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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Business, Innovation and Skills

National Minimum Wage

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Vince Cable): The Government have today written to the Low Pay Commission setting out the remit for its 2012 report.

The Government support the national minimum wage (NMW) and have asked the Low Pay Commission (LPC) to evaluate and make recommendations in the areas set out below, taking account of the economic and labour market context, including pensions reform.

Specifically, I have asked the Low Pay Commission to:

1. Monitor, evaluate and review the levels of each of the different minimum wage rates, with particular reference to previously identified groups and sectors, and make recommendations for October 2012.

2. Review the labour market position of young people, including those in apprenticeships and internships.

3. Consider whether NMW regulations can be made even simpler and easier to administer. This might include the removal, simplification or consolidation of any elements of the NMW.

In addition, as part of the simplification agenda, I have requested that the LPC considers the implications of the proposed abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales, pending the outcomes of legislative process and consultation.

4. Consider the best way to give business greater clarity on future levels of the NMW, including the option of two-year recommendations, and implement the chosen solution as part of the 2012 report. Also, consider whether any of the other recommendations could be introduced more promptly.


The Low Pay Commission has been asked to report to the Prime Minister and me by the end of February 2012.

Copies of the remit have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Communities and Local Government

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council: 19 May 2011

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell): The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 19 May 2011 in Brussels. The United Kingdom was represented by the UK deputy permanent representative to the EU, Andy Lebrecht.

This was a single-issue Council on the subject of Roma integration. On 5 April, the European Commission published a communication on an EU framework for national Roma integration strategies up to 2020. Based

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on this, the presidency invited the Council to hold an exchange of views and adopt a set of Council conclusions and an opinion from the Social Protection Committee.

The presidency stressed the importance of member states taking effective action to tackle Roma exclusion, while emphasising the added value of EU-level action. The presidency noted that the situation of the Roma differed considerably between member states and so the conclusions provided latitude to member states to tailor their approaches to national needs by committing them to preparing either national strategies or sets of policy measures. The chair of the Social Protection Committee underlined the Social Protection Committee’s willingness to continue work on this issue.

The European Commission emphasised the need to step up efforts against discrimination. They said that strong commitment was needed by all member states, but acknowledged that member states’ efforts to promote Roma inclusion should be proportionate to the size and situation of the Roma population on their territory. The Commission also emphasised the link with the EU2020 strategy and underlined the importance of member states’ strategies or policy approaches, focusing on the four priority areas identified in the Commission’s communication—health, housing, education and employment. They called on member states to submit their strategies or policy approaches by end of 2011. The Commission would then report annually to the European Parliament and Council on progress made.

The UK outlined the fact that in this country we have a strong and well-established legal framework to combat discrimination and hate crime and that this protects all individuals, including Roma, Gypsies and Travellers, from racial and other forms of discrimination, and racially motivated crime. We also acknowledged that the UK’s Gypsies and Travellers none the less experience inequalities. We summarised the policy approaches being undertaken in the different parts of the UK to deal with this, including, in England, the ministerial working group on reducing Gypsy and Traveller inequalities, chaired by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

We also acknowledged the importance of co-ordination between member states to tackle organised crime, particularly the issue of human trafficking, which can affect Roma, especially Roma children, and we noted the opportunity that EU funds provide to member states to add value to their policies to improve the situation of Roma and other disadvantaged people.

Other member states welcomed the conclusions and highlighted the need for concerted action to improve the situation of the Roma. Some said they already had national or regional Roma strategies or programmes; others said they tackled Roma issues through mainstreaming into wider social inclusion programmes; while others had specific initiatives designed to address particular issues. Though most member states focused exclusively on socio-economic issues, some also made specific reference to the problem of human trafficking. Several member states, including the UK, highlighted the fact that different member states faced different situations both in terms of the size and situation of their Roma populations. Closing the debate, the presidency noted, among other things, that some member states

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had developed national Roma strategies while others were dealing with the issue through general inclusion policies.

Following the debate, the Council adopted conclusions on an EU framework for national Roma integration strategies. It also endorsed the opinion of the Social Protection Committee on an EU framework for national Roma integration strategies. The presidency will now seek endorsement of a Roma presidency progress report at the June European Council.

Local Enterprise Partnerships

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Greg Clark): I, together with the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), would like to inform the House that today we have written to the proposed Humber local enterprise partnership inviting it to put in place governance arrangements.

The Government have moved quickly to recognise the Humber local enterprise partnership proposal, submitted last week, so that they can drive forward their economic ambitions. The Humber local enterprise partnership will focus on strategic opportunities for growth around renewable energy, ports and logistics, chemicals, international trade, strategic transport, infrastructure and innovation and aims to create upwards of 20,000 jobs.

Local enterprise partnerships are a real power shift away from central Government and quangos and towards local communities and the local businesses who really understand the opportunities for, and barriers to, growth in their areas.

This announcement brings the total number of partnerships so far invited to put their governance arrangements in place to 35. Taken together these represent 1.9 million or 95% of all businesses (active enterprises) in England, 22 million employees (employee jobs figures) or 96% of all employees in England, and a population of 49 million or 96% of England’s population. We will continue to work with other areas with a view to establishing further local enterprise partnerships across England.


Military Low Flying 2010-11

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Andrew Robathan): The amount of low-flying training carried out in the UK low-flying system during the training year 1 April 2010 to 31 March 2011 was the minimum required for aircrew to reach and maintain their ability to fly at low level. A total of 49,151 hours of low-flying training were conducted across all low-flying areas. In comparative terms, there was an decrease of 8,369 hours, or approximately 14.6% on the previous training year due to the withdrawal of Harrier GR7/9 from service, and the additional operational deployment of Tornado GR4s to Italy as part of the NATO force

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conducting operations in Libya. The amount of operational low flying (between 250 feet and 100 feet) by fixed wing aircraft was 248 hours, accounting for 0.5% of all low flying activity.

I have today placed in the Library of the House a document giving detailed statistics of the low-flying training that has taken place in the UK low-flying system for the training year.

“1 April 2010 to 31 March 2011”. This statistical appendix may be read in conjunction with the master document “Military Low Flying in the United Kingdom” that is already in the Library of the House.

Additional copies are available on request from the following address:

Air Staff

Complaints and Enquiries Unit

Ministry of Defence

Level 5 Zone H

Main Building




Energy and Climate Change

EU Energy Council, Luxembourg: 10 June 2011

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): In advance of the forthcoming Energy Council in Luxembourg on 10 June, I am writing to outline the agenda items to be discussed.

The first item on the agenda will be a report on the state of play of the draft regulation on energy market integrity and transparency, on which the presidency is aiming to reach a first reading agreement between the European Parliament and the Council by the end of June. The UK supports the Commission’s draft regulation, which will increase market liquidity and confidence and enhance competition across the EU. We have made good progress in the negotiations and have found reasonable solutions to those areas which gave us concern.

The Council will then adopt conclusions on a Commission communication on an energy efficiency action plan. We broadly welcome the conclusions and expect them to be adopted without discussion.

The presidency will report on the debate that took place on the Energy Roadmap for 2050 at the Informal Energy Council in May in advance of the communication that the Commission is planning to issue in the autumn. There will also be a report on the state of play of the risk and safety assessment (“stress tests”) of nuclear power plants called for at the European Council on 24-25 March, following events in Fukushima. The UK is content with the scope of the test.

The Commission will then update the Council on a number of EU external energy relations issues. The Swedish delegation will present information to the Council on sustainability criteria for biomass and the Polish delegation will outline priorities for their forthcoming presidency.

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Over lunch Ministers will discuss a Commission report on the investments that are likely to be needed for energy infrastructure in Europe. The UK agrees that measures must be taken to remove obstacles to infrastructure investment but that planning regimes are issues for member states to decide.

Home Department

Justice and Home Affairs (Pre-Council Statement)

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): The Justice and Home Affairs Council is due to be held on 9 and 10 June in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Justice, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary of Justice, Kenny MacAskill and I intend to attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed:

The Council will begin in Mixed Committee with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (non-EU Schengen states). The Commission will give an update on the roll out of the central VIS (Visa Information System). The UK is not bound by the VIS regulation because it does not participate in the common visa element of the Schengen acquis.

Next there will be a presentation by the Commission on amendments to Regulation (EC) No 539/2001, which lists third country nationals who must possess visas to cross the external borders of the Schengen area and those exempt from this requirement. The amendments include provisions for a “safeguard clause” allowing the temporary suspension of existing visa waivers. The UK is not bound by this regulation as we do not participate in the migration aspects of the Schengen acquis.

The Council will seek a general approach on elements of the amending Frontex regulation. This amending regulation builds on an evaluation of the first five years of Frontex’ performance and is intended to extend the remit of Frontex in areas that will allow it to be more operationally effective in future. The presidency remains optimistic that they will reach agreement of this co-decision measure before the end of June. The UK is excluded from the regulation.

There will be an update on the Commission-led project to implement the central element of the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II); the UK will reiterate support for the continuation of the current SIS II project.

The Council will be asked to adopt draft Council conclusions on the readiness of Bulgaria and Romania to join Schengen. The conclusions confirm that evaluation visits have been completed and that both countries have met or exceeded the agreed Schengen criteria following a series of peer evaluations. The UK has actively participated in discussions within the Schengen Evaluation Committee and helped Bulgaria and Romania to meet the required standards. Bulgaria and Romania will join once a Council decision has been passed; this is not foreseen until at least the autumn.

The presidency will seek a general approach on the regulation creating an IT agency to manage existing IT systems. The UK supports conclusion of the regulation having secured amendments to ensure our participation.

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The Council will discuss EU-Western Balkans JHA relations in relation to the post-visa liberalisation monitoring mechanism. Since 19 December 2009, the citizens of Serbia, Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and since 15 December 2010 Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina enjoy visa-free travel to the EU member states if they hold a biometric passport. The follow-up mechanism set up at the beginning of 2011 covers border management, document security, combating organised crime, and fundamental rights, as well as the effective implementation of readmission agreements. The mechanism allows the Commission to engage with the countries concerned, under the framework of the stabilisation and association process, in a dialogue for the assessment of the consistent implementation of all reforms launched under the visa liberalisation roadmap. The UK does not participate in these elements of Schengen or the common EU visa policy.

Following Mixed Committee the main Council will begin with the Commission expected to present amended proposals to recast the asylum reception conditions directive and asylum procedures directive. The UK takes part in the existing directives but did not opt in to the original proposals to replace them that were brought forward in 2008 and 2009. Those proposals were strongly criticised by member states because of the significant additional regulation to which they would subject their asylum systems, and because they would grant asylum seekers additional unnecessary entitlements that would attract false claims for asylum. The Commission is therefore amending them in order to make agreement more likely.

Next the presidency will update the Council on progress of negotiations on three legal migration directives which the UK has not opted into. The first measure would establish common rules for the admission of third country nationals onto the territory of the EU where they are seeking admission on the basis of an intra-company transfer and make provision for intra-EU movement of such personnel. The second measure would establish common rules for the admission of third country nationals onto the territory of the EU where they are seeking admission for the purpose of seasonal work. The third measure would establish a single procedure for the issuance of a residence permit to, and a common set of rights for, third country nationals admitted onto the territory of the EU for the purpose of work.

Council conclusions have been proposed on borders, migration and asylum; these will be discussed in the context of recent Commission communications on migration and on a dialogue for migration, mobility and security with the southern Mediterranean, as well as the second annual report on the implementation of the migration pact. The proposed Council conclusions are intended to prepare for the European Council on 24 June, which will focus on migration with particular reference to the developing situation in the middle east and north Africa.

There will also be a discussion on Council conclusions regarding the EU’s strategy on readmission. These conclusions follow the recent evaluation by the Commission on the operation and effectiveness of readmission agreements currently in force. The UK welcomes the Commission evaluation and supports a number of recommendations made in it.

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The EU counter-terrorism co-ordinator (EU CTC) will present his six-monthly discussion paper on EU CT strategy. The discussion paper aims to provide a stock-take of the current CT threat and proposes specific policy initiatives under the following headings: prevent, transport security, research and CBRN. The UK will promote the importance of co-ordinating internal and external CT activity. The Commission will also present its air cargo security progress report on the implementation of the EU action plan of 30 November 2011. There will be a vote on implementing the new EU cargo security regime at the Transport Regulatory Committee on 8 June. The UK supports the proposals in the EU action plan.

Next the Council will be asked to adopt draft Council conclusions on establishing priorities in the fight against organised crime over the next two years. The UK supports the priorities identified in the conclusions which have been drawn from Europol’s organised crime threat assessment. There will also be a presentation of complementary approaches and actions to prevent and combat organised crime: A collection of good practice examples from EU member states. This practical approach to tackling organised crime is supported by the UK.

The justice day will commence with the Council seeking a general approach on the directive on combating attacks against information systems. The directive seeks to repeal and replace the current framework decision on combating attacks on information systems and bring member states’ legislation up to date with technical developments and threats in this area. The UK has opted in to the directive which remains under parliamentary scrutiny in the House of Commons.

Next the Council will discuss the European Investigation Order (EIO). The EIO is draft directive aimed at streamlining the process of mutual legal assistance between participating EU countries. The UK has opted in. The presidency is seeking to agree a partial general approach to articles 1-18. While we believe that there have been significant improvements to the original draft of the EIO we continue to have a concern in particular about the handling of coercive measures in article 10. The EIO also remains subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

The presidency will also seek political compromise on the main issues on the European certificate of succession. This measure aims to establish common rules and procedures relating to cross-border inheritance matters. The UK did not opt-in to the measure, but is playing an active part in negotiations.

The presidency had planned to seek agreement on a regulation on the possibility of attributing legal value to the electronic version of the Official Journal. However a number of member states, including the UK, have placed scrutiny reservations on the text and it is clear that political agreement will not be possible at this Council. Therefore we expect this item to be removed from the agenda.

The Council will then agree a resolution on the roadmap for strengthening the rights of victims. The roadmap is a statement of political intent, and sets out the basis for future legislative measures. The UK hope to be able to agree to this resolution.

There will be a progress report on e-justice provided by the presidency. The aim of e-justice is to promote the use of IT in the justice area—in particular through the provision of information.

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The presidency will give a state of play report on EU accession to the European Convention of Human Rights. The accession by the EU will mean that the EU and its institutions are directly bound by the convention. The negotiating mandate was agreed at the JHA Council on 4 June 2010.

The Commission will make a presentation about the victims package which they published on 18 May. The package included two draft legislative instruments: a draft directive to replace the 2001 Council framework decision on the standing of victims in criminal proceedings (2001/220/JHA) and a proposal for a regulation on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters. The Commission also published a communication setting out further work that it intends to undertake in this area.

It is anticipated that the Commission will also present an EU anti-corruption package. One of the expected documents is likely to include consideration of the modalities of EU accession to the Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption (GRECO).

The presidency will also agree Council conclusions on the memory of the crimes committed by the totalitarian regimes in Europe. The draft conclusions reaffirm the importance raising awareness of the crimes committed by the totalitarian regimes in Europe and promoting a shared memory of them; and encourage member states and the Commission to promote their memory in various ways.

The Council is also expected to adopt Council conclusions on the ninth Eurojust annual report (calendar year 2010).

The Commission will present its approach to future work towards protecting EU public money against all forms of criminal conduct, including fraud. Its communication focuses on an integrated policy to protect EU financial interest by criminal law and by administrative investigations, including effective and equivalent legal action in member states and strengthening the institutional framework at European level. The Government are determined to see action taken to tackle fraud more effectively in relation to EU funds. For example, they broadly supports the aim of strengthening OLAF’s operational efficiency and improving its governance. However, this communication covers a wide array of policy proposals, which the Government will need to scrutinise closely in forthcoming working level discussions.

There will be an information point on the Missing Children Europe conference 25-26 May 2011 and under AOB there will be a presentation on the conference of Ministers of the Western Balkans countries requested by Slovenia and a presentation of the project “Police Equal Performance” requested by Austria.


NATS (Government Share Ownership)

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Philip Hammond): Today I am publishing a call for evidence to support my decision making in whether to sell all, part or none of the Government’s 49% shareholding in NATS—formerly National Air Traffic Services.

It was announced in the Budget March 2011 that the Government

“intends to realise value from its shareholding in NATS, subject to considering the views of key interested parties”.

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This commitment reflects the Government’s policy that assets held in the public sector, where there is no policy requirement to do so, tie up state resources that could deliver better value for money for the public if used elsewhere. We are seeking evidence through this process from key interested parties including the regulator, employees of NATS and the wider aviation industry, to establish whether or not there is a policy requirement to retain a shareholding in NATS.

NATS provides strategically important services to the UK and as such, I want to ensure that the overall aviation policy objectives of safety, security, economic regulation, civil/military co-operation, environment and supporting the Single European Sky programme are not compromised by any decisions we take over future share ownership. The call for evidence document outlines the controls and protections that exist in NATS’ operating environment independent of the Government’s shareholding and seeks evidence from consultees on what, if any, protections would be required on top of these to allow the delivery of these objectives.

The call for evidence will be open from today until 6 July and we aim to publish the results shortly after the closing date. The evidence collected will support my final decision about whether to sell Government shares in NATS.

Ship-to-Ship Transfers

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): I wish to inform the House of a further development concerning the Government’s legislation to regulate ship-to-ship transfers of oil carried as cargo.

As I explained in my written ministerial statement on 30 March 2011, Official Repor t, column 26WS amending regulations have been drafted, and work is in train to ensure that these amending regulations take account of representations made—including representations arising from an extension, over the period 9 February to 10 March 2011, of the review of the Merchant Shipping (Ship-to-Ship Transfers) Regulations 2010 for the benefit of Suffolk residents and bodies.

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The conclusion that I drew from the main review which was carried out in July-September 2010 was that the provisions prohibiting all ship-to-ship transfers outside harbour authority areas will be replaced by provisions restricting ship-to-ship transfers outside harbour authority areas to a single designated area within the UK territorial sea and establishing a system of permits issued by the MCA, giving effect at the same time to the new chapter 8 of annex I to the MARPOL convention.

Having taken account of all the representations made, both in the main review and in the extension of the review in February and March, I have again come to the conclusion that this is the appropriate course of action and that the designated area for ship-to-ship transfers (other than in harbour authority waters) shall be the waters off the Suffolk coast where ship-to-ship transfers are already carried out.

The recognition of these waters off the Suffolk coast as a suitable area for carrying out ship-to-ship transfers is based on the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s and the industry’s actual experience of the successful use of these waters for ship-to-ship transfer operations over a number of years without pollution of the seas and coasts. The MCA will continue to monitor such operations closely to ensure they are carried out to the highest possible safety standards.

I shall place an addition to the analytical table previously provided in December 2010, which summarises the points of substance made in the written representations and the meetings held with interested parties during the period of the extension of the review in February and March, in the Libraries of both Houses and on the Department’s website.

As I also indicated in my written ministerial statement on 30 March, the amended Merchant Shipping (Ship-to-Ship Transfers) Regulations 2010 are intended to come into force on 1 October 2011. In common with other new domestic secondary legislation, these regulations will contain provisions setting an automatic expiry date and requiring them to be reviewed in a specified number of years.