Written Ministerial Statements
Monday 19 March 2012
Business, Innovation and Skills
Public Data Corporation
I would like to inform the House that the Government are today publishing their response to the Consultation on Data Policy for a Public Data Corporation. Alongside the response the Government are publishing detailed terms of reference for the Data Strategy Board and the Public Data Group, which the autumn statement announced Government would be establishing. Copies of these documents will be placed in the Libraries of the House.
The Data Strategy Board will seek to maximise the value of data from the Public Data Group of Trading Funds for long-term economic and social benefit, including through the release of data free of charge. The Public Data Group will comprise Companies House, HM Land Registry, Met Office and Ordnance Survey.
The Government are also announcing as part of this package the creation of an Open Data User Group which will advise the Data Strategy Board on public sector data that should be prioritised for release as open data, and will provide a forum for engaging a broad range of users and re-users of open data.
The Public Data Group will seek to support growth in the UK economy by delivering efficiencies and improvements in public services through its members.
National Minimum Wage
The Low Pay Commission’s 2012 report and recommendations to the Government are being published today, alongside the Government’s response.
The Low Pay Commission’s 2012 report
The main recommendations put forward by the Low Pay Commission concern the rates of the national minimum wage. The Commission has recommended that the adult hourly rate of the national minimum wage should increase from £6.08 to £6.19. The Commission has recommended freezing both the development rate which covers workers aged 18 to 20 at £4.98 and the rate for 16 and 17-year-olds at £3.68. It recommends that the apprentice rate increases from £2.60 to £2.65. It is recommended that these changes take place in October 2012.
The Commission has also recommended that the accommodation offset increases from the current £4.73 to £4.82 in October 2012.
Government’s response to individual recommendations in the Low Pay Commission’s 2012 report
National Minimum Wage Rates
We recommend that the adult rate of the national minimum wage be increased by 11 pence to £6.19 an hour from 1 October 2012.
We recommend a youth development rate of £4.98 an hour and a 16 and 17-year-old rate of £3.68 an hour from 1 October 2012.
We recommend that the apprentice rate be increased by 5 pence to £2.65 an hour from 1 October 2012.
We recommend that the accommodation offset should be increased by 9 pence to £4.82 per day from 1 October 2012.
We recommend that in order to make operating the national minimum wage as simple as possible for all users, the Government put in place, and maintain, effective, clear and accessible guidance on all aspects of the minimum wage particularly where there is significant evidence of ignorance or infringing practice. As a first step, the Government should undertake a review of all existing guidance.
We recommend that the Government should not only have a process for naming infringers but should also make frequent use of it. The Government should also actively seek other publicity opportunities which will help to signal that those who infringe the national minimum wage get caught and punished.
We recommend that the Government should more actively communicate both the rates themselves and rights and obligations under the national minimum wage. Communication activities about the minimum wage should not be subject to the Government’s marketing freeze.
The Government recognise the importance of effectively publicising national minimum wage compliance activities and communicating rates, rights and obligations and we will carefully consider how best to achieve this. We will continue to look for cost-effective ways of communicating within the controls on Government spending announced last year.
Copies of the Low Pay Commission’s 2012 report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Communities and Local Government
NewBuy Guarantee Scheme
I notified the House in November 2011 that the Department for Communities and Local Government would be incurring a contingent liability in relation to the NewBuy Guarantee scheme. Today, I am notifying the House that a financial minute is being laid outlining the details of this contingent liability. This was also set out in both the November 2011 housing strategy and the 2011 autumn statement to Parliament.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Agriculture and Fisheries Council
The next Agriculture and Fisheries Council is on 19 and 20 March in Brussels. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) responsible for natural environment and fisheries will represent the UK on 19 March covering fisheries business. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will represent the UK on 20 March covering the agriculture items. Richard Lochead MSP and Alun Davies AM will also attend.
On 19 March the Council will be discussing four fisheries items; the common fisheries policy (questions on discards policy), the organisation of markets in fishery and aquaculture products, the Maritime and Fisheries Fund and the external dimension of the common fisheries policy.
On 20 March the main item will a debate on the simplification of the CAP plus a number of any other business points.
On 20 March the presidency has invited Agriculture Ministers to an informal working lunch on CAP reform to discuss the criteria for the distribution of pillar 1 and pillar 2 funds.
Red Tape Challenge Environment Theme
Environmental regulations will remain as strong as ever but be made simpler and more effective following a review of red tape which also will boost British business by more than £1 billion over five years. Simpler and smarter environment regulations will protect the environment by being cheaper and easier for companies to follow, while enforcement will be targeted to where it is most needed.
I undertook at the start of the challenge to maintain the vitally important protection our environment needs. This exercise was about getting better rules, not weaker ones and in so doing to support, not undermine, the environmental outcomes that the Government are striving to achieve. The results of the red tape challenge will be good for the environment and good for business because, as well as assuring protection of our environment, we will, by removing unnecessary bureaucracy, allow businesses to free up resources to invest in growth. We are therefore making it easier for people to do the right thing, by making rules clearer and by getting rid of old, unworkable regulations. This is a prime example of how we can help grow a green economy while looking after our natural resources.
The proposals being made today have been developed in consultation with green groups and businesses, including 3,500 website responses and written submissions. They will see 132 regulations improved, mainly through simplification or mergers; 70 kept as they are necessary to uphold important environmental protections; and the repeal of 53 others that are obsolete.
The proposals will both ensure protection of the environment and benefit a wide range of businesses, particularly small and medium sized firms. Businesses told us they were particularly frustrated by the amount of red tape and paperwork needed to deal with their waste and the amount of staff hours responsible companies are spending dealing with bureaucracy and inspections. The proposals are intended to address this and once implemented, are anticipated to provide savings to businesses of more than £1 billion over five years.
The Government’s environmental objectives remain unchanged and we will maintain the strong protections already established as we continue to look for further opportunities to reduce burdens for business. Many comments in the red tape challenge suggested that the environmental framework—covering 257 regulatory instruments, over 10,000 pages of guidance and 397 data sets—is overly complex and inconsistent and gets in the way of businesses complying effectively with their environmental obligations. Work will start immediately with business and environment organisations to identify the scope for significant rationalisation of guidance leading to a report to Ministers by September with the aim of an announcement in the autumn. We will similarly examine the scope for significant rationalisation of data sets and report by the autumn. Changes that can be easily introduced will be taken forward as soon as possible.
Details of the package are available online at:
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
EU Foreign Ministers (Informal Meeting)
I attended an informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers (Gymnich), which was held on 9-10 March in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The informal format of the Gymnich allows EU Ministers to engage in a free and in-depth discussion. Discussions are held in private, and Ministers do not agree any formal written conclusions, in contrast to arrangements in the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC). The next FAC will be held on 23 March.
The Gymnich was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland. Her remarks following the meeting can be found at:
The meeting was structured around three themes: EU foreign policy in the current economic context; human rights; and the nature of EU influence, sanctions and engagement.
EU foreign policy in the current economic context
Many Ministers agreed that the neighbourhood, broadly defined, was a top EU priority. This includes the western Balkans, Turkey and the eastern and southern partners. Ministers noted a number of External Action Service (EAS) successes over the last year—progress on Serbia/Kosovo; the reform of the neighbourhood policy; the EU’s response to the multiple challenges of the Arab spring; and E3+3 diplomacy with Iran.
There was strong support for the broad principle that the EU needed to strengthen its economic diplomacy to reflect the current economic context. Many Ministers argued that we needed better to connect the EU’s political and economic priorities, including with the emerging powers. I argued that this included a need to build on the March European Council commitment to open up trade, for example through new free trade agreements.
Many Ministers noted that for greatest impact, the EU needed to apply a comprehensive approach—development, diplomacy, common security and defence policy (CSDP)—to conflict and stabilisation in regions like the horn of Africa and the Sahel. Many Ministers further encouraged better co-ordination between the EAS and member states in third countries.
There was broad agreement that human rights and fundamental freedoms were universal—the Arab spring had illustrated that these were not uniquely European or western values. Ministers also argued that human rights should be mainstreamed across all EU external work, rather than confined to human rights departments or bilateral human rights dialogues. There was also broad support for appointing an EU Special Representative for Human Rights, with an outward facing mandate. Ministers should consider such ideas at a future FAC.
I highlighted the link between human rights and economic priorities, suggesting that the EU should encourage businesses to sign up to human rights standards. Ministers further discussed the importance of defending freedom of religion and belief.
The nature of EU influence, sanctions and engagement
Ministers debated the utility of sanctions as a lever of foreign policy. I and other Ministers argued that well-targeted sanctions could influence regime capability and behaviour. Recent examples include the effect of sanctions on the regime in Burma and formerly in Libya. Ministers took the view that EU sanctions should target regime behaviour, not innocent civilians; should be targeted and reversible; and should not be used in isolation from other measures. Ministers further noted that they were more effective when co-ordinated with the UN and other key actors; and when their purpose was better communicated.
Ministers agreed that sanctions were just one element of the EU toolkit. Positive incentives—market access; enlargement; development spend—could also influence third countries. A sophisticated approach combining positive and negative levers was needed, depending on circumstance.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Europe and I will continue to update Parliament on Foreign and General Affairs Councils as and when future meetings are held.
NHS Quality Standards
Today we are referring new NHS quality standard topics, that supplement previous referrals, to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)
NICE quality standards are a set of specific, concise statements and associated measures. They set out aspirational, but achievable, markers of high-quality, cost-effective patient care, covering the treatment and prevention of different diseases and conditions.
Quality standards will underpin the commissioning process. Under the provisions set out in the Health and Social Care Bill, the Secretary of State and the NHS Commissiong Board will come under new duties to have regard to any quality standards produced by NICE.
This list of topics being referred today follows advice received by the National Quality Board (NQB). The NQB developed a proposed list of topics in partnership with the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges which was then the subject of an engagement exercise conducted between 15 August and 14 October 2011.
Responses to the engagement exercise were supportive of the overall quality standards programme and the diversity of topics put forward. Detailed comments were also received on what particular aspects of care should be addressed by specific quality standards and we have asked NICE to take these detailed comments into account when developing quality standards.
In addition to this referral of NHS topics, we are today referring three pilot topics for development into NHS facing quality standards on cross-cutting public health topics. These quality standards will focus on the action the NHS can take in these areas, and comes in response to the recent recommendations from the NHS Future Forum that NICE should develop quality standards setting out the evidence-based action that the NHS can take in relation to the main lifestyle risk factors.
The NQB will continue to keep the sequencing of quality standard topics under regular review as well as the case for referring additional topics, taking into account operational requirements, NICE’S capacity to produce quality standards and clinical guidelines, and the evidence that is available at the time.
A copy of today’s referral letter to NICE (including a list of topics) 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. Further information on quality standards can be found on NICE’s website: www.nice.org.uk.