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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
20 June 2019
Volume 662

Written Statements

Thursday 20 June 2019

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Small Businesses: Late Payments

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On 4 October 2018, we launched a call for evidence, asking for views on how to create a responsible payment culture for small business. I have published the full Government response to that call for evidence and placed copies in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Government are committed to supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to start well and grow, including a network of 38 growth hubs across England providing advice, guidance and support. As part of our industrial strategy we have an action plan to unlock over £20 billion of investment in innovative and high potential businesses. And where we see practices that unfairly constrain SMEs’ finance choices, we are prepared to act. For example, we recently removed a barrier that was preventing some SMEs from using invoice finance because of prohibitive contract terms imposed by their customers. This new measure is expected to provide a long-term boost to the UK economy worth almost £1 billion.

While there are a number of measures already in place to tackle late payment, from the prompt payment code, the ability to charge interest on late payments and increased transparency through the payment practices reporting duty, the call for evidence told us that there is more to do to improve the payment landscape. This is why I have announced that I will now take further and firmer action to tackle the scourge of late payments, while maintaining a holistic approach to culture change by using all of the avenues available to us in this space.

I will shortly be launching a consultation seeking views on strengthening the small business commissioner’s (hereafter “the commissioner”) ability to assist and advocate for small business in the area of late payments, through the provision of powers to compel the disclosure of information and seeking views on suitable sanctions for failure to comply.

I have also announced that the responsibility of the voluntary prompt payment code is to move to the commissioner and be reformed: this will unify prompt payment measures with the commissioner and address weaknesses within the current code’s operation.

I will take a tough compliance approach to large companies who do not comply with the payment practices reporting duty. The legislation allows for the prosecution of those who do not comply and I will use this enforcement power against those who do not comply where necessary.

The Government will launch a business basics fund competition with funding of up to £1 million, which will encourage SMEs to utilise payment technology.

I also intend to establish a ministerially led group to bring together key Government Departments to act on improving prompt payment across both the public and private sectors.

We are working with UK Finance and the finance sector to review the role supply chain finance plays in fair and prompt payment, including the potential for an industry led standard for good practice in supply chain finance. We also want to bring greater transparency to how supply chain finance is reported in company accounts and assessed in audits, by working with the Financial Reporting Council to develop guidance and build it into their sampling of companies’ accounts.

Our modern industrial strategy aims to make Britain the best place to start and grow a business and removing barriers to growth is key to this. The response to the call for evidence and the package of measures I have announced will tackle the continuing issue of late payments to ensure this happens.

[HCWS1645]

Competitiveness Council 27-28 May 2019: Post-Council Statement

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The Competitiveness Council took place on 27-28 May. The UK was represented by Katrina Williams, deputy permanent representative to the EU on day one (Internal market and industry); and by myself on day two (Research and space).

Day one (Internal market and industry)

The final Competitiveness Council of the Romanian presidency agreed three sets of Council conclusions: on the single market; on industrial policy and on tourism and reviewed the legislative achievements of the last six months.

The Council discussed the link between competition policy and EU competitiveness. Commissioner Bienkowska presented the Commission’s analysis on market integration, market concentration in the EU and protectionist practices in third countries. Ministers discussed EU competition rules and EU trade policy with regards to third country competition. The UK cited the Furman review which recommends updating competition policy for the digital age.

Ministers held a wide-ranging discussion on priorities for the future of EU industrial and single market policy. On industry there was broad agreement that the new Commission should develop an integrated industrial strategy which recognises global challenges. Discussions focused on the need to develop strategic value chains within Europe and welcomed the focus on important projects of common Europe interest (IPCEIs). The UK highlighted the need to recognise the global nature of value chains when developing policies. The increasing servitisation of manufacturing, the importance of digitalisation and the need to support the transition to a low-carbon economy were also key themes. The Council adopted conclusions on a vision for an EU industrial policy strategy (9263/19) and the future of the single market (9402/19). Ministers also agreed conclusions on the importance of tourism (document 9264/19).

The Commission reported progress on current legislative items: the directive on cross-border conversions, mergers and divisions; the directives on the modernisation of the EU consumer protection rules; and the collective interests of consumers and the general safety of vehicles regulation. The Commission also outlined its work on better regulation and provided an update on the future of the Rapex market surveillance system following the 2018 assessment.

The presidency reported on its conference in Craiova, Romania on the automotive sector on 18 March. The forum discussed challenges around low emission vehicles; connected and autonomous vehicles; and the competitiveness of European industry.

The Commission reflected on work to move the EU towards a circular economy and to achieve the objective of recycling 10 million tonnes of plastic by 2025.

The incoming Finnish presidency set out its future priorities: environmentally and socially sustainable growth with an integrated view of the single market and a modern industrial policy.

Day two - Research

Day two of the Competitiveness Council (Internal market, industry, research and space) took place on the 28 May in Brussels. I represented the UK.

The Competitiveness Council started with a policy debate on strengthening Europe’s role as a global actor and promoting international co-operation, space diplomacy and contributing to building the global space governance. The UK stressed the importance of open collaboration with third countries and entities with expertise, such as the European Space Agency (ESA), in order to achieve the strategic objectives of the EU in space.

Following the policy debate there was a brief “extraordinary ESA Council”, which adopted the “space as an enabler” conclusions.

The 11th EU-ESA Council was jointly chaired by the Spanish ESA presidency and Romanian EU Council presidency. They facilitated an exchange of views on the topic of “space as an enabler”. In the UK’s intervention Minister Skidmore highlighted the need to focus on better exploitation of the new technologies—artificial intelligence, internet of things and quantum technology—which would drive the 4th industrial revolution.

The Romanian presidency then resumed the Competitiveness Council with a policy debate on research and innovation as a driving force for a more competitive European Union. The UK stressed the importance of researcher freedom, closing the innovation gap and operating in a global context—as well the importance of training the next generation: in this context, the UK announced that EU students starting courses in England in the 2020-21 academic year will have guaranteed home fee status and financial support for the duration of their courses. EEA/EFTA and Swiss nationals (and their family members) will remain eligible for support on the same basis as now.

During any other business the Slovakian delegation outlined the recently signed BIOEAST initiative whilst the Romanian presidency recalled the launch of the joint strategic research and innovation agenda for the Black sea (SRIA) on 8 May. The incoming Finnish presidency concluded the Council by providing information on the work programme of their EU Council presidency.

[HCWS1640]

Groceries Code Adjudicator

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I have today launched the statutory review of the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA).

The GCA was established by the Groceries Code Adjudicator Act 2013 (“the Act”). Its role is to monitor and enforce the groceries supply code of practice (“the code”), which the UK’s designated large grocery retailers must comply with when dealing with their direct suppliers.

Section 15 of the Act requires the Government to review periodically the performance of the GCA. The first review carried out in 2016 covered the period from the creation of the GCA (in June 2013) to 31 March 2016. The second review will cover the period from 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2019.

The primary purpose of the review is to look back over the period 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2019 and to seek views and evidence which will allow the Government to make an assessment of the performance of the GCA against the measures set out in the Act. These measures are explained in the terms of reference. The statutory review is not a review of the code or the remit of the GCA. The code is a competition measure owned by the Competition and Markets Authority as the UK’s independent competition authority.

The Act requires us to consult the following:

the GCA;

the Competition and Markets Authority;

the retailers subject to the code;

one or more persons representing the interests of suppliers;

one or more persons representing the interests of consumers; and

any other appropriate person.

The consultation will run for 12 weeks and can be accessed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/groceries-code-adjudicator-statutory-review-2016-to-2019. Stakeholders have until 12 September 2019 to respond. Following this, BEIS will analyse the responses. A report on the findings will then be published and laid before Parliament.

The Terms of Reference for the GCA Review have today been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS1641]

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council

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The Education, Youth, Culture and Sport (EYCS) Council took place in Brussels on 22-23 May 2019. The UK’s deputy permanent representative to the EU, Katrina Williams, represented the UK for the youth session on 22 May. The Minister for School Standards, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), represented the UK in the education session. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Lord Ashton, represented the UK on 23 May for the culture/audio-visual session and part of the sports session.

Youth

The session began with the adoption of both the Council conclusions on young people and the future of work and the resolution on the governance of the EU youth dialogue.

This was then followed by a policy debate on young people as agents of democracy in the EU.

Other

There was information from the European Commission in regards to DiscoverEU and information from the Portuguese delegation on the world conference of Ministers responsible for Youth 2019 and Youth Forum Lisboa (22-23 June 2019).

Culture/audio-visual

The meeting began with the adoption of both the Council conclusions on young creative generations and conclusions on co-productions. This was followed by a policy debate on “from tackling disinformation to rebuilding EU citizens’ trust in the media”.

Other

Information was provided by the Hungarian delegation on the nomination of Veszprém for the European capital of culture 2023. In addition, information was also provided from the Spanish and Portuguese delegations on celebrating the fifth centenary of the first circum- navigation of the world, led by Fernão de Magalhães and Juan Sebastián Elcano.

Sport

The sport session of EYCS began with the adoption of a resolution on EU member states’ representation and co-ordination for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) meeting in Montreal. In addition, Council conclusions on access to sport for persons with disabilities we also adopted.

The session then proceeded with a policy debate on increasing the participation of children and young people in sport in 21st century Europe.

Other

There was information from the EU member states’ representatives in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) foundation board on the meeting with WADA that took place in Montreal on 14-16 May 2019, information from the Finnish presidency on the work programme of the incoming presidency and information from the Danish delegation about the Council of Europe convention on the manipulation of sports competitions (match fixing).

To conclude, there was information from the Bulgarian, Greek and Romanian delegations on the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Serbia to host either the Euro 2028 championship or the 2030 World cup.

[HCWS1644]

Telecoms Council

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The Telecommunications formation of the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council took place in Luxembourg on 7 June 2019. The deputy permanent representative to the EU, Katrina Williams, represented the UK.

The Council held a policy debate and adopted conclusions on the future of a highly digitised Europe beyond 2020: “Boosting digital and economic competitiveness across the Union and digital cohesion”. The Council then considered a progress report on the e-privacy regulation.

The Romanian presidency then provided information on the digital Europe programme in the next multi-annual financial framework from 2021-27, and the proposed regulation establishing the European cybersecurity competence centre and the network of co-ordination centres. The Czech presidency then provided information on the Prague 5G security conference. The EU’s counter-terrorism co-ordinator provided information on 5G and law enforcement.

The Romanian presidency then provided an overview of presidency events in Romania. The incoming Finnish presidency provided information on its work plan.

Due to a lack of ministerial quorum at the Council, the decision on the position to be taken by EU member states on behalf of the European Union in the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) world radiocommunication conference 2019 (WRC-19) will now be adopted at the Employment, Social Policy, Health, and Consumer Affairs Council as an A-point on 13-14 June. The recast public sector information directive was adopted as an A-point at the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 6 June.

[HCWS1643]

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Bovine TB

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Today I am updating the House on the implementation of the Government’s strategy to eradicate bovine TB in England by 2038.

Bovine TB remains one of the greatest animal health threats to the UK, causing significant hardship and distress for hard-working farmers and rural communities. Government and industry are therefore continuing to take strong action to eradicate the disease.

Professor Sir Charles Godfray’s independent review of the strategy highlighted a number of potential further actions while noting the difficulties associated with eradicating bovine TB. The review’s conclusions include improving surveillance in cattle herds, the need to continue to address the disease in badgers and for more research and development (R&D). We continue to assess the review’s findings and plan to publish a full response in due course. I am however today providing further information on reinforcing TB testing in the high-risk area, announcing plans to invite further applications to our badger vaccination grant scheme and confirming the licensing and authorisation by Natural England of three supplementary badger control areas for 2019. Further information is available on gov.uk.

In May 2018 we announced that from 2020 we would introduce six-monthly cattle surveillance testing, with less frequent testing for lower risk herds, in the high-risk area (HRA) of England to enable earlier detection and eradication of disease, and to prevent it spreading to new areas. Having considered the likely demands that roll-out across the whole of the HRA in one step would place on cattle herd owners and the veterinary businesses that carry out the vast majority of the testing we are now working on a phased introduction from 2020. We will provide further details to affected cattle keepers and veterinary businesses in due course.

Vaccination of badgers against TB using BCG can provide a level of protection and can play a role in limiting TB spread to healthy badger populations. Therefore, a third round of applications for the “Badger edge vaccination scheme” (BEVS 2) is now open, with further grant funding available to private groups wishing to carry out badger vaccination in the edge area of England. Groups will receive at least 50% funding towards their eligible costs. This builds on the four initial four-year projects we have funded.

Alongside this we are investing in social and economic research to understand farmer behaviours and drivers of: cattle purchase and movement; attitudes to risk-based trading; attitudes to biosecurity, wildlife control and vaccination; and analysis of pros and cons of compensation versus insurance schemes.

In May 2019 fieldwork closed on a self-completion postal survey. Over 1,250 responses were received from herd owners across England. This will provide national representative estimates of cattle farmers’ attitudes and behaviours and towards biosecurity, cattle purchasing, and what influences on-farm decision making. We expect to publish headline findings in July 2019.

In July 2019 fieldwork will commence on a telephone survey of 1,500 HRA and edge area farms which have suffered a breakdown. The survey will estimate the monetary costs involved in a bovine TB breakdown which herd owners are not compensated for, including increased staffing and housing costs, and loss of productivity. This will allow accurate analysis of the financial impact of the disease to industry and individual farms. The project will report early in 2020.

We are determined to eradicate this devastating disease as quickly as possible.

[HCWS1637]

Home Department

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse: Archdiocese of Birmingham Case Study

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Today the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse has published its latest case study report, which can be found at www.iicsa.org.uk

This report relates to the Archdiocese of Birmingham in the inquiry’s Roman Catholic Church investigation. I pay tribute to the strength and courage of the victims and survivors who have shared their experiences to ensure the inquiry can deliver its vital work.

Government will review this report and consider how to respond to its content in due course.

I would like to thank Professor Jay and her panel for their continued work to uncover the truth, expose what went wrong in the past and to leam the lessons for the future.

[HCWS1642]

Work and Pensions

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

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The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council took place on 13 June 2019 in Luxembourg. The deputy permanent representative to the European Union, Katrina Williams, represented the UK.

The Council adopted conclusions on: closing the gender pay gap; implications for the safety and health of workers in the changing world of work; and the EU Council auditors’ report on the fund for European aid to the most deprived (FEAD).

The Council noted a progress report on the directive on equal treatment and debated employment and social policy aspects of country specific recommendations.

The presidency gave updates on two current legislative proposals: a regulation on European social statistics and revision of the regulations on the co-ordination of social security systems. The Council closed with information on events and initiatives in the broader field of employment and social policy.

In the margins of the meeting, Bratislava, Slovakia, was elected to host the new European labour authority.

[HCWS1638]

Office for Nuclear Regulation Annual Report and Accounts 2018-19

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Later today the Office for Nuclear Regulation’s annual report and accounts for 2018-19 will be published. Having consulted the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who is accountable for nuclear security, and the Office for Nuclear Regulation, I can confirm, in accordance with paragraph 25(3) of schedule 7 to the Energy Act 2013, that there have been no exclusions to the published document on the grounds of national security.

[HCWS1639]