Thursday 28 November 2013
Business, Innovation and Skills
Trade Foreign Affairs Council and WTO Ministerial Conference
My noble Friend the Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, has made the following statement:
The Trade Foreign Affairs Council will take place in Nusa Dua, Bali on 3 December 2013. The Council meeting is being held in the margins of the ninth WTO ministerial conference which is being held from 3 to 6 December 2013. I will be representing the UK at both and I will be acting as a vice-chair at the ministerial conference.
The Trade Foreign Affairs Council is being held in the margins of the WTO conference to allow any essential business pertaining to the conference to be finalised.
Negotiations are under way on a set of deliverables that could be agreed at the ministerial conference. Some of these form part of the Doha development agenda (DDA) and if agreed, would constitute the first multilateral agreement for 20 years. Some non-DDA issues are also likely to be agreed at the conference for example, the secession of Yemen to the WTO.
The Government’s objectives for the conference are to:
Reiterate our commitment to the multilateral trading system by pushing for an ambitious and balanced outcome to the conference.
Support a political understanding on the text of an ambitious and legally binding trade facilitation agreement.
Support agreement on a limited number of agricultural issues which would be of benefit to developing and least developed countries.
Support the establishment of the monitoring mechanism for special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries.
Support the WTO ministerial decisions on: the operationalisation of the services waiver for least developed countries; preferential rules of origin for least developed countries and cotton.
Support the extension of the moratorium on charging customs duties on electronic transmissions and the extension of the moratorium on bringing non-violation and situation complaints under the trade related aspects of intellectual property agreement.
Welcome the accession of Yemen to the WTO.
In the spending review this summer, we announced our intention to end the undergraduate national scholarship programme (NSP) after 2014-15. That decision was based on evaluation which has shown that there are more valuable ways of widening access and enlarging the choices students make about higher education through the negotiated access agreements of universities. In the last three years the funding of access has greatly increased and we are now able to deploy these resources to greater effect. By bringing forward from 2015-16 the planned reduction of £100 million in funding for the NSP we are able to redirect £25 million to establish a new network to support collaborative outreach.
Universities, colleges and schools will benefit from an investment of £25 million in 2014 to help them work together more effectively as they reach out to encourage more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply to university.
The funds will be used to create a locally-based network and crucially will provide a single point of contact for schools seeking information on how to be part of outreach activity. A single point of contact will be simpler for schools enabling them to make contact with all their local universities and colleges.
Well thought-out outreach activities can raise aspirations and attainment, enabling bright young people from low income or other underrepresented backgrounds to see that university really can be an option for them. We know that outreach is most effective when delivered as a sustained programme of activity over time. Outreach therefore needs to be directed towards young people at different stages of their educational lives and begin early at primary level. These new arrangements will help to do this in a more targeted and sustained way. They will also help more mature learners through links with further education colleges, employers and local communities.
The national scholarship programme will remain in place for 2014-15, targeting £50 million from Government towards students in most need of help. Universities will also continue to support NSP awards in the final year of the scheme, in addition to offering other bursaries and scholarships to their students.
To make the programme more flexible for students in this transition year, we have removed the £1,000 limit on the amount of the award that can be given in the form of cash. We have also reduced the minimum level of award for full-time students to £2,000, which means that 100,000 students could still receive an award, in line with our original estimate.
The Government have also announced previously that £50 million from the NSP would be refocused in 2015-16 to support students from less advantaged backgrounds to access postgraduate education, and in areas that support the Government’s ambitions for growth.
Our reforms have ensured that universities invest significantly in widening access. The director of fair access has reported that institutions plan to spend over £700 million a year by 2017-18 on such measures—greatly increased from £444 million in 2011-12. Evidence shows students are not being deterred. Latest available data from UCAS show that for the 2013-14 entry cycle more students than ever before are getting their first choice at university; the entry rate for 18-year-olds in England is the highest ever; and the proportion of 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds applying to university has increased to the highest level recorded.
Turks and Caicos Islands (Tax Agreement)
An arrangement comprising of an exchange of letters amending the 2009 tax information exchange agreement (TIEA) with the Turks and Caicos Islands was signed on 26 November 2013 to permit automatic and spontaneous exchange of information. At the same time an agreement was also signed to improve international tax compliance which sets out the precise details of the information which will be automatically exchanged. The text of the agreement to improve international tax compliance has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and will be made available on HM Revenue and Customs’ website. The text amending the tax information exchange agreement will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.
Foreign Affairs Council
The 19 November 2013 Defence Foreign Affairs Council opened with consideration of the European Defence Agency budget: I successfully argued for a flat cash settlement. Discussing the defence industry in more detail than the previous day’s joint Session with Foreign Ministers, Defence Ministers were broadly agreed on initiatives to improve small and medium-sized enterprise access to the defence market and on the need to avoid unnecessary new legislation. The UK backed measures to increase competition but expressed concern over the potential of some proposals to damage exports and opposed Commission ownership of high-end military or dual-use capabilities.
On common security and defence policy (CSDP) operations, the UK welcomed the extension of Althea’s Executive mandate; supported the French view that European Union Training Mission in Mali (EUTM) should be extended, subject to a robust estimate of costs; and argued for a two-year extension to Atalanta’s mandate with a conditions-based end state. The UK also supported remarks from the NATO Secretary-General, who attended the meeting, highlighting the importance of co-ordination and co-operation between the EU and NATO.
Energy and Climate Change
Warsaw Climate Change Conference
The annual conference of the parties (COP) to the United Nations framework convention on climate change took place in Warsaw, Poland, from 11-23 November. The United Kingdom was represented by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the right hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker).
What we agreed
All countries in the United Nations framework convention on climate change committed at Durban in 2011 to negotiate, by 2015, a new global, legally binding agreement, applicable to all nations, to come into force by 2020.
The UK’s key objective for the Warsaw conference was to make progress in agreeing the means by which this 2015 deal will be reached. We achieved this objective: all nations have agreed to start their homework to prepare for a global climate change deal in 2015.
The world now has a work programme, with timetables, for the 2015 deal: countries will draft the negotiating text for the 2015 agreement which is to be ready by next year’s COP in Lima; and all major economies will be expected to propose their initial contributions to the deal by the first quarter of 2015.
In addition, we made some progress on increasing mitigation ambition before 2020: the conference set out a process to focus on specific sectors of high mitigation potential and increase technical analysis. It agreed that Ministers from all countries, not just parties to the Kyoto protocol, will convene in June 2014 to review ambition.
This was also a conference that dealt with the important mechanics of the international climate regime and continued to build the foundations for the global agreement in 2015.
We finalised a package on rules, finance and co-ordination to help protect tropical forests. We also reached agreement on a comprehensive package for measuring, reporting and verifying emissions for both developed and developing countries. This is important, as it will give us an accurate, consistent picture of how much is emitted and by whom.
Climate finance and loss and damage
Climate finance and loss and damage associated with climate change were the other key issues in Warsaw.
On finance, this year’s conference agreed a timetable towards initial capitalisation of the green climate fund (GCF) in late 2014, subject to the GCF board taking the final decisions to operationalise the fund, and a new process for assessing progress in scaling up climate finance to $100 billion per year by 2020 from public, private and alternative sources.
The conference established a new institutional arrangement for loss and damage— the “Warsaw Mechanism”, with a remit to enhance and promote knowledge of and approaches to addressing loss and damage. It does not have decision-making powers or a remit to seek new funding. It will report to the annual climate conference and comprise finance, adaptation and technology experts. It will be reviewed in 2016.
The agreements we reached in Warsaw are important in setting out the next steps towards the 2015 agreement and in building and strengthening the architecture of the international climate regime.
We achieved a good result in Warsaw by demonstrating again the UK’s credentials on climate. The UK continued its strong record of leading on climate change action: demonstrating our ambition at home, our support to developing countries and our leading influence in the EU and with international partners.
We joined the United States in their policy of ending support for public financing of new coal-fired power plants overseas, we announced extra help for some of the world’s poorest to adapt to the impacts of climate change and we unveiled a major new package of support for tackling deforestation in partnership with the US, Germany and Norway.
While the long negotiations in Poland showed there are many tough talks ahead of us, the determined diplomacy of the UK and EU achieved our aims, building alliances with our friends across the world.
Looking ahead, 2014 will be an intensive year of negotiations, with negotiators developing a framework for the new agreement by COP20—in Lima, Peru—and major economies preparing their contributions to the new deal for submission in early 2015.
Importantly, the UN Secretary-General will host a leaders’ summit in 2014. This will be the first time that world leaders meet to discuss climate change specifically since Copenhagen. This will be an important opportunity to make further concrete progress towards the global deal in 2015 and in raising mitigation ambition.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
I wish to inform the House of some further important steps that the Government are planning to take to tackle bovine TB (bTB). BTB is the most worrying and costly animal health problem facing our cattle farmers today, with more than 305,000 cattle slaughtered in Great Britain in the past decade alone. These plans are designed to address the risk of cattle-to-cattle transmission of the disease. They form part of the Government’s wider strategy for achieving national bovine TB-free status in England within 25 years.
Today I am announcing our approach for addressing a number of long-standing weaknesses in our bovine TB controls. The first concerns the problem of late TB tests by a small minority of cattle farmers. Late testing is unacceptable, so from 1 January 2014 anyone who fails to complete their test by the set deadline, even by one day, will see their CAP scheme payment reduced. The reductions will vary, depending on the seriousness of the case, but the outcome I want to see is no late testing at all.
I am also launching a consultation on proposals for further tightening of cattle controls. Our proposals build on the raft of enhanced cattle measures that have been in place for many years, a number of which were enhanced in 2012. They include abolishing the pre-movement testing exemption for movements of cattle to and from common land. In doing this, we will need to find ways of ensuring that the testing requirements do not prejudice the very important part that grazing on some commons plays in protecting and maintaining valuable habitats.
The proposals also include phasing out the practice of lifting bovine TB restrictions on parts of a restricted holding. In future the whole of a holding would be either restricted or officially TB free any one time.
I am also consulting on proposals that would, as a last resort, enable wild or untestable cattle to be culled. It is important that we have the means to take action in exceptional cases where cattle of unknown disease status cannot be safely tested.
The final proposal in this consultation is designed to respond to the Members of this House, and their constituents, who have pressed the Government to make available information on the location of bovine TB herd breakdowns, so that livestock farmers are better equipped to deal with the local risks to their herds. This would build on the risk-based trading scheme launched earlier this month, which encourages farmers to share details of the disease history of any cattle they sell so buyers are better able to manage any disease risks.
I recognise that these rigorous measures will be tough for a significant minority of livestock businesses. However, we will not achieve the aims of our strategy, and be able to guarantee the future of the thriving cattle industry we all wish to see, without tackling all of the vectors by which this disease can spread. That is why I remain committed to doing everything possible to get on top of and eradicate this devastating disease in both wildlife and cattle.
I am today announcing that we have asked Sir Cyril Chantler to carry out an independent review of the public health evidence on standardised packaging of tobacco products.
Tobacco use is a significant public health challenge. Our evidence-based tobacco control strategies play an essential part in delivering the Government’s continued commitment to reduce the number of people in this country who are dying prematurely.
It is important to explore avenues that have the potential to contribute to this long-standing aim. In July we said that we would keep the policy of standardised packaging under review as we examine the emerging evidence. As part of this ongoing work we have therefore commissioned a review with the following terms of reference:
To give advice to the Secretary of State for Health, taking into account existing and any fresh evidence, as to whether or not the introduction of standardised packaging is likely to have an effect on public health (and what any effect might be), in particular in relation to the health of children. It will be a matter for the chair to determine how he undertakes this review and he is free to draw evidence from whatever source he considers necessary and appropriate.
The review will report by March 2014.
It will be an independent review, with advice to the Secretary of State contained in a report. An independent secretariat will be appointed by the chair, who will set out the method of how he will conduct the review in more detail in due course. The secretariat will be wholly accountable to the chair, and it will be for the chair to guide and task them in their work as he sees fit.
We intend to reach a decision on standardised tobacco packaging once Sir Cyril has made his report. The Government will introduce standardised tobacco packaging if, following the review and consideration of the wider issues raised by this policy, we are satisfied that there are sufficient grounds to proceed, including public health benefit.
The Government also intend to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the Children and Families Bill, which is currently being considered in the House of Lords, to table a Government amendment to take enabling powers now which would allow regulations to be made to introduce standardised tobacco packaging later, if it is decided to proceed with this policy.
Earlier this year we consulted on our motoring services strategy which set out our intention to put the customer at the heart of what we do.
One of our objectives was to identify ways in which to give customers a better service and reduce costs. As a result of that, we announced in July that the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) would merge to form a single motoring agency. The creation of a single agency is intended to deliver the following strategic objectives:
Motorists and businesses will benefit from more convenient and cost-effective motoring services—such as driving tests and goods vehicle testing;
Delivery of the same high-quality testing and standards services to motorists and businesses, but with greater efficiency;
Delivering testing in a way which is more flexible and convenient for customers; this merger offers opportunities to explore and extend this in the future;
Create opportunities to identify synergies between the two organisations and service improvements that could potentially enable a reduction in fees.
I have considered a range of options for the name of the new agency, and have decided that it will be known as the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), to reflect the work of both its predecessors and the crucial contribution they make to road safety.
In keeping with Government practices, the cost of the rebranding of the agency will be kept to a minimum, and a number of changes will be made to legislation—giving powers to the agency to conduct its work.
I am therefore announcing the new name today, to enable these changes to be made and to allow the Agency to plan its rebranding in a cost effective manner. The agency will therefore begin to use its new name immediately with formal and full integration taking place over the coming months. Until the merger is complete on 1 April 2014, references to DVSA will also include a statement “incorporating DSA and VOSA”.