Written Ministerial Statements
Wednesday 23 November 2011
Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation
The vast majority of children in this country grow up safe from harm. However, the Barnardo’s report “Puppet on a string: the urgent need to cut children free from sexual exploitation”, published in January, emphasised that children are being sexually exploited here and now. It showed that this appalling form of child abuse is more prevalent than most people have appreciated.
It is clear that this abuse can be perpetrated by individuals from all sections of society. It can affect boys, girls, older and younger children, from stable and affluent homes as well as from less advantaged backgrounds, in urban and rural communities. It has a devastating and lasting impact, both on the children and young people who suffer from it and on their families.
The Barnardo’s report called for a national action plan to tackle child sexual exploitation. As Minister responsible for children and families, I asked my officials to lead the development of such an action plan and I am very pleased to be publishing it later today. I am grateful to the many national and local organisations, and other Government Departments, which have contributed to it over the last few months, particularly the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Minister with responsibility for crime and security, the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) and colleagues in the Home Office.
The action plan was developed in the context of the Munro review of child protection. Like Professor Eileen Munro’s final report, and the Government’s response to her review, the action plan emphasises the important role of Local Safeguarding Children Boards in ensuring that local multi-agency arrangements are in place to help and protect children and young people. The action plan is similarly child-centred, trying to see sexual exploitation from the point of view of the child or young person, as he or she goes through the different stages which might occur.
Child sexual exploitation is horrific and has no place in this, or any other, society. It is a serious crime and must be treated as such, with the perpetrators pursued more rigorously. We can only tackle it successfully by looking at every aspect of the problem: raising awareness and understanding; effective prevention and detection; securing robust prosecutions; and improving support for victims and their families. The action plan does that, bringing together for the first time actions already being taken and actions which will be taken forward in the future. Much work is currently under way and more will take place over the coming months.
Nothing is more important than keeping children and young people safe. Today’s action plan is an important step forward but there is a long way to go. I am determined that everything which can be done is done to make our children safer from sexual exploitation.
I have placed copies of the action plan in the Libraries of both Houses.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
I wish to make the House aware that I have decided to convene the first meeting of the Locarno Group on 24 November. This advisory group will support and challenge the FCO in its consideration of foreign policy.
When I set out my vision of the future of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 8 September, I emphasised the importance of strengthening the long term capability and international effectiveness of the FCO as an institution at the heart of Government, and improving our country’s capacity to pursue effective foreign policy for the years and decades to come.
I also emphasised the importance of cultivating and retaining the knowledge and expertise that has made the FCO one of the best diplomatic services in the world. The Locarno Group will contribute to this by drawing on the advice of senior FCO alumni.
The group’s discussions will be treated as confidential advice.
A copy of the terms of reference (including a list of group members) and my speech of 8 September has been placed in the Library of the House and published on the FCO website (www.fco.gov.uk).
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will meet on 1-2 December. The health and consumer affairs part of the Council will be taken on 2 December.
The presidency is expected to propose the adoption of Council conclusions on the following:
closing the gap in health between member states through action on determinants of health, especially nutrition and physical activity;
non-communicable diseases: prevention and control of respiratory diseases in children; and
prevention and control of communication disorders in children, including innovative approaches to treatment.
The United Kingdom supports the adoption of these Council conclusions.
There is also expected to be an exchange of views on the Commission’s new public health programme, “Health for Growth”, to take effect from 2014-2020.
Under any other business, the presidency is likely to provide information on the information to patients legislative package: proposal for a regulation and a directive as regards information to the general public on medicinal products for human use subject to medical prescription and as regards pharmacovigilance. The UK supports the adoption of both of these proposals, while recognising the strong opposition from other member states towards them.
In addition, information will be provided from the presidency on several matters including a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on food intended for infants and young children and on food for special medical purposes, on the Senior Level Group and on the European Innovation Partnership. The Danish delegation will also give information on the priorities for their forthcoming presidency, which will run from January until July 2012.
Migration (Bulgarian and Romanian Workers)
I am confirming today that the restrictions currently applied to Bulgarian and Romanian nationals’ employment in the United Kingdom will continue until the end of 2013.
The Government are concerned to ensure that migration to the UK does not have adverse impacts on the employment opportunities of the domestic labour force at the current time. Because of the uncertainty of any effects, the Government are firmly of the view that transitional measures are required to mitigate the impacts of labour migration when countries newly accede to the EU.
The transitional restrictions applied to Bulgarian and Romanian workers have been in force since 1 January 2007. They restrict Bulgarian and Romanian nationals to employment that is either skilled or is in sectors where there continues to be a shortage of labour, and have therefore helped to ensure that migration from those countries delivers economic benefits to the UK.
Under paragraph 5 of annexes VI and VII of the treaty concerning the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU, the UK may extend these restrictions to the end of 2013 where there is a serious disturbance to its labour market or threat thereof. We have approached the question of whether there is such a disturbance, or the risk of one, carefully. Economic events of recent years have inevitably impacted upon labour market conditions in the UK but the labour market has demonstrated a high degree of resilience, particularly in terms of levels of employment, during and since the recession. However, labour market conditions, and the extent to which they are affected by migration, are very uncertain in the current economic circumstances.
It is against that background that I have sought advice from the independent Migration Advisory Committee on the labour market grounds for extending the restrictions. The MAC’s findings, published on 4 November, are that, on the basis of the indicators of labour market performance which it has used, the UK labour market is currently in a state of serious disturbance and that lifting the current restrictions at this stage would risk negative impacts on the labour market.
In particular, the Committee has concluded that while migration flows from Bulgaria and Romania have been relatively low, the number of Bulgarians and Romanians resident in the UK has nevertheless increased substantially since 1 January 2007 and that it is likely that removing the current restrictions would cause inward flows to increase and cause those who currently come to the UK for temporary purposes to seek more permanent employment in the UK. In addition, the Committee has suggested that the labour market impact of these outcomes would be aggravated by the likelihood that such increased labour market participation by Bulgarian and Romanian workers in these circumstances would tend to be concentrated in lower-skilled occupations where the risk of displacement of domestic workers is higher.
The Government have decided that, given their own assessment of the labour market and the MAC’s findings, retaining the current restrictions is a proportionate means of addressing any disturbance or threat. The restrictions will therefore continue in their current form until the end of 2013. I am notifying the European Commission of this decision and I am taking the necessary legislative action to extend the period of application of the current regulations.
The annual quota for the seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme (SAWS) will continue at 21,250 places for 2012 and 2013 and the annual quota for the sectors-based scheme (SBS) will continue at 3,500 places for 2012 and 2013.
Under European law, the current restrictions cannot continue beyond the end of 2013 and will therefore be lifted at that point.
I visited Burma for three days from 15 to 17 November, the first visit by a senior Minister from the European Union since a ban on high-level engagement was suspended in April 2011. In the capital, Naypyidaw, I met President Thein Sein, Vice-President Tin Aung Myint Oo, the Speaker of the Lower House Shwe Mann, and the Ministers for Industry, Railways, Border Affairs and Health. In Mandalay I visited development projects funded by Britain. In Rangoon I spent most of a day with Aung San Suu Kyi including visiting a school run by her party, the National League for Democracy, and I met representatives of ethnic groups, other political parties, activists, civil society groups, and the recently freed political prisoner Zarganar. I was accompanied throughout by British journalists.
Speaking to members of the Burmese Government, I both welcomed the progress that the Government have recently made towards political reform and strongly urged that the momentum of reform be maintained. In particular I pressed for:
a full release of political prisoners, including 1988 generation leader Min Ko Naing;
continued progress in the dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi;
free and fair by-elections, due to be held in the next two months;
urgent moves towards a resolution to the ethnic conflicts; and
improved humanitarian access in border areas.
I made it clear that Britain would support a very significant positive international response if the reform process continued.
The President and his Ministers assured me that the reforms would continue, but gave no clear time frame and argued that considerations about stability were stalling the release of more political prisoners. The President however emphasised the importance of the dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, and expressed his hope that she and the National League for Democracy would run in the by-elections—they have since confirmed that they will. Burmese Ministers confirmed that they had opened channels of communication with armed ethnic groups. I noted that the international community was watching closely for successful outcomes on these issues.
Aung San Suu Kyi expressed her gratitude for Britain’s unwavering support for democracy, development and human rights in Burma. She stressed the need to maintain pressure for the full release of political prisoners, strengthened rule of law in Burma including the independence of the judiciary, and progress on negotiations with the ethnic groups. Aung San Suu Kyi set out her priorities for development and poverty reduction in Burma, focussing on education, health, widening the availability of small scale finance to poor families, and improving child nutrition. She underlined the importance of improving living conditions equally across Burma, including in ethnic areas.
During the visit I set out the results that British aid would deliver for the Burmese people over the next four years:
ensuring that more than 127,000 mothers give birth more safely;
preventing more than 150,000 unintended pregnancies;
helping more than 1.8 million people with bed nets to help avoid malaria;
diagnosis and treatment to reduce drug-resistant malaria;
supporting 277,000 children through primary school;
providing 110,000 women with access to affordable credit;
helping 92,000 women and men produce more food.
I also highlighted the prospect of further British help in the future if the reform process is maintained, for example to encourage wealth creation and to help to improve Government accountability, service delivery and the rule of law.
Parliamentary Written Question (Correction)
I regret to inform the House that there was an inaccuracy in the answer I gave to parliamentary question 71220 on 13 September, Official Report, column 1072W, about information held for each individual transaction undertaken by British Transport police using the Government Procurement Card in (i) 2008-09 and (ii) 2009-10.
The correct answer is that this Government are committed to transparency and we believe the information regarding Government Procurement Cards for this financial year is the most relevant. Central Government Departments are now publishing any transactions over £500 on their websites, starting with 2011-12 quarter 1 (April-June) data and thereafter on a monthly basis. The cost of work required to obtain, contextualise and report data for previous years would exceed the cost limits of a freedom of information request or a parliamentary question.
For purposes of transparency, the Department for Transport now lists GPC spend (http://data.gov.uk/dataset/dft-gpc-spend) on its website. This includes details of spend by the British Transport police.
Civil Aviation Bill
The publication of the draft Civil Aviation Bill today marks an important step in this Government’s desire to put passengers at the heart of airport operations. The proposals are designed to modernise key elements of the regulatory framework for civil aviation in the UK, to enable the sector to increase its contribution to economic growth without compromising high standards.
Much of our aviation regulation is governed by 1980s legislation and needs to be updated. This draft Bill offers a package of reforms to make both regulation and the sanctions which support it flexible, proportionate, targeted and effective. It proposes removing unnecessary regulation and unnecessary intervention by central Government. It devolves more responsibility to the independent specialist regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), while ensuring that the CAA is accountable and weighs the costs and benefits of its decisions. The draft Bill proposes that certain costs of regulating aviation should be moved from general taxation to the aviation industry.
Above all the draft Bill puts the consumer first. In the economic regulation of airports with substantial market power the CAA’s primary duty will be to consumers; that is passengers and owners of cargo now and in the future. In addition, the Bill gives the CAA a role in promoting better public information about airline and airport performance and about the environmental effects of aviation and measures taken to mitigate adverse effects.
Aviation enables people to travel for business, leisure and to visit friends and family; and it enables the rapid movement of goods to and from markets overseas. The Government want to see a successful and competitive aviation industry. We are taking forward the work of the South East Airports Taskforce to improve our major airports within the constraints of existing runways. In the longer term, we have committed to producing a sustainable framework for UK aviation by 2013 which supports economic growth and addresses aviation’s environmental impacts.
The draft Bill complements these policies. It is in three parts:
reforming the framework for airport economic regulation, following my predecessor’s statements to the House on 3 March 2011 and 21 July 2010.
modernising the framework and functions of the aviation regulator, the CAA. Some of these measures stem from the independent strategic review of the CAA by Sir Joseph Pilling in 2008 and a consultation launched by the previous Government in 2009.
transferring certain operational aviation security functions to the CAA as part of wider work to improve aviation security regulation and deliver savings to general taxation. This proposal, mentioned in the July 2011 consultation document “Better Regulation for Aviation Security”, would create a single regulator for aviation safety and security. The Secretary of State would remain responsible for aviation security policy and issuing aviation security directions to the industry.
The Government have previously announced that legislation to implement airport economic regulation reforms would be introduced early in the next parliamentary session. An opportunity has now arisen to introduce a Civil Aviation Bill into Parliament near the beginning of 2012. This would help ensure that the CAA does not have to set airport price controls for the five-year period 2014-19 under the existing system. I therefore intend to take up this opportunity. I still wish however to publish the draft Bill today to provide an opportunity, even though the time available is shorter than previously envisaged, for the Transport Committee and stakeholders to consider the proposals before they are introduced into Parliament.
It is possible that the scope of the Bill may be extended before it is introduced. One area which could be included is the reform of the Air Travel Organisers’ Licence (ATOL), following the recently finished consultation on measures to protect consumers better in the 21st century holiday market and help create a more level regulatory playing field for businesses.
Deputy Prime Minister
Committee on Standards in Public Life (13th Report)
The Government are grateful for the Committee on Standards in Public Life report which was published yesterday, and will study it carefully.
Some key principles can be drawn from the report. Properly funded, vibrant political parties are vital to a healthy democracy and a key part of the UK’s constitutional framework. The amount any one individual, organisation or institution can give in political donations should be limited. Fairness between parties with different types of funding is crucial. So too is fairness for the taxpayer. Like the Committee, the Government accept that the state has some role to play in ensuring these principles apply in reality.
The Government believe that the case cannot be made for greater state funding of political parties at a time when budgets are being squeezed and economic recovery remains the highest priority. But there is a case for looking carefully at whether existing levels of support could be used more effectively.
We remain committed to limiting donations and reforming party funding. So the Government accept in principle the Committee’s recommendation that donations to political parties should be capped. But the level of a cap will need to be considered with reference to other elements of a reform package, in particular the impact on the ability of parties to continue to raise sufficient funds and the absence of any additional support from the state.
We are also of the view that the report is right to recognise a new party funding settlement must include genuine reform in respect of trade union donations.
Reform remains a priority and is best achieved as far as possible by consensus. To that end we plan to continue cross-party discussions based on the principles identified by the Committee and the Government’s reform commitments.
Business, Innovation and Skills
Employment Law Review
The Government believe the UK economy should be supported by a framework of laws that ensures we have a strong and efficient labour market which is flexible, effective and fair. Today the Government are announcing a series of measures following outcomes from our employment law review process.
Employment Tribunal Reform
Today the Government have launched their response to the Resolving Workplace Disputes consultation and announced that we are commissioning a fundamental review of the current rules of procedure for employment tribunals1.
The publication of our response to the Resolving Workplace Disputes consultation is a significant milestone in our wider review of employment law. We believe the measures set out in our response today will deliver a more streamlined and efficient employment tribunal system, provide both employers and employees with greater access to methods of early dispute resolution and support growth by giving employers more confidence to take on new workers.
The legislative measures outlined in our package will be taken forward when parliamentary time permits.
On behalf of the Government, I have asked Mr Justice Underhill, the outgoing president of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, to lead a fundamental review of the rules of procedure for employment tribunals. A “working group”, chaired by Mr Justice Underhill, will undertake the review itself and report back to Ministers with recommendations. It is our intention that the review will develop and recommend a revised procedural code, with a view to ensuring that robust case-management powers can be applied flexibly and proportionately in individual cases coming before employment tribunals.
The review will commence in November 2011 and will run for six months. The working party will be invited to provide recommendations by the end of April 2012.
We are going to be seeking views on a proposal to introduce compensated no-fault dismissal for micro-firms with fewer than 10 employees. We will also look at ways to slim down existing dismissal processes, which can be, and are often perceived to be, lengthy and unfair to both employers and employees. We will therefore seek views on how we might simplify them, including potentially working with ACAS to make changes to their code, or supplementary guidance for small businesses.
TUPE and Collective Redundancies
The Government are also looking at the current rules on consultation in collective redundancy situations. Today I am launching a call for evidence on the experience of employers and employees in collective redundancies. The call for evidence will seek to identify where changes, if they are thought necessary, could be made that will help improve the ability of businesses to restructure, while ensuring that employees have access to support in finding alternative training or employment opportunities.
Some businesses have raised concerns that the current TUPE arrangements are overly bureaucratic and may in some areas, such as service provision, unnecessarily gold-plate European rules. Therefore, today I am launching a second call for evidence on the effectiveness of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 in protecting employees’ rights and smoothing the process of business restructuring. This is a complex area of legislation and it is important we gather evidence from a wide range of stakeholders in considering the case for change.
Copies of the Resolving Workplace Disputes Government response document, the Fundamental Review Terms of Reference and both calls for evidence have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
1 The existing procedural rules for employment tribunals are contained in schedule 1 of the Employment Tribunal (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2004.