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Written Statements

Volume 705: debated on Wednesday 19 November 2008

Written Statements

Wednesday 19 November 2008

ECOFIN

My honourable friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ian Pearson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I will attend the budget ECOFIN to be held on 21 November in Brussels. Items on the agenda are as follows:

Preliminary Draft Amending Budgets Nos. 10 and 11 for 2008

Finance Ministers will be invited to adopt preliminary draft amending budgets 10 and 11. These would amend the 2008 budget to reflect latest implementation capacity and mobilise the EU solidarity fund for Cyprus following the recent drought there.

Letters of Amendment Nos. 2 and 3 to the Preliminary Draft Budget for 2009

Finance Ministers will be invited to discuss the Commission's amending letters 2 and 3 to the preliminary draft budget for 2009. Amending letter 2 reflects latest information on agricultural prices and other developments influencing future implementation capacity, and proposes financing for a food facility for developing countries from the agriculture expenditure budget heading. Amending letter 3 concerns a budgetary transfer to cover the costs of a new reflection group as called for by the October European Council.

Draft Budget for 2009

The council will look to agree its second reading position on the draft budget in preparation for the subsequent conciliation with the European Parliament. Council will then conclude its second reading and finalise figures for compulsory expenditure (mainly agriculture). The UK will seek a budget that respects the principles of budget discipline and sound financial management and reflects realistic forecasts for agriculture and structural funds spending.

EU: Education, Youth and Culture Council

My honourable friend the Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism (Barbara Follett) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Education, Youth and Culture Council will be held on 20 and 21 November in Brussels. Alun Ffred Jones, Minister for Heritage for Wales, will be representing the UK on the morning of 20 November when culture and audio-visual issues will be taken. Education issues will be taken on 21 November.

The first item on the agenda is the conclusions on the European heritage label. The purpose of this initiative is to highlight sites and monuments that have played a key role in European history and to raise their profile as tourist attractions. UK concerns about the added value of a European heritage label have largely been addressed in discussions at official level. The draft conclusions are now broadly acceptable and the scheme is to be voluntary, which will allow the UK to decide on the extent of any future participation. The council is expected to adopt the conclusions and the Government intend to endorse this course of action.

The presidency will seek adoption of the conclusions on architecture as part of culture’s contribution to sustainable development. The conclusions recognise the important integrating role of architecture, which involves cultural creation and technology, in implementing sustainable development. They suggest various means by which the European Commission and member states can promote architecture's role in sustainable development. The conclusions have been considered and welcomed by the European Forum for Architecture Policies. The aims of the conclusions are in line with the UK’s approach to architecture, sustainable design and built environment education. The Government intend to support the adoption of these conclusions.

The council will then be invited to adopt conclusions on the promotion of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue in external relations. These conclusions encourage member states to strengthen the role of culture in broader programmes; to enter into discussion with third countries about legal frameworks on cultural policies; to promote cultural diversity and the economic benefits of cultural activities; and to strengthen the role of culture in sustainable development. They also encourage the exchange of best practice on cultural issues; the mobility of artists, especially young people; the protection of copyright matters; and the protection and preservation of cultural heritage and goods. The UK believes that these conclusions adequately address cultural property issues. The Government intend to support the adoption of these conclusions.

There will be an exchange of views on Section 4 of the draft resolution on multilingualism. This section of the resolution suggests ways in which translation issues might be better addressed, with a focus on delivering cultural goals. These include improvements in conditions for translation of texts and publishing issues; reinforcing the role of cinema and audio-visual works in promoting language diversity; improving accessibility of performing arts to a wider audience; and improving training in translation skills. The UK supports the focus on culture in translation issues and the focus on young people as proposed in Section 4 of the draft resolution. The UK welcomes the proposed debate on the issue. The Government will intervene on this item to express their support for multilingualism. The full text of the resolution is expected to be adopted during the education section of the council.

The presidency will seek the adoption of conclusions on the creation of a European digital library, known as Europeana. There will also be a launch event that day at the Royal Library of Belgium. Europeana is an online common multilingual access point to European digital cultural material including books, newspapers, photographs, films, archival documents and archaeological heritage. The conclusions have been discussed and agreed at official level. The Government intend to support their adoption and there will be no need to intervene.

The presidency will also seek the adoption of the conclusions on the development of legal offers of online cultural and creative content and the prevention and combating of piracy in the digital environment.

The Commission published a communication in January of this year that examined the current status of online creative content in Europe and how the European Union can add value to this. In July, the French presidency submitted draft conclusions, which attempted to incorporate member states’ and stakeholders’ views on the Commission’s findings and to focus the discussions on the legal offer of online content. The conclusions have been discussed and finalised at official level and the council is now expected to adopt them at this meeting. The Government intend to support the adoption of these conclusions.

Broadcasting is not a specific agenda item for this meeting of the council. I understand, however, that Sweden may raise an information point under any other business on the Commission’s communication on state aid rules and public service broadcasting. State aid issues are within the formal competence of the Commission and the European Court and the Government’s view is that they are not a matter on which council conclusions are appropriate. The Government, however, remain a firm supporter of the principle of public service broadcasting. Bearing in mind the importance of public service broadcasting across the EU, we think that it is right for member states and the Commission to develop a clear framework to ensure that it is properly funded in future while respecting the competition rules, and we look forward to taking a prominent and positive role in that debate.

Further items under any other business are a presentation from the presidency and Commission on the progress report on the implementation of the council recommendation on priority actions to increase co-operation in the field of archives in Europe compiled by the European Archives Group. The presidency will provide information on the proposed multiannual safer internet programme. There will also be an information point from Germany on the digitisation of cinema. The Government do not foresee any need to intervene on these items.

Minimum Wage and Tipping

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs (Pat McFadden) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today I am launching our consultation on proposals to amend national minimum wage regulations that will end the practice of tips being used in payment of the national minimum wage.

Since the National Minimum Wage Act came into force in 1999, it has created a level playing field for employers in the payment of wages and an essential safety net for vulnerable and low-paid workers. Through this, we have seen a better rewarded and more committed workforce who have been a force in driving up standards.

Under the 1999 Act, the use of tips may count towards payment of the national minimum wage in certain circumstances. Some 10 years on, I believe that the time is now right to review this position to ensure equity for all workers and to create a level playing field in wages among employers.

In July 2008, we announced that we would be amending national minimum wage regulations to prevent the use of tips towards payment of the national minimum wage. Alongside this, we set out our plans to make tipping practices fairer and more transparent, as we believe that it is important that there is clear information for consumers about what happens to their tips.

Our consultation seeks views on the precise nature of regulatory change and on how to improve information and raise awareness for consumers.

I have arranged for copies of the consultation document and other related papers to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Northern Ireland Assembly: Policing and Justice

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Shaun Woodward) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

On 18 November, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister announced that their respective parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, had reached an historic agreement on the process that would facilitate the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The parties also agreed that the Northern Ireland Executive, which has not met since June, will begin meeting again on Thursday 20 November and will continue on a weekly basis until business is up to date; whereupon the Executive will revert to fortnightly meetings.

This breakthrough represents a new chapter for Northern Ireland, marking the beginning of an agreed process that will end in the transfer of policing and justice powers from this House to locally elected politicians in the power-sharing Assembly at Stormont.

It sets out the initial structure of a new Department of Justice and the arrangements for the election of a new Justice Minister.

It also provides for responsibility for the appointment and removal of judicial office holders to rest with the Judicial Appointments Commission.

All these arrangements will be time-limited and the parties have agreed that they will come to an end before May 2012, at which point permanent arrangements will need to be made.

As well as agreeing the steps to transfer these crucial powers, the events of this week mark the maturing of democracy in Northern Ireland. Negotiations that led to the Belfast and St Andrews agreements were driven by the British and Irish Governments. Yesterday’s agreement was the product of negotiations between the political parties of Northern Ireland; its essential strength will rest in being an agreement made by Belfast and in Belfast for all the people of Northern Ireland.

The British Government remain ready to help the parties to continue moving the process forward and will now finish preparations for legislation and the orders for the transfer of powers when the Assembly expresses its wish to effect the transition.

Prostitution

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today I am publishing the findings of the Government’s review into tackling demand for prostitution. The review explored both the legislative and non-legislative options available, drawing on the experiences of other countries, such as Sweden and Holland. Copies have been placed in the House Library.

The review makes several recommendations that shift the focus for reducing prostitution on to the sex buyer, the person responsible for creating the demand for prostitution markets, which in turn creates demand for the trade of women to be trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Specific legislative recommendations include: creating a new strict liability criminal offence of paying for sex with someone who is controlled for another person’s gain; removing the need to prove that a person has acted persistently in order to be prosecuted for kerb-crawling; and powers to close premises associated with sexual exploitation. Non-legislative recommendations include a marketing campaign to raise awareness among sex buyers about trafficking for sexual exploitation and a national anti-kerb-crawling campaign, to support the police in their efforts to reduce street-based prostitution.

I accept the report’s recommendations and will take forward action to implement them as soon as possible.

Railways: Accidents

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Geoff Hoon) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

As foreshadowed by my Statement of 23 October, the Department for Transport has today written to parties affected by the Potters Bar and Grayrigg derailments to seek their views on the most appropriate way forward, following the adjournment of the Potters Bar inquest in 2007. A copy of the letter has been placed in the House Library. Letters have been sent to organisations and individuals (or their representatives) who were affected by either accident and with whom the Department for Transport has previously had contact. I am also interested in the views of others directly involved in either accident. A copy of the letter has been published on my department's website so that they may have an opportunity to respond.

Taxation: Double Taxation

My right honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Stephen Timms) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

A new double taxation convention with Libya was signed on 17 November 2008. After signature, the text of the convention was deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on the HM Revenue and Customs website. The text of the convention will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.