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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
18 December 2017
Volume 633

Written Statements

Monday 18 December 2017

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Energy Council

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My noble Friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Henley) has made the following statement:

The Energy Council will take place on 18 December in Brussels.

The Council will aim to agree a total of four general approaches on elements of the clean energy package. These are on the regulation on governance of the energy union; the directive on renewable energy; the regulation on electricity; and the directive on electricity.

The day meeting will also include information from the Commission about recent developments in the field of external energy relations and a presentation from the Bulgarian delegation on their upcoming presidency.

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Industrial Action: E-balloting

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Section 4 of the Trade Union Act 2016 makes provision for the Secretary of State to commission an independent review concerning electronic balloting for the purposes of ballots held under section 226 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

It was announced that Sir Ken Knight would be undertaking the independent review on 3 November 2016.

The Government were particularly keen to understand the electronic and physical security of electronic balloting methods, including the risks of interception, impersonation, hacking, fraud and, misleading or irregular practices, as well as whether any system could safeguard against the risk of intimidation of union members and protect anonymity of ballot responses. During the review Sir Ken Knight issued a call for evidence and conducted a number of roundtables with key stakeholders to hear their views.

The review is published today and I would like to place on record my thanks to Sir Ken for his work. Under the terms of the Trade Union Act 2016, the Secretary of State is now required to consider the review and, in preparing his response, must consult relevant organisations, including professionals from expert associations to seek their advice and recommendations. Accordingly, we will now consider Sir Ken’s review and respond in due course.

Copies of the review will be laid before both Houses.

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Treasury

Cash Ratio Deposits

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Cash ratio deposits (CRDs) are non-interest bearing assets deposited with the Bank of England by banks and building societies. They are used by the Bank to finance its policy functions, in particular its efforts to secure price stability and the stability of the financial system in general, from which these institutions are key beneficiaries.

The CRD scheme was extended to include building societies, and was placed on a statutory basis, when the Bank of England Act became law in 1998. The scheme has been reviewed every five years since. The last review in 2013 resulted in the CRD ratio being increased from 0.11 % to 0.18%, following a public consultation. As part of the 2013 review, the Government committed to reviewing the scheme again within five years. The Treasury, working closely with the Bank, will now begin that review.

The review will include an assessment of the detailed arrangements of the scheme as well as the continuing suitability of the scheme itself compared to alternative sources of funding. It will also address the impact of the scheme on the eligible institutions. The broad conclusions of the review will be the subject of a public consultation.

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ECOFIN

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A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) was held in Brussels on 5 December. EU Finance Ministers discussed the following items:

Early morning session

The Eurogroup President debriefed Ministers on the outcomes of the 4 December meeting of the Eurogroup, and the Commission provided an update on the current economic situation in the EU. The Chair of the European Fiscal Board (EFB) presented to Ministers the annual report from the EFB. Ministers also exchanged views on the proposed US tax reforms.

Strengthening of the Banking Union

The Council took note of progress reports on the European deposit insurance scheme, and the banking package, and received information from the Commission on the state of play of the action plan to tackle non-performing loans. This was followed by an exchange of views.

Current financial services legislative proposals

The Council presidency provided an update on current legislative proposals in the field of financial services.

VAT administrative co-operation

The Commission provided information on its proposals relating to measures on VAT administrative co-operation.

Council conclusions on The EU list of non-co-operative jurisdictions for tax purposes

Ministers agreed Council conclusions on the EU’s list of non-co-operative jurisdictions for tax purposes.

Council decisions on the implementation of the stability and growth pact

Ministers agreed a Council decision to close the UK’s excessive deficit procedure (EDP), and a decision and recommendation on Romania’s compliance with EU fiscal rules.

European Semester 2018

The Council presidency presented the annual growth survey 2018 and the alert mechanism report 2018, and discussed a Council recommendation on the economic policy of the euro-area.

EIB proposal to establish a European development bank

Ministers received information on a proposal to create a new subsidiary to the European investment bank that will be dedicated to development.

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Communities and Local Government

Building Safety Programme

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Earlier this year, the Home Secretary and I asked Dame Judith Hackitt to carry out an independent review of building regulations and fire safety. I am pleased to inform the House that Dame Judith has published her interim report today. It is available at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/independent-review-of-building-regulations-and-fire-safety-interim-report, and copies are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The publication of Dame Judith’s interim report is an important milestone. The Home Secretary and I welcome the report, its findings, and the extensive engagement Dame Judith has carried out with industry, residents, building control bodies, fire and rescue services, Government and other key partners.

It is my intention to update the House further regarding the publication of this report in an oral statement this afternoon.

This interim report provides a strong foundation for the next phase of the review. We will continue work with Dame Judith and other partners over the coming months as she finalises her recommendations and I look forward to updating the House on Dame Judith’s final report in the spring.

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Defence

Armed Forces Covenant: Annual Report

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I am today laying before the House the 2017 armed forces Covenant annual report. The Armed Forces Act 2011 set out the requirement for the Defence Secretary to report progress annually to Parliament. The Covenant is a promise by the nation to ensure that those who serve, or have served, and their families are treated fairly and suffer no disadvantage. The sacrifices made by serving personnel, veterans and their families should be recognised accordingly. The report describes what the Government, and wider society, have done to uphold the principles of the Covenant across the UK.

The Covenant is not only a debt owed by the nation to the armed forces community, it is also a mutually beneficial partnership between the military family and the wider society that they serve. The annual report highlights just some of the excellent initiatives being taken in local communities to deepen relationships and that the publication of the report today coincides with the announcement of 02 as the 2,000th business signing of the Covenant demonstrates the ongoing success in building partnerships with the private sector.

A consistent theme of this year’s report is a drive toward co-ordinating services across the core areas of the Covenant. The launch of the Veterans’ Gateway, funded by the Covenant and delivered by a Royal British Legion led-consortium, and the work of the Department of Health-led Transition Intervention and Liaison Services, in close co-ordination with Defence, are just two examples of working across organisational boundaries to provide a more coherent and focused service to the people that need it the most.

In the public sector new guidance for local authorities published this year will help to improve the consistency of delivery at a local level. As well as identifying examples of best practice the guidance explains how local support groups and organisations can share resources to help integrate military and civilian communities.

The mobile nature of service life can lead to disadvantage in a number of areas, one of which is access to education. The inclusion of service children as a target group for universities in their fair access agreements, acknowledges this and the ability to identify service children when moving between schools will help to minimise the impact to their education.

The Government’s new ministerial Covenant and Veterans Board will also ensure a more co-ordinated approach, confirming that providing support to service personnel, veterans and their families remains a top priority, and the report also sets out the key commitments for 2018.

The report has been compiled in consultation with other Government Departments, the devolved Administrations, and the external members of the Covenant reference group.

I am grateful to them all for their contributions, and their continued support as together we ensure our armed forces community receive the support they deserve.

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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security: Annual Report

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I wish to inform the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence, are today publishing the 2017 annual report on progress against the UK’s third National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

Published on 12 June 2014 (HC Deb, 16 June 2014, c. 72-4WS) the National Action Plan sets out the Government’s objectives on the Women, Peace and Security agenda for the period 2014-2017. It provides the direction to our work to put women and girls at the centre of conflict prevention, response and resolution.

The report published today outlines our progress against the National Action Plan over the last 12 months, including our work in our six focus countries of Afghanistan, Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Somalia and Syria as well as an overview of our wider progress on the Women, Peace and Security agenda over the three year life of the National Action Plan and the commitments we made in October 2015 at the UN Security Council High Level Review of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

The progress report has been published on gov.uk. I am placing electronic copies in the Parliamentary Libraries.

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Work and Pensions

Automatic Enrolment

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The Government have published their “Automatic Enrolment Review 2017: Maintaining the Momentum” as a Command Paper (CM 9546). A copy of the accompanying analytical report, which underpins this review, has been placed in the House Library.

Since 2012, over 9 million people have been automatically enrolled into a workplace pension and over 900,000 employers have met their duties. The workplace pension participation rate for eligible men and women in the private sector is now equal. By 2019/20 we estimate an extra £20 billion a year will go into in workplace pension savings as a result of automatic enrolment. This is helping people achieve greater financial security in later life, and encouraging a culture of saving.

The review sets out our ambition to build on the success of automatic enrolment to date, with a comprehensive and balanced package of proposals to continue to normalise pension saving, namely:

confirming that automatic enrolment should continue to be available to all eligible workers regardless of who their employer is;

making saving the norm for young people, by lowering the age for automatic enrolment from 22 to 18, to bring an extra 900,000 people into workplace pensions;

supporting all those who are automatically enrolled, particularly those with low earnings and multiple jobs, to save more for retirement by removing the lower earnings limit so that their contributions are calculated from the first pound of earnings.

Recognising the diversity of the 4.8 million classified as self-employed, for whom a single saving intervention might not be effective, we will work to implement our manifesto commitment by testing targeted interventions aimed at the self-employed, which are set out in the review report, to identify the most effective options to increase pension saving among self-employed people.

We will also work to ensure that the rules around automatic enrolment for those working in atypical ways or in non-standard forms of employment are clear, and that enforcement of the automatic enrolment duties for employers remains robust. The Government’s forthcoming response to Matthew Taylor’s review of modern working practices, which is due to be published shortly, is relevant to this work. My Department will continue to work closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, HMT and HMRC to ensure suitable alignment and clarity is achieved across our policies.

The review also calls upon the pensions industry, employers, and the wider advisory and intermediary community to work with Government on better, simpler, engagement. Our aim is to help savers understand the benefits of workplace pension saving, so that they are better able to plan for security in retirement.

It is the Government’s ambition to implement changes to the automatic enrolment framework in the mid-2020s, subject to discussions with stakeholders around their detailed design in 2018/19, finding ways to make the changes affordable, and followed by formal consultation with a view to introducing legislation in due course. The discussions with stakeholders will allow us to build consensus on the shape and design of the package, helping develop our detailed plans and implementation timetable, which can then form part of the formal consultation.

The Government are grateful to the review’s external advisory group, chaired by and made up of experts from within the pensions industry, and those representing member interests and employers. This group has provided invaluable insights and constructive challenge in shaping the review.

The 2017 review also outlines findings from the statutory review of the alternative quality requirements for defined benefit schemes (under section 23A of the Pensions Act 2008), and the alternative quality requirements (under section 28 of the Pensions Act 2008).

Annual thresholds review

Running concurrently with this review of automatic enrolment, the statutory annual review of the automatic enrolment earnings thresholds has been completed for the 2018/19 tax year.

The Government will lay an Order before Parliament in the new year which will include the following thresholds for 2018/19: £6,032 for the lower earnings limit of the qualifying earnings band and £46,350 for the upper limit of the qualifying earnings band.

The automatic enrolment earnings trigger will remain frozen at £10,000.

This will ensure that a period of stability and consistency is maintained ahead of the increases in contributions from April 2018, while also ensuring that those, for whom it makes economic sense to save, continue to be brought into workplace pensions and have the opportunity to build up meaningful savings.

A copy of the automatic enrolment earnings trigger and qualifying earnings band for 2018/19: supporting analysis has been placed in the House Library. These papers will be available today on www.gov.uk website.

“Automatic Enrolment Review 2017: Maintaining the Momentum” sets out a clear direction of travel to build on the successes of the policy to date, and move forward the Government’s ambition for a more robust and inclusive savings culture; specifically supporting younger generations, lower earners, and women with the opportunity to build up pension assets for a more secure retirement.

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Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumers Affairs Council

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The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 7 December 2017 in Brussels. As Minister of State for Employment, I represented the UK.

The Council agreed a partial general approach on the long-term care and family benefits chapters of the revision of regulations on co-ordination of social security systems—(883/04 and 987/09). The UK explained its abstention due to a parliamentary scrutiny reservation.

The Council agreed a general approach on the European Accessibility Act. The UK supported the aims of the proposal but registered an abstention, reflecting concerns about the clarity of text.

The Council received a progress report on the draft directive on equal treatment (Art. 19) and the draft directive on work-life balance.

The Council gave political agreement to the directive implementing a social partner agreement on the implementation of amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention.

As part of the semester process the European Commission presented the annual growth survey 2018, the draft joint employment report, the alert mechanism report and the draft recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area. They also sought the views and gained the approval of member states on the employment and social aspects of the recommendation on the euro area.

The Council adopted Council conclusions on the following three topics: the future of work: making it e-easy; enhancing community-based support and care for independent living; and on enhanced measures to reduce horizontal gender segregation in education and employment.

Under any other business, the Commission presented information on the EU action plan 2017-2019 on tackling the gender pay gap and on concluding the year of focused actions to eliminate gender-based violence. The Swedish delegation and the Commission presented information on the Social summit (Gothenburg, 17 November 2017) and the Bulgarian delegation presented the work programme of its incoming presidency.

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Personal Independence Payment

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Later today, I will publish Command Paper 9540 “Government’s response to the Second Independent Review of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Assessment”. The review was carried out by Paul Gray and published on 30 March 2017.

Alongside this, the Department is publishing interim findings from wave 2 of the PIP claimant survey which focuses on the assessment and decision stages of the PIP claim, and seeks claimants’ feedback and experiences of these.

The response outlines my Department’s intentions in relation to the recommendations suggested by Paul Gray in his second independent review. It also provides an update of the actions my Department has taken against the recommendations identified in the first independent review.

My Department has accepted or partially accepted all of the recommendations in the latest review.

PIP is a modern benefit, which can be flexible and responsive to change, where we identify improvements to be made. While this completes the legal obligation to review the implementation of PIP, we remain committed to understanding how the benefit is working and to continuous improvement in this space. Furthermore we remain committed to working closely with claimants and the organisations who represent them, and will continue to do so.

This response will be laid before Parliament and made available on the www.gov.uk website.

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