today begin payments under the 2010 single payment scheme (SPS). Over the next few days payments totalling over £1 billion are expected to be made to some 80,000 claimants. This represents over 75% of eligible claimants.

Further progress towards the agency’s 2010 SPS payment targets—to pay 85% of eligible SPS claimants by the end of December 2010 and to pay 95% of the value of SPS payments by the end of March 2011—is being closely monitored by the RPA oversight board which I chair. Against the background of the additional workload created by the update last year to Rural Land Register and reduced staff numbers, it is clear that meeting those targets represents a significant challenge.

Farmers may be assured that outstanding payments will be made as individual claims are verified. But that will not mean cutting corners: I am determined to bring a renewed focus on accuracy to the administration of the scheme so that legacy issues are addressed once and for all and the agency is then able to deliver a better quality of service to farmers in the medium term. Equally, we need to ensure taxpayers interests are safeguarded by ensuring our actions represent good value for money and further discussions will take place with the National Audit Office to that end.

As we progress through the payment window, I will keep the House informed on the agency’s progress towards its targets and any related decisions by the RPA oversight board. At an individual level, the RPA is writing to farmers where it appears unlikely that payment will be made during the course of December.

Health

Stem Cell Transplant Services

As part of the Government’s desire to see improved services for NHS patients, the Department asked the NHS Blood and Transplant Authority to lead a review of stem cell transplant services.

The authority duly established the UK Stem Cell Strategic Forum, an advisory group of national and international experts, service providers, clinicians, patients and charities which has now reported on its findings. The report, “The Future of Unrelated Donor Stem Cell Transplantation in the UK”, contains 20 recommendations on how we can better deliver this type of stem cell technology for the benefit of NHS patients.

The Department welcomes the report. We will now begin work, in collaboration with the NHS, NHS Blood and Transplant and the Anthony Nolan Trust to develop improved partnership working and consider how the findings and recommendations in the report can be best translated into real service improvements.

A copy of the report has been placed in the Library and copies are available to hon. Members in the Vote Office.

Home Department

Local Licensing Act

Today, alongside the publication of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, we are publishing the Government’s response to the Rebalancing the Licensing Act consultation which was conducted earlier this year and includes the full analysis of consultation responses. Our response sets out which proposals we will be taking forward from the consultation document, and how; explains why we have decided not to proceed with some proposals; and outlines new proposals that we have introduced in response to suggestions received during the consultation.

The Government believe that local communities should have a greater role in determining local licensing. The package of measures that we are introducing through the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill and the additional changes we will make through secondary legislation and guidance will rebalance the Licensing Act in favour of local communities, ensuring that local residents’ views and concerns are heard and considered and they get the type of night-time economy they want.

The measures being introduced will also provide the police and licensing authorities with the tools they need to more effectively address alcohol-related crime and disorder in the night-time economy. Tackling alcohol-related crime and disorder is not something that can just be done centrally. These measures will enable issues to be addressed at a local level, with local communities taking greater responsibility for tackling problems in their own areas.

The full Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill is today being published on the Parliament website: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/. The Government response to the Rebalancing the Licensing Act consultation will be available on the Home Office website: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/drugs/alcohol/rebalancing-consultation and copies will be placed in the House Library.

Policing in the 21st Century

Today, alongside the publication of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, we are publishing the Government’s response to the “Policing in the 21st Century” consultation, which set out the most radical reforms to policing in at least 50 years, putting the public at the heart of policing.

Directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioners are central to our proposals to replace bureaucratic accountability with democratic accountability. The Government are confident that Police and Crime Commissioners will make forces truly accountable to the communities they serve, ensuring that resources are properly targeted to where they are needed and giving the public a greater say in measures to reduce crime and improve community safety.

We are also clear that the long held principle of operational independence, where those operating in the office of the constable are able to make independent decisions on how to use their legitimate coercive powers on behalf of the state will continue to remain the cornerstone of the British policing model.

We received approximately 900 responses to the consultation and we are grateful to all those who responded. The response document we are publishing today summarises the views that we received and sets out next steps in implementing our reforms, which include:

replacing existing police authorities with directly elected Police and Crime

Commissioners (PCCs), who will hold forces to account and strengthen the bond between the police and the public;

new police and crime panels to provide important scrutiny of PCC functions, with membership including both top-tier and district councils—giving district councils formal involvement in the governance of policing for the first time;

a framework of checks and balances to scrutinise PCCs and a more independent Inspectorate of Constabulary;

strengthening professional discretion, cutting bureaucracy and freeing up police officers’ time;

greater collaboration between police forces to increase public protection and save money; and

phasing out the National Policing Improvement Agency and creating a powerful new National Crime Agency to lead the fight against organised crime and strengthen our border security. This will be supported by a clearer framework for local PCCs and their forces, set out in a new strategic policing requirement (in response to some of the feedback we received during the consultation).

We have listened closely to what people have had to say and our final proposals take this in to account. For example, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill that we are also publishing today provides more detail on the powers and duties that PCCs and police and crime panels will have and how PCCs will work with their force and other local providers.

The full Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill is published on the Parliament website. The Government response to the “Policing in the 21st Century” consultation will be available on the Home Office website and will be placed in the House Libraries.

Justice and Home Affairs Pre-Council Statement

The Justice and Home Affairs Council is due to be held on 2 and 3 December in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and I intend to attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed:

The Council, beginning in Mixed Committee with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (non-EU Schengen States), will receive an update from the presidency on the state of play of the Schengen Information System II (SIS II) project.

Next there will be a discussion of the Commission report on the implementation of the Council conclusions on 29 measures for reinforcing the protection of the external borders and combating illegal immigration. The UK has not yet received a copy of the report; however, we expect that the Commission will use this item to inform member states of progress regarding these measures. The measures include: Frontex working arrangements; exchange of relevant information between FRONTEX, other EU agencies and member states; development of the European Surveillance System—EUROSUR; exchange of information on illegal immigration, trafficking in human beings and falsification of documents; and solidarity and the integrated management of external borders by member states.

After Mixed Committee the Council will receive an update from the presidency on the progress being made on asylum and legal and illegal migration and seek to ensure that the following four presidencies (Hungary, Poland, Cyprus and Denmark) remain on course to meet the Commission’s 2012 deadline for delivery of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). The UK Government believe that the challenges that Europe faces on asylum and illegal immigration are better addressed by practical co-operation than by further legislation. We do not consider the adoption of a common EU asylum policy to be right for Britain. But we do believe there are many issues in the area of asylum and migration on which all EU member states have much to gain by working together. We will be active in promoting effective cooperation, and will consider participation in legislative proposals on their merits in consultation with our European partners and relevant EU institutions.

The Council will then receive updates from the Commission on the Mediterranean Office for Youth, the Greek national action plan on asylum and migration and a legal migration conference held on 26 November. The Mediterranean Office for Youth supports circular migration for educational purposes. The UK is not a participant in the Mediterranean Office for Youth, which is restricted to members of the Union for the Mediterranean. The UK considers the Greek national action plan on asylum and migration (the “Greek Action Plan”) to be key in increasing the ability of Greece to act as an efficient partner in countering illegal migration. Alongside other EU member states we have offered practical assistance to Greece, however we would like to see the establishment of an effective Commission-led process to ensure co-ordination and prioritisation; avoid duplication of member states’ actions; ensure the availability of clear, accessible funding streams to support the action plan; and the setting of clear timescales for action and milestones for progress. The presidency will also present their conclusions following the conference on legal migration.

Over lunch Interior Ministers will be asked to agree a regulation to create an agency for large-scale IT systems in the JHA field. This would be accompanied by a Council decision ensuring full UK participation in the agency, which was a Government priority as the agency will manage a number of existing systems in which we participate (Eurodac and the second generation of the Schengen Information System). While the Government are content with the text as drafted some member states have maintained reserves which will need to be resolved before the Council, in particular concerning the location of the agency. Also during lunch Ministers will discuss alternatives to detaining children for immigration purposes. The UK Government are committed to ending the detention of children in the UK and a review is currently underway to consider how this can be done in a way which protects the welfare of children and ensures that families leave when they have no right to be in the UK. This will be an opportunity to share experience and ideas with other member states who are also dealing with this difficult issue.

After lunch, the Commission will present their draft action plan on combating heavy arms trafficking. Should this plan be endorsed during this Council, the EU will have an integrated approach to combating arms trafficking, and more particularly heavy fire arms.

Next the presidency will present for agreement Council conclusions on itinerant gangs which seek to define the problem of itinerant crime groups and agree an administrative approach to tackle the problem, including increased cross-border co-operation. The Council will also be asked to agree draft Council conclusions on preventing and combating identity related crimes and on identity management.

The Council will be asked to agree negotiating mandates which will authorise the start of negotiations between the EU and the United States, Canada, and Australia for the transfer and use of passenger name records (PNR) to prevent and combat terrorism and other forms of serious cross-border crime. Clear PNR agreements between the EU and Australia, Canada and the US will play a vital role in removing legal uncertainty for air carriers flying to those third countries. It will also help ensure that, where appropriate, PNR data can be shared quickly and securely with all necessary data protection safeguards in place. The Government are content with the proposed negotiating mandates but has yet to take a decision on whether or not to opt in. The Government strongly believe that early publication of an EU PNR Directive covering intra-EU as well as external flights is vital to the safety and security of EU citizens.

Next the EU CT co-ordinator will present a discussion paper to Council on an EU CT strategy which covers transport security, terrorist travel, cyber threats, the external dimension of CT and fighting discrimination and social marginalisation of Muslims.

The UK welcomes the paper as a useful starting point for further policy discussions. The EU CT co-ordinator will also provide an update on progress against the EU action plan on combating terrorism to date.

The presidency will seek agreement on a paper on a system for sharing information on terrorist threat levels in the member states. The UK supports improvements to the information sharing mechanisms on terrorist threat levels at the EU level while maintaining that changes to threat levels remain a member state competence.

The Council will also be asked to reach agreement on a paper recommending proposals to strengthen aviation security following the incident at East Midlands airport. This paper will go jointly to the Transport and JHA Councils on 02 December for agreement. The UK welcomes this report and will press for early, effective and co-ordinated action.

Commissioner Malmström will present her EU Internal Security Communication, which looks to translate the Council’s EU internal security strategy into action points and will seek initial views from member states. The text was published on 23 November. The Government are therefore considering the detail of what is proposed and will set out their initial views at the Council.

On the justice day, the Council will be asked to agree the text of the EU directive on human trafficking. In June, the Government made a decision not to opt in to the directive, but to review its position after adoption, at which point the UK could apply to opt in retrospectively. The directive is in its final stages of negotiation; there is a qualified majority in the Council and should the European Parliament also agree the text in December adoption will follow.

The presidency will then seek a general approach on the draft directive on combating sexual exploitation and abuse of children and child pornography. This draft directive aims to update existing EU legislation in the area of combating child sexual exploitation and pornography in line with technological developments such as the use of webcams to bully children into sexual posing (a pornographic performance). The Government are seeking scrutiny clearance to enable the UK to support the presidency in reaching a general approach.

There will be a state of play report on the European Investigation Order (EIO), which is a draft directive aimed at streamlining the system of mutual legal assistance between participating EU member states. The presidency will report progress on negotiations but is not expected to seek agreement on any issues at this time. The Government will take the opportunity to press for further detailed work on the grounds for refusing assistance.

The presidency will also seek a general approach on the right to information in criminal proceedings. This is the second measure in the roadmap to strengthen procedural rights in criminal proceedings. It aims to set common minimum standards and improve the rights of suspects and accused persons by ensuring that they receive information about their rights. The presidency has taken on board the Government’s concerns in relation to article 7 of the draft directive. The Government are seeking scrutiny clearance to enable it to agree to the general approach.

The presidency will then seek agreement among participating member states on the regulation implementing enhanced cooperation in the field of law applicable to divorce—Rome III. The European Parliament will adopt its opinion by the end of the year. The UK is not participating in this measure.

The presidency held a seminar on 14 October to discuss issues around resolving child abduction disputes by mediation. At the end of the seminar the presidency produced conclusions aimed at encouraging EU law makers and member states to consider promoting mediation in such cases. The presidency is seeking agreement to these conclusions at the Council.

There will be a discussion on the Commission’s communication on “A comprehensive approach on personal data protection in the European Union”. The Communication is intended to serve as a basis for further discussions between the Commission, other European institutions and interested parties with a view to developing a new data protection legislative framework. It is anticipated that the Commission will publish a legislative proposal in mid-2011.

The presidency will seek agreement to the adoption of a negotiating mandate for an EU-US Agreement on data protection. The agreement would clarify data protection safeguards for the transatlantic exchange of personal data for law enforcement purposes.

Ministers will then be provided an information point on the outcomes of and proposed follow up to the EU-Russia Permanent Partnership Council (PPC) (freedom, security and justice) (18-19 November), and the Western Balkans Ministerial Forum (23-24 November). The PPC agreed steps forward on visa liberalisation (the top priority for Russia). They agreed to work on a list of common steps towards negotiations on an EU-Russia visa waiver agreement. This does not directly affect the UK as we are not part of the Schengen visa arrangements. The UK did not attend the Western Balkans Ministerial Forum. Ministers will be updated at the JHA Council.

Ministers will then be presented with a report on the activities of the e-justice working party during the Belgian presidency. The main focus of this work so far has been the development of a European e-justice portal which is a website (launched at the July Informal JUA. Council) that acts as a point of access to a range of information on justice matters across the EU.

Over lunch, there will be a discussion about the forthcoming directive, access to a lawyer. This is the third measure on the roadmap to strengthening criminal procedural rights, which is likely to be published in June 2011. The Commission is still in the early stages of drafting the proposal. It is considering provisions on the right to waiver legal advice, consequences of violations, the competence and quality of lawyers and provisions for European arrest warrant proceedings.