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Written Statements

Thursday 2 April 2009

Business Support


The Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Davies of Abersoch): My honourable friend the Economic and Business Minister, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Ian Pearson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 14 January 2009, I informed the House that the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform intended to introduce a working capital scheme as part of the Government’s measures to enhance financial stability and support increased lending to business. Its implementation was subject to EU state aid clearance which was granted by the Commission on 24 March.

I am pleased to inform the House that on 31 March the department signed a guarantee agreement with Royal Bank of Scotland PLC (RBS) and National Westminster Bank PLC (NatWest) to provide guarantees in respect of portfolios of loans that will enable RBS and NatWest to increase their lending to UK businesses.

The agreement with RBS and NatWest is the first of its kind under the working capital scheme. It represents an important step towards achieving the Government’s aim of getting increased credit flowing to UK businesses during these difficult times.

RBS and NatWest have agreed that the capital released by their participation in the scheme will be redeployed in support of lending to creditworthy SMEs and mid-corporates. This forms part of the £16 billion of additional lending to businesses they committed to on 26 February. This additional lending commitment took effect from 1 March.

Discussions are well advanced with two other banks in relation to their participation in the scheme.

The scheme runs until 31 March 2011.

Economy: Regulation


The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Lord Mandelson): The Government have a wide-ranging regulatory reform programme which we began in 2005. Today the Government are setting out next steps to ensure future better regulation.

Given the economic situation, it is important that the Government focus on delivering real help for business now. Following the consultation launched last year, the Government have therefore decided not to implement a system of regulatory budgets at this stage. Rather we will undertake a programme of better regulation measures tailored to the present exceptional economic circumstances.

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There is clearly a need for new regulation in some areas now—such as climate change, and financial services in response to the current banking crisis. Moreover, delaying measures which businesses have already planned for can be disruptive. But during the recession and recovery we have a particular reason to look very carefully at whether we should delay planned new regulation and avoid introducing new regulation which increases burdens on business except where there is a clear case for action now. For example, the Government have already delayed implementation of legislation on display of tobacco in small shops until 2013, to help this particular retail sector.

To provide greater rigour to this process of review during the present economic downturn and with a view to economic recovery, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has decided to establish a new better regulation sub-committee of the National Economic Council. The new committee will take on the responsibilities of the Panel for Regulatory Accountability. This committee will scrutinise planned regulation and proposals for new regulation that will impact on business. The new committee will take account of the views of business in coming to its conclusions.

The Government will also be working closely with EU partners to further embed the EU better regulation agenda and to ensure the current pressures on business are taken into account when new European regulation is being considered.

From this summer, the Government will also publish a forward regulatory programme. Business will be able to plan better as the programme will include existing and possible future regulatory proposals.

In 2005, we announced that we would cut the administrative burdens of regulation by 25 per cent by May 2010, ie £3.4 billion. We have already delivered £1.9 billion and are on track to deliver on our promise. Looking forward, the Government will adopt new simplification targets for 2010-15 which will address all regulatory costs on business.

The Government will also set up a new external Regulatory Policy Committee whose role will be to advise government on whether it is doing all it can to accurately assess the costs and benefits of regulation. Building on the work of Philip Hampton, this body will also advise government on whether regulators are appropriately risk based in their work; however, it will not have the power to require changes in the behaviour of independent regulators.

Energy: EDF


The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My honourable friend the Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mike O’Brien) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 19 January (Official Report, House of Commons, col. 19WS), I informed the House of the successful completion of the EDF takeover of British Energy. On 24 September last year, my right honourable friend

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the then Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform wrote to the Business and Enterprise Select Committee to inform members of EDF's take-over offer for British Energy. I would now like to update the House regarding the sites undertaking, which was referred to in that letter, copies of which were placed in the Libraries of Parliament.

The European Commission as part of its clearance of the acquisition of British Energy received certain undertakings from EDF that are slightly different from those agreed in the sites undertaking entered into between EDF and HM Government and these are as set out in the announcement of the Commission's decision on 22 December 2008. The sites undertaking has therefore been amended to reflect these developments.

The Commission asked EDF to offer further undertakings which have had the effect that the disposal of Dungeness or Heysham should happen unconditionally soon after EDF’s takeover of British Energy has completed, rather than making the sale conditional on EDF getting planning permission to build two EPRs at each of Sizewell and Hinkley Point as was the case under the sites agreement negotiated with the Government.

Equality Bill


The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My right honourable friend the Minister for Women and Equality (Harriet Harman) has made the following Statement.

In Great Britain, we already provide protection against direct discrimination and harassment that arises because the victim is wrongly perceived to belong or subscribe to a particular race, religion or belief, or to have a particular sexual orientation. Direct discrimination and harassment arising from association with a person of a particular race, religion or belief or with a particular sexuality are also prohibited.

The Government’s response to the consultation on reform of discrimination law1, published on 21 July 2008, set out how we proposed to deal with direct discrimination and harassment based on perception and association in the Equality Bill. But we also made it clear that we would need to consider carefully the terms of the judgment of the European Court of Justice in the Colemancase2, published on 17 July 2008, before determining the final approach for the Equality Bill.

I am today announcing that we have decided to extend the prohibition against associative and perceptive direct discrimination and harassment to other strands and areas where this does not currently apply. The Equality Bill will therefore prohibit direct discrimination and harassment based on association and perception in respect of race, sex, gender reassignment, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief and age and in relation to both employment and areas beyond this, such as goods, facilities and services.

This extension will implement the Coleman judgment in Great Britain and the extension to other protected characteristics is in keeping with the aims of the Equality Bill to simplify and strengthen the law.

1 Cm 7454

2 Coleman v Attridge Law and another (Case C-303/06).

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EU: Justice and Home Affairs Council


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council will be held in Luxembourg on 6 April 2009. My honourable friend the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration (Phil Woolas), the Scottish Minister for Community Safety (Fergus Ewing) and I will attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following issues will be discussed at the council.

Justice Ministers will be asked to reach a general approach on the draft framework decision on the prevention and settlement of conflicts of jurisdiction. This instrument is intended to promote dialogue and closer co-operation between member states' competent authorities with a view to preventing double jeopardy situations.

The Commission will present a proposal to amend the 2003 council framework decision on combating the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. The revised proposal aims to tackle the challenges to the criminal law across Europe posed by the speed of change of internet-related child abuse, and issues around the management of sex offenders who travel to commit offences. The UK supports work on combating the sexual exploitation of children including the distribution of images of child sexual abuse, and measures that further enable member states to tackle sex offenders who cross borders.

The Commission will present a proposal to amend a 2002 framework decision on combating human trafficking. The original framework decision introduced an obligation on member states to have in their national laws some common minimum offences and penalties for this conduct. The Commission’s proposal will revise and update that framework decision and will need to be negotiated at working group level before it can be presented to the JHA Council for agreement. To be fully effective this instrument will need to achieve the right balance between prevention, enforcement and victim care.

The presidency will inform Justice Ministers about the conclusions of a conference that took place in Prague on 17 and 18 March on the standing of vulnerable victims in criminal proceedings.

The council will revisit the discussion on the appointment of the new Europol director since an agreement was not reached at the last council.

The presidency will seek political agreement on the directive for a single application procedure for third-country nationals. The proposed directive consists of two parts. The first would prescribe a single application procedure for a single permit for third-country nationals to reside and work in the territory of a member state. The second part would prescribe a common set of rights for third-country workers legally residing in a member state. The UK has not opted into the draft directive.

There will be a presentation to update the council on the European Security Research and Innovation Forum (ESRIF) by Mr Dragutin Mate the chairman of ESRIF and former Interior Minister of Slovenia.

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ESRIF is currently completing a report that is intended to chart the EU’s security research and innovation requirements over the next 10 to 20 years. The UK supports the objectives of ESRIF and the production of its final report.

During the Mixed Committee with Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, Ministers will be asked to report on progress in implementing the second generation of the Schengen information system (SIS II), in light of the council conclusions adopted at the last council which identified the need to resolve problems in the central system. The UK remains of the view that we need a decision in June on the future of SIS II. The council is also expected to adopt conclusions on the development of the SIRENE Bureaux. These are not relevant to the UK since they concern arrangements for the operation of the current Schengen information system, to which the UK is not a party.

The presidency will present to the Mixed Committee the current state of play on the implementation of the regulation establishing the visa information system (VIS). The UK does not participate in that regulation.

Lastly, the presidency is expected to congratulate Switzerland on the successful completion of its air borders evaluation allowing it to lift checks on persons at its air borders on 29 March 2009.

Under AOB in the main council session, there will be a presentation by the Commission on the state of negotiations relating to the EC readmission agreement with Morocco. The UK welcomes progress made by the Commission but wants to see these efforts taken forward, especially in view of the time that the mandate has been opened. There will also be a report on the state of play in relation to ratification of the EU-US extradition and mutual legal assistance (MLA) agreements. The Commission will provide Justice Ministers with an overview of the EU funds available to support e-justice. Finally, information will be provided on the visit between VP Commissioner Barrot and Czech Minister of Interior Langer to the US.

EU: Transport Council


The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Lord Adonis): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Geoff Hoon) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I attended the first Transport Council of the Czech presidency, in Brussels on 30 March.

There was a progress report and policy debate on the proposed amendment to Directive 1999/62/EC on the charging of heavy goods vehicles for the use of certain infrastructures (the Eurovignette directive). Presenting its latest compromise text, the presidency explained that the draft amending directive would give member states flexibility to add an element for external costs (eg environmental or congestion) to any distance-based charges they levied on lorries. I supported the inclusion of congestion charging from the outset, and restated the UK’s opposition to earmarking of revenues.

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The council reached a general approach on an amendment to the directive on the organisation of working time in road transport. The presidency outlined its compromise text, which would allow member states to exclude self-employed road transport workers from the scope of the directive, if they wished. The text of the general approach was acceptable to the United Kingdom.

The council adopted conclusions on the intelligent transport systems (ITS) action plan, which aims to promote the increase of ITS deployment across the EU, to support cleaner, safer and more efficient road transport. The conclusions were acceptable to the UK.

The council adopted a decision endorsing the master plan for air traffic management in Europe (a part of the SESAR project for single sky implementation) and a council resolution on the master plan. Both were acceptable to the UK.

The presidency and Commission reported on the good progress made on the legislative proposals comprising the single European sky (SES) package. These are: a regulation amending the four regulations adopted in 2004 which established the single European sky; and an amending regulation extending the responsibilities of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to the safety of aerodromes, air traffic management and air navigation services. I look forward to the formal adoption of these proposals, which are an important step towards completion of the SES.

The council endorsed the recently agreed comprehensive air transport agreement with Canada. I look forward to the signature of this important agreement in the near future.

In maritime transport, there was a progress report and policy debate on a draft regulation on the rights of passengers when travelling by sea and inland waterway. The presidency outlined the aims of the draft regulation, which are to provide new rights for passengers with reduced mobility and to improve general passenger rights. I noted the progress made on this proposal and stressed that the final outcome of the negotiations should reflect an appropriate balance between the interests of passengers and those of the vessel operators.

Also in maritime transport, the council adopted conclusions arising from two recent Commission communications, Strategic Goals and Recommendations for the EU’s maritime transport policy until 2018, and an action plan with a view to establishing a European maritime space without barriers. Both sets of conclusions were acceptable to the UK.

The presidency reported on the draft regulation establishing the second Marco Polo programme. This should allow the Marco Polo programme to fully deploy its potential, and we strongly support it.

Under AOB, the Commission reported on the Galileo satellite navigation programme. It announced its plans to make two new legislative proposals, one revising the regulation which established the Galileo Supervisory Authority, and the other on policy for access to the Public Regulated Service (PRS) for Government-authorised users.

Also under AOB, the Commission presented its proposal to amend the airport slots regulation so as

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to suspend temporarily the “use it or lose it” rule for airport slots, with the aim of helping airlines in the economic downturn. This would enable the EU industry to adjust supply to falling demand. I agreed that this was a sensible short-term proposal, but stressed that it should be restricted to the summer season, and an extension should be considered only with an accompanying impact assessment looking at consumer/competition implications. I also pressed for a wider review of the slot allocation regulations to be undertaken by the Commission in 2010, to include an examination of how environmental considerations could be taken into account more fully. The Commission agreed to the UK request and underlined the temporary nature of the proposed suspension to those member states with concerns.

Over lunch, there was a discussion of the effects of the economic situation on the transport sector and measures to help mitigate the impact. I pointed to the real economic benefits secured from liberalisation of the transport sector, which are consistent with single market developments, and I emphasised that reduction of carbon emissions has to continue to be taken into account.

Housing: Building Control


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

I am today publishing a consultation document on proposed changes to the local authority (LA) building control charging regime in England and Wales.

The principle of empowering LAs to charge for carrying out their main building control functions related to building regulations has been government policy since the late 1970s. It derives from the user- pays principle and avoids putting further pressure on all those who pay council tax. The charge-setting process was devolved to individual LAs in 1999 through the Building (Local Authority Charges) Regulations 1998.

Following representations from stakeholders, we carried out a review of the charging regime and developed a number of proposals to address the perceived deficiencies and modernise the charging system. We consulted on the broad principles of the proposed approach as part of the consultation on the Future of Building Control last year and received support from the majority of respondents.

We are now seeking views on the detailed proposals which will build on the current devolved charge-setting process to LAs in order to:

introduce more flexibility and discretion, remove some restrictions and ambiguities, and enable LAs to more accurately relate their charges to the actual costs of carrying out their main building control functions (ie plan checking and inspections) for individual building projects as appropriate, thereby providing fairer charges;

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introduce more transparency into the building control charging regime, with a view to safeguarding income; andfurther improve the competitive environment within which LAs and private sector approved inspectors (AIs) compete and the standards within which they operate.

The charging proposals also reflect the fundamental changes we propose to introduce to the building control system following the Future of Building Control consultation, in particular introducing a risk assessment approach to inspection of building work.

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