Monday 18 April 2016
Business, Innovation and Skills
On 11 April I provided an oral statement to the House regarding the UK steel industry and the steps that the Government are taking to support it.
We have secured assurances from Tata that it will be responsible sellers of its remaining UK steel operations and will allow reasonable time to find a buyer. My colleagues and I have already been in contact with potential buyers making it clear that the Government stand ready to help. We have also appointed EY to act as financial advisors on behalf of the Government. Commercial confidentiality means I cannot go into detail about ongoing discussions. However I will update the House as soon as it is appropriate.
On 11 April, Tata formally launched its sales process providing a summary information memorandum to interested parties. In the next stage of the process, Tata will release more detailed information to those parties that have expressed an interest and which have signed up to the relevant confidentiality provisions.
This is also understandably an uncertain time for Tata’s customers and suppliers. The biggest reassurance I can give is the public commitment we have made—that the Government are totally committed to supporting and facilitating the process of finding a buyer for the business, as evidenced today by the information we are providing for Tata’s sales document.
Many questions have been raised recently regarding compensation for energy intensive industries. We have paid out over £200 million to energy intensive industries since 2013 to compensate them for energy policy costs. Under our new scheme, launched earlier this year, covering compensation for the renewables obligation and small scale feed-in tariff costs, we have so far paid over £23 million to 12 companies, including Tata. We are continuing to rapidly work through applications and will be making further payments over the coming weeks. Our overall package of compensation and exemption will save the steel industry hundreds of millions of pounds over this Parliament.
We continue to make strong progress in Europe. The duties imposed on rebar in January are starting to have an effect. Imports of rebar in January 2016 were 99% down on January 2015.
This week the Government will again be at the forefront of efforts to tackle unfair trade practices. Today I will attend the OECD high level meeting on steel in Brussels, which will look to agree actions to tackle global excess capacity. This will be attended by non-OECD countries. It is an ideal opportunity to press China and other countries to take fast and effective action in this area.
On Thursday, the Minister of State for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise will speak at the European Steel Day conference in Brussels, organised by EUROFER (the European steel trade body), where she will continue to work with industry and European partners to deliver on the Government’s commitment to provide industry with all the support they can.
The Government are committed to doing all it can to ensure a sustainable future for the UK steel industry.
The Government’s document “HM Treasury analysis: the long-term economic impact of EU membership and the alternatives” has today been laid before Parliament.
The document provides rigorous and objective economic analysis of the long-term impact of remaining a member of the EU, compared to the alternatives.
Copies of the report are available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office. It is also available on the www.gov.uk website.
Armed Forces Update
The Cabinet Manual states, “In 2011, the Government acknowledged that a Convention had developed in Parliament that before troops were committed the House of Commons should have an opportunity to debate the matter and said that it proposed to observe that convention except where there was an emergency and such action would not be appropriate.”
The Prime Minister repeated this commitment in relation to Libya in Parliament on 16 March 2016. The convention relates to conflict decisions rather than routine deployments of the UK armed forces around the world. The exception to the convention is important to ensure that this and future Governments can use their judgment about how best to protect the security and interests of the UK.
In observing the convention, we must ensure that the ability of our armed forces to act quickly and decisively, and to maintain the security of their operations, is not compromised. The Prime Minister, the Attorney General and I have set out the Government’s interpretation of the convention on a number of occasions.
We cannot predict the situations that the UK and its armed forces may face in future. If we were to attempt to clarify more precisely circumstances in which we would consult Parliament before taking military action, we would constrain the operational flexibility of the armed forces and prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of those forces, or be accused of acting in bad faith if unexpected developments were to require us to act differently. This Government have demonstrated their commitment to the convention by the debates they have held in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and their respect for the will of Parliament on each occasion.
The convention does not apply to British military personnel embedded in the armed forces of other nations as they operate as if they were the host nation’s personnel, under that nation’s chain of command, while remaining subject to UK domestic, international and host nation law. This is in line with international practice. To do otherwise would risk undermining the usefulness and viability of these exchanges. I have committed to increased transparency by publishing an annual update to the House on embedded personnel, the last of which was on 17 December 2015.
After careful consideration, the Government have decided that it will not be codifying the convention in law or by resolution of the House in order to retain the ability of this and future Governments and the armed forces to protect the security and interests of the UK in circumstances that we cannot predict, and to avoid such decisions becoming subject to legal action.
We will continue to ensure that Parliament is kept informed of significant major operations and deployments of the armed forces.
Energy and Climate Change
Informal Energy Council
Today my noble hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) has made the following statement:
I am writing to report on discussions at the Informal Energy Council held in Amsterdam on 10 and 11 April.
The Council featured discussions around a central theme of future electricity market design and the role of regional co-operation.
Delegates attended a series of sessions focusing on electricity market design and regional co-operation. The first session consisted of two breakout discussions; market improvements and the integration of renewables, and security of electricity supply. On the basis of the discussion, the Dutch presidency committed to presenting a set of presidency conclusions on market design to the next Energy Council on 6 June in Brussels.
Member states reached general agreement that market rules needed to be designed in such a way as to promote greater flexibility. Delegates discussed the need for strengthening intraday and balancing markets, recognising the role of scarcity pricing. With regard to the integration of renewables, discussions concluded the need to ensure a level playing field between generators of renewable energy and other producers, for example with regard to balancing responsibilities.
In the second session on security of electricity supply heads of delegation stressed the need for national governments to retain responsibility for security of supply, while recognising the need for greater regional co-operation among transmission system operators (TSOs). Delegates agreed it would be useful to settle on a common methodology for generation adequacy assessments, but retaining the ability to carry out national assessments to reflect member states’ specificities and reliability standards.
Over lunch there was a panel discussion on the role of demand-side response and consumers with representatives of consumer bodies, a major energy user, an energy aggregator and RWE. Discussions included ways to encourage domestic consumers to change behaviour through the provision of better information, particularly using smart meters; the role of energy services in reducing companies’ use of energy; the scope of new technologies to provide innovative solutions to demand peaks, and links with electric vehicles.
The Government plan to end the routine detention of pregnant women. Similar to the arrangements put in place as part of ending routine detention for families with children in 2014, the Government will table an amendment to the Immigration Bill, when it returns to this House shortly, placing a 72 hour time limit on the detention of pregnant women. This will be extendable to up to a week with ministerial authorisation.
We have already made progress on this and the Government are clear that pregnant women should be detained only in exceptional circumstances. This is a difficult issue—we need to balance the welfare of pregnant women with the need to maintain a robust and workable immigration system and ensure that those with no right to be here leave the UK.
We expect people who do not have the right to stay here to leave voluntarily. As with the family returns process, we will be able to offer support to those who choose to leave voluntarily to ensure that individuals are able to exercise control over their departure.
However, we need to ensure that we are able to effectively manage returns for those who do not depart voluntarily. This new safeguard will ensure that detention for pregnant women will be used as a last resort and for very short periods—for example: immediately prior to a managed return; to prevent illegal entry at the border where a return can be arranged quickly, or if a pregnant woman presents a public risk.
Wider changes are under way to improve the welfare of all vulnerable people in detention through a series of reforms, including a new policy on “adults at risk”. The Immigration Minister set out details of these reforms in a written ministerial statement on 14 January in response to the recommendations in Stephen Shaw’s report on the welfare of vulnerable people in detention.
The Government have listened carefully to concerns expressed in Parliament and by others and believe that the proposed amendment, combined with the wider reforms, strikes the right balance between protecting vulnerable women and maintaining effective and proportionate immigration control.
In due course the Government also intend to invite Stephen Shaw to carry out a short review in order to assess progress against the key actions from his previous report.