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Written Statements

Volume 564: debated on Monday 17 June 2013

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 17 June 2013

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Ushakov Medals

I am pleased to announce that formal approval has been given to a recommendation for an exception to the rules on the acceptance of foreign awards to allow eligible British nationals to accept and wear the Russian Ushakov medal.

In May 2012 the Russian Government requested permission to award the Ushakov medal to British veterans of the Arctic convoys. Under the current rules on the acceptance of foreign awards, permission could not be given for the medal to be accepted as more than five years had passed since the events in question and there had already been British medallic recognition for this service.

Although under these rules permission could not be given for the Ushakov medal to be accepted, Her Majesty’s Government have always been appreciative of the Russian Government’s wish to honour these brave men.

In the light of that appreciation of this service, a recommendation was therefore made to exceptionally allow the Ushakov medal to be accepted and worn. President Putin presented the first medals during his visit to London on 16 June 2013.

Applications and eligibility for the Ushakov medal will be a matter for the Russian authorities.

Northern Ireland

“Building a Prosperous and United Community”

On Friday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I agreed a package of measures with the First and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland aimed at rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy and building a shared society. I have placed a copy of this agreement, “Building a Prosperous and United Community”, in the Library of the House.

The package is designed to help us move further towards the shared and prosperous Northern Ireland that we all want to see. We have agreed an investment plan that confirms we are on course to deliver the commitment to £18 billion of capital funding by 2017. A total of £300 million investment to support front-line projects will be made available through enhanced capital borrowing powers. Government top-ups to PEACE IV and EU structural funding.

We have prioritised a range of measures to help boost the private sector and rebalance the Northern Ireland economy.

Continuing Northern Ireland’s assisted areas status coverage will enable the Executive to continue with the targeted support for the private sector that has helped to promote over 3,000 new private sector jobs in Northern Ireland in the last three months alone. There will be a new way forward on planning reform and initiatives to drive investment in infrastructure, promote new businesses and boost tourism. Fresh work will take place on enterprise zones. We have agreed a potential mechanism for taking forward the devolution of corporation tax rates if the Government decide to devolve these powers.

The package includes a commitment to ensure that an annual update is provided to Parliament on progress on the economy and building a shared future for the people of Northern Ireland.

I believe that the package represents a real step forward for Northern Ireland. This agreement reflects the maturing relationship between the Government and Executive and is a symbol of our ambitious vision for Northern Ireland: a genuinely shared society that is fulfilling its economic potential and laying the foundations for peace, stability and prosperity for the future.

Transport

EU Transport Council

I attended the final Transport Council of the Irish presidency in Luxembourg on Monday 10 June.

Transport Council agreed general approaches on five proposals: the interoperability of the rail system; roadworthiness roadside inspection and the associated vehicle registration measure; occurrence reporting in civil aviation and marine equipment.

The Commission had originally proposed that the European Rail Agency should undertake all vehicle authorisations on the proposal on the interoperability of the rail system (part of the fourth railway package). The presidency’s compromise text discussed in Council took on board the UK’s suggestion to give operators the choice to use national safety authorities where rolling stock would only be used domestically. I was therefore able to fully support this proposal.

The Council considered the proposal for a regulation on the technical roadside inspection of the roadworthiness of commercial vehicles and a proposal for a directive on the registration documents of vehicles (the last two parts of the roadworthiness package—the Council had agreed its position on the proposal to change the periodic testing regime in December 2012). The Council agreed its position on the registration documents without discussion, while the roadside inspection proposal prompted a round table discussion. The most contentious issue was whether to exclude the N1 category of vehicles (vans and smaller lorries not exceeding 3.5 tonnes) from the scope of the proposal. I was able to support the presidency’s text, and in particular the exclusion of N1 vehicles.

I was also able to fully support the general approach on the proposal 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. This proposal will update the rules requiring member states to establish reporting systems for aviation safety incidents.

I was able to support the presidency’s text on the proposal for a directive on marine equipment, having previously secured concessions, including on the use of delegated acts.

The presidency reported on the progress that had been achieved in negotiation with the European Parliament on the proposal for a regulation establishing the connecting Europe facility. The proposal will provide the legal base to give funding support to trans-European networks projects. The presidency hoped the file could be concluded soon.

Under any other business, the Commission reported on the latest developments on the aviation emissions trading scheme in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). I stressed the importance of achieving a positive outcome at the ICAO Assembly in September and the need for the Commission to develop a comprehensive engagement and negotiating strategy.

The Commission also introduced its recently issued proposal to revise the 2004 rules on air passenger rights which it hoped would bring clarity following the ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in relation to denied boarding, and liabilities for airlines as a result of a number of extraordinary events in aviation since 2010. While welcoming the proposal, I noted that the UK would only be able to accept the regulation if it applied in full to Gibraltar airport.

The Commission introduced its new proposal on ports. I made the case strongly that there is no need for the proposal. I explained that there were significant new investments already going into ports, and that while transparency for public funding should be generally welcomed, for self-financing private ports they should remain subject to normal business accounting rules.

The Commission provided an update on its work on passenger ship safety which looks at measures to improve the safety of passenger ships, especially following the Costa Concordia disaster. The Commission did not currently foresee any legislative proposals, as much of the detail focussed on work that could be done within the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). The Commission said that it considered the IMO the best avenue to secure any changes.

Lithuania will take over the EU presidency from 1 July, and outlined their transport agenda. They would be seeking an agreement with the European Parliament on all elements of the roadworthiness package, occurrence reporting in Civil Aviation and on the marine equipment directive. They would also finalise agreement with the European Parliament on the European Marine Safety Agency funding regulation. for outstanding legislation, Lithuania would advance technical discussions on the fourth railway package and seek a general approach on air passenger rights.

Finally, I participated in the signing of a comprehensive air services agreement between the EU and Israel.

Work and Pensions

Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013

Later today the Government will be publishing their response to the consultation on the Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013 (“the regulations”). The regulations make amendments to the Child Support Maintenance Calculation Regulations 2012 (“the 2012 regulations”), which set out rules on the calculation of child maintenance under the new statutory scheme. The consultation on the regulations was held between 1 March 2013 and 12 April 2013.

The Government consulted on the following amendments to the 2012 regulations, which will allow the Secretary of State to: use current income information as the basis of the maintenance calculation where historic information from HMRC cannot be requested or obtained; accept a nil income figure from HMRC in order to calculate child maintenance liability (a simplification measure, as previously a nil income figure would have required action to seek current income information); and to allow previously agreed variations to child maintenance liability to be reinstated automatically in appropriate circumstances.

The aim of the regulations is to provide a faster, more accurate and transparent process for assessing child maintenance payments.

There were four responses to the consultation, which have been carefully considered. The Government maintain that the proposals outlined in the consultation represent essential preparatory work necessary to allow the new scheme of child support maintenance to be gradually opened to all new applicants.

Other amendments are made by the regulations, which were not consulted on because they did not represent changes to policy. Amendments to child maintenance regulations have been made in response to legislative changes to child benefit. These amendments clarify that parents who elect not to receive child benefit payments will be treated in the same way as those that continue to receive the payments. The regulations also make minor consequential and technical changes to other child maintenance regulations. We intend to lay the regulations later this month.

I will place a copy of the Government’s response to the consultation in the House Library later today.

The Government’s response to the consultation will also be available on the GOV.uk website later today at the following address:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/the-child-support-miscellaneous-amendments-regulations-2013.