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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 13 December 2012

Treasury

Double Taxation (Brunei Darussalam)

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): An agreement amending the double taxation arrangement with Brunei Darussalam was signed in London on 11 December 2012.

The text of the agreement has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs website. The text will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

Communities and Local Government

Decentralisation (Milton Keynes)

The Minister for Housing (Mr Mark Prisk): I am pleased to announce the transfer of a package of Homes and Communities Agency functions and assets to Milton Keynes council, expected to take place on 14 January 2013.

The transfer of these functions and assets is a significant step for Milton Keynes council as it gives them, at last, full control over strategic growth and development in their area. It is also important as it means the people of Milton Keynes can now hold the locally accountable body responsible for how they use the land and their functions in this respect.

This transfer includes Milton Keynes council taking full planning control of its area; the disposal at market value of the majority of the Homes and Communities Agency’s different land holdings in the area to the council; and the council taking on management of the Milton Keynes infrastructure tariff. Connected to the tariff transfer, Government have agreed to enter into a jointly shared risk-share arrangement with Milton Keynes council. Further details of this arrangement are set out in a departmental minute which has been laid today.

This transfer is a significant step for both Government and Milton Keynes council as it demonstrates Government’s commitment to devolution of functions to the most appropriate level. It also provides Milton Keynes council with assets and functions that empower them to drive economic growth and promote the area as a great place to invest and work in.

Ultimately, the people of Milton Keynes will benefit from this settlement as it will be them who gain most from increased investment and delivery. Government now look to Milton Keynes council to continue the good work previously undertaken by the Homes and Communities Agency.

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Fire Service College

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Brandon Lewis): The Government’s response to Fire Futures on 12 April 2011 said that the Fire Service college can achieve its full potential only if there is greater involvement from other sectors (whether private, public or voluntary) in its ownership, operation and governance and that we would

“explore with the sector and other organisations options to secure the future of the Fire Service college”.

In his written ministerial statement of 22 March 2012, Official Report, column 67WS, my predecessor as Fire Minister, announced the Government’s decision to sell the Fire Service college as a going concern to the private sector.

I am now pleased to inform the House that following a thorough, fair and open process the Government have identified Capita as the preferred bidder for the purchase of the college. In identifying Capita as the preferred bidder the Government are satisfied that the sale will achieve value for money for the public purse and secure the future of the Fire Service college.

The Government are insisting on a number of conditions on the proposed sale, including commitments not only that the college will continue in use as a national training college for fire and rescue authorities, but also that it will continue to offer wider national resilience and emergency services exercises and that Government permission will be required if Capita wish to sell the incident ground.

The Government now look forward to holding constructive discussions with Capita to ensure that the transition from public to private sector is as smooth as possible. The Government expect to complete the sale early in the new year after the conclusion of a TUPE consultation and wider information sharing with current employees of the Fire Service college.

Minor Consequential Improvements

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): Earlier this year, the Department for Communities and Local Government published a consultation paper on reforms to building regulations in England. The proposals contained a strong deregulatory element, which seeks to deliver real and significant savings to business, while ensuring our buildings remain safe and sustainable.

My Department will shortly publish details of some of the deregulatory reforms stemming from that consultation. However, I wanted to inform hon. Members of the Government’s conclusion on one aspect that attracted significant public and media attention.

The consultation sought views on whether to require “consequential improvements” to the energy efficiency of a dwelling when other defined building work was undertaken, such as (a) extensions or increases in habitable space (i.e. loft and integral garage conversions) and (b) the replacement of a boiler or a percentage of the home’s windows. Such proposals were coined as a

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“conservatory tax”, although it should be noted that most conservatories would not have been affected by such proposals.

Ministers have carefully considered the responses to the consultation. We have also taken into account quantitative research work by the Energy Saving Trust of householders and qualitative analysis by AECOM of building professionals, which I have today placed in the Library of the House.

The Energy Saving Trust research found that consequential improvements, even with green deal finance in place, would put off 38% of households from going ahead with building work on their property that they were otherwise planning (“Energy Saving Trust, Exploratory Research into Building Regulations in relation to the Green Deal”, page 37).[Official Report, 7 March 2013, Vol. 126, c. 12MC.]

The AECOM focus groups found that the majority of the installers registered with Gas Safe Register or members of competent person schemes were very negative towards the idea of being responsible for informing homeowners of the consequential improvement requirements. They observed that given the current economic climate, increased costs would make it harder to win work—homeowners may be deterred from getting the work done or delay commissioning the work. There was concern that by leaving the responsibility to inform homeowners to the installer, it could increase dishonesty in the market. It would potentially present rogue traders with an opportunity either to not inform homeowners of the requirements (to keep costs down), or to inflate the requirements and “rip people off” (AECOM, “Changes to Part L of the Building Regulations: Proposals for consequential improvements in existing homes: Report of Focus Groups”, page 5). There were also concerns about non-compliance, with homeowners facing prosecution and £5,000 fines, leading to widespread problems with enforcement (page 44).

All these concerns point to the danger that introducing consequential improvements would, in fact, discourage people from undertaking home improvements.

Having considered all the representations and evidence, including the public reaction, I can inform the House that we will not be going ahead with such regulatory proposals in any way at this point in time.

Notwithstanding, there is significant scope to promote take up of the voluntary green deal, which allows householders—if they choose—to improve the energy efficiency of their home without any upfront cost. We intend to work with the industry and local authorities to help increase awareness of the green deal amongst householders.

More broadly, it is my Department’s stated policy (as outlined in my statement of 6 September 2012, Official Report, column 29WS) to make it easier for householders to undertake small-scale home improvements and conservatories.

The cancellation of the council tax revaluation (as outlined in my statement of 11 October 2010, Official Report, column 1WS) has also avoided the imposition of higher council taxes on home improvements. As explained in the answer of 30 April 2012, Official Report, column 1105W, we have also discontinued the revaluation database and ceased the intrusive collection of data on the scenic views, gardens and patios of families’ homes.

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Energy and Climate Change

Exploration for Shale Gas

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey): Shale gas development has been of increasing importance in the US for some years, but exploration has only just begun in the UK. The potential of producing shale gas from a suitable formation can only be established by fracturing the rock, and it happens that the fracturing of the first shale gas well in the UK, at Preese Hall near Blackpool last year, resulted in noticeable seismic tremors. These were not at a level which could cause any damage, but seismic activity at this level was not an expected consequence of the fracking activity, and DECC therefore suspended all fracking operations for shale gas pending a thorough investigation of the causes of these tremors and the scope for mitigation of seismic risks in any future operations of this type. I am announcing today the outcome of that investigation and the way forward on exploration for shale gas in the UK.

Having carefully reviewed the evidence with the aid of independent experts, and with the aid of an authoritative review of the scientific and engineering evidence on shale gas extraction conducted by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society, I have concluded that appropriate controls are available to mitigate the risks of undesirable seismic activity. Those new controls will be required by my Department for all future shale gas wells. On that basis, I am in principle prepared to consent to new fracking proposals for shale gas, where all other necessary permissions and consents are in place.

This opens the way to a resumption of work on exploration for shale gas, though I stress the importance of the other regulatory consents, and planning permission, which are also necessary for these activities, and which must be in place before my Department will consider consent to individual operations. In practice, it will be well into next year before any new exploration work has all the necessary consents to proceed. Whether any production operations may be proposed will depend on the success of the exploration work, but, in any event, this is likely to be some years away yet.

The background is that, in most oil and gas fields worldwide, the oil or gas is extracted from a relatively porous rock, usually a sandstone or calcareous rock, in which it has been accumulated or trapped. The original source of the petroleum however lies elsewhere, in deeper formations of non-porous rocks classed as shales. These shale source rocks are widely distributed around the world, and exist in many areas of the UK.

It has long been recognised that very substantial quantities of oil and gas were trapped in these shales, but the scope for its economic extraction seemed small—largely because the rock in its natural state allows the oil and gas to flow into a well only at very low rates. In the last 20 years, however, further development of oilfield technology, first in the Barnett shale in Texas, has enabled economic large-scale extraction of gas, and oil, from these source rocks.

One of the key technologies involved is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This is carried out by pumping water at high pressure into the shale formation, which

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forms blade-like fractures, a few millimetres wide and extending several hundred feet away from the well bore. Once the fractures have started to form, sand or a similar material is pumped in, to hold the fractures open once the pressure is released. The fractures can continue to grow only so long as pressure is maintained. When the fractures have sufficiently developed, the pressure is released and the frac fluid, followed by the released gas, can flow into the well. The process is not novel and is also widely used in conventional oil and gas production. It is however, more intensively used in the production of shale gas.

It has been recognised for some time that injection of large quantities of water into the subsurface can cause seismic tremors. This has happened, for example, in those areas of the US in which disposal of waste water into deep injection wells is permitted. However, the quantities of water used in fracking are substantially smaller, and up until the time of the Preese Hall tremors, no association had been recognised between injection of these smaller volumes and any seismic activity. The analysis carried out by Cuadrilla’s advisers, and confirmed by our independent panel of experts, has however concluded that the most likely cause of the tremors is the movement of the frac fluid into and along a fault which was already under stress. The additional pressure of the fluid allowed the fault to move, releasing the energy stored in the fault and resulting in the perceived tremors at the surface.

Our experts advise that there are many other faults in the Lancashire area which similarly have unrelieved stresses, and could in a similar scenario likewise result in tremors. Because of the relatively weak nature of these rocks, the amount of energy likely to be stored in these faults is not large, and the largest earthquake likely in this area from such a cause is assessed at magnitude 3. While this is not large enough to cause significant material damage, it would be perceptible and disturbing. I consider that new controls to minimise disturbance to those living and working nearby, and to prevent the risk of any damage, are now a prerequisite for further exploration.

I am therefore announcing new controls to mitigate these risks, which will be applied to all future fracking operations for shale gas. As this is a developing area of knowledge, I stress that we will be moving forward with appropriate caution. The controls are not at this stage to be regarded as definitive, but as appropriate precautionary measures for our present state of knowledge. Initial operations under these controls will be subject to careful scrutiny to ensure the effectiveness of the controls. And they will be reviewed, as experience develops, to ensure that they are proportionate to the risks. The controls will be enforced by my Department, though the data obtained will of course be shared with other regulators.

Operators will first be required to review the available information on faults in the area of the proposed well to minimise the risk of activating any fault by fracking, and required to monitor background seismicity before operations commence. Real-time seismic monitoring will also continue during operations, with these subject to a “traffic-light” regime, so that operations can be quickly paused and data reviewed if unusual levels of seismic activity is observed.

We will also be requiring operators to take a more cautious approach to the duration and volumes of fluid used in the fracking itself. A fracking plan will be

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required to be submitted to my Department before consent is given to any fracking. The fracking plan should be progressive, starting with the injection of small volumes of fluid and analysing the resulting data carefully before the full stage. Each stage of the frac will be carefully designed to use just enough fluid to create a fracture sufficient to enable gas to flow. A flow-back period will be required immediately after each stage to rebalance the pressures. Real-time recording of earthquakes during and for 24 hours after each stage of the frac will be analysed to look for abnormal induced events amidst the normal background seismicity.

Operators will also be required to monitor the growth in height of the frac away from the borehole. This will allow the operator to evaluate the effectiveness of the frac, but also ensure that the actual fracture is conforming to its design, and that it remains contained and far away from any aquifers.

So far as Cuadrilla’s current exploration programme in Lancashire is concerned, the remedial action level for the traffic light system (that is, the “red light”) will be set at magnitude 0.5 (far below a perceptible surface event, but larger than the expected level generated by the fracturing of the rock). I consider that this is an appropriately precautionary approach. We received representations in our consultation that this is too cautious, by comparison with the control protocols established for geothermal energy, construction and quarrying projects. I emphasise that this level is adopted only for fracking operations for shale gas, and the reasons for setting it at this level are entirely specific to the context. And it may well prove to be the case that, as our experience of applying this type of control to fracking operations develops, it can be confirmed that trigger levels can be adjusted upwards without compromising the effectiveness of the controls.

For the first few operations, DECC will have an independent expert on site to observe the operator’s conformance to the protocols we have established and to monitor the operator’s interpretation of data. We will therefore be able to learn as much as possible from these first operations and to put the lessons promptly into effect. But it would clearly not be right, in our present state of knowledge, to attempt to establish definitive standards, and I have preferred to start on an explicitly cautious basis.

At the present time, no applications for consent to fracking operations for shale gas are outstanding, and it is too soon to say exactly how the new protocols will be applied to any such proposals which may come forward in other basins. I can say that we will apply the same principles, of careful prior analysis of the risk of seismic activity, progressive design of the fracking process and feedback from the emerging data, and systematic monitoring by the operators before, during and after the operations. We will also expect operators to make monitoring data promptly available to the public.

As I have noted, fracking is not exclusively associated with shale gas extraction, and fracking operations using smaller volumes of fluid have been carried out both onshore and offshore in the UK for many years. These have not to date been associated with any seismic risk, nor is there any evidence for such risks from elsewhere. However, DECC will apply proportionate scrutiny to the possibility. Oil and gas operators proposing fracking will be required to submit an analysis of the risks of any

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seismic activity being caused by the proposed operations, to conduct appropriate monitoring, and to inform planning authorities and local residents. Appropriate levels of control will be imposed by DECC where the assessed risk is not negligible.

These new controls on seismic risks do not remove any of the existing regulatory controls and requirements. Consistent with previous practice, my Department will not give consent to specific fracking operations until all other consents are in place, including in particular planning permission, the obtaining of environmental permits from the Environment Agency or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) as the case may be, and scrutiny by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Separate guidance is available from local planning authorities and regulators on how to acquire the relevant permissions and permits. Both the Environment Agency and SEPA have published sector-specific guidance for the shale gas industry.

However, I am well aware, in particular from the responses to our consultation on the report of our independent experts, that many people, including residents of Lancashire and other areas where shale gas exploration may be contemplated, have many other concerns besides the seismic risks, and it is only right that I should say how these other concerns are being addressed.

The development of shale gas in the US has been accompanied by an increasing level of debate on its environmental impacts. Many of the incidents reported have, on investigation, not been shown to be connected with oil and gas activity. However, they have given rise to concerns which in themselves are entirely reasonable. Residents in those areas want to be assured that their water will not be contaminated with gas or toxic chemicals, and the air will not be contaminated with noxious gases; that there will be no threat of damage from earthquakes; and that other kinds of disturbance such as traffic, lights and noise will be kept under control. In considering these concerns, I have had the benefit of the earlier report on shale gas by the Energy and Climate Change Committee, and many authoritative reports from the US, including two from the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board.

I have also had the benefit of the comprehensive and authoritative review of the risks of fracking by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering which I have already mentioned. I can announce that the Government accept all the recommendations of the academies’ report addressed to it. Work is already in hand to implement these recommendations, so far as the current phase of exploration activity is concerned. One further recommendation is being considered by the research councils to whom it was addressed.

The reports from US regulators and review bodies do confirm that gas developments there have, on occasion, led to water contamination. There are relatively few confirmed instances of this—most complaints on investigation have proved to be attributable to causes other than gas production. And no case has yet come to light in which it has been confirmed that fracking has contaminated an aquifer. But the instances of contamination which have occurred confirm the need for the industry to consistently apply good practice, and the need for proper scrutiny and oversight of the industry to ensure that this is in fact done.

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So far as the UK is concerned, I believe that the industry has a good record, and that there are already in place robust regulatory controls on all oil and gas activities. On water contamination, first, all such operations are subject to scrutiny by the appropriate environment agency (the Environment Agency in respect of England and for the time being of Wales; and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency in respect of Scotland). It is an offence to cause or knowingly permit poisonous noxious or polluting matter to enter controlled waters, which include ground waters. The environment agencies are statutory consultees in the planning process, and have to be consulted on all proposed borehole operations. A permit from the Environment Agency is required where fluids containing pollutants are injected into rock formations that contain groundwater. A permit may also be needed if the activity poses an unacceptable risk of mobilising natural substances that could then cause pollution. The permit will specify any necessary limits on the activity, any requirements for monitoring, the chemicals which may be used, and any appropriate limits on permissible concentrations. Regulators will take a risk based approach, and if the activity poses an unacceptable risk to the environment, it will not be allowed.

The academies’ report, and that of the Select Committee, also emphasise the importance in this context of the integrity of the well. This issue is central to the regulation of the safety of well operations by the HSE. The Executive have to be notified of all drilling operations for oil or gas, and will scrutinise the well design and operational plan. Additionally, the regulations require a full review of the proposed and actual well operations by an independent competent person, the “well examiner”. The academies in their report commented that this independent review is highly valuable, and made recommendations for strengthening it, which we of course accept and are already working on.

So far as the use of chemicals is concerned, the environment agencies take a risk-based approach to the regulation of the use of chemicals in shale gas fracking activities. The hazard potential of all substances proposed to be injected into the ground will be assessed and the use of substances hazardous to groundwater will not be permitted. The identity of all substances proposed for injection, and the agency’s conclusions on their hazard potential, will be publicly available.

Concern has also been expressed about the quantities of water used in fracking, or the disposal of waste water from the process. The water used may of course be obtained from licensed suppliers, but if directly abstracted by the operators, requires a licence from the environment agency. Licences will only be given where the agency is satisfied that a sustainable supply is obtainable.

Equally, disposal of waste water is subject to scrutiny by the agencies and will require a permit. The waste water from the operations in Lancashire has been found to contain low levels of radioactivity. A case-specific radiological assessment is required in support of any application for a permit for the disposal of radioactive waste. The agency will critically review any such assessment, and will only issue a permit if satisfied.

Concern has also been raised about the possibility of fracking leading to subsidence, but this is not considered a risk because of the strength and load-bearing characteristics of these rocks. And this is borne out by

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practical experience, because there is no report from the US of subsidence attributable to fracking, although the number of wells which have been tracked for shale gas is now in the hundreds of thousands.

A further major area of concern was with the impacts of normal operations in terms of noise, traffic, impacts on health, etc. All proposals for oil and gas exploration require planning permission from the relevant minerals planning authority. The national planning policy framework requires planning authorities to assess applications for all minerals developments so as to ensure that permitted operations do not have unacceptable adverse impacts on the natural or historical environment or on human health, including from noise, dust, visual intrusion, or migration of contamination from the site. In doing so, they should take into account the cumulative effects of multiple impacts from individual sites and/or a number of sites in a locality. Conditions can be placed on working hours at the site, numbers of traffic movements etc., to ensure that any such impacts on local residents remain within acceptable bounds.

Other concerns which have been expressed are not to do with the current phase of exploration work but with the implications of a possible future move to production operations, if the exploration is successful. It is by no means certain that any such operations will ever be proposed, but if they were, a different set of considerations would arise, which I address further below. But as regards the concerns which have very reasonably been expressed about the current phase of exploration operations, I consider that the consistent application of good practice by the industry, supplemented by the additional action to control seismic hazards which I am announcing today, will ensure that there will be no unacceptable damage to the environment, or threat to the health of local residents, or interference with their lives.

I also consider that the existing regulatory framework already provides the means to ensure that the industry does apply good practice throughout its operations; and that it will do so consistently. But we are taking further steps to reinforce the regime. We have already set up a strategy group on shale gas at senior official level, with representation from the main Departments engaged in shale gas regulation, the Environment Agency and the HSE, to ensure that the work of the various bodies is well co-ordinated. That group can already point to some successes in improving the co-ordination of regulation, for example, planned joint inspections of fracking operations by the HSE and the EA. And in the gas generation strategy published last week, I announced that a new Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil will be set up in DEGG to support this work as well as providing a single point of contact for investors and ensuring a streamlined regulatory process.

Accordingly, I am satisfied that fracking for shale gas can now in principle resume, and I will be prepared to consent to new proposals, subject to case-by-case scrutiny by my Department, to the new requirements to mitigate seismic hazards, and to confirmation that all other necessary permissions and consents are in place.

I should also mention one further outcome of the investigation of the tremors at Preese Hall. DECC has come to the conclusion that Cuadrilla’s response to the occurrence of the tremors demonstrated some weaknesses in its management of environmental risks. This conclusion

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has been discussed with the company, and they have in consequence reinforced their overall management structure, including by assigning to one board member specific responsibility for health and safety measures, and by reinforcing technical skills within the operational team. The effectiveness of these changes, and the resulting revised structure, is at present being reviewed for Cuadrilla by external consultants. Further fracking operations by Cuadrilla are in any case dependent upon the obtaining of new planning permissions and Environment Agency permits: but my final consent to new fracking operations will not be given until the conclusions of the external consultants have been discussed with the company, and any remaining points of concern addressed to the Department’s satisfaction.

As regards the implications of any future move to large-scale production, the concerns are principally of two kinds: on the one hand, concerns about the local or regional impacts on questions such as traffic movements, noise, night-time lighting etc., or on the health of people living in the vicinity, or on regional water resources, or on tourism and other aspects of the local economy; on the other, concerns about wider issues including the implications of large scale shale gas production for climate change, for the UK’s climate change policies or for renewables investment.

As regards the local or regional impacts, it should be noted that the planning system requires permission to be obtained separately for exploration and production activities (and for any appraisal phase where distinguishable). There will therefore be a full opportunity to consider the local and regional impacts, including cumulative impacts, of any proposals to initiate production activities, before any such development takes place.

Planning procedures of course already provide for full consultation with communities who may be affected, and the planning authorities may require an environmental impact assessment to be carried out. However, the academies have in addition recommended that an environmental risk assessment should be mandatory for all shale gas operations, involving the participation of local communities at the earliest possible opportunity, and that this assessment should address risks across the entire lifecycle of shale gas extraction.

DECC will therefore take steps to enhance the existing frameworks for consultation and consenting to these activities, in line with these recommendations. Licensees will be required to carry out a comprehensive high-level assessment of environmental risks, including risks to human health, and covering the full cycle of the proposed operations, including well abandonment; and to consult with stakeholders including local communities, as early as practicable in the development of their proposals. The scope of these assessments would naturally be framed by the operations proposed, so that prospective future production operations would not be in scope for an assessment drawn up for exploration activities. Cuadrilla has been asked to conduct such an assessment in relation to their proposals for further exploration work in Lancashire.

This high-level assessment may inform the work entailed by risk assessments already required, for example under the environmental permitting regulations, and which are consulted on separately by the Environment Agency, as well as work entailed by any environmental impact assessment which may be required by the local planning

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authority. And together, these assessments will provide a full picture of the risks and impacts to inform effective engagement with local communities.

On health impacts, the Health Protection Agency is currently reviewing the evidence base on the health impacts of shale gas, with a particular focus on the health impacts of emissions to air, land and water. This review will identify any potential health risks, and inform both future regulation and any future health impact assessments that may be carried out.

As regards the wider concerns about the implications of large scale shale gas production for the UK’s climate change policies etc., it is in general too early as yet to make any meaningful estimate of what these might be in the absence of any convincing estimate of what future production might be. But as there has been particular concern about the carbon footprint of shale gas operations, and in particular the possible impacts of fugitive emissions of methane, I should note that all shale gas operations will be subject to my Department’s long-standing policy on flaring and venting of methane. Venting of methane, which has been widely unregulated in the US prior to the recent proposals from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a new controls, is already required in the UK to be reduced to the minimum technically possible. Flaring of methane will also be required to be reduced to the economic minimum, so that where cost-effective routes for economic use of the gas are available, these must be used. These controls mean that UK oil and gas operations already meet the standards which the EPA is introducing, but the new office will ensure that these work consistently with new controls which may be introduced by the Environment Agency in applying their legislation, and that methane emissions will continue to be minimised.

At the present time, methane emissions from oil and gas operations onshore are a very small part of our GHG emissions. The current estimate is that they contribute less than 1% to the total. And the relatively small number of wells which might be drilled in the current exploration phase will not in any case substantially increase that contribution. I therefore intend to commission a study into the possible impacts of shale gas extraction on greenhouse gas emissions. This will consider the available evidence on the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas exploitation, and the need for further research. I have invited Professor David Mackay, my Department’s chief scientific adviser and Dr Tim Stone, the expert chair of the Office of Nuclear Development to undertake this work.

We are also taking steps to prepare the way for any future production phase, though this is likely to be some years away. We have commissioned more detailed work on the shale gas resources of Great Britain from the British Geological Survey (BGS) and this will be published early next year. I emphasise that this will provide only an estimate of the resource, the gas in the ground, and not the reserves, the amount of gas which can in practice be produced economically from that resource. Until more exploration work has been done, a significant number of wells tracked and production patterns established over time, it will not be possible to make any meaningful estimate of likely economically recoverable resources of shale gas in the United Kingdom.

Also, we will be acting on the academies’ recommendations that the regulatory bodies should assess the requirements for effective regulation of a

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significant future production phase, and that existing co-ordination should be maintained and strengthened. The new Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil will be taking this forward in collaboration with the other departments and agencies concerned. And the Environment Agency is already conducting a review of the implications of shale gas for its regulatory responsibilities, including the question of whether further controls and monitoring requirements are appropriate in respect of methane emissions. To facilitate future development, further consideration is being given to ensuring a streamlined and transparent regulatory process for environmental permitting.

We will also be taking steps to open the way to new onshore licensing. DEGG had already commenced a strategic environmental assessment in 2010, with a view to further onshore licensing, and conducted a public consultation in the latter part of that year. Work on the SEA has however been in abeyance following the seismic tremors in 2011. DEGG will now commission further work on the environmental implications of further licensing, taking account of all new knowledge arising since the earlier assessment was compiled, and will conduct a full public consultation on the extended assessment. The results of this consultation will be fully considered before any decisions are taken on new licensing.

Many more questions of detail have been raised over the last year or so, particularly in the course of our consultation, and in this statement I have sought only to cover the principal issues of interest to the greatest number of respondents. I have today placed in the Libraries of both Houses and placed on my Department’s website a full synopsis of the questions raised and of the Government’s responses to them as well as a response on all of the recommendations of the academies’ study group.

Generic Design Assessment

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr John Hayes): The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and the Environment Agency (EA) have today announced their decisions, as part of their generic design assessment (GDA) process, to issue final design acceptances, for the AREVA European pressurised water reactor. These will consist of an ONR design acceptance confirmation (DAC) and an EA statement of design acceptability (SoDA).

This is a key moment, and an essential step, on the path for delivering safe and secure nuclear new build in the UK. These decisions signal the completion of the Government’s facilitative actions set out in the 2008 White Paper on nuclear power and demonstrate another clear step to building confidence in the UK new nuclear build programme.

We welcome the decisions of the independent regulators and congratulate them on the important work that they have undertaken over the last five years in making GDA an internationally respected process.

GDA has provided us with an important blueprint for enhanced openness and transparency in nuclear regulation and has demonstrated the gains that can be made through close working between both of the UK’s nuclear regulators.

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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Environmental Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): My noble Friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for resource management, the local environment and environmental science, Lord de Mauley, will represent the UK at the EU Environment Council in Brussels on 17 December. Environment Ministers from the devolved Administrations will also attend.

At this Council, Ministers are expected to adopt non-legislative Council conclusions on “A Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water Resources”. This is the European Commission’s new strategy to make water use more sustainable in the EU and to ensure good quality water for human needs, economic activities and the environment. The majority of the blueprint actions are non-regulatory measures such as producing new guidance documents, integrating EU water policy into other EU policies and improving enforcement of existing EU legislation. There is only one possible new legislative proposal, which relates to maximising water reuse.

The presidency will then lead an exchange of views on “Greening the European Semester”. The publication of the annual growth survey on 28 November 2012 signalled the start of the third European semester. The annual growth survey 2013 will be discussed at various EU Councils in preparation for the spring European Council in March 2013. At this Environment Council, discussion will focus on the bottlenecks hindering the achievement of Europe 2020 resource efficiency objectives, and on identifying the measures in the field of resource efficiency and climate action which have the biggest potential to contribute to growth and job creation.

Over lunch, Ministers will have the opportunity to exchange views on the outcome of the climate change conference which recently took place in Doha, Qatar, and the way forward to the second Kyoto commitment period.

In the afternoon, there will be a legislative orientation debate on the seventh environment action programme (seventh EAP). The proposals were first presented on 29 November, and include nine priority objectives for policy development in the period up to 2020. The orientation debate at Council will examine whether the seventh EAP meets expectations and addresses the shortcomings identified in the sixth EAP, if it covers the current and emerging environmental challenges, and whether the nine priority objectives are adequate and pragmatic. It is expected that the presidency will want to seek early agreement from member states on the headline messages of the programme.

The following topics will also be covered under “any other business”:

Information from the presidency on the progress of work regarding the proposed regulation on the new LIFE programme.

Information from the presidency on a proposal for a directive on environmental quality standards in the field of water policy (priority substances).

Information from the presidency on a proposal for a directive amending directive 2011/92/EU of the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment.

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Information from the presidency on a mechanism for monitoring and reporting greenhouse gas emissions and for reporting other information at national and Union-level relevant to climate change.

Information from the presidency on a proposal for a decision on accounting rules and action plans on greenhouse gas emissions and removals resulting from activities related to land use, land use change and forestry.

Information from the presidency and the Commission on the outcome of the 18th conference of the parties to the United Nations convention on climate change (COP18) and eighth conference of the parties serving as the meeting of the parties to the Kyoto protocol (CMP8) (Qatar, 26 November-7 December 2012).

Information from the presidency on proposals to amend the regulations defining the modalities for reaching the 2020 target to reduce CO2 emissions from new light commercial vehicles and from new passenger cars.

The EU emissions trading scheme and aviation, including information from the Commission on the carbon market report, and information from the Polish delegation on proposed changes in the volumes of greenhouse gas emission allowance to be auctioned in 2013-20 (backloading), and the impact on budget incomes.

Information from the Irish delegation on the work programme of the incoming presidency.

Marine Conservation Zones

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): Today I am pleased to announce the launch of the public consultation on marine conservation zones (MCZs). The consultation will remain open until 31 March 2013.

This is a key step to meeting the Government’s commitment under the Marine and Coastal Access Act to create a network of marine protected areas in the UK to ensure that our marine biodiversity flourishes for years to come. These MCZs will complement 8.4% of UK waters and 24% of English inshore waters already within protected areas.

The consultation document explains that, following recommendations from four regional MCZ projects, and advice from the Government’s Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies, Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, we propose to designate 31 sites in 2013. It describes the approach we have taken in selecting the proposed sites for designation in the first tranche and how we propose to treat other MCZ recommendations from the regional projects. The consultation also provides clarification on a number of issues which have been controversial during the site identification process including:

reference areas—these will not be included in the first tranche but will be subject to further review;

treatment of MCZs at different stages in the designation process in licensing decisions—to assist developers in the marine area we have clarified how developments should be treated in or near MCZs so that economic growth is not inhibited unnecessarily;

the UK Administrations’ commitment to an ecologically coherent network—we have agreed with devolved Administrations in the UK that, biologically, a more sensible approach is to assess ecological coherence at a biogeographic zone level and to consider this commitment as a UK contribution to a wider ecologically coherent network. This will also meet UK commitments in OSPAR. Further MCZs are expected to be designated to contribute to this objective.

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A key challenge has been the poor state of evidence in the marine environment. Every effort has been made to ensure that the selection of sites for the first tranche provides environmental benefits but does not go beyond what the evidence will support and does not unduly compromise coastal development.

In a number of cases where sites contain features that are rare or threatened and where there is some supporting evidence, we have proposed that these are designated in the first tranche in line with the precautionary principle.

The potential implications for business and Government of the proposals in this consultation have been considered in detail in an impact assessment which accompanies this consultation.

Today I am also laying the report to Parliament pursuant to section 124 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. This summarises progress with forming a network of conservation sites to meet the requirements set out in the Act.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Irish EU Presidency Priorities

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I am keen to keep Members fully informed of developments in the European Union, their implications for the United Kingdom and our priorities. I would, therefore, like to draw Members’ attention to a paper on the priorities of the Irish presidency of the Council of the European Union, which has been placed in the Library of the House. I have also deposited a copy of the calendar of ministerial meetings for the duration of their presidency.

International Justice (Sierra Leone and Cambodia)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I can announce that in order to strengthen international justice and help secure accountability for some of the most horrific crimes against humanity in the last 50 years, the UK will make a voluntary contribution of £1 million to the Special Court for Sierra Leone and a voluntary contribution of £600,000 to the international component of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

The Government’s contribution will help ensure the Special Court for Sierra Leone is able to complete its work, and leave a lasting legacy for the people of Sierra Leone. On 30 May, the court sentenced Charles Taylor, a former President of Liberia, to 50 years in jail for aiding and abetting war crimes. Taylor is the first former Head of State to be convicted by an international tribunal and the court is currently hearing his appeal.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is delivering long-awaited justice for millions of Cambodians through the trials of the most senior and responsible surviving members of the Pol Pot regime. The scale of the crimes committed and the number of victims makes it one of the most significant tribunals of its kind since Nuremberg. The Government’s contribution will help to prevent the collapse of the court which has faced a significant shortfall in funding.

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International justice is central to foreign policy. It is essential for securing the rights of individuals and states, and for securing peace and reconciliation. Through the International Criminal Court, and the separate international tribunals, we are working to make clear that those responsible for the worst crimes will be held to account and that political leaders will not enjoy impunity. Our support to these institutions is an important element in our strategy to reduce conflict, promote stability and strengthen the rules-based international system. In order to give Parliament a full accounting of this work we will, from this point forward, also provide an annual statement at the start of the financial year detailing our progress on this important issue.

Health

“Liberating the NHS: No decision about me, without me”

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Jeremy Hunt): Today I am publishing “Liberating the NHS: No decision about me, without me”, Government response and the Department’s NHS choice frameworks for 2012-13 and 2013-14. The response document and the choice frameworks have 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 consultation document, “No decision about me, without me—Further consultation on proposals to secure shared decision-making”, published on 23 May 2012, set out proposals to provide patients with more opportunities to be involved in decisions about their care and to make choices. A small number of focused consultation questions were asked which sought views on whether the proposals were realistic and achievable and whether there were any issues that had not been recognised sufficiently. The consultation ran for 14 weeks from 23 May to 31 August 2012.

The majority of the 172 responses received to the consultation were broadly supportive of the proposals as a means for patients to become more involved in their care, in partnership with professionals.

Some respondents outlined concerns that greater choice did not equate to the wider adoption of shared decision-making. We agree with this principle and set out in the response document the clear importance of both proposals to increase patient involvement and patient choice.

Other themes were raised regarding the practical implementation of the proposals relating both to patient involvement and patient choice. The response document addresses the comments made by respondents and sets out how we are implementing the proposals to increase patient involvement and patient choice.

The Department’s NHS choice framework for NHS funded care and treatment in England will set out, for the first time, the choices that people can expect to be offered. This will raise awareness of these choices, including where people have legal rights to make choices, as well as setting out where they can find information to support these choices and what they can do if they are not given the choices they are entitled to.

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Home Department

Protection of Freedoms Act 2012

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): My hon. Friend the Minister of State with responsibility for criminal information, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, has today made the following written ministerial statement:

Part 1, chapter 1 of the Protection of Freedoms Act implements the commitment in the Government’s coalition agreement to reform DNA and fingerprint retention.

This Government want to protect the privacy and human rights of its citizens, while maintaining effective databases that protect the public and reduce crime.

The Protection of Freedoms Act fundamentally changes the principles behind the operation of biometric databases. From being databases that collected DNA profiles and fingerprints from every person arrested and retained them indefinitely, they will now operate proportionately, considering guilt and innocence, the seriousness of the offence and the age of the individual. In this way, they can continue to operate effectively while providing far greater protection of civil liberties.

Implementation of the Act is not a simple matter. A large amount of work is needed to prepare police forces, forensic laboratories and national databases. Complex reprogramming of databases is required to ensure that each person’s DNA and fingerprints are removed or retained correctly and at the right time. This work will be carried out thoroughly so that biometric material is not held unlawfully, and material needed to solve crime is not unnecessarily deleted.

Before the Act commences, it is necessary to destroy a significant amount of existing biometric material that the Act would not allow to be retained.

The first priority is the destruction of DNA samples. A DNA sample is an individual’s biological material, containing all of their genetic information. The Government do not want to retain the complete genetic makeup of any of its citizens. Every DNA sample taken will be destroyed as soon as a DNA profile for use on the database has been obtained from it. Destruction of existing DNA samples will begin in December 2012 and be completed by May 2013.

DNA profiles, consisting of a string of 20 numbers and two letters to indicate gender, are stored on the national DNA database (NDNAD). They allow a person to be identified if they leave their DNA at a crime scene but contain none of the person’s genetic characteristics. The NDNAD and the police national computer (PNC) must both be reprogrammed to allow DNA profiles which may not be retained under the Act to be correctly identified and deleted. Deletion from the NDNAD of existing DNA profiles which do not meet requirements for retention will begin in January 2013 and be completed by September 2013.

Fingerprints are stored electronically on the national fingerprint database, IDENTl. IDENTl and the PNC must both be reprogrammed to allow fingerprints which may not be retained under the Act to be correctly identified and deleted. Deletion from IDENTl of fingerprints which do not meet requirements for retention will begin in March 2013 and be completed by September 2013. Following deletion of each IDENTl fingerprint set, police forces will destroy any corresponding hard copies they hold.

The biometrics commissioner will be appointed in early 2013. The role of the commissioner will be to keep under review the retention and use of biometric material retained subject to the Act’s provisions, and, in particular, to adjudicate on those cases where the police apply to retain material of someone arrested for, but not charged with a serious offence for a limited period or where a national security determination is made.

Once destruction of existing biometric material is complete and the necessary processes have been set up, legislative commencement will take place, no later than October 2013.

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Developing the technology for a fully automated speculative search will take a few more months. A transitional measure will be provided to allow speculative searching and quality checks to be undertaken using existing technology. This will ensure commencement is not delayed and matches to crimes are not missed while the final piece of work is completed.

The publication of this timetable demonstrates both the complexity of the work involved in implementing the Act and removing innocent people’s DNA and fingerprints from our databases, and the Government’s commitment to completing this work as soon as safely possible.

Justice and Home Affairs Council

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held on 6 and 7 December in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and I attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. Roseanna Cunningham MSP also attended the Justice day on behalf of the Administration in Scotland. The following items were discussed.

The Council began with the main committee and adopted the A points; political agreement was reached on the Dublin (III) regulation.

On the common European asylum system (CEAS) the presidency summarised the progress made on the outstanding asylum instruments. The Commission (Malmström) welcomed the progress, and urged the Council to look positively upon some of the amendments tabled by the European Parliament on the Eurodac regulation, which raised the level of safeguards for law-enforcement access. The overarching message from those Ministers who intervened was that quality should not be forfeited for speed. Some Ministers remained concerned by the direction of negotiations on the asylum procedures directive, signalling that the current Council mandate on unaccompanied minors and vulnerable persons remained a red line in order for national authorities to be able to tackle abuse of their asylum systems. The UK has opted in to the Dublin (III) and Eurodac (II) proposals but has not opted in to the three other directives which make up the CEAS.

The EU counter-terrorism (CT) co-ordinator (Gilles de Kerchove) presented his update on the implementation of the EU counter-terrorism strategy and set out where he thought the EU should focus over the next year. He highlighted how the rise of the lone wolf phenomenon and the increase in EU citizens travelling to conflict areas to engage in Jihad underlined the need for an EU strategy to combat radicalisation. He also thought that member states should address the external dimension of terrorism, in particular the threat coming from the Sahel, and that they should find a way to resolve their differences on the level of EU involvement in the protection of critical infrastructure. The UK considered aviation security an area where the EU can continue to add value and welcomed the extension of the current risk-threat methodology applied to inbound cargo to other areas of EU aviation security, such as passengers and prohibited items. The UK also described how the EU could add value by facilitating the sharing of best practice on countering radicalisation; the recent discovery of a far-right plot in Poland reinforced the importance of addressing the needs of vulnerable people and halting the growth of extremism. The UK shared the concerns

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of the CT co-ordinator about the threat from international terrorism, in particular al-Qaeda exploiting the conflict in Syria, and highlighted that it was vital that member states work collectively to see how to mitigate threats from these regions.

The mixed committee with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (non-EU Schengen states) started with an update on the implementation of the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II). The Commission informed Council that an interim solution had been found to address the delays in a member state’s preparation of its national Schengen Information System (SIS) II platform. If implemented immediately this would avoid significant costs and delays to other member states and the Commission. The UK supports the continuation of the current SIS II project.

The Commission (Malmström) presented its second biannual report on the Schengen area. The political discussion that ensued was wide-ranging and while all welcomed the factual report, Ministers were frank in highlighting their concerns. These included calls for progress to be made on the smart borders package, the need for a new legislative proposal to replace the annulled Council decision on Frontex maritime operations, calls for progress on the Schengen legislative package, continuing concern regarding the effects of visa liberalisation in the western Balkans, and the need for further action regarding the situations in Syria and at the Greece-Turkey border. The UK expressed its continued interest in the management of migration in the Schengen area, and noted the recent visit by the UK Immigration Minister to the Greece-Turkey border, which highlighted the good work being done and the importance of co-operation with Turkey on broader JHA issues. The UK said it valued its co-operation with Frontex and other member states to combat illegal immigration, thought that we also needed to keep a close eye on displacement of migratory flows, and highlighted returns and readmissions as an integral part of successfully managing migratory pressures.

The presidency briefly updated the Council on obstacles to information exchange including issues arising from the transposition of the Swedish decision on information exchange. The participation of judicial authorities as gatekeepers of law enforcement data in some member states had had an effect on those countries’ ability to transpose the decision, given its limitation to law enforcement data only. The presidency looked forward to a more in-depth debate following publication of the Commission’s proposal for an information exchange model (EIXM).

Over lunch Ministers discussed how EU visa policy focused on the balance between using visas to promote growth and tourism on the one hand and maintaining security and tackling illegal immigration on the other. Member states were divided on where the priority should be and there was a return to some of the ground covered in the October JHA Council on abuse of visa liberalisation agreements with third countries.

Under AOB the presidency reported on the legal migration directives and the Schengen package. Progress had been made on intra-corporate transferees, and on seasonal workers the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) had approved a mandate for discussion with the European Parliament the day before Council. The UK has not opted in to either of these directives. The presidency reported that it was

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doing its utmost to agree the Schengen package: informal agreement with the European Parliament had been reached on the reciprocity mechanism in the 539 regulation (common visa list) and the file would go to COREPER on 17 December; the first trilogue meeting on the Eurosur (border surveillance) regulation was scheduled for 17 December; progress was being made on the Home Affairs multi-financial framework package; and agreement was in sight on the technical amendments to the Schengen borders code.

Also under AOB the Commission (Malmström) said that no decision had yet been made on the possible merger of Europol and CEPOL (the EU police training college), but argued that a merger could strengthen the links between training and operations, be more efficient and save money over time. On Syria, the Commission stressed the importance of monitoring the situation in Syria and its neighbours and indicated it would take forward work on the regional protection pilot. The incoming Irish Presidency committed to having a debate during its Presidency on the issue.

In a joint session with Justice Ministers, the presidency introduced its review of progress on the Stockholm programme—the five-year programme for Justice and Home Affairs—and handed over to both Commissioners (Reding and Malmström) who summarised achievements to date. The UK noted that the Stockholm programme had been agreed under the previous Government, and that the present Government did not endorse it all. The UK welcomed the progress report, but remained concerned about the missing elements in the paper; PNR needed to be a priority in order to effectively tackle terrorism and serious crime, and it was important to continue tackling abuse of free movement, something to which the JHA Council had committed itself under the road map on migratory pressures. The UK could not entirely agree with the focus on bringing forward a proposal on the European public prosecutor (EPP), and had limited appetite for giving extra powers to Eurojust, but instead could see that the EU’s energies could be better focused on ensuring the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) was well equipped to support member states in implementing the asylum legislation and helping those under asylum pressure. In the UK’s view the Council conclusions on solidarity adopted earlier this year provided the right blueprint for priorities across the asylum and migration area for the coming year.

The presidency asked member states to support its compromise text on the directive on freezing and confiscation of proceeds of crime, in order to be able to open discussions with the European Parliament. The Commission (Malmström) could not support the presidency’s text. There were three areas where it fell short of the level needed to add value to the fight against organised crime: non-conviction based confiscation needed to cover deceased persons; extended confiscation should not be limited to serious offences as defined in national law; and the protections for individuals needed to be strengthened. The Commission was, however, positive about the prospects of a good outcome to discussions with the Parliament. Most member states could support the text as a compromise for the purposes of making progress, but acknowledged that almost all aspects of the text would be revisited in trilogue, as the Commission had suggested. The UK reiterated the conflict between the non-conviction based provision

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and the criminal law legal base of this instrument. The current provision would have little impact on those member states which did not have non-conviction based confiscation already, yet for the UK which had extensive civil forfeiture powers (covering a much wider range of circumstances than contemplated here) it would require those powers to be either limited or duplicated using criminal law mechanisms. That was a bad outcome for all: the provision should either be deleted or be amended so that it did not apply to those member states which already have civil forfeiture powers. The incoming Irish Presidency congratulated the current presidency on securing a general approach and looked forward to progressing what would clearly be a lively trilogue negotiation.

The presidency secured a general approach on the market abuse directive (MAD—criminal sanctions for insider dealing and market manipulation) which will enable trilogue negotiations with the European Parliament to begin. The UK has not opted in to this directive.

The presidency presented its progress report on the data protection regulation and directive. Three horizontal themes had been discussed: the number of delegated and implementing acts; the risk of disproportionate administrative burdens on data controllers; and the different issues arising for the public and private sector. These issues were linked to the choice of legal instrument (regulation or directive) which would need to be addressed later. The UK urged other member states to look hard at the potential impact of the regulation on business and jobs. The presidency concluded that the Data Protection Working Group should look at strengthening the risk-based approach, and that the question of flexibility for the public sector should be reassessed upon conclusion of the group’s first reading of the text.

A general approach was agreed for the regulation on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters, with the presidency noting that the UK parliamentary reservation was still in place. Trilogue discussions will now take place alongside further negotiations on some remaining issues and additional recitals.

The presidency updated delegations on continuing discussions on the proposal for a directive on the protection of the Union’s financial interests through criminal law. The presidency and the Commission were confident there would be a quick conclusion under the Irish Presidency. The UK, supported by a number of other member states raised the concern that the legal base of this instrument still had not been resolved.

There was an orientation debate on the proposed regulation on the European account preservation order. There was general agreement on the importance of providing sufficient safeguards to the debtor although exactly how that is to be done has yet to be agreed. Many delegations underlined that the regulation should only apply cross-border and flagged the importance of the necessity for the order to be issued by a Court. Ireland confirmed that this dossier would be a priority during their presidency. The UK did not opt in to this proposal, but is playing a full-part in the negotiations; with a view to a possible post-adoption opt in.

The presidency presented their guidelines for further work on the proposals on matrimonial property regimes and the property consequences of registered partnerships. Discussion centred on whether the dossiers should be negotiated in parallel or whether there should be a focus on the matrimonial property regimes proposal. The

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presidency concluded that broad support for the guidelines existed and invited the working party to continue negotiations. The UK has not opted in to these proposed regulations, and has no plans to opt in post-adoption.

In updates on the main legislative files the presidency reported that the second trilogue on the European investigation order had been cancelled. Negotiations on the access to a lawyer directive had also stalled, as the European Parliament were not able to proceed at the same pace as the Council. Discussions will continue under the Irish Presidency. Lastty on the Justice Financial Instruments 2014-20, good progress was being made in discussions with the European Parliament.

The Council endorsed the report of the working party on e-law (e-justice) and the working party was encouraged to continue to make progress and report to COREPER in the first half of next year. The presidency noted in particular the communications strategy which would increase visibility of the e-justice portal.

Under non-legislative activities, the EU drugs strategy (2013-20) was discussed. The presidency thanked the experts who had drafted the strategy for having created an evidence-based, balanced strategy. The strategy would be implemented through two action plans—the Irish presidency would be responsible for the first and underlined that it would be a priority for them under their presidency. The Commission indicated it would present a legislative proposal during the course of next year to limit new psychoactive substances (legal highs).

The presidency also provided a state of play update on the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights. The presidency underlined that during its term it had undertaken intensive discussions on the internal rules in Brussels in parallel with progressing negotiations in Strasbourg. The Commission underlined that it was determined to move forward; it was confident that solutions to difficult issues could be found and accepted that the internal rules were necessary to make accession operational in practice.

The presidency provided an update on the multi-annual financial framework for the agency for fundamental rights. Approval of the multi-annual framework proposal will be put to the European Parliament at the plenary on 13 December. The presidency noted that the UK had to maintain its parliamentary scrutiny reservation and accordingly proposed that the Council make a request to the FRA to undertake the projects set out in its 2013 annual work programme, which was developed with reference to the current MAF, until this reserve was lifted. To this end the presidency has developed Council conclusions. The UK will positively consider the Council conclusions and the presidency concluded that it had broad support. The Council conclusions would be considered by the relevant working group and the presidency hoped they would be agreed before end of the year.

Draft Anti-Social Behaviour Bill

The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr Jeremy Browne): I am today publishing a draft Anti-Social Behaviour Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny by the Home Affairs Select Committee. I would like to thank the Chair for agreeing to undertake this scrutiny and look forward to receiving his report in the new year. It is

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important that those who are affected by these changes, from the professionals who will use the new powers to victims seeking protection from targeted abuse, continue to shape the reforms, making sure that we get this right first time.

Everyone has the right to feel safe in their own homes and neighbourhoods, but for too many people anti-social behaviour remains a fact of life. The consequences can be devastating, which is why we are putting victims first by taking forward measures in our anti-social behaviour White Paper that will support local areas to:

Focus the response to anti-social behaviour on the needs of victims;

Empower communities to get involved in tackling anti-social behaviour;

Ensure professionals are able to protect the public quickly through the introduction of faster, more effective powers and proposals to speed up the eviction of the most anti-social tenants; and

Focus on long-term solutions.

The draft Bill includes these more effective powers, and also two important new measures to help focus the response to anti-social behaviour on the needs of victims:

The community trigger—will give victims and communities the right to require agencies to deal with persistent anti-social behaviour that has previously been ignored. The trigger could be activated by a member of the public, a community or a business if repeated complaints about anti-social behaviour have been ignored.

The community remedy—will give victims of low-level crime and anti-social behaviour a say in the punishment of offenders out of court. This means victims will get justice quickly, and the offender has to face immediate and meaningful consequences for their actions.

The draft Anti-Social Behaviour Bill can be viewed on the Home Office website and copies are also available in the Vote Office.

Justice

Judicial Review

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling): Following my written ministerial statement to the House on 19 November 2012, Official Report, column 22WS, I have today laid and published a paper (Cm 8515) proposing a set of reforms of judicial review on which we are seeking views.

The paper sets out a range of proposals designed to tackle the burden that the growth in judicial review applications has placed on stretched public services. The Government recognise that judicial review should remain an essential means of holding authorities to account and ensuring that decisions are lawful, and is committed to ensuring that access to justice and the rule of law are protected. We are however keen to seek views on how the process might be improved, and the proposals focus on the procedural aspects of judicial review in three areas.

First, we are seeking views on reducing the time limits for bringing a judicial review relating to procurement or planning, bringing them into line with the appeal

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timetable which already applies to those cases. More generally, we also see merit in clarifying the point at which the time-limit begins for any case with a continuing or series of breaches that give rise to the claim.

Secondly, we are seeking views on removing the right to an oral renewal where a judge refuses permission where there has been a prior judicial process, or where the claim was judged to be totally without merit. The right to appeal to the Court of Appeal would be on the papers.

Thirdly, we are seeking views on the introduction of a new fee for an oral renewal so that fees charged in judicial review proceedings better reflect the costs of providing the service. If the oral renewal is successful, the fee for post permission stages would be waived.

Together, these provide a balanced, practicable and targeted approach to ensure that legitimate claims are brought more quickly and efficiently to a resolution without affecting the right to properly hold the Executive and other public bodies to account.

The engagement exercise will close on 24 January. We will consider the responses to the paper carefully and will consult with the judiciary before taking decisions on any action, and we will publish a Government response as soon as possible in the new year, setting out those proposals we intend to take forward.

Transport

Accessibility and Equality (Action Plans)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I am today pleased to be publishing the Department’s accessibility action plan “Transport for Everyone: an action plan to improve accessibility for all”, and, for comment, a draft equality action plan.

Much has already been achieved in making transport more accessible, and the accessibility action plan seeks to address the challenges that remain. In doing so, we also want to draw on the success of the Olympic and Paralympic games, which demonstrated what can be done to provide those using our public transport system with a positive experience.

The accessibility action plan focuses not only on improving physical accessibility, but also on providing better information for the traveller, and on improving attitudes and behaviour, especially towards disabled passengers.

In identifying our priorities in the action plan, we have worked with a large number of representative organisations, individuals, transport operators and local authorities. I am grateful for the support and input that they have provided. We want transport to be accessible by all and the plan moves us further towards that goal.

The equality action plan presents some of the activities we are undertaking to meet our duties under the equalities legislation, and provides an initial set of priorities for promoting equality and well-being, based on the evidence we have gathered and the engagement we have already had with transport organisations and other interested parties. We are seeking comments on this initial draft and will publish a final version following further engagement.

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Motoring Services Strategy

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): I am today announcing the publication of a consultation document on the Department for Transport’s motoring services strategy. In line with the Government’s broader vision for public services as set out in the civil service reform plan, the Open Public Services White Paper and the Government digital strategy, the Department is outlining broad reform proposals for its four motoring services Executive agencies:

Driving Standards Agency (DSA)

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)

Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA)

Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA)

The strategy sets out three principles for the future:

Putting consumers and businesses at the heart of what we do.

Rationalising the number of bodies and agencies involved in the delivery of our services.

Working more closely and collaboratively with our partners to deliver services, and boost economic growth by creating opportunities for small and medium-size businesses.

To do this we will:

Maximise the digital delivery of services to motorists and improve the customer experience. We will also ensure that those who find access to digital services difficult are supported to do so.

Reform the Vehicle Certification Agency which provides high quality and trusted service to the automotive industry and is recognised for its quality and integrity. We will look at ways to help VCA to grow and contribute more to the wider economy.

Explore ways to improve the convenience to customers of the driving test by looking at the locations from which we deliver them.

Transform HGV, bus and coach testing by expanding joint ventures and collaboration with private sector providers, and reducing the number of Government-owned test stations.

Rationalise the number of agencies and reconfigure our organisations to reduce cost and improve consistency.

We are inviting views and responses from as broad a range of organisations and users of our services as possible This will include road users, businesses, trade associations, road safety groups, transport associations and others. Improving the way we engage with and listen to them will help to design better services.

The consultation will run until 7 March 2013.

Motorists Forum Recommendations

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): I am today publishing the Government’s response to the Motorists’ Forum sub-group report recommendations.

The Motorists Forum has set out a raft of recommendations aimed at making sure motorists have the best possible consumer experience when having their vehicles serviced or repaired in the report released today. The Department for Transport (DFT) and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) have worked closely together to produce the Government response.

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The car service and repair sector is worth around £6.9 billion per year to the Great Britain economy with 150,000 MOT tests taking place every working day. The garage industry is important both to transport policy (especially road safety) and as part of a wider landscape of consumer affairs. It is important that consumers feel confident in the quality and the value for money of the services they are receiving from garages. The Motorists Forum’s report has offered some useful proposals for how this can be achieved more consistently.

I welcome the work carried out by the Motorists Forum and believe the recommendations we plan to adopt will help build on existing best practice in the industry and encourage garages to improve customer services, without the burden of extra legislation. The recommendations we will be adopting will promote the wider adoption of self-regulation (OFT-TSI) codes of practice by garages and encourage greater publication of information regarding the services they offer. As of November this year we have already introduced the requirement to have vehicle mileages printed on MOT certificates to help combat “clocking”.

The DFT and BIS will now use their strong relationships with the garage industry and stakeholders to promote the adopted recommendations.

The Motorists Forum sub-group report and the Government’s response can be found on the gov.uk website.

Work and Pensions

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mr Mark Hoban): The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 6 December 2012 in Brussels.

There were public discussions on the posting of workers enforcement directive and Europe 2020. The debate on posting of workers showed a split in member states position on the key articles. The file will now be considered in parallel by the European Parliament and Council in the new year. On Europe 2020, Ministers broadly welcomed the Commission’s youth employment package. The UK stressed that the youth guarantee needed to reflect the dynamics of national markets. Ministers also held an informal exchange of views on the newly adopted proposal for women on company boards.

The Council adopted a progress report on the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF). There was some support for the continuation of this fund in the next programming period. The UK disagreed, arguing that the fund should be discontinued.

The Council noted the presidency’s report on the state of play of the programme for social change and innovation (PSCI), Council conclusions on violence against women, the Council declaration of the European year 2012 of active ageing and a progress report on the equal treatment directive.

Under any other business, the Council noted presidency updates on supplementary pension rights and the EU fund for the most deprived. The presidency provided information on conferences held during the Cyprus Presidency. Finally, the Irish delegation outlined the work programme of their forthcoming presidency.

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Workplace Pension Reform

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): Later today the Government’s response to the consultation on the 2013-14 review and revision of earning thresholds for automatic enrolment will be published, and I will place a copy in the Libraries of both Houses.

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These papers will also be available later today on the Department’s website at: www.dwp.gov.uk/consultations.

It is intended to lay an order before Parliament in the new year which will include the following:

£9,440 for the automatic enrolment earnings trigger;

£5,668 for the lower limit of the qualifying earnings band;

£41,450 for the upper limit of the qualifying earnings band.