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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 23 June 2011

Business, Innovation and Skills

Apprenticeships (Creation of Opportunities)

The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes): One of the first announcements I made as Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning was that the Government would redeploy £150 million of Train to Gain funding to deliver an additional 50,000 adult apprenticeships. A commitment to apprenticeships which was reinforced by the Chancellor in the comprehensive spending review and the Budget.

Fulfilling our ambitions was bound to be challenging given the difficult economic circumstances.

As we publish the latest “Statistical First Release” today, I am, therefore, delighted to be able to confirm that we have greatly exceeded this ambition. Provisional data show that the Government have delivered 326,700 apprenticeship starts in the first nine months of the 2010-11 academic year—this is 114,000 more than the previous year and more than double our ambition. The growth has been across sectors, at all ages and all levels. There has also been an increase in participation levels for 16-18 and 19+ learners. Final data covering this period will be reported in the January “Release”. The full report can be downloaded from the website at: http://www.thedataservice.org.uk/statistics/statisticalfirstrelease/sfr_current.

This is an historic achievement not just for Government but for employers, training providers and learners too. We have given colleges greater freedoms and flexibilities to meet the needs of businesses in their communities—consequently they have harnessed a very strong evidence base to persuade employers to invest in apprenticeships. Providers and employers have worked closely with the National Apprenticeships Service and Skills Funding Agency to deliver these impressive additional apprenticeship starts.

This growth proves that employers recognise apprenticeships to be a sound platform for long term economic prosperity. To build on this work we are now focusing on encouraging firms who have not taken on an apprentice before to do so and helping those who have to expand their programmes particularly at advanced and higher levels. I hope that this year’s expansion is part of a step change in attitudes towards the recruitment of apprentices.

The significant progress on apprenticeships is part of our wider programme of reform of further education and skills. This will make a crucial contribution in securing sustainable economic growth.

I have placed a copy of the letter I sent to all hon. Members in the Libraries of both Houses.

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EU Extraordinary Competitiveness Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State, Baroness Wilcox, has made the following statement:

I shall represent the UK at an EU Extraordinary Competitiveness Council that will take place in Luxembourg on 27 June 2011.

There will be legislative deliberation on two Council items. The first is a proposal for a Regulation of the Council and the European Parliament implementing enhanced co-operation in the area of the creation of unitary patent protection. The second is a proposal for a Council Regulation implementing enhanced co-operation in the area of unitary patent protection with regard to the applicable translation arrangements.

The presidency’s main aim is to obtain a general approach from member states on the two proposals.

There is also likely to be an information point relating to the adoption of a general approach on the decision on the Euratom framework programme for 2012-13.

Cabinet Office

Government Communication

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Mr Francis Maude): I am today announcing reforms to the organisation of Government Communication.

The changes, which will lead to the closure of the Central Office of Information, will further improve the effectiveness and efficiency of Government communications.

They follow the introduction of spending controls on advertising and marketing in June last year. This led to a 68% reduction in external spend through the COI from £532 million in 2009-10 to an estimated £168 million in 2010-11. In parallel, Government Departments have reduced their number of in-house communications staff by around a quarter, and their budgets by a half.

The reforms are designed to consolidate those reductions, while ensuring that the remaining spend on advertising and marketing is better co-ordinated and executed.

The changes will:

Strengthen central co-ordination, prioritisation and strategic planning of communications across Government;

Put in place a new governance structure to increase accountability and transparency and to drive collective responsibility. This will include the appointment of an executive director, and the establishment of a communications delivery board;

Create a specialist communications procurement unit under the leadership of the Government Procurement;

Enable Government to explore how they can best capitalise on the capability which exists in communications across Government, through a programme of reviews;

Explore the development of a shared communications delivery pool for certain specialist services; and for a small number of specialist marketing hubs.

These proposals will constitute the Government’s response to the former permanent secretary for Government Communication’s “Review of government direct communication and the role of COI”.

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Communities and Local Government

Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies (Government Response)

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): I have today laid before Parliament the “Government Response to the Communities and Local Government Committee’s Report: Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies: a planning vacuum” (Cm 8103). Copies are available in the Vote Office.

I welcome the Committee’s report and I have carefully considered its findings. The debate has helped to inform the amendments that we made to the Localism Bill at the Commons Report stage to strengthen the duty to co-operate and my Department will continue to take the findings into account as policy is developed.

The Government’s top priority in reforming the planning system is to promote sustainable economic growth and jobs. We made clear in the growth review that our top priority in introducing the national planning policy framework will be to support long-term sustainable growth, through both development plans and decisions on planning applications.

We have made it plain that our decision to remove regional strategies was based on clear evidence that they did not work. We are determined to address this through our clear and comprehensive approach to reform: promoting economic growth and recovery through incentives such as the new homes bonus and a reformed community infrastructure levy; encouraging local authorities to work together effectively across their boundaries through a strengthened duty to co-operate; and driving house building by combining the incentives we are introducing with the removal of top-down targets.

Ordnance Survey (Performance Targets 2011-12)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, Baroness Hanham, has made the following written ministerial statement:

I am today announcing that performance targets have been agreed for Ordnance Survey for the period 2011-12. The Ordnance Survey will report externally against these targets as is required of all Executives agencies in Government. The targets are:

To achieve an operating profit before exceptional items, interest and dividends of £25.3 million for the financial year 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012.

To achieve a free cash-flow before exceptional items of £24.2 million for the financial year 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012.

Some 99.6% of significant real-world features greater than six months-old are represented in the database.

To continue to reduce the underlying cost base of the business by on average 5% per annum measured against a baseline of 2008-09 costs.

To achieve a customer index score of at least 80%.

These targets reflect Ordnance Survey’s continuing commitment to customers, to implementing the business strategy announced in April 2010, to maintaining and delivering intelligent geographic information to all users, and to offering improved value for money for all, as well as a commitment to Government policies.

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Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre (Targets 2011-12)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Baroness Hanham, has made the following written ministerial statement:

I am today announcing that key performance targets have been agreed for the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre for the period 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012.

The agency’s principal financial target for 2011-12 is to achieve a minimum dividend payment to the Department for Communities and Local Government equal to the total of 6% of average capital employed and a sum equal to the capital charge that applies to the building for the year concerned. Therefore, the agency’s budget for 2011-12 includes a minimum dividend payment of £1,100,000. An additional dividend of £100,000 will be paid if the financial forecast for the year is achieved.

The agency also has the following targets to achieve:

A 54% occupancy of its rooms based on a theoretical full occupancy revenue of £9,680,970;

Overall score for value-for-money satisfaction of greater than 90%;

The number of complaints received to be less than two per 100 events; and

An average response time when answering complaints of less than four working days.


Libya (Operation Ellamy)

The Secretary of State for Defence (Dr Liam Fox): The current estimate of the net additional costs of military operations for six months in support of Operation Ellamy—the United Kingdom’s contribution to coalition operations in support of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973—is in the region of £120 million. This excludes costs associated with capital munitions expended.

Based upon current consumption rates we estimate the cost of replenishing munitions may be up to £140 million.

The Treasury has agreed to meet these costs from the reserve.


Use of Force in Schools

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): The Secretary of State for Education has asked Charlie Taylor, the Government’s expert adviser on behaviour and an experienced and successful head teacher with a track record in radically improving behaviour in troubled schools, to review the implications for schools of the requirement to record and report the use of force in schools, as set out in section 246 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. In particular, Charlie Taylor has been asked to make sure that the accompanying guidance provides the best possible advice to schools on establishing “light touch” systems while still providing protection for pupils and staff. It remains our intention to commence this requirement from 1 September 2011, subject to the outcome of Charlie Taylor’s review.

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Energy and Climate Change

Energy National Policy Statements

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Chris Huhne): On 18 October 2010, I laid the revised draft “Energy National Policy Statements” before this House. At the same time, I undertook to present the finalised statements to Parliament for approval.

Having considered the responses to consultation and parliamentary scrutiny on the revised draft Energy National Policy Statement, and the outputs of the interim report of the chief nuclear inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, on lessons to be learned from events at Fukushima, I am pleased today to be able to present the six energy NPSs for parliamentary approval. This represents a further important milestone in the coalition Government’s determination to make the UK a truly attractive market for investors, to give us secure, affordable, low-carbon energy. NPSs are critical to the new planning system, which will help developers bring forward energy projects without facing unnecessary hold-ups, while making sure local people get a chance to have their say about how their communities develop, and decisions are made in an accountable way by elected Ministers.

The Energy National Policy Statements therefore form a key part of our plans to move to a low-carbon future while protecting the security of the UK’s energy supplies. Business and industry frequently tell us that investment in infrastructure is key to enabling them create the growth and jobs the UK needs. NPSs will provide market certainty by giving developers confidence to bring forward applications to build the infrastructure we need. This will ensure the UK has diverse sources of generation and remains at the forefront of low-carbon technological development, and in turn will enable us to generate jobs and growth in this rapidly expanding sector.

NPSs do this by setting out the need for new energy infrastructure, including electricity from a mixed portfolio of all types of generation. They provide a clear framework for decision-making on planning applications for major energy infrastructure, protecting local communities from unacceptable impacts while ensuring that “nimbyism” does not get in the way of meeting the national need for energy.

Together, the NPSs set out national policy on a number of key energy policy areas. Five of these cover specific technologies: fossil fuels; renewables; gas supply and gas and oil pipelines; electricity networks; and nuclear. These five sit below an overarching energy NPS, and together they play an important role in the new planning system for major infrastructure. This new system, as proposed by the Localism Bill, retains the consultative approach (both on the NPSs and the consultation of local people in individual applications) and the transparency of the IPC system while increasing democratic accountability through returning the final decision to Ministers.

Parliament has already played a valuable role in scrutinising the revised draft energy NPSs both here and in another place. I would like to thank the Energy and Climate Change Committee for its report, all those who contributed to the debate in this House, and those in another place who also undertook important scrutiny

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work on the earlier drafts. I am today taking the opportunity to lay before you the Government’s response to Parliament alongside the revised NPSs.

I am today also publishing a Government response to the latest consultation, to which there were over 2,500 responses; a draft of the post-adoption statement on the Appraisals of Sustainability which informed the drafting of the NPSs; and the monitoring strategy which sets out how we will monitor the significant environmental effects of implementation of the NPSs.

Copies of all these documents have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and are available at: http://www.energynpsconsultation.decc.gov.uk

The House has provisionally set aside time for a debate on these documents before the House of Commons votes on them.

Oil Stock Release

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Chris Huhne): The UK today joined its partners in the International Energy Agency (IEA) in releasing oil stocks to the market. A total of 60 million barrels of oil will be made available to the market over the next 30 days, with the UK contributing some 3 million barrels.

Violence in Libya and Yemen has disrupted the global supply of oil, and we expect the loss of Libyan light sweet crude production to continue for some time. Low seasonal demand has enabled markets to cope so far with the loss of production. However, we expect the market to come under increased pressure in the coming months due to the normal seasonal upturn in demand. The action taken today will help ensure that the market does not tighten further. The global economy is still emerging from recession, and it is essential that this recovery is not endangered by oil supply disruptions or shortages. Volatile oil prices damage the economy of every country. The impact is disproportionately high on the poorest countries in the world, who are most vulnerable to rises in energy prices and the knock-on impact on food prices. Adequate volumes of oil must be made available at a price acceptable to both producers and consumers.

Earlier this month Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states committed to increase oil production to supply whatever the market needs: this is a helpful action by responsible producer nations, and we believe it will ensure the oil market is adequately supplied in the coming months and beyond. The stock release is designed to complement the action by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states by making available light crudes and refined products. The stock release will help prevent short term supply disruption driving a more volatile oil price, that could damage the UK economy and threaten the global economic recovery.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Veterinary Medicines Directorate (Annual Report and Accounts)

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): The 2010-11 annual report and accounts for the Veterinary Medicines Directorate was laid before Parliament today.

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Youth Justice Board (Abolition)

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): I am today announcing further detail on the Government’s plans for the future national governance of youth justice. It is my intention to abolish the Youth Justice Board (YJB) and to bring its key functions into the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the Minister responsible for civil society, the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), will be bringing forward a Government amendment to reintroduce the YJB to schedule 1 (the list of bodies to be abolished) of the Public Bodies Bill currently before this House.

The Youth Justice Board was set up in 1998 to oversee what was then a fractured and immature system. In the past 12 years the system has changed considerably. In response to a lack of cohesion and collaborative working, the YJB has overseen the national roll-out of youth offending teams and the establishment of a distinct secure estate for young people. These core elements of the youth justice system are now fully operational in the local delivery of youth justice. Given these significant improvements, I believe that we no longer require a separate body to provide oversight of the youth justice system.

Effective oversight can be better achieved by bringing this function closer to Ministers; and it is right that Ministers themselves—not unelected officials in arm’s length bodies (ALBs)—should be responsible for youth justice, which is a critical area of Government policy. It is Ministers who should lead and drive forward the work that will result in further reductions in the numbers of young people entering the youth justice system, the numbers of young people reoffending and the numbers of young people in custody. By bringing youth justice closer to Ministers, the new Youth Justice Division I am establishing will be a powerful impetus behind future improvement, will be able to influence policy across Government and will ensure that other Departments play their part in stopping young people from becoming involved in crime and reoffending. An ALB does not have the appropriate policy leverage within Government to effect such change.

The abolition of the YJB will not have an adverse impact on the delivery of youth justice on the ground. The Government intend to retain youth offending teams, which are well embedded in local structures. My Department will also continue to place young people separately to adult offenders in a dedicated secure estate that is driven by the needs of young people. There will be clear ministerial oversight of this.

It is my intention to carry out the main functions of the YJB within a newly created youth justice division in the MoJ. The Youth Justice Division will continue this Government’s focus on meeting the needs of children and young people in the youth justice system and will deliver the main functions of the YJB—overseeing the delivery of youth justice services, identifying and disseminating effective practice, commissioning a distinct secure estate and placing young people in custody.

The Youth Justice Division will be a dedicated part of the MoJ and will sit outside of the National Offender Management Service. It will ensure that the commissioning

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of the youth justice secure estate and the placement of young people in custody will continue to be driven by people who have a dedicated focus on the needs of young people. The structure will also ensure that youth justice work in the community—primarily conducted by youth offending teams—remains closely linked to work with young offenders in custody. This is at the heart of our ambitions for a “rehabilitation revolution”.

I can confirm that John Drew, the current chief executive of the YJB, has agreed to lead the transition of the YJB into the new Youth Justice Division structure and to continue to lead it beyond that. I am confident that he will ensure there is continuity between the YJB and the new Youth Justice Division. He will also help to ensure that the new organisation is embedded in the MoJ while retaining the experience and expertise of YJB staff.

My Department will also strengthen its focus on youth justice by establishing an advisory board of stakeholders and experts to advise on youth justice issues and to provide expert challenge and scrutiny. In addition, Dame Sue Street, a non-executive director of the MoJ who brings experience and knowledge of youth justice, will be taking an active interest in youth justice within MoJ, and will have a direct route into the Department through the permanent secretary and Secretary of State.

In making this decision I have taken into account the concerns expressed by some interested parties and noble Lords about the abolition of the YJB and our plans for the future governance of youth justice. My Department will consult on the YJB’s inclusion in the Bill over the summer, and I will pay close attention to the responses. My reform proposals are also subject to the progress of the Bill through Parliament, and the abolition of the YJB will require me to lay an order, subject to affirmative resolution process. This proposal has therefore already been widely discussed with stakeholders and will continue to be subject to consultation and to full and appropriate parliamentary scrutiny.


Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (ATOL) (Consultation)

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): I am pleased to announce that a consultation on reforming the air travel organisers’ licensing (ATOL) scheme is being published today.

Since its inception some 40 years ago, the ATOL scheme has successfully protected many millions of consumers on flight-inclusive package holidays against the insolvency of their travel company. However, the travel trade and holiday market has seen significant change and diversification in recent years. There are now many holidays available which look like packages but do not fall under the legal definition and so are not protected under the ATOL scheme.

There is a strong case for reforming the scheme to better reflect today’s holiday market so that consumers can be clear when their holiday is protected, allowing them to understand and use their legal rights. In addition, the scheme has operated with a deficit for some years and is supported by taxpayers through a Government

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guarantee. The reforms should put the ATOL scheme on the path to financial self-sustainability, with a view to ending the need for taxpayer support.

The consultation document sets out the details of the “in principle” decisions I announced on 3 February, Official Report, columns 56-57WS. These were:

Extending the ATOL scheme to flight-plus holidays comprising a flight and other component bought within two successive days;

That everyone booking a ATOL protected package holiday or flight-plus will get a recognisable “ATOL certificate” confirming their rights under the scheme for refunds and repatriation should their travel company fail;

Helping ensure that “agent for the consumer” businesses arranging holidays are fully aware of their legal responsibilities to consumers.

It contains the draft secondary legislation needed to implement the first two measures.

This is an important first step towards reforming the ATOL scheme. These reforms will address a major area of uncertainty for consumers when buying holidays from tour operators and travel agents. The additional ATOL protection contributions at £2.50 per booking should help the scheme become financially self-sustaining within three years.

Importantly, the reforms pave the way for further potential change to the ATOL scheme in the medium to longer-term. Once the scheme’s deficit has been paid off and the guarantee withdrawn, there is an opportunity to consider how funding repatriations and refunds might best be arranged in today’s market. The consultation seeks initial views on this, to inform more detailed work to be undertaken by the Civil Aviation Authority later in the year and into 2012.

The consultation also asks stakeholders about bringing holiday sales by airlines and those arranged on an “agent for the consumer” basis into the scheme. These would require new primary legislation. The Bill to reform airport economic regulation could provide a vehicle to make the necessary changes if the Government decide to go ahead with these further reforms. Decisions on reforms needing new primary legislation are planned for the autumn and may also need to take account of work under way by the European Commission on the future of the package travel directive.

The consultation closes on 15 September 2011. My aim is to announce decisions in the autumn on the way forward on the reforms dependent on new secondary legislation. Subject to consultation responses, the intention is for the reforms to come into effect on 1 January 2012, so consumers have the benefit of the additional protection from their summer 2012 holidays.

Copies of the consultation document are available from the Department’s website, www.dft.gov.uk.

EU Transport Council

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Philip Hammond): I attended the second Transport Council of the Hungarian presidency in Luxembourg on 16 June.

The Council reached a general approach on a directive which recasts the 2001 first rail package. The 2001 legislation set the initial framework for a single European rail market, setting out principles for charging and

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access to the network. The present draft directive modifies the three 2001 directives. The presidency tabled a compromise text which was slightly amended at the Council. The presidency then concluded that there was a qualified majority for a general approach. The text of the general approach is acceptable to the UK.

The Council also reached a general approach on the draft regulation amending Regulation 1406/2002, which established the European Maritime Safety Agency. This amending regulation modifies and extends the tasks of the agency to bring them in line with recent international and EU developments in the maritime safety field. I set out the UK’s opposition to any staff or administrative cost increases for the agency, and was able to accept revised wording on agency resources, which addressed our concerns.

The Council debated the European Commission’s recent White Paper, “Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area—Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system”, which was issued in March. The Council debate centred on a number of questions put by the presidency.

The White Paper aims to increase the sustainability and competitiveness of the sector while moving towards a fully integrated transport network. In doing so, the Commission aims to cut carbon emissions from transport by 60% by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels). Member states broadly agreed that the transport sector has to make an adequate contribution to the achievement of the medium and long-term climate change targets. I explained that, while supporting the broad thrust of the 10 goals in the White Paper, the UK has some concerns on the detail.

We are not in favour of having targets for their own sake, and do not think that it is practical or desirable to have a multiplicity of goals and targets. Furthermore, we do not support sector specific targets, which would constrain our progress on carbon reduction within the economy as a whole. Wherever targets are set, we believe that they must be realistic and supported by robust evidence and cost impact analysis. I also joined others in proposing that we work internationally to negotiate similar commitments with all of the global partners, in the framework of international organisations.

I stressed that the EU should focus on actions that need to be undertaken at EU level, and where there was no such case, it should be left to member states and local authorities to act. I also welcomed, with support from some other Ministers, the Commission’s commitment to undertake thorough impact assessments for any actions. I urged the Commission to consider the importance of reducing the overall burden of regulation, to help our businesses and the budgetary constraints that we all face, as it takes forward the White Paper proposals.

Council conclusions were adopted on EU inland waterway transport, inviting the Commission to launch a project to continue support for an existing inland waterway programme, which is designed to encourage modal shift of freight from road to inland waterways, and to bring forward proposals for a follow-on programme. The conclusions are acceptable to the UK.

The Council adopted a decision on the signing and conclusion of an agreement with the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail on the EU accession to the convention concerning International

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Carriage by Rail (COTIF) of 9 May 1980, as amended by the Vilnius protocol of 3 June 1999. The decision is acceptable to the UK.

The Council adopted two decisions in the area of aviation external relations, both of which were acceptable to the UK.

The first decision authorised the Commission to open negotiations with Moldova on a comprehensive air transport agreement.

The second was a decision on the signature of an air transport agreement between the EU and Brazil. Ministers pre-signed the agreement in the margins of the Council.

Among AOB items, the Commission reported on air cargo security work which has been carried out in pursuit of the action plan endorsed by Ministers at the December 2010 JHA and Transport Councils. They were disappointed that a proposal to strengthen EU inbound air cargo security had been narrowly defeated in the June Regulatory Committee, and called on Ministers from member states which voted against or abstained to rethink their position, I joined Germany in expressing strong support for the Commission, and called for work to continue on the proposal.

Also under AOB, the Commission reported on work to deal with the impact of volcanic ash on the EU aviation sector and on recent developments in implementing the Single European Sky. On volcanic ash, I underlined the importance of developing the existing methodology and modelling, and increasing pressure on equipment manufacturers for engine tolerance levels.

In the margins of the Council, I met Ministers from France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands to discuss the work on volcanic ash. In a separate discussion, I exchanged views on better regulation with the Netherlands Minister.

The UK abstained on one item on the A point list, namely the adoption of a Council decision on the conclusion of a memorandum of co-operation between the EU and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). This reflects our general need to be vigilant regarding the balance between member states’ and EU competence in UN bodies and other international organisations.

Work and Pensions

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council: 17 June 2011

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 17 June 2011 in Luxembourg. I represented the United Kingdom.

In the first discussion on country specific recommendations (CSRs), the Commission recalled that its annual growth survey had shown that recovery was under way, but it was uneven and could be reversed. Without fundamental reforms, any progress remained on shaky ground. The CSRs were an integral part of the Europe 2020 strategy and gave an in-depth analysis of the reforms needed in each member state. They were a tool for improving economic reform without infringing on member state sovereignty. For the UK, I highlighted the difficulties linked to the time frame and process and stressed that this should be improved in future years. I

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also put down a parliamentary scrutiny reserve. The presidency noted that a general approach could be adopted, and recalled reserves from some member states.

The second discussion focused on demographic change and effective family policies. A number of member states intervened, stressing the importance of providing support for parents in the workplace to ensure they could reconcile work and family life, for example through flexible working opportunities, prevention of gender stereotyping, and proper enforcement of equal treatment legislation. The Commission also thought that this should be a priority issue.

There were three progress reports. On the pregnant workers directive, the Commission acknowledged it would be difficult for member states to accept the European Parliament amendments and proposed going forward on the basis of a “passerelle” clause. There was very little support for this and I along with some other member states warned against progressing towards a common position. On the co-ordination of social security systems, I tabled a minute statement together with 12 other member states, on the relationship between the social security co-ordination regulation and the free movement directive. This stressed the importance of achieving a clear and coherent understanding of the relationship between the two at the European level, and suggested that amendments to the current legislative framework could be needed to achieve this. On the equal treatment directive, the presidency reported progress on its examination of the proposal based on a questionnaire focusing on national legislation.

Three sets of Council conclusions were adopted. These were on promoting youth employment to achieve the Europe 2020 objectives, reconciling work and family life in the context of demographic change, and tackling child poverty and promoting child well-being.

Under any other business, the Hungarian presidency reported on conferences they have hosted and provided information on social and employment related aspects of the legal migration directives. The Commission reported on the United Nations convention on the rights of people with disabilities and also presented a new proposal amending the existing electromagnetic fields directive. The Cypriot delegation provided information on the forum on the future of democracy. The French delegation introduced their G20 priorities for social and employment. The incoming Polish presidency presented their presidency priorities.

Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): Today we are publishing the Government’s response to the call for evidence on how the new locally based service to replace assistance currently given through community care grants and some crisis loans should be delivered.

We received responses from an array of organisations, many providing thoughtful and constructive contributions that will support the development of the new local services.

This initial body of evidence is an important building block in the reform process and will help to direct our thinking during the next stages of the planning process.

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The Government response captures the key issues and themes that have emerged and sets out our response. It also includes new information about the current scheme that has not previously been published that will help local authorities in developing their plans, including for the first time local authority level social fund data.

This is an important change in the way that welfare services are framed and delivered. It goes to the heart of localism and the big society agenda. It empowers local

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communities to develop and deliver local services tailored to meet the needs of their most vulnerable members and challenges local service providers to design innovative and creative schemes.

The successful delivery of new services will be through strong partnerships between central and local government, community groups, charities and individuals.

The publication of this report is a key development in this process.