The Minister for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts): I regret that because of an administrative error two parliamentary questions tabled by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) were answered incorrectly, on 20 January, Official Report, column 916W with the hon. Member receiving the same reply provided to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn), on 20 January, Official Report, column 918W.
Chi Onwurah: To ask the Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, what plans he has for the promotion of women's networks in science, technology, engineering and mathematics following the withdrawal of funding to the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science Engineering and Technology. (33709)
Mr Willetts: My Department will continue to engage with those partners and stakeholders who have a strong interest in this agenda, and who will be able to assist BIS in increasing its impact on this important issue in the future.
Chi Onwurah: To ask the Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, what plans he has for the collation and publication of statistics on women working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics following the withdrawal of funding for the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology. (33710)
Mr Willetts: Statistics on both STEM employment and study can be obtained from a number of sources including the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Labour Force Survey (LFS), the publications of the Learned Societies and National Academies, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) among others. These sources publish data and analyses that include breakdowns by gender.
My officials will continue to work with UKRC to build on their experience of the provision of high-quality data on women in STEM. Should it become clear that further collation and analysis of the widely available gender-related statistics on the STEM workforce would be of tangible benefit, then we will determine which of our partners would be best placed to lead this work.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander):
Legislation governing public service pensions requires them to be increased annually by the same percentage
as additional pensions (state earnings-related pension and state second pension). Public service pensions will therefore be increased from 11 April 2011 by 3.1% in line with the annual increase in the consumer prices index up to September 2010, except for those public service pensions which have been in payment for less than a year, which will receive a pro rata increase.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell): My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Baroness Hanham, has made the following written ministerial statement:
I am today announcing a series of changes I will be making to the operation and delivery of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) in England.
ERDF is a key driver for economic growth and the sub-national agenda and I have seen for myself some of the benefits it has brought to local communities. The operation of ERDF is governed by complex European regulations and comes with stringent penalties if those are not met. As the Secretary of State outlined in a departmental press notice of 7 July 2010, the new Government inherited up to £150 million of potential liabilities from the previous Government due to financial and administrative irregularities. It is vital that taxpayers have confidence that their money is not being wasted.
ERDF is currently delivered by teams in the regional development agencies. Following our decision to abolish these agencies and encourage local communities to come together to form economic partnerships that make sense for them, I have concluded that in order to maintain compliance with the regulations and spending momentum, we should transfer the existing ERDF staff and functions into my Department by the beginning of July.
In London, the Greater London Authority is establishing a housing and regeneration division from parts of the London Development Agency and the London elements of the Homes and Communities Agency. So I have concluded that, in line with the steps we are taking in the Localism Bill to transfer power and functions to the Mayor of London, the Greater London Authority is well placed to continue to operate ERDF in the capital.
We want to encourage local communities to make use of ERDF. This is more likely to happen if ERDF teams continue to be located close to the places they serve so they are on hand to offer support and advice to projects. So I have decided that we must aim to locate the ERDF teams as far as possible in their existing towns or cities.
We are committed to giving localities and communities greater control and greater influence over the programmes and services delivered in their areas. To help achieve this, I have decided that we should restructure existing Programme Monitoring Committees as Local Management Committees which can ensure that, within the parameters already agreed with the EU, local people and businesses can influence the shape of the programme. These Committees give strategic direction to the operational programmes and ensure that they are delivered compliantly and that outputs are delivered. I will be looking to ensure that the local representatives from across the public, private, voluntary and community and local authority sectors are represented on the Local Management Committees.
I am committed to ensuring my Department plays a key role in ensuring that the delivery of ERDF remains compliant with EU regulations. To deliver that, I have decided that a DCLG director will chair the Local Management Committees. But to underline
our commitment to localism, I have also decided that a significant figure from the local community should be appointed as a deputy chair of the Local Management Committee, to ensure that the ERDF programmes are overseen and shaped by local people. We will work with local communities to determine who should occupy this role.
We will be working closely with the existing membership of the Programme Monitoring Committees and other local representatives to determine the practical details of the changes I want to make. That will include the role of the Local Management Committees, how the deputy chair and membership will be selected and what underpinning arrangements they will need.
Finally, as we said in the "Local Growth" White Paper, we want to make it easier for local communities to access all elements of regeneration funding, so my Department is working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to determine the scope to align the application processes for ERDF and the regional growth fund. We will also be looking to ensure that this new process delivers greater efficiency through limiting duplication.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): Section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983 sets out a process by which MPs are to vacate their seats if they have a mental health condition and are authorised to be detained under mental health legislation for a period of six months or more. The process involves the Speaker of the House of Commons receiving reports from registered medical practitioners. If the Speaker receives two such reports, six months apart, that the MP is in such detention, the Speaker lays both reports before the House of Commons and the MP's seat automatically becomes vacant. Section 141 also applies in relation to the devolved assemblies with the presiding officer of each assembly performing the functions of the Speaker.
Although the provisions in section 141 have never been used, this section is symptomatic of an outdated attitude towards mental illness which is out of touch with the modern understanding of mental health. It treats mental ill health differently from physical ill health. It sends out the message that if you have a mental health condition, your contribution is not welcome in public life. That is a message this Government wish to change.
This Government agree with the all-party parliamentary group on mental health that section 141 should be repealed as soon as possible-a view endorsed by the Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) Final Report (2010) HC 239-1, paragraph 327.
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): I would like to inform the House that a written answer I gave on 13 December 2010, Official Report, column 523W to the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) contained some inadvertent errors in relation to the number of representations received on Sheffield Forgemasters.
We have received letters from 12 private individuals, one Member of Parliament on behalf of an unnamed constituent, one not-for-profit organisation and one private company on this issue. However, this does not include all representations where Sheffield Forgemasters might have been just one of the issues raised in a letter. To search all the correspondence that might contain a representation on Sheffield Forgemasters would incur disproportionate cost
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): On 19 January, following a number of successful cyber attacks on EU member states' emissions trading system (EU ETS) registries, the European Commission suspended all internal and international transactions within all the EU ETS registries. These registries are the repositories for EU emission allowances and an important part of carbon market trading.
The UK agreed with the European Commission that EU member states should not be able to reopen registries until they had provided sufficient evidence to the European Commission that their registries meet a number of minimum security requirements. The UK registry is widely seen as one of the most secure registries in Europe with at least one market participant recommending this week its clients should use the UK registry. The UK's registry administrator, the Environment Agency, earlier this week submitted the required evidence to the Commission. We have received confirmation this morning that the UK registry will reopen on Friday 4 February at 7 am.
While it is important to ensure a minimum level of security now to ensure the reopening of the registries, the UK will continue to press the European Commission to ensure that registry security across Europe is raised above this level. This is vital to ensure continued confidence in this growing market.
The temporary suspension of registry transfers has had an impact on the carbon market, though this has been concentrated in spot trading, (which allows for instant delivery of allowances bought on the secondary market), which represents only 10% of trading on the carbon market. The futures market, which is predominately based in the UK and accounts for the remaining 90% of the carbon market, has shown only a limited level of disruption. Trading here has continued at broadly the same volumes as before the registries were closed and the impact on the EU emission allowance price has been limited.
"Jordan is a close ally and we value the support they offer on regional issues such as the middle east peace process. We are watching closely the situation in Jordan following the disbanding of the cabinet. It is important that Jordan continues its programme of political and economic reform. We will work with the Jordanian Government to support that goal."
The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): The Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council were held on 31 January in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I represented the UK.
After a brief review of the December European Council of 16-17 December, Ministers discussed preparations for the 4 February European Council. On energy, views were exchanged on: integrating the internal energy market; achieving energy efficiency targets and promoting renewable energies; and improving the coherence of the EU's external action on energy issues.
The presidency presented its roadmap for the European semester which is being implemented for the first time this year as part of a reform of EU economic governance. The European semester involves simultaneous monitoring of member states' budgetary policies and structural reforms, in accordance with common rules, during a six-month period every year. Under the European semester, all other member states will send draft budgetary plans to the EU for consideration in the spring. However, because the UK's fiscal year is different, and because the Government were determined to respect section 5 of the 1972 European Communities Act which states that the UK will only submit fiscal data to the Commission if it has already been presented to Parliament first, the Government secured in June 2010 a provision in the stability and growth pact code of conduct to say that we will present our final budget, not our draft budgetary plans, to the EU. The UK budget will therefore already be publicly available and have been presented to Parliament. The Commission and European Council will then provide policy advice and guidance to member states. The final decisions on national budgets will remain with national
Parliaments for all member states. Moreover, the UK is explicitly excluded from sanctions under the stability and growth pact, as the taskforce report states: (para 18.ii) "strengthened enforcement measures need to be implemented for all EU member states, except the UK as a consequence of protocol 15 of the treaty.
enhancing macroeconomic stability;
structural reforms for tackling unemployment; and
measures to enhance economic growth under existing strategies.
Ministers took the opportunity to discuss the broader implications for the region and the EU's neighbourhood policy. The Foreign Secretary emphasised the need for the EU to support Egyptian institutions, values and processes. The EU should also review its engagement in the region. UK initiatives like the Arab human development programme might offer a model. For more on the FCO's projects in the Middle East see the following link:
The Commission (Fule) briefed on existing EU support to Egypt: €145 million through the European neighbourhood policy instrument and €20 million planned from the European instrument for democracy and human rights. He added that the Commission was prepared to offer Egypt electoral support.
Baroness Ashton undertook to schedule future FAC discussion on the EU's neighbourhood policy and to explore the possibly of sending an EU fact-finding mission to Egypt as soon as it was safe to do so.
Following on from the discussion on Egypt, Ministers agreed to adopt conclusions (see link) on Tunisia that support the transition to democracy and to offer assistance with elections. The conclusions also include measures to freeze the assets of those who have embezzled Tunisian public funds. In interventions, many emphasised the need to maintain Tunisian ownership of the election process and called for a review of the EU-Tunisia advance status negotiations.
Ministers agreed conclusions (see link) imposing sanctions against the Belarusian Government in response to its post-election crackdown. There was broad agreement that the release of seven detainees over the weekend did not sufficiently address concerns to warrant stopping the sanctions. The Foreign Secretary said the EU had offered a positive approach to the Belarusian regime which had been rejected. So it was right to impose these sanctions. Additionally, the EU should keep open the prospect of economic sanctions.
Conclusions (see link) welcoming the preliminary results of the referendum were agreed. Ministers discussed the post-referendum situation and the need to develop a long-term EU engagement plan for both south and north Sudan. Concern was also expressed about the humanitarian situation in Darfur.
Ministers discussed recent attacks on religious minorities in the Middle East and how the EU might respond. There was general agreement that the EU should send a strong message of concern about these attacks. Baroness Ashton tasked that the Political and Security Committee to develop a set of conclusions for adoption at a future FAC.
Over dinner, Baroness Ashton led a discussion on the EU's relationship with its strategic partners with a particular focus this time on its objectives for Russia. Ministers also reviewed developments in the Middle East ahead of the Quartet meeting of 5 February and discussed Lebanon. Finally, Baroness Ashton briefed on the Istanbul talks of 21-22 January on the Iranian nuclear programme.
The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green):
I am pleased to announce Dr Ian Leigh's appointment as Deputy Immigration Services Commissioner for the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC).
The appointment has been made in accordance with schedule 5 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, and therefore this is a five-year appointment. Dr Leigh will take up the post on 7 February 2011.
Dr Leigh is a chartered physicist and a fellow of the Institute of Physics. He has extensive experience of working in the public sector having spent several years employed as a senior civil servant and several years in a senior role in an NDPB. Dr Leigh was a deputy director in the Department of Trade and Industry with responsibility for managing the National Physical Laboratory's operating contract. In 2001 he was appointed as managing director and director of policy for Postwatch, an executive NDPB dealing with all consumer issues in the postal sector. Since 2008, Dr Leigh has been working as a consultant to the Irish Commission for Communications Regulation.
The appointment of a Deputy Commissioner to replace the previous post holder has been made with due consideration of the uncertain future of the OISC. The Cabinet Office announcement of reform to public bodies listed the OISC as one where future options, including a possible merger, are under consideration. A Deputy Commissioner remains a requirement for the current operation of the OISC and as any changes will take time to be considered and thereafter implemented, it is the case that substantial work at a managerial level will be required within the OISC.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I am pleased to say that in accordance with section 14(3), 14(4) and 14(5) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, Lord Carlile of Berriew QC has completed the report on the operation of the Act in 2010, which will be laid before the House today. Copies will be available in the Vote Office.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is currently conducting its first year review of the parliamentary expenses scheme. IPSA launched a formal process for public consultation on 5 January 2011.
Under the Parliamentary Standards Act (2009), the Leader of the House is a statutory consultee of the scheme. Today, I am publishing the evidence that I am submitting to IPSA and I have placed copies in the Library of the House, in the Vote Office for Members and on the Leader's website: www.commonsleader.gov.uk.
Although I am responding as a statutory consultee, it has not been my intention to respond on behalf of the House. I understand that party groups and individual MPs may be sending in separate submissions.
Independence-Members should not determine their own allowances.
Transparency-Public confidence must be maintained through transparent rules and publication of expenses data.
Professionalism-Members should be properly resourced so that they can effectively represent their constituents and perform their parliamentary duties.
Fitness for Purpose-Members from all backgrounds must be able to provide an equal service to their constituents; the system should not deter candidates from less affluent backgrounds from becoming or remaining Members of Parliament, nor adversely affect family life.
Cost-effectiveness-The system should minimise the cost to the taxpayer, both by limiting the amount Members may claim to what is absolutely necessary and by offering simple, cost-effective administration.
The public consultation closes on 11 February and I would encourage all Members who wish to raise issues with IPSA to do so before the end of the consultation period, so that IPSA is able to take account of the broadest range of views from within the House.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): The Department for Transport has today published a consultation on proposals for changes to the driver medical standards on eyesight, epilepsy and diabetes.
The current driver licensing rules in the UK are based on the second European Council directive on driving licences (91/439/EEC). The minimum medical standards for the issue of driving licences are detailed in annex III of the second directive and the forthcoming third European directive on driving licences. Officials and medical experts from across the European Union reviewed the standards for eyesight, diabetes and epilepsy. Following receipt of their reports to the European Commission, amendments to the standards were adopted in 2009 in directives 2009/112/EC and 2009/113/EC, and came into force 15 September 2010.
The Secretary of State's experts on the honorary medical advisory panels for eyesight, diabetes and neurology have considered the medical directives and how these compare with existing UK standards. For the most part the medical directives relax, or more precisely define, existing EU minimum medical standards. While UK standards must be at least at the level of a minimum standard we are not required by EU law to relax existing domestic standards where these are higher than the EU standards. However, where the panel has advised that a relaxation is consistent with road safety we are recommending that this is adopted. The implementation of these revised standards is the basis of the consultation.
The consultation period will run until 28 April 2011. Copies of the consultation document have been placed on the Library of the House. Further copies are available on the DFT and DVLA websites at www.dft.gov.uk or
www.dvla.gov.uk. Depending on comments received and the Department's response, amendment for any change will be made to regulations or guidance issued to medical practitioners.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): I am today announcing the Government's "in principle" decision to reform the air travel organisers' licensing (ATOL) scheme to improve clarity for consumers about its coverage and also to put the scheme's finances back on a sustainable basis. There will be a full consultation on the details of the proposed reforms.
The ATOL scheme, operated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), was introduced in the 1970s to provide financial protection for the purchase of package holidays in the event of travel company insolvency. Affected passengers are entitled to a full refund if they are yet to travel, or repatriation after completing their holiday if they have already reached their destination.
However, as a result of new ways of selling holidays and a recent Court ruling, the scheme no longer completely fulfils its intended purpose: the proportion of holidays with ATOL protection has fallen, and it can be difficult for consumers and the travel industry to know which holidays are protected and which are not. The proposed reforms will make it easier for everyone to understand which holidays are covered, and will restore protection to what looks like a package holiday but now falls outside the legal definition.
The Air Travel Trust Fund (the fund) provides the money for refunds and repatriation costs when a travel company becomes insolvent. For historic reasons the fund had no income for a number of years. As a result of this legacy, combined with travel company failures in 2008 and 2010, the fund's deficit has increased significantly. Until it is back in surplus, it can only meet its obligations because of a Government guarantee, currently £42 million, in support of commercial borrowing facilities. Reform is needed to secure the sustainability of the fund so it can continue to provide financial protection for consumers, while reducing and eventually eliminating the exposure to taxpayers. It is envisaged that the ATOL protection contribution (APC) paid into the fund will remain at £2.50 per holiday sale until the fund is restored to health.
Create a new category of "flight plus" holiday in ATOL. This would cover holidays including a flight where the various elements were purchased within a specified short time period, and so look similar to package holidays, but are not packages as currently legally defined in the UK. New secondary legislation would be required to do this.
Ensure that where businesses sell holidays that look like packages, but where the travel agent has arranged matters so they are acting as an "agent for the customer" and so remain outside of ATOL, consumers are made fully aware of this, so that they can make an informed decision about their purchase. We are looking at using the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 to enforce this measure.
Replace the current arrangements with clearer, standardised information for consumers that their holiday or flight is ATOL protected. The CAA has already begun discussions
with the industry about a recognised document, the ATOL certificate, that would be both proportionate and fit for purpose. This can be done by CAA using its existing powers.
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): Later today the Government will publish an order to set the contracted-out rebate rate for salary-related pension schemes for the tax years 2012-13 to 2017-18. The new rate will be 4.8% and will be shared in the following way: 3.4% for employers (secondary class 1 contributions) and 1.4% for employees (primary class 1 contributions).
Rebate rates for members of contracted-out pension schemes are reviewed at intervals of up to five years. It has been five years since the last review. The rebate is expected to reflect the cost of providing the benefits given up by individuals contracted out of the additional state pension.
The Government Actuary has produced a report presenting three possible approaches to setting the rate. The Government have adopted the rate that was calculated using the Government Actuary's "best estimate" approach.
The full report of the Government Actuary will be published alongside the order, as will a report on the order by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in accordance with sections 42(1), 42B(1) and 45A(1) of the Pensions Act 1993.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mrs Cheryl Gillan): I would like to inform the House that the proposed National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Highways and Transport) Order 2011 was laid on 3 February, as Command Paper Cm 7999. Copies of this can be found in the Vote Office and are also available from the Library. I have written to the Welsh Affairs Committee and to the House of Lords Constitutional Committee to request that they undertake pre-legislative scrutiny.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mrs Cheryl Gillan): I am pleased to inform the House that the explanatory memorandum explaining the Government's proposal for framework powers in the Education Bill are available in the Vote Office, Library and the Printed Paper Office, and on the Wales Office website: (www.walesoffice.gov.uk).