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Written Statements

Volume 630: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2017

Written Statements

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Construction Payment Consultations (Publication)

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

Today we are publishing two consultations on payment practices within the construction sector. In publishing these consultations, the Department is delivering two commitments.

The first is to undertake a non-statutory post implementation review of the 2011 changes to part 2 of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 (the “Construction Act”). The consultation will gather evidence on the effectiveness of the 2011 changes, the framework of rules created by the amended Act, the affordability of these changes for business, relevance and misuse of adjudication.

The second is to complete a review of the practice of cash retention under construction contracts. The review, of which the consultation is a part, is being published alongside independent research carried out by Pye Tait Consulting. The research draws a number of conclusions and also identifies areas for further investigation, which the consultation will seek to gather evidence on.

The consultations run in parallel, with a response period of 12 weeks, closing on the 19 January 2018.

Prompt and fair payment has long been an issue in the construction industry and many consider that some practices can be a barrier to investment, productivity improvement and growth in the sector. Both consultations and supporting documentation will be used to assess the extent of the issues; and whether and what further intervention is needed.

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Treasury

ECOFIN: 10 October 2017

A formal meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) was held in Luxembourg on 10 October.

Ministers discussed the following items:

Early morning session

The Eurogroup President briefed Ministers on the outcomes of the Eurogroup meeting held on 9 October, and the Commission presented its regular update on the economic situation in the EU. Ministers also discussed the European Commission’s use of discretion in assessing member states’ compliance with the preventive arm of the stability and growth pact (SGP).

Definitive VAT system

The Commission presented its legislative proposals for a definitive VAT system and the creation of a “single EU VAT area”.

Current financial service legislative proposals

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

Digital taxation

The Commission presented its communication of 21 September on “A Fair and Efficient Tax System in the EU for the Digital Single Market”, and the presidency provided a follow-up to the Tallinn digital summit held on 29 September.

European semester 2017

The Council exchanged views on lessons learnt from the 2017 European semester process.

Preparation of the G20 meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors and of the IMF annual meetings between 12 and 15 October in Washington

Minsters agreed the EU’s G20 terms of reference and International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) statement, ahead of the annual meetings in Washington.

Climate finance for C0P23

The Council approved Council conclusions on climate finance ahead of the UN climate change conference of parties (COP23) which will take place in Bonn on 6 to 17 November.

Implementation of financial services legislation

Ministers received an update from the Commission on the status of implementation of existing financial services legislation.

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Double Taxation Convention (UK and Ukraine)

A protocol to the 1993 double taxation convention with Ukraine was signed on 9 October 2017. The text of the protocol has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and has been made available on HM Revenue and Customs’ pages of the gov.uk website. The text will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

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Exiting the European Union

General Affairs Council: October 2017

My right hon. Friend, the Baroness Anelay of St Johns, DBE, Minister of State for Exiting the European Union, has made the following statement:

I represented the UK at the General Affairs Council (GAC) meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday 17 October. The main items on the agenda were: preparations for the October European Council on 19 and 20 October; and a discussion on the rule of law and media pluralism.

A provisional report of the meeting and the conclusions adopted can be found on the Council of the European Union’s website at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetinqs/qac/2017/10/17/

Preparation of the European Council, 19 to 20 October 2017

The heads of the EU’s 28 member states, the European Council President and the President of the European Commission assembled at the European Council meeting on 19 and 20 October 2017. To prepare for this meeting, the General Affairs Council examined the draft of conclusions on the proposed agenda for the European Council. The agenda included: migration; digital Europe; defence; and external relations.

The discussions on migration covered both external and internal migration and the reform of the common European asylum system. The Council’s exchanges on digital Europe included: proposals on the digital single market, the free flow of data, digital taxation and cyber security. The Council debated the progress of preparations for the launch of permanent structured co-operation (PESCO) and the complementarity between EU defence measures and NATO under the defence agenda item. As part of the external relations exchanges, Ministers discussed specific foreign policy issues, including relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran and Turkey.

I intervened to welcome the ambition of the language on the digital Europe conclusions and supported the focus on cyber security, combating terrorism online and information sharing. I pressed for references to counter-terrorism to be treated as a separate issue and not conflated with cyber-security. On defence, I underlined the need to ensure that mechanisms such as PESCO, the European defence fund and the co-ordinated annual review on defence enabled enhanced collaboration between member states in addition to co-operation with non-EU partners. I also welcomed the new text on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Iran.

Annual Rule of Law dialogue

Ministers discussed media pluralism and the rule of law in the digital age. The dialogue was overshadowed by the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta on the previous day. I joined the condolences expressed by all member states and emphasised the importance of protection for journalists and quality journalism in safeguarding media pluralism.

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Transport

Aviation Update

This time last year, the Government selected a new north-west runway at Heathrow as its preferred scheme for delivering much-needed new airport capacity in the south-east. This was a move made in the national interest—to spread the opportunity to travel and trade throughout the UK, through more flights between our global aviation hub and our regional airports.

In the last 12 months we have published a draft airports national policy statement (NPS), and been listening to views through a major consultation exercise. We have also published a new national air quality plan and taken steps to address the impact of noise around our airports, which are set out below. Heathrow airport has been working with airlines to bring down the cost of the proposed scheme, in line with the ambition I set out to keep landing charges as close as possible to current levels. Now that the Select Committee has been reconstituted, we remain on track to bring forward a final airports national policy statement for a vote in this House in the first half of next year.

Today I am publishing updated aviation demand forecasts which show that the need for additional runway capacity is even greater than originally thought. They show that all five of London’s main airports will be completely full by the mid-2030s, and four of them within a decade. Crucially, they also show us that the north-west runway scheme at Heathrow is the one which delivers the greatest benefits soonest. In addition, it continues to offer the greatest choice in terms of destinations and frequency of vital long-haul routes. Heathrow handles more freight by value than all other UK airports combined and it has superior connections to the rest of the UK through road, rail and domestic flights.

Today I am beginning a short period of consultation on the draft airports NPS to allow people to consider these updated forecasts, alongside other new evidence which was unavailable at the time of the initial consultation. This includes the national air quality plan which was published in July 2017. Updated analysis of this shows that the Heathrow north-west runway scheme can be delivered without the UK breaching its air quality obligations. We will continue to ensure that if expansion goes ahead at Heathrow, it is delivered according to air quality obligations through a suitable package of mitigation and policy measures.

This period of consultation will focus on those elements of the draft airports NPS affected by the updated evidence and will run for eight weeks until 19 December. I have asked Sir Jeremy Sullivan to continue in his role as an independent adviser to oversee this process, and I am grateful to him for his work.

The revised draft airports NPS has been laid in the Library of the House and will also receive Select Committee scrutiny. The recommendations they make will be an important consideration as we move forward. As required by section 9(6) of the Planning Act 2008, I am specifying a “relevant period” for Parliamentary scrutiny. This will start today and end on 23 March 2018.

Alongside this, our work to develop a new aviation strategy will look beyond a potential new runway at Heathrow, and will set out an ambitious long-term vision for the sector, which will support economic growth across the whole UK. In addition to considering how we can make best use of existing capacity at all airports around the country, it will look at any future need for new capacity away from Heathrow, whilst tackling environmental impacts.

The impact of noise from aircraft is a national issue, and alongside the initial consultation on the draft airports NPS, we also consulted on proposals to support modernisation of the way UK airspace is managed. Today I am also publishing the response to that consultation, and confirm we will be establishing a new independent noise body to ensure communities around our airports have a say in airspace changes which may affect them. Along with a new call-in power for the Secretary of State for Transport on airspace changes of national importance, this is designed to rebuild the trust lost in the industry by communities and provide democratic accountability for the most significant decisions.

In addition, the measures I am outlining today will enable us to make much greater use of new technology, giving us the ability to manage our airspace more effectively to tackle delays, cut emissions and reduce the need for stacking above our busiest airports. They will also help support the airspace changes we need in our skies to meet future demand—including a potential third runway at Heathrow.

Today’s announcement marks another important step as we work to ensure the UK has the connectivity we need right now to lead on the world stage.

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