Monday 11 February 2019
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Competitiveness Pre-Council Statement
My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for State for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Henley) has made the following statement:
The Internal Market and Industry Day of the Competitiveness Council will take place on 18 February 2019 where the right hon. Lord Henley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, will represent the UK; and the Research and Space Day on 19 February 2019 where Chris Skidmore MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, will represent the UK.
Day one—internal market and industry
The internal market and industry day will consider a number of non-legislative items including, a competitiveness check-up focusing on the impact of EU value chain integration on competitiveness. Ministers will be asked to exchange views on the impact of artificial intelligence on EU industry and to adopt conclusions on the EU’s co-ordinated plan on artificial intelligence.
They will take part in a policy debate on ‘Clean Planet for all’, the EU’s strategic long-term vison for a climate-neutral economy. The non-legislative part of the agenda will finish with a European semester policy debate on how to deliver key reforms to make the European economy more competitive and resilient in the face of global uncertainty.
Under any other business, there will be updates on the following current legislative proposals: the company law package including a directive on digital tools and processes and a directive on the cross-border conversions, mergers and divisions; the regulation on enforcement of union harmonisation legislation on products; and the regulation on promoting fairness and transparency for business users of online intermediation services.
Day two—research and space
The research and space day will begin with a session on the Horizon Europe package during which the Council will review the progress report and exchange views on the specific programme implementing Horizon Europe—framework programme for research and innovation for 2021- 2027.
Under any other business, the presidency will provide information on the state of play of the Horizon Europe package, covering the framework programme and its rules for participation and dissemination. The presidency will then conclude the Council by providing information on the ITER and Euratom programmes.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Informal Foreign Affairs Council
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the Informal Foreign Affairs Council (Gymnich) on 31 January and 1 February. It was chaired by the High Representative and Vice President of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HRVP), Federica Mogherini. The meeting was held in Bucharest, Romania.
The discussion of the Eastern Partnership confirmed the importance of the partnership and how much it had achieved in the last 10 years with a need to keep focusing on anti-corruption, rule of law, freedom of movement and values; with cyber, stratcomms, energy security, P2P, CSDP and connectivity all cited as newer areas for future attention.
Foreign Ministers expressed concern about the situation in Venezuela, and agreed the importance of holding elections. Foreign Ministers recalled their Council conclusions in May 2018, which stated that the elections were neither free nor fair, and reiterated the need for free and transparent elections respecting the constitutional rules of Venezuela. The HRVP announced the formation of an International Contact Group for Venezuela, with the first meeting due to take place on 7 February in Montevideo.
Foreign Ministers had a broad discussion about China’s growing role in the world including EU—China co-operation on the JCPoA and climate change. There was agreement that the EU’s 2016 China strategy remained relevant and calls for greater EU unity on shared areas of interest. Foreign Ministers also held a discussion on China with candidate countries (Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey).
Health and Social Care
Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill: EVEL
I am today placing in the Library of the House the Department’s analysis on the application of Standing Order 83L in respect of the Government amendments tabled for Commons Report stage for the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill.
Housing, Communities and Local Government
Britain is a great place to live and is made stronger by its diversity. However, the benefits and opportunities of our society are not felt equally by everyone. No community should feel excluded, and everyone should understand and embrace the benefits and opportunities of living in modem Britain.
In March 2018, the Government launched a consultation on the Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper to obtain the views of the public and organisations on its ambitious goal to build integrated communities where people—whatever their background—can live, work, learn and socialise together based on shared rights, responsibilities and opportunities. The consultation ran for 12 weeks in total and closed on 5 June 2018.
I am today publishing the Government’s response to this consultation. The consultation process considered the Government’s proposed actions as laid out in the Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper and presented a number of questions about the Government’s strategy for consultation. There were over 3,400 responses to the consultation, reflecting the high level of interest in building integrated communities. A breakdown of the responses to each of these questions can be found in the Government’s response.
The Government have taken the views expressed in the consultation into account when developing our next steps. These are set out in the integrated communities action plan I am also publishing today. This outlines more than 70 actions across Government to help create strong and integrated communities. This action plan will build the capacity of our leaders, strengthen our communities, boost English language proficiency, and give people the infrastructure they need to thrive. The views of communities will continue to be an important factor when implementing these actions.
The action plan sets out a framework of national priority actions to promote integration and adopts a localised approach. As the Secretary of State for Communities, one of my priorities is to help build thriving, liveable and resilient places where people get along—from our high streets to our community spaces.
I am placing a copy of both documents in the Library of the House.
Work and Pensions
Private Pensions Update
I am pleased to announce today, two important steps to ensure millions of people have greater security in retirement.
A stronger pensions regulator
Today, the Government have published their response to the consultation “Protecting Defined Benefit Pension Schemes—A Stronger Pensions Regulator”. This outlined their approach, as set out in the 2018 White Paper, to strengthen, clarify and streamline the defined benefit pension system.
The Government will introduce two new criminal offences to prevent and penalise mismanagement of pension schemes.
The first will target individuals who wilfully or recklessly mishandle pension schemes, endangering workers’ pensions, by such things as chronic mismanagement of a business; or allowing huge unsustainable deficits to build up; or taking huge investment risks; or a combination thereof. We will introduce a new custodial sentence of up to seven years’ imprisonment or an unlimited fine for this offence. This brings the punishment in line with similar offences in financial services.
The second, which will attract an unlimited fine, will target individuals who fail to comply with a contribution notice, which is issued by the Pensions Regulator requiring a specified amount of money to be paid into the pension scheme by that individual. We will also introduce a new civil penalty of up to £1 million for this offence.
We have also provided an update on measures to strengthen the Regulator’s information-gathering powers, such as enhancing their interview and inspection powers previously announced in the White Paper.
The changes will build on the robust system that is already in place to protect defined benefit pension schemes, further protecting individuals’ pensions and ensure greater clarity for employers.
The Government’s full response to the consultation is available here:
Ten million workers automatically enrolled into pensions
Today we announce the milestone of 10 million workers having been automatically enrolled into a workplace pension.
Automatic enrolment is transforming the savings culture of this country by normalising workplace pension saving. It is enabling millions of workers to look forward to a more secure future and a better retirement.
Between 2012 and 2017, the proportion of eligible employees saving in a workplace pension rose from 55% to 84%. The private sector has seen the largest increases over this period, with participation rates almost equalising among eligible men and women in 2017. The increase has also been particularly marked among younger workers and those with low earnings. Among eligible employees aged 22 to 29 years, participation increased from 35% to 79%; and 76% of people earning £10,000 to £20,000 thousand are now saving, a rise of 42 percentage points since 2012.
Employers’ support is key to the success of automatic enrolment. In the last two years, thousands of small and micro employers have enrolled eligible workers into a pension for the first time. Automatic enrolment is now business as usual.
In addition, we brought in the first of the planned increases in minimum contribution rates, in April 2018, raising the overall minimum contribution level to 5%. From April 2019, the second planned increase, to a minimum 8%, will enable many workers to save even more.
The Government are committed to building on the 10 million milestone to support more workers, no matter what job, to save for a better retirement.