Written Ministerial Statements
Thursday 6 December 2012
Business, Innovation and Skills
Further Education Reforms
The Government are today publishing the skills funding statement 2012-15 and the FE college capital investment strategy. I will e-mail all hon. Members and a copy of each will be placed in the Library of the House.
Since May 2010, the Government have made available over £330 million of new FE capital investment enabling college projects totalling over £1 billion. We have now allocated a total of £550 million for additional capital investment in the FE college estate in 2013-14 and 2014-15. £270 million of this represents new money announced in the autumn statement, over and above the spending review settlement for FE.
The FE college capital investment strategy sets out the Government’s priorities for capital funding over the remainder of this Parliament and sets the direction of travel for future years. The strategy also includes an outline delivery plan and new capital programmes which the Skills Funding Agency will develop with input from sector representatives and launch on its website before Christmas.
This year’s skills funding statement reaffirms our commitment to creating an FE system which secures the skills we need for everyone in Britain to succeed. We have delivered significantly increased flexibilities for colleges and FE providers; removed planning controls, enabling providers to be more responsive to their communities, achieved better value for money and delivered more with less. With tight budgets across the FE sector, these freedoms and flexibilities are now more important than ever.
This funding statement sets out how we will enable the sector to build upon these achievements in the years ahead:
Overall funding for adult FE and skills will be £4.1 billion in the 2013-14 financial year with £3.6 billion of this being routed through the Skills Funding Agency to support capacity for over three million learners.
We are prioritising Government funding on English and maths which are essential to enable people to function in society, progress into vocational learning and employment and to contribute more effectively at work. Funding will also be focused on young adults and the unemployed where skills training will help them to enter sustainable employment.
We welcome the Richard review and its emphasis on quality, high standards and rigour in apprenticeships in order to raise their status, value and impact. A consultation on the review will take place in the spring but any initial views or comments on the review are welcomed.
We are giving local enterprise partnerships a new strategic role over skills policy in line with the recommendations of the Heseltine review, to work closely with colleges and providers.
Employers play a crucial role in identifying and supporting the skills that we need for growth. Across the country, colleges are innovating and collaborating to build skills for growth. We want to encourage employer-led bodies to take the lead in designing the qualifications employers need, and ensuring that vocational qualifications are rigorous and valuable.
The skills funding statement and FE capital investment strategy set out in more detail how these priorities will be delivered.
EU Foreign Affairs Council
My noble Friend, the Minister of State for Trade and Investment (joint with Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Lord Green, has today made the following statement:
The EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) took place in Brussels on 29 November 2012.
I represented the UK on all the issues discussed at the meeting. A summary of those discussions follows.
Two legislative items were discussed: the Commission’s two trade omnibus proposals which bring common commercial (trade) policy regulation into line with post-Lisbon decision-making arrangements, and the proposal relating to financial responsibility for investor-state disputes arising from EU investment protection treaties with third countries
Member states noted that omnibus I has an agreed Council position and will now go to trilogue negotiations, while omnibus II is still being discussed in working group. The Commission urged member states to seek agreement on both by the end of the Irish presidency.
Member states broadly agreed with the general principle of the Commission’s proposal on investor-state disputes. I intervened to say that the Commission should only assume a role in any legal defence where strictly necessary. I also called for greater transparency in deciding who should bear any financial responsibility. The issue will continue to be discussed in working group.
There followed four substantive “non-legislative” items each relating to bilateral trade negotiations:
The launch of formal negotiations between the EU and Japan on an economic partnership agreement (a free trade agreement in all but name).
Negotiation of the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement (another FTA).
State of play on the EU/Singapore FTA.
Potential EU-southern Mediterranean trade negotiations.
The EU-Japan negotiating mandate was agreed after some discussion and negotiations should begin in the new year.
On the EU-Canada free trade agreement, there was a discussion on the state of play in the negotiations. Outstanding issues include agriculture, investment and intellectual property. Negotiations are continuing and the Commission noted that there is commitment on both sides to conclude an agreement as soon as possible.
There was also a discussion on the state of play in the negotiations on the EU-Singapore free trade agreement. Progress has been made on outstanding issues and there was broad support from member states for an agreement to be concluded rapidly.
Member states welcomed progress towards opening negotiations with southern Mediterranean countries and, in particular, the decision of the Trade Policy Committee to launch negotiations with Morocco. The Commission noted that scoping discussions were underway with Tunisia, with the aim of launching negotiations in 2013.
Under AOB, the Commission was asked by some member states to reconsider the decision not to extend prior surveillance for steel imports when the current system expires at the end of 2012. The Commission was reluctant, arguing that the evidence did not support an extension. I intervened to support the Commission.
The EU’s trade relationships with Russia and China were discussed over lunch.
Communities and Local Government
Today, to assist parliamentary scrutiny, my Department has published details on European Union proposals which will affect the planning system across the United Kingdom.
I have deposited in Parliament an explanatory memorandum on European Union legislation on proposals to amend directive 2011/92/EU on environmental impact assessments. A copy of the memorandum has been placed in the Library of the House.
Environmental impact assessments are a European Union requirement which impose significant costs on the planning system, over and above long-standing, domestic environmental safeguards in planning law.
It has become apparent that some local planning authorities require detailed assessment of all environmental issues irrespective of whether EU directives actually require it; similarly, some developers do more than is actually necessary to avoid the possibility of more costly legal challenges which add delays and cost to the application process. Consequently, my Department will be consulting in 2013 on the application of thresholds for development going through the planning system in England, below which the environmental impact assessment regime does not apply. This will aim to remove unnecessary provisions from our regulations, and to help provide greater clarity and certainty on what EU law does and does not require.
There are an increasing number of directives which have implications for land use planning. In addition to the environmental impact assessment directive other EU legislation which impacts (or may shortly impact) on the planning system includes the strategic environmental assessment directive, flooding directive, habitats directive, wild birds directive, waste framework directive, revised waste framework directive, Seveso II directive, public participation directive, renewable energy directive, energy performance of buildings directive, environmental noise directive, draft airport noise regulation, energy efficiency directive, draft regulation on trans-European energy infrastructure, water framework directive, air quality directive and the draft soil framework directive.
The European Union does not have competence on land use planning, although it does have competence in relation to the environment but as is evident from that list, increasingly, its regulatory creep is imposing additional and expensive requirements on the planning system. Indeed, as outlined in the written ministerial statement of 25 July 2012, Official Report, House of Lords, column WS66-68, rulings from the European Court of Justice on the strategic environmental assessment directive have added significant delay and complexity for the UK Parliament to move ahead with the proposed abolition of the last Government’s regional spatial strategies.
The European Commission has announced that it is seeking to amend the environmental impact assessment directive. The explanatory memorandum outlines that the proposals could result in a significant increase in regulation, add additional cost and delay to the planning system, and undermine existing permitted development rights. In addition, the proposal appears inconsistent with the conclusion of the October European Council that it is particularly important to reduce the overall regulatory burden at EU and national levels, with a specific focus on small and medium firms and micro-enterprises. This view was unanimous among all EU Heads of Government, who also agreed with the Commission’s commitment to exempt micro-enterprises from EU legislation.
Draft European Union legislation often receives little parliamentary or public scrutiny. I would encourage hon. Members to examine carefully this latest proposed increase in EU regulation.
Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report
The armed forces covenant is the expression of the moral obligation the Government and the nation owe to the armed forces community—those who serve, whether regular or reserve, their families; and veterans and their families. The Armed Forces Act 2011 enshrines the principles of the covenant in law, and places an obligation on the Defence Secretary to report to Parliament each year on the effects of membership of the armed forces on serving personnel, veterans and their families.
The Government are today publishing the first annual report to be produced under this legislation. The report addresses seven specific groups within the armed forces community, recording what we have done since the last report in 2011 and what we plan to do. It covers the full scope of the covenant, including the fields of health care, education, housing and the operation of inquests.
In the report, I have considered the two key principles: that those who serve in the armed forces, whether regular or reserve, those who have served in the past, and their families, should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services as a consequence of that service; and that special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given the most, such as the injured and bereaved. Since the coalition Government came to office in 2010, we have:
Doubled the operational allowance for service personnel who deploy on operations overseas, such as in Afghanistan.
Launched the community covenant, supported by a £30 million community covenant grant scheme.
Implemented a range of improvements in mental health care, including an additional 50 mental health professionals conducting outreach work with veterans in England, a 24-hour helpline and a support and advice website.
Specifically over the last 12 months, we have:
Doubled council tax relief again, for those serving on operations overseas, to around £600 for an average six-month tour.
Altered the schools admissions code to allow all schools in England to allocate a place in advance of a service family arriving in the area, and to enable infant schools in England to admit service children over the class size of 30.
Opened the £17 million Jubilee rehabilitation complex at the Headley Court defence rehabilitation centre and announced the investment of a further £5 million to refurbish wards and accommodation.
Launched a new defence discount service, which for the first time offers a privilege card entitling members of the armed forces community to a range of discounts on goods and services.
Transferred £35 million from fines levied on the banks for attempting to manipulate the LIBOR interest rate to the Ministry of Defence for use in supporting the armed forces community, mainly through service charities.
Looking forward to the year ahead, this Government will among other things:
Increase the service pupil premium to £300 from April 2013, and extend its scope to children of service personnel who have died in service;
Fully disregard war pension or other guaranteed income payments through the armed forces compensation scheme in calculating entitlement to universal credit, when it is launched in 2013; and
Invest a further £131 million to purchase new service family accommodation to become available for use in 2013.
The report has been compiled in consultation with the covenant reference group, which brings together representatives from Government Departments; the devolved Governments in Scotland and Wales; and from external members, including the three families federations, the Confederation of Service Charities, the Royal British Legion, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families’ Association, the War Widows’ Association and Professor Hew Strachan.
Observations on the annual report by the external members of the covenant reference group are published as part of the report itself. Their observations are broadly supportive, but highlight a number of areas where work remains to be done. The Government will take careful note of these and will work to address them during the period leading to the next annual report. We are very grateful to the external members for their continued involvement and assistance.
MOD Annual Report and Accounts
I am today publishing the Ministry of Defence’s annual report and accounts 2011-12. It provides a comprehensive overview of the Department’s financial performance for the year, together with data on some specific areas of non-financial performance, including factual information on the Department’s progress against structural reform and business plan priorities. This year we have laid the annual report and accounts later than planned and we expect to lay next year’s annual report and accounts before the summer recess. Copies will be available online from the MOD’s website at:
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Ash Tree Dieback
Further to my statement on 9 November 2012, Official Report, column 48WS, I am today setting out plans for the next few months to control Chalara and also publishing the interim report by the independent taskforce on tree health and plant biosecurity. The taskforce’s initial recommendations lay the groundwork for a radical reappraisal of what we can do to protect the UK from threats to plant and tree health.
The discovery of ash dieback caused by Chalara fraxinea in the UK earlier this year highlighted the importance of plant and tree health to our economy and environment. As well as providing direct employment in the forestry, horticulture and nursery sectors, our woods and forests provide valuable raw materials for many other uses, from wood fuel to construction and furniture-making. The value of woods and forests however goes beyond the economic. They provide habitats for a range of valuable habitats for our wildlife and places that are loved by communities for their beauty and the recreational opportunities. Individual trees on streets and in gardens enhance the local environment and people’s quality of life. Ash is the majority tree species in about 129,000 hectares of woodland out of Britain’s 3 million hectares of woodland. It represents just over 13% of all broadleaf cover in the UK.
Interim Control Plan for Chalara
This summarises the progress we have made in delivering the initial actions we set out on 9 November and outlines what further action we will take over the next few months. The scientific advice is that we will not be able to eradicate Chalara. Our objectives and actions for controlling the disease are therefore:
Objective 1—reducing the rate of spread
Maintain the ban on import and movement of ash trees;
Explore options for a targeted approach to management of infected trees by the end of March 2013;
Initiate research on spore production at infected sites;
Work with partners to publish targeted advice on movement of leaf litter.
Objective 2—developing resistance
Work across Europe to share data and experience on resistance to Chalara;
Work with research councils and other bodies in the UK to identify and prioritise research needs on resistance and ensure those needs are met.
Objective 3—encouraging public, landowner and industry engagement
Fund a feasibility study to accelerate the development of the ObservaTREE, a tree health early warning system using volunteer groups;
Develop a plant health network of trained people to support official surveillance and detection;
Continue to work with the OPAL consortium to develop the OPAL survey on tree health for launch in May 2013;
Support a biosecurity themed show garden at next year’s Chelsea flower show.
Objective 4—building resilience in the UK woodland and associated industries
Publish silvicultural guidance on adapting to Chalara;
Publish maps showing the distribution of important ash trees across Great Britain;
Work with the horticulture and nursery sectors on long-term resilience to the impact of Chalara and other plant health threats.
These actions are interim measures based on our current state of knowledge and will be updated as that knowledge develops over the coming months. Until the science becomes more certain, we will continue to apply a single, national response to the disease and the current ban on movements of ash trees in Great Britain will remain in place.
Landowners, voluntary organisations and the general public all have a crucial role to play in helping us implement this plan by identifying and managing the spread of the disease and adapting to its impact. The control plan sets out a number of actions to enable them to do this and new advice to landowners and woodland managers will be published today by the Forestry Commission alongside the control plan.
While our best hope of securing the future of the British ash tree lies with understanding the genetic variability in ash and identifying resistance to Chalara, the greatest area of uncertainty remains how we should deal with infected trees. To date we have been pursuing a policy of tracing and destroying young infected trees across Great Britain to slow the rate of spread. However, that is unlikely to be sustainable in the longer-term and there may be benefits from a more targeted approach. We will therefore work with stakeholders and experts over the coming months to explore the costs and benefits of a range of alternative approaches to slow the spread of Chalara.
I believe this approach will put us in the best possible position to respond with pace to the disease over the winter months while the disease is not spreading.
Task Force on Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity
In parallel to the work in response to Chalara in October, I asked my chief scientific advisor to convene an independent expert taskforce on tree health and plant biosecurity to assess the current disease threats to the UK and to make recommendations about how those threats could be addressed. The taskforce has produced an interim report which is also published today. Its recommendations are:
Develop a prioritised UK risk register for tree health and plant biosecurity;
Strengthen biosecurity to reduce risks at the border and within the UK;
Appoint a chief plant health officer to own the UK risk register and provide strategic and tactical leadership for managing those risks;
Review, simplify and strengthen governance and legislation;
Maximise the use of epidemiological intelligence from EU/other regions and work to improve the EU regulations concerned with tree and plant biosecurity;
Develop and implement procedures for preparedness and contingency planning to control the spread of disease;
Develop a modern, user-friendly, expert system to provide quick and intelligent access to data about tree health and plant biosecurity;
Identify and address key skills shortages.
I welcome these initial recommendations and look forward to receiving the taskforce’s final report in the spring.
I have arranged for copies of the interim control plan for Chalara and the interim report of the taskforce on tree health and plant biosecurity to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
However, Government alone cannot address this issue. Industry, landowners, environmental groups and the wider public all have an important part to play. Over the coming months, we will continue to work with all those who can play a role in developing innovative approaches to protecting our economy and the environment from the increasing threat posed by plant pests and diseases. I will return when I have considered the final recommendations from the taskforce, setting out my plans for radical action to reform our approach to plant and tree health in the light of the taskforce’s recommendations.
Single Payment Scheme
I am pleased to be able to make a statement about the opening of the window for payments to farmers in England under the EU common agricultural policy single payment scheme (SPS) for 2012.
On 3 December 2012 the Rural Payments Agency paid more than £1.38 billion to more than 95,000 farmers, meeting its target for the end of December 2012 on the first banking day of the payment window. This equates to 84.6% of the estimated fund value and 91.4% of customers, and represents the best ever performance on the part of the agency. This is excellent news for English farmers and for the wider rural economy.
As last year, the agency shortly will be contacting farmers who are unlikely to be paid during December to explain what additional work must be done to validate their claims and to clarify the arrangements for payment.
The agency is working to a ministerial commitment, set out in its business plan for 2012-13, to pay 84% of payments by value and 91% of customers by number by 31 December 2012, and 97% of payments and 97% of customers by end March 2013.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Foreign Affairs Council/General Affairs Council
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and I will attend the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 10 December, and I will attend the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 11 December in Brussels. The Foreign Affairs Council will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, and the General Affairs Council will be chaired by the Cypriot Presidency.
Foreign Affairs Council (FAC)
Ministers will discuss the EU-Russia summit which will be held in Brussels on 21 December. While I do not expect conclusions to be issued, we will aim to ensure that this meeting, the 30th such summit, delivers concrete results for the EU in its relationship with Russia. The discussion provides an opportunity for the UK to steer the EU’s objectives for the summit and to ensure discussion focuses on concrete achievable outcomes, such as: resolution of the Siberian overflight charges; movement on market reform; positive developments in the energy relationship; underlining member states’ concerns on human rights and democratic standards; and a more effective partnership for modernisation.
Ministers will review the situation in the countries of the western Balkans, in advance of the discussion of EU enlargement at the GAC the following day. This will be an opportunity to consider the latest developments in the EU-facilitated dialogue between the Prime Ministers of Serbia and Kosovo: the UK welcomes the leadership of Baroness Ashton on this and is keen to see further improvement in the relations between the two sides. There may also be some discussion of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the pace of reform has recently slowed and renewed progress is badly needed, as well as consideration of the situations in Macedonia and Albania. I do not expect conclusions.
There will be a discussion on Syria. Further to a UK drive to increase EU support to Syrian civil society, I anticipate that the European External Action Service (EEAS) will present its vision on how the EU can support civil society in coping with the consequences of the ongoing conflict and better prepare it for political transition. We also expect discussion on the relationship between EU member states and the newly formed Syrian National Coalition. Having successfully amended the EU arms embargo (and sanctions package) by setting a three-month renewal period, we will make fresh arguments in support of amending the arms embargo ahead of the March 2013 deadline in a way that offers sufficient flexibility to increase practical support to the Syrian opposition.
Ministers may also take stock of recent events in Libya, including how to support the priorities of the new Prime Minister, Ali Zidan, and his Government which have now taken office. There will be an opportunity to discuss the provision and co-ordination of international assistance to the new Libyan authorities.
The Council may discuss events in Egypt following President Mursi’s 22 November constitutional declaration. The situation on the ground is changing rapidly, but we will argue for the EU to respond appropriately to the latest developments and clearly underline support for continued progress towards democracy.
Middle East Peace Process
The discussions on the middle east peace process will focus on follow-up to the 29 November UN General Assembly resolution, including the EU’s response to the Israeli decisions to build 3,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and the west bank, to unfreeze planning in the area known as E1 and to withhold tax revenue from the Palestinian authority. EU Ministers will also discuss facilitating a rapid return to credible negotiations in order to secure a two-state solution. We will reiterate our condemnation of the Israeli decision, underlining the threat this poses to the two-state solution, and stress the need to continue work to build on the May FAC conclusions. We will also emphasise the need for the US, with the strong and active support of the EU, to do all it can in the coming weeks and months to take a decisive lead and push the peace process forward urgently. Additionally, the UK will stress the need to build on the Gaza ceasefire and to address the underlying causes of the conflict including more open access to and from Gaza for trade as well as humanitarian assistance, and an end to the smuggling of weapons. The UK will support conclusions covering these points.
This item has been re-scheduled from November’s FAC. Ministers will have the opportunity to discuss the EU’s priorities with the US following the US presidential elections on 6 November and the re-election of President Obama. I expect the discussion to cover a spectrum of leading international issues, including the global economy and a possible EU-US free trade deal.
Ukraine and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
We also expect Ministers to agree conclusions on Ukraine and the DRC.
General Affairs Council (GAC)
There is a substantial agenda for the GAC in December. There is a legislative deliberation on the statute of the Court of Justice of the European Union; a presentation by the Commission on the annual growth survey; preparation for the European Council on 13 and 14 December; endorsement of the 18-month programme for the Presidencies of Ireland, Lithuania and Greece; and a discussion on enlargement, covering all potential candidates and including the adoption of EU common positions for the accession conference with Iceland. Due to the large agenda, I expect many of these items to be brief and I expect most of the discussion to focus on the preparation for the European Council on 13 and 14 December and on enlargement.
Statute of the Court of Justice of the European Union
The Cypriot Presidency hopes to secure agreement on a selection method for additional judges at the general Court of the Court of Justice of the European Union: we have not yet received the final proposal for this. I remain concerned at the current backlog at the general Court, which is damaging to the interests of British business. My priorities in the discussion will be: to ensure that there is proportionate common law representation among any additional judges; that the costs of additional judges are covered within existing budgets; and that the selection method provides the Court with the stability it requires to function effectively.
European Semester and the Annual Growth Survey
The Commission will present key elements of the 2013 annual growth survey which can be found on the Commission’s website.
The annual growth survey sets out the Commission’s views on the economic priorities for Europe for 2013, focusing on fiscal consolidation, promoting economic growth and employment. The survey, which represents the first stage of the 2013 European semester, focuses on growth-friendly fiscal consolidation measures across the EU. The European semester is the EU-wide framework for co-ordinating structural reforms and growth-enhancing policies. We do not expect this item to be opened for substantive discussion but, in the event that it is, I will be supporting the focus on growth.
Preparation for the December European Council
The agenda for the December European Council will cover: economic policy, including economic and monetary union and banking union; defence; enlargement; and foreign policy. The last two items are covered by the separate sections of this written ministerial statement on enlargement and on the Foreign Affairs Council.
The bulk of the European Council meeting will focus on agreeing a legislative framework for banking union and an agenda for further economic and monetary integration in the Eurozone.
At the December European Council the Prime Minister will seek to ensure the integrity of the single market at 27, including in the context of the banking union and the European Banking Authority. We will also press for further progress on growth and ensure that the timetable for further integration in the Eurozone progresses at the right pace and in the right way. I will argue that these concerns should be addressed prior to the December European Council so that solutions to these issues can be put to leaders on 13 and 14 December. The December European Council agenda item on defence will pave the way for further discussion in 2013. I will argue for a focus on developing capabilities, enhancing operational effectiveness and strengthening the European defence industry.
The 18-month programme for the Presidencies of Ireland, Lithuania and Greece
The GAC has been asked to endorse the 18-month programme of the Council. This sets out the combined programme for the Irish, Lithuanian and Greek Presidencies of the European Council covering the period January 2013 to June 2014. I expect the programme to be published shortly.
Ministers will seek to agree conclusions taking stock of progress on EU enlargement, and on the stabilisation and association process in the western Balkans. The Commission released their annual enlargement package on 10 October. In this communication, the Commission recommended: (i) opening accession negotiations with Macedonia; and (ii) granting Albania candidate-status subject to the completion of three specific measures and evidence of continued commitment in the fight against organised crime and corruption. We believe the communication to be a broadly fair and balanced assessment.
We will seek conclusions reconfirming the European Council’s support for EU enlargement and recognising that the accession process gives strong encouragement, to political and economic reform and reinforces peace, democracy and stability. We agree with the Commission’s view that closer relations with the EU should be based on the principles of delivery on commitments, fair and rigorous conditionality, and good communication with the public. We agree that key challenges remain for most enlargement countries, including in the area of the rule of law. We also support a focus on freedom of expression and regional co-operation, particularly for the western Balkans countries.
I set out the Government’s views on the Commission’s reports in my explanatory memorandum of 18 October. We will seek Council conclusions welcoming Croatia’s continued progress towards meeting all of its commitments in full before its expected accession on 1 July 2013, while reiterating the Commission’s call for Croatia to sharpen its focus to ensure this is achieved.
I will seek conclusions that provide a fair and balanced assessment of Turkey’s progress, which will inject much needed momentum into the process to allow accession negotiations to move forward in 2013. I will argue that Iceland should be commended on the progress made in accession negotiations this year, while recalling the need for Iceland to address existing obligations, such as those identified by the European Free Trade Association Surveillance Authority under the European economic area agreement.
I also expect the Council to welcome the opening of accession negotiations with Montenegro in June 2012, while calling for early progress in the area of the rule of law, in line with the new approach to accession negotiations endorsed by the Council in December 2011.
Following the FAC discussion of 10 December, the GAC will discuss the Commission’s enlargement package for the western Balkans countries. We remain fully supportive of a future for all of the western Balkans countries in the EU, once conditions are met. We want the European Council to commend good progress on reform in Macedonia through the high-level accession dialogue, and hope the European Council will be able to build on this by agreeing to the Commission’s fourth successive recommendation to open accession negotiations.
In the absence of a further report from the Commission, the December European Council will not be in a position to grant candidate status to Albania; we will want it to call on Albania to make early progress on reform implementation and establish a track record on tackling organised crime and corruption to enable a decision in 2013. I will argue for Council conclusions that underline that Serbia still needs to make real progress to deliver a “visible and sustainable improvement” in its relations with Pristina before accession negotiations can be opened, while noting that this remains in reach if recent progress continues. We want the Council to welcome the Commission’s assessment that a stabilisation and association agreement with Kosovo is feasible and to signal that negotiations should begin as soon as possible. We agree with the Commission’s assessment that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s progress on its EU agenda has stalled. We will want the Council to press the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina to make progress and deliver quickly on those issues they themselves have agreed to, for example, on the EU road map agreed in June.
Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures
Section 19(1) of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 (the Act) requires the Secretary of State to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on the exercise of her TPIM powers under the Act during that period.
The level of information provided will always be subject to slight variations based on operational advice.
TPIM notices in force (as of 30 November 2012)
TPIM notices in respect of British citizens (as of 30 November 2012)
Variations made to measures specified in TPIM notices
Applications to vary measures specified in TPIM notices refused
During the reporting period: one TPIM notice was imposed; no TPIM notices were extended; no TPIM notices were revoked; and no TPIM notices were revived.
A TPIM review group (TRG) keeps every TPIM notice under regular and formal review. The TPIM review group met twice during this reporting period.
No individuals were charged in relation to an offence under section 23 of the Act (contravening a measure specified in a TPIM notice without reasonable excuse) during the period.
Section 16 of the 2011 Act provides rights of appeal against decisions by the Secretary of State in relation to decisions taken under the Act. No appeals were lodged under section 16 during the reporting period.
Two judgments have been handed down by the High Court in relation to the review of TPIM notices under section 9 of the Act. In Secretary of State for the Home Department v CC and CF  EWHC 2837 (admin), handed down on 19 October 2012, the High Court upheld the TPIM notices imposed on CC and CF (and the control orders which they were subject to before the TPIM notices). CC and CF have applied for permission to appeal the judgment. In Secretary of State for the Home Department v CD  EWHC 3026 (admin), handed down on 5 November 2012, the High Court upheld TPIM notice imposed on CD. Most foil judgments are available at: http://www.bailii.org/.
Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Aid Report
I wish to inform the House that, further to the oral statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs launching the review of the balance of competences in July and his written statement on the progress of the review on 23 October 2012, Official Report, column 46WS, the Department for International Development (DFID) has published its call for evidence for the development co-operation and humanitarian aid report.
This report will be completed by summer 2013 and will cover the ways in which the European Union uses its powers to act in the sphere of development co-operation and humanitarian aid. Nearly 20% of DFID’s budget is managed through the European Commission, making the EU our biggest multilateral partner in terms of aid volume.
The report will deal with the range of development co-operation and humanitarian aid issues. The call for evidence also outlines the interdependencies between the development and humanitarian aid report and other related reports in order to clarify as far as possible the range of evidence we will be considering. A legal annex outlines the legal base for the current balance of competences, drawing chiefly on articles 208 to 214 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
The call for evidence period will be open for 12 weeks. DFID will draw together the evidence and policy analysis into a first draft, which will subsequently go through a process of scrutiny before publication in summer 2013.
DFID will take a rigorous approach to the collection and analysis of evidence. The call for evidence sets out the scope of the report and includes a series of broad questions on which contributors are to focus. Interested parties are invited to provide evidence relating to issues of competence in the fields of development co-operation and humanitarian aid. The evidence received (subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Act) will be published alongside the final report in June 2013 and will be available on the new Government website: www.gov.uk.
DFID will pursue an active engagement process, consulting widely across Parliament and its Committees, the devolved Administrations, multilateral organisations such as the UN, and civil society in order to obtain evidence to contribute to our analysis of the issues. Our EU partners and the EU institutions will also be invited to contribute evidence to the review. We aim to reach a wide range of interested parties to ensure a high yield of valuable information.
The result of the report will be a comprehensive, thorough and detailed analysis of how the EU’s actions in the fields of development co-operation and humanitarian aid impact the UK and our development objectives. It will aid our understanding of the nature of our EU membership; and it will provide a constructive and serious contribution to the wider European debate about modernising, reforming and improving the EU. The report will not produce specific policy recommendations.
I am placing this document and the call for evidence in the Library of the House. They will also be published on the DFID website and accessible through the balance of competences review pages on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.
Closure of DFID Kosovo
On 30 November DFID closed its office in Kosovo. This is DFID’s last bilateral programme in Europe and hence it is a symbolic moment for the UK’s relations with the countries of the former eastern bloc. It is also evidence of how DFID’s assistance is changing.
The UK commenced assistance to the former communist countries of Europe in 1989. It has since operated programmes in central and eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia to build the foundations of democratic societies and free markets, helping improve living standards for millions of people.
While much remains to be done, progress has been undeniable. The World Bank estimates that between 1998 and 2003, for example, 40 million people in the region left extreme poverty (defined as living on less than $2 per day) as a result of rapid growth and narrowing inequality. Twenty-three years after the fall of the Berlin wall, 12 former communist countries are our trading partners in the European Union, democratic elections are the norm, and many countries which previously received aid are now donors themselves.
The UK has progressively reduced its aid programme in response to this progress. Assistance for 10 central European and Baltic countries ended when they joined the EU in 2004. Assistance to Romania and Bulgaria ended on their accession in 2007, and programmes were closed in Albania in 2008 and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova and Serbia in early 2011.
We are therefore at the end of a significant period, in which the UK can be proud of its contribution. In future, DFID’s engagement will be through the multilateral system, which we believe is now better placed to respond to the region’s emerging needs.
We will work with the European Union to ensure their assistance through the instrument for pre-accession (IPA) and European neighbourhood partnership instrument (ENPI) is focused on appropriate priorities, monitorable results, and value for money. We believe these instruments can be made significantly more effective.
We will use our position on the boards of the World Bank and IMF, the European Bank for reconstruction and development and the European Investment Bank to promote high-quality investments in infrastructure and private sector development, where significant needs remain.
Finally, we recognise that in some regions, particularly the western Balkans, the threat of conflict remains. We will continue to contribute to the UK conflict prevention pool alongside the FCO and MOD. The CPP has allocated £16 million for programmes in wider Europe this financial year, which will support projects in areas such as security sector reform, rule of law, training for peacekeepers and support for political settlements.
Inter-city West Coast Franchise
On 15 October 2012, Official Report, column 6WS, I announced to the House that following the cancellation of the inter-city west coast franchise competition the Department for Transport was commencing negotiations with Virgin Rail Group (VRG).
I can today announce that negotiations have concluded successfully and that Virgin trains will continue to operate services on the west coast main line.
After careful consideration I believe taxpayers, rail passengers and the wider rail industry will be better served by moving directly from this agreement with VRG to a longer-term franchise on the west coast main line. Doing so will provide greater certainty for passengers, minimise disruption for all stakeholders and enable us to maximise the benefits for taxpayers and west coast passengers. For this reason the new franchise with VRG will be for up to 23 months.
I am also pleased to announce that passengers will not only experience the same levels of service they have previously enjoyed but will also benefit from improvements to previous levels.
In addition this agreement coincides with the successful completion today, on budget and ahead of schedule, of a project to deliver 106 new Pendolino carriages on to the west coast main line.
The new carriages, which will see up to 28,000 extra seats provided each day, are being introduced with £1.5 billion of Government support.
Under the new franchise agreement, there will also be a new hourly service between London and Glasgow.
This franchise will operate as a management contract, with both revenue and cost-risk being borne by the Government. In return VRG will receive a margin of 1% on revenue. The contract also makes a provision for the Department and VRG to agree revised commercial terms that would see VRG take greater revenue and cost-risk in the period to 9 November 2014.
Work and Pensions
I would like to make a statement on Remploy to update the House on the next steps in the reforms that my predecessor as Minister for Disabled People, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), set out in this House on 10 July 2012, Official Report, column 167.
The Remploy board is today making make an announcement, and is quite rightly informing all those employees whom it affects.
The Remploy board has now concluded its assessment of the stage 2 businesses. It has been working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions and independent business analysts to explore in detail whether the remaining factory based businesses (automotive, automotive textiles, e-cycle, frontline, furniture, marine and packaging), CCTV contracts and employment services could viably exit Government ownership and if so, how this could be best achieved.
Further work is being undertaken on employment services and a separate announcement will follow when a decision has been made.
The Government have decided to confirm the exit of stage 2 factories and businesses, and the Remploy board has today announced the results of its analysis and its proposals for a commercial process for stage 2 factory businesses and the CCTV business.
The automotive business operating from factories in Coventry, Birmingham and Derby is considered by Remploy to be a viable business. It has the potential to successfully move out of Government-funded support as a going concern. Remploy will now move to market this business, there is no proposal to close this business and staff at these sites are not formally at risk of redundancy.
The automotive textiles operation at Huddersfield is not commercially viable and the factory there is proposed for closure. All staff in this business are now at risk of redundancy.
The furniture business based in Neath (Port Talbot), Sheffield and Blackburn has the potential to be commercially viable but would require significant restructuring consideration and downsizing of its operations. Remploy will market this business as a prospective going concern, while recognising that the current trading position of the business may ultimately result in no viable bids being received and that there may therefore be consequential redundancies and factory closures. All staff in this business are now at risk of redundancy.
The marine textiles business (based at Leven and Cowdenbeath) has an established market position and might attract commercial interest. Remploy management will discuss any potential opportunities for a commercial exit with its current distributor and any other parties who express an interest. However the business currently makes significant losses and is not saleable currently as a going concern. The employees of the marine textiles business are therefore at risk of redundancy.
The CCTV business has the potential to become a viable business or series of businesses and successfully move out of Government control. Remploy will now discuss with the 27 organisations who have let contracts to Remploy their intentions and the opportunity to market this business and its 27 contracts as a going concern. If the business can be sold it may result in potential TUPE transfers. In the event that it cannot be sold compulsory redundancies will be made and all employees in the CCTV business are therefore at risk of redundancy.
In addition to automotive textiles, three other Remploy businesses are not commercially viable or have little realistic prospect of being sold as going concerns. These are e-cycle (based at Forth and Heywood), frontline textiles (based at Dundee, Stirling and Clydebank) and packaging (based at Norwich, Portsmouth, Burnley and Sunderland). These factories are now proposed for closure with all the staff working there and at the associated business offices at risk of redundancy
As a means of reducing the number of potential job losses Remploy will, from today commence a commercial process and invite expressions of interest from any individuals or organisations who would like to buy all or parts of these businesses or sites proposed for closure. They will also be inviting expressions of interest for the assets associated with these sites, although “going concern” business sales will take precedent over asset sales.
As a result of these proposals a total of 875 employees including 682 disabled employees in the automotive textiles, e-cycle, frontline textiles, furniture, marine textiles, packaging and CCTV businesses are being placed at risk of compulsory redundancy.
If a successful sale or transfer of ownership is possible and such sale or transfer falls within the provisions of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE), employees employed in or assigned to the relevant businesses will transfer to the new owner under TUPE. However, if TUPE does not apply, the number of employees who may transfer to the new business cannot be guaranteed as this will be a matter of negotiation between the bidder and Remploy.
It is important to note that no final decisions have been made about the factory closures or about redundancies in stage 2 factories or businesses at this time.
I expect the process for exits or closures to have been completed by October 2013.
To encourage bids that maximise the continued employment of disabled people, the Department for Work and Pensions will offer a three-year tapering wage subsidy totalling £6,400 for each eligible disabled member of staff. In addition Remploy will also fund professional advice and support worth up to £10,000 for employee-led bids. This is in line with the offer of support in stage 1.
Remploy’s automotive business will continue to operate business as usual. There is no proposal to close this business at this stage.
Remploy employment services business will also continue to operate business as usual.
The Government have made £8 million available for 18 months to fund the delivery of a people help and support package across the UK for any disabled individuals who are made redundant. This tailored support from the people help and support package includes access to a personal case worker to help individuals with their future choices and a personal budget for additional support.
We will use the expertise of Remploy’s employment services which, despite difficult economic times over the last two years, has found jobs for around 50,000 disabled and disadvantaged people.
We are working with Remploy employment services, local and national employers, and the Business Disability Forum (BDF) to offer targeted work opportunities for disabled people. This could include guaranteed interviews, work trials, industry sector specific training, pre-application training (including mock interviews), on the job training and employer training in how to make adjustments for particular impairments.
We have also set up a community support fund to provide grants to local voluntary sector and user-led organisations to run a variety of projects to support disabled Remploy employees and their families.
Of the 1,349 disabled people affected by the factory closures, 875 have expressed an interest in returning to work and are actively using the support package, so the latest results mean that just under 15% of those are now in work. It is one of our top priorities to maximise employment opportunities for the Remploy factory leavers.
This is an ongoing process, and as it develops, I commit to keeping this House updated on the status of the business plans going through to the next stage. I will provide a further update on progress in the new year.