Monday 7 December 2009
Banking: Asset Protection Scheme
My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Alistair Darling) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
In my statement to the House, on 30 November, I said that I would provide Parliament with full details of the operation of the Asset Protection Scheme by 7 December. I am today placing copies of the legal agreements that have been signed with the Royal Bank of Scotland in the Libraries of both Houses, with redactions only in so far as they are necessary to protect commercial interests. Copies of these agreements will also be placed on HM Treasury’s website.
I am placing information on the assets covered by the scheme, drawn from HM Treasury due diligence, into the Libraries of both Houses. This information will also be placed on HM Treasury’s website.
In addition, I am today announcing the launch of the Asset Protection Agency (APA), an executive agency of HM Treasury. This follows the announcement on 25 September 2009 regarding the appointment of Stephan Wilcke as chief executive officer of the APA.
The APA’s role will be to manage the Asset Protection Scheme on behalf of HM Treasury, ensuring compliance with the scheme rules by the participating financial institution.
The overarching objectives of the APA are to run the scheme effectively and to ensure the participant maximises the economic value of the protected assets. Performance targets will be based on provision of timely information, identification of risks, and delivery of remedial action.
The CEO reports to Treasury Ministers and will provide them with any information needed in the course of parliamentary business. The APA will prepare and publish an annual report and accounts each year which will be laid before Parliament.
Treasury Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the work of the APA.
Further information on the role of the APA and relationship with HM Treasury is set out in the APA framework document, copies of which have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The document is also accessible via the HM Treasury website at www.hm-treasury.gov.uk.
In December 2008, the UK was among the first signatories to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. It is recognised as one of the most significant disarmament treaties of recent years, prohibiting the use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions
To enable the UK to proceed with ratification, the Government have introduced the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill in this Parliament. The Bill would legislate for the treaty’s prohibitions, establishing criminal offences and penalties for a range of banned actions; notably the use, production or transfer of cluster munitions on UK territory or by UK nationals.
In response to the interest of civil society and parliamentarians, I would like to set out the Government’s understanding of how the Bill’s prohibitions apply to the financing of cluster munitions production. Under the current provisions of the Bill, which have been modelled upon the definitions and requirements of the convention, the direct financing of cluster munitions would be prohibited. The provision of funds directly contributing to the manufacture of these weapons would therefore become illegal.
The convention does not prohibit so-called indirect financing of cluster munitions. Indirect financing is therefore not within the scope of the Bill’s provisions. As such, it would not become illegal to provide funds generally to companies that manufacture a range of goods, including cluster munitions.
However, aware of the humanitarian suffering caused by cluster munitions and the threat they pose to development in post-conflict areas, the Government are keen to see a complete end to cluster munitions. Due to the complex nature of indirect financing, there is a need for thorough consultation to consider the impact of any measures, and to ensure that we develop the most appropriate and effective measures to end indirect financing.
The Government intend to work with the financial sector, NGOs and other interested parties, to promote a voluntary code of conduct to prevent indirect financing, and if necessary would use their right to initiate legislation. We shall also review public investment guidelines to the same end.
EU: Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council
My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Gillian Merron) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 30 November and 1 December in Brussels. The Health and Consumer Affairs part of the council was taken on 1 December. I represented the UK.
At the meeting, the council was unable to reach agreement on the application of patients’ rights in the cross-border healthcare directive. This issue will be discussed further under the Spanish presidency.
Ministers received a progress report from the European Commission and the European Centre for Disease Control. There was also a discussion on lessons learnt from the EU-level response to the H1N1 pandemic.
A council recommendation on smoke-free environments and council conclusions on alcohol and health, e-Health and innovative incentives for effective antibiotics were adopted. The presidency also provided an update on progress of the proposals in the pharmaceutical package.
My honourable friend the Minister of State for Pensions and the Ageing Society (Angela Eagle) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council was held on 30 November and 1 December 2009 in Brussels. I represented the United Kingdom on all employment and social policy items on 30 November, except for the intervention on gender equality: strengthening growth and employment, where the United Kingdom was represented by my right honourable friend Harriet Harman, Leader of the House of Commons, Lord Privy Seal and Minister for Women and Equality. Health business was taken on 1 December 2009.
The first discussion and main item of the agenda was the council policy debate on recovering from the financial crisis and preparing for the post-2010 Lisbon strategy. The presidency stressed that work was the best way out of social exclusion and also promoted health and wealth. I intervened to note the domestic measures taken by the UK to tackle the crisis, including the focus on minimising youth unemployment and keeping people close to the labour market, extra staff and funding for Jobcentre Plus and help for lone parents. I also underlined the need to learn from the mistakes of previous recessions, when the early retirement or placing on disability benefits of workers created significant long-term employment issues.
The second policy debate of the meeting was on gender equality, strengthening growth and employment. The presidency stressed the importance of equality issues being fully considered both in short-term responses to the recession and as part of the longer-term post-Lisbon strategy. For the UK, Harriet Harman stressed the importance of recognising skills of men and women alike in the workplace, and believed that gender should be at the heart of the work of the EU, not just in terms of growth and employment policy but across the board. The Minister called for more joint working by women Ministers in order to put forward the gender equality agenda and looked ahead to the EU playing a strong role in the creation of the UN’s new “gender entity”.
The council adopted council conclusions on: promoting labour market inclusion—recovering from the crisis and preparing for the post-2010 Lisbon strategy; healthy and dignified ageing; gender equality—strengthening growth and employment; and on the follow-up of the implementation by the member states and the EU institutions of the Beijing platform of action. The council similarly endorsed Employment Committee and Social Protection Committee opinions on the post-2010 Lisbon agenda.
Political agreement was reached unanimously by the council on the revised social partner framework agreement on parental leave, and the ILO’s work in fishing convention, after the Commission circulated a minute statement clarifying that member states do not need to ratify this convention.
After some debate, the council achieved political agreement on the directive on equal treatment of the self-employed and the directive was adopted by qualified majority. Hungary, Germany and the UK abstained: Hungary because of the legal base, the UK because of concerns that some aspects of the directive were not in line with the general principle that member states should decide how best to provide social protection, and Germany on both counts. The directive will now return to the European Parliament with a view to achieving a second reading agreement.
Finally, the council also adopted without comment a progress report on implementing equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation (the anti-discrimination directive).
Under other business, the presidency and the Czech delegation summarised several recent conferences and the Spanish delegation outlined the central themes of their presidency, noting that job creation and social cohesion would be amongst them.
There was no formal discussion over lunch.
EU: General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council
My honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The General Affairs Council (GAC) and Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) have replaced the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) under the provisions of the Lisbon treaty, which came into force on 1 December 2009. The GAC and FAC will be held on 7 and 8 December in Brussels. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (David Miliband) will represent the UK.
The agenda items are as follows:
General Affairs Council
Preparation of the 10 and 11 December European Council
Ministers will discuss the presidency’s draft agenda for the December European Council. We welcome the presidency’s continued focus on the economic and financial situation. We expect the European Council to take stock of the economic climate. It will review the measures necessary to return the EU economy to sustainable growth, including through ensuring the development of co-ordinated exit strategies from the economic stimuli taken forward under the European economic recovery plan. In this context, the European Council will also begin discussions on the future of the Lisbon strategy for jobs and growth. We also expect it to reach agreement on the Commission's proposals for financial supervision and regulation. The European Council will also review the implementation of the EU sustainable development strategy and adopt the EU’s new work programme (the Stockholm programme) setting out priorities for EU co-operation in Justice and Home Affairs from 2010 to 2014.
On external relations, we expect the December European Council to take stock of Iran’s response to the offer of negotiations on its nuclear programme and set out a clear, appropriate way forward in line with the dual-track strategy of engagement and pressure.
The General Affairs Council will take stock of progress on enlargement and the stabilisation and association process in the western Balkans, informed by the Commission Communication of 14 October, which set out an enlargement strategy and progress reports for candidates and potential candidates. We believe the Commission communication to be a fair and balanced assessment. We expect the council to agree conclusions that reconfirm consensus support for enlargement and recognition that the accession process gives strong encouragement to political and economic reform in the enlargement countries and reinforces peace, democracy and stability in Europe. We also expect the council to recognise that enlargement countries have been affected, to different degrees, by the global economic recession and reconfirm its commitment to provide support including through the instrument for pre-accession (IPA). We would support conclusions language emphasising that the rule of law, in particular the fight against corruption and organised crime, and the need to build professional civil services remain major challenges that the enlargement countries need to address at an early stage. We also support the Commission's view that bilateral disputes should not be allowed to hold up the accession process.
We expect the council to review progress in the accession negotiations for Turkey and Croatia. We will support the council's recognition of the key role Turkey plays in regional security, energy supply, and the promotion of dialogue between civilisations and recent initiatives including addressing the Kurdish issue. However, we will share the council's disappointment that Turkey has not yet fulfilled its obligation to open its ports to trade with Cyprus under the additional protocol to the association agreement and agree that further efforts are needed to accelerate the pace of Turkey's accession negotiations.
We will support the council in commending Croatia for progress made but stressing that further efforts are needed to meet accession criteria in order to be able to conclude negotiations in 2010. We will support the council to reiterate that full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia remains essential in line with the negotiating framework. We also expect the council to note that Iceland's application for EU membership is currently being assessed by the Commission. We expect the council to make a decision on opening negotiations early in 2010 on the basis of the Commission’s opinion.
EU Disaster Management
Ministers will discuss the future of civil protection under the arrangements introduced by the Lisbon treaty. We expect the December European Council to focus on the possibilities afforded by both the solidarity clause and the civil protection article to enable improved disaster management in the EU. The European Council will adopt the Stockholm programme, which stresses the need for an integrated approach to disaster management, including prevention, preparedness and response, and foresees further efforts to strengthen and improve the Community’s civil protection instruments. We also expect the European Council to adopt conclusions on a Community framework for disaster prevention, which will set out priorities for efforts to reduce vulnerability to catastrophes and their consequences and for which the Government have expressed support.
The Government recognise the primary role of national responsibility in disaster management while acknowledging the importance of solidarity among member states when disasters overwhelm national capabilities.
Trio Programme of the Spanish, Belgian and Hungarian Presidencies
The next trio presidency of the EU will begin on 1 January 2010 with Spain, followed by Belgium and Hungary. Under the Lisbon treaty, they will look to build a stronger, more coherent EU that more effectively works for its citizens and addresses their concerns. Their focus will be on the reinforcement of the social agenda, with strong European leadership in key areas such as recovery from the financial and economic crisis, climate change and energy security.
Foreign Affairs Council
We expect discussion to focus on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Ministers are likely to consider further the future of the EU's military presence (EUFOR Operation Althea) and may receive an update from the presidency on the ongoing EU/US initiative to unblock progress on reforms. The Government believe that EUFOR makes a vital contribution to stability and security in BiH and should therefore only be reconfigured when the time is right. The Government support the EU/US initiative and believe that the conditionality set by the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) must be met before the Office of the High Representative can close and we move to an EU-led presence in BiH.
Ministers may discuss progress in Serbia, following a report to the UN Security Council on 3 December by the Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). If this report is sufficiently positive, Ministers may consider whether it is possible to implement Serbia's interim agreement. The Government support implementation of Serbia's interim agreement, on the basis of the significantly improved cooperation with ICTY that Serbia has already demonstrated.
We also expect Ministers to discuss progress by the western Balkans countries towards eventual EU membership. The Government support the assessments made by the European Commission in its communication of 14 October and believe that council conclusions should reaffirm support for the European perspective of the western Balkan countries. We believe that the countries of the region should make progress towards joining the EU on the basis of their progress in meeting the fair and rigorous conditions for membership. In particular, we support the Commission's recent recommendation for Macedonia to open accession negotiations and believe that conclusions should ensure that the country continues to move forward in the enlargement process. The Government also want conclusions that demonstrate the EU's ongoing commitment to Kosovo's economic and political development.
Ministers will discuss recent developments and consider, in preparation for the December European Council, whether efforts to engage with Iran have shown any signs of progress. Ministers may also consider next steps in the context of the dual-track policy, in order to persuade Iran to enter into meaningful negotiations on the nuclear issue. They will also focus on the human rights situation inside Iran.
Middle East Peace Process
Ministers will discuss developments in the Middle East, including the Israeli announcement of a limited 10-month moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank. The presidency plans conclusions that are likely to reaffirm the EU's commitment to a two-state solution and support of US efforts. The UK will be arguing for the EU to make clear its position on the importance of a two-state solution.
Ministers may discuss the latest developments and consider the EU’s next steps. The military Government have made no tangible progress towards Meeting the long-standing demands of the international community, including the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners and the start of a genuine process of dialogue and national reconciliation. The prospect of elections in 2010 gives such discussion added urgency.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Today, the Secretary of State for Health and I are announcing a number of publications on the subject of mental ill health and employment.
Mental ill health presents a major challenge to our society. As well as the devastating impact it can have on individuals and their families, mental ill health costs the economy between £30 and £40 billion through lost production, sick pay, NHS treatment and unemployment. It is now also the most common reason for claiming health-related benefits.
The Government are determined to support individuals and families and tackle these costs. Improving mental health at work and boosting the employment chances of people with mental health conditions are central to our approach. Taking part in well managed work can help to develop people’s mental health, resilience and well-being. We must ensure that more workplaces support their employees to do this and provide joined-up services to help people with mental health conditions to find and stay in employment.
Our first publication, Working Our Way to Better Mental Health: a Framework for Action, is the first mental health and employment strategy for the whole of Great Britain. It sets out a practical approach to achieving the twin aims of increasing well-being at work for everyone and improving employment outcomes for people with mental health conditions. It has been developed with the assistance of a group of independent experts, including mental health specialists, senior academics and representatives from business and third-sector organizations, chaired by Dame Carol Black, the National Director for Health and Work. The document was developed in partnership with the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales.
We are also publishing today an independent review commissioned by DWP and led by Dr Rachel Perkins of South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust. Her review, Realising Ambitions: Better employment support for people with a mental health condition, describes how we can strengthen employment, health and wider state support to help people with mental conditions that are out of work.
Our third publication, Work Recovery and Inclusion, is a cross-government delivery plan for England, setting out a high-level vision and series of commitments to support those people in contact with secondary mental health services into work. It forms part of the UK Government’s response to the Perkins review.
Acting on employment and mental health must be a long-term commitment. These publications support the objectives of New Horizons: a shared vision for mental health in England that is also published today. Taken together, our ambitions will influence future policy development across Governments and throughout the wider public sector, and bring about changes in behaviour in organisations and individuals. In so doing, they signal a long-term commitment to joint working between the Government and their partners.
Copies of all the documents will be available later today in the Vote Office.
My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Phil Hope) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Today I am publishing New Horizons: a shared vision for mental health. Mental health care in England has been transformed since the launch in 1999 of the national service framework for mental health. Significant and sustained increases in investment, an expansion of the workforce and a shift from hospital care to treatment in the community mean that our services are now recognised and admired internationally. It is time to build on those achievements.
New Horizons represents an innovative dual approach: continued improvement to mental health services in England, coupled with ambitious cross-government action for promoting public mental health and well-being. It is the product of close collaboration between government departments and a coalition of leading stakeholders from local government, the professions and the third sector. It has also been the subject of extensive public consultation.
The guiding values of New Horizons, endorsed by the consultation response, are: equality and justice; helping people to fulfil their potential and control their lives; and valuing relationships. It has six key themes:
preventing mental ill health and promoting good mental health;
strengthening transitions between mental health services;
personalising care; and
achieving value for money.
Its publication marks the beginning of a process, not the end. New Horizons provides a platform for action across government in the coming months and years. We are already putting this approach into action with the publication today of a suite of documents relating to the issue of mental health and employment. They are Working our way to better mental health: a framework for action, alongside Work, Recovery and Inclusion and Realising ambitions: better employment support for people with a mental health condition. These are described more fully in the Written Ministerial Statement made today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper).
New Horizons: a shared vision for mental health has been placed in the Library and copies are available for honourable Members from the Vote Office.
My right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Liam Byrne) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Today I am publishing a command paper entitled Putting the Frontline First. The document is an action plan for delivering better public services for lower cost. The plan has three central actions: driving up public service standards to strengthen the role of citizens and civic society, providing new freedoms for front-line services by recasting the relationship between the centre and the front line, and streamlining the centre of government for sharper delivery.
Copies of the document have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.
Serbia: International War Crimes Tribunal
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The International War Crimes Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Chief Prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, delivered his latest report on the ICTY completion strategy to the UN Security Council on 3 December. One of his key judgments was his very positive assessment of Serbia’s co-operation with the ICTY. The Government warmly welcome this assessment.
The Government have long been amongst the strongest supporters of the ICTY, and of a clear policy of conditionality underpinning EU integration. It is important that all countries wishing to join the EU show their commitment to the rule of law and fully accept their responsibility to deal with the past, in particular by ensuring that all those indicted for the most serious of crimes face justice. EU member states have made it consistently clear that achieving and maintaining full cooperation with the ICTY is essential for progress towards EU membership.
We have had many discussions with the Serbian authorities about this over recent years. We have not been slow, when we thought they were not doing enough, to make our views known.
When the new Serbian Government took office last year, under President Tadic’s leadership, we were encouraged by their public commitment to do everything necessary to conclude this process successfully. We have maintained close contact since then with those responsible for the investigations.
I have previously made clear to this House that our assessment of full co-operation would be based on committed and sustained activity from the Serbian Government, demonstrating 100 per cent effort and political will in co-operating with ICTY. That co-operation should cover efforts in a wide range of areas including: tackling support networks; meeting requests for documents; allowing access to archives; ensuring protection of witnesses; as well as in locating and transferring the remaining indictees. The Government's assessment is that Prosecutor Brammertz's report shows this to be the case.
We congratulate the Serbian authorities on this significant achievement. We are discussing with our EU partners how the EU should recognise this. We will remain in close touch with the authorities in Serbia to underline the importance of maintaining this sustained effort, including to track down and deliver the two remaining ICTY indictees, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic.