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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 23 January 2012



The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr George Osborne): The Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held in Brussels on 24 January 2012. The Chancellor will attend. The following items are on the agenda to be discussed (as of 20 January 2012):

European Markets Infrastructure Regulation (EMIR)

Ministers will have an exchange of views on the outstanding issues on EMIR. Trialogues have been ongoing since ECOFIN reached general agreement on 4 October. The outstanding issues relate to the process for authorisation of central counterparties (CCPs), and provisions relating to third countries. The Danish presidency is seeking a solution that retains the key principles of the Council position while integrating a number of the European Parliament’s concerns.

On the authorisation of CCPs, the Government believe that the National Competent Authority must have a pre-eminent role. Therefore, any agreement should maintain the principles established at the 4 October ECOFIN. On third country provisions, the objective should be the smooth functioning of the global derivatives market while providing ex ante legal certainty to market participants. It is important that jurisdictions recognise the global nature of the derivatives market and ensure that legislation enables the smooth functioning of this market in a safe manner.

Proposals from the Commission on Economic Governance

ECOFIN will hold a first exchange of views on two Commission proposals to strengthen economic governance. There are no direct policy implications for the UK as these proposals apply to the euro area only. The first proposal concerns strengthening surveillance of budgetary policies. It would require: euro area member states to present their draft budgets at the same time each year and give the Commission the right to assess them; closer monitoring and reporting requirements for euro area countries in excessive deficit procedure; and that euro area member states have in place independent fiscal councils and base their budgets on independent forecasts.

The second proposal concerns strengthening economic and fiscal surveillance of euro area countries facing, or threatened with, serious financial instability. It aims to ensure that the surveillance of member states under a financial assistance programme, or facing a serious threat of financial instability, is: robust, follows clear procedures and is embedded in EU law. Under the proposal, the Commission would be able to decide whether a member state experiencing severe financial instability should be subject to enhanced surveillance. The Council would be able to issue a recommendation to such member states to request financial assistance.

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The UK welcomes these proposals, as they will play an important role in improving fiscal stability in the euro area, which is a good outcome for the UK. The Government are however keen to ensure that, despite applying only to the euro area, these proposals maintain the role of the Council and EFC.

Presentation of the Presidency work programme

The presidency will present Ministers with its work programme. It has four priorities:

A responsible Europe—making progress on financial regulation dossiers and multi-annual financial framework (MFF) negotiations;

A dynamic Europe—revitalising the single market and encouraging policies which stimulate EU growth;

A green Europe—advancing energy efficiency and climate change initiatives; and

A safe Europe—including combating terrorism and ensuring the EU speaks with one voice on international affairs.

The Government agree that making progress on financial regulation dossiers is important, and will want to see budgetary restraint in the MFF negotiations. The Government support efforts to stimulate EU growth and strengthen the single market.

European Semester (incl. Annual Growth Survey and Euro - Plus Pact)

Ministers will have an exchange of views on the second European semester. The Government believe that the European semester should identify and prioritise policy measures that promote jobs and growth. To achieve this, ECOFIN Ministers need to ensure that fiscal consolidation and tackling macro-economic imbalances is pursued alongside growth-enhancing structural reforms. The Government do not agree with the focus on taxation in the annual growth survey; it is important that member states retain the flexibility to shape their own tax policies to suit their economic circumstances.

Follow-up to the G20 Meeting of Finance Deputies ( Mex ico, 19-20 January 2012)

The presidency will give a debrief of the G20 Finance Deputies’ meeting. Items include: the global economy and framework; strengthening of the international financial architecture; financial regulation including financial inclusion; and energy and commodities. This agenda item will provide further clarity on the direction that Mexico would like to take.

Implementation of Stability and Growth Pact

Ministers will discuss the Commission’s assessments of Belgium, Cyprus, Malta, Poland and Hungary’s progress on correcting their excessive deficits. The Commission has assessed that the first four member states have taken effective action and no further steps under the Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) are necessary. For Hungary, the Commission proposes to move to the next stage of EDP and recommends that the Council decides that no effective action has been taken to bring the deficit below 3% of GDP in a sustainable manner. Subject to this decision, the Commission may then propose new recommendations, with a view to Hungary effectively addressing its excessive deficit. The Government believe that sound public finances are essential for sustainable economic growth.

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Revised Code of Conduct of the Stability and Growth Pact

The presidency will ask Ministers to endorse a revised code of conduct. The code of conduct provides guidelines on: the implementation of the stability and growth pact and the content of stability and convergence programmes. The code of conduct has been updated in the light of the new economic governance legislation. The Government support the revised code of conduct.

Euro g roup - plus meeting on 23 January

Ministers will meet on 23 January, prior to ECOFIN. They will discuss the intergovernmental agreement and follow up to the December European Council. Ministers will also discuss the European stability mechanism. On growth and competitiveness, the Government are at the forefront of driving the EU growth agenda, and will continue to press for action. On the intergovernmental agreement, the Government will be engaging constructively in discussions. The UK will not be party to the new treaty.


School Travel Pathfinder Schemes

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): I am required under section 80(1) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 (EIA 2006) to prepare and publish, before 1 January 2012, an evaluation of the operation and effect of school travel schemes approved under schedule 35C to the Act.

The School Travel (Piloting of Schemes) (England) Regulations 2007 made provision for the piloting of the school travel schemes and listed the information which local authorities were required to include in their applications to pilot such schemes. As none of the schemes submitted fully met the criteria, none of the schemes was approved, and consequently there is no evaluation to publish. I am therefore proposing, by means of an order under s80(2) EIA 2006, to provide for the cessation of the school travel scheme provisions in section 508E and schedule 35C of the Education Act 1996. The order will specify 1 August 2012 or a date shortly after on which the provisions are to cease. 1 August 2012 is the earliest date cessation can be effected under s80(3) EIA 2006.


Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Improving Outcomes and Supporting Transparency

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anne Milton): Today I am publishing the new public health outcomes framework. “Healthy Lives, Healthy People, Improving outcomes and supporting transparency”. This will help enable Government, Public Health England, the NHS and local government to be held to account in how well we are doing in improving and protecting the nation’s health. To do this, we have focused on the most important things we want to do to improve and protect the nation’s health and wellbeing and improve the health of the poorest, fastest.

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The White Paper “Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Our Strategy for public health in England” (Cm7985), described a new era for public health, with a higher priority and dedicated resources. We set out the scope for a new public health system refocused around achieving positive health outcomes for the population and reducing inequalities in health. This public health outcomes framework sets the context for the system, from local to national level. This is a national framework and local priorities and objectives will be set through local health improvement plans. The framework sets out indicators to measure how we are improving and protecting health at key stages in peoples’ lives and to reduce inequalities in health.

We will continue to work across Government and with our partners in public health, local government, the NHS, other public services and the third sector to improve the data we will rely upon to provide information on how we well we are doing to improve outcomes.

“Healthy Lives, Healthy People, Improving outcomes and supporting transparency” has been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

The document is also available at: www.dh.gov.uk/health/2012/01/public-health-outcomes.


EU Treaties

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): The Home Office and the Ministry of Justice have prepared the second annual report to Parliament on the application of protocols 19 and 21 to the treaty on European Union (TEU) and the treaty on the functioning of the European Union (TFEU) (“the treaties”) in relation to EU Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) matters. The report is submitted on behalf of both my own Department and that of the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

On 9 June 2008 the right hon. Baroness Ashton, the then Leader of the House of Lords, made a statement setting out commitments by the Government to Parliament in respect of the scrutiny of decisions to be taken by the Government in accordance with protocol (No. 21) to the treaties on the position of the UK and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice (“the Justice and Home Affairs opt-in protocol”). These commitments were designed to ensure that the views of the Scrutiny Committees should inform the Government’s decision-making process.

This included a pledge that the Government would lay a report in Parliament each year and make it available for debate, both looking ahead to the Government’s approach to EU Justice and Home Affairs policy and forthcoming dossiers, including in relation to the opt-in, and providing a retrospective annual report on the UK’s application of the opt-in protocol.

On 20 January 2011, the Minister for Europe confirmed in his statement to Parliament on enhancing parliamentary scrutiny of decisions in the area of EU Justice and

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Home Affairs that the coalition Government have undertaken to maintain this commitment, and this is the second such report. It covers the period 1 December 2010 to 30 November 2011. For completeness the report also covers the application of protocol 19 to the treaties on the Schengen acquis integrated into the framework of the EU (“the Schengen opt-out protocol”). The Government’s decision-making process for this protocol is the same as for the Justice and Home Affairs opt-in protocol.


Maritime Training Scheme

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): Further to my announcement of 22 June 2011, I would like to inform Parliament of the outcome of the independent review into the requirement for Government support for merchant navy training and skills development and how best to spend any continuing Government funding.

I have concluded that continuing Government support for maritime training is required. The consultants’ findings, accepted by the independent panel, were that there was a good value for money case for the retention of Government funding. Evidence was presented to me showing that for each working year of a seafarer who

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has benefited from Government funding, approximately £14,500 in additional output is created relative to that of a UK worker displaying average productivity.

With over 90% of the UK’s import and export trade by weight transported by the maritime sector, I believe continuing Government support in this area will reflect our ongoing commitment to economic growth and will help to maintain the competitiveness of this sector.

I have therefore decided to provide a budget of £12 million a year for the support for maritime training scheme for the remainder of this Parliament. In view of the forecast national shortage of trained seafarers and the need to develop the next generation of UK officers and ratings, I intend that the majority of the budget be focused on supporting initial training for cadets studying at junior officer level with the remainder supporting ratings training and ratings to officer conversion training.

I will be making a number of minor changes to the current scheme to achieve greater value for money by maximising the intake of trainees while ensuring more rigorous accountability structures are in place.

These changes are consistent with the Government’s wider commitment to improve the transparency and accountability of public spending.

I will also be considering longer-term options to deliver merchant navy training within an overarching skills and apprenticeship framework.

A copy of the consultants’ findings and the recommendations made by the independent panel have been placed in the Library of the House.