The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): The Treasury has laid before the House of Commons a report required under section 231 of the Banking Act 2009 covering the period from 1 April 2010 to 30 September 2010. Copies of the document are available in the Vote Office.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): On 3 November 2010 News Corporation notified the European Commission of its intention to acquire the shares in BSkyB that it does not already own. On 4 November 2010 the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills issued a European intervention notice in relation to the proposed acquisition. He asked Ofcom to investigate and report back to him by 31 December 2010 providing advice and recommendations on the public interest consideration in section 58 of the Enterprise Act 2002. This public interest consideration concerns the sufficiency of plurality of persons with control of media enterprises.
On 21 December 2010 the European Commission cleared the proposed acquisition of BSkyB by News Corporation. The Commission concluded that the transaction would not significantly impede effective competition in the European economic area or any substantial part of it. The Commission made it clear that its decision did not prejudice my jurisdiction in relation to the merger's impact on the separate question of sufficiency of plurality in the media.
Following receipt of Ofcom's report and in the interests of transparency I want to inform the House of the timeline and process that I have followed to date in my considerations of the relevant public interest.
As such I am today publishing the following documents, copies of which will also be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses:
Ofcom's report on the public interest issues relating to News Corporation's proposed acquisition of BSkyB that was sent to me on 31 December 2010 (with redactions for confidentiality).
The OFT's report on jurisdiction that was sent to me on 30 December.
My letters to News Corporation and BSkyB of 7 January 2011.
BSkyB's response of 13 January 2011 with confidential information redacted.
News Corporation's response of 14 January 2011 with confidential information redacted.
After careful consideration of the Ofcom report which recommends referral to the Competition Commission, and as provided by section 104 of the Enterprise Act 2002 that sets out my duty to consult adversely affected parties, I met with News Corporation on 6 January to set out the process that I would follow and briefly explain Ofcom's conclusions. Having informed them of the process I then wrote to News Corporation and BSkyB on 7 January enclosing a copy of Ofcom's report. In this letter I explained that I was minded to refer the case to the Competition Commission but that I would receive written, and if necessary oral, representations from them if they wanted to challenge my thinking.
On 10 January I met with Ofcom to seek clarification on a number of aspects of their report.
In response to my letter of 7 January BSkyB and News Corporation provided written representations challenging elements of Ofcom's report on 13 and 14 January respectively.
These documents have today been published. After considering these responses and consistent with section 104 of the Enterprise Act I therefore met again with News Corporation on 20 January to hear representations on the issues they highlighted.
As a result of these meetings and my consideration of the Ofcom report and subsequent submissions from the parties involved I still intend to refer the merger to the Competition Commission. On the evidence available, I consider that it may be the case that the merger may operate against the public interest in media plurality.
However, before doing so it is right that I consider any undertakings in lieu offered by any merging party which have the potential to prevent or otherwise mitigate the potential threats to media plurality identified in the Ofcom report.
News Corporation says that it wishes me to consider undertakings in lieu which it contends could sufficiently alleviate the concerns I have such that I should accept the undertakings instead of making a reference. It is appropriate for me to consider such undertakings. In considering whether to accept undertakings in lieu, I will ask the OFT under section 93 of the Enterprise Act 2002 as an expert public body with experience in negotiating undertakings in lieu to be involved in the process from this stage. I will also ask Ofcom under section 106B for advice whether undertakings in lieu address the potential impact on media plurality.
If this process produces undertakings in lieu which I believe will prevent or otherwise mitigate the merger from having effects adverse to the public interest, and which I propose to accept, I will then publish the undertakings in lieu and (as required under the Act) begin a formal 15-day consultation period during which time all interested parties will be able to express their views.
It is in the nature of this process that I cannot give clear dates for each step as we move forward. My main concern is not to work to an arbitrary timetable but to ensure that I reach my decision in a fair and even-handed way which is transparent and ensures that all concerns are properly considered.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): My right hon. Friend the Minister of State with responsibility for agriculture and food represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 24 January.
There were three items on the agenda relating to agriculture. Discussion took take place on the following:
Presidency work programme: a routine presentation from the new (Hungarian) presidency of its plans and objectives.
A presentation by the Commission of its analysis of the state of honey bee health and what can be done to improve it. This is an important issue for the UK and we are already undertaking our own programme.
CAP reform: this debate will focus on the issues around natural resource protection and climate change.
There were five items under any other business:
Cross-border infectious animal diseases-a paper from Latvia flagging its action to prevent cross-border transmission of African swine fever from Russia and calling for EU support.
Current dioxin situation in Germany-a report from Germany on their current problems with dioxins in feed and the actions taken. The UK was one of the few member states directly affected (receiving some contaminated eggs).
Situation on the pig meat market-Belgium asking for Commission action to help farmers in the current difficult situation in the pig meat market and the setting up of a pig high-level group.
Foresight project on the future of food and farming-a UK item.
International agricultural markets-an update from the Commission on the current state of global food commodity markets.
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): The trial for the reassessment of incapacity benefit customers in Aberdeen and Burnley has been under way since October last year. Over 1,000 customers have now been informed of the outcome of their reassessment.
The trial has tested a new process providing a number of additional support measures for customers as they go through their reassessment journey. At key points, Jobcentre Plus staff telephone customers to inform them about what is happening and to ensure they have access to appropriate help and advice. Customers also have the opportunity to discuss the decision on their case with a decision maker, putting into practice one of the key findings in Professor Harrington's recent review of the work capability assessment. These additional support measures have been welcomed by staff and customers.
We want to ensure that the experience gained in the trial is shared across all of the centres that will be dealing with the reassessment of incapacity benefit claimants before we move to the full, national roll-out in April. So we intend to have a limited, introductory phase in every centre carried out in the same controlled
conditions as Burnley and Aberdeen. This will ensure the process remains robust and we continue to learn valuable lessons as more customers are involved in more areas across the country.
At the end of February, we will begin this introductory phase. Letters will be sent to 1,000 customers a week nationally, marking the commencement of their reassessment. So a total of around 300 people will be assessed in each reassessment centre over this period. In April, we will step up the implementation and increase the number of cases to around 7,000 a week. From May we will be processing the full case load of around 11,000 cases per week. This steady ramp up of activity will ensure that Jobcentre Plus and its partners are ready and can deal with the volume of cases as it builds. Customers' reactions to the changes will be closely monitored and lessons applied.
Our plans are on track. Reassessment remains a key priority for this Government. We cannot allow people to be trapped on benefits, but we will ensure people get the benefits and support that they are entitled to.
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): The Informal Meeting of Employment and Social Policy Ministers took place on 17 to 18 January 2011 in Budapest, Hungary. I represented the United Kingdom on day one of the meeting and the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Minister with responsibility for employment relations, consumer and postal affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey), attended the second day.
The themes for this two-day informal meeting were tackling youth unemployment and creating an employment-friendly recovery, which were discussed in workshop sessions. In the first workshop, tackling youth unemployment, the presidency underlined the importance of increasing youth labour market participation. Possible solutions included: raising skills, better careers advice, incentives to employ young workers, strengthening entrepreneurship and use of European Union funds especially the European social fund. The Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner highlighted some of the ideas in its "Youth on the Move" flagship initiative, including open-ended contracts and a youth guarantee and encouraged member states to take up these proposals. For the UK, I intervened to state that the European Union should prioritise a broad-ranging growth and competitiveness agenda and remove unnecessary regulation. I stressed the vital importance of impact assessments for any new regulation and early action to tackle unemployment by increasing labour market participation and improving skills. I outlined key UK policies that supported this agenda and highlighted the potential for member states to learn from each other through the open method of co-ordination. I also stressed that it was not necessary to apply the same solution in each member state. We needed flexibility around common goals. Many delegations broadly welcomed the Youth on the Move initiative although some argued that European Union-level action should not specify solutions and respect the differences in member states' industrial relations systems. Otherwise, there was a broad consensus on the need for education reform and improving skills levels.
In the second workshop, the presidency noted that while the economic outlook was brightening, employment rates were not improving and that meeting the Europe 2020 employment target would be a significant challenge. It emphasised the importance of promoting labour demand through labour-intensive investments focusing on those furthest from the labour market. The Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner argued for doubling of effort to avoid a jobless recovery. The "New Skills and Jobs" flagship initiative, the joint employment report and the annual growth survey were all recent Commission initiatives aimed at promoting growth. The Commission would adopt guiding principles to assist job creation later this year, focusing on addressing administrative and legal obstacles to hiring and firing; reducing non-wage labour costs; and measures to assist the move from informal and undeclared work into regular employment. Finally, the Commissioner argued the case for more and more visible ESF funding and better use of the EU microfinance. For the UK, the Under-Secretary with responsibility for employment relations, consumer and postal affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston
and Surbiton, agreed with the emphasis on skills and training and stressed the importance of apprenticeships and benefit reform to help vulnerable workers. He also highlighted UK plans to simplify employment law, thereby reducing regulatory burdens on business as well as retaining a fair deal for workers.
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): I regret to inform the House that there were inaccuracies in my written answer 15130 given on 4 October 2010, Official Report, columns 1346-48W. The response provided the number of winter fuel payments made in England, Dudley Borough and Dudley North constituency. The age breakdowns supplied for England were incorrect and figures were only provided up to 2008-09 instead of 2009-10. In addition there were some discrepancies in the figures for 2005-06. The correct information is below:
1. Figures are rounded to the nearest 10 and therefore totals may not sum.
2. Constituencies used are for the Westminster Parliament of May 2005.
3. The "under 60" category contains cases where an income support/jobseeker's allowance claimant receives a payment on behalf of their partner who is aged 60 or over.
4. Figures for 2005-2006 have been revised. I have arranged for the full revised table to be placed in the Library today.
DWP Information Directorate 100% data.