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Written Statements

Volume 559: debated on Thursday 7 March 2013

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 7 March 2013

Treasury

Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill

I have today deposited in the Libraries of both Houses drafts of the following secondary legislation to be made under the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill:

The draft Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Ring-fenced Bodies and Core Activities) Order;

The draft Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Excluded Activities and Prohibitions) Order;

The draft Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Fees and Prescribed International Organisations) Order.

These illustrative drafts are for the benefit of Members in advance of the Second Reading of the Bill. The Government will formally publish a draft of all secondary legislation for public consultation later in the year.

Loan to Ireland

I would like to update the House on the loan to Ireland.

Ireland completed the eighth quarterly review of its International Monetary Fund and European Union programme of financial assistance on 23 January 2013, following which the utilisation period for the sixth instalment of the UK bilateral loan began.

Upon request, the Treasury disbursed the sixth instalment of £403.37 million on 6 March 2013, with a maturity date of 7 September 2020.

The interest rate charged on the loan is calculated as set out in the loan agreement as the UK’s cost of funds plus a service fee of 18 basis points per annum, creating an effective per annum interest rate on this tranche of the loan of 2.312%. The UK more than covers its cost of funds.

The Treasury will provide a further report to Parliament in relation to the bilateral loan as required under the Loans to Ireland Act 2010 as soon as is practicable following the end of the next reporting period, which ends on 31 March 2013.

The Government believe that it is in our national interest that the Irish economy is successful and its banking system is stable. The Government continue to support Ireland’s efforts to improve its economic situation.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Single Payment Scheme

I made a statement on 6 December 2012, Official Report, column 76WS about payments to farmers in England under the EU common agricultural policy single payment scheme (SPS) for 2012. I informed the House that the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) met its December 2012 target for SPS payments on the first banking day of the payment window.

I can now confirm that RPA met its second performance target more than five weeks ahead of schedule. By 19 February 2013 the agency had paid more than 98.4% of volume and 97.2% of value.

This is the best ever performance on the part of the agency which has now exceeded both of its SPS performance targets as well as meeting its EU benchmark more than four months early. A total of £1.6 billion has now been paid to more than 102,000 English farmers.

The agency has been working to a ministerial commitment 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. The EU benchmark is to pay more than 95.238% of the scheme fund value by the end of June.

OFWAT (Repayable Cash Advance)

An urgent cash advance of £1.5 million is required to fund Ofwat’s immediate operating cost commitments and prevent default to contractual suppliers while we await Royal Assent of supplementary estimates.

Ofwat is heavily committed currently to a range of major projects that rely on the expert input of a number of specialist suppliers. Without this input Ofwat would be unable to regulate effectively and protect the interests of 52 million consumers in England and Wales. Ofwat contracts with a large number of SMEs and therefore it is in the public interest that we make payment promptly within agreed contractual terms.

Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £3 million was sought in a supplementary estimate for 2012-13 on 13 February for the water services regulation authority. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £1.5 million will be met by repayable cash advances from the contingencies fund.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs and General Affairs Councils

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) and I will attend the General Affairs Council (GAC), both on 11 March 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 Irish presidency.

Russia

Ministers will have a broad discussion on the EU-Russia relationship. Conclusions are not expected. This discussion will provide an opportunity to exchange views on the importance of the EU’s trade relationship with Russia, as well as underlining member states’ concerns on human rights and democratic standards. This discussion will serve as preparation for consideration of the EU’s strategic relationship with Russia at the European Council on 15 March. The FAC discussion will take place ahead of the visit of the Russian Foreign and Defence Ministers to London on 13 March.

Southern Neighbourhood

Ministers will discuss events in Egypt and Tunisia. We believe that the EU should encourage inclusive political transition and protection of human rights. The UK will argue that EU support to these countries needs to be ambitious and well communicated, with clear progress on agreed political and economic reforms matched with further support. We will support an EU observer mission for the Egyptian parliamentary elections.

Ministers will also discuss the current situation in Syria and will be joined over lunch by the United Nations and the Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.

Japan

The EU-Japan summit will take place on 25 March in Tokyo and Ministers will discuss the EU’s priorities for that summit. Negotiations on the EU-Japan free trade agreement (FTA) and framework agreement, which the UK strongly supports, will be launched at that summit. The EU and Japan will also agree to work together more closely on issues such as the growth agenda, climate change, energy policy and international issues of the day, such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Iran and Syria.

Iran

This discussion will focus on the recent E3+3 (UK, France, Germany, China, Russia, US) nuclear talks with Iran in Almaty, where a confidence-building measure was put to Iran. We will make it clear that while Iran’s agreement to further meetings is welcome, there is no sign yet of a significant shift in the Iranian position. If Iran makes no progress on addressing our most immediate concerns about its nuclear programme, we will need to tighten existing measures to increase the pressure it faces.

Kenya

Ministers will discuss the conduct and outcome of the elections held on 4 March in Kenya.

General Affairs Council

The 11 March GAC will focus on preparation for the 14-15 March European Council. The European Council agenda has two items that the GAC will consider: Economic policy and external relations (in conjunction with the FAC).

After the plenary session there will be a meeting with the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy. We expect this to focus on political directions for the European semester and European monetary union.

14-15 March European Council preparation

The economic policy agenda item covers the European semester, the annual cycle of economic policy co-ordination in the EU, which begins each year with the publication of the Commission’s annual growth survey. The European Council will set growth and structural reform priorities for the EU and the member states for the year ahead. The March Council will also take stock of member states’ progress in implementing reform commitments under the 2012 country-specific recommendations and will provide broad guidance to member states on the 2013 stability and convergence programmes and national reform programmes. Ministers will also discuss progress on formulating next steps in deepening European monetary union, as a staging post towards the June European Council meeting at which this will be a central focus.

On external relations, the European Council will discuss strategic partners focusing on EU-Russia relations. We expect that the preparation for this part of the European Council agenda, and any discussion on foreign policy, will primarily be covered in the Foreign Affairs Council, but GAC Ministers may also want to use this opportunity to guide discussions at the European Council. They may also raise issues that have read-across to the broader work of the GAC such as the European neighbourhood policy or Heading 4 funding.

Home Department

Violence Against Women and Girls Action Plan 2013

Tomorrow, on international women’s day, the Government are publishing an updated violence against women and girls action plan. A copy will be placed in the Library of the House.

Last year around 1.2 million women suffered domestic abuse and around 400,000 were sexually assaulted. This is wholly unacceptable. We are determined, not just to reduce, but to end violence against women and girls.

Two and a half years ago we set out our strategy to end violence against women and girls. Our key themes of prevention, provision of good-quality services, improved partnership working, better justice outcomes and risk reduction remain as relevant today as when we first agreed our approach.

This action plan updates the efforts underpinning that strategy, and sets out significant progress since the last report was published a year ago. We are also alive to new and emerging issues and the updated plan includes a renewed focus on challenging the attitudes that foster violence against women and girls.

We are proud of the progress this Government have made in protecting the lives of women and girls, but there is still much more to do. This action plan confirms our ongoing commitment to stop the violence and abuse which blights the lives of too many women and girls.

Leader of the House

Transport

EU Transport Council

I will attend the first Transport Council of the Irish presidency (the presidency) taking place in Brussels on Monday 11 March.

There will be an introductory discussion on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the interoperability of the rail system within the European Union (recast) (part of the fourth railway package). The UK is keen to hear the range of views and will then need to further consider the impacts through consultation with our stakeholders.

There will be an exchange of views on a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure and on a communication from the Commission on “Clean Power for Transport: A European alternative fuels strategy”, making up the clean power for transport package. The UK strongly supports the transition to cleaner transport and has the ambitious vision of almost every car and van reaching zero CO2 emission levels at the tailpipe by 2050.

While I recognise that alternative fuels infrastructure is an area that can benefit from support, I am not convinced that setting rigid, mandatory targets for the deployment of technology-specific infrastructure is an effective way of building consumer confidence in new technology.

A progress report will be provided on a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on occurrence reporting in civil aviation amending Regulation (EU) No. 996/2010 and repealing directive 2003/42/EC, Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1321/2007 and Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1330/2007. I fully support this proposal and welcome the progress that has been made.

Under any other business, the Commission will provide information on the aviation emissions trading scheme (ETS) and on the EU-Brazil comprehensive air transport agreement.

Road Safety

Drug driving is a menace on our roads with an estimated 200 drug-driving related deaths a year in Great Britain. The Government have a zero tolerance approach to illegal drug use and it is important that we send the strongest possible message that you cannot take illegal drugs and drive.

In order to tackle this threat to safety on our roads, the Government are introducing a new offence of driving or being in charge of a motor vehicle with a specified controlled drug in the body. The new offence is included in the Crime and Courts Bill, currently before Parliament. It will enable more effective law enforcement and help to keep our roads safe.

Last spring, the Department commissioned a panel of medical and scientific experts to provide technical advice on drugs to potentially be covered by the new offence. The panel has concluded its work and today I have published their report, “Driving Under the Influence of Drugs”. I would like to thank Dr Kim Wolff and the panel for the significant work undertaken in analysing a vast amount of research in this area and for making their recommendations.

The Government will carefully consider the panel’s recommendations. In doing so, we are clear that the design of the new offence must send the strongest possible message that you cannot take any amount of illegal drugs and drive.

At the same time the Government must consider the position of those who legitimately and safely use medicines which may contain controlled drugs. We recognise that for the purposes of drug testing, distinguishing between those drugs which do have medical uses and those which do not is complex. We must ensure that the new offence would not unduly penalise drivers who have taken properly prescribed or supplied drugs in line with medical advice.

Later in the year the Government will make specific proposals regarding the drugs to be specified in regulations for the new offence. These proposals will be subject to a public consultation. After taking account of any responses received, regulations containing the final proposals would then need to be approved by Parliament before they could become law.

I am placing a copy of the panel’s report in the House Libraries.

Work and Pensions

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 28 February 2013 in Brussels. I represented the UK.

There was a discussion on the European semester 2013 focusing on the priorities for action highlighted in the annual growth survey (AGS) and joint employment report (JER). The UK stressed the need to ensure that the Europe 2020 process focused on supporting delivery of difficult reforms needed to recover from the crisis. Ministers subsequently adopted Council conclusions on the AGS and the JER. Ministers also agreed a general approach on the guidelines for the employment policies of the member states and endorsed the main messages contained within the Social Protection Committee’s report on the social situation and trends to watch in the EU.

Ministers adopted a Council recommendation for a youth guarantee. The UK stressed the importance of greater member state flexibility especially on the four-month time limit, and put in a parliamentary reserve on the recommendation.

The Commission presented its social investment package, which would pave the way for a stronger social dimension of the EMU and the presidency provided further information on the forthcoming tripartite social summit.

Under any other business the presidency updated the Council on progress under legislative dossiers, the Employment Committee and Social Protection Committee Chairs outlined their work programmes for 2013, and the Employment Committee updated the Council on ongoing work with the social partners on wage developments. Finally the Commission updated Ministers on the transitional arrangements regarding free movement of workers of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals and reported on the working time directive social partner negotiations.