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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 20 February 2012

Business, Innovation and Skills

EU Competitiveness Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Norman Lamb): The EU Competitiveness Council will take place in Brussels on 20 and 21 February 2012. I shall represent the UK on internal market and industry issues on 20 February, and Andy Lebrecht, Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, will represent the UK on research issues on 21 February.

The internal market and industry substantive agenda items on 20 February will be: a policy debate on the Europe 2020 strategy; an orientation debate on the public procurement package; an orientation debate on the accounting directive; an orientation debate on European venture capital funds; an orientation debate on European social entrepreneurship funds; and adoption of Council conclusions on smart regulation.

One AOB point will be discussed regarding the patent package.

The research substantive agenda items on 21 February will be: an exchange of views on the European earth monitoring programme (GMES) and its operations from 2014 onwards; a progress report on the Europe 2020 strategy (research side) and a policy debate on the annual growth survey; a presentation by the Commission on “the Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Strategic Innovation Agenda of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT): the contribution of the EIT to a more innovative Europe”; a policy debate on “the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 294/2008 establishing the European Institute of Innovation and Technology”; an orientation debate on “the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing Horizon 2020—The Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020)”; an orientation debate on “the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down the rules for participation and dissemination in Horizon 2020—The Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020)”; an orientation debate on “the Proposal for a Council Decision establishing the Specific Programme implementing Horizon 2020—The Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020)”; and an orientation debate on “the Proposal for a Council Regulation on the Research and Training Programme of the European Atomic Energy Community (2014-2018) complementing the Horizon 2020—The Framework Programme for Research and Innovation”.

The research, space and AOB Items will comprise of: information from the Commission regarding “Innovating for Sustainable Growth: a Bioeconomy for Europe”; information from the commission regarding “ERA

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Framework: Areas of untapped potential for the development of the European Research Area (ERA)—results of the public consultation”; information from the Commission regarding “ITER—State of Play”; and information from the presidency regarding the results of the informal session of the Competitiveness Council in Copenhagen, 1-2 February 2012.

The Government’s objectives for the Council are;

To contribute to discussions on Europe 2020 (industry and internal market), the public procurement package, the accounting directive, venture capital and social entrepreneurship funds;

Confirm agreement with Council conclusions on smart regulation;

Exchange views on GMES; and

Contribute to discussions on the Europe 2020 (research) and Horizon 2020 discussions.

Treasury

Criminal Sanctions Directive on Market Abuse

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): The Government have decided at this time not to opt in to the European Commission’s proposal for a criminal sanctions directive on insider dealing and market manipulation, although hope to be in a position to do so in the future.

The aim of the Commission’s proposal is to establish criminal sanctions for offences of market abuse. The proposal seeks to complement the broader EU framework for tackling market abuse, which will be provided for in the larger draft market abuse regulation. The proposed criminal sanctions directive establishes that where market abuse has been committed intentionally, member states must make provision for criminal sanctions to be able to be applied.

The UK already covers all of the offences in its criminal law and also goes further by capturing, for example, acts of market abuse that are committed recklessly, as well as those committed intentionally. The Commission’s draft proposal is sufficiently flexible for member states to go further than the minimum standards specified, which is helpful to UK interests and the comprehensiveness of our existing domestic regime.

The Government’s decision not to opt in at this point in time is a reflection of the sequencing of the Commission’s proposal, rather than particular concerns as to the substance. The proposed directive is entirely dependent on the outcome of the market abuse regulation (which is currently in very early stages of negotiation), and the markets in financial instruments directive (also in early stages of negotiation) which will determine the new regulatory landscape for financial services. The Government believe that it is difficult to assess the implications, scope and way this proposal may develop considering the broader uncertainty of the market abuse framework being itself simultaneously subject to a major review.

Although the Government have decided that the UK should not opt in to the proposal now, they intend to participate fully in the negotiations in the hope that

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they will be able to opt in later, once these proposals are better progressed, not least as the UK already covers all these offences today in its criminal law.

ECOFIN

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr George Osborne): The Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held in Brussels on 21 February 2012. The Chancellor will attend. The following items are on the agenda to be discussed (as of 20 February 2012):

Proposals from the Commission on Economic Governance

ECOFIN will aim to agree a general approach on the Commission’s two proposals to strengthen economic governance: the first to strengthen surveillance of budgetary policies in euro area member states; and the second to strengthen economic and fiscal surveillance of euro area countries facing, or threatened with, serious financial instability.

This follows on from an exchange of views at the 24 January ECOFIN which demonstrated broad support for the proposals. Two main issues remained unresolved: first, whether all euro area member states should submit their budgetary plans to the Commission and the euro group for monitoring purposes or only euro area member states in excessive deficit should do so; and secondly, whether the Council should be empowered to adopt a recommendation that a member state should seek financial assistance.

The UK supports the measures as they are designed to improve stability in the euro area. These proposals apply only to the euro area. However, the proposals should maintain a role for the Council and Economic and Financial Committee where appropriate

Presentation and First Exchange of Views on Macroeconomic Balances: Alert Mechanism Report

The Commission will present its Alert Mechanism report, the first stage in the new EU-level excessive imbalances procedure, and the Council will have a first exchange of views, with an intention of returning to a substantial discussion and possible adoption of Council conclusions at the ECOFIN meeting on the 13 March. The Government support the excessive imbalances procedure as a means of strengthening European economic governance, particularly in the euro area.

Following the publication of the Alert Mechanism report on 14 February, the Commission will now conduct in-depth reviews on 12 member states to examine whether they have an excessive imbalance. The 12 includes France, Sweden, Denmark and Finland as well as the UK. (The four countries receiving IMF assistance—Greece, Romania, Ireland and Portugal—are automatically excluded from this process). At the end of May the Commission will publish whether any of these imbalances are deemed excessive. Member states with excessive imbalances are obliged to submit corrective action plans; for euro area countries, submission of an inadequate corrective action plan or failure to comply with the plan will lead to escalating sanctions up to and including a fine of 0.1% of GDP.

The UK has already taken significant action to rebalance the economy, including at the Budget and at the autumn statement.

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Contribution to the European Council meeting on 1-2 March 2012: European Semester (including Euro - Plus Pact)

ECOFIN will agree a set of Council conclusions on the Commission’s annual growth survey (AGS). The Government consider that the conclusions send a balanced message about the need for reforms at member state and EU-level, and that they broadly support the policy messages contained in the AGS. The Government look forward to an in-depth discussion of structural reform and concrete commitments on growth at the March European Council.

Preparation of G20 Meeting of Finance Ministers and Governors (Mexico, 25-26 February 2012)

Ministers will agree EU terms of reference for the G20 Finance Ministers’ and Governors’ meeting. This will be the first G20 Finance Ministers’ and Governors’ meeting of the Mexican presidency. The draft terms of reference focus on: the global economy and G20 framework; IMF resources, governance and surveillance; financial regulation/inclusion; and energy and commodities. The global economy and IMF resources are likely to dominate the discussion. The EU negotiating position for the G20 is broadly in line with UK objectives.

Council Recommendation for the Discharge in Respect of the Implementation of the Budget for 2010

As part of the annual discharge process, Ministers will conclude recommendations to the European Parliament on whether to discharge the Commission from its responsibility for implementing the 2010 EU budget, based on an annual report from the European Court of Auditors (ECA). Progress in reducing the error rate has halted and, for the 17th successive year, the ECA is unable to grant an unqualified positive opinion on the EU accounts. Therefore, the UK will stress the importance of year-on-year improvements to reach an unqualified audit opinion from the ECA and press for concrete actions by both the Commission and member states to improve EU financial management. The UK will issue a joint statement with other member states calling for tougher action in future years.

Budget guidelines for 2013

As part of the annual EU budget process. Ministers will discuss guidelines to the Commission on preparing the draft EU budget for 2013. Given the ongoing pressure on public resources, budget discipline at the EU-level remains crucial to support domestic efforts to tackle deficit and debt. Following the freezing of the 2012 EU budget in real terms, the UK will emphasise the need for strict and rigorous prioritisation in 2013 in order to curb budgetary growth, reduce waste and deliver a better-targeted EU budget next year. The UK will support the guidelines.

AOB

The presidency will provide a debrief from the trialogue on the European Markets Infrastructure Regulation (EMIR). At the trialogue meeting of 9 February the presidency reached an agreement with the European Parliament. Political negotiations are therefore concluded. The UK welcomes the agreement that has been reached on EMIR. This regulation will benefit the whole of the EU and is an important step on the path towards meeting our G20 commitments.

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Also under the AOB agenda item France and Germany will present their Green Paper on corporate tax convergence.

ECOFIN Breakfast

Prior to the formal ECOFIN meeting Ministers, the president of the euro group will debrief Ministers on the euro group meeting of 20 February. Ministers will also exchange views on the economic situation. There will also be a debrief on the state of play with regards the banking package.

Red Diesel (Private Pleasure Craft)

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Miss Chloe Smith): I am today announcing that from 1 April 2012 the use of red diesel to propel private pleasure craft will be allowed only within United Kingdom waters.

From 1 April anyone purchasing red diesel for use as fuel for propelling private pleasure craft will be required to make a declaration that the fuel will be used only within UK waters. The declaration will include an acknowledgement that the UK procedures do not affect any restrictions or prohibitions under the national laws of other European member states regarding fuel used for propelling private pleasure craft.

These changes are being made following a challenge by the European Commission to the UK practice of allowing marked red diesel with full duty paid in private pleasure craft.

The changes announced today will ensure that red diesel can continue to be used in UK coastal waters and on the UK’s inland waterways in accordance with current procedures to the benefit of suppliers and users. It also ensures that users can continue to use red diesel at the rebated rate of duty on fuel used on board for domestic purposes, such as heating and cooking.

HMRC have published the draft legislation on the HMRC website today.

Communities and Local Government

Work of the Department (Half-term Recess)

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): I would like to update hon. Members on the main items of business undertaken by my Department since the House rose on 9 February 2012.

The freedom to pray

On 10 February, the High Court ruled in a case against Bideford town council, banning the practice of prayers at the formal beginning of council meetings. The basis of this ruling was a narrow interpretation of section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972. In short, the Court asserted that councils do not have an explicit power to hold prayers as part of the formal business at council meetings.

I do not believe it was ever the intention of Parliament when it passed that Act 40 years ago to prohibit council prayers, which are a common-day practice that dates back many centuries. It is my view that this judgment was another example of the public sector marginalising faith by promoting an illiberal and intolerant secularism.

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I believe Christianity continues to play an important part in the culture, heritage and fabric of our nation, especially given we have an established Church. As the Prime Minister asserted in his speech in Christ Church, Oxford, in December,


“We are a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so”.

Of course, we respect those with other faiths, and those with none. The right to worship is a fundamental and hard-fought British liberty, and the fight for religious freedom in British history is deeply entwined with the political freedoms we take for granted.

While Parliament’s prayers are protected by the Bill of Rights, local councils have no such shield. Last week, I decided to fast-track the commencement of the general power of competence in the Localism Act 2011. Previously local authorities have only been able to do those things that the law specifically empowered them to do or which are incidental to those things. The new general power of competence turns the current situation on its head. Rather than looking to Whitehall to hand down specific powers, it enables councils to do anything that an individual could do unless it is specifically prohibited by law. These new flexibilities for councils include the freedom to pray and hold prayers at the start of council meetings, should they wish. It is also a major constitutional innovation in itself, opening the doors to greater innovation in local government and will help councils make savings through greater joint working and sharing of services.

Following the signing of a commencement order on 17 February, the power is now in effect for all principal local authorities in England and by April for parish councils meeting the necessary requirements, following the ratification of necessary (affirmative resolution) orders in both Houses of Parliament. My Department has also published an advice note on how the general power of competence will relate to parish councils and practical steps that parish councils can take in the meantime. I am also considering if further steps need to be taken to remove legal obstacles to town hall prayers.

By effectively reversing that ruling, I believe we are striking a blow for localism, for freedom to worship over intolerant secularism, for long-standing British liberties over modern-day political correctness, and for parliamentary sovereignty over judicial activism.

Council tax freeze

To support residents and families, the Government have set aside up to £675 million for local authorities in England to freeze council tax in 2012-13. This is the second year the Government have offered to freeze council tax to help keep bills and the cost of living down.

As of 10 February, over 200 local authorities in England are preparing to vote this month to freeze or reduce council tax next year according to public sources.

As councils set their budgets in the next few weeks I expect to see the number freezing to rise further. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), wrote to all councils leaders strongly encouraging them to sign up to this year’s freeze offer. He reminded them that it would be a public service that local residents will greatly appreciate as well as an opportunity to reform, restructure, innovate and lower their spending base permanently.

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Getting Britain Building

We are determined to tackle the housing shortage, boost the economy, create jobs and give people the opportunity to get on the housing ladder.

The £420 million Get Britain Building Fund will help builders with planning permission get back on to housing sites that have been shut down because of problems accessing development finance. Over the next two years, the fund is expected to unlock up to 16,000 homes on sites that are currently stalled, and help create up to 30,000 jobs in construction and related industries.

The short, simple and straightforward application process has made it easier for smaller building companies, as well as larger developers, to bid for funding. Already there have been 176 expressions of interest.

On 15 February, my Department published details of 18 of the most important local housing sites that, subject to due diligence and contracting, could benefit from Government cash to get builders back to work. These 18 developments will go to the next stage of assessment for £45 million funding from this scheme to get workers back on site and deliver 1,300 new homes.

Local transparency and local accountability in public sector pay

Transparency is at the core of delivering efficient and accountable government. The Localism Act requires councils to publish and be accountable for their pay policies, helping to ensure that local remuneration arrangements are open to public scrutiny and provide value for money for the whole of the public sector.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has set out the Government’s commitment to tackling tax avoidance and will continue to take necessary steps to protect the Exchequer and maintain fairness in the tax system. As local government is also paid from the public purse, on 17 February, my Department issued new statutory guidance on the matter.

“Openness and Accountability in Local Pay” states that authorities should review senior appointment remuneration, particularly where arrangements could be perceived as seeking to minimise tax payments. It specifically states that council pay votes should start at £100,000. Councils should also publicly justify any big bonuses, above-inflation pay rises, or the recruitment of staff already in receipt of public sector retirement or severance money (so-called “double dipping”).

Elected councillors have until the end of next month to approve pay policy statements that should include explicit local policies on all the above practices and whether or not they intend to permit any of these arrangements. This will be complemented by the “Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency” which requires openness on spending, contracts and senior salaries. I believe that greater local accountability and the sunlight of local transparency will drive out remuneration arrangements that would not command public confidence.

Safer communities

My Department wants to see communities in which people feel safe and are proud to call home. In July 2011, the Government’s champion for active, safer communities, Baroness Newlove, identified tackling problem drinking as her most urgent priority. On 14 February, my Department announced a £1 million fund giving

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10 successful communities—based on models of grass-roots projects already delivering for their neighbourhoods—the resources to tackle problem drinking and deal with it head on.

The announcement of the new fund coincided with the publication of Baroness Newlove’s report “Building Safe, Active Communities: Strong foundations by local people”, providing communities with practical advice to neighbourhoods and highlighting some of the barriers that have stifled their growth.

Olympic Legacy

While 2012 is set to be an Olympic year, we are determined that the legacy of the games continues to benefit communities in the long term. On 14 February, I laid before Parliament an order enabling the establishment of the London Legacy Development Corporation. This will assume from the Olympic Park Legacy Company the task of managing the post-2012 development of the Olympic park in east London, and of fringe areas previously managed by the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation. The order will come into force on 9 March 2012.

Copies of the associated documents and press notices have been placed in the Library of the House.

Defence

Reservists (London Olympic and Paralympic Games)

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): An order has been made under section 56(1A) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable reservists to be called out for permanent service as part of Defence’s contribution to the safety and security of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games.

In providing support to the police, and other civil and Olympic authorities, Defence will contribute up to 13,500 military personnel at the busiest part of the games, of which up to 2,100, around 15%, will come from the reserve forces.

Some reservists will provide a range of specialist capabilities and expertise while the majority will form part of the support to Olympic venue security operations.

Defence will continue to apply its policy of intelligent selection, designed to identify, in good time, volunteer reservists with supportive employers with the training, skills and availability, in order to minimise the impact of mobilisation upon the individual, their family and employer.

Since 2008, around 2,300 reservists per year have been called out for operations around the world, where they serve to support and strengthen the defence effort, while at the peak in 2004, reservists made up 20% of our forces in Iraq and 12% in Afghanistan.

The reserves will be taking on an enhanced role, following the decision to invest £1.8 billion in equipment and training as we move to a more integrated force by 2020.

There are currently almost 600 reservists in Afghanistan, representing some 6% of the deployed force. As well as augmenting regular units, reservists supply vital skills, in particular medical, and niche logistical and communication expertise.

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Both the reservist and overall Defence contribution is on a similar scale to that deployed by other nations at recent Olympic games and will contribute to ensuring a safe, secure and enjoyable 2012 Olympics.

The order takes effect from 16 February 2012 and ceases to have effect on 20 September 2012.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

UK/France Summit

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I would like to update the House on the UK/France summit on 17 February in Paris.

Last Friday’s summit followed that of November 2010 which resulted in the signature of two historic defence treaties at Lancaster house.

The Summit

The summit was hosted by President Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace. President Sarkozy was accompanied by Prime Minister Fillon and his Foreign, Defence and Energy Ministers.

The British delegation was headed by my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister, accompanied by the Deputy Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and me.

France and the UK are co-operating more closely on foreign and security policy issues than at any time since the second world war. Discussions covered foreign policy, defence, security and energy issues, highlighting our shared challenges and priorities. Within this context, we discussed the importance of stabilising the eurozone and restoring growth to the European economy. There were also frank exchanges in areas where we disagree, including the proposal for a financial transaction tax.

At the conclusion of the talks, the President and Prime Minister issued joint declarations covering defence and security, energy and Syria. These can be found at: www.number10.gov.uk.

Energy

A centrepiece of the summit was our landmark agreement to strengthen co-operation between France and the UK on civil nuclear energy. The joint declaration signalled our shared commitment to the future of civil nuclear power, setting out a joint long-term vision of safe, secure, sustainable and affordable energy, that supports growth and helps to deliver our emission reductions targets. The declaration reiterated our commitment to the role of nuclear energy as part of a diversified energy mix, agreeing to work together with the International Atomic Energy Agency to strengthen international capability to react to nuclear emergencies and establish a joint framework for co-operation and exchanging good practice on civil nuclear security. British and French public and private sector bodies in the civil nuclear power industry will also work more closely on education and training; research and development; and security. This strengthened co-operation will be supported by a new Franco-British high-level group on nuclear energy, bringing together industry, Government, and other key stakeholders.

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This partnership agreement was underpinned by a number of commercial deals in the field of nuclear energy, worth more than £500 million and creating more than 1,500 jobs across the country. These agreements represent a significant strengthening of the relationship between France and the UK in the field of civil nuclear development and signal the emergence of a competitive supply chain capable of servicing global opportunities. They also constitute the first concrete orders which make the UK new nuclear programme a reality, thus meeting critical objectives for securing our energy supplies and meeting our carbon reduction targets.

Defence and Security

The summit reinforced both sides’ commitment to the increased co-operation initiated in the 2010 Lancaster house treaties. We are similar-sized powers, with similar-sized armed forces and similar ambitions. The strength of our relationship and our determination to improve it were demonstrated throughout our leadership of the campaign to protect citizens in Libya. As part of our work to establish a new joint rapidly deployable force, we will design and develop a deployable headquarters comprising permanent and experienced staff drawn from existing French and UK high readiness command structures; this will be enhanced by an increase in the number of exchange officers on both sides. Beyond this, we agreed to work together to move to the next stage of developing a new generation of unmanned aerial vehicles. We also discussed a wide range of actual and potential co-operation on equipment procurement and support to enable both improved capability and interoperability while delivering efficiency savings.

We also confirmed our joint approach to a range of current foreign policy challenges, including the threat of Iran’s nuclear programme, Somalia ahead of the London conference, Afghanistan and Burma.

Syria

Our discussions on Syria focused on the continued and appalling violence and concluded with a declaration that set out the joint measures that our two countries will take in support of the Syrian people and their aspirations for a better future. These included calling on the UN and other humanitarian agencies to carry out an urgent assessment of humanitarian needs, an increase in humanitarian aid, support for increased pressure on Assad, including an asset freeze on the Central Bank of Syria, and support for a subsequent transition process in Syria.

Conclusions

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has stated, the summit showed the strength and depth of the UK’s ties with France.

One year on from the Libya uprising, we are working together to stand up to the murderous Syrian regime and to stop a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran. At the United Nations, we co-sponsor more than three quarters of Security Council resolutions. Our commercial relationship is deep and growing with exports increasing and French investment sustaining almost 10,000 jobs in the UK. Our armed forces are working together at the cutting edge of military technology. The UK and France are committed to working together, for the security and the prosperity of both our nations.

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Zimbabwe (EU Restrictive Measures)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): The EU has announced its decision to roll over the Zimbabwe restrictive and appropriate measures. Following an in-depth assessment of the current situation on the ground, the UK and its EU partners have unanimously agreed to the renewal of the measures for a further 12 months, while removing 51 people and 20 companies from the list of those subject to an EU visa ban and asset freeze on the grounds that they are no longer involved in or associated with human rights abuses or undermining democracy or the rule of law. These amendments reflect the positive progress made by the Inclusive Government and SADC facilitation process in the implementation of the global political agreement and preparing for credible and peaceful elections in Zimbabwe.

While our assessment is that there have been demonstrable improvements in the overall situation in Zimbabwe, there remains a pressing need for further progress. The implementation of political reforms remain slow. Politically motivated looting, violence and intimidation continue, albeit on a lesser scale than in previous years. Further political and democratic reform is essential to promote the rule of law, human rights and democracy, as agreed under the global political agreement. For these reasons, we have extended the travel restrictions and asset freeze applicable to the remaining 112 people and 11 companies for a further 12 months. The listing of the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) will be reviewed in six months. The arms embargo remains in place.

The restrictions on appropriate measures covering EU development assistance have also been renewed for six months. During this period, the EU will engage Zimbabwe in preparations for a country strategy paper in the framework of the European development fund. The EU will also invite the Government of Zimbabwe to intensify political dialogue, including through the Zimbabwe ministerial re-engagement team, and to define further steps towards a normalisation of EU-Zimbabwe relations. The appropriate measures will be reviewed again at the end of the six months on the basis of progress on the ground in Zimbabwe, including core Cotonou principles of human rights and rule of law. EU and UK bilateral development aid will continue to be channelled directly to the people of Zimbabwe through the UN and non-state actors, rather than through the Government of Zimbabwe.

The UK and our EU partners emphasise our willingness to revisit the measures at any time should there be further concrete developments on the ground in Zimbabwe. In this context, we fully support the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and its member states in their effort to facilitate agreement among the parties in Zimbabwe on creating an environment conducive to the holding of free and fair elections. To facilitate unfettered dialogue between the EU and Zimbabwe the EU has agreed to suspend the travel bans on the two ZANU-PF members of the Zimbabwean ministerial re-engagement team.

Britain remains a committed friend to the people of Zimbabwe. UK aid to Zimbabwe this financial year (2011-12) will reach £80 million—our largest ever

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programme. Over the next four years UK aid will provide almost 1 million more people with clean water, give more than 700,000 women access to family planning, create 125,000 new jobs and help 80,000 children complete primary education. UK aid to Zimbabwe is channelled through UN agencies and NGOs, not the Government of Zimbabwe, and its delivery is independently monitored.

Justice

Transforming Bailiff Action

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Jonathan Djanogly): On 17 February the Government published a consultation paper on transforming bailiff action. This is the next step in the Government’s work to provide more protection against aggressive bailiffs in England and Wales following the recently published new standards defining acceptable behaviour for those working in the industry.

The need for a workable means to enforce the payment of debts and fines is important to both the economy and the justice system. Without assurance that it is possible, with due process, to recoup money from debtors unwilling to pay, it would be too risky for creditors to lend, and the effectiveness of courts would diminish.

Yet for too many ordinary people bailiff action is an intrusive, expensive and stressful experience. Two of the worst features of the current process are the complexities surrounding bailiffs’ powers and the absence of a clear and fair charging regime. We also need to do much more to protect the most vulnerable in society. It is not acceptable that some bailiffs are aggressive, and use threatening behaviour to gain entry to premises, especially when children are the only persons present.

This package of proposals seeks to restore balance to the system, improving clarity so that both debtors and creditors know where they stand, strengthening protections for the vulnerable, and ensuring that individuals, business and Government are able to collect the debts they are owed. Its aim is to respect both the competing rights of the creditor and the debtor.

So our first proposal is to prohibit the use of force against a person, introduce safeguards to protect children and ensure there is a clear and effective complaints process available to the debtor. We are also introducing a compliance stage in the proposed costs regime enabling the bailiff to recover initial administrative costs, therefore reducing the need for the bailiff to attend a debtor’s property. Underpinning these changes, the paper sets out the minimum standards expected from bailiffs and a certification process to ensure that they are fit to operate.

Equally importantly, we recognise that the law in this area is antiquated, archaic and confusing—so much so that too often it thwarts effective and proportionate enforcement. Our plans for change will ensure that the law is fit for today’s society. We will introduce a comprehensive code which sets out when and how a bailiff can enter a property, prescribe precisely to whom and under what circumstances reasonable force to enter premises will be available, what goods can and cannot be seized and sold, and what costs a bailiff can recover.

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Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Vote Office and in the Printed Paper Office. The document is also available online, at:

http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/consultations.htm.

The consultation will run until 14 May 2012. A response paper is scheduled to be published in October 2012.

Work and Pensions

Workplace Pension Reform

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): Later today the Government will publish the consultation document “Automatic enrolment and European employers”. This addresses an issue that could place an unnecessary burden on employers to find a pension scheme into which they can automatically enrol dual-status workers—those who are simultaneously jobholders and qualifying persons.

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A jobholder is a worker who is working or ordinarily works in Great Britain under the worker’s contract. A qualifying person is an individual whose place of work under contract is sufficiently located in an EEA state other than the UK so that the relationship with the employer is subject to the social and labour law relevant to the field of occupational pension schemes of the other EEA state.

The consultation proposes an exemption for employers from having to automatically enrol dual-status workers. The period of formal consultation will begin today and last for six weeks, ending on 2 April.

I would like to thank all those people and organisations who have offered their views and advice in response to our recent informal consultation, and hope that they will continue to do so now that consultation has moved on to a formal footing.

Draft regulations and an impact assessment will be published alongside the consultation document.

A copy of the consultation will be placed in the Library of both Houses and will be available later today on the Department’s website:

http://www.dwp.gov.uk/consultations/2012/.