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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Communities and Local Government

Audit Commission Pension Scheme

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): I want to inform the House of my Department’s intention to provide a guarantee to the Audit Commission pension scheme, ahead of the Commission’s abolition. This statement sits alongside a financial minute I have laid before the House setting out the contingent liability associated with the provision of a guarantee.

The resolution of future arrangements for the Audit Commission pension scheme is an important step in disbanding the Audit Commission. My Department is pressing ahead with plans for the abolition of the Commission and the replacement of the current audit system with a new decentralised regime that will support local democratic accountability and cut bureaucracy and costs. We will introduce the necessary legislation to close the Commission and implement the new audit framework as soon as parliamentary time allows, and intend to publish a draft Bill for legislative scrutiny later this year.

As announced in March, the successful outsourcing of the Commission’s in-house audit practice has already secured significant long-term reductions in audit fees for local public bodies. Working estimates from the draft impact assessment of local audit reforms show that these savings, together with the end of inspection work and the disbanding of the Commission, will save around £650 million over the next five years, compared to costs before reforms were announced. I intend to publish the impact assessment, which will include the detailed workings behind these figures, later this year.

As set out in the financial minute, the Audit Commission pension scheme is a well-funded scheme that will cease to have any active members and close to new entrants when the Commission closes. I am providing a guarantee now to avoid the early crystallisation of pension liabilities, and ensure that the accrued rights of past and present Audit Commission staff are protected.

While it is right that Government stand behind the accrued rights of scheme members, we need to balance this with the financial interests of taxpayers. As the scheme is relatively young and well-funded, I expect there to be no immediate or short-term cost to Government. Subject to future investment returns the eventual cost could be limited, or even nothing if the scheme is able to fully cover its liabilities. Initial results from the March 2011 statutory triennial valuation of the scheme showed that it had assets of £665 million and estimated liabilities of £641 million (104% funded). The guarantee is being granted subject to a number of important conditions, including Government oversight of the scheme’s future investment and funding strategy.

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Non-Competitive Government Contracts (Profit Formula)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Peter Luff): I announced to the House on 26 January 2011, Official Report, columns 10-11WS, that I had asked Lord Currie of Marylebone to undertake a review of the Government’s single source pricing regulations, which include the Government Profit Formula (GPF) overseen by the Review Board for Government Contracts. Lord Currie published his recommendations in October 2011 and they are currently the subject of consultation with industry and across Government. Pending the outcome of those discussions, the review board has been asked to maintain the existing arrangements.

The review board recently completed their 2012 annual review of the Government Profit Formula and has recommended revised allowances. The Government have accepted the board’s recommendations and the updated allowances have been agreed with industry.

The recommendations will be implemented for new single source work in accordance with the arrangements agreed with industry and published in an addendum to the review board’s report, a copy of which will be placed in the Library of the House.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): The next Agriculture and Fisheries Council is on Thursday 26 and Friday 27 April in Luxembourg. The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice) responsible for agriculture and food will represent the UK on 26 April covering the agriculture items. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) will represent the UK on 27 April covering fisheries business. Richard Lochead MSP and Alun Davies AM will also attend.

On 26 April the Council will be debating common agricultural policy (CAP) reform direct payment support schemes for:

a) Young farmers, small farmers, voluntary coupled support and top-cup for farmers in areas of natural constraints.

b) Internal redistribution, active farmer and capping of support to large farms.

On 27 April the Council will be debating the common fisheries policy (CFP):

a) Regionalisation.

b) Transferable fishing concessions.

There are currently two confirmed any other business items: an update on the implementation of group housing for sows, and a report on promotion measures for agricultural products.

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Also on 27 April the presidency has invited Fishery Ministers to a lunch to debate “The social-economic dimension of the CFP”.

Home Department

Justice and Home Affairs pre-Council Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): The Justice and Home Affairs Council is due to be held on 26 and 27 April in Luxembourg. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice and I intend to attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed:

The Council will begin in mixed committee with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (non-EU Schengen states). The presidency will invite an exchange of views by member states and look to agree the road map to ensure coherent EU action on migratory pressures. This item builds on discussions at previous Councils, with the presidency presenting its “road map” setting out strategic priorities, goals and actions to address current migratory pressures on the EU. The UK supports this work to combat illegal flows across the external border and within the EU, including combating fraud and abuse of free movement by third-country nationals.

Next there will be an update on the second generation Schengen information system (SIS II). The UK continues to support the continuation of the current SIS II project. The Commission has committed to deliver the central element of SIS II in early 2013.

The main Council will start with a “state of play” report by the presidency on the Common European Asylum System, which will set out the progress that has been made on the package to date, including the latest on current negotiations. The presidency has been mandated to start negotiations with the European Parliament on the proposals to recast the Reception Conditions Directive and the Dublin III Regulation; some progress has been made in Council discussions the Asylum Procedures Directive, but discussions continue; and the negotiations on the Eurodac Regulation remain on hold due to the majority of delegations supporting the insertion of provisions on access for law enforcement reasons that have not been proposed by the Commission. No discussion is anticipated.

The presidency is seeking to reach a general approach on the EU-PNR directive. The directive provides a framework for the collection and processing of passenger name record data by member states. The Government support this text, which achieves our primary negotiating objective: provision for data collection from flights within the EU.

The Council will be asked to consider its position on the regulation on the marketing and use of explosives precursors in the light of amendments proposed by the European Parliament. The proposal seeks to restrict access by the general public to certain high-strength chemicals that can be used to manufacture home-made

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explosives. The current draft of the proposal is in line with UK objectives and the Government support presidency efforts to make progress.

Over lunch there will be a discussion on terrorism, including the EU CT co-ordinator, Gilles de Kerchove. The lunch discussion provides an opportunity to share our current assessment of the threat and provide further reassurance around Olympic security. The Council will also be asked to adopt Council conclusions on de-radicalisation and disengagement from terrorist activities. The Council conclusions affirm that terrorism poses a threat to all states, individuals and communities, and seek to promote the exchange of information and best practice between member states on preventing violent extremism and radicalisation. The UK supports this text.

The Council will also be asked to agree Council conclusions on a renewed global approach to migration and mobility. The existing global approach provides the framework for the EU’s external migration policy. We consider the proposed conclusions to be acceptable, and believe they will lead to a more strategic approach, including a strong focus on enhanced practical co-operation.

There will also be a discussion on readmission agreements, with the aim of unblocking negotiations on the EU readmission agreement with Turkey. The Government support the presidency’s intention to finalise that readmission agreement, and believe that this should occur as part of a broader EU dialogue on partnership with Turkey to address issues across the JHA field, including drugs and terrorism, as well as tackling illegal immigration.

The Justice day will begin with a presentation by the Commission of its proposal for a directive on the confiscation of criminal assets, which aims to establish minimum standards in the freezing and confiscation of the proceeds and instrumentalities of crime in the EU. The directive currently includes the inclusion of non-conviction based confiscation powers (which enable the confiscation of the proceeds of crime when criminal conviction is impossible), which is an approach the UK has advocated.

The presidency will seek a partial general approach on criminal sanctions for insider dealing and market manipulation. The proposal aims to establish minimum EU rules concerning the definition of criminal offences for market abuse. The directive complements the broader framework for tackling market abuse, which is provided for in the accompanying market abuse regulation. The UK has not opted in to this directive.

There will be an orientation debate on certain issues for the proposed regulation on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters. This will be the first time that this matter has been discussed at Council. The instrument aims to establish an effective recognition and enforcement process of protective/preventative orders among member states and complements the directive on the European protection order in criminal matters. The UK supports the overall policy aim of the proposal and has opted in to it.

There will be an exchange of views on certain issues on EU accession to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). The accession by the EU will mean that the EU and its institutions are directly bound by the convention. This will mean that applicants will be

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able to bring cases against the EU instead of, or as well as, states which are parties to the convention. The Government are keen to ensure that the accession agreement is both workable and achievable, and meets the needs of the EU and its member states as well as the members of the Council of Europe. In particular the UK is seeking further clarity on what the Union’s internal rules for dealing with the EU’s participation in the ECHR should be.

There will also be an update on the implementation of the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), a computerised exchange system for criminal convictions between EU countries. The ECRIS implementation date is 27 April. The UK expects to implement ECRIS on time.

Under AOB the presidency will provide an update on current legislative proposals and Hungary will provide information to the Council on the remembrance for victims of totalitarian regimes. Hungary is to host this year’s events to commemorate the victims of totalitarian regimes in Europe.

Over lunch, there will be a discussion on “Justice for Growth”, which is the Commission’s term for a range of civil law instruments that it considers will contribute to the EU’s growth agenda.

Asylum and Migration Fund and Internal Security Fund (Police)

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I wish to inform the House that the Government have opted in to the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the asylum and migration fund (AMF), and the horizontal regulation laying down the general provisions for this fund for the period 2014 to 2020. The decision has been made not to opt in to the internal security fund (police) regulation (ISF police) at this time.

The objectives of the AMF, under the Freedom, Security and Justice heading of the EU budget, is to contribute to an effective management of migration

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flows in the Union drawing together the capacity building process developed within the current EU migration funds and extending these to cover some aspects of external migration policy under the framework of the EU global approach to migration.

The UK has benefited from participation in predecessor EU funding programmes, in particular in relation to EU migration funding for returns programmes, resettlement projects and community integration projects. The current EU migration funds partly finance our charter flight programmes and have enabled the UK to expand the range of destinations and programme parameters. The UK also has a well established resettlement programme due to the co-financing from the current EU migration funding streams. Without this funding UKBA would not be able to continue the scale of resettlement activity currently undertaken. Furthermore, the current European fund for the integration of third country nationals has become an important source of funding for third country nationals seeking to integrate into British society.

The ISF (police) regulation aims to establish the instrument for financial support for police co-operation, preventing and combating crime and crisis management. The decision not to opt in to the ISF (police) was driven by the substance of the proposal as it currently stands, coupled with the overall need for budgetary constraint in this time of fiscal austerity. The UK sees value in the ISF (police) fund supporting practical action on police co-operation and internal security. However, we have ongoing concerns about the budgetary elements of the programme, in particular given the obligations that will arise from the arrangements for shared management. We need to be absolutely sure that the benefits we will secure from the programme outweigh the cost of participation. We will consider whether to apply to opt in post adoption when the financial commitments win be known.

The horizontal regulation establishes the management procedures for both funds. In concluding that it is in our interests to opt in to the AMF it was therefore necessary to opt in to this measure.

All the proposals remain under negotiation.