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Written Statements

Volume 539: debated on Wednesday 25 January 2012

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Brazil and the Caribbean (Foreign Secretary Visit)

I wish to update the House on my first official visit to Latin America and the Caribbean as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

In November 2010 I set out in my Canning House lecture the Government’s commitment to reinvigorating important relationships in Latin America. I am pleased to confirm that the Government are turning this vision into concrete results. Last year, 27 Ministers visited Latin America of which 14 visited Brazil. We have reopened our embassy in El Salvador and a new consulate in Recife and we are sending additional diplomats to the region to staff these new missions. As a major emerging political and economic power, Brazil’s role in the world is set to grow. We also want to develop a better understanding between Britain and Brazil in foreign policy. Brazil’s role in international affairs is set to grow significantly this century. This flows naturally from their growing economic weight and the shifting international landscape.

Britain has much of the expertise that Brazil needs as it continues its growth—including financial services, sustainable development, the energy sector, defence, security and sports infrastructure. During my visit I held a strategic dialogue with Foreign Minister Patriota—an upgraded mechanism for foreign policy and bilateral discussions between the two countries, reflecting the new momentum in the relationship. I also explored options for further bilateral defence and security co-operation with Defence Minister, Celso Amorim and the Head of the Brazilian Navy, Admiral Moura Neto. Britain and Brazil have a unique opportunity this decade to further bilateral relations through sport, as adjacent hosts of the Olympic and Paralympic games. My meeting with the Governor of Rio de Janeiro reinforced UK/Brazil political and commercial co-operation on the Olympics and the security issues related to these major sporting events. I also announced the launch of the Great Campaign in Brazil which will take place in March 2012 and HRH Prince Harry’s visit at that time.

In a short visit to Panama on 20 January I met the President, First Lady, Foreign Minister and other member of the Panamanian Cabinet. We discussed Falkland Island issues, co-operation on combating money laundering and the possibility of a double taxation agreement with the UK.

In the Caribbean, I attended the UK/Caribbean ministerial forum, leading the strongest delegation of UK Ministers—the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr Duncan) and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire)—and senior officials to visit the Caribbean in recent years. The forum brought together members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Dominican Republic, with the Caribbean Overseas Territories and Cuba, USA, Canada and Australia participating as observers. Together we committed to a revitalised partnership, with stronger co-operation on areas that matter to both Britain and the Caribbean: trade, counter-narcotics, climate change, and key foreign policy issues. In recognition of the private sector’s role as an engine of growth, a broad range of British and Caribbean businesses also participated in the forum. The forum underlined the value we attach to our enduring friendship with the Caribbean and our desire to re-energise the relationship, creating a more modern, dynamic and forward looking affiliation.

The forum concluded with agreement to a new strategic economic partnership, promoting prosperity and economic resilience among the countries of the Caribbean and the United Kingdom. There was also agreement to enhance collaboration and co-ordination in the fight against illegal drug trafficking between the Caribbean, Britain and the Overseas Territories. This will include a new partnership between the UK, US and the Caribbean to develop land-based intelligence sharing and interdiction capability in the region. We also agreed on the importance of working together on further criminal justice reform which provides the essential underpinning for our drugs and crime work in the region. On climate change, we agreed to work together with urgency and vigour to close the ambition gap on emissions, to mobilise climate finance on the necessary scale, and to secure agreement by 2015 on a comprehensive legally binding global framework. Together we will continue to build on the alliance that emerged at COP17 between the members of the Alliance of Small Island States, Least Developed Countries and the EU. Finally, we agreed to work together in international forums, tackling pressing security issues facing the international community and working to strengthen the Commonwealth as a focus for democracy, human rights, development and prosperity. We also agreed a text in the Caribbean action plan to support the principle and right to self-determination for the Falkland Islanders.

It is this Government’s intention to shape a distinctive foreign policy that protects and promotes our national interests, strengthens our economy, makes the most of the opportunities of the 21st century and upholds the highest values of our society. This visit is part of how we achieve that, and represents a step change in British—Latin American and Caribbean relations. I will also lay in the Library of the House a copy of my speech in Brazil and agreed text from the Caribbean forum on the Falkland Islands.

Health

NHS Property Services

I am announcing today our intention to create a Government-owned limited company, “NHS Property Services Ltd”. The company will take ownership of and manage that part of the existing primary care trust estate that will not transfer to national health service community care providers under the plans for healthcare reform set out in the Health and Social Care Bill.

This follows on from the announcement on 4 August 2011 that aspirant community foundation trusts, other NHS trusts, and foundation trusts are to be given the opportunity to acquire part(s) of the primary care trust (PCT) estate deemed “service critical clinical infrastructure”. A copy of the relevant guidance, “PCT Estate: future ownership and management of estate in the ownership of primary care trusts in England”, has previously been placed in the Library.

NHS Property Services Ltd will be wholly owned by the Department of Health. The arrangements for it will be finalised in the coming months, however its objectives will be to:

hold property for use by community and primary care services, including for use by social enterprises;

deliver value for money property services;

cut costs of administering the estate by consolidating the management of over 150 estates;

deliver and develop cost-effective property solutions for community health services; and

dispose of property surplus to NHS requirements.

Properties to be transferred to NHS Property Services Ltd will include some operational estate, estate with multiple occupiers, office and administration estate, estate to be occupied by social enterprises and surplus estate.

Estate that is clearly linked to the provision of clinical services and mainly occupied by NHS providers for that purpose will be transferred to them.

Existing contractual arrangements with service providers that deliver and maintain NHS properties will remain in place to support the needs of this property portfolio.

Transport

Charging Heavy Goods Vehicles

The Department for Transport has today launched a consultation on a proposed road user charging scheme for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) of 12 tonnes and over. This is one of the commitments in the coalition programme for government.

The proposal’s primary objective is to ensure fairer arrangements for UK hauliers. UK-registered HGVs already pay tolls or user charges on motorways and, frequently, other roads in most EU member states. Save on some specific pieces of infrastructure (the M6 toll and various bridges and tunnels), there are no tolls or user charges in the UK. As most foreign operators currently purchase their HGVs’ fuel outside the UK, they therefore contribute nothing towards the cost of our roads.

A scheme for HGV road user charging cannot discriminate between UK-registered vehicles and vehicles registered elsewhere in the EU. It will therefore apply to both UK and foreign-registered HGVs. It must also comply with the Eurovignette directive (Directive 1999/62/EC as amended by 2006/3 8/EC and 2011/76/EU) which sets out a framework of rules for tolls and charges, including maximum daily rates for the latter.

We propose a simple time-based charge, applying to the use of any road in the United Kingdom, meaning that a five-axle HGV of 38 tonnes or more would pay £1,000 a year or £10 a day. The Eurovignette directive’s maximum permitted charge is currently €11 per day, although by the introduction of the charge this is likely to have been uprated by inflation to €12 (about £10 at current exchange rates). The precise level of charges will depend on exchange rate movements and inflation between now and the implementation date later this Parliament. UK hauliers would pay an annual (or six months) charge for each HGV at the same time and in the same transaction as they pay its vehicle excise duty (VED). This would avoid extra administration costs for UK business. Foreign hauliers could pay daily, weekly, monthly or annual charges.

As VED and the charge are paid 12 months in advance, UK hauliers would begin to pay the user charge as they renewed an HGV’s VED from 11 months before the introduction of charging for foreign vehicles.

The Government will also come forward with measures to offset the additional user charges for UK hauliers, through reductions in taxes, duties or charges they currently face, or through appropriate spending measures. The Chancellor has discretion over tax and spending measures, but the most likely balancing measure in practice will be a reduction in VED towards minimum EU-levels.

The overall cost burden will not increase for the vast majority of UK-registered vehicles. We believe that, if we reduce VED to levels at or just above the minimum rates set out in the Eurovignette directive, around 94% of the current UK vehicle fleet would be no worse off, with 98% paying no more than £50 a year extra.

Non-payment of the user charge would be a criminal offence, which could result in a fine imposed by the courts. The user charge would be enforced by DVLA records, ANPR cameras and checks by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) at the roadside. VOSA would also be able to issue fixed penalties on the spot to non-compliant drivers (and take financial deposits from drivers based outside the UK).

We are consulting on whether the scheme as a whole should be implemented, as well as on the details of the proposed charging bands, how the scheme will be administered, payment methods, enforcement and support for UK hauliers.

The consultation will run until 18 April 2012. The consultation document and associated tax impact assessment are available in the Library of the House, or on the DFT website at: www.dft.gov.uk.

Work and Pensions

Automatic Enrolment Timetable

On 28 November 2011, the Government announced that the timetable for the implementation of automatic enrolment will be adjusted so that small businesses are not affected by the reforms during this Parliament. This will provide them with some additional breathing space to prepare for the reforms while operating in tough economic times.

We also reaffirmed our commitment that automatic enrolment will start on time, from October 2012, and will apply to all employers.

I can now confirm that under the revised timeline, all employers with an existing staging date of on or before 1 February 2014 are unaffected. This means that no large employer will have to make any changes to their plans—which are in many cases already advanced.

Medium-sized employers will be reallocated automatic enrolment dates between 1 April 2014 and 1 April 2015. This means that the implementation dates of some of these employers will be up to nine months later. However, this still means that around 70% of eligible workers will be automatically enrolled before the end of this Parliament compared with around 75% under previous arrangements.

Small employers will be allocated automatic enrolment dates between 1 June 2015 and 1 April 2017.

New employers setting up business from 1 April 2012 and up to and including 30 September 2017 will have automatic enrolment dates between, and including, 1 May 2017 and 1 February 2018. Any new employer setting up from 1 October 2017 onwards will be required to comply immediately if paying earnings which attract PAYE deductions in respect of any worker.

We propose to delay from 1 October 2016 to 1 October 2017 the increase in the minimum rate of employer pension contributions from 1% to 2% of banded earnings. Contributions will increase to 3% from 1 October 2018.

We plan to publish a consultation document on the detail of these changes shortly. Draft regulations and an impact assessment will be published alongside the consultation document.

The table below sets out the revised automatic enrolment dates for all employer sizes.

Employer Size (by PAYE Scheme Size) or Other DescriptionAutomatic Enrolment Duty Date

From (inc.)

To (inc.)

250 or more members

1st October 2012

1st February 2014

50 to 249 members

1st April 2014

1st April 2015

Test tranche for less than 30 members

1st June 2015

30th June 2015

30 to 49 members

1st August 2015

1st October 2015

Less than 30 members

1st January 2016

1st April 2017

Employers without PAYE schemes

1st April 2017

-

New employers Apr 2012 to Mar 2013

1st May 2017

-

New employers Apr 2013 to Mar 2014

1st July 2017

-

New employers Apr 2014 to Mar 2015

1st August 2017

-

New employers Apr 2015 to Dec 2015

1st October 2017

-

New employers Jan 2016 to Sep 2016

1st November 2017

-

New employers Oct 2016 to Jun 2017

1st January 2018

-

New employers Jul 2017 to Sep 2017

1st February 2018

-

New employers Oct 2017

Immediate duty

-