Written Ministerial Statements
Wednesday 7 December 2011
Asset Protection Agency
The Asset Protection Agency (APA) has today published two legal agreements relating to the asset protection scheme (APS). Copies of the agreements have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.
The first of these agreements moves the main focus of asset management governance to the riskiest assets in the APS, to ensure that the level of APA oversight is commensurate with our current view of the risk associated with the APS. The second principally introduces revised rules for overdrafts that are outside the scope of the supplemental agreement relating to operational alignment outlined in the written ministerial statement laid on 14 July 2011, Official Report, column 35WS. This resolves an agreement to agree in the original accession agreement.
These agreements are in addition to the supplemental agreement on aligning the operation of the APS with RBS’s “business as usual” finance and risk management process, as outlined in the WMS on 14 July 2011. Details of other previous supplemental agreements are contained in the WMS laid on 15 February 2011, Official Report, column 72WS .
Central Office of Information
I announced on 23 June 2011 that the Government’s changes to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of Government communication would include the closure of the Central Office of Information (COI). The Central Office of Information Trading Fund (Revocation) Order 2011, laid before the House of Commons today, provides for the COI trading fund to cease to exist on 30 December 2011. On the same day as the COI trading fund ceases to exist, the Prime Minister has agreed that the existing functions of COI should be transferred to the Cabinet Office and therefore that COI will cease to exist as a separate non-ministerial Department.
EU Foreign Affairs Council (Defence)
The EU Foreign Affairs Council met in Defence Ministers formation on 30 November 2011 in Brussels. I represented the UK.
The agenda items covered were current operations, partnerships, the Athena mechanism review (the method for calculating common funding for military operations), and the European Defence Agency (EDA) budget.
Foreign Affairs Council (Defence)
The three current EU operations, Operation Atalanta (counter-piracy). Operation Althea (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and EU training mission Somalia (military training mission) were discussed in the Council. While expressing concern about the difficulty in meeting the commitments to which member states have agreed, I expressed the UK’s support for these ongoing operations and presented the UK’s offer to continue to command Operation Atalanta from the UK’s operational headquarters at Northwood.
EU/NATO partnerships were also discussed, re-emphasising the importance of close working relations while avoiding duplication.
There was no discussion at the Council on the Athena mechanism review (the method for calculating common funding for military operations) as nations had been unable previously to reach agreement. The noble Baroness Ashton proposed that further work should be carried out and the Council conclusions noted the ongoing work on the review with a view to an agreement by the end of 2011.
I made clear that, in the current economic climate, with most member states, including the UK, reducing their defence budgets, I could not agree to an increase in the budget of the EDA for 2012. The Council subsequently agreed to freeze the EDA budget for 2012 at the same level as 2011 (€30.5 million) in accordance with the recommendation of Baroness Ashton.
Defence and Foreign Secretaries’ Joint Dinner
In the Defence and Foreign Secretaries’ joint dinner, the EU’s performance in planning and conducting missions and operations was discussed with further discussions taking place at the Foreign Affairs Council on 1 December 2011. The outcome of these discussions is reported separately in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s written ministerial statement on the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC).
In the FAC, Council conclusions on common security and defence policy (CSDP), missions and operations, capability development and improving the EU’s performance in planning and conducting missions and operations were agreed. These can be found at:
The European Defence Agency Steering Board
An EDA steering board at Defence Ministers level was held immediately before the Foreign Affairs Council (Defence). This meeting agreed the EDA work programme 2012, the EDA work plan for 2012-14, the annual defence data report, and the establishment of the helicopter training programme category B project which meets the UK’s requirement for EDA preparations to deliver real capability. I announced the UK’s intention to join the helicopter training programme project. There was a substantive discussion on pooling and sharing; in particular on the opportunities identified by the EDA and member states expressed their interest in engaging in specific projects and programmes.
NHS Outcomes Framework 2012-13
The White Paper “Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS” (Cm 7881) outlined a vision of an NHS that achieves health outcomes that are among the best in the world. It explained that an NHS outcomes framework would be developed to provide national level accountability for the outcomes that the NHS delivers.
I have today published “The NHS Outcomes Framework 2012-13”. This refreshes the first NHS outcomes framework published for England in December 2010 and includes updated definitions for some of the indicators in the framework.
The framework has three main purposes, which remain the same in this updated version:
to provide a national level overview of how the NHS is performing against certain outcome measures;
to act as a mechanism for the Secretary of State to hold the NHS Commissioning Board to account for delivering improvements in outcomes, from April 2013; and
to act as a catalyst for driving improvement and a focus on outcomes throughout the NHS.
A copy of “The NHS Outcomes Framework 2012-13” has been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.
High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (Busan)
1 would like to inform the House of the outcomes from the fourth high-level forum on aid effectiveness, which I attended in Busan, Republic of Korea on 29 November to 1 December 2011.
I am pleased to report that Britain’s three priority areas for Busan—results, transparency and fragile states—formed the core of the Busan outcome document, and that our goal of getting an agreement that the emerging economies could support was also met.
A major achievement of the forum was the establishment of a new global partnership for effective development co-operation, which for the first time includes emerging economies like China and Brazil as participants in a development partnership based on recognised common goals and shared principles. This followed significant work by the UK to ensure China joined the partnership, including discussions I held with Chinese Minister of Commerce Chen Deming in Beijing immediately ahead of Busan. The global partnership also includes civil society, Parliaments and the private sector, recognising the important role played by each in achieving development results.
The Busan outcome document: “Busan Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation” places the UK’s focus on results, transparency and fragility at the heart of the international development agenda. It includes agreement to a new shared principle to “Focus on Results”, aimed at ensuring our development efforts have a lasting impact on eradicating poverty, and reflecting UK-led work over the past 18 months to build international support for this agenda. There was also agreement to a new shared principle on transparency, and further success in this important area with the US, Canada and CDC all signing up to the UK-led international aid transparency initiative. This will significantly boost further the information available to citizens about aid, helping enable them to hold their Governments to account.
Another achievement in Busan was the launch of the “New Deal” for ways of working in fragile and conflict-affected countries, which are often furthest from reaching the millennium development goals (MDGs). The UK has played a key role in developing this “New Deal”, which includes five new peace-building and state-building goals aimed at making progress in areas where it is most urgently needed, including justice, security and jobs. I was pleased to announce in Busan that the UK will be partnering South Sudan and Afghanistan to implement the “New Deal”.
I am determined to ensure that the agreements reached there are followed up and that the new global partnership achieves the goals set out. As part of this we will be working with others to maintain the clear focus on results needed to improve the lives of millions of poor people around the world, and to ensure value for money for the UK taxpayer.
Strategic Defence and Security Review (First Annual Report)
Along with the Deputy Prime Minister, and the other members of the National Security Council, I am pleased to provide the House with the following update on implementation of the 2010 strategic defence and security review. This review was undertaken at a time of immense challenge for UK defence and security: a severe mismatch between future defence plans and budgets inherited from the previous Government; the absence of any up-to-date strategy within the Ministry of Defence (MOD), due to the lack of a defence review for 12 years; a major global economic crisis that required action across the whole of Government to tackle the deficit; and armed forces engaged in a major campaign in Afghanistan. As the Government made it clear at the time, the challenges facing defence were too great to solve in a single review. But the SDSR took the first vital steps to transform UK defence and security to face the challenges of the 21st century.
Based on the conclusions of the new national security strategy, “A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty”, the SDSR described the National Security Council’s chosen policy response: an adaptable defence and security posture able to respond flexibly to a wide range of potential crises while continuing to fulfil our standing commitments. This is an approach that depends upon integrated effort across Government, achieving greater effect by combining defence, development, diplomatic, intelligence and other capabilities. Events over the last year, especially the profound changes under way in north Africa, have underlined the wisdom of this approach: few predicted an Arab spring even six months before it occurred—powerfully illustrating the need for a highly adaptable posture The campaign in Libya showed it was right to keep balanced armed forces, right to retain a significant RAF fast-jet capability, right to focus on building practical co-operation with the UAE and Qatar, and right to be buying more drones, tanker aircraft, helicopters and intelligence gathering capability.
We undertook in the SDSR to report annually to Parliament on its implementation. Today the Deputy Prime Minister and I are placing copies of the first SDSR annual progress report in the Library of the House. The report describes the work that has been carried out in the last year. Key developments include agreement on a radical plan to transform the MOD, based on the conclusions of the review by Lord Levene; taking the very difficult further steps necessary to close the £38 billion shortfall in funding over the next 10 years; completion of a review into the future of the reserve forces; establishment of a transformative cyber-security programme; new measures to tackle both the terrorist and organised crime threats to the UK; and expanding and strengthening our network of influence in a fast changing world.
Decisions taken during the SDSR and the 2010 comprehensive spending review ensured that we will continue to meet the NATO target of spending at least 2% of GDP on defence over the spending review period: in 2014-15, the UK defence budget will be £33.5 billion. Further work was undertaken this year to address the longer-term financial position so that on 18 July the Government were able to set out plans to increase in real terms the investment in defence equipment by 1% per annum between 2015-16 and 2020-21. On the same day, the Government announced detailed plans to return the Army from Germany and £1.5 billion of additional investment in our reserve forces, expanding their size after years of decline, enhancing their role and adjusting the long-term balance between the regulars and reserves. Taken together with a range of further measures this has brought the defence programme broadly into balance with the resources available for the first time in many years and ensured that the Government can deliver the long-term vision for our armed forces: Future Force 2020.
These measures ensure that Britain retains the fourth largest military budget in the world and that we will invest around £150 billion in equipment for our armed forces over the next 10 years. By tackling the imbalance in the defence programme, the Government have been able to commit to a range of new equipment programmes for which funding had previously not been identified, including 14 new Chinook helicopters and refurbishment of the Army’s fleet of Warrior vehicles. In May this year, formal approval was granted to begin the assessment phase for the programme to replace the Vanguard-class submarines. In addition, to assist the Liberal Democrats make the case for alternatives to the Trident system, the Government initiated a study into the costs, feasibility and credibility of alternative nuclear deterrent systems and postures. Progress has also been made on implementing the new nuclear assurances policy and the reduction in our nuclear weapon stockpile to no more than 180 warheads, both commitments set out in the SDSR.
The past year has seen significant changes in the threat from international terrorism. Al Qaeda’s leadership is now weaker than at any time since 9/11. But al-Qaeda continues to pose a threat and groups affiliated to al-Qaeda in countries such as Yemen and Somalia have emerged as a threat in their own right. We are implementing a revised counter-terrorism strategy to tackle the terrorist threat to the UK and our interests overseas. In keeping with the approach in the SDSR, we are also working hard to tackle the underlying causes of instability in Yemen and Somalia.
The SDSR recognised the rapidly changing nature of opportunities and risks from cyberspace. Following the April launch of the UK’s £650 million national cyber-security programme, the new cyber-security strategy, published on 25 November, sets out the UK’s approach to cyber-security in four priority areas: securing opportunities for UK growth, including overhauling the UK’s approach to tackling cybercrime; strengthening and securing UK infrastructure and improving our ability to protect our national interests in cyberspace; helping shape an open, vibrant and safe cyberspace; and improving national cyber-security skills and capabilities. November’s London conference on cyberspace demonstrated the UK’s continued lead in international cyber-thinking and enabled us to build alliances with like-minded nations, the private sector and civil society.
The organised crime strategy, “Local to Global”, was published in July, setting out the Government’s response to organised crime, a key element being the creation of the National Crime Agency—a powerful new body of operational crime fighters that will make the UK a hostile environment for serious and organised criminality. The NCA will incorporate a border policing command which will provide a co-ordinated, multi-agency, cohesive approach to securing the border.
Tackling the root causes of instability and helping to resolve conflicts overseas are key national security tasks. We have put development at the heart of an integrated approach that supports the world’s most vulnerable people and protects Britain from external threats. The FCO, DFID and MOD launched the building stability overseas strategy on 19 July. The three Departments are now working with the rest of Government and with NGOs and international partners to implement the strategy. In other areas too, the SDSR committed us to focusing existing resources better in a more co-ordinated Government response. On natural hazards, the last year has seen the largest ever multi-agency exercise to test the UK’s response, as well as a review of arrangements for an influenza pandemic and vital steps to reduce the vulnerability of critical national infrastructure.
In a rapidly changing world, alliances and partnerships are more important than ever to the UK’s international influence and therefore our national security and prosperity. Internationally we rarely act alone. We are working more closely with established allies, including through the two ground-breaking defence treaties signed with France last year and our continuing close co-operation with the USA. We continue to deepen our defence co-operation with France and to explore the potential to open such co-operation to other nations willing to invest in developing and deploying modern military capabilities. The UK has led the debate on tougher action on piracy, commanding EU Operation Atalanta, the EU mission to counter piracy off the coast of Somalia. On 11 May, the Foreign Office also announced plans to expand its diplomatic network in India, China, Brazil, Turkey, Mexico and Indonesia, and re-open embassies in Côte D’Ivoire, El Salvador and Madagascar. We will use this strengthened diplomatic network to develop the partnerships the UK needs not only to ensure our security but also to promote British commercial interests—as we did through the UK business delegations that have accompanied ministerial visits to China, India, Brazil and Russia.
The acid test of any defence and security strategy is its ability to deal with a crisis. The UK’s prompt and flexible military, diplomatic and stabilisation activity in Libya confirmed the validity of many of the key conclusions of the SDSR. The outstanding performance of our armed forces and civilians demonstrated the UK’s continued ability to project power flexibly and to take a leading role in shaping international events. NATO again demonstrated its centrality. And the excellent political and military cooperation with France, other NATO partners and Gulf states demonstrated the vital importance of strengthening defence ties with existing allies and new partners in tackling defence and security.
Work continues across Government to implement the SDSR and we will provide a further annual update to Parliament in 2012.
EU Transport Council
I will attend the second Transport Council of the Polish presidency which will take place in Brussels on 12 December.
The presidency will be seeking a political agreement on a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a single European railway area (Recast). The European Parliament had its first reading of this proposal on 16 November. Many of the Parliament’s amendments differed significantly from the Council’s general approach text. Following discussion at the one Council working group meeting that took place following the first reading it is expected the presidency will seek a political agreement, which incorporates only those amendments that do not alter the general approach, and thus will be acceptable to the UK.
The Council will be asked to reach a partial general approach on a draft regulation amending Regulation 3821/85 on recording equipment in road transport and amending Regulation 561/2006. The UK supports elements of the proposal that aim to reduce burdens on business. I will want to resist provisions that might impose unnecessary burdens or additional costs on Government or industry, including the proposal to ban operators from installing and calibrating tachographs in their own vehicles. I will be seeking to minimise the risks of increases in costs and burdens via future decisions taken by the European Commission (“the Commission”) under a delegated or implementing act, by pressing for clearly specified constraints on the scope of proposed action.
The Council will be asked to reach a general approach on a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2008/106/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the minimum level of training of seafarers. Although we would question the merit of a European database of seafarer certification, we have negotiated important changes which would require the anonymisation of seafarer personal data to be a mandatory precondition of the obligation to transfer data. We have also negotiated changes to align the text more closely with the deadline for the implementation of the amendments to the international convention on standards of training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers to avoid placing additional burdens on EU member states which would put our flags at a competitive disadvantage with other countries’ flags.
The Council will be asked to reach a general approach on a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the accelerated phasing-in of double-hull or equivalent design requirements for single-hull oil tankers (Recast). The UK is in favour of the general approach proposed for the draft recast of these regulations which brings European law in line with amendments agreed at the International Maritime Organization.
There will also be a progress report on a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on Union guidelines for the development of the trans-European transport network. The UK recognises that the TEN-T network should be focused on projects that carry clear EU added value and should be supported by guidelines on projects seeking EU funding. We do not support standards and requirements being expanded to the wider TEN-T network on a mandatory basis. We believe that decisions on national projects to be prioritised for development and investment should remain with the member states and the transport operators concerned. Furthermore, the UK is keen to ensure that this proposal does not impose any additional financial or administrative burdens.
The main items under any other business include the Commission’s presentation on its proposal for an airport package, the implementation and exploitation of European satellite navigation systems and the connecting Europe facility. The Commission will also provide information on the European aviation safety management system and air cargo security action plan.
The Polish presidency will provide information on the ministerial conference on Eastern Partnership held in Krakow on 24-25 October 2011 and on the high-level conference on the implementation of the single European sky and its extension to third countries held in Warsaw on 28 November 2011.
The Danish delegation will also provide information on the work programme of their forthcoming presidency of the EU.