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We recognise that spousal bereavement is a life-changing event. Emotionally, socially, economically, bereaved people face the task of re-establishing themselves and adjusting to their new circumstances. We know that this journey varies considerably according to personal circumstance, with people drawing on a wide range of support mechanisms to get them through. Bereavement benefits form an important part of the state safety net at this time.
But these benefits have fallen outside the recent reviews of the wider welfare system. Indeed, they have rarely undergone any kind of critical scrutiny to establish whether they provide effective support after the loss of a spouse or civil partner.
To address this we are today publishing a consultation paper on the future of bereavement benefits. We are seeking views on how in the future these payments should support those of working age who suffer the loss of a husband, wife or civil partner. We are aware we need to strike a balance between providing appropriate support at a critical time, whilst encouraging those of working age to support themselves and their families through employment when they feel able to do so.
Payments made under the War Pensions Scheme or Armed Forces Compensation Scheme will not be affected by this review. The review will not impact those already in receipt of bereavement benefits at the point at which a new scheme is introduced.
Further details will be available on the Department for Work and Pensions website at http://www.dwp.gov. uk/consultations/2011/bereavement-benefit.shtml.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My honourable friend the Minister of State (David Lidington) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement: I attended the General Affairs Council (GAC) in Brussels on 5 December.
The GAC was chaired by the EU presidency, Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, Secretary of State for European Affairs of Poland. A provisional report of the meeting and all conclusions adopted can be found at: http://www. consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/press data/EN/genaff/126578.pdf.
In a public session, Ministers noted the presidency's report on MFF which can be found at: http://register .consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/11/st17/st17448-re01.en11.pdf.
The Commissioner for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration, Maros Sefcovic, presented the Commission's work programme for 2012 (see link below). The report cites restoring the EU's economy as its top priority. http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/11/st17/st17394.en11.pdf/
Commissioner Sefcovic also outlined key elements of the 2012 Annual Growth Survey (see link below). The incoming EU presidency, Denmark, added that they would hold a series of bilateral discussions with member states on the report in January 2012. http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/11/st17/st17229. en11.pdf.
In its conclusions (see link at the beginning of this statement) the council reiterated the importance of the enlargement process in generating far-reaching political and economic reform and securing stability and democracy; and looked forward to developing a new approach towards those negotiating chapters dealing with judiciary and fundamental rights and justice, freedom and security, tackling them early in the enlargement process. The council welcomed Turkey's continued commitment to the negotiation process and the political reform agenda, and, with strong support from me, positively noted the Commission's proposal for a positive agenda with Turkey in support of negotiations. The council welcomed the successful completion of accession negotiations with Croatia, whilst also highlighting the need for continued efforts to reform further where necessary, and looked forward to the signature of the accession treaty in the margins of the December European Council.
On the western Balkans, I reiterated the UK's strong commitment to the future of all countries of the western Balkans being in the EU once the required conditions are met. Discussion was particularly focused on Serbia and Kosovo. On Serbia, the council agreed
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The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): The Justice and Home Affairs Council is due to be held on 13 and 14 December in Brussels. My right honourable friend, the Home Secretary (Theresa May), my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Justice (Kenneth Clarke MP) and the Scottish Solicitor General, (Lesley Thomson) will attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed:
The council will begin in mixed committee with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (non-EU Schengen states). There will be an update, supported by a written report, on the Commission-led project to implement the central element of the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II); the UK will continue to reiterate its support for the continuation of the current SIS II project.
There will also be a state of play on certain issues regarding the draft regulation amending Council Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 which lists the third countries whose nationals must be in possession of visas when crossing the external borders and those whose nationals are exempt from that requirement. The UK is not bound by this regulation as we do not participate in the migration aspects of the Schengen acquis.
The presidency will invite an exchange of views by member states on the EU response to increased migration pressures. This item builds on discussions at the last two councils; it will include combating illegal migration in the context of migration flows from the Southeast (including Greek-Turkish border) and the southern Mediterranean. The UK supports increased efforts to combat illegal flows across the external border and within the EU, including closer co-operation between Frontex, the European Asylum Support Office and Europol. We believe this should be linked to further work upstream in countries of origin and transit, using the tools of the EU's global approach to migration, as well as joint efforts to combat the abuse of free movement.
Over lunch the presidency will seek a steer from Ministers on the key issues blocking negotiations regarding Schengen governance, namely the choice of legal base
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In both mixed committee and main committee there will be a presentation by the Commission and first exchange of views on proposals for new JHA funding programmes under the multiannual financial framework (MFF) 2014-20. The package includes a communication and proposals for four regulations establishing a new Internal Security Fund and the Asylum Migration Fund (AMF). Whilst the Government welcome the flexibility and potential efficiency that will be offered from merging the six existing funding programmes into two programmes, we are concerned about the size of the overall budget proposed by the Commission. We will also need to consider our participation under the JHA opt-in arrangements.
The presidency will seek support for its proposal on a process for early warning, preparedness and management of asylum crises. Instead of a clause allowing transfers under the Dublin Regulation to be suspended, the proposal would envisage a provision in the Dublin Regulation requiring member states to provide data about their asylum system to the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and for action plans to be drawn up if it appears that their systems may be facing difficulties. The Government can support this in principle provided the action plans are drawn up by the member states themselves, acting through EASO, and not by the Commission.
The Commission will then present its proposals on the global approach to migration and mobility. The current global approach provides the overarching framework for much of the EU's work with third country partners on migration. The UK welcomes the Commission's proposals for a renewed global approach, which should provide additional opportunities to work in conjunction with EU and international partners on migration, including combating illegal immigration. While we welcome a more comprehensive global approach, it is essential that it remains non-binding, and allows member states to decide on participation in various initiatives on a case-by-case basis. The Government will continue to ensure that any participation is compatible with the UK's immigration policy.
The presidency may attempt to secure agreement on the date for the removal of controls on Bulgaria and Romania's sea and air borders with countries in the Schengen area. This is dependent on the outcome of discussions at the European Council on 9th December. The UK will not have a vote at this council on this issue as it concerns borders elements in which we do not participate.
The council will be presented with a package of counter terrorism (CT) items covering the EU Action Plan on combating terrorism, the EU CT strategy and the report on the implementation of the strategy on terrorist financing. The UK welcomes the work that is being done at an EU level to mitigate the terrorist threat in particular the work around data sharing and aligning internal and external CT activities. It will be important moving forward that the member states stay focused on the implementation of the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) and air cargo security action plans.
The presidency will want to adopt the council decision and to sign the EU-US passenger name records (PNR) agreement, which was published on 24 November. The agreement will provide an unequivocal basis in EU law for the transfer of PNR data by EU-based carriers to the US Department of Homeland Security. The Government support this proposal and have agreed to waive our treaty rights to three months consideration of opt-in so that the council can proceed without us. However, the text remains subject to scrutiny in Parliament and we have therefore not exercised our opt-in in order to give the committees an opportunity to consider the agreement.
There will be a discussion on cross-border itinerant criminality. The issue of mobile itinerant organised crime groups was identified as one of the eight EU crime priorities for 2012-13 and is being addressed as one of eight projects under the EU policy cycle (on tackling organised crime), being overseen by the Standing Committee On Operational Co-Operation on Internal Security (COSI). The UK has decided not to participate in this project at this time as the UK does not focus on itinerant criminals as a distinct group (itinerant groups do not feature in the UK threat assessment as we consider all organised crime by crime type and threat area).
The justice day will begin with the presidency seeking to obtain general agreement on the provisions of the proposed regulation on succession and wills. As the UK has not opted in to this proposal it will not participate in any vote on these guidelines.
The presidency will also be looking to reach agreement on certain elements of the proposal to modify the regulation on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (Brussels I). The regulation lays down rules governing the jurisdiction of courts and the recognition and enforcement of cross-border judgments in civil and commercial matters in the member states. The Government opted-in to the proposal in March.
Next there will be a debate of specific issues of the regulation on an EU common sales law. This proposal was presented at the October JHA Council where the Commission confirmed it would offer an alternative contract law regime that would form part of the law of each member state but would not harmonise national contract law systems.
The council will discuss the European Investigation Order (EIO). The EIO is a draft directive aimed at streamlining the process of mutual legal assistance between participating EU countries. The UK has opted in. The presidency will be seeking to reach a general approach (agreement) on the EIO. A partial general approach to Articles 1-18 was achieved at the June JHA Council. There have been significant improvements to the original draft of the EIO and we are considering our position in relation to the current text. The EIO also remains subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
There will then be a debate on the draft directive on establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime. The presidency will be looking to agree a general approach and a scrutiny waiver has been granted by both Houses.
The presidency will then provide an update regarding the draft directive on the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings and on the right to communicate upon arrest. This is the third proposal on the EU's criminal procedural rights roadmap which sets minimum standards for the rights of the defence. This presidency also gave an update on this directive at the October JHA Council.
Next, the Commission will present proposals for two new funding programmes in the area of justice, rights and citizenship for the period 2014-20. These are to replace the existing funding programmes in the current fundamental rights and justice framework. The overall objectives of the proposed justice programme are to promote judicial co-operation in civil and criminal matters, facilitate access to justice and to prevent and reduce drug supply and demand, while the objective of the rights and citizenship programme is to contribute to the creation of an area where the rights set out in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and in the Charter of Fundamental Rights are promoted and protected.
Finally the presidency will be providing a state of play update to council on the negotiations on EU accession to ECHR. The negotiating mandate was agreed at the JHA Council in June 2010, and a draft version of an accession agreement was produced by experts with knowledge of the convention system in June 2011. This is now subject to further consideration.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My honourable friend the Minister of State for Children and Families (Sarah Teather) made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am today confirming the funding available for schools in England in 2012-13, through the pupil premium and what this means in terms of funding per pupil. The pupil premium targets additional money at pupils from the most deprived background to help them achieve their full potential.
The Government have decided that eligibility for the pupil premium in 2012-13 will be extended to pupils who have been eligible for free school meals (FSM) at any point in the past six years. Earlier this year we consulted on options for extending the coverage of the pupil premium. As a group, children who have been eligible for FSM at any point in time have consistently lower educational attainment than those who have never been eligible for FSM. Up to £50 million of the £1.25 billion will be used to support a summer school programme to help the most disadvantaged pupils make the transition from primary to secondary school. This approach received the highest support with 44 per cent of those responding backing its introduction.
Increasing overall funding for the premium next year to £1.25 billion will enable the coverage of the premium to be extended to a further half a million pupils, while at the same time increasing the level of
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Schools will have the freedom to spend the premium, which is additional to the underlying schools budget, in a way they think will best support the raising of attainment for the most vulnerable pupils.
To ensure transparency and accountability, schools will be required from September 2012 to publish online information about how they have used their pupil premium allocations. New measures will be included in the performance tables that will capture the attainment of pupils covered by the pupil premium.
We will continue to provide the pupil premium for children in care who have been looked after for more than six months, recognising that they need additional support to help them raise their educational achievement.
We will also continue to provide a premium for children of parents in the armed services, who face particular challenges. The level of this service child premium will be £250 in 2012-13, up from £200 in 2011-12.
These products can be found online at: http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/adminandfinance/financialmanagement/schoolsrevenuefunding.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove) made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I established the review in March this year. Chaired by Mrs Coates, principal of Burlington Danes Academy, it brought together leading head teachers, teachers and other educational experts. The review was tasked with establishing new standards that are clear, unequivocal and easy to use, and which can support teachers' professional development and performance management.
The review's first report, submitted to me on 14 July 20111, recommended that a single new set of teachers' standards should be established to replace the existing standards for qualified teacher status and the core professional standards. I accepted those recommendations, and the new teachers' standards will come into effect in September 2012.2
The Government welcomed Mrs Coates's recommendations to establish streamlined new teachers' standards that set out very clearly and concisely the elements of high-quality teaching that should be expected of every teacher. The new standards place a welcome emphasis on the importance of good subject knowledge, behaviour management, and meeting the needs of pupils of all abilities and aptitudes. We are committed to raising the quality of teaching in all our schools, so that pupils and their parents can be confident that they are receiving the highest quality education. Clear and rigorous standards play an important role in ensuring that high quality of teaching that all should expect.
The review's second report is now recommending that the existing post-threshold, excellent teacher and advanced skills teacher standards should be discontinued as standards. Further, the review recommends that a new master teacher standard should be introduced to define the characteristics of the most effective classroom teachers.
We welcome the proposal to establish a new standard that identifies and recognises those teachers who are demonstrating excellent practice in the classroom, and who are making the most significant positive impact on their pupils. The proposal of a single master teacher standard has the potential to bring much greater simplicity and clarity to what is at present a complex and highly bureaucratic system of standards.
My department will now take forward further work to explore the implications of discontinuing the current post-threshold, excellent teacher and advanced skills teacher standards. This will include asking the School Teachers' Review Body to consider the implications for teachers' pay.
The first and final reports of the review are published on the Department for Education's website: http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/reviewofstandards.
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