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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Business, Innovation and Skills

Restructuring Moratorium (Consultation)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): I am setting out today the stakeholder responses to our consultation on proposals for a restructuring moratorium.

When launching the consultation, the Government were focused on setting a path to balanced and sustainable economic growth across the economy, with increasing jobs and prosperity. This included looking at the challenges and risks faced by business in the refinancing and restructuring of existing debts.

The consultation document invited views on a restructuring moratorium which would enable viable businesses, with a realistic prospect of implementing a successful restructuring of their financial affairs, to obtain a flexible breathing space outside of a formal insolvency procedure during which the restructuring could be negotiated and implemented.

Forty-two businesses, individuals, and representative bodies responded to the consultation. Responses received suggest that, while the refinancing and restructuring of company debt remains a valid concern, the urgency of the case for introducing such a moratorium is not as great as previously thought. Those working on large restructurings tell us that they have been able to use existing mechanisms to get around some of the problems that the moratorium is designed to address.

There have been suggestions that a greater impact might be achieved by the restructuring moratorium were it also to tackle issues such as termination clauses (whereby suppliers can cancel essential contracts and threaten the viability of company’s rescue plans) and “cram down” mechanisms (to reduce the power of small creditors to block proposals). These are significant and difficult issues. It would be helpful to have further discussions with the main stakeholder groups to explore how much support there might be for addressing these issues; the best way in which to do so and the implications of introducing such further measures.

The Government have therefore decided that the next step should be to publish the responses to the consultation that they received to allow all concerned to understand the various views expressed. My officials will then work with stakeholders both to refine the moratorium proposals and to consider in more detail the additional areas that have been raised.

Copies of the non-confidential responses to the consultation are being published today on the Insolvency Service website (www.insolvency.gov.uk), together with a summary of those responses.

Employment Laws Review

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): Today the Government have announced the next steps in our comprehensive review of employment laws.

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The Parliament-long review is to ensure that our employment laws maximise flexibility for both employers and employees without compromising fairness and providing the necessary framework for a competitive business environment and economic growth.

We are today publishing the areas of employment law which we will be among our medium-term priorities for the review. We will consider in detail the case for reform in these areas to ensure they are fit for purpose:

the compensation for discrimination awarded by employment tribunals;

the rules on collective redundancy;

the TUPE regulations.

In addition, the review will consider other suitable ideas that come out of the Red Tape Challenge website and through discussions with interested parties.


Addiction to Medicine

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anne Milton): I am pleased to inform the House that two reports on addiction to prescription and over-the-counter medicines are being published today. Recognising that there was a lack of information on this subject, the Department of Health commissioned two reports in 2009-10:

The National Addiction Centre was asked to conduct a literature review to bring together the published evidence on the scale of the problem and how best to respond to dependence on medicines; and

The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse was asked to contact primary care trusts and treatment providers to investigate prescribing patterns and the help that is currently offered to people who develop problems.

These two reports will play a role in informing the future development of policy and services. In the Government’s drug strategy, which we launched in December, we set out an ambition to tackle dependence on all drugs, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines We need to do all we can to prevent people becoming dependent in the first place and to offer people appropriate support to recover when it does occur.

I will be leading work to involve relevant organisations and interested individuals to discuss the future action that is necessary in the light of the information contained in the reports. I look forward to discussions with Members of both Houses who have shown a long interest in this important area.

I am placing the reports in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

Home Department

Justice and Home Affairs Council

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): The Extraordinary Council will focus on interior issues and is due to be held on 12 May in Brussels. I will represent the United Kingdom. As the agenda stands, the following items will be discussed:

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The Council will start with an EU ministerial breakfast with the Director of SitCen where discussions will focus on the aftermath of the death of bin Laden and the situation in north Africa.

Next the Mixed Committee with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (non-EU Schengen states), will hold a state of play discussion on the Frontex regulation. The regulation builds on an evaluation of the first five years of Frontex’s performance and is intended to extend the remit of Frontex into areas that will allow it to be more operationally effective going forward. The Council has previously called for a first reading agreement of this measure before the end of June. The UK is not a participant in the Frontex regulation but we are satisfied that the current draft is moving in the right direction. The proposal to give Frontex a limited remit to handle personal information will enable closer working with Europol to counter criminality, such as human trafficking and smuggling, at the EU’s external borders.

Next under Mixed Committee and as the first item in the main Council there will be a discussion on the southern neighbourhood region, in the light of the Commission communication on north African migration issued on 4 May. The presidency will ask member states how far they agree with proposals in the communication, in preparation for further discussion at the June European Council. The UK welcomes the proposals in the communication for developing effective co-operation on migration issues with north African countries, especially on returns and border security. We are ready to work with the Commission and other member states to build capacity in those countries by deploying UK experts. We would also like the EU to support more voluntary repatriation of third-country nationals from north Africa back to their countries of origin in sub-Saharan Africa. We stand ready to support member states facing particular pressures, but remain opposed to any large-scale or systematic relocation of migrants within the EU. The Council is also likely to discuss proposals for reforms in Schengen governance, including the system for mutual evaluation and rules for temporary reintroduction of border controls. The UK does not take part in Schengen provisions on border controls, but is supportive of any reforms that combat illegal immigration and strengthen the EU’s external borders.

Cyprus will also give a presentation on the ministerial meeting which took place in Nicosia on the 19 April 2011.

The Commission will present its evaluation of EU re-admission agreements and the Council will have an initial exchange of views on the evaluation. The UK welcomes the Commission evaluation and supports a number of recommendations made in it. The intention is to reach member state agreement on Council conclusions on the recommendations at the June JHA Council.

There will be a lunchtime discussion on asylum, focusing on the Commission’s communication on north African migration. The communication calls for negotiations for a common European asylum system to be completed by the 2012 deadline. The communication also emphasises the Commission’s intention to revise some of its more controversial proposals on asylum, and argues that an “emergency clause” be introduced allowing transfers under the Dublin regulation to be suspended in certain circumstances. The Government

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support practical co-operation on asylum in the EU but do not believe that participation in a common asylum policy is right for Britain. We oppose the suspension of transfers under the Dublin regulation.

The Council will receive an update on the situation on Japan at the request of Belgium.

Finally, the Commission will present their evaluation report on the Data Retention Directive. The evaluation recognises the value of communications data in maintaining security in the EU and the central role that it plays in the fight against serious crime but also signals that changes should be made to the directive which potentially include greater restrictions on the data types that are retained; greater restrictions on access to the data; and greater harmonisation including possibly shortening the periods of mandatory data retention. The UK strongly supports the existing directive as it provides a valuable basis for retaining data that are critical on an ongoing basis to counter-terrorism and serious crime investigations, both in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. We welcome the fact that the evaluation report recognises the value of retained communications data to maintaining security in the EU. We recognise the importance of strong data protection but have concerns that some of the changes the Commission are considering would have an adverse impact on UK operational capabilities. We believe that the Data Retention Directive in its current format has sufficient flexibility to allow member states to transpose the directive in a way that is compatible with both their own data protection requirements and those of the European Union.


Prison Service Pay Review Body

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): I am pleased to announce that the Prime Minister has appointed Dr Peter Knight as Chair of the Prison Service Pay Review Body for three years commencing March 2011, and that I have appointed Vilma Patterson and Trevor Spires as members of the Prison Service Pay Review Body, also for three years, commencing March 2011. The appointments have been conducted in accordance with the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments code of practice on appointments to public bodies.


Road Safety

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Philip Hammond): Today I am launching a new strategic framework for road safety. This outlines the Government’s plans to reduce deaths and injuries on Britain’s roads as well as the measures and steps that others can take. It is available for download from the Department for Transport website; www.dft.gov.uk/roadsafety.

The strategic framework aims to provide clarity to local authorities, road safety professionals and other stakeholders on their roles and responsibilities in improving road safety and the increased freedom that is being given to local authorities in assessing and acting on their own priorities.

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In line with the coalition’s commitment to localism, we want decisions to be made locally, wherever possible, and this document sets out how we are moving away from overarching national road safety targets and towards a more sophisticated method of monitoring progress through a road safety outcomes framework which will help local authorities assess and prioritise their action and show the impact of central Government measures.

Additionally, at the local level, there will be an increase in the road safety information that is available to the public to help them hold their local authorities and service providers to account.

Of course, there is still an important role for national Government in delivering safer roads. Our central focus will be on supporting road users who have weak driving skills or who display a lapse of judgment to improve their driving, while focusing enforcement resources against those who deliberately decide to undertake antisocial and dangerous driving behaviour.

Where road users make low-level mistakes or display poor skills we intend to divert them in to a greater range of educational courses to help develop safer skills and attitudes. We will extend this approach to careless driving

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through the introduction of a new fixed penalty notice as well as new remedial educational courses. We need to rebalance road safety enforcement away from a narrow focus on camera-enforced speed policing, to address the wider range of behaviours that create risk on the roads. Where road users commit serious, deliberate and repeated offences we aim to increase the effectiveness of enforcement for this minority—for example, through improving the efficiency of action on drink and drug-driving. Through this approach we aim to improve the targeting and effectiveness of enforcement to tackle a wide range of unsafe behaviours that cover all careless and dangerous driving offences.

Our long-term vision is to ensure that Britain remains a world leader on road safety and to continue the downward trend in casualties. We believe that the measures set out in this strategic framework will help us to achieve this vision.

Full impact assessments, including the potential impacts on enforcement and the judicial system, will be prepared in the usual way when legislation is brought forward.

Copies of this document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.