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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Business, Innovation and Skills

EU Competitiveness Council

The Minister for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts): My noble Friend, the Minister of State for Trade and Investment (joint with Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Lord Green, has today made the following statement:

The EU Competitiveness Council took place in Brussels on 10 and 11 December 2012. I represented the UK on internal market and industry issues on 10 December, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science (David Willetts) represented the UK for research items on 11 December. A summary of those discussions follows.

The main internal market and industry issues discussed on 10 December were: state aid modernisation; industrial policy; Customs 2020; the union customs code; unified patent and the unified patent court; Single Market Act II; public procurement; and mutual recognition of professional qualifications.

Council began with a policy debate on the Commission’s plans to modernise the state aid rules. Commissioner Almunia set out the principles of the initiative, namely a more focused and simplified regime better aligned with EU2020 objectives that better tackled market failure and enhanced EU competitiveness while protecting the internal market. All member states intervened to support the Commission’s objectives, and most then raised specific issues with the proposals. For example, there were calls for more flexible rules on the use of regional aid, changes to thresholds and matching funding. I intervened to support the Commission’s approach, welcoming the intention for scrutiny of state aid to focus on the most difficult cases, and stating the need to avoid the use of state aid to prop up uncompetitive firms or in supporting national champions. Commissioner Almunia then summarised the discussion and said he would take note of the points made.

The next item concerned industrial policy. Firstly adoption of Council conclusions on an industrial policy communication, followed by an exchange of views on CARS2020—an action plan for a competitive and sustainable automotive industry in Europe. The Council adopted conclusions on the industrial policy communication with all member states in agreement on the compromise text. The Council then debated CARS2020. The debate in Council followed on from a dinner hosted by Commissioner Tajani the evening before the Council, which was attended by Michael Fallon, Minister for Business and Enterprise. Most member states intervened on this agenda item, acknowledging the importance of the automotive sector to the EU economy, with many stressing the importance of directing investments towards research and innovation in the sector. The impact on the automotive sector with respect to free trade agreements was also raised, with some member states advocating reciprocity in negotiations. There was also support for better regulation principles in the automotive sector, and ensuring coherence in all policies impacting the sector. I intervened to welcome the Commission’s action plan, whilst stressing that it is for individual companies to make commercial decisions based on capacity and business plans, who should be able to do this without hindrance or interference.

The next substantive agenda item was a discussion on Customs 2020. The Council agreed a partial general approach on the proposed regulation, which provides a legal basis for funding the customs action programme from 2014. At our request, the Commission supported the joint Council/Commission statement confirming that provisions in the regulation fall outside of Tile V.

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Discussion then turned to the union customs code dossier. The Commission were particularly concerned to meet the June deadline for the implementation of the recast customs code. Several member states, including the UK, recognised the deadline as a challenge, expressed commitment to achieve it in terms of content and timing, but also that we should not rush to agreement. However, other member states intervened to call for a speedy resolution. The dossier will be further discussed in working groups in January.

Following lunch (there was no Council-based discussion over lunch) the Council gave political endorsement to the patent package, which consists of the regulation creating a unitary patent, the regulation on the language regime and the inter- governmental agreement that would create the unified patent court. Some member states intervened to welcome the package, and some raised a few issues with the text but did not change their position regarding endorsement of the package.

Council conclusions were adopted on Single Market Act II without comment from other member states.

The next substantive agenda item was the public procurement package, consisting of three measures to update EU public procurement rules. The main outstanding point was whether the measure governing procurements by utilities should allow the Commission to initiate reciprocal action against third counties that did not open their procurement markets. At COREPER the presidency had added articles that replicated the existing arrangements whereby the Council could agree, by qualified majority, to restrict access by third countries in certain circumstances. The UK argued that these provisions were not necessary given that a separate legislative proposal on reciprocity was being discussed by trade Ministers, but that we could reluctantly accept the proposal on the clear condition that: they went no further than what was already in EU law; they applied to utilities only (and not general public sector procurements covered by the main “classical” directive); and in forthcoming trilogues with the EP this position should not be changed. Several member states intervened in a similar way. The other elements of package were also discussed. The presidency concluded that general approaches had been agreed on all three texts.

Earlier UK gains relating to mutuals, defence and security (including the revisions to the utilities and concessions texts negotiated after COREPER) and “flexibilisation” of processes, were not challenged so remain in the general approach texts agreed by Council.

The final substantive agenda item was mutual recognition of professional qualifications, where the presidency outlined the progress made on this directive over the past six months. Main interventions by member states concerned recognition of qualifications in the healthcare sector, while other member states called for the need for flexibility to reach agreement as soon as possible.

Several AOB items were discussed at the Council. On the consumer agenda, the presidency informed the Council that they had reached a provisional first reading agreement with the European Parliament on both instruments concerning the alternative dispute mechanism directive and the online dispute mechanism regulation. The presidency also announced that agreement had been reached on all the key provisions in the consumer programme initiative (except use of delegated acts and on the financial envelope) and the Commission also summarised the findings of the recently published consumer markets scoreboard. Three AOB items related to customs were also on the agenda. The Commission presented their report on the EU action plan on intellectual property rights 2009-12, the Council adopted a resolution on an EU customs action plan to combat intellectual property rights infringements 2013-17, and the Council also adopted conclusions on evolution of the customs union. All three dossiers passed without comment. A further AOB point concerned the European semester/annual growth survey, where the Commission discussed growth priorities over the coming year. Again, this passed without comment. The final AOB point concerned the accounting directive, where the presidency reported on the progress on negotiations with the European Parliament. There were still some issues to settle, though it was hoped agreement could be reached at the next trilogue on 18 December 2012.

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On 11 December the Council opened with space agenda items, with an exchange of views on a Commission communication on the future relations between the EU and the European Space Agency (ESA). Vice-President Tajani opened the debate by noting the growing role that the EU was playing in space, highlighting Galileo/Egnos and the GMES earth observation system (now named ‘Copernicus’) as particular examples of EU action in this area, and emphasised that article 189 of the treaty on the functioning of the EU, which had introduced a union competence in space, meant that the EU was now an actor in its own right, alongside member states and ESA. Given the importance of the space sector for the EU’s future competitiveness, and as the EU relied heavily on ESA to deliver research and development on its behalf, Mr Tajani argued that the time was right to review the relationship and explore a wide range of options for improved co-operation.

During the discussion that followed the majority of member states agreed that it was appropriate to review relations, although the tone of the Commission’s communication, which focused almost exclusively on the difficulties in the existing relationship, came in for criticism from a number of quarters. A large number (led by the UK amongst others) emphasised that they valued the role of ESA and wished to maintain it as an independent intergovernmental organisation. The UK also noted that it was unfortunate that ESA had not been invited to participate in the discussion. At the end of the debate the Irish delegation confirmed that they intend to adopt Council conclusions on this issue during their presidency.

The main items discussed in the research part of the Council on 11 December were: the specific programme for Horizon 2020 (the EU’s research and innovation funding programme for 2014-20), the strategic innovation agenda (SIA) of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), the EURATOM programme in Horizon 2020, and the European research area and international collaboration in research.

The presidency sought political agreement on draft texts of the specific programme (the document which sets out the scientific content of the programme) and the EIT’s SIA. On the former, member states agreed to wording in the presidency draft designed to strengthen member state oversight of the implementation of the programme through the member state committees which oversee the various elements of the programme. Several of the newer member states sought to press for amendments which would have strengthened actions aimed at widening participation in the programme; the UK, along with other member states with strong research sectors and the Commission, successfully resisted this move, arguing that the text already included compromises in this direction and that further changes would dilute the programme’s focus on excellence. There were also discussions of the civilian nature of the programme and on the provisions concerning the funding of human embryonic stem cells. Political agreement was reached on the basis of the presidency text with two minor amendments; Malta abstained.

Political agreement was also reached on the EIT SIA.

In other business, the presidency gave a short overview of progress on the EURATOM part of the Horizon 2020 programme. The Council adopted conclusions on the European research area which underlined the importance of completing this by 2014 and Ministers held an exchange of views on international co-operation in research and innovation, based on a Commission communication on this subject.

The lunchtime discussion involved Professor Anne Glover, the EU chief scientific advisor, who outlined her role and spoke on the importance of risk assessment in policy making.

During the discussion that followed my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science (David Willetts) underlined the important role that Professor Glover, other chief scientific advisors, and Ministers had to play in improving the use of scientific evidence in the policy-making process. In too many instances policies were driven by a restrictive interpretation of the precautionary principle which obstructed innovation by confusing risk and hazard, which risk undermining the EU’s ability to innovate and compete internationally in a range of fields. His intervention was picked up by others and the Irish expressed an interest in following up on it during their presidency.

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Collective Redundancies

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): As part of the Government’s ongoing review of employment law, and in response to the red tape challenge, I have published today the Government response to the consultation on changes to the rules on collective redundancy. This sets out the Government’s decision to introduce legislative reform to those rules and new guidance by April 2013.

Consultation on the collective redundancy rules concluded on 19 September 2012 having sought views on a package to encourage better quality consultation in large-scale redundancies. We received 160 responses and held a number of focus groups. Consultees confirmed difficulties with the current rules that undermine the effectiveness of collective redundancy consultation and the ability of employers to restructure efficiently in response to market pressures.

The Government have concluded that a strong case has been made for a combination of legislative change and new guidance. We have decided to introduce a statutory change to reduce the current 90-day minimum period before very large redundancies can take place to 45 days. This change will allow businesses to restructure more effectively, and give them flexibility to respond to changing market conditions. But the 45 days will be a minimum consultation period. We received plenty of evidence to show that consultations can and do last longer than the minimum period and we expect that to continue where circumstances make this desirable.

We have also decided to legislate to exclude fixed-term contracts which have reached their agreed termination point from collective redundancy consultation obligations. The consultation demonstrated that employers, particularly in higher education institutes, struggle with existing uncertainty around whether the natural ending of fixed-term contracts triggers a requirement for collective redundancy consultation.

Legislative change will be through secondary legislation, subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. In addition, Acas will produce non-statutory guidance that addresses key contentious issues raised during consultation. The aim will be to promote good quality consultation and engagement between employers and employees.

I believe these reforms of the collective redundancy rules will strike an appropriate balance between ensuring employees are engaged in decisions about their future and allowing employers greater certainty and flexibility to take necessary steps to restructure.

Copies of the Government response have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

World Trade Organisation (Accession)

The Minister for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts): My noble Friend, the Minister of State for Trade and Investment, (joint with Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Lord Green’ has today made the following statement:

I wish to inform the House that the Government have opted in to the Council decisions relating to the accession of Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) and Tajikistan to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

In each case, opting in will help to achieve the Government’s trade policy objectives of expanding the WTO’s membership.

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The Government have supported the accession of both Lao PDR and Tajikistan to the WTO on the right terms. In acceding to the WTO, they will embrace a series of rules and commitments which form the foundation of an open, transparent and non-discriminatory global trading system which will provide important guarantees for them and for the other WTO members. Accession to the WTO will bring them more firmly into the global economy and make them more attractive places to do business.

In each case, the Council decisions have the effect of extending to the acceding countries the horizontal commitments the UK makes to all WTO members, including in the provision of services by natural persons from third countries, otherwise known as “Mode 4”. It is the presence of these Mode 4 commitments in the relevant instruments which triggers the UK Justice and Home Affairs opt-in.

Enterprise Finance Guarantee Lending

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Michael Fallon): I am today announcing the publication of enterprise finance guarantee (EFG) lending figures by individual banks.

The Government are committed to ensuring that viable small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) can obtain the finance they need for working capital and investment. EFG plays an important part in this, with over 9,900 SMEs being offered loans with a value in excess of £1 billion since May 2010.

The Government have made a number of important changes to the EFG scheme during the last 12 months. EFG loans are now available to an additional 3,800 businesses with an increase in the turnover limit from £25 million to £41 million. The maximum £1 million lifetime scheme limit has been replaced by a rolling £1 million limit. We also raised by 7%, the level of lenders EFG annual loan portfolios to which the Government guarantee applies from 13% to 20%.

This change was made to address the legitimate concern of lenders that they would breach their annual claim limit. In doing this, the Government committed to a more even share of the risk of default with the lenders, with the aim of removing that as a barrier to lending.

EFG is a demand-led scheme, accounting for 1% to 2% of overall SME lending. While utilisation is directly linked to subdued demand for credit in the wider economy, overall EFG lending levels are disappointing. There have been some positive signs, with a number of the main banks increasing EFG lending this financial year, albeit from a low level.

It is important that banks lend responsibly and make use of EFG when it is appropriate to do so, but it is clear from the EFG lending figures that a number of lenders could and should be doing more. The publication of individual bank EFG lending figures is intended to help achieve this. In parallel, we are exploring with the banks ways of flexing EFG to address debt serviceability, which is the principal reason behind loan declines. Further detail will be provided in the new year.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, already publishes a wide range of EFG lending figures, which are updated on a quarterly basis. Publication of individual EFG lending figures will further enhance this, allowing business customers to identify which banks are making most use of the scheme, and also enable participating lenders and new market entrants to identity new opportunities, thus increasing choice and competition.

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This marks a further step towards greater transparency in bank lending, specifically to SMEs. I am today announcing the publication of EFG lending figures by individual bank.


Credit Union (Maximum Interest Rate Cap)

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): The Government have today published a consultation on raising the maximum interest rate cap for credit union loans. This consultation seeks views on the proposal to increase the maximum interest rate that credit unions can charge, from 2% per month to 3% per month.

The rationale for this proposal was explained in detail in a feasibility study commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (published in May 2012), which found that credit unions are currently unable to break even on small, short-term loans. This leads to a lack of stability in the sector, which is damaging for the long-term future of credit unions.

Allowing the maximum rate of interest to increase will enable credit unions to become more stable over the long term. This means that low-income consumers will have greater access to reliable, affordable credit, without having to resort to more expensive means, such as home credit or payday lenders, or worse, illegal lenders. Even with a 1% increase in the monthly rate of interest, credit union loans will still be substantially cheaper than the alternatives for consumers with no mainstream options. It is important to note that this increase in the interest rate would be permissive; it does not require credit unions to increase the interest rate they charge but simply permits them to do so if they judge that the benefits outweigh the costs. As such, the measure eases an existing regulatory burden on credit unions.

Many credit unions are strongly embedded in their local communities and are committed to assisting those on low incomes. Research shows that credit unions often appeal to low-income consumers as bodies which are local, accessible and convenient, and which are community based. Giving credit unions more flexibility in their lending will enable them to recruit new members, and further establish their role in helping the financially excluded.

The Department for Work and Pensions, HM Treasury, and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills will continue to work closely on all aspects of the credit union expansion project including this consultation, and any consequential legislation.

I am placing copies of this consultation document in the Libraries of both Houses.

Parliamentary Scrutiny of Government Expenditure

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): In September 2010, the hon. Members for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) and for Southport (Dr John Pugh) were appointed as financial advisers to HM Treasury. The hon. Member for Gainsborough stepped down from the role of financial adviser following his appointment as Chair of the Public Accounts Commission in 2011, and the hon. Member for Southport followed suit. I am grateful for the work they undertook in this capacity.

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The MPs prepared a report in 2011 on how parliamentary scrutiny of Government expenditure could be improved. Many of the recommendations contained in the report fall within the responsibility of Parliament. However, the Treasury is working to implement the recommendation that the Government take forward plans for developing mid-year reporting by individual Departments. Work on mid-year reporting is underway and, subject to satisfactory progress, we plan to introduce mid-year reporting from 2013-14.

A copy of the report is being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Communities and Local Government

Building Regulations

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Don Foster): I am setting out today the changes that will be made to the building regulations regime in England to deliver an even better and more cost-effective way of ensuring our buildings remain safe and sustainable. The changes will deliver savings of around £50 million per year to business. In addition, legislation will also be laid before Parliament shortly to amend the energy performance of buildings regulations and to repeal unnecessary fire provisions of local Acts which overlap national provisions.

The consultation paper issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government on 31 January this year contained a range of proposals to improve the building regulations regime. I am setting out today decisions on the deregulatory changes. I am also publishing today a document providing a factual summary of the responses received. The changes have been developed after active engagement with external partners and demonstrate the Government’s ongoing commitment to ensuring that where regulation is necessary the impact on business is properly considered and the associated cost minimised. Decisions on the outstanding issues relating to the energy efficiency of buildings, on better targeting of radon protection measures and the referencing of British standards for structural design based on Eurocodes will be set out in a further statement next year. We will also set out next year the outcome of the review of the framework of building regulations and local housing standards which I announced in October.

Engagement with our external partners shows that they continue to value the national minimum standards provided by the building regulations. However, where any concerns do arise it is necessary to address them. That is why we listened to those that expressed concern with the costs associated with the electrical safety in the home provisions in part P of the building regulations. Some have even advocated that part P should be revoked as a burdensome requirement on competent electricians. We disagree—part P has been a success—but we do recognise that there is scope to streamline the requirements by removing the requirement to notify smaller-scale, lower-risk electrical work to a building control body. Currently homeowners can face building control fees of upwards of £240 to have simple electrical work, such as an additional plug socket in a kitchen, approved by a local authority. This change will see the notification requirements focused on higher-risk jobs like the installation of new circuits, or work in the vicinity of showers and

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baths, which is the right approach. There will, of course, remain a duty for these non-notifiable works to comply with the safety provisions required by the regulations and which we have also updated.

The new part P seeks to achieve a reasonable balance of risk. We will continue to monitor indicators which can help identify the impact of the changes and keep this under review. But the key to ensuring electrical work is done properly is to employ competent electricians and so the Department will continue to work closely with external partners to identify what more can be done to promote the importance of complying with the provisions of part P through use of a suitably qualified electrician. In addition, I will be bringing forward further regulations later next year that will introduce an alternative route to demonstrating compliance with part P by allowing for third-party certification of electrical work. This will safeguard standards while providing a far cheaper way of verifying work is adequate—particularly for those carrying out DIY work. These changes will be accompanied by simpler, clearer and shorter guidance in a new approved document P that we will be publishing shortly.

In addition, we will be making a number of other changes to the building regulations. We will amend the technical guidance in approved document B (fire safety). In particular, we will update guidance in respect of lighting diffusers which has grown out of date as lighting technology has changed considerably. We will also, in relation to wall coverings, be taking forward changes to mitigate problems associated with how the European reaction to fire classifications work in practice. In effect, the changes will maintain the status quo, for example, allowing wallpapers that are currently used to continue to be so in the future. Both these changes have been supported by independent research which shows there are no adverse impacts on safety.

We will also be taking forward rationalisation of guidance supporting parts M, K and N (access, protection from falling, collision and impact and glazing respectively) to address areas of conflict and overlap, which again impose unnecessary costs. At the same time we will clarify the guidance on access statements in approved document M to promote a more proportionate, risk-based approach. These changes will be delivered by clearer guidance in a new approved document K and amendment of other approved documents which I will be publishing shortly. We intend that all of these deregulatory changes will come into force on 6 April 2013.

In addition to the changes to the “technical” provisions, we have also agreed a number of improvements to the building control system. These are relatively minor changes to benefit both local authorities and approved inspectors through changes to the procedures around completion certificates, statutory notifications and removal of the “Warranty Link Rule”.

The changes to regulations also extend the scope for existing competent person scheme operators. This will allow more work to be self-certified and thereby avoid the need to notify a building control body or pay a building control charge.

In relation to the building regulations, we will also be publishing shortly a new approved document 7 which provides updated guidance on adequate materials and workmanship for building work, in particular the implications of the full implementation of the European Construction Products Regulation on 1 July 2013.

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Updated energy performance of buildings regulations will also be laid before the House shortly. These, in addition to consolidating the existing regulations, transpose the requirements of the recast energy performance of buildings directive 2010 and remove unnecessary “gold-plating”. The directive is an EU measure designed to tackle climate change by reducing the amount of carbon produced by buildings.

The new requirements will be introduced on 9 January 2013. The key measures include a requirement for property advertisements to include details of the energy performance certificate rating where available; removal of the requirement to attach the front page of the certificate to any written material; exempting listed buildings from the need to have a certificate on their sale or rent; extending the current requirement for a display energy certificate in large public buildings, to public buildings above 500m(2); and introducing a requirement for a certificate to be displayed in commercial premises larger than 500m(2) that are frequently visited by the public and where one has been previously issued.

Finally, given this statement relates to the regulation of buildings, I am informing the House that I will also shortly be laying regulations to repeal unnecessary fire provisions in 23 local Acts. The decision has been taken in the light of previous consultation which found no evidence to justify maintaining requirements which go beyond the necessary protection already afforded nationally through the building regulations, and lead to differing and inconsistent rules even within fire and rescue authority areas. Evidence does not establish any statistically significant impact on life safety. These changes are intended to come into force on 9 January 2013.

I will be placing the revised guidance in the approved documents referred to above, along with the impact assessments that accompany all of these changes, in the Library of the House when they are published shortly and alongside the summary of responses that I am placing there today.


Defence Reform Report

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): My noble friend Lord Levene of Portsoken has conducted the first annual review of implementation of his defence reform report recommendations of June 2011, and has written to me setting out his conclusions.

I welcome Lord Levene’s recognition of the strong progress made to date in implementing his recommendations, and his confidence that the delivery of the majority of them will be achieved in time to transition to a new operating model for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) in April 2013.

Some of the key changes of defence reform are already complete, such as strengthened top-level decision making and the focus on strategic direction from a newly-constituted Defence Board, which I chair. The Joint Forces Command has been established and its first commander appointed. Many other recommendations are on track for delivery by April 2013 with the implementation of the new delegated financial and military capability operating model: this will strengthen accountability and give the Service Chiefs much greater freedom to manage their resources and plan for future capability.

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A few recommendations will take longer to complete. I acknowledge that there is more to do in some areas, such as development of the whole force concept and the delivery of improved management information, and I value Lord Levene’s continued interest and focus on these important changes.

I am placing a copy of Lord Levene’s letter in the Library of the House, together with the MOD’s summary of progress against the 53 defence reform recommendations.

Red Arrow Hawk XX179 (Service Inquiry)

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr Mark Francois): I wish to inform the House of the findings of the service inquiry into the accident involving RAF Aerobatic Team Hawk T Mk 1 XX179 on 20 August 2011, in which Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging was tragically killed.

On the day of the accident, following a successful aerobatic display at Bournemouth air festival, the Red Arrows returned to Bournemouth international airport. During the formation manoeuvre to position for landing, XXI79 developed a progressively steepening downward flight path and was observed to crash in open fields south of the airport perimeter. The aircraft broke up before coming to rest in the vicinity of the River Stour.

A service inquiry was convened by the director general of the Military Aviation Authority to examine the cause of the accident and to make recommendations to prevent recurrence. The service inquiry panel has conducted an independent, thorough and objective inquiry and its report is now complete.

An executive summary of the full report has previously been provided to relevant defence stakeholders to ensure the timely dissemination of these air safety lessons. The more acute recommendations have already been implemented by the chain of command.

The coroner’s inquest into the death of Flight Lieutenant Egging has now concluded. As such, a copy of the service inquiry, redacted in accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, is being placed in the Library of the House today and on the Ministry of Defence website.

Energy and Climate Change

Oil and Gas Regulatory Regime

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr John Hayes): I am today publishing the response to the Maitland review’s recommendations on the UK’s offshore oil and gas regulatory regime.

On 20 April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, working on the Macondo well in the gulf of Mexico, exploded leading to the tragic deaths of 11 personnel and the loss of 4.9 million barrels of oil to the sea. While the offshore UK oil and gas regime is regarded as one of the strongest in the world, the Government wanted to ensure that the UK considered the findings from the official Macondo reports and their relevance to the oil and gas industry in the UK.

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The Government asked Geoffrey Maitland, Professor of Energy Engineering at Imperial College London, to chair an independent review panel to carry out this task. Mick Temple (retired BAA Development Director and currently a Member of the Faculty of Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cambridge) and Professor John Shepherd (Research Fellow in Earth Systems at the University of Southampton) also provided their considerable expertise to the panel.

The independently chaired panel published its report in December 2011. The report made recommendations around 10 key themes: well planning and control, environmental protection, emergency response, learning from incidents and best practice, implementation assurance, competency and training of the workforce, workforce engagement, liability and insurance, regulator issues and technology development.

A steering group of representatives from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Health and Safety Executive(HSE), the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the industry representative body Oil and Gas UK have carefully considered the Maitland review recommendations. I am pleased today to publish the response to the panel’s recommendations. I have deposited copies of the response document in the House for Members to read.

The majority of the recommendations have been positively received and implemented in full; some of the work is ongoing, but where this applies work plans with appropriate target dates for completion are in place and detailed in the response. There were other recommendations, where after full and careful consideration, it was concluded that an alternative approach was more appropriate to achieve a similar outcome. Where this is the case, a full explanation of the work that was undertaken to reach the alternative conclusion is contained in the response.

A new senior oversight group, comprising DECC, HSE and MCA, will supervise the successful implementation of the Maitland review recommendations that are still being delivered as well as ensuring that the offshore regime remains fit for purpose in the longer term.

I believe that the Government and industry responses to the independent panel’s recommendations, alongside other ongoing work, will ensure that the UK continental shelf (UKCS) offshore oil and gas industry builds upon its existing high standards by: protecting the environment; engaging and safeguarding its workforce; responding to emergencies and introducing new mechanisms on financial responsibility so that petroleum licensees on the UKCS must demonstrate that they have the financial capability to response to an incident before consent is given to drill exploration and appraisal wells.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council (December)

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): The next Agriculture and Fisheries Council is on Tuesday 18 to Thursday 20 December in Brussels. I will be representing the UK, accompanied by the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, responsible for the natural environment, water and rural affairs, my

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hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon). Richard Lochhead MSP, Alun Davies AM and Michelle O’Neill MLA will also attend.

Tuesday will concentrate on fisheries. Wednesday will be split between agriculture and fisheries with the possibility that the latter will go into Thursday. Discussions on fisheries will cover fixing the 2013-14 fishing opportunities for deep sea stocks applicable in the Black sea and EU/Norway 2013 annual consultation, establishing a long-term plan for cod stocks, and fishing opportunities available in EU waters for EU vessels, in non-EU waters for stocks and groups of fish which are subject to negotiations or agreement.

The discussion on agriculture will focus on the presidency’s progress report on the CAP reform negotiations.

There are currently three any other business items on vine planting rights, a declaration of eastern European countries conclusions of the international conference on the movement of exotic animals and a report from the Commission about the phasing out of the milk quota system.

Agriculture and Fisheries Council (November)

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): I attended the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 28 and 29 November in Brussels covering agricultural issues. I was accompanied by the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, responsible for the natural environment, water and rural affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who spoke on fisheries issues. Alun Davies AM, Richard Lochhead MSP and Michelle O’Neil MLA also attended.

The substantive business of the Council began with a lunch for agriculture Ministers during which we discussed the topic, proposed by the presidency, of “the current context of CAP reform”. In the course of discussion it became clear that a significant number of member states did not share the presidency’s view that agreement of a “partial general approach” on the CAP reform proposals could be achieved at the December Council. The presidency accordingly indicated that they would instead provide a report of the progress made on the reform package.

Discussion in the formal session of Council covered three aspects of the CAP reform package, addressing a series of questions posed by the presidency to guide discussion.

On greening of direct payments, the presidency sought views on the concept of equivalence, governing any flexibility accorded to member states on how they implemented the requirements. All agreed that an equivalence regime had to be simple, transparent and efficient. Some member states highlighted the need for some form of ex ante approval process to ensure that “equivalent” measures implemented would not subsequently be deemed insufficient by auditors. Several member states stated that it was important to avoid double

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funding of the same actions through both direct payments, and rural development funding, but there was little clarity on how this would be achieved.

On the regulation governing the Single Common Market Organisation the discussion focused on whether to retain the date of 2015 for ending beet sugar production quota, as agreed in previous reforms, and on vine planting rights. On sugar, some member states wanted to keep to the original agreement and end quotas in 2015, most beet-producing countries wanted to maintain quota until at least 2020 and those countries which conceded quota previously argued to have it returned. The Commission (Ciolos) held firm on its proposal. Member states also raised aspects of the regulation they were unhappy with. These included milk quotas, vine planting rights, marketing standards, reference prices and producer organisations.

On the rural development regulation, member states raised important outstanding issues. Most member states felt this was the closest regulation to agreement but more work was needed on several detailed aspects.

Council considered a Commission proposal to permit the use of lactic acid as an anti-microbial surface treatment. No member state changed its previously indicated position, and the Council offered no opinion. If the European Parliament does not reject the proposal (which now seems likely as the Parliament’s Environment Committee approved it), it will be referred back to the Commission to adopt once the four-month scrutiny period expires on 3 February 2013.

Under any other business a report on the rural development error rate was raised by Commissioner Ciolos. At above 7%, it was the highest error rate across all EU budget lines and well above the materiality threshold of 2%. He identified some reasons why this might be the case and suggested that simplification as part of CAP reform could make implementation simpler.

Spain raised the EU-Morocco agriculture agreement, complaining that import prices for tomatoes from Morocco were below the agreed entry price. In response, the Commission pointed out that this is not unusual for this time of year, concluding that this is an issue for national customs authorities who implement the regulations. Spain acknowledged this but thought the Commission should do more to ensure that the correct levies were being applied throughout the EU.

Austria tabled a short paper on their “New European Food Model”, and a number of member states supported the initiative, despite its absence of clarity on mechanisms. The Commission suggested it would be a good topic for a future informal Agriculture Council, once CAP reform had concluded.

On fisheries business the Council agreed total allowable catches for 2013 and 2014 for deep-sea species. This was agreed by qualified majority vote, with Sweden voting against. In line with UK requests, alongside the final text the Commission tabled a declaration on the need to seek scientific advice on adding the lowfin gulper shark to the list of species defined as deep sea sharks.

On EU/Norway the Council heard an update from the Commission on the first round of talks, and were invited to highlight priorities for the second round taking place 3 to 7 December. The UK underlined the importance of a successful outcome on North sea cod and mackerel.

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Under any other business Denmark called for a more streamlined decision-making process for fixing the catch limits for Norway pout. The Netherlands also tabled a paper on their concerns on the technical conditions under the new protocol for the EU/Mauritania fisheries agreement.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council/General Affairs Council

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and I attended the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 10 December, the Foreign Secretary attending the initial part before handing over to me. I attended the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 11 December in Brussels. The Foreign Affairs Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, and the General Affairs Council was chaired by the Cypriot Presidency, the Deputy Minister for European Affairs, Ambassador Andreas Mavroyiannis, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Erato Kozakou-Markoullis.

Foreign Affairs Council

Commissioners Füle (enlargement and European neighbourhood policy) and Georgieva (international co-operation, humanitarian aid and crisis response) were also in attendance for some of the discussions.

A provisional report of the meetings and all conclusions adopted can be found at: http://www.consilium. europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/134152.pdf.

EU-Russia Summit

Over lunch, Ministers discussed the EU-Russia summit which will be held in Brussels on 21 December. There was a widely shared view that the EU should focus on human rights, including the role and freedom of non-governmental organisations (NGOs); push Russia to end its restrictive trade practices in order to comply with its World Trade Organisation obligations; press for implementation of the agreement on Siberian overflight royalties; and reaffirm the importance of the third energy package.

Middle East Peace Process

Over lunch, Ministers considered the need for re-engagement by the international community on the middle east peace process in 2013. Ministers agreed conclusions calling for the parties to return to negotiations without precondition with international support; expressing deep dismay at and strong opposition to recent Israeli announcements on settlements; calling on Israel to avoid undermining the financial situation of the Palestinian Authority; and urging the Palestinians not to build on their change in UN status in a way that would undermine a return to talks.

Southern Neighbourhood

The Council debated the latest developments in Syria, ahead of the next meeting of the Friends of Syria group in Marrakech on 12 December. During lunch, Ministers exchanged views with Ahmed Moaz Al-Khatib, President of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

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Ministers agreed conclusions on Syria, expressing their concern at the deteriorating situation, and the need for greater protection of civilians. The conclusions state that

“the EU accepts (the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces) as legitimate representatives of the Syrian people”.

The conclusions reiterated that

“if concerns about war crimes and crimes against humanity are not adequately addressed on a national level, the International Criminal Court should deal with the situation”,

and called upon the United Nations Security Council

“to urgently address the situation in Syria in all aspects”.

Ministers expressed their concern about the situation in Egypt, ahead of the planned referendum on 15 December. They agreed that it was in the EU’s interest to see a democratic, inclusive, economically-sound Egypt, and noted the need for strong EU engagement with Egypt, based upon mutual accountability.

Ministers discussed the situation in Libya. The High Representative stated that there had been a number of positive developments in Libya, politically and economically, and that the EU now needed to develop co-operation in border management and security. Ministers welcomed the fact-finding mission, which had demonstrated significant Libyan political will to engage. Ministers noted that the EU needed to build on and sustain contacts with the Libyan authorities and UN so that international efforts were co-ordinated and met Libyan requirements.

Western Balkans

Ministers had a short discussion on western Balkans issues. This was one of a series of western Balkans related meetings building up to the General Affairs Council discussion of the enlargement conclusions. The High Representative briefed Ministers on the latest developments in the Belgrade/Pristina dialogue, noting that the successful opening of two crossing points was a significant step in terms of integrated border management implementation. Member states welcomed the leadership of Baroness Ashton on this issue. The need to maintain a credible EU perspective for Macedonia was also raised.

Council Conclusions

As I anticipated in my pre-Council statement, Ministers agreed conclusions without discussion on Ukraine and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In addition, Ministers approved the crisis management concept for a common security and defence policy military mission aimed at providing training and advice to the Malian armed forces; and the revised crisis management concept for the EU training mission for Somalia. In the light of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s recent announcement of its plan to launch a satellite, in breach of UN Security Council Resolutions, the Council agreed conclusions expressing deep concern, urging the DPRK not to conduct the launch, and signalling the need for an international response, potentially including sanctions, were the launch to go ahead.

Ministers agreed without discussion a number of others measures, including:

Approval of the EU position and provisional agenda for the 13th meeting of the EU-Azerbaijan Co-operation Council, to take place on 17 December in Brussels.

Approval of the EU position and provisional agenda for the 13th meeting of the EU-Georgia Co-operation Council, to take place on 18 December in Brussels.

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Approval of the EU position and provisional agenda for the 13th meeting of the EU-Armenia Co-operation Council, to take place on 17 December in Brussels.

Adoption of a decision on the signing, on behalf of the European Union, of a protocol to the partnership and co-operation agreement with the Republic of Armenia, which will allow the participation of Armenia in EU programmes. It forwarded the draft decision on conclusion of the protocol to the European Parliament for its consent.

A review of the list of persons, groups and entities subject to EU restrictive measures with a view to combating terrorism, according to common position 2001/931/CFSP. No changes were made to the measures, which currently affect 11 persons and 25 groups and entities.

Approval of preparations for the annual review of EU restrictive measures against Iran.

Adoption of the implementation plan for the EU advisory and assistance mission for security reform in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (EUSEC RD Congo) for the period until 30 September 2013.

General Affairs Council

A provisional report of the meeting and all conclusions adopted can be found at:


Statute of the Court of Justice of the European Union

The GAC discussed the issue of the appointment of nine additional judges for the General Court of the Court of Justice of the European Union. The presidency presented their proposals, suggesting a rotating system between member states with a weighted allocation. I emphasised the importance of sufficient representation of judges from a common law background and stressed the need to ensure that the proposals were budget neutral. There was no consensus on this issue which will be revisited next year.

European Semester and the Annual Growth Survey

The Commission presented the main priorities for this year’s annual growth survey, stressing that member states must “stay the course” on fiscal consolidation and structural reforms if the EU is to achieve long-term, sustainable growth. The incoming Irish Presidency then outlined their road map for handling the process in Council, focusing on the importance of bilateral dialogue and multilateral surveillance to resolve member states’ concerns relating to country specific recommendations.

Preparation for the December European Council and February European Council

The presidency announced the agenda for the February European Council, which is due to focus on trade and external relations. The outcome of the December European Council will be covered in the Prime Minister’s statement to the House of Commons and the Leader of the House of Lords’ statement to the House of Lords.

The 18-month programme for the Presidencies of Ireland, Lithuania and Greece

The GAC endorsed the programme of the incoming trio of presidencies; Ireland, Lithuania and Greece. The programme covers a broad range of priorities for the next 18-month period. For Ireland, the key was strengthening economic and monetary union, implementing agreed reforms to economic governance, and securing financial stability including banking union. Ireland also looked for progress on the multi-annual financial framework and related dossiers. They underlined the importance of measures which have the potential to improve

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competitiveness and create jobs and growth. Finally, they also want to see progress on third-country trade agreements.


The GAC discussion focused on Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo. The Council agreed a package of conclusions on enlargement including important steps forward for several countries, which rightly recognise their progress so far.

The Council made its commitment to Macedonia’s EU path clear with the Council taking a possible decision on opening accession negotiations during the next presidency, based on a report to be presented by the European Commission in spring 2013 on progress relating to good neighbourly relations and movement on the name issue. This is an important and valuable opportunity for Macedonia to move further forward next year, and we look forward to a positive decision to open accession negotiations soon. I welcome, in that regard, the Commission starting preparatory work. Likewise the Government are pleased that the Commission will propose negotiating directives to take forward Kosovo’s EU path with a stabilisation and association agreement, once Kosovo meets the short-term conditions. This will be a significant step forward for Kosovo.

The High Representative briefed again on the EU-led dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. I set out the UK Government’s continued firm support for Serbia’s EU future. The Council undertook to review during the first half of next year progress on the conditions the Council has agreed for Serbia to open accession negotiations, including progress in the dialogue and irreversible progress on the parallel structures in northern Kosovo, as reiterated by the High Representative. The Council was clear that it wanted to see Serbia moving to the next stage as soon as they have met the conditions to do so. The recent steps taken in the EU-led dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo had shown that both countries can move forward and deal with difficult issues, enabling them to continue on their European paths. I welcomed the steps taken by the parties so far and I endorsed the Council’s commendation for Prime Ministers Dacic and Thaci; they had approached their recent discussions in a statesmanlike and courageous manner. The Council expected the two sides to continue and accelerate their work in addressing all aspects of the relations between them.

The conclusions on Bosnia and Herzegovina set out the Council’s concern about the slow progress being made in Bosnia and Herzegovina and stalled reforms there; and the risk that Bosnia and Herzegovina will lag further behind her neighbours unless the political leaders deliver on the actions they have agreed. The GAC called on the Bosnian leaders to act, in the interests of their citizens.

The Council conclusions also covered Albania, reflecting recent progress and underlining the need to further intensify efforts as identified by the Commission. The successful conduct of parliamentary elections in 2013 will be a crucial test for the smooth functioning of the country’s democratic institutions.

The Council adopted forward-looking conclusions on Turkey which will allow the accession process to be taken forward in 2013.

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The Council looked forward to Croatia’s accession and welcomed progress made by Iceland and Montenegro.

I will continue to update Parliament on future Foreign Affairs Councils and General Affairs Councils.


Science and Technology Committee Inquiry

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Norman Lamb): My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health, Earl Howe, has made the following written ministerial statement:

The Government have today laid before Parliament their response to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry into the regulation of medical implants in the UK and the EU (Cm 8496).

The Government welcome the Committee’s report and its focus on the importance of increasing transparency and accountability in the regulation of medical implants. The Government agree with the Committee on:

strengthening transparency;

improving the consistent quality of notified bodies across the EU;

increasing access to scientific expertise;

limiting the burden on small and medium-sized enterprises;

building on the current regulatory system;

introducing stricter rules on when manufacturers can rely on clinical data which is sourced from studies on a similar device; and

improving the environment for clinical investigations.

The Government are committed to further considering the Committee’s recommendations on requiring health care professionals to report serious adverse incidents and introducing a “Black Triangle Scheme”, which currently exists as a voluntary scheme for medicines, to medical devices. The Government will continue to consult with the National Joint Registry for England and Wales (NJR) on the Committee’s recommendation to publish raw data from the NJR.

As regards the Committee’s criticism that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) reacted too slowly to Australian data on the safety problems of metal-on-metal hips, the Government would like to reiterate that the MHRA was the first regulatory authority in the world to issue advice on monitoring and patient management in April 2010. The analysis of data from the National Joint Registry for England and Wales was key to the worldwide action to recall the particular metal-on-metal hip system in August 2010.

Health Allocations 2013-14

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Jeremy Hunt): Today I am informing the House that the NHS Commissioning Board has announced the allocations to clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) for 2013-14 of £63.4 billion.

The board’s overriding objective is to improve outcomes for patients and to reduce health inequalities. Together with ensuring stability during transition, this has driven the decisions the board has taken in the approach to allocations for next year.

All CCGs will receive an identical increase of 2.3%, which will ensure that funding is stable in the first year of the new commissioning arrangements and supports a smooth transition. The board is also initiating a review of the approach to allocations, not just confined to

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CCG allocations, to give the best opportunity to improve outcomes for patients and tackle health inequalities.

Full details of the allocations have been placed in the Library and can be seen at: www.commissioning board. nhs.uk/files/2012/12/ccg-allocations-13-141.pdf. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.


Bill of Rights (Commission)

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling): Today, in accordance with a timetable set in its terms of reference, the Commission on a Bill of Rights has delivered its final report jointly to the Deputy Prime Minister and to me.

The Government thank the Commission for the diligent manner in which it has discharged its task. This reflected the remit set out in the coalition’s programme for Government for establishing a Commission to examine the creation of a British Bill of Rights that

“incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties”.

We will now give the report careful consideration.

Mesothelioma Claims (Reform)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mrs Helen Grant): Today I am announcing the Government’s intention to consult publicly on proposals to reform the way that mesothelioma cases are dealt with, including; introducing fixed legal fees for mesothelioma claims, a dedicated pre-action protocol for those claims and an electronic portal on which the claims will be registered. The consultation will be issued in spring 2013. The aim is to ensure that these claims are processed and settled as quickly as possible given the nature of this disease.

As part of that consultation, we will carry out the review required under section 48 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 on the effect of the changes to the recoverability of conditional fee agreement success fees and after the event insurance premiums. We intend to publish the outcome of that review next autumn.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive and terminal occupational disease with an average life expectancy of less than two years from diagnosis. A claim for compensation can take up to two years to settle which means that sufferers often die before their claims are paid out.

The Government consider that it is imperative that these claims are settled quickly and that early payment of compensation is made so as to ease the sufferings of victims of this dreadful disease and give some assurance that their dependants will be financially secure when they are no longer around. However, this cannot be achieved without a speedy pre-litigation process which is why the Government have decided to consult on how best to reduce delays in these cases.

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Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Act 2012

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mrs Helen Grant): In a written ministerial statement—12 July 2012, Official Report, column 145WS about the Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Act 2010 the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) undertook to make a further statement in the autumn.

The Ministry of Justice is continuing to prepare the way for the commencement of the 2010 Act at the earliest practicable date.

We are very grateful to the Association of British Insurers, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers and the Law Commission for their assistance in connection with the preparation of the Act for commencement.

I will make a further statement before the end of the current session of Parliament.

Prime Minister

Government Equalities Office

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): I am today confirming a machinery of government change concerning the Government Equalities Office.

The Government Equalities Office now reports to the Minister for Women and Equalities who is also the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport. The Government Equalities Office is now formally a part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.


EU Transport Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): I will attend the last Transport Council of the Cypriot presidency (the presidency) taking place in Brussels on Thursday 20 December.

The Council will be asked to reach a general approach on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and the Council on periodic road worthiness tests for motor vehicles and their trailers and repealing directive 2009/40/EC. I was very concerned when we first received the proposal from the Commission. The Commission’s impact assessment was inadequate and failed to make the required links between the costs and benefits of new requirements. It was also incomplete as it did not accurately assess costs in all member states. Our initial analysis was that it would cost over £1 billion pounds to implement while having an insignificant positive impact on road safety in the UK.

The position we adopted during the negotiation of the draft periodic roadworthiness regulation at Council working group meetings has been to resist additional burdens where insignificant road safety benefit was identified. With the support of the UK and other member states in resisting excessive burdens, the presidency has proposed moving from a regulation to a directive and has made substantial changes to the text that radically simplifies the implementation of the proposal.

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Progress has been positive and has resulted in a substantially improved and less expensive proposal and as such I hope the presidency will be able to achieve a general approach on the dossier.

The presidency will provide a progress report on two other proposals.

The first is the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the connecting Europe facility. The UK abstained from the partial general approach agreed on this dossier at the June Transport Council. While we were broadly supportive of the text of the regulation we could not formally support agreement to the draft regulations in advance of an agreement on the overall multi-annual financial framework (MFF) negotiations as this could prejudge the overall MFF budget.

The second is the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the implementation and exploitation of European satellite navigation systems. The UK supports the thrust of the proposal in introducing a clearer, stable governance arrangement for the programme but has concerns that some of the European Parliament’s proposed amendments, such as the introduction of funding for applications to use the navigation systems, could have significant financial implications.

The Council will adopt conclusions on the communication on “EU’s External Aviation Policy—Addressing Future Challenges”. The UK welcomed this timely communication from the Commission and has been actively engaged in the drafting of Council conclusions. We support the broad aims of the communication—liberalisation of aviation and fair competition—and we are pushing to ensure that the Council’s conclusions reflect this.

The Council will also adopt a proposal for a Council decision on the signature, on behalf of the EU, and provisional application of the Euro-Mediterranean aviation agreement between the EU and its member states, on the one part, and the state of Israel, on the other. The UK supports the signature and implementation of this agreement which forms a part of the EU’s external aviation policy to negotiate comprehensive air services agreements with neighbouring countries. This agreement will supersede the current bilateral agreements between individual member states and Israel. It aims at gradual market opening, promoting regulatory (e.g. safety) harmonisation and the promotion of open and fair competition between air carriers.

This agreement will integrate the Israeli aviation market into the European single market accompanied by convergence with EU aviation regulations. It will enhance opportunities for EU airlines and investors in Israel, provide consumer benefits as a result of increased competition and better access, and help to strengthen the economic links between the EU and Israel.

Under any other business, the Commission will provide information on the cleaner power for transport package and aviation emissions trading scheme (ETS).

Roads Maintenance

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): In the autumn statement earlier this month the Chancellor announced an additional £333 million

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for a dedicated fund to provide for essential maintenance to renew, repair and extend life of the highway network in England.

I am today publishing further details about how this fund will operate. Of the £333 million, I have allocated £215 million of this fund to local highway authorities in England, with £140 million to be allocated in 2013-14 and £75 million in 2014-15. The remainder will be allocated to the Highways Agency for work on the strategic road network.

It will be for individual local highway authorities to target the extra funds where it is most needed, for example on priorities such as road resurfacing, maintenance to bridges or repairing damage to the highway infrastructure caused by severe weather events, such as the recent flooding which had affected many colleagues’ constituencies.

To promote greater transparency I am also writing to local authorities explaining that each one will need to commit to publishing a short statement on its website at the end of each financial year setting out on what and where (in terms of location) this additional funding has been spent, and how it has complemented (rather than displaced) planned highway maintenance expenditure. I am also encouraging local authorities to consider how to minimise the disruption to business and other road users while the works are ongoing.

Work and Pensions

Independent Living Support

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Esther McVey): The independent living fund (ILF) was created in 1988 when direct payments could not be made by local authorities and there was very limited choice and control available for disabled people within the mainstream system. Since its inception the ILF has played a valuable role in demonstrating that disabled people, including those with complex care needs, could and should be able to purchase their own support using direct cash payments. The Government wish to pay tribute to the current and previous boards of trustees as well as the ILF staff for developing a model of support based around choice and control and the principle of independent living.

However, the care system has undergone fundamental reform since the creation of the ILF. Since the mid-1990s disabled people have been able to receive direct payments and can now exercise enhanced choice and control through the mainstream system in all parts of the UK.

In December 2010, following a suspension to new applications, the Government announced that the fund would be permanently closed to new applications. The Government also committed to protecting user funding for the rest of this parliament and consulting on how users would be supported after 2015.

On 12 October 2012 the Government completed this consultation which received around 2,000 responses. The consultation asked for comments on the proposal to close the ILF in 2015 and devolve funding to local government in England and the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales. It also asked how this transition could be managed effectively if this proposal was adopted. The Government response to the consultation will be published later today.

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It is clear from the responses to the consultation that the prospect of the ILF closing is causing current users anxiety, and that the fund has played a really important role in the lives of users and their families. But we also heard that the ILF has had its problems, that the current arrangement is unsustainable and that local authorities face challenges in supporting disabled people in a consistent and equitable manner given the complex way in which ILF funding interacts with local authority funding for each user.

We have considered all views carefully and, while I understand user concerns, I do not think the current situation is sustainable. Our commitment to maintaining current awards until 2015 remains, but on 31 March 2015 the ILF will close, and from that point local authorities in England, in line with their statutory responsibilities, will have sole responsibility for meeting the eligible care and support needs of current ILF users. The devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will determine how ILF users in each of those parts of the UK are supported within their distinct care and support systems. Funding will be devolved to each local authority and to the devolved Administrations on the basis of the pattern of expenditure in 2014-15.

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To ensure a smooth transition the Government and the ILF will be working with the social care sector in England to produce a code of practice to guide local authorities on how ILF users can be supported through the transition. I expect that the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will engage with the ILF to develop processes and guidance reflecting the distinct approaches to care and support in those parts of the UK.

The ILF will also be conducting a transfer review programme over the next two years which will ensure that the details of the care arrangements are captured and shared with their local authority and help those users not currently receiving any local authority funding to engage with the mainstream care system so they can access the services they are eligible for.

The ILF will now begin an intensive and ongoing programme of engagement with users and key stakeholders on how the transition process will work. Users can expect clear and ongoing communication throughout the next two years and through the transition process.

I would be pleased to meet Members from both sides of this House to discuss how ILF users in their area can be successfully transitioned to receiving support solely from the mainstream care and support system administered by local authorities.