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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 16 May 2011

Business, Innovation and Skills

Modern Workplaces Consultation

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Vince Cable): Today the Government have launched a consultation on plans to modernise employment practices in the UK, making them more flexible, more family-friendly and fitter for the 21st century. The modern workplaces consultation proposes changes to employment law that will give employers and employees alike greater choice and flexibility, making it easier for parents to balance domestic and professional responsibilities and helping employers to recruit and retain skilled people.

The proposals cover four main areas:

A new system of flexible parental leave. The consultation seeks views on replacing the current, rigid system of maternity and paternity leave with new arrangements that will allow mothers and fathers to share leave, encouraging shared parenting while enabling both parents to retain their attachment to the workplace. We also propose giving parents and employers much greater choice over exactly how and when leave is taken, enabling them to agree arrangements that suit them both;

Extending the right to request flexible working to all employees. This will spread the benefits that flexible working can bring to all parts of the society and economy. It will give businesses access to a wider pool of skills and talents, improve recruitment and retention rates, and increase staff morale and productivity;

Changes to the working time regulations as a result of Court of Justice of the European Union cases about the interaction of annual leave with other types of leave; and

Requiring employers who lose an employment tribunal case on equal pay to carry out a pay audit.

Taken together, these measures will deliver on several important commitments in the coalition agreement. We will introduce the changes in a way that maximises flexibility for both employers and employees, providing the necessary framework for a competitive business environment and economic growth, without compromising fairness.

The consultation is the latest step in the Government’s comprehensive review of employment law, on which the next steps were announced last week. We want to make it easier for businesses to employ people, but also for people to balance work and family commitments.

Copies of the consultation document will be placed in the House Libraries.


Consumer Insurance (Disclosure and Representations) Bill

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): I am pleased to announce that having considered the response to the Treasury’s targeted consultation on

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the Consumer Insurance (Disclosure and Representations) Bill, the Government have decided to take forward the proposed reforms, when parliamentary time permits.

These reforms are based on the recommendations made by the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission in their 2009 report “Consumer Insurance Law: Pre-Contract Disclosure and Misrepresentation” (Law Com 319/Scot Law Com 219).

The Bill will replace the requirement for consumers to volunteer information about everything which a “prudent insurer” would consider relevant with the requirement that insurers ask particular questions to obtain specific information about the customer. The current law and regulations on information disclosure are complex, and this Bill will provide protection for consumers and reduce costs for industry.

The Bill is the result of lengthy consultation and has broad-based support from industry and consumer groups. The Bill will be subject to minor modifications to meet concerns raised during the consultation.

A summary of the responses to the consultation, and the Government’s response, has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Equitable Life Scheme Design Document

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): The Treasury has today published the Equitable Life payment scheme design document.

The publication of the design document is a key step towards delivering the Government’s pledge of May 2010 to

“implement the parliamentary and health service ombudsman’s recommendation to make fair and transparent payments to Equitable Life policy holders, through an independent payment scheme, for their relative loss as a consequence of regulatory failure”.

The document sets out the detail of the scheme design, including:

the scheme rules;

the scheme administration and timetable;

the methodology behind loss and payment calculations;

the scheme’s approach to making payments;

the details of the queries and complaints procedure; and

the plans for communicating with policyholders.

Fairness, transparency and simplicity have been the guiding principles behind the Government’s approach to designing the scheme. The final design reflects these principles, as well as the actuarial analysis carried out by Towers Watson, the evidence and arguments received in response to the Government’s call for representations following the publication of Sir John Chadwick’s advice, and the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Equitable Life payments.

The scheme also reflects previous announcements that with-profits annuity policyholders will have their losses covered in full, and that scheme payments will be free of tax and will not affect eligibility for tax credits.

The Government have previously stated their ambition to make the first scheme payments by the middle of this year. They remain on track to do so, with plans to make the first payments before the end of June. Policyholders will not need to do anything to claim their payments—the

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scheme has policyholders’ details from Equitable Life and the Prudential and will contact policyholders in the first instance.

Copies of the paper are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses and are available via the Treasury website.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Council of Europe: 121st Annual Ministerial Meeting: Istanbul, 10-11 May 2011

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I represented the United Kingdom at the 121st annual ministerial meeting of the Council of Europe in Istanbul on 10 and 11 May 2011.

The Turkish and Ukrainian chairmanships issued a declaration covering a statement in their joint names. This statement reaffirmed the Council of Europe’s role in protecting and promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law across the whole European continent and beyond; respect for and recognition of the political commitments and legally binding instruments to which all 47 member states are committed; and the urgent need to continue the current process of reform of the organisation.

I reaffirmed the United Kingdom’s commitment to the Council of Europe and its aims. I paid tribute to the reform work done so far under Secretary-General Jagland but noted that much more needed to be done. I gave notice that the forthcoming United Kingdom chairmanship would continue to support Mr Jagland’s reform programme while seeking to advance a programme of work under the theme of promoting and protecting human rights. A key priority of our chairmanship would be to drive forward the ongoing process of reform of the European Court of Human Rights, building on the agreements reached at the high-level conferences at Interlaken in February 2010 and at Izmir in April 2011.

At the end of the meeting, Turkey handed over the rotating six-month chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers to Ukraine. The United Kingdom will succeed Ukraine as Chair of the Committee of Ministers on 7 November 2011 and hand over the Chairmanship to Albania on 14 May 2012. Each country will have its own set of chairmanship priorities, but the Ukrainians, the Albanians and we have agreed in addition that our three successive chairmanships from May 2011 to November 2012 will include certain shared priorities. These cover reform of the organisation; reform of the European Court of Human Rights; and raising the efficiency of Council of Europe work on local and regional democracy.

While in Istanbul, I also held separate talks with a number of key Council of Europe and bilateral colleagues. These included the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Mr Thorbjom Jagland; the Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Thomas Hammarberg; the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Mr Alexander Grushko; the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Turkey, Mr Ahmet Davutoglu; the Minister

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for EU Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, Mr Egemen Bagis; and the Foreign Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr Sven Alkalaj.

I am placing a copy of the joint Turkish/Ukrainian statement, and of the UK statement, in the Library of the House. The latter document has already been published on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website (www.fco.gov.uk).

Home Department

Operation Gird

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I am pleased to be able to announce that David Anderson QC has completed his report on the review of operation GIRD—the investigation of an alleged plot targeting the Papal visit of September last year. The report will be placed in the Library of the House and copies win also be available from the Vote Office.

I am grateful to David Anderson for his detailed report—his first as independent reviewer for terrorism legislation. I am also pleased that he finds that the police exercised the powers afforded them under the Terrorism Act 2000 lawfully and appropriately in seeking to prevent what they had reasonably suspected was a potential terrorist plot.

I welcome both his finding and his recommendations and intend to publish the Government’s full response shortly.


Sale of Trust Ports

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Philip Hammond): I am today launching a consultation on the criteria that the Government consider particularly relevant to the consideration of the appropriateness of sale of a major trust port(1) in England or Wales under the Ports Act 1991.

During the consultation period, which will run for six weeks until 27 June 2011, I am seeking the views of interested parties on the following criteria, which I propose to adopt in place of those set out in the written ministerial statement on the sale of trust ports of 25 January 2010, Official Report, column 44WS.

In view of this consultation, I have asked my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to suspend her consideration of the application for a transfer of the port undertaking made by Dover Harbour Board under the Ports Act 1991 until I announce a decision on the proposed criteria.

The Proposed Criteria

The following criteria are those which the Government consider particularly relevant when considering an application under the Ports Act 1991 for the sale of a major trust port in England or Wales. This covers the consideration of any proposal for a transfer scheme submitted under section 9 or 10 of the 1991 Act, together with the exercise of the Secretary of State’s functions in respect of the subsequent sale of the port

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to which the scheme relates. The Secretary of State also intends to have particular regard to the policy considerations set out below before making a transfer scheme himself under section 12 of the 1991 Act or subsequently approving the sale of a port to which his scheme relates.

Community participation

The Secretary of State will not approve an application for the sale of a trust port under the 1991 Act unless the sale is considered likely to deliver an ongoing and significant level of community participation in the port. Such participation could take a variety of forms, but must include the ability to influence the port’s long-term development and may include the right to receive a share in the profits of the port, or the future increase in its value. It does not necessarily require a community role in the operation of the port.

Future Development of the Port

The Secretary of State will not approve an application unless the sale is considered likely to deliver an ownership model with the capability and access to capital to meet future investment needs.

Fair price

The Secretary of State will not approve an application unless the sale is considered likely to represent good value for money, having regard not only to Exchequer proceeds and market conditions, but also to other benefits including those to the community and the wider economy.

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Fair competition

The Secretary of State will not approve an application that is likely to deliver an ownership model which results in unsatisfactory levels of competition in the relevant sector.

Transport networks

It is highly desirable for an application to be likely to deliver an ownership model which will cause the port to be operated so as to contribute to reliable and efficient transport networks.

Sale process

It is highly desirable that the sale should be conducted in such a way as to give all bona fide prospective purchasers a fair and equitable opportunity to participate.

Employee involvement

It is desirable for an application to be likely to deliver port employee participation in the ownership of the port, such as the right to receive equity shares or a share in its future success(2).

(1)For the purposes of the Act, a “major trust port” is a trust port with an annual turnover above a certain limit (currently £7.6 million). In England and Wales this currently includes Dover, Tyne, Milford Haven, Shoreham, Poole, Harwich Haven and the Port of London Authority (though the latter is excluded from provisions on privatisation contained in the Act).

(2)This is without prejudice to the Ports Act 1991 section 5(3) requirement to have particular regard to the desirability of encouraging the disposal of the whole or a substantial part of the equity share capital of the successor company to managers or other persons employed by the port company etc.