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Written Statements

Tuesday 4 December 2012

EU: Competitiveness Council

Statement

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint): The EU Competitiveness Council will take place in Brussels on 10 and 11 December 2012. I shall represent the UK on internal market and industry issues on 10 December, and my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Universities and Science (David Willetts) will represent the UK on research issues on 11 December.

The internal market and industry substantive agenda items on 10 December will be: a progress report on recognition of professional qualifications; a general approach on the public procurement package; an orientation debate/general approach on the Union customs code (recast); a partial general approach establishing an action programme for customs in the European Union for the period 2014-20; a presidency report on the state of play of the accounting directive; a presidency report on the state of play and endorsement of the final package on the unitary patent and international agreement on the unified patent court; a policy debate on modernisation of state aid rules; a presentation by the Commission, adoption of a council resolution and adoption of council conclusions on customs policy (concerning the EU action plan on intellectual property rights, EU customs action plan to combat intellectual property rights infringements for the years 2013-16 and progress on the strategy for the evolution of the customs union respectively); adoption of council conclusions on Single Market Act II; adoption of council conclusions on industrial policy; and; a discussion on CARS 2020—an action plan for a competitive and sustainable automotive industry in Europe.

Five AOB points will be discussed; a presentation by the Commission on the European semester/annual growth survey 2013; information from the presidency on resolution of consumer disputes; information from the presidency on a consumer programme 2014-20 and information from the Commission on the 8th consumer scoreboard.

The research substantive items on 11 December will be: a partial general approach on the Specific Programme for Horizon 2020, a progress report on the research and training programme of the European Atomic Energy Community (2014-18) complementing Horizon 2020, a partial general approach on a proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Strategic Innovation Agenda for the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), adoption of council conclusions on a reinforced European research area partnership for excellence and growth and discussion of a Commission communication on enhancing and focusing international co-operation in research and innovation.

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Three AoB points may be discussed; the state of play on ITER, results of research-related presidency conferences and ministerial meetings and the forthcoming Irish presidency’s proposed work programme.

The Government’s objectives for the council are to:

support the public procurement package for the benefits it will bring through simplification and ensure that the general approach reflects UK priorities; endorse the final package on the unitary patent and international agreement on the unified patent court;contribute to the discussion on state aid rules;confirm agreement of conclusions on customs policy, Single Market Act II and industrial policy;contribute to the discussion on CARS 2020; to agree PGAs on the Horizon 2020 Specific Programme and the EIT Strategic Innovation Agenda;to agree council conclusions on the Commission communication “A Reinforced European Research Area Partnership for Excellence and Growth”; andto contribute to discussions on the Commission communication on enhancing and focusing international co-operation in research and innovation.

Serious Fraud Office

Statement

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My right honourable friend the Attorney-General (Dominic Grieve) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), David Green CB QC, and I are today outlining details of redundancy payments agreed by the SFO under the leadership of the former director, Richard Alderman, who left office in April of this year.

The SFO's 2011-12 annual accounts, published in October, included payments made to the outgoing chief executive, Phillippa Williamson, which the National Audit Office (NAO) had deemed to be irregular as the appropriate approvals had not been obtained. It has since come to light that a further, similar arrangement had been entered into by the former director and the current director and I have therefore agreed to publish details to Parliament of all redundancy payments made by the SFO since May 2010.

As an independent body, the director of the SFO is the accounting officer for that organisation and as such is directly accountable to Parliament for the money the SFO spends. Details of redundancy payments were not disclosed to superintending Ministers by the former director. On learning of these agreements, the current director sought legal advice on whether these arrangements may be reopened and money recovered. The advice he received is that the agreements, whilst entered into without the necessary approvals, are binding on the SFO.

As set out in the 2011-12 annual accounts, the cost to the SFO of chief executive Phillippa Williamson's redundancy was between £450,000 and £475,000.

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A further redundancy agreement was entered into by Richard Alderman and will take effect in December 2012 when Christian Bailes's post as chief operating officer is made redundant. The current director has been obliged to seek and obtain the appropriate approval in relation to the exit payment. The cost to the SFO is likely to be in the range of £450,000 and £475,000 and will be noted in the 2012-13 annual accounts.

Richard Alderman received a payment into his pension scheme of £44,179.59 (under an early exit agreement) to enable his early retirement at the end of his four-year contract and the appointment of a new director.

In addition, a redundancy payment of between £25,000 to £50,000 to an individual, who operated at Senior Civil Service level, for loss of office was agreed by Richard Alderman and took effect at the end of May 2012.

An individual received a payment of between £25,000 to £50,000 under a voluntary exit scheme which was accounted for in the 2011-12 accounts. Two smaller, non-redundancy exit payments for staff below the

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Senior Civil Service have been made since May 2010 as disclosed in the 2011-12 accounts (Note 7), including one payment from the prior year (2010-11). These two payments were for termination of contracts. The total combined cost of these exits is under £31,000.

The NAO has the statutory right to inspect how the SFO spends it money and the current director is committed to working closely with it. The director has put in place controls to ensure that proper procedures are followed in future.

The publication in November of the report on case work at the SFO by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) was an important step in building the effectiveness of the SFO and showed the benefits to both the SFO and the Government of independent external inspection. It is proposed that there should be a follow-up inspection early next year. The director and I believe that the arrangements should be put on a more formal basis. I am therefore proposing to place the office on the same footing as the CPS and have agreed with the director that I will seek to legislate for statutory inspection of the SFO by HMCPSI as soon as parliamentary time allows.