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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 13 September 2010


HQ Allied Rapid Reaction Corps Deployment (Afghanistan)

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Nick Harvey): The Secretary of State for Defence has endorsed the deployment of elements of NATO's Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (HQ ARRC) to Afghanistan from January 2011 to January 2012.

HQ ARRC is one of NATO's nine Graduated Readiness Forces (Land) (GRF(L)), standing headquarters which provide augmentation, on a rotational basis, to the ISAF Joint Command in Kabul. HQ ARRC's personnel will take on the augmentation role from elements of the French-led GRF(L) that are currently deployed and will be replaced in turn by staff from the Eurocorps GRF(L) and the Spanish GRF(L).

HQ ARRC is a UK-led multinational headquarters staffed by personnel from 15 allied nations. In the order of 250 headquarters' staff will deploy at any one time, of which up to 189 will be UK. As a NATO deployment of NATO-assigned personnel, the UK contribution will not be considered as part of the UK's established and enduring force level, which remains at 9,500.

The deployment of elements of HQ ARRC will ensure the operational effectiveness of the ISAF Joint Command throughout 2011 and demonstrates the UK's continued commitment both to NATO and to the international mission in Afghanistan.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Food and Environment Research Agency

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): I have set the Food and Environment Research Agency-FERA-the following performance targets for 2010-11:

Value for Money, Financial Performance and Efficiency

To demonstrate that the year on year planned savings from the establishment of FERA continue to be achieved.

To meet agreed efficiency targets for 2010-11 and achieve full economic cost recovery for regulatory services from April 2011.

Customers (Internal and External)

To support sustainable food production through the provision of internationally respected, trusted, independent and impartial advice to both Government and external customers.

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Operations/Policy Delivery

Regulation, Policy and Risk

To support a strong and sustainable economy through the delivery of effective policy outcomes and reduce the regulatory burden on industry.

Research and Development

To deliver outputs from strategic and applied research, scientific services, and environmental monitoring and surveillance work to agreed deadlines, quality standards and formats.

Capacity and Capability

To develop DEFRA'S and the Home Office's incident response capability and to demonstrate the robustness of FERA business continuity and contingency plans.

Develop and maintain a culture of ownership and accountability that is appropriately led, and that values everyone for their contribution.

Sustainable Operations on the Government Estate

Drive value through synergies across the FERA estate that maximise the exploitation of assets.

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Further details are given in the FERA business plan for 2010-11, a copy of which has been placed on the FERA website.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

European Union (Forthcoming First Session Legislation)

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): There has been a profound disconnection between the will of the British people and the decisions taken in their name by the British Government in respect of the European Union. This Government are determined to reconnect with the British people by making themselves more accountable for the decisions they take in relation to how the EU develops. We plan to decentralise the power from the Government to the British people, so the people can make the big decisions on the direction of the EU. This Government are committed to allowing the British people to have their say on any future proposals to transfer powers from Britain to Brussels.

Her Majesty's Gracious Speech set out that the Government will bring forward a Bill later in this session which would ensure that in future this Parliament and the British people have their say on any proposed transfer of powers to the European Union. I want to update the House at this stage on the progress made so far in preparing this legislation.

The Government will introduce a Bill which would require that:

In addition, I set out in my statement to the House of 6 July, Official Report, column 6-7WS, that the forthcoming Bill would also make provision to enable the ratification by the UK of the EU transitional protocol concerning the composition of the European Parliament, in accordance with section 5 of the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008.

Other EU member states, such as Ireland, France and Denmark already require referendums on changes to the EU treaties in certain circumstances. Our legislation will set out in detail the circumstances in which a referendum would be required, and how Ministers would inform Parliament and the public of their decision as to whether a referendum should be held and the clear reasons for their decision. These formal ministerial decisions would be subject to judicial review.

The referendum requirement, or lock, would not catch all amendments or treaty changes. The lock would cover any proposed transfers of competence-the EU's ability to act in a given area-between the UK and the EU; and transfers of power, such as the giving up of UK national vetoes and moving to majority voting in
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significant areas, such as in common foreign and security policy. But treaty changes which do not transfer competence or power from the UK to the EU would not be subject to a referendum. For example, accession treaties that transfer competences and power from the acceding country to the EU, and which only amend treaty provisions to the extent necessary to facilitate the accession, do not transfer competence or power from the UK to the EU, and so consequently would not be subject to a referendum. The transitional protocol on the composition of the European Parliament, which would temporarily amend the number of MEPs, does not transfer any competence or power from the UK to the EU and so consequently would not be subject to a referendum.

The coalition programme says that the Government will ensure that there will be no transfer of competence or power from the UK to the EU during this Parliament; and so there will be no such referendum during this Parliament. A referendum would be required only if the Government supported a proposed change and if that change transferred power or competence from the UK to the EU, and would be held before the Government ratify such a change, or in the case of major ratchet clauses, agree formally to the use of the clause in the Council. As any EU treaty needs the unanimous agreement of all EU member states including the UK, where the Government oppose any proposed treaty change, a referendum would not be required.

The coalition agreement contains a clear commitment that this Government will not join, or prepare to join, the Euro in this Parliament; nor will this Government agree to the UK's participation in the establishment of any European Public Prosecutor. Furthermore, this Government will ensure that any future proposal to do either of these will require a referendum of the British people. In addition, any proposal which would mean the UK giving up its border controls, or any proposal to adopt a common EU defence policy, would also require a referendum of the British people before the Government could agree.

The Government will propose in this legislation that an Act of Parliament is required before ratchet clauses are put into effect. This will give Parliament more power over the decisions being taken by the Government. Germany has a very similar policy already in place: to give the German Parliament more of a say over EU decision-making, Germany has identified some areas that require legislation or parliamentary approval either before or following adoption by the EU of these ratchet clauses.

There is no one agreed definition of a ratchet clause; some provide for a modification of the EU treaties without recourse to formal treaty change, others are one-way options already in the treaties which EU member states can decide together to exercise and which allow existing EU competence or powers to expand. Examples include clauses which would add to what can be done within existing areas of EU competence, such as the ability to add to the existing rights of EU citizens; and clauses on the composition or procedures of EU institutions and bodies, such as a change to the number of European Commissioners. Where a ratchet clause would amount to the transfer of an area of competence or power from the UK to the EU, such as the clause which would allow certain decisions in common foreign and security policy to be taken by majority voting rather than by unanimity,
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we will also propose subjecting that ratchet clause to a referendum of the British people before the UK can agree to its use.

This Bill would allow the UK to continue to play a strong and positive role in the EU (just as their arrangements allow other member states to do so) while increasing the accountability and democratic legitimacy of the EU. This Bill would ensure that the British people are able properly to have their say on any future transfers of competence or power from the UK to the European Union.

Leader of the House

Parliamentary Sessions

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): The Fixed-term Parliaments Bill proposes that parliamentary general elections will, ordinarily, take place on the first Thursday in May, every five years. One
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of the benefits of this proposal is the greater certainty it brings to the parliamentary timetable. As a consequence, the Government believe that it would be appropriate to move towards five 12-month sessions over a Parliament, beginning and ending in the spring. This has the advantage of avoiding a final fifth session of only a few months, which restricts the ability of Parliament to consider a full legislative programme.

Under this proposal, and subject to the passage of the Bill, Her Majesty's Gracious Speech on the occasion of the state opening of Parliament will, in future, ordinarily take place in the spring, rather than in the autumn.

In order to ensure a smooth transition, the Government have decided that the current session of Parliament will run until around Easter 2012. The next state opening of Parliament will therefore take place shortly afterwards. In line with proceedings on the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, the Government will then review the options for moving onto spring to spring annual sessions.

I intend to give the House as much notice as possible of future proposed recess dates and will issue a calendar of the future sitting days as soon as is practicable.

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