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Written Statements

Volume 577: debated on Tuesday 18 March 2014

Written Statements

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Treasury

“Delivering Tax-Free Childcare”

The Government have today published “Delivering Tax-Free Childcare: the Government’s response to the consultation on design and operation”—a response to the August 2013 consultation on tax-free childcare. The document is available at: www.gov.uk/government/consultations/tax-free-childcare and copies have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Tax-free childcare is designed to provide support directly to working parents for their childcare costs. The Government will pay 20p for every 80p working parents pay towards their childcare costs up to a maximum of £10,000 per year.

“Delivering Tax-Free Childcare” announces that all working families with children under 12 will be able to access the scheme within the first year of its opening, as opposed to a gradual expansion over a seven-year period.

“Delivering Tax-Free Childcare” also announces an increase in the cost cap from £6,000 a year to £10,000 per year, which will mean the Government contribution could be worth up to £2,000 per child each year. This means that around 100,000 parents with higher childcare costs can benefit from greater support.

Delivered by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) with its delivery partner National Savings & Investments (NS&I), the scheme will be will be simple, flexible and straightforward for parents and childcare providers; parents’ money will be secure; and they will face no fees or charges.

Employers’ workplace nurseries will not be affected by the introduction of TFC and parents who currently receive employer-supported childcare (ESC) can continue to benefit from this scheme with their current employer should they wish to do so. Self-employed parents and those working for employers who do not offer the existing scheme, employer-supported childcare (ESC), will have access to childcare support for the first time.

The Government announced at Budget 2013 that they are allocating a further £200 million per year to increase the childcare support available under universal credit for families where both parents, or a single parent, pay income tax. The Government are now going further and today announce they will raise the proportion to 85% for everyone in universal credit. In line with the principles of the welfare cap, offsetting savings to fund this expansion will be found from within the universal credit programme. Further details will be set out at autumn statement.

ECOFIN

A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 11 March 2014. The following agenda items were discussed.

Follow-up to the G20 meeting of Finance Ministers and Governors (Sydney, Australia, 22-23 February 2014)

Council was informed of the main outcomes of the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors’ meeting in Sydney. The Government are supportive of the Australian G20 agenda, particularly the focus on strong, sustainable and balanced growth.

Preparation of the European Council on 20-21 March 2014Economic Elements of the EU 2030 Energy and Climate Framework

Council held an exchange of views on economic elements of the EU 2030 energy and climate framework, in order to input to the March European Council. The Government expressed support for the emerging conclusions on the EU 2030 framework and reiterated the importance of member states retaining the flexibility to pursue the most cost-effective transition to a low-carbon economy.

Savings Taxation

Council discussed a proposal on taxation of savings income in the form of interest payments. Austria and Luxembourg could not support the proposal and the presidency concluded that it will need to return to a future Council. The Government support an agreement of the amending proposal to the EU savings directive as soon as possible.

Current legislative proposals

The presidency provided an update on the ongoing work on financial services dossiers.

Single Resolution Mechanism

The Council examined the state of play of the single resolution mechanism in relation to the trilogue process with the European Parliament. The Government welcome the progress made on this file since the general approach was reached at ECOFIN in December 2013, and will be ensuring that they fully respect the unity and integrity of the single market.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Sri Lanka: UN Human Rights Council (Correction)

Due to an error in the written ministerial statement issued on 13 March 2014, Official Report, column 40WS, I am issuing a corrected statement.

During the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in Sri Lanka last year, the Prime Minister called on the Sri Lankan Government to launch a credible domestic process to ensure accountability for alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian and human rights law on both sides during the conflict. The Prime Minister said that if the Sri Lankan Government did not take this step, we would use our position on the UN Human Rights Council to seek an international investigation.

In the intervening months, we have pressed the Sri Lankan Government to set up a domestic process to investigate these allegations and ensure accountability. However, no credible domestic accountability processes have been set up to date in Sri Lanka. As a result, the time has now come for international action on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.

The UK is therefore working in support of a strong resolution which calls for an international investigation, which will be voted on by the end of this month at the UN Human Rights Council.

A draft resolution was jointly tabled at the UN HRC by the UK, US, Mauritius, Macedonia and Montenegro, on Monday 3 March. The draft resolution calls for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to lead the international investigation, and to report back by March 2015. Further discussions on the text will take place this month.

The adoption of the resolution is not a foregone conclusion. Ahead of the vote, the Prime Minister and I, and other Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers, have been in contact with a wide range of UN HRC member states to encourage them to support a strong resolution that calls for an international investigation. In doing so, we have drawn attention to the assessment of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who points to the need for this investigation, as progress on accountability in Sri Lanka has been, in her words, “limited and piecemeal”. The Commissioner has also highlighted concerns on other human rights issues, including the undermining of independent institutions such as the judiciary in Sri Lanka, a “significant” surge in attacks on religious minorities and impunity for those committing serious human rights abuses. In the remaining days before the vote we will continue to urge UN HRC members to support this action, and maintain our close contact with NGOs and civil society.

We welcome the offer of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to assist in an international investigation, which would be a significant step forward in ensuring that the Sri Lankan people will know the truth behind events during the conflict. We are confident that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, together with special procedures, can provide a full and comprehensive investigation.

It is important to recognise that, as a country and a people, Sri Lanka has enormous potential, with the opportunity to become a strong and prosperous nation, if the Sri Lankan Government address these vital issues. The UK has previously welcomed progress in Sri Lanka in areas including demining (on which the Prime Minister last year announced a further £2.1 million of UK funding), reconstruction of former conflict affected areas and the reintegration of child soldiers. Such progress should not be overlooked.

But it is also important that this progress is matched by substantive progress on reconciliation, human rights and accountability. It is clear that Sri Lanka still has a long way to go in this respect, in order to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation. Accountability plays an important part in the reconciliation process, and must not be ignored. This is intended to be a resolution which will help to address the legitimate concerns of all communities.

Work and Pensions

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 10 March 2014 in Brussels. Shan Morgan, Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, represented the United Kingdom.

The “A” points were adopted, with the UK voting against the proposal for a regulation on the fund for the European aid to the most deprived. Both Houses submitted “reasoned opinions” that the Commission’s proposal did not comply with the principle of subsidiarity. The Government agreed with these concerns. The regulation creates an EU scheme to finance the distribution of food and consumer goods to deprived people. These activities are better and more efficiently delivered by individual member states and their local authorities, rather than through EU programmes. The fund will be financed in each member state by diverting resources from the member state’s structural funds programmes which support local growth and help disadvantaged people into work.

The Council reached an agreement in principle on the tripartite social summit for growth and employment. The Commission welcomed the consensus that had been reached by member states on this proposal and understands that due to the use of article 352, which triggered changes in national legislation in the UK, Germany and the Czech Republic, the decision would not be able to be adopted under the Greek presidency. The UK stated that we had no concerns with the substance of the decision but that we could not give formal agreement until the decision had been agreed in our national Parliaments.

The Council adopted the recommendation on a quality framework for traineeships with minimal discussion. The UK outlined its principled objection to this initiative, which was too prescriptive, would impose unnecessary burdens on both Governments and employees, and risked resulting in fewer traineeships being offered. The UK stressed it was committed to tackling the issue of youth unemployment and had put in place a range of measures to that effect, however any additional EU initiatives should focus more on outcomes and results, rather than prescribing a rigid framework that failed to take sufficient account of national priorities.

There were two policy debates on the 2014 European semester and on the recent Commission communication taking stock of the Europe 2020 strategy published on 5 March 2014. The outcome of both discussions will provide EPSCO’s contributions to the March European Council. The UK stressed that structural reforms to create jobs and enable people to move into work were essential. As such, the Europe 2020 targets should continue to focus strongly on employment and the employment guidelines should highlight the importance of labour market participation for all groups, not just young people.

Ministers adopted Council conclusions on the annual growth survey (AGS) and the social situation in the EU; the draft joint employment report (JER); and agreed a general approach on the Council decision on the employment guidelines.

Under any other business the Commission presented the main findings of its implementation reports on the gender recast directive 2006/54 and two anti-discrimination directives (2000/43 and 2000/78) which were published last year. The presidency updated the Council on its progress on legislative files and the upcoming tripartite social summit, and the work programmes for the Employment Committee (EMCO) and the Social Protection Committee (SPC) were presented by the Committee Chairs.