The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): After thorough consideration of the applications made in the 26th offshore oil and gas licensing round, I have decided to offer 144 production licences. This demonstrates the continuing attractiveness both of the United Kingdom continental shelf as an oil and gas producing province and of DECC's licensing system.
The screening exercise found that significant effects on protected nature conservation areas could not be excluded in relation to 99 blocks. Detailed environmental assessments will be required before a decision can be reached in relation to the licensing of these blocks. These assessments will examine the implications for the protected nature conservation areas of awarding oil and gas licences. Accordingly, I will not be offering licences for these blocks at this time.
The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): I am today laying before Parliament the Government's memorandum to the Justice Select Committee on post-legislative scrutiny of the Inquiries Act 2005.
The Inquiries Act 2005 introduced a comprehensive statutory framework for inquiries set up by Ministers to look into events that have caused or are capable of
causing public concern. There are wide-ranging measures in the Act aimed at restoring public confidence in inquiries by making inquiry process swifter, more efficient and less costly while meeting public need for thorough and far-reaching investigation.
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): Today, I am pleased to be able to publish the report of the independent review into making automatic enrolment work. The recommendations of the review team are a sensible and balanced package of proposals. In particular, the changes in scope and the deregulatory measures proposed will ensure the introduction of automatic enrolment is stable and proportionate. Therefore, I am pleased to announce that the Government will now proceed with implementation of the reforms on this basis.
The earning threshold for automatic enrolment should be aligned with the personal allowance for income tax and the threshold from which pension contributions become payable should be aligned with the national insurance primary threshold. Workers may opt in to saving and receive an employer contribution if they earn between these two thresholds.
Automatic enrolment should apply to all employers regardless of size, as previously proposed.
There should be an optional "waiting period" of up to three months before a worker needs to be automatically enrolled. Workers may opt in during the waiting period.
There should be a simple system for employers to certify their money purchase pension scheme meets the required contribution levels.
NEST is necessary to support successful implementation of automatic enrolment.
A copy of the review team's report will be available on the Department's website at: www.dwp.gov.uk/policy/pensions-reform/latest-news, later today. Copies will also be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office from 10.30 am today.
I am grateful to Mr Paul Johnson, Frontier Economics, who led the review team, and to Mr David Yeandle OBE, Engineering Employers' Federation, and Mr Adrian Boulding, Legal and General Group plc, who came together to make this review a success.