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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 14 December 2009

Business, Innovation and Skills

EU Competitiveness Council (3-4 December)

The Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property (Mr. David Lammy): The EU Competitiveness Council took place in Brussels on 3 and 4 December 2009. The following is a summary of those discussions.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs, represented the UK on 3 December on EU consumer issues, while on 4 December I represented the UK on EU patents issues and the Minister responsible for Business and Regulatory Reform, my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), attended the ministerial lunchtime debate on General Motors/Opel. Andy Lebrecht, the UK's Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, represented the UK when a Minister was not in attendance.

On 3 December the main areas of discussion were research and consumer affairs. On research, the UK argued for a more sophisticated approach to setting targets for the level and impact of R and D investment. Many countries agreed, however the Commission felt abandoning the current 3 per cent. headline target would send a negative signal to business and research communities.

There was strong backing for any EU Lisbon strategy successor to encourage better links between researchers and innovators across Europe. The UK emphasised the need to lever more private sector investment in innovation. There was also broad agreement to reduce bureaucracy for applicants and participants in EU R and D framework programmes.

Conclusions on a new joint European research programme on Alzheimer's and for other research items were adopted. However decisions to reform crest, the high level group on EU science policy issues were delayed until 2010.

When debating the draft Consumer Rights Directive, the UK was keen to see fully harmonised solutions across the whole directive that were acceptable to the majority of member states, and supported harmonisation where it could be shown that divergent rules create barriers to trade, though not at the expense of important consumer protections, such as the right to reject faulty goods and receive a full refund. Discussions on the draft directive will continue under the Spanish EU presidency in the first half of 2010.

On 4 December agreement was reached in principle on a general approach on a community patent regulation and Council conclusions regarding a European patent court, patent fees and partnership working between the European Patent Office and national patent offices. The presidency, Commission and several member states acknowledged there would still be difficult discussions
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ahead before there was full completion, but the UK said this step was long overdue and it was vital to move forward.

At a ministerial lunchtime discussion, Ministers heard an update from General Motors/Opel on its plans for European restructuring. There were no formal conclusions. No agreement was made on the proposal for a European private company statute. It will now be for the Commission and future EU presidencies to decide if and when to come back to this.

Ministers agreed Council conclusions after debating eco-efficient industry policy as a contribution to the revised EU Lisbon strategy. The Commission felt the EU Competitiveness Council had a vital role to play in future deliberations on a Lisbon strategy successor, and these should take account of areas such as climate change, demography, and finding the right balance between competitiveness and high quality jobs.

The UK stressed the importance of the EU being competitive at a global level and of strengthening the EU single market. The UK also stated that the temporary state aid framework should end as planned in December 2010, and that the EU should exploit and invest more in R and D and innovation to ensure a competitive, modern and diverse industrial base in Europe. Many delegations expressed a desire for a more powerful voice for the Competitiveness Council and considered it important to give greater priority to green technologies.

For other items, conclusions on better regulation were adopted as drafted. UK and Malta tabled a joint minute statement on gambling which expressed concerns over the presidency progress report. They requested no further discussion in Council as the current Commission had no intention to legislate.

Under any other business points, the Commission reported on the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative. It was felt unlikely this would ever be profit making, but would however be strategically beneficial for Europe. When giving a progress report on the construction products directive, the Commission singled out the simplified procedures for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) as important in reducing administrative burdens. The C ommission also updated the Council on the recent Google books settlement.

Spain presented priorities for their forthcoming EU presidency (January to June 2010) which will be innovation, standardisation and business and SME competitiveness. Future industrial policy would be considered in the context of the crisis. There would be a new EU strategy on electric vehicles, to be discussed at the informal Competitiveness Council on 8 and 9 February in San Sebastian, Spain. The presidency would promote socially responsible tourism, and address the EU's target of a 25 per cent. reduction in administrative burdens by 2012, as well as implementation of the EU services directive.

Telecoms Council (18 December)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr. Stephen Timms): I am pleased to confirm the agenda items for which BIS has responsibility at the forthcoming Transport, Telecommunications and (Telecoms Council) in Brussels on 18 December 2009.

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There are only three substantive agenda items, the first of which is a televised policy debate on the adoption of council conclusions on the "Post i-2010 strategy"-towards an open, green and competitive knowledge society". These conclusions are member states, consolidated views on what policies and workstreams, should be in the successor to the current i-2010 framework (i-2010 is Europe's ICT agenda). The UK welcomes and supports the adoption of these conclusions, as ICT is now seen by all member states as one of the most important components of a state's economic "armoury". They are in line with the Digital Britain report and also with the priorities that the UK submitted to the recent EU Commissions public consultation on a successor to i-2010. They will be taken account by the Commission in crafting their new ICT strategy, due to be adopted in the first half of 2010.

In my intervention (we expect nearly all member states to make comments) I will welcome the opportunity to debate this essential issue, and as per my recent letters to both Houses on i-2010, I will suggest that a new ICT strategy framework, should now focus on an agenda that delivers greater benefit for businesses and consumers; should be economically focused, and that the Commission should move away from regulation towards incentivising take up and investment in new networks/technologies, particularly carbon reducing technologies.

The next item on the agenda is the adoption of "Council conclusions on "Communication from the Commission - transforming the digital dividend into social benefits and economic growth" This item concerns the members states views on this communication, which outlined a set of proposals for a common approach to the digital dividend in Europe. (The digital dividend is the radio spectrum that is released when member states switch from analogue to digital television). We do not expect a table round on this item, but if there is a discussion, I will intervene to note my support for the conclusions and their encouragement to member states to complete their switchover programmes during 2012. I will also emphasise our preference for a non-legislative approach to the use of the 800MHz band for mobile broadband services.

The last substantive item on the agenda is the adoption of Council resolution on "Collaborative European approach on network and information security". The resolution (on which there are no reserves) notes the Commissions efforts in 2009 to promote action on critical information infrastructure protection and it also looks forward to the Commission's forthcoming proposals on network and information security priorities and the future of ENISA. I will be intervening (if there is a discussion) to note that we welcome this resolution and that the UK has an open mind about the future of ENISA and look forward to the Commission's proposals on this matter.

The Swedish presidency are also hosting a ministerial lunch, where member states will debate, informally, the issue of competition and investment in "Next Generation Networks". This discussion will start with a presentation, by UK spectrum expert, Martin Cave and I will emphasise the importance of maintaining (and indeed enhancing) competition, as we move towards adoption of next generation networks. In particular, I will stress the need for competitive access to new networks across the EU.

In addition to the three substantive items, there are two further items for which BIS has responsibility listed under any other business. The first of these will be an
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update from the Council presidency on internet governance including a report on the recent Internet Governance Forum that took place in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

Finally, the incoming Spanish presidency will present their work programme for the next six months, which begins on 1 January 2009.

Children, Schools and Families

Children's Plan

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): I am today announcing, on the second anniversary of the Children's Plan, the publication of the "Children's Plan 2 Years On: a progress report", as well as both the publication of an independent assessment of the impact of the commercial world on children's wellbeing, and the appointment of Sarah Thane CBE to develop proposals about the regulation of child performance.

Children's Plan 2 Years On: A progress report

This report demonstrates how the Children's Plan, which puts the child at the centre of all our policy and provision, has significantly changed children's services to the great benefit of children, young people and their families, and all those who work with them. As a result, the Children's Plan has significantly improved outcomes for children and young people. It can be accessed at: www.dcsf.gov.uk/childrensplan.

As well as celebrating what has already been achieved, today's "Children's Plan 2 Years On" report shows the huge advances that are made for children when families are supported, and whole communities are enabled to work together to overcome the challenges they face.

The report explains that over the next five years we will:

We are committed to continued investment in the services and other activities required to fulfil the ambitions set out in the Children's Plan and are keen to move to the next stage of reform. But now more than ever, we need to ensure we are getting real value for money from
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our investment. In this tougher fiscal climate, we need to continue supporting and working with those who deliver services, including those on the frontline, in combining investment and efficiency savings to meet spending requirements, and to deliver our guarantees to pupils, parents and school leavers. We must remain focused on meeting the challenges facing all those working with children. Through a collective effort we believe we can go even further and can move 21st century children's services from being good to outstanding, making England the best place in the world to grow up.

I am also pleased to announce the launch of a new blog site as part of the Children's Plan village at: www.dcsf.gov.uk/childrensplan. The website includes case studies and video showing how the Children's Plan has made a positive difference to children and young people, families and practitioners over the past two years.

The Impact of the Commercial World on Children's Wellbeing

The Government announced in the Children's Plan our intention to "commission an independent assessment of the impact of the commercial world on young people" and later that David Buckingham, Professor of Education at the Institute of Education, would lead this work, supported by a panel of independent experts.

Professor Buckingham and his team conducted an extensive review of the available evidence and spoke to a large number of stakeholders representing the broad spectrum of opinion on this subject. I am today publishing the resultant report. It reflects the fact that Professor Buckingham was asked, first and foremost, to bring together and critically assess all the available research and evidence that exists on this vast subject.

Professor Buckingham's report raises a number of far-ranging issues, from the need to promote greater media literacy to the regulation of new media and the need to safeguard children's television as part of a broadcaster's responsibility to provide public service content. I am very grateful to Professor Buckingham and his colleagues for such a thorough piece of work.

The key messages from this comprehensive piece of work are that:

Professor Buckingham's thoughtful report requires a considered response, and we have decided that this should comprise the following elements:

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Child Internet Safety

We have also launched the UK Child Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) strategy-the first UK strategy on child internet safety and, we believe, the first strategy of its kind anywhere in the world led and owned by an unprecedented coalition of Government, industry, charities, law enforcement and many others united in working together to help children stay safe online. And we have launched the first stage of the "Click Clever Click Safe" public awareness campaign with our online version of the green cross code: "Zip it, Block it, Flag it". We want to see the digital code become as familiar as "Stop, Look, Listen".

For the first time, key players from industry, charities and Government will be independently reviewed against standards to keep children safe online. Online safety is already a compulsory part of the national curriculum for secondary schools and is also being taught in many primary schools. From September 2011, online safety will be a compulsory part of the curriculum from age five.

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