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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Business, Innovation and Skills

Flexible Parental Leave and Flexible Working

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): The Government believe the UK economy should be supported by a framework of laws that ensures we have a strong and efficient labour market which is flexible, effective and fair. Today the Government are announcing their response to the flexible parental leave and flexible working elements of the modern workplaces consultation. The response details a package of measures that will further enhance the flexibility of the labour market and will allow businesses more freedom in how they manage their staff. These measures will encourage fathers to take a greater role in caring for their babies and enable working families to be able to share caring responsibilities in the earliest stages of a child’s life. In addition, we are extending the right to request flexible working to all employees.

A new system of flexible parental leave

The new system will allow working parents to take leave in shorter blocks; to intersperse periods of work with periods of leave and to take leave at the same time if they choose to. They will also be able to share leave between them in a way that suits them best. In order to allow concurrency of leave (where the woman is on maternity leave and her partner can be on flexible parental leave at the same time), we propose to enable a woman to specify in advance the date she intends to end her maternity leave and for the remaining leave and pay to become immediately available as flexible leave and pay for her partner to take. This will enable a family to be at home together for a time if they so wish.

Women with partners where they both meet the qualifying conditions for the flexible parental system will be able to return to work early, or commit to ending their maternity leave on a specific date, and share the untaken balance of maternity leave and pay as flexible parental leave and pay. The length of flexible parental leave will not exceed the balance of untaken maternity leave, and the amount of statutory flexible parental pay will not exceed the balance of untaken statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance available at the point at which the woman returns, or commits to return, to work.

The 52 weeks of maternity leave currently available will remain in place as the default position for all employed women. Women who are currently eligible to receive statutory maternity pay (SMP) or maternity allowance will continue to be able to do so for 39 weeks.

We will be providing the right for fathers, or partners of pregnant women, to take unpaid time off work to attend two antenatal appointments with their pregnant partner.

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We will increase the child’s age limit on unpaid parental leave deriving from EU legislation from the current five years to 18 years, giving each parent the right to take up to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave for each child under 18.

We are making changes to the leave and pay available to adoptive parents to bring it more closely into line with the leave and pay rights available to birth parents. Working couples who adopt will also be able to opt into the flexible parental system in the same way as birth parents if they meet the qualifying conditions. Intended parents of a child born through a surrogacy arrangement who meet the criteria to apply for a parental order will be eligible for statutory adoption leave and pay if they meet the qualifying criteria; and for flexible parental leave and pay if they meet the qualifying criteria.

Right to request flexible working

The measures set out in our response will enable many more employees to balance their work and personal commitments. We believe that flexible working will benefit employers as well; employers report that employees who work flexibly are more productive, less likely to take sick leave and more likely to stay with their employers. Additionally we have set out the intention to remove the existing statutory procedure for considering flexible working requests, which can be bureaucratic and costly, replacing it with a duty on employers to consider requests in a “reasonable manner”. We will set out in a code of practice guidance for employers on how to consider requests and what we mean by “reasonable”.

The Government intend to introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows, in order to implement the reforms by 2015.

Copies of the Modern Workplaces: Flexible Working Government response and the Modern Workplaces: Flexible Parental Leave Government response document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council/Defence Affairs Council/General Affairs Council

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on the afternoon of 19 November. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) responsible for international security strategy will attend the European Defence Agency Steering Board and the Defence Foreign Affairs Council on the morning of 19 November.

There will be a joint lunch for Foreign and Defence Ministers to consider the issues outlined below. These meetings will be held in Brussels and will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland.

I will attend the General Affairs Council on 20 November, and the preceding dinner with President van Rompuy on 19 November. The meeting will be chaired by the Cypriot Presidency.

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European Defence Agency (EDA) Steering Board

At the EDA Steering Board, Ministers will be expected to agree as usual the EDA’s budget and work programme for the forthcoming year and its indicative work plan for the next three years. Also on the agenda are the EDA’s approach to pooling and sharing and the defence contribution to the development of EU policies. The pooling and sharing report gives a progress update of ongoing activity such as the helicopter training programme and maritime surveillance networking, proposes new opportunities for pooling and sharing, and includes the code of conduct for pooling and sharing which Ministers are expected to adopt. Ministers will be updated on EDA work on the interaction between defence and wider EU policies such as industry and market, research and innovation and European space policy.

Defence Foreign Affairs Council

The agenda is expected to focus on EU operations and the defence taskforce.

EU Operations

The session on EU operations should open with an update on the current state of play in each of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) operations. It is anticipated that discussion could then focus on the future of the EU training mission in Somalia (EUTM). The UK is supportive of a third mandate for EUTM Somalia, so we will look to push for extension of the mandate and to set out our thinking on the design of that mandate. The Mali operation is the subject of a specific discussion during the joint lunch, so we do not expect it to be discussed during this session.

Defence Taskforce

Ministers will receive an update from the European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services on the EU defence task force’s efforts in supporting competitiveness, and on innovation of the European defence industry within the internal market. The defence taskforce is an internal EU Commission body co-chaired by the Commission’s DG Market and DG Enterprise, established in 2011 to identify measures to improve the internal defence market and improve the European defence industrial base. It is focused on the three main areas of the internal market, the Commission’s defence industry policy and defence research and development.

Defence and Foreign Ministers Lunch


Over an informal lunch, Ministers will discuss the draft crisis management concept being drawn up as part of the planning process for a CSDP mission to Mali. We do not expect conclusions to be issued from the lunch. This is an opportunity for the UK to express its support for accelerated planning towards a CSDP mission while ensuring that due rigour is applied to that planning process.

2013 European Council on Defence

Ministers will have an orientation debate on CSDP ahead of the 2013 European Council on defence. The December 2012 European Council will commission the relevant EU institutions to conduct preparatory work through the course of 2013. The discussion at the FAC will centre on this tasking. We welcome the European Council looking at this issue and will be pushing for a

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tasking framed around enhancing European military effectiveness and a more efficient European defence industry.

Foreign Affairs Council

Southern Neighbourhood

Ministers will review developments in Syria, Lebanon, Libya, and Egypt.

Ministers are likely to discuss recent events in Syria and their impact on EU efforts to support a peaceful transition. The UK is pushing for agreement to the full renewal of the EU’s restrictive measures on Syria which come up for renewal on 1 December, and will encourage other member states to increase their humanitarian aid.

On Lebanon, following the bomb attack in Beirut on 19 October, we expect conclusions which will condemn that attack and reiterate the EU’s strong commitment to Lebanon’s stability and independence. The conclusions will reiterate the EU’s support for the work of the Lebanese armed forces and urge all Lebanese parties to engage in the dialogue being led by President Sleiman.

Ministers may take stock of recent events in Libya, including the appointment of Prime Minister-elect Ali Zidan and progress in the approval of his Government. There will be an opportunity to discuss the provision and co-ordination of international assistance to the new Libyan authorities.

On Egypt, the Council will discuss follow-up to the EU-Egypt taskforce in Cairo which takes place on 13-14 November. The taskforce is a key moment in resetting the EU’s relationship with Egypt. We will continue to encourage greater emphasis on the principles of more-for-more in the follow-up to it, in line with EU ambition to use the ENP to incentivise reform. The taskforce will also discuss work, including in the UK, to improve repatriation of assets stolen from transition countries.


It is almost one year since the transition process in Yemen began with the signing of the Gulf Co-operation Council Initiative on 23 November 2011. The transition remains broadly on track, with President Hadi successfully appointed after an interim election in February, and the formation of a national unity Government. The proposed conclusions would show our support for these efforts but also encourage the Yemenis to continue in this vein through the successful preparation and launch of an inclusive national dialogue, and preparations for full national elections in 2014.

Middle East Peace Process

The middle east peace process discussions will focus on the prospect of a Palestinian application to the UN General Assembly to upgrade their status to that of a non-member observer state. The UK will emphasise the need for EU countries to vote in a manner which advances our shared goal of realising the two state solution. We will make clear that we are encouraging the new US Administration to act quickly to put its full weight behind ensuring the Israelis and Palestinians return to substantive negotiations resulting in the resolution of the conflict.


There will be an in-depth discussion of Ukraine following the parliamentary elections on 28 October. The discussion will consider how to take forward the

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EU-Ukraine relationship in the light of the elections and other developments. We do not expect there to be conclusions in November.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Ministers are expected to agree conclusions which will highlight our concerns about the insecurity in eastern DRC; condemn the actions of M23 and other armed groups; call for the cessation of all outside support for M23; and underline the importance of the Government of the DRC showing leadership in resolving the problems. Ministers will also have the opportunity to consider what steps should be taken next to help to resolve the situation.


Ministers will discuss the current situation in Cuba and the future of EU-Cuba relations. EU-Cuba relations are currently governed by the 1996 common position, which can be found at:

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX: 31996E0697:EN:NOT.


Ministers will have the opportunity to discuss the EU’s priorities with the US following the US presidential elections on 6 November and the re-election of President Obama. We expect the discussion to cover a spectrum of leading international issues, including the global economy. We will stress the importance of an EU-US trade deal.

General Affairs Council

The key item of discussion will be the preparation for the November European Council on the multi-annual financial framework (MFF). The General Affairs Council (GAC) has led on the preparation of the MFF, which has been discussed at every GAC over the past year. Key issues such as the overall size of the MFF 2014-20 and the composition of spend in the different headings will be taken forward to the November European Council.

In addition to the MFF we expect this GAC to discuss the Commission’s work programme for 2013, follow up on the agreements reached at the October European Council and the agenda for the December European Council.

Multi-annual Financial Framework

Ministers will focus initially on issues around cohesion policy, on which the presidency hopes to secure a partial general approach on two remaining negotiating blocks: financial management, and the common strategic framework. Financial management deals with the processes for examination and acceptance of accounts and for financial corrections. The common strategic framework is an annex to the common provisions regulation which provides a strategic orientation at EU level for the funds.

The main item will be preparation for the special November European Council on 22 and 23 November. This will be discussed at a dinner with President van Rompuy on 19 November and again during the Tuesday 20 November session.

The Cypriot Presidency has produced various iterations of the “negotiating box” which now has an upper ceiling of numbers for the MFF. The presidency has made it clear that they expect further downward revisions and I will be arguing that the upper ceiling is far too high.

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I expect a further version of the negotiating box to be issued before the GAC. This will be available at:


I will be emphasising the strength of feeling on budget size in the UK as demonstrated by the recent vote in the House of Commons.

I will also emphasise again that we will not agree to any changes to own resources, including the UK abatement.

Follow-up to the October European Council and agenda for December European Council

At the October European Council the Commission was urged to make progress on implementation of the growth compact and to speed up delivery on growth enhancing measures such as concluding trade agreements. The Commission have indicated that they will undertake to put proposals on a range of issues on the table before the end of the year. I will urge the Commission to press forward on the issues we consider priorities, including the annual growth survey and the internal energy market, but also to maintain momentum in other areas such as the trade agenda, where the need for progress was highlighted in particular in the October European Council. I will emphasise the need for progress on trade deals with Singapore, Japan, Canada and also the United States, which the Prime Minister discussed with President Obama when they spoke after his re-election.

International Development

Commonwealth Scholarship Commission

The Secretary of State for International Development (Justine Greening): My Department will shortly commence the triennial review of its oversight arrangements for the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the United Kingdom (CSC).

The Government made a commitment regularly to review public bodies, with the aim of increasing accountability for actions carried out on behalf of the state.

The CSC, which administers the Government’s contribution to the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan, has been selected by DFID as one of the non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) for which the review will commence during the second year of the triennial programme (2012-13).

The review will be conducted in line with relevant Cabinet Office guidance, in two stages.

The first stage will:

Identify and examine the key functions of the CSC and assess how these functions contribute to the core business of DFID;

Assess the requirement for these to continue.

If they are to continue, there will be an assessment of how the key functions might best be delivered. If one of these options is continuing delivery through the CSC, there will be an assessment against the Government’s “three tests”: technical function; political impartiality; and the need for independence from Ministers.

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If the outcome of stage one is that delivery should continue through the CSC, the second stage of the review will ensure that it is operating in line with the recognised principles of good corporate governance, using the Cabinet Office “comply or explain” standard approach.

The outcome will be announced in Parliament within six months of the review commencing.

Northern Ireland

Patrick Finucane Review

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mrs Theresa Villiers): I would like to announce that the report of the Patrick Finucane review, chaired by Sir Desmond de Silva QC, will be published during the week of Monday 10 December.

In my written statement to the House on 31 October, I set out the steps that would need to be taken before publication of the Patrick Finucane report. These included a checking process which would enable me to meet the obligations placed on me by article 2 of the European convention on human rights and to safeguard national security. I can confirm that this checking process has now been completed and I have received advice from the checking team which confirms that there is nothing in the report which, if published, could breach article 2 of the European convention on human rights by putting the lives or safety of individuals at risk, or put national security at risk. I am therefore satisfied that the report can be published in full and I have advised Sir Desmond de Silva of this.

The report has not been shown to me or to any other Member of the Government, or to any officials except the members of the team which carried out the checking

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process. I have not been briefed on the contents of the report, nor have any officials other than those in the checking team.

As with the publication of the Bloody Sunday inquiry, Billy Wright inquiry and Rosemary Nelson inquiry reports, I intend to give advance sight to those who the review has advised are interested parties, to their legal representatives, and to some Members of both Houses.


Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has recently run a competition to procure a front office counter service provider for its face-to-face motoring services from next April.

I can today announce that the DVLA will award Post Office Ltd a contract to build on the existing counter operation to provide a wider range of services and better accessibility for motorists. The contract will run for seven years with an option to extend for up to another three years. This contract will allow the Post Office to fully develop better services with the requirements of customers at the heart. Under the contract, Post Office Ltd will offer DVLA services at over 4,700 outlets for road tax and vehicle transactions, 750 of which will also cater for driver licensing.

This new contract provides value for money for the taxpayer resulting in savings of between £13 million and £15 million a year. The contract also gives scope for the Post Office to provide front office counter services for other Government Departments, to increase efficiencies across Government and provide better value for the taxpayer.