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Written Statements

Monday 9 June 2008

Education and Skills Bill (Welsh Framework Powers)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): I have today issued a revised Explanatory Memorandum, following additional government amendments agreed at Report Stage in the other place, in relation to the Education and Skills Bill (Welsh Framework Powers). Copies are available in the Printed Paper Office, the Library and the Wales Office website at www.walesoffice.gov.uk.

EU: Competitiveness Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Baroness Vadera): The following Statement provides information on the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on 29 May 2008, at which I represented the UK. The meeting was chaired by Andrej Vizjak, Slovenian Minister of Economy, and Gregor Virant, Slovenian Minister of Public Administration.

The council held a debate on competitiveness and innovation in European industry, and adopted conclusions agreeing on the goal of making the EU a more dynamic and competitive, knowledge-based, safe and sustainable low-carbon economy, in order to achieve sustainable growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion. The conclusions emphasise the importance of removing barriers to innovation and reducing the fragmentation of European venture capital markets, the potential contribution of pre-commercial procurement, and the need to implement measures to fight climate change and improve the competitiveness of the metals, forest-based and defence industries. I intervened to emphasise the importance of further work to reduce the regulatory burden on small firms, to improve access to venture capital in the EU, to achieve greater energy efficiency and achieve the transition to a low-carbon economy, and to develop skills levels in the EU.

Following a presentation by the Commission on its second strategic review of the better regulation initiative, the council adopted conclusions calling for further action on impact assessment, the reduction of administrative burdens, and the simplification of EU legislation. I intervened in the debate to stress the need for a net target for burden reductions and for ambitious company law simplification proposals, including exclusions for the smallest companies.

The council took note of a progress report on the future development of an EU patent system, and held an exchange of views on progress on patent litigation and the Community patent. I intervened to note the much higher cost of patents in the EU than in Japan and the US, and to urge rapid progress to resolve outstanding concerns in order to achieve an efficient,

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cheap system as soon as possible, concentrating as a priority on efforts to improve the patent litigation system.

Under other business, the Commission gave brief progress reports on the draft toy safety directive, the Small Business Act for Europe initiative, cohesion policy strategies and programmes for 2007-13, transposition of the services directive and the draft regulation on CO2 emissions from cars. The presidency gave a brief report on the outcome of the Informal Competitiveness Council in April. Portugal made brief interventions about fees charged by the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market and the effect of rising oil prices on the EU economy.

EU: Telecoms Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Baroness Vadera): I am pleased to confirm the agenda items for which BERR has responsibility at the forthcoming Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council (Telecoms Council) in Luxembourg on 12 June 2008.

The first substantive item on the agenda is a presidency progress report on the European Commission proposals on a review of regulatory framework for electronic communication networks and services (telecoms). The Slovenian presidency is expected to pose three (written) questions in the debate:

whether the revised framework is able to incentivise investment in next generation access networks (NGN)—the successor to broadband;the extent to which regulatory bodies should be independent, and whether more consistency in the approach that national regulatory authorities (NRAs) take would be of benefit; and, Ministers’ views on the best way to achieve a common vision on spectrum management in the EU.

In addition, we envisage a discussion over lunch on the Commission’s proposal for a pan-EU Telecoms Authority.

In line with the views of both committees, the Government have never been convinced of the case of a new pan-EU regulator. I noted with interest the output of the House of Commons debate on 18 March 2008 and the conclusions of the House of Lords debate on 14 March 2008 entitled the Single Market: Wallflower or Dancing Partner? You will be reassured to know that none of my opposite numbers in other member states, or indeed the views from the European Parliament, support the Commission’s original proposals. Together with like-minded Ministers, I intend to use this discussion over lunch with Commissioner Reding to reiterate our views on the elements necessary for an independent advisory body to build upon existing arrangements and strengthen the application of the framework. My officials have been working closely with officials from the incoming French presidency in developing their alternative to the Commission’s agency proposals on which the French Minister and I will look to galvanise member state support. Essentially

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the French proposals address our concerns, and look to shape the advisory body as a much smaller entity comprising the chairs of all 27 national regulatory authorities complemented by a small permanent secretariat appropriate only to undertake the revised remit. We shall also be clear that it must have a remit to act not only at the request of the Commission but also on its own initiative; that it its roles and functions must be clearly defined; and that it must be politically independent and operate in a fully transparent manner.

Focusing on the three questions we expect the Slovenian presidency to pose, I intend to take the opportunity in response to the first of these to make an intervention on the need for this framework to be technologically neutral, and provide NRAs the necessary power, including new powers of functional separation, to promote efficient infrastructure investment in those parts of the network which are replicable, and to ensure access on non-discriminatory terms to those elements which are likely to be enduring economic bottlenecks. What we do not want is an outcome which enables member states to unfairly favour incumbents’ deployment of fibre networks by excusing them of their obligations to ensure non-discriminatory access.

On the second question, I intend to take the opportunity to emphasise the importance the UK attaches to independent regulators separated from market participants and the day-to-day pressure of politics. However, I will also push for a higher level of ambition, so that rather than focusing on achieving consistency (whether that be consistently good or consistently bad) we should be focusing on developing a process that continually raises the bar in regulatory performance across the EU. During this intervention I will also reconfirm our commitment to work with other member states to find a satisfactory mechanism of constraining a Commission veto on national market remedies to target the laggards, without constraining regulatory innovation and causing unnecessary additional hurdles in those member states which are already applying the framework with considerable success.

In addressing the last of their questions, I intend to emphasise that while it is appropriate for member states to have sufficient flexibility to support clearly defined public policy purposes, we are strongly of the view that the market is best placed to manage spectrum. I share the views, which I expect to be expressed by several Ministers, that harmonisation can bring benefits through economies of scale and interoperability. However, I will make it clear that enforced (regulatory) harmonisation runs the risk of spectrum being underused if services do not develop as expected. For this reason I believe that market-led harmonisation, achieved through a technology—and service—neutral approach, is more appropriate as it can adapt to changing market conditions and avoid inefficient use of spectrum.

I am aware of, and grateful for, both committees’ interest in this important package. I can report that in addition to instructing my officials to work closely with their opposite numbers and the European Parliament, I have held successful bilateral meetings with the French, and in advance of this council meeting will have met with Commissioner Reding and my German and Finnish opposite numbers to prepare

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the ground. I will write to you again to report on these discussions, and as requested (in both the Commons scrutiny debate on 18 March 2008 and its previous correspondence on 12 December 2007 as well as in the Lords scrutiny clearance letter of 13 May 2008) will keep both committees updates on the progress of these proposals.

Following the discussion on the framework review, there is the adoption of council conclusions on a common approach to the use of the spectrum released by digital switchover. The Commission published its communication in November, and this included a proposal for a move towards a common spectrum plan in the UHF band at EU level. While it is recognised that there are benefits to harmonisation, I intend to intervene to argue that enforced harmonisation inhibits the development of the market and that consumer-focused services are best allocated on a technology/service-neutral basis. I will welcome the council conclusions which through negotiation now reflect a non-mandatory approach to coordination between member states in the utilisation of the digital dividend.

This will be followed by the council conclusions on Europe’s digital future i2010 mid-term review. These conclusions invite member states to increase their efforts in taking forward the dossiers that are covered by the strategy, thereby enabling information society and audiovisual media services to contribute to the Lisbon strategy. I will be supporting this, but there is not expected to be any substantive discussion.

The next item is a Commission proposal for political agreement on the duration of the European Network and Information Security Agency. Currently ENISA’s mandate expires in 2009 and an extension is required to ensure its continued existence. I intend to support this proposal to ensure that there is continuity in EU network information security until final decisions have been made concerning the establishment of the European Electronic Communications Market Authority. As such, the extension of the ENISA mandate will need to be time-bounded.

The final item on the agenda concerning telecommunications relates to the recently published Commission communication on Advancing the Internet: Action Plan for the Deployment of Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) in Europe. This is essentially about how the internet community can be encouraged to adopt IPv6 addresses in place of the dwindling supply of current IPv4 ones. The detail of this is currently being considered. However, I intend to intervene to say that such deployment should be an orderly industry-led solution where the Commission and governments are supportive, rather than the primary drivers.

Flooding: Bellwin Scheme

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government (John Healey) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am satisfied that financial assistance under the Bellwin scheme is justified to cover eligible costs incurred by six councils following flooding in England in

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January 2008. A scheme will therefore be established under Section 155 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. Grant will be paid to the authorities to cover 85 per cent of their eligible costs incurred above a threshold.

The six local authorities are:

Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council;Newark and Sherwood District Council;North Lincolnshire Council;Oxford City Council;Vale of White Horse District Council; and West Oxfordshire District Council.

Immigration: Points-based System

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My honourable friend the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration and Minister for the West Midlands (Liam Byrne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Over the next year, the Government are bringing in the biggest shake-up of the immigration system for over 40 years. Today I am laying new immigration rules which complete the roll-out of tier 1 of the points-based system, introducing provisions for highly skilled migrants, entrepreneurs, investors and recent graduates from UK universities. Worldwide we will also be introducing the entrepreneur, investor and post-study work categories. This meets the target I announced last year on time. Tier 1 replaces eight former immigration categories, in line with our commitment to simplifying the immigration system.

Tier 1 will let Britain recruit the skills, assets and ideas the UK needs to remain a global leader in the fields of finance, business, and technological innovation. In particular:

tier 1 (general) is for highly skilled migrants who wish to seek work or become self-employed in the UK. The entry criteria are rigorous: applicants without qualifications at first degree level or above and a track record of highly skilled employment will not gain entry. But migrants who successfully apply will be able to seek work without being tied to a particular employer for three years. At the end of that time they will be able to extend their stay if they can show they have been successful in a highly skilled capacity; tier 1 (post-study work) provides a bridge for international graduates from their studies to work in the UK. Eligible migrants may stay on after graduation to seek work for up to two years, after which they have to switch into either a skilled or highly skilled immigration category. We believe this to be one of the most attractive staying-on schemes in the world; it will boost our economy both by enabling these graduates to remain in the UK and by making studying in the UK a more attractive prospect; tier 1 (entrepreneur) will encourage migrants to bring their business skills and ideas to the UK.

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While applicants will not need to have a minimum level of qualifications, they will be required to invest £200,000 in new or existing businesses and create at least two new jobs for workers settled in the UK; and tier 1 (investor) is for high net worth individuals making a substantial financial investment (£750,000) in the UK.

Our statements of intent for tiers 2 and 5 of the points-based system were published on 6 May. The statement of intent for tier 4 will be published by the end of the summer.

Olympic Games 2012: Legacy

Lord Davies of Oldham: My right honourable friend the Minister for the Olympics (Tessa Jowell) made the following Written Ministerial Statement on Friday 6 June.

I have today launched the Government Olympic Executive legacy action plan, Before, During and After: Making the Most of the London 2012 Games.

The document fulfils the commitment to publish a legacy action plan, following the publication of Our Promise for 2012 in June 2007. The five promises are:

to make the UK a world-leading sporting nation;to transform the heart of east London;to inspire a generation of young people;to make the Olympic Park a blueprint for sustainable living; and to demonstrate that the UK is a creative, inclusive and welcoming place to live in, to visit and for business.

The plan outlines the ways in which the Government will deliver on these promises through new programmes and the unique added value of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games to existing programmes. As such there is no discrete legacy budget; rather we are creating Olympic value by drawing together programmes from across government.

Under each promise the plan sets out between two and four headline ambitions and details the major programmes that will contribute towards achieving that aim.

A robust and transparent governance system has also been put in place to drive progress, and this will be monitored alongside the delivery of PSA 22 (Deliver a successful Olympic Games and Paralympic Games with a sustainable legacy and get more children and young people taking part in high quality PE and sport).

This is the Government’s first detailed Statement on legacy, and it is the first time that a host city has published such a document before their Olympiad has even begun. Further programmes will be created and existing programmes and ideas developed over the next four years and we will report on progress regularly.

I would like to commend this plan to the members of both Houses and thank them for their continued interest and support of the London 2012 Olympics.

Copies of the legacy action plan are available at www.culture.gov.uk and will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.


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