The Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs (Mr. Pat McFadden): I am pleased to announce that the Government have submitted their economic evidence on the national minimum wage to the Low Pay Commission. The Commission will take this and all the other evidence received into account when preparing its next report on the minimum wage, which will be submitted to the Government by the end of February 2009.
Copies of the Governments economic evidence have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and will be posted on the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform website at: www.berr.qov.uk.
The Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs (Mr. Pat McFadden): Today my noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communication, Technology and Broadcasting made the following statement.
Further to the written statement concerning the positions I intended to take at the Telecommunications Council, held on November 27(th) 2008, I am pleased to be able to report back on the main conclusions and topics of discussion.
The Telecommunications Council took place on the 27(th) November 2008 under the chair of the French Presidency. I represented the United Kingdom. As expected, the review of the EU regulatory framework from electronic communications networks and services was the focus of much of the discussion.
After introduction by the Presidency, Commissioner Reding gave a presentation of the Commissions views. While praising the Presidency for their efforts she criticised the Council text as making very little progress from earlier drafts and therefore she noted that the Commission could not agree to it. Of particular concern, she felt that the proposals on spectrum and on Commissioner powers did not go far enough. Following this, there was a full round exchange of views. The majority of member states endorsed the text that had been put forward by the Presidency; although concerns on certain aspects were noted by Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy and Poland.
In my intervention I agreed with the compromise text for the Citizens Directive and the European Telecoms authority. However I opposed, in line with Sweden, the text that was being put forward on the Better Regulation Directive, expressing particular
concern with the proposals for functional separation, NGA access and the inclusion of references to ITU Radio Regulations in the proposals on spectrum.
As a result of the Commissions opposition, for this item to achieve political agreement member states had to give the proposal unanimous support. I was thus able, along with Sweden, to use this leverage to secure improvements to the text on functional separation and on access to networks. A break from the formal proceedings allowed detailed negotiations to take place, bilaterally between the attendees, to develop compromise text that everyone could live with. It was not though possible to reach agreement on the text associated with the ITU Radio Regulations.
In a second table round the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands abstained on the Better Regulation directive, and Iwith Swedensubsequently released a declaration explaining that on a number of issuesincluding the ITU Radio Regulations issuewe would be looking for further improvements to the package. As a result, even with the Commission having expressed a negative opinion, the framework review package did gain political agreement by the Council.
The lunch discussion concentrated on the digital dividend and on how member states were planning to allocate spectrum following the switchover to digital TV. During an interesting discussion, which both touched on member states experiences and the benefits of further coordination between countries, I took the opportunity of outlining our own plans, highlighting how we anticipated further opportunities for innovative wireless services to be introduced.
Following lunch, Council resumed with discussion on amending the regulations on roaming on public telephone networks. Commissioner Reding was pleased that previous Councils had given broad agreement to this item, though it was recognised that some states may wish to go further, especially in terms of data regulation, than the Commission had proposed. In the exchange of views that followed there was majority support for the proposal; though with a few member states expressing concern on the effect on investment and innovation it may have. I supported the amendment, saying that in essence the need for regulation represented a failure of responsible pricing by operators. However, I said that this measure should be a short term in nature and that there was no case for long term retail price controls.
The next item discussed was the second periodic review of the scope of universal services. This opened with the Commission presentation giving some statistics for broadband penetration and stressing the need for funding of universal services to be transparent and made within an appropriate framework.
Member States gave an overview of their own experiences on this issue. There was some concern expressed over possible market distortions being created and difficulties associated with trying to implement a unified approach in a diverse set of markets, however there was general support for the proposal that a debate on broadband as a universal service should take place. I stressed the importance of this topic and that as we move from narrow band to broadband we should get away from the stress on obligations and instead concentrate on universality. The major problem tends to be one of uptake of services rather than supply. I thus stressed the need to communicate the potential of broadband to the public. It will also, I stressed, be necessary for Europe to consider content provision and how content providers can utilise the Internet for profit.
The Commission concluded this item by summarising that the market alone will not be able to bring broadband to all consumers. Discussions on how this can be achieved will need to continue.
The final substantive item on the agenda concerned the Council Conclusions on future networks and the internet. This opened with an introduction delivered by the Presidency. Very few comments were made by member states and the conclusions were adopted unanimously with two small amendments, relating to IPV6 made by Poland.
No issues of substance were raised by attendees under any other business.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): Today HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is publishing the last in a series of decisions about its future office structure. These latest decisions affect HMRC staff in offices outside its urban centres in the east, north west, south west, Yorkshire and the Humber, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
HMRCs regional review programme, which began in 2006, has been a massive and complex task. When HMRC was created in April 2005 from the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise, it had 105,000 staff and two separate office networks with a total of 590 office buildings in well over 300 locations.
Throughout the review programme HMRC has consulted on its proposals with staff, trade unions and key external stakeholders including MPs to ensure that no relevant factors were overlooked during the decision-making process.
These have not been easy decisions. However, the overriding consideration has to be the Departments need to address new and challenging customer demands by restructuring its business and estate in the most effective and efficient way possible.
Details of the decisions, impact assessments and equality impact assessments will be published on the HMRC website today and MPs will receive email confirmation of decisions relevant to their constituencies along with copies of related assessments.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): I am pleased to tell the House that today we are introducing the Corporation Tax Bill. This is the Tax Law Rewrite projects fifth Bill and is the first of two which will rewrite substantially the whole of the legislation relating to corporation tax. This Bill maintains the Tax Law Rewrite projects high standards in making tax legislation significantly easier to use. This would not have been possible without the expertise, time and commitment of all those involved in commenting on the provisions during consultation and I would like to thank them and the members of the Tax Law Rewrite projects Steering and Consultative Committees for their invaluable help in making the projects work such a success.
The Bill rewrites the charge to corporation tax and the main provisions used by companies in computing their income. Its scope was agreed with the projects Steering and Consultative Committees which together include the main representative bodies and other users and I am pleased for the wide support it has among the tax community. Like all previous Bills prepared by the project, it rewrites the law without changing its general effect. All the provisions have benefited from detailed consultation and the drafting style and structure is in line with that of the previous rewrite Bills.
The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): Today I have presented to Parliament the revised school admissions code and school admission appeals code. Subject to the parliamentary procedure, these codes will come into force in February 2009.
This statement follows on from previous statements I have made to the House on improvements I have made to strengthen the statutory school admissions framework and place children and families at the heart of the process.
Through the Education and Skills Act 2008 we have strengthened the statutory admissions framework to ensure that all schools adopt fair and lawful admissions practices. Local authorities have an important role to monitor compliance with the code and are now required to report annually to the schools adjudicator on the fairness and legality of the admission arrangements for all schools in their area. As the independent enforcer of fair access to schools, schools adjudicators now have a wider remit to consider any admission arrangements that come to their attention in addition to any complaints received through an objection. The schools adjudicator will report annually to the Secretary of State on how fair access is being achieved locally.
Following extensive consultation throughout the summer on a number of proposals to improve the application and allocation process for parents and further strengthen the admission system so that it works for all children, I have revised both codes to achieve a better, fairer system for all families. The revised codes:
place a duty on admission authorities to engage with parents and the wider community when setting their admission arrangements, in order to meet the needs of their local area;
improve the application and allocation process so that parents will only ever need to apply for a school place to the local authority in which they live;
prescribe national closing dates for primary and secondary applications; helping parents by creating a simpler more uniform system;
improve the information parents receive on the admissions process, so they are fully engaged and informed; and
make improvements to Admission Forums so they are representative of parents and the local area, and consider the fairness of admission policies for that area.
The new provisions in the Education and Skills Act 2008 and the revised codes I have laid before Parliament today will help ensure that every parent has a fair
chance of getting their child a place at a school of their choice, and that no parent or child will be disadvantaged by unfair admission arrangements.
In addition to presenting the revised codes to the House, I am pleased to announce today the appointment of a new chief schools adjudicator, following the retirement of Sir Philip Hunter at the end of the year. Ian Craig will take up post from April 2009 with Dr. Elizabeth Passmore acting as interim chief schools adjudicator until this time. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sir Philip Hunter for all his hard work in ensuring that schools and local authorities comply with the mandatory provisions set out in the school admissions code, to help achieve fair access for all families.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): I wish to update the House on a revised funding package to prepare our Olympic and Paralympic athletes in preparation for London 2012.
In the 2006 Budget statement the Government announced a £600 million package for the remaining three years of the Beijing cycle and for the London cycle, comprising £200 million of Exchequer funding matched by £100 million of private sector investment, and supported by £300 million of lottery investment.
A total of £550 million of public fundsan additional £50 millionhas been allocated to UK Sport to fund its elite programme. This consists of additional Exchequer funding of £29 million to UK Sport over the four years to 2012; plus a projected uplift in lottery income of £21 million.
This means that for the London cycle the elite sport system will receive the highest level of public funding ever made available over a four-year Olympic/Paralympic cyclean increase over the Beijing cycle and an unprecedented package of support for elite athletes.
Alongside the Exchequer and lottery investment, the 2006 Budget also set a challenge to British business to support our athletes. Funding for elite sport has moved from lottery money for Sydney and Athens, to Exchequer and lottery money for Beijing, and now Exchequer, lottery and private money for London. I believe this mixed economy funding for elite sport is the right long-term approachand similar to the way excellence in arts is funded by my department. Alongside Exchequer and lottery funding, the Government wish to see the establishment of a third fundraising stream from the
private sector as a permanent legacy of the London games, using the wave of interest that comes with our home games to establish this.
The new funding announced is the limit of public investment in Olympic and Paralympic sport. Raising private funds is challenging in the current economic conditions, but British business has a great track record of investing in sport.
Since the summer we have worked with Fast Track Ltd and UK Sport to develop a dedicated sponsorship brand called Medal Hopes. This will be the only official way to sponsor athletes on the UK Sports World Class Performance Programme and directly influence the countrys chances of sporting success at World Championship Games and Commonwealth Games as well as the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Medal Hopes brand will support a range of schemes giving national, regional and local companies and individuals the opportunity to be a highly visible part of supporting athletes on the international sporting stage.
This work is now moving to a new phase of delivery. We will be working intensively over the next few months with national governing bodies, athletes and sports partners in preparation for the launch of this major fundraising drive to help secure the remaining £50 million from the private sector. In doing so, we have put in place a new partnership with Government: UK Sport will lead on the development of Medal Hopes, utilising its strong relationships with national governing bodies and athletes working with Fast-Track and drawing on the expertise and advice from the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG). I will be seeking regular updates from all partners.
The decision on how this public and private funding is allocated to each of our Olympic and Paralympic sports, and the accompanying support systems, is a matter for UK Sport. Through their success in Beijing, UK Sport has demonstrated its expertise in delivering results through carefully targeted funding.
This record level of investment over the London cycle allows UK Sport to give national governing bodies the certainty they have requested across the full Olympic and Paralympic cycle. In return for this enhanced public funding package all governing bodies are being asked to participate fully in the Medal Hopes scheme.
UK Sport have confirmed that this funding package enables it to set a target to attain fourth place in the Olympic Games, and second place in the Paralympic Games in 2012aiming to win more medals in more sports than in Beijing.
For those sports that have not yet been given funding allocations by UK Sport, we will be working with them and our partners to put in place plans to support their development until private funds come on stream. I will be meeting with the national governing bodies of these sports and our partners before their funding allocations are made in January 2009.
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