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Written Statements

Volume 539: debated on Monday 30 January 2012

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 30 January 2012

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council

The Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) was held on 23 January in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I attended.

The FAC was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland. A provisional report of the meeting and all conclusions adopted can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/127480.pdf

The agenda items covered were as follows:

Iran

Ministers agreed an extensive package of sanctions and accompanying conclusions (see link above) focusing on Iran’s nuclear programme. The measures adopted include a phased embargo on Iranian oil; freezing the Central Bank of Iran’s assets; and sanctions on the petrochemical sector, gold and precious metal and dual-use goods.

Following the meeting, the Foreign Secretary said:

“Today’s action demonstrates the EU’s growing concern about Iran’s nuclear programme, and our determination to increase peaceful, legitimate pressure on Iran to return to negotiations.

It is action made necessary by Iran’s defiance of six UN Security Council resolutions and its refusal to enter negotiations over its nuclear programme. Iran’s recent decision to commence 20% enrichment at its underground site at Qom shows that it continues to choose a path of provocation. This is an enrichment programme that has no plausible civilian use, in a site that the Iranian authorities hoped to keep secret.

We call again on Iran to answer the serious questions raised by the International Atomic Energy Agency, to adhere to UN Security Council Resolutions and to suspend its enrichment programme in accordance with them. Iran has it in its power to end sanctions by changing course and addressing the concerns of the international community. We are ready to talk at any point if Iran puts aside its preconditions. Today’s sanctions show how serious EU member states are about preventing nuclear proliferation and pressing Iran to return to the negotiating table. We will urge other nations across the world to implement similar measures and to increase the impact of the measures the EU has adopted”.

The Prime Minister made a statement on the Iranian sanctions with President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel on 23 January—see link below

http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/iran-sanctions/

The Foreign Secretary made a response to an urgent question on Iran in Parliament on 24 January—see link below.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201212/cmhansrd/cm120124/debtext/120124-0001.htm#12012451000004

Burma

EU Ministers agreed conclusions (see link above) recognising the recent progress in Burma and suspending visa bans against the President, members of the Cabinet and speakers of the Houses of Parliament.

Drawing from his recent visit, the Foreign Secretary highlighted the changes in Burma as justifying these first steps towards enhancing the EU’s engagement with the country. He stressed that the EU should only make any further responses following progress against our benchmarks: the release of remaining political prisoners, free and fair by-elections on 1 April, and credible steps towards resolving ethnic conflict.

Syria

Ministers agreed an 11th round of restrictive measures against Syria, which listed a further 22 individuals and eight entities. Ministers also agreed conclusions (see link above) which included expressions of concern over the Syrian Government’s brutal crackdown, and a welcome for the Arab League’s initiative to seek United Nations Security Council support for a political solution.

Speaking after the meeting, the Foreign Secretary said:

“I welcome today’s EU agreement to an 11th round of EU sanctions on Syria, targeting 22 individuals and 8 entities supporting the Syrian regime’s appalling campaign of violence and repression against its own people.

The UK has been a driving force behind these EU sanctions, working closely with other EU states. The sanctions demonstrate that the international community will identify and hold to account those responsible for abuses. Anyone involved in supporting the regime’s repression should carefully consider their actions.

The UK supports the Arab League’s leadership in seeking to resolve the current crisis. We welcome its call for President Assad to leave power and allow a political transition. Assad’s brutal repression means he has lost all legitimacy and should step aside, opening the way to the freedom demanded by the Syrian people. We will continue to increase the pressure on the Syrian regime in support of this goal.”

Serbia / Kosovo

Discussion focused on a possible decision on Serbia’s candidate status at the General Affairs Council on 27 February. I argued that the award of candidate status should be based on progress against the conditions agreed by the December European Council, in particular on regional co-operation.

Middle East Peace Process

Conclusions were agreed (see link above) supporting talks in Jordan, encouraging the parties to remain engaged and pressing Israel on settlements.

I briefed on President Abbas’s visit to London of 16-17 January, where he had meetings with the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.

Egypt

Ministers had a brief exchange on Egypt. On 22 January (the day before the FAC), the Foreign Secretary spoke about the historic change and opportunity following the opening of the Egyptian Parliament:

“2011 was a year of historic change and opportunity for Egypt. The world was inspired by the courage of the Egyptian people in the revolution which began on 25 January, as they demonstrated for their dignity, their freedom and their rights. What has followed has been a time of great hope and optimism, but also anxiety and uncertainty. Much has been achieved, but challenges remain. The historic elections for the People’s Assembly, now almost complete, are an important step in building a prosperous and stable future for the new Egypt.

Britain will continue to be a close friend and strong partner to the Egyptian people as they consolidate the country's transition to democracy.”

Belarus

Ministers agreed to broaden the criteria for subjecting persons and entities to targeted sanctions. This paves the way for the EU to impose travel bans and asset freezes on those responsible for any serious human rights violations or the repression of civil society and the democratic opposition, and on those people or entities supporting or benefiting from the current regime.

Sudan and South Sudan

Ministers agreed conclusions (see link above) expressing concern about the deteriorating and unpredictable situation between both countries.

Speaking on 22 January, the Foreign Secretary commented:

“I am gravely concerned at reports that South Sudan intends to shut down its oil production, and at Sudan’s earlier decision to seize South Sudanese oil and prevent oil tankers from leaving its ports. Unilateral actions do nothing to further the prospects of the people of either country. I remind both governments of the statesmanship they showed last year in allowing the people of South Sudan to determine their own future. I call on them to show that same statesmanship now, by refraining from dangerous and destabilising actions of this sort, and by continuing to work with President Mbeki and the AU High Level Implementation Panel to negotiate a fair settlement.”

Somalia

I updated Ministers on the forthcoming London conference on Somalia, and committed to follow up at a future FAC.

Religious Freedom

Italy initiated a short discussion about how the EU might update its approach to human rights and freedom of religion and beliefs in the context the recent bombings in Nigeria.

Common Security and Defence Policy

EU Ministers adopted without discussion conclusions on the activation of the EU Operations Centre for the horn of Africa (see link above).

I will continue to update Parliament on future Foreign and General Affairs Councils.

Home Department

Police Remuneration and Conditions

This statement is about police pay and pensions. It provides the Government’s response to the Police Arbitration Tribunal’s findings on the recommendations in the part 1 report of Tom Winsor’s “Independent Review of Police Officer and Staff Remuneration and Conditions” and the consultation on the proposed increase in pension contributions for police officers. Both issues have the potential to affect police officer remuneration and so the Government have considered them in the round.

On 30 March 2011 I laid a statement to respond to Tom Winsor’s part 1 report of the review of remuneration and conditions of service for police officers and staff. I announced that I was directing the Police Negotiating Board and the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales to consider proposals within their remits for police officers in England and Wales as a matter of urgency.

The Police Negotiating Board was not able to reach agreement on several important proposals, and these were referred to the Police Arbitration Tribunal. The tribunal has now provided its recommendation and reasons, which I received on 9 January. The tribunal considered 18 recommendations from the Winsor part 1 report. The tribunal accepted 10 recommendations, modified five and made no award on three. I have today placed a copy of the Police Arbitration Tribunal report in the House of Commons Library.

I am grateful to the tribunal for its comprehensive and balanced consideration of these important issues. I have now considered its report thoroughly. I have decided to accept its recommendation and am minded to implement the package of reforms it has put forward in full.

I have also decided to accept the recommendation of the Police Negotiating Board on those recommendations that it agreed in principle, which were not referred to the PAT.

These reforms represent an important first step in modernising police pay and conditions so that they are fair to officers and to taxpayers. They include redistributing pay to officers who work unsocial hours, abolishing ineffective post-related payments (SPPs), suspending some elements of time-served pay and improving managers’ ability to manage shift arrangements. However, as a Government we remain committed to further reform and to the principles set out in the Winsor part 1 report. The PAT recommended that a small number of recommendations should be deferred until part 2 has made longer-term recommendations on pay structures. We will consider these matters along with part 2, in light of the review’s principles. In particular, the link between pay and skills remains a key principle and will be an important part of our consideration.

We have the best police service in the world, and these reforms will support the police in maintaining and improving the service that they give the public. In particular, they will support the objectives I set out in the review’s terms of reference to:

use remuneration and conditions of service to maximise officer and staff deployment to front-line roles where their powers and skills are required;

provide remuneration and conditions of service that are fair to, and reasonable for, both the public taxpayer and police officers and staff;

enable modern management practices in line with practices elsewhere in the public sector and the wider economy.

In reaching this decision, I have had regard to a number of vital considerations, including:

the review’s three key objectives as set out above;

the absolute necessity to reduce the fiscal deficit inherited from the previous Government and the part the police service must play in this and the role that changes to pay and conditions can play in protecting police jobs;

the need to maintain and improve the service provided to the public, taking account of a strong desire from the public to see more police officers and operational staff out on the front line of local policing and also recognising that there are less visible front-line roles that require policing powers and skills in order to protect the public;

the particular front-line role and nature of the Office of Constable, including the lack of a right to strike;

the Government’s wider objectives for police reform, including the introduction of police and crime commissioners, the reduction of police bureaucracy and collaboration between police forces and with other public services;

the Government’s wider policy of pay and pensions in the public sector;

the review’s analysis of the value of officers’ remuneration and conditions, as compared to other work forces;

parallel work by the police service to improve value for money, including collaboration with the private sector;

the impact of the recommendations on equality and diversity.

The service must be able to benefit from these reforms as soon as possible. I will therefore begin the necessary action to amend the Police Regulations 2003 and issue determinations under them shortly.

These reforms will make short-term improvements to police remuneration and conditions. Part 2 of the review will look at longer-term reform and is due to be published shortly.

Increases to police officer pension contributions

Turning now to police officer pensions, the Government want to ensure that public sector workers continue to have access to pension schemes that are among the very best available. However, reform is inevitable because people are living longer. Costs have risen by one third over the last 10 years to £32 billion. That is more than we spend on police, prison and the courts. These costs have generally fallen to the taxpayer. This is unfair and unaffordable, so it is also fair that we should ask public sector workers, including police officers, to contribute a bit more towards their pension.

That is why on 29 July 2011, I wrote to members of the Police Negotiating Board asking that they consider a proposal to increase police officer pension contribution rates. I am grateful to members of the Police Negotiating Board for considering the proposal and for the responses they provided.

Having considered the points raised alongside the recommendation from the recent Police Arbitration Tribunal, I have decided to implement the first year of increases in line with the proposal put to the Police Negotiating Board. This proposal meets the Government’s objectives of protecting lower earners, asking higher earners to pay more and, by reducing the burden on those in the first two years of their career, minimising the rate of opt out.

The Government are committed to securing in full the savings announced at spending review 2010 from increases in employee pension contributions for the unfunded schemes for 2013-14 and 2014-15. I will ask the Police Negotiating Board to consider the proposed increases for these years in line with other public service schemes.

Again, I will begin the necessary action to amend the relevant regulations in order that the changes take effect in April of this year.

International Development

Turks and Caicos Islands (Progress Report)

Further to the written statement of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham) of 9 December 2010, Official Report, columns 40-41WS, setting out milestones that Ministers judged would have to be met before elections could take place in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), my hon. Friend and I wish to update the House.

The Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office currently jointly assess progress towards achieving the milestones to be the following:

Implementation of a new Turks and Caicos Islands constitution order, in support of recommendations of the commission of inquiry, which underpins good governance and sound public financial management.

A new constitution order was laid before Parliament in July 2011. In due course it will be brought into force by the Governor, after which elections must take place within 30 days.

Introduction of a number of new ordinances, including those making provision for: (i) the electoral process and regulation of political parties; (ii) integrity and accountability in public life;(iii) public financial management.

A legislative drafting team is working on numerous ordinances (locally enacted laws) relating to TCI Government business, including public accountability and financial management. Ordinances relating to elections, conduct of political parties and the Integrity Commission are also all currently being drafted. It is expected that drafting of a number of these should be completed by the end of March.

Establishment of robust and transparent public financial management processes to provide a stable economic environment and a strengthening of the Turks and Caicos Islands Governments capacity to manage their public finances.

Expenditure control has been largely re-established. Consolidated Government financial statements have been produced and submitted for audit for three of the past four years. Public reports on the state of the public finances are being issued quarterly. Rolling 13-week cash-flow forecasts are being produced. The Finance Ministry is being restructured to be more effective in managing the finances and newly appointed permanent secretaries will be firmly held to account for the sound management of finances in their Ministries.

Implementation of budget measures to put the Turks and Caicos Islands Government on track to achieve a fiscal surplus in the financial year ending March 2013.

New taxes and fee increases are expected to boost revenue by 20% compared to 2010-11, reaching US$164 million in 2011-12. But expenditure is expected to be higher than originally forecast leading to a budget deficit of US$26.8 million, which is considerably higher than the budgeted deficit of US$3 million. Additional revenue measures, a reduction in the size of the public service and revisions to the national health insurance plan have been put in place designed to bring the budget into surplus in 2012-13.

Implementation of a transparent and fair process for acquisition of belongership.

In November the TCI Consultative Forum launched a territory-wide consultation on the options for a new pathway to Turks and Caicos Islander status. The consultation process will finish in February. Initial reaction has been favourable. In the meantime, the backlog of permanent residence applications has been cleared.

Significant progress with the civil and criminal processes recommended by the Commission of Inquiry, and implementation of measures to enable these to continue unimpeded.

To date, over 900 acres of Crown land worth approximately US$150 million and US$2 million in cash has been recovered by the civil recovery team. In December 2011, 11 people, including four former Ministers, appeared in court to face criminal charges. They are due to appear before the Supreme Court in TCI in early February.

Implementation of a new Crown land policy.

Key decisions have been taken on this sensitive issue. A new policy to manage Crown land better in the future was announced in 2011 after discussion in the Consultative Forum and Advisory Council. The Crown land ordinance will be ready soon.

Substantial progress in the reform of the public service.

Plans have been drawn up to reduce the number of Ministries from nine to five by the end of March. Five new permanent secretaries have been recruited by rigorous open competition and have been appointed on fixed-term, performance-monitored contracts. Technical support to ensure the effectiveness of the new Ministries is under consideration. A voluntary severance scheme, which will reduce numbers in the public sector by 300-400, is due to be completed in February.

Summary

Much work has been done by the TCI Government and by the TCI public service, with the support of the United Kingdom Government. Assistance has also been provided by the European Union and Canada. Good progress is being made thanks to the commitment and hard work of the interim TCI Government and the people of TCI. However, there is much still to be done.

Finally, setbacks last year have adversely affected progress towards achieving a budget surplus. Our view remains that the UK Government will only be able to set a date for the elections when the milestones have been reached. It is not yet certain when we will be able to say that all of the milestones have been met, but the interim Government, with UK-financed technical assistance, is working hard to achieve them. We still hope that they will be met in time for elections to take place during 2012.