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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 28 November 2011

Communities and Local Government

Fire Service College (Key Performance Indicators 2011-12)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): The following key performance indicators have been agreed for the Fire Service College as part of the 2011-12 business planning round and performance against them will be reported in the college’s annual report and accounts:

Limit the financial year 2011-12 operating loss before interest to £3.6 million;

Achieve a reduction in fixed staff costs compared to financial year 2010-11 of £0.3 million;

Achieve 80% in “Good” and “Excellent” scores for United Kingdom customer satisfaction for achievement of learning objectives;

Achieve 80% in “Good” and “Excellent” scores for United Kingdom customer satisfaction for the overall learning experience;

Short-term staff sick absence, measured over the financial year, to be no more than four days per employee at the financial year’s end;

To embed health and safety awareness throughout the organisation by reducing accidents by 10% and increasing near miss reporting by 15% compared to financial year 2010-11.

The core role of the college is to support national resilience by providing safety critical operational, command and leadership training, and professional support to the fire and rescue service. These indicators support that core purpose and the work which the college is undertaking with the Chief Fire Officers Association and the wider fire and rescue service to develop and deliver a common and consistent approach to operational and leadership training within an accredited framework in order to improve interoperability, training assurance and resilience.

culture, media and sport

Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): The Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council will be held on 28 and 29 November in Brussels. Culture, audiovisual and sport issues will be taken on 29 November. The Deputy UK Permanent Representative, Andy Lebrecht, will be representing the UK for the culture and audiovisual sections of the Council. Shona Robison, Scottish Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport, will represent the UK for the sport section of the Council.

Audiovisual

The first item on the agenda will be the agreement on the proposal for a Council decision concerning the signing of the European convention on the legal protection of services based on, or consisting of, conditional access.

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Agreement to this decision would enable the EU Council to sign the European convention so as to widen the scope of the provisions of the EU Directive, 98/84/EC on the legal protection of services based on, or consisting of, conditional access, to apply to the Members of the Council of Europe who are not also Members of the European Union. A number of UK TV rights holders support this move so that piracy can be tackled in more countries. It is expected that a formal agreement on the proposal will be reached at the Council meeting.

The Council will be invited to adopt conclusions on the protection of children in the digital world. These conclusions highlight the challenges raised in relation to electronic media and the protection of minors, in particular those linked to the uptake and growing importance of online services. The UK will support the adoption of these conclusions.

Culture

The Council is expected to adopt Council conclusions on cultural and creative competences and their role in building the intellectual capital of Europe. These conclusions invite member states to consider raising awareness of the role that the development of cultural and creative competences can have in areas such as education, youth, training, employability, growth, innovation, research and lifelong learning. The UK will support the adoption of these conclusions.

There will be a discussion of a presidency paper on the contribution of the cultural sector to economic recovery and growth, job creation and social development and enhancing the evidence base. The paper asks member states questions on the collection and use of statistics in the cultural sector at national level and the possible role or support at EU-level in this respect. The UK is seen as a leader in the EU in policy and statistical support for the cultural and creative industries and the Deputy Permanent Representative will intervene to outline UK practice in this area and how this work can best be taken forward at EU-level.

Sport

Under the sport section of the meeting, the Council will be invited to adopt a resolution on the representation of the EU member states in the foundation board of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WAD A) and the co-ordination of the EU and its member states’ positions prior to WADA meetings. The resolution sets out the system for representation at meetings of the WADA foundation board and the approval process for the agreement of an overall position of the EU and its member states in advance of these meetings. Previous concerns with the text around the co-ordination process and the presentation of the EU position on anti-doping matters have been addressed during negotiations and the UK intends to support its adoption.

The Council will be asked to adopt conclusions on the role of voluntary activities in sport in promoting active citizenship. The conclusions highlight and promote the invaluable role volunteers and voluntary activities play in sport. The UK supports the adoption of these conclusions.

Council conclusions on combating match-fixing will be presented to the Council for adoption. These conclusions invite member states to raise awareness of the detrimental effect of match-fixing on the integrity of sport and

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encourage co-operation and information sharing between stakeholders in the combat against the practice. The UK will support the adoption of this text.

A policy debate will follow on good governance in sport. The presidency has asked member states to consider questions on the definition of good governance in sport and best practice at both national and international level. The UK will provide examples of best practice within the UK and outline support for action at EU-level only where there is clear added value for our sports bodies.

Under any other business the presidency will report on key events held under the Polish presidency of the EU. The Danish delegation will inform the Council on the priorities for their forthcoming presidency. The Commission will provide information on the state of play of the audiovisual sector in the digital age and present its recommendation on the digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material and digital preservation. I do not foresee a need to intervene on either of these.

Also under any other business, the UK delegation will present a short film on the London Olympics in 2012.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr Howarth) who is responsible for international security strategy will attend the Foreign Affairs Council in defence format on 30 November. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on 1 December. I will attend the General Affairs Council on 5 December.

The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, will chair the Foreign Affairs Council on 30 November and 1 December.

Foreign Affairs Council (FAC): Defence

European Defence Agenc y (EDA) Steering Board

Ministers are likely to discuss the work programme for 2012 and the plan for the next three years, the annual defence data report, the category B project on helicopter training and pooling and sharing. The UK will work with the agency and its member states to develop and improve the agency’s effectiveness and performance, but will urge the EDA to be realistic about its budget requirements. Unless postponed, the EDA budget will be discussed as an agenda item in the Council meeting.

Operations

The three operation commanders will be present and will provide an update on Operation Atalanta (Counter-piracy off the horn of Africa to protect world food programme and vulnerable shipping). Operation Althea (Operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina) and EU Training Mission Somalia (Military training mission to counter security threats in Mogadishu). There is also likely to be discussion between member states on possible future operations, with a likely focus on a training mission in the Sahel, a regional maritime capacity-building operation

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off the horn of Africa to strengthen local counter-piracy efforts, and potentially in full respect of the principle of Libyan ownership and in co-operation with the UN, further assistance to the new Libya. The extension of Operation Atalanta’s mandate, which the UK supports, will be discussed during the session. We intend to indicate our support for the ongoing operations, and the need for an internationally recognised strategy for Somalia.

Joint Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers Dinner

The joint dinner (the first since the Lisbon treaty) is scheduled to focus on “hardware” of operations and capabilities, and software. The overarching theme will be effectiveness of common security and defence policy (CSDP) with a focus on force generation, reduced budgets and better tailoring of missions and operations. It is also likely that there will be further discussion of the Weimar nations’ agenda. We will spell out the UK’s vision for the future of CSDP: smarter operations and missions, more coherent use of EU military, civilian, diplomatic, humanitarian, and economic tools, and better EU-NATO relations, maintaining our insistence that the EU should not duplicate NATO. Underpinning this, we need member states to invest in deployable capabilities and focus on value for money. We will resist calls for the creation of any unnecessary additional institutions or processes. The dinner will also provide an opportunity to emphasise the benefits of closer UK-France defence and security co-operation, which we will promote as an example to encourage others to seek better value for money and improved capability through a similar partnerships approach. EU Foreign Ministers will discuss this further at their meeting on 1 December (see below)

Foreign Affairs Council (FAC)

Western Balkans

Baroness Ashton is expected to brief on political elements of Western Balkans policy, focusing on: Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the Government remain concerned about the political situation; and Serbia and Kosovo, where the Government see normalisation of relations between the two countries as a priority, and support further progress in the EU-led dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade.

Iran

Following discussion at the 14 November FAC, Ministers are expected to further develop their response to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) report on Iran which highlighted grave concerns regarding the possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme. We are expecting the Council to agree to a list of new designations of Iranian entities and persons.

On 21 November, the UK Government imposed tough new financial restrictions against Iran which cut off all financial ties with Iranian banks. The Foreign Secretary said:

“The IAEA’s report last week provided further credible and detailed evidence about the possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear programme. Today we have responded resolutely by introducing a set of new sanctions that prohibit all business with Iranian banks.

We have consistently made it clear that until Iran engages meaningfully, it will find itself under increasing pressure from the international community. The swift and decisive action today co-ordinated with key international partners is a strong signal of determination to intensify this pressure”.

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Southern Neighbourhood

We expect Ministers to agree conclusions taking stock of the EU’s engagement with its southern neighbourhood, including implementation of the European neighbourhood policy. Ministers are also expected to be asked to welcome proposals to create a European endowment for democracy, which aims to support democratic reform in the EU’s neighbourhood.

On Egypt, Ministers will take stock of the situation following the planned first round of elections. They will consider how the EU and its member states should react to the situation in Egypt, balancing concern at the recent violence with the need to encourage and support progress on the transition. Our objective is EU support for Egypt which will help to deliver political and economic reform.

Ministers will have an opportunity to discuss the current situation in Syria and co-ordination with the international community to end the violence. This might include a further, 10th round of sanctions against the Syrian regime. We have proposed the listing of 10 military officials involved in the ongoing violence around Homs.

Baroness Ashton is likely to brief Ministers on the latest political developments in Yemen. We expect conclusions to be adopted which welcome signature of the agreement, call on all parties to deliver on their commitments, and state that the EU will continue to monitor the situation in Yemen. The Foreign Secretary welcomed the signing of the Gulf Co-operation Council initiative on 23 November. He said:

“We welcome the fact that today President Saleh has signed the GCC initiative committing to the transition of power within 90 days, after which he will stand down.

It comes after months of deterioration of the situation in Yemen, and will give hope to the Yemeni people that change in their country is possible.

We now call on all political leaders and forces in Yemen to commit to a peaceful and orderly political transition. Both the supporters of President Saleh and the opposition must seize this opportunity and comply fully with UNSCR 2014. We will review progress with other members of the Security Council in the coming days.

The Yemeni people have suffered for too long. The UK is committed to helping them tackle the many challenges involved in this transition.

We commend the Gulf Co-operation Council for their unrelenting efforts to facilitate today’s agreement. President Saleh must now act on his commitment and implement the agreement in full”.

Middle East Peace Process

Ministers are likely to discuss options for helping to relieve restrictions on Gaza. Our position is that we want an increase in the importation of construction materials to Gaza; an increase in exports from Gaza to Israel, the west bank and other countries; and a relaxation of restrictions of civilian movement between Gaza and the west bank. We also expect Baroness Ashton to brief on her three-pronged Gaza package and on the progress made in the 14 November Quartet envoys talks with the parties.

CSDP

Following the joint Foreign and Defence Ministers’ discussion of 30 November (see above), we hope that discussion will continue, concluding with a set of Council conclusions that have a strong operational focus. Potential missions include training local security forces in the Sahel, a regional maritime capacity building operation

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off the horn of Africa to strengthen local counter-piracy efforts, and possibly an offer of further assistance to the new Libya in full respect of the principle of Libyan ownership and in co-operation with the UN. We will indicate our continuing support for counter piracy efforts and the need for an internationally recognised strategy for Somalia.

Iraq: Camp Ashraf

Baroness Ashton is expected to raise the issue of the future of the (Iranian) residents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq, as the Government of Iraq’s deadline to close the camp at the end of the year draws closer. We will underline our support for the UN’s role in resolving the issue, and stress the responsibility of the Government of Iraq to find a solution which respects the human rights of the residents of Camp Ashraf.

Human Rights

Baroness Ashton is expected to update Ministers on the state of play of the draft EU human rights strategy. She is likely to confirm that she will present the strategy to the European Parliament on 14 December. The draft strategy will issue as a joint High Representative/Commission communication. It will be considered further by member states before it returns to the Foreign Affairs Council for substantive discussion in the first quarter of 2012. Member states are procedurally unable to amend the content of a communication, so are likely to endorse the strategy through Council conclusions. We will provide further information to the chairs of the relevant committees in the House of Lords and House of Commons on the progress of the strategy.

General Affairs Council (GAC)

Preparation for the December European Council

Ministers will prepare the December European Council, the agenda for which will cover three issues; economic policy, energy, and enlargement. The accession treaty with Croatia will be signed in the margins.

i.) Economic Policy. The situation in the eurozone is likely to dominate debate. Ministers will discuss an interim report from President Van Rompuy, in line with October European Council conclusions, on the steps to strengthen the economic union in the euro area. This will explore the possibility of limited treaty change among other issues. Measures to enhance EU economic growth will also be discussed.

The conclusions of the October European Council meeting can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/125496.pdf

ii.) Energy. Ministers will review progress on the agreement reached at February European Council which set out a series of measures to be taken forward on energy policy. There will be an opportunity to follow up on the findings of the nuclear stress tests.

The conclusions of the February European Council meeting can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/119175.pdf

iii.) Enlargement (see also below). Ministers will discuss the Commission’s enlargement package of 12 October. The report recommended: (i) candidate status for Serbia if it re-engages in the dialogue with Kosovo; (ii) opening

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accession negotiations with Montenegro; (iii) tasking the Commission to develop a “new approach” to enlargement negotiations.

Multi - annual Financial Framework

Ministers will review progress made on the technical discussions made under the Polish presidency to clarify the Commission’s multi-annual financial framework proposals. There will be an opportunity to comment on the proposed changes to the revenue generating elements of the package, which have been discussed at committee level throughout November. The package includes changes to the UK abatement and new EU taxes.

Enlargement

Ministers will seek to agree conclusions taking stock of progress on EU enlargement and on the stabilisation and association process in the Western Balkans. The Government believe the Commission communication to be a broadly fair and balanced assessment. We will seek conclusions reconfirming support for EU enlargement and recognition that the accession process gives strong encouragement to political and economic reform in the enlargement countries and reinforces peace, democracy and stability in Europe. We agree with the Commission’s view that progress towards the EU should be based on the principles of consolidation of commitments, fair and rigorous conditionality, and good communication with the public. We agree that key challenges remain for most enlargement countries, for example, the rule of law, and in particular the fight against corruption and organised crime. We also support a focus on the criteria of regional co-operation, particularly for the Western Balkans countries.

On individual countries. Parliament on 22 November debated the closure of chapter 23 of Croatia’s accession negotiations, and Croatia’s accession to the EU. A draft Council decision on Croatia’s accession to the EU has been released and is due to be adopted by the GAC on 5 December, before signature of the accession treaty in the margins of the European Council on 9 December. On Turkey, we will want conclusions that provide a fair assessment of progress and inject much needed momentum into the process. On Iceland, we want the Council to commend the progress Iceland has made in accession negotiations this year. Conclusions will also need to address existing obligation, such as those identified by the European Free Trade Association Surveillance Authority under the European economic area agreement.

Following the FAC discussion of 1 December (see above), the GAC will return to the Western Balkans and discuss the Commission’s enlargement package for the Western Balkans countries. I set out the Government’s views on the Commission’s reports in my explanatory memorandum of 7 November. We remain fully supportive of the future of all the western Balkans countries in the EU once conditions are met. We will take a final decision on the UK position on the opening of accession negotiations with Montenegro before the December European Council. We will also take a final decision on the proposal to grant Serbia candidate status, based on their progress on Kosovo, including in the dialogue. We will take the opportunity to support further steps to provide a tangible EU perspective to Kosovo.

The European Commission work programme for 2012

The European Commission will make a short presentation to Ministers of its work programme for 2012.

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Transport

Search and Rescue Helicopters

The Secretary of State for Transport (Justine Greening): I wish to inform the House of the Government’s intentions for the future of the search and rescue helicopter service in the UK. Following the cancellation of the SAR-H private finance initiative in February, the Department for Transport will today publish a notice in the Official Journal of the European Union to commence procurement for a new UK-wide service contract.

My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has agreed that the new contract will provide a search and rescue capability provided by civilian crews, enabling our armed forces to focus activity on their front-line operations.

The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force crews have shown great dedication and professionalism in delivering an exemplary search and rescue service for many years, and we owe them all great thanks for this. Looking forward, we are confident that, building on nearly 30 years of civilian service provided under contract to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), a fully civilian service will be able to maintain the same standards in the future.

This competition will procure a contracted search and rescue helicopter service for the whole of the UK, for a period of approximately 10 years. The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy will continue to provide search and rescue coverage until the replacement for this capability is in place, and it is my intention that the contract I let will require this to be the first part of the new service to become operational. This will ensure that the Ministry of Defence is able to meet its previously announced intention to withdraw from service and retire its fleet of Sea King helicopters by March 2016. The replacement for the capability currently provided by the MCA will follow on from this. This transition will ensure continuity of service.

Bidders for the future service will be able to put forward options which will utilise a mixed fleet of modern helicopters based on the capabilities required at each of the bases (such as range, carrying capacity and endurance). The services will be capable of delivery by different contractors providing complementary services.

The introduction of a modern fleet of fast, reliable helicopters will lead to major improvements in the capability available from the present mix of helicopters. Modern helicopters operating from 10 full-time bases can not only continue to meet all current service requirements but also provide faster flying times to a large part of the UK search and rescue region, as well as providing a more reliable service. This will therefore be reflected in the new contract.

It is my intention that search and rescue operations will cease at RAF Boulmer in 2015 and at MCA Portland when the interim arrangements that were announced in July expire. Other operations at RAF Boulmer will be unaffected by this.

Given the complexity of the issues that need to be considered by bidders during the procurement, I intend that this procurement will be undertaken using the competitive dialogue procedure. As far as is practicable

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however, I intend to run the competition using lean procurement principles during some stages of the procurement. This will, I hope, both expedite and simplify some stages of the procurement that would ordinarily be time consuming and costly for industry to participate in.

I expect to award a contract in early 2013 to give the future service provider time to mobilise the new capability.

Work and Pensions

Health and Safety Regulation

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): On 21 March 2011 the Government announced the launch of an immediate review of health and safety regulation overseen by an independent advisory panel chaired by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, director of the King’s Centre for Risk Management at King’s College, London.

The Government are pleased to announce the publication today of Professor Löfstedt’s report “Reclaiming health and safety for all: an independent review of health and safety legislation”.

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The professor’s report is based on a thorough examination of the available evidence, including analysis of existing research, a call for evidence which attracted 250 responses, and meetings with key stakeholders. Professor Löfstedt also considered comments submitted to the red tape challenge website during the health and safety spotlight period over the summer.

Good health and safety is vital to good business. Sensible and proportionate health and safety regulation can support economic growth by maintaining a healthy and productive workforce. However, to be effective, and to provide genuine protection for workers and the public, regulation needs to be easy to understand, administer and enforce. The Government are committed to simplifying health and safety legislation to ease the burden on business and encourage growth.

Professor Löfstedt’s report sets out a number of risk and evidence-based recommendations to reduce the requirements placed on businesses where they do not lead to improved health and safety outcomes. The Government support the recommendations and are publishing alongside the report their plans for implementation.

A copy of the document will be available in the Vote Office later today.

Further details are available on the Department for Work and Pensions website at:

http://www.dwp.gov.uk/policy/health-and-safety/#review.