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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Treasury

Office of Tax Simplification: Unapproved Employee Share Schemes

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): The Government launched the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) in July 2010 to provide independent advice on simplifying the tax system.

The OTS has today published the final report of its review of unapproved employee share schemes, commissioned by the Government on 5 July 2011.

The Government asked the OTS to carry out a two-stage review of employee share schemes. The first stage of the review looked at the four tax-advantaged schemes. This was completed in March 2012 and the Government gave their response at Budget 2012. Following consultation, autumn statement 2012 announced a package of simplifications, most of which will take effect during 2013.

The OTS has now completed the second stage of its review, focused on unapproved schemes (those that do not benefit from tax advantages). The Government will make their initial response to this report in the Budget, on 20 March 2013.

Electronic copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Energy and Climate Change

Warm Front and Energy Company Obligation

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): The Warm Front scheme has been an important policy in tackling fuel poverty among private sector households in England though the installation of a range of heating, insulation and other energy efficiency measures. The scheme was introduced in 2000 and has helped around 2.3 million households vulnerable to fuel poverty. The 2010 comprehensive spending review announced that 2012-13 would be the last year of Warm Front’s operation.

The scheme will close to new applications on Saturday 19 January 2013 to allow time for qualifying applications to be completed, as far as reasonably practicable, before the end of the financial year. All applications received before 5pm on that day will be processed under the scheme. Warm Front is closing only to new applications. Aftercare services for households assisted will continue.

For households seeking help and support once Warm Front is closed to new applications, the energy company obligation (ECO) is already available. Anyone calling the Warm Front telephone line to make a new application after 5pm on 19 January will be directed automatically towards ECO.

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ECO came into force on 1 January 2013 and works alongside the green deal, with the aims of saving carbon by supporting energy efficiency measures in harder to treat homes and enabling the installation of efficient boilers and insulation into the homes of vulnerable people across Great Britain. Part of the ECO is specifically targeted at a wider group of low-income households than Warm Front, helping them to keep warm and save money on energy bills. A referrals system is already operational for people who call the ESAS helpline. This checks customer eligibility against the benefit based criteria for ECO affordable warmth support. Relevant customers will then be put in contact with suppliers participating in the ECO who will then provide a guaranteed minimum package of assistance under this obligation. Householders should therefore contact the energy saving advice service (ESAS) for advice and access to ECO.

Furthermore, we have taken steps to ensure that we make maximum use of the full budget for capital spending on fuel poverty. As set out in a written ministerial statement to Parliament on 15 January 2013, Official Report, column 29WS, DECC is awarding some £31 million of capital funding to support 61 outstanding local fuel poverty projects, helping 169 local authorities across the country improve the thermal efficiency of homes in their area.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council (December)

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): I represented the UK on agricultural matters and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), represented the United Kingdom on fisheries items. Richard Lochhead MSP, Michelle O’Neil MLA and Alun Davies AM were also part of the United Kingdom delegation.

Fisheries

The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, gave an oral statement on the elements of the fisheries negotiations at the December Council which directly affected UK interests on Tuesday 8 January.

Black sea fishing opportunities for 2013 were also agreed at the Council. Bulgaria and Romania supported a roll-over of the TAC for sprat and resisted a Commission proposal to reduce the TAC for turbot. They successfully argued that, given the fishing interests of non-EU countries in the Black sea, the only long-term solution was better regional management.

Agriculture

The Council welcomed the presidency’s CAP reform progress report and was generally able to accept it as a balanced assessment of the debate on the four main CAP reform proposals. Member states raised common issues they felt are still debatable or important to them. The most common was greening; with most member states happy with the direction of discussion and, with

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a bit more flexibility, an agreement could be reached. The feeling on internal convergence of direct payments is that it could be phased in over a longer period. On market management issues, some member states called for a “more effective” safety net and for production restrictions to be maintained for wine, sugar and, to a lesser extent, milk. For the UK, in particular I highlighted that there needed to be further work to simplify the proposals for farmers and national administrations, and cautioned against moves to diverge from a more market-oriented approach to CAP reform.

Any Other Business

Wine

The Commission presented two reports. One concerned the implementation of the 2008 wine reform, noting that the many objectives set out had been met and the sector was on a better competitive footing as a result, but also suggested some minor adaptations and improvements to the regime and its operation. The second outlined conclusions of the high-level group on vine planting rights, with suggestions pointing to a way forward that might see the development of a “planting authorisations” framework which was controlled by producers rather than member states. I argued that it was important to stick to agreements in previous rounds of CAP reform, including phasing out vine planting rights by 2018. This would provide certainty to businesses and generate the confidence to invest.

Coupled Support

Several central and eastern European countries presented a joint paper calling for the option of providing more coupled support in new member states than provided for in the Commission’s CAP reform proposal. The Commission noted that this would be dealt with during negotiations.

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Sugar Levy Repayment

Germany requested the Commission expedite legislation to establish a legal basis for recalculation of historic sugar levies paid by producers in order to repay them, including interest, following a recent ECJ case ruling the existing provisions illegal. The UK and other member states supported Germany. Belgium and France called for the interest to be paid from Community funds. The Commission responded with a two-stage approach. It would soon publish an information note, and follow this up with draft legislation which would contain a retrospective revaluation of levies from 2001-06.

Milk Quota

The Commission presented its second report on the dairy market situation, which concludes that the conditions are in place for a smooth phasing out of the milk quota system in 2015. The report found that the market was functioning well with overall EU production below quota. I welcomed the Commission’s conclusions. Six member states had exceeded their quota and were thus subject to a “super-levy” in 2012. They disagreed with the Commission’s report and called for measures to help their farmers. Some member states also called for a re-examination of the decision to end milk quota.

Trade in Exotic Animals

The presidency reported on the recent international conference on the movement of exotic animals. In response the Commission noted its intention to bring forward a legislative proposal in this area.

Incoming Irish Presidency Priorities

The Irish Agriculture Minister (Simon Coveney) set out his determination to reach a CAP reform deal in June if possible. He urged Ministers to start proper negotiations and move away from repetitive restatements of national positions. The MFF notwithstanding, he hoped the Council could reach an agreed position in March to allow negotiations with the European Parliament to begin.