Written Ministerial Statements
Thursday 15 March 2012
Business, Innovation and Skills
Employment Law Review
The Government are today publishing a call for evidence on dealing with dismissal and on the concept of “compensated no-fault dismissal” for micro businesses. We are also publishing an update on the “Employment Law Review” and a refreshed “Employer’s Charter”. Copies of these documents will be laid in the Libraries of both Houses.
Through this call for evidence the Government are seeking to establish a strong evidence base to help inform our understanding of the current dismissal system. This includes gathering information on awareness and use of the Acas code of practice on discipline and grievance. In particular, we want to understand whether the code could be adapted to make it easier to use and more accessible to smaller businesses.
We are also seeking views on the idea of compensated no-fault dismissal for businesses with fewer than 10 employees and evidence on the potential impacts on employers, employees, and on the broader economy. Under such a system the employer would pay a set amount of compensation to the employee in dismissing the employee, but would not be required to go through a formal dismissal procedure.
Our objective is to strike the right balance between providing flexibility for the employer and ensuring protection for the employee. The Government want to hear the different views of employees, business organisations and all other interested parties in order to undertake a full analysis of the available evidence.
The “Employment Law Review” annual update outlines progress on this cross-Government review, and looks ahead at the forward programme. The review aims to reduce the employment law burdens on business to give them greater confidence to take on more staff and grow. The “Employer’s Charter”, first produced in January 2011, has been refreshed with further pointers on sickness absence and recruitment, in response to the recommendation in the independent review of sickness absence by Dame Carol Black and Sir David Frost. It is designed to dispel myths around employment law and, in particular, give clarity to employers about what they can already do to deal with staff issues in the workplace.
Competition Regime Reform
I am pleased to announce publication later this morning of “Growth, Competition and the Competition Regime: Government Response to Consultation” which will detail the Government’s proposals for reform.
The UK competition regime is highly regarded internationally, but the Government believe that there is scope to improve the effectiveness of competition enforcement and streamline processes. The Government’s policy objectives for reform are to:
Improve the quality of decisions and strengthen the regime.
Support the competition authorities in taking forward the right cases.
Improve speed and predictability for business.
One of the Government’s key proposals is to create a single Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) by transferring the functions of the Competition Commission and the competition functions of the Office of Fair Trading to it. The Government have decided to give the new authority a primary duty to reflect the role the Government see for it in promoting effective competition in markets across the UK economy for the benefit of consumers.
The benefits of this will include:
Greater coherence in competition practice and a more streamlined approach in decision making, through strong oversight of the end-to-end case management process.
More flexibility in resource utilisation to address the most important competition problems of the day and better incentives to use anti-trust and markets tools to deal with competition problems.
Faster, less burdensome processes for business.
A single strong centre of competition expertise, which can provide leadership for the sector regulators on competition enforcement and a single authoritative voice for the UK internationally.
Increased accountability and transparency.
Additionally, the Government recognise and value the close relationship between competition problems and consumer activities in this context. The CMA will therefore have the power to tackle market conditions that make it difficult for consumers to exercise choice in an otherwise competitive market. The full scope of the CMA’s consumer functions will be set out when BIS publishes proposals for reform of the consumer landscape in the near future.
We aim to have the single CMA fully up and running by April 2014.
In addition to the creation of the CMA, the Government are proposing changes to the competition framework. Proposed changes include:
Embedding an enhanced administrative approach to antitrust enforcement, involving improvements to the speed of the process and project management, and the robustness of decision making, while addressing perceptions of confirmation bias.
Strengthening and streamlining the markets and mergers regime by, for example, reducing statutory time limits for market investigations from 24 months to 18 months and, for mergers, introducing statutory time limits and amending the process for undertakings in lieu (UIL) to make it more transparent.
Strengthening the primacy of general competition law, so that the sector regulators are required to consider whether the use of their antitrust powers is more appropriate before using their sectoral powers to promote competition.
The full list of proposals can be found in the consultation document copies of which will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The UK’s competition regime enjoys a strong reputation globally and our markets are rightly seen as open and fair. However, in any economy, anti-competitive practices and structures can develop which stifle innovation and growth, and which damage the interests of consumers. Where well-functioning competition exists companies have to become more efficient and innovative and find ways to offer consumers better quality and better value products and services.
Where anti-competitive behaviour exists, timely and effective enforcement is essential to identify and tackle it efficiently and to limit the detrimental effects that consumers may suffer as a result. The Government’s consultation highlighted some significant challenges to how the system in the UK works at present. One of the key issues is the length of time that is taken over cases. In particular, anti-trust enforcement takes too long, imposing very large costs and uncertainty on businesses.
Taken together, the Government’s proposals will deliver benefits both for businesses and consumers. They will support quicker conclusion of cases and faster implementation of remedies where instances of anti-competitive behaviour occur. They will deliver an increased deterrent effect and greater clarity and certainty for business.
In so doing, the proposals will impact positively on UK productivity and growth and contribute to the Government’s drive for more responsible capitalism.
EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade Formation)
The Trade Formation of the EU Foreign Affairs Council will meet in Brussels on Friday 16 March 2012. I will represent the UK for all the items on the agenda.
The first two substantive agenda items involve “legislative deliberations”. Following a presentation by the trade commissioner Karel De Gucht, Ministers will discuss the proposal for a regulation establishing transitional arrangements for bilateral investment agreements between member states and third countries. The second legislative deliberation will focus on the proposal for a regulation on the application of the generalised system of tariff preferences (GSP).
On the first legislative proposal, the UK position is to support the effort to reach an early agreement, while ensuring that the regulation is competence neutral. On the proposed GSP regulation, we would support the presidency compromise on the condition that suitable transitional arrangements are put in place for the upper middle income countries to be excluded from the reformed scheme.
There are three substantive “non-legislative” items. The first involve a discussion on the EU free trade agreement with Colombia and Peru, where Ministers will be invited to reach a political agreement on the agreement and its provisional application.
The second substantive non-legislative item is the EU—Singapore FTA negotiation. Here Ministers will discuss the state of play and next steps in the negotiation following a presentation by commissioner De Gucht.
There will then be a point on the Council conclusions on trade, growth and development. The presidency will invite Ministers to adopt the draft Council conclusions. The UK welcomes the conclusions and therefore we will support their adoption by the Council.
There are two AOB items, namely: EU-US trade and economic relations and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The UK is a strong advocate of ambitious trade and investment relations between the EU and the US. We will therefore be taking the lead in the discussion pushing for this objective.
Over lunch, there will be separate discussions on the scoping exercise for an EU-Japan FTA, trade liberalisation and green growth, and the state of play in the EU-India FTA negotiation. The UK strongly supports FTAs with India and Japan and there we will urge the Commission to keep up momentum in relation to these negotiations.
The Government’s main aims will be to:
Support the presidency compromise in relation to the legislative files on bilateral investment treaties and generalised system of preferences, while making sure that our interests are protected.
Support the Council decisions on signature and provisional application of the EU agreement with Colombia and Peru.
Reiterate support for a speedy and an ambitious deal in the EU-Singapore FTA, which includes securing market access for our financial services industry.
Welcome the Council conclusions on trade, growth and development, and support their adoption by the Council.
Reiterate support for strengthening trade and investment relations between the EU and the US.
Express strong support for FTAs with India and Japan and urge the Commission to keep up momentum in relation to these negotiations.
Handling Members’ Correspondence
I am today publishing a report on Departments’ and agencies’ performance on handling Members’ and peers’ correspondence during the calendar year 2011. Details are set out in the table below. Correspondence statistics for 2010 can be found on 28 March 2011, Official Report, 1WS.
Departmental figures are based on substantive replies unless otherwise indicated. The footnotes to the table provide general background information on how the figures have been compiled.
Correspondence from MPs/Peers to Ministers and Agency Chief Executives1
Department or Agency
Target set for reply (working days)
Number of letter received
% of replies within target
Attorney General’s Office
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
- Companies House
- Insolvency Service
- Land Registry2
- Met Office
- Skills Funding Agency
Department for Communities and Local Government4
- Planning Inspectorate
Crown Prosecution Service
Department for Culture, Media and Sport5
- Royal Parks
Ministry of Defence
- Service Personnel and Veterans Agency6
Department for Education7
Department of Energy and Climate Change
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
- Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency
- Rural Payments Agency
Food Standards Agency
DH Ministers replies
FSA Chair/CE replies
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Department of Health
- Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency
- Criminal Records Bureau
- Identity and Passport Service
- UK Border Agency
Department for International Development
Ministry of Justice
- HM Courts Service and Tribunals Service
- National Archive
- National Offender Management Service
- Office of the Public Guardian
- Official Solicitor and Public Trustee
*Where Ministers replied
**Where CEO replied
Northern Ireland Office
Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Schools
Office of Fair Trading
Office of Gas and Electricity Markets
Office of the Leader of the House of Commons
Office of the Leader of the House of Lords
Office of Rail Regulation
OFWAT (Water Services Regulation Authority)
Serious Fraud Office
Department for Transport
- Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency
- Driving Standards Agency
- Highways Agency
- Maritime and Coastguard Agency
- Vehicle and Operator Services Agency
- H M Revenue and Customs10
- HMRC CEO*
*Cases where the HMRC’s Chief Executive has replied directly, rather than Ministers
Treasury Solicitor's Department
Department for Work and Pensions
- Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission*
- Debt Management*
- Health and Safety Executive*
- Jobcentre Plus*
- Pension, Disability and Carers Service*
* Letters sent direct to Chief Executive/Officials
1Departments and Agencies which received 10 MPs/Peers letters or fewer are not shown in this table. Holding or interim replies are not included unless otherwise indicated. The report does not include correspondence considered as Freedom of Information requests.
2Drop in performance was due to significant increase in correspondence from February - April on property fraud, alongside a change in Chief Executive. Performance for the remainder of 2011 rose to 50% with October to December at 63%
3Response target 15 working days with effect from 1 April 2011.
4Response target reduced to 10 working days with effect from May 2010. Performance against 15 working days was 85%
5DCMS also monitor Ministerial correspondence to the following Departmental targets:
2 working days - 41% of responses sent. 10 working days - 79% of responses sent
6Agency wound up with effect from 16 June 2011.
7Between January and June 2011, the Department cleared a substantial backlog of correspondence following a 20% increase in correspondence overall since May 2010. For the January-June period 34% of correspondence was sent within the 15 day target, and 47% within 20 days. The Department has now put in place a new system to improve quality and deal with sustained higher volumes of correspondence. Between July and December 47% of letters were sent within the 15 day target, and 66% of letters were sent within 20 days. The Department expects improvements in performance to continue in 2012.
8Includes the Government Equalities Office.
9This decrease in performance is due to a number of factors - including an overall increase in correspondence volumes of 24%, introduction of a new correspondence handling system, and departmental re-structuring. A number of measures have now been put in place to improve performance, including improved reporting arrangements; process efficiencies and an increased focus on clearance.
10Correspondence often about complex individual tax matters hence delays in replying. Improvements in
place to improve performance.
In the Spending Review 2010, the Government announced their intention to increase employee contributions in public service pension schemes. This followed on from Lord Hutton’s interim report on public service pensions1, which concluded that there was a clear rationale for public servants to make a greater contribution if their pensions were to remain fair to taxpayers and employees and affordable for the country.
The ministerial pension scheme was not covered by Lord Hutton’s recommendations, but I consider it appropriate that its members face similar changes.
Last year, I consulted on proposals to make increases to member contributions in 2012-13 and this consultation concluded on 13 January. Having given careful consideration to the responses, I have decided to implement these proposals effective from 1 April 2012.
This will mean that:
Secretaries of State, the Leader of the Opposition in the Commons and Speaker in the House of Lords will pay an additional 2.4 percentage points of pay;
Ministers of State, the Government Chief Whip, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lords, the Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords and the Deputy Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords will pay an additional 1.6 percentage points of pay; and
Parliamentary Under-Secretaries, the Government Whips and Opposition Whips will pay an additional one percentage point of pay.
In line with other public service schemes, a further consultation will take place on the contribution increases for members of the ministerial pension scheme in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Before these increases are implemented, I will consider any evidence of opt-outs from the scheme in line with the Government’s commitment given on 20 December by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
The increased contributions will deliver an average of 1.7% percentage points of pay for the Ministerial pension scheme’s membership. These additional contributions will mean that the increase in Exchequer contributions expected following the latest valuation of the parliamentary contributory pension fund will be lower than otherwise expected. Further, the Exchequer contribution will be reduced further to reflect increases in 2013-14 and 2014-15, following advice from the Government Actuary.
Ministers in the House of Commons make separate contributions towards their pensions as MPs. Responsibility for the setting of pension provision for MPs is the responsibility of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which has consulted on proposals to increase MPs’ contribution increases.
The details of the new scheme have been laid before the House, along with a copy of the response to the consultation from the chairman of the parliamentary contributory pension fund trustees and my reply to this response.
1Independent Public Service Pensions Commission: Interim Report 7 October 2010:
http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/hutton_pensionsinterim_071010.pdf chapter 8.
Communities and Local Government
Local Planning Regulations
Today I have laid an updated set of regulations that set out how local councils should prepare and consult on their local plans. The Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012 will come into force on 6 April. Not only do these regulations consolidate previous changes, but they also simplify the language we use in plan making, for example “local plan” has replaced the term “core strategy”.
The Government are proposing to abolish top-down regional strategies, subject to the voluntary environmental assessment under way. To promote local joint working between public authorities, the Localism Act 2011 has introduced a legal duty to co-operate between local authorities, and the powers to specify in the local planning regulations which bodies are bound by the duty. The powers ensure that bodies bound by the duty have regard to the views of local enterprise partnerships in relation to strategic planning matters.
The Government have started the process of setting up local nature partnerships, announced in last year’s natural environment White Paper. The purpose of local nature partnerships is to protect and improve the natural environment in an area, and the benefits derived from it. The Government believe that they will make a valuable contribution to strategic planning in their areas. As soon as possible after local nature partnerships have been designated in summer 2012, we will amend the local planning regulations to require bodies bound by the duty to also have regard to the views of local nature partnerships on strategic planning matters.
These regulations are a further step in our package of reforms to strengthen localism by putting councils back in control of the preparation and examination of their local plans. Taken together, these measures support a plan-led system, and encourage local councils to have up-to-date local plans in place.
Microgeneration Equipment (Non-domestic Premises)
I have laid before Parliament statutory instruments that amend the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995. These amendments and this statement fulfil requirements in the Green Energy (Definition and Promotion) Act 2009 to consider amending the 1995 Order to facilitate the installation of equipment for microgeneration on non-domestic land. The new measures will also bring the freedoms for non-domestic premises into line with those for domestic properties.
The measures will provide:
New permitted development rights for installations of solar panels, ground and water source heat pumps, and flues for biomass and combined heat and power systems on non-domestic premises; and
A clarification that structures to house biomass boilers, anaerobic digestion systems and associated waste and fuel stores, and hydro turbines may be installed as permitted development on agricultural and forestry land.
Bringing these measures forward demonstrates the Government’s commitment to the environment and to tackling climate change, by reducing the regulatory burdens that face microgeneration industries. They will also be good for the economy and for job creation.
The rights will mean that small scale microgeneration installations can be installed without a planning application, so it is vital that the potential effects on the area where they will be installed are taken into account. It would undermine our ambitions for green energy production if reforms lead to widespread complaints.
For this reason we have carefully considered consultation responses and have strengthened the requirements to which the permitted development rights will be subject. This includes additional protections for areas of the country which have a special environmental status, such as national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
Consultation was carried out on proposals to introduce permitted development rights for non-domestic installations of wind turbines and air source heat pumps. The Government have committed to review the impact of permitted development rights introduced in 2011 for domestic installations of these technologies to look again at whether the approach to issues such as noise is correct. It would not be appropriate to extend permitted development rights for wind turbines and air source heat pumps further until the outcomes of this review are known.
These measures will come into force on 6 April. We have today published a summary of the responses to the public consultation and a more detailed statement comprising the Government’s response to them. These documents are available from the Department for Communities and Local Government website at:
http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/electricvehicleresponses and http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/electricvehiclegovernment.
Energy and Climate Change
In March 2011, my predecessor commissioned Professor John Hills of the London School of Economics, to undertake a review of the fuel poverty definition and target. As part of this review, he was asked to consider fuel poverty from first principles, including possible formulations for a future definition and forms of target, and the cost effectiveness of different interventions. The aim of commissioning such a review was to consider how we could focus our limited resources in the best and fairest possible way.
Professor Hills published an interim report in October 2011. He argued that fuel poverty was a serious problem, distinct from income poverty. He suggested it was an issue of concern from the perspective of poverty, health and well-being and cutting carbon. He also argued that the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 was correct to describe fuel poverty as a problem affecting people on low incomes who cannot keep warm at reasonable cost. He explained that the current definition of fuel poverty—which calculates the ratio of required fuel expenditure to income—was flawed and did not support effective policy-making and delivery. He proposed a new measurement approach separating the extent of the issue (the number of people affected) from its depth (how badly affected people are).
Professor Hills held a short consultation on the interim report, which showed that a large proportion of stakeholders shared his analysis. The results of the consultation have informed the final report from Professor Hills which is being published at 12.00 today on his website1. We will deposit hard copies of the report in the Libraries of of Houses.
The aim of Professor Hills’ final report, which I have seen, is to provide evidence to increase understanding of the underlying problem of fuel poverty, including who the fuel poor are and how best to help them. The report explains how the impact of Government policies can be assessed against the new measurement approach. It also provides projections of fuel poverty to 2016. Taken together, these show that Government policies are having a positive impact by reducing both the extent and depth of fuel poverty.
I am grateful for the work that Professor Hills and his team have conducted which offers an unparalleled insight into this serious issue. The evidence is overwhelming that improving the way we measure fuel poverty is integral to delivering the right policy outcomes. Without the right measure it will not be possible to focus available resources in the most effective way, proving that measurement matters and is far from a distraction away from action on the ground.
It is important that this opportunity to improve the framework for tackling fuel poverty is seized. Today, I therefore commit myself and the Government to the adoption of a revised approach to measuring fuel poverty by the end of the year. In preparation for this I will be working closely with my colleagues across Government. I am also very keen to hear the views of stakeholders on the final judgment that Professor John Hills has reached. I will therefore publish in the summer a consultation on the new approach I propose to take.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The DEFRA commissioned report, “Determining the Extent of Use and Humaneness of Snares in England and Wales—WM0315”, will be published today on the DEFRA website at WM0315. While I recognise the importance of snares in wildlife management, the report raises a number of issues. I wish to allow stakeholders time to consider the report’s findings in detail and will discuss possible ways forward with them before making any decisions.
Equal Civil Marriage Consultation
The Government are today launching a consultation on how to introduce equal civil marriage.
During a listening exercise conducted in 2010 on allowing civil partnerships to take place on religious premises, we heard representations from many who sought equal access to marriage for same-sex couples. It was argued by some that having two separate provisions for same-sex and opposite-sex couples perpetuates misconceptions and discrimination.
We recognise that the personal commitment made by same-sex couples when they enter into a civil partnership is no different to the commitment made by opposite-sex couples when they enter into a marriage. We do not think that the ban on same-sex couples getting married should continue.
That is why we are, today, launching this consultation to seek the public’s views on how we can remove the ban on same-sex couples getting a civil marriage. We are clear that no changes will be made to how religious organisations define and solemnise religious marriages and we are clear that we will retain civil partnerships for same-sex couples.
Copies of the consultation document are being placed in the House Library.
Independent Review of Police Officer and Staff Renumeration and Conditions
Tom Winsor has today published the final report of his review of remuneration and conditions of service for police officers and staff in England and Wales.
The review began its work on 1 October 2010. The terms of reference asked it to make recommendations on how to:
use remuneration and conditions of service to maximise officer and staff deployment to frontline 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.
The review was asked to report in two stages. The first report, on short-term improvements, was published on 8 March 2011. I announced on 30 January that I had decided to accept the recommendations made by the police arbitration tribunal and Police Negotiating Board on its proposals. This final report is on longer-term reform.
Tom Winsor has conducted the review with the support of former chief constable Sir Edward Crew and labour market economist Professor Richard Disney. I am very grateful for all their work on both parts of the review and for this report. I will now consider it very carefully.
The final report has been laid before Parliament today and copies are available from the Vote Office. It is also available electronically to the service and the public on the review’s website at: http://review.police.uk/.
Justice and Home Affairs Council
The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held on 8 March in Brussels. I attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following items were discussed.
The Council began in mixed committee with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (non-EU Schengen states). The presidency opened a debate on illegal immigration by outlining some of the pressures facing member states. The presidency reported that it was working on a roadmap for the April Council grouping current and future measures into a single strategy. The Commission (Malmström) supported the presidency and saw the response as being threefold: member states needed to make full use of existing legislation; the EU Agencies (Frontex and the European Asylum Support Office) needed to work more closely together; and there needed to be further co-operation with countries of origin and transit, with Turkey a priority. Frontex’s update showed that despite a decrease in the flows from Libya and Tunisia, the situation overall was not improving. Ministers were supportive of the presidency roadmap and all agreed that the Greece-Turkey border was a priority. The UK supported the presidency’s work and noted concerns over visa liberalisation. In addition the EU needed to begin to take action to tackle fraud and abuse of free movement rights where third country nationals were using these rights to facilitate their travel across the EU and to circumvent immigration controls. The UK also supported work upstream with partner countries, and suggested that a more concerted EU dialogue with Turkey needed to be initiated.
There followed presentations by the Commission, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Frontex on the situation in Greece in relation to Schengen. The Commission noted there was evidence of progress but it was still uneven, particularly in the area of asylum management. EASO provided an overview of the training support currently underway. Whilst the backlog in asylum decisions was still too big, EASO welcomed the announcement that Greece’s new asylum service would be operational from this September. Frontex reported seeing real progress on border management and once again appealed to member states to increase their deployment of expertise. The presidency suggested developing returns strategies to help the Greek authorities increase their capacity to return failed asylum seekers and illegal migrants, and invited the agencies and Commission to report again in April.
The Council adopted conclusions on strengthening Schengen governance. Ministers from EU and associated states would meet twice a year in mixed committee to discuss the functioning of the Schengen area, including any serious shortcomings highlighted by reports under the Schengen evaluation mechanism. Member states welcomed the Commission’s intention to present regular reports, starting in May, which would cover planned and existing visa liberalisation and its consequences, co-operation with key countries of origin and transit, and the implementation of the Schengen acquis, including at the internal borders.
The presidency introduced its paper on co-operation with third countries in the area of border management and on strengthening internal security during major sporting events. There was little discussion. Updating Ministers on preparations for the Olympics, the Home Secretary underlined that the safety and security of the games were of paramount importance. The UK Government had been planning for years and had recently conducted live exercises, including a simulation of a terrorist attack and a test of the inter-operability of emergency services and other responders. The Home Secretary thanked Schengen states and the Commission for their assurances that requests from games’ family members for transit visas would be expedited and said the UK would disseminate information to participants informing them that they needed to meet any visa requirements of transit countries. Lastly, the Government were working with a number of member states to tackle the few instances of illegal ticket touting.
The presidency reported on the recent conference on innovation border management. Participants had acknowledged the benefits of a biometric EU entry-exit system and registered traveller programme, and agreed on the need to balance data protection considerations with the benefits of access to data for law enforcement agencies.
The presidency emphasised the importance of the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) in enabling the Schengen area to remain secure without internal borders. Commissioner Malmström noted they had completed all activities on schedule to date, but issues with the national testing tool could cause the timetable to slip.
Moving into the main Council meeting, the adoption of the A points (the list of items agreed without discussion) confirmed Rob Wainwright’s directorship of Europol for another four years.
Before inviting Ministers to approve the Council conclusions on solidarity, the presidency underlined the importance of having a ‘toolbox’ at member states’ disposal to counter the challenges presented in the field of asylum and managing mixed migration flows. The conclusions provided the framework for increasing mutual trust. The Commission stood ready to undertake their commitments and thought the conclusions should maintain the momentum required to complete the Common European Asylum System negotiations by the end of 2012. EASO presented its own view of the early warning mechanism to be agreed within the Dublin regulation, with EASO analysing member state data to identify trends and push and pull factors; a Commission lead on preparedness with EASO support; and emergency support which was already being provided to Greece. The UK was pleased with the balance of solidarity measures and member state responsibilities and the fact that the conclusions recognised the value of practical co-operation. However, the UK called for caution in striking the right balance between the roles of the institutions in the early warning mechanism. For the UK, EASO should have the leading role, but in close partnership with member states. The UK also supported the view that internal relocation would simply move the problem around Europe, creating pull factors, but noted that the reference in the conclusions was on a voluntary basis.
In the last session of the Council, the presidency gave a brief overview of progress on the asylum package and signalled its intention to move with commitment and energy to complete as much as possible, in view of the 2012 deadline. The Commission was pleased with the progress made, and urged the presidency to maintain momentum.
Opt-in Decision (Parliamentary Scrutiny)
In his written ministerial statement on 20 January 2011, Official Report, column 51WS, the Minister for Europe outlined the coalition Government’s commitment to further strengthen parliamentary scrutiny of JHA opt-in decisions. This included a commitment, where there is strong parliamentary interest, to set aside Government time for a debate in both Houses on its proposed approach.
The Government have decided to offer debates in Government time on the following proposals, which it is anticipated will be published in 2012:
Home Office dossiers
A draft directive establishing minimum provisions on the constituent elements of criminal acts and penalties in the field of illicit drug trafficking (with a proposal on information exchange, risk-assessment and control of new psychoactive substances, if published as a part of the package);
A draft regulation to reform Eurojust’s structure; and
Draft directives creating minimum rules for the confiscation of criminal assets and arrangements for the mutual recognition of confiscation orders.
Ministry of Justice dossiers
A draft directive on data protection in policing and criminal justice;
Measure E on the road map on criminal procedural rights—a draft directive on special safeguards in criminal procedures for suspected or accused persons; and
A draft directive proposal on the compensation of crime victims.
Measures may be added to or removed from this list depending on the level of parliamentary interest which is generated by the published proposal. It is also not always possible to predict, ahead of analysis of the final proposal, whether the opt-in will apply. The Commission’s timetable may also change. Parliament will be kept informed of any changes, which will be discussed with the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee and the House of Lords European Union Committee.
It should be noted that this is a list of proposals that are offered for debate in Government time. It does not rule out the possibility that the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee or the House of Lords European Union Committee may call for debates on other proposals.
My right hon Friend the Home Secretary is today laying before the House a statement of changes in the immigration rules, which implement the next phase of our reforms to the immigration system.
The student reforms, originally proposed in our student visas consultation which ran from December 2010 to January 2011, were set out in more detail in a statement of intent published by the Home Office on 13 February.
These changes include closing the post-study work route which gave migrant graduates free access to the UK labour market. The Government believe this route is inappropriate when UK national graduates are struggling to find work. However, in keeping with our focus on the brightest and best, I am introducing a new tier 1 route for graduate entrepreneurs and new provisions for graduates who have an offer of a skilled job to switch into tier 2. I am renewing the annual limit for tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) at the same level it was set for the last year, 1,000 places. In order to give more certainty to potential applicants, I propose that this level will remain the same for each of the next two years, and will be reviewed again for April 2014.
I am making changes to the rules for entry clearance and leave to remain under tier 2 which will apply to applications made after April 2012. Temporary leave as a skilled worker will be limited to a maximum stay of six years and will be granted in two blocks of three, rather than the current 3+2. In addition, the changes will mean that tier 2 migrants who leave the UK will need to wait 12 months after the expiry of their leave before they may reapply to return under that tier.
The changes I am proposing to make to the immigration rules for tier 2 settlement, tier 5 of the points-based system, the visitor rules and the overseas domestic worker routes, give effect to the next phase of our programme of immigration reform, following the public consultation on employment-related settlement, tier 5 and overseas domestic workers which ran from 9 June to 9 September last year. The Home Secretary set out the detail of the changes in her written ministerial statement to the House on 29 February 2012, Official Report, column 33WS. I am today publishing impact assessments of these policy changes and will place these documents in the Library of the House. The rule changes will introduce a new minimum pay threshold for tier 2 migrants eligible for settlement from April 2016, and limit the total amount of time a person may remain in the UK as a tier 2 migrant to six years. They will also implement reforms to the overseas domestic worker routes to return them to their original purpose, to enable visitors and diplomats to bring their overseas household staff with them to the UK for temporary stay. Taken together, these measures will break the link between coming to the UK to work and settling permanently.
Some targeted changes to tier 5 will enhance the focus and flexibility of this tier. Those coming to participate in internships and work experience schemes under the Government Authorised Exchange sub-category will be restricted to one-off stays of a maximum of 12 months, which is sufficient for these purposes. However, the rules for sports persons entering under the creative and sporting sub-category will be amended so that individuals may undertake some guest sports broadcasting work, where this is not filling a permanent position. To introduce further flexibility for those coming to undertake short-term engagements, I will create a new visitor route (“Permitted Paid Engagements”) outside the points-based system for specific fee-paid engagements, which will enable certain professionals, as well as artists, entertainers and sports persons to come for up to one month without the need for formal sponsorship by a UK-based employer.
I am also introducing a premium customer service for those A-rated sponsors who wish to apply and pay for a range of benefits. These will include direct contact into the UK Border Agency, guaranteed access to public enquiry office appointments and swift return of documents for their sponsored workers. This is being introduced in response to requests from business for a higher level of customer service for themselves and their international workers.
Finally, I am making changes to Rule 323A to make curtailment of leave to enter or remain mandatory, rather than discretionary, where a migrant under tiers 2, 4, or 5 of the points-based system is not working or studying with their sponsor. Rule 323A also sets out limited exceptions to mandatory curtailment.
EU Transport Council
I will attend the first Transport Council of the Danish presidency (the presidency) which will take place in Brussels on Thursday 22 March.
The presidency hopes to achieve general approach on the following:
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 (TEN-T). Progress to date has been encouraging. The revised text issued by the presidency has gone some way to addressing our concerns, particularly in relation to binding standards and deadlines. And also by recognising the need to take account of member states’ finances and to consider the economic viability of projects. Additionally, I will continue to push for changes on the core network and TEN-T corridors to minimise risks to the UK. I will consider whether the improvements achieved are satisfactory to justify UK support for a general approach.
A proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Regulation (EEC) No. 3821/85 on recording equipment in road transport and amending Regulation (EC) No. 561/2006 of the European Parliament and the Council. This proposal would amend the specification for tachographs, which measure hours spent at the wheel by commercial lorry and bus drivers. The proposed general approach addresses many of the concerns raised through negotiations, including:
Removing the proposed ban of operators with tachograph workshops from installing or calibrating tachographs in their own vehicles. Member states are left to take appropriate measures to prevent conflicts of interests between workshops and operators.
Removing the proposal to merge the driving licence with the tachograph card.
These represent significant gains for the UK with regard to minimising costs and burdens on industry and the Government.
A proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on ground-handling services at EU airports and repealing Council Directive 96/67/EC (part of the airport package). The proposed regulation has been subject to intense official-level scrutiny by Council working groups and these discussions are ongoing. Progress to date has been encouraging from a UK perspective, and we believe that the resulting regulation could potentially help further open up market access while minimising administrative and financial burdens for industry. However, at this stage, it remains unclear whether or not it will be possible to seek a general approach at the March Council. If it is not possible, there will be an orientation debate instead.
Under any other business, the Commission will provide information on the Costa Concordia accident, the aviation emissions trading system and the Galileo and EGNOS programmes.