Written Ministerial Statements
Wednesday 1 July 2009
Business, Innovation and Skills
Education (Student Support) Regulations
This Government remain committed to ensuring finance is not a barrier to higher education, enabling people to make the most of their talents and improving their life opportunities. I welcome the latest figures released today that show that more people from lower socio-economic groups are going into higher education, with the proportion increasing 3 percentage points since 2002.
Overall there are 300,000 more students in higher education than there were in 1997. We have achieved this owing to continued Government investment, which is over 25 per cent. higher in real terms than in 1997.
We are committed to maintaining this increased investment, and funding for student support will be increased in 2009-10 by 4 per cent. compared with 2008-09. In cash terms, we are planning to spend over £5 billion on student support this year, and even more next year.
In 2006, we introduced a radical new package of student support aimed at supporting those who need it most. We predicted that around a third of students would get a full non-repayable grant; in fact about 40 per cent. may receive a full grant, beyond our expectations.
In these difficult economic times, we are continuing to take difficult decisions in the interests of students, universities and taxpayers alike.
We have therefore decided to maintain the current package of maintenance support for full-time students, reflecting the current low inflationary environment.
In 2010-11 students starting a full-time course will be eligible for the same level of up-front maintenance support that was available for new students in 2009-10:
the full maintenance grant will remain at £2,906.
the family income threshold for a full maintenance grant will remain at £25,000.
the family income threshold for a partial grant will remain at £50,020.
maximum maintenance loans and thresholds will remain at 2009-10 levels, which for a student living away from home outside London could be as much as £4,950 a year.
Students continuing their studies in 2010-11 will also be eligible for the same levels of maintenance support that they received in 2009-10.
In addition, new and continuing full-time students will be able to access a fee loan of up to £3,290 a year, which has been increased by 2.04 per cent. in 2010-11 to reflect the up-rating of the maximum tuition fee level.
A similar increase applies to fee and course support for new and continuing part-time students in 2010-11, which reflects our continuing commitment to part-time study.
For full-time “old system” students (mainly those who started their courses before 2006) the same principles apply: their fee contribution loans and fee grants will be up-rated by 2.04 per cent. and their maintenance support will be the same as in 2009-10.
We have also decided to align the financial support for new entrants to postgraduate and equivalent initial teacher training courses with what is available for the generality of undergraduates. Bursaries and other payments for students undertaking initial teacher training will remain available.
In over 500 constituencies, numbers of young undergraduate entrants to higher education have increased since 1997 and the 20 most deprived constituencies all show higher than average growth over that period. Some of the poorest areas have seen the biggest percentage increases in young higher education entrants. Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) has been a key driver of rising participation post-16, and independent evaluation shows that it also has a positive impact on attainment at levels 2 and 3.
To help maintain this increase in participation overall, we will continue to encourage those in receipt of the EMA to think about progression into higher education. In these difficult economic times it is both fair and reasonable to expect that those students who see an improvement in their financial circumstances are assessed for student support, according to their need. We have therefore revised our plans for a guarantee of student support, and will offer students in receipt of EMA a clear quote of the student support they will receive if their circumstances are unchanged at the time they apply for higher education.
The student support regulations will be laid before Parliament today and, following approval by Parliament, will need some weeks to implement. I have asked the Student Loans Company to begin processing new applications for student support as early as possible during the autumn term and for returning students in the new year.
Armed Forces Recognition
On 10 June, the then Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne), informed the House of plans to introduce a new national form of recognition for the families of those armed forces personnel who die on operations or as a result of terrorist activity while on duty. These plans were based on the recommendations of the military Chiefs of Staff. The Secretary of State said that the recognition would be in the form of an emblem for wear and a Memorial Scroll similar in concept to those that were issued to the families of those who died in the two world wars and in Korea in the early 1950s.
Much detailed work has been undertaken since that announcement. We had hoped to provide more details before now but there were sensitive and complex issues involved which required much time to work through.
I am pleased to be able to announce further details of this recognition to the House today. These details, recommended by the Chiefs of Staff, have been welcomed by MOD Ministers, endorsed by the cross-Government Committee on Honours and Awards and approved by Her Majesty the Queen. In particular, I am delighted to inform the House that Her Majesty has asked that the emblem should be known as the Elizabeth Cross.
The Elizabeth Cross is made of hallmarked silver and is in the form of a cross with laurel wreath passing between the arms. The arms of the cross bear floral symbols representing England (Rose), Scotland (Thistle), Ireland (Shamrock) and Wales (Daffodil). The centre of the Cross bears the crowned Cypher of Her Majesty the Queen. The reverse of the Cross will be engraved with the name of the service person in whose memory it is granted. A miniature version of the Elizabeth Cross will also be granted. Both will be presented in a black leather style presentation box with the Royal Cypher on the lid and the Royal Coat of Arms on the inner silk lining.
The Memorial Scroll is on parchment style paper, headed with the Royal Coat of Arms and the following words “This Scroll Commemorates ... who gave his/her life for Queen and Country on...” The Scroll will bear the signature of Her Majesty the Queen in the upper left hand corner.
The Elizabeth Cross And Scroll will be granted in national recognition of their loss and sacrifice to the next of kin of UK armed forces personnel who have died on operations or as a result of an act of terrorism. Eligible personnel to be remembered in this way are those who were serving with, or former members of, the regular and reserve armed forces or the Royal Fleet Auxiliary when deployed in direct support of a designated operation. It is important to make the distinction that this is not a posthumous medal for the fallen but national recognition for the family for their loss. The next of kin of eligible personnel whose deaths fall into the following categories will be recognised in this way:
Those who died from whatever cause while serving on a medal earning operation. Medal earning operations are those in which deployed personnel received a campaign medal, general service medal or operational service medal which demonstrated the risk and rigour involved. Operations where a UN, NATO or other international body or other nations’ campaign medal was accepted for wear, in the absence of a UK medal, also qualify.
Those who died as a result of an act of terrorism where the available evidence suggests that the service person, whether on or off duty, was targeted because of his or her membership of the UK armed forces.
Those who died on a non-medal earning operational task where death has been caused by the inherent high risk of the task.
Those who died a subsequent and premature death as a result of an injury or illness attributed to the circumstances outlined above.
In addition to recognising future operational deaths in this way, deaths in the circumstances outlined above that occurred after 1 January 1948, or as a result of service in Palestine since 27 September 1945, will be recognised retrospectively. These dates reflect the fact that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission attributed deaths up to 1 January 1948 to World War II service (with the exception of Palestine).
The next of kin will receive both the Elizabeth Cross and the Memorial Scroll. For retrospective claims and when the next of kin is deceased, their legal successor may apply.
Only one Elizabeth Cross is to be granted for each death recognised but an additional scroll will be available to the following (or their legal successors) where they are not the next of kin:
The parents of the deceased.
The spouse/partner of the deceased or someone who had a substantive relationship with the deceased.
As a Memorial Scroll was issued at the time to those who died in the Korean war, the Elizabeth Cross only (and not the new Scroll) will be issued in remembrance of those who died during that war.
As with all forms of recognition, there will be those who fall outside the qualifying criteria. There is a risk involved in much of what the armed forces do routinely. Some members of the armed forces sadly die, for example, in training incidents or in road accidents in the United Kingdom. While any death is a tragic loss to the family concerned and to the armed forces, the Chiefs of Staff recommended this new recognition for the special circumstances of operational duty. In addition they considered that the terrible circumstances where an individual was targeted by terrorists because of their membership of the armed forces should be similarly recognised.
The first Elizabeth Crosses and Memorial Scrolls will be granted from one month today on 1 August 2009. From today, families of those who died in qualifying circumstances are invited to apply for the Elizabeth Cross and Scroll to the MOD medal office, who will administer the scheme. It is simply not possible to contact the families of all those who may be eligible going back over 50 years as address details held for next of kin are likely to be out of date.
Full details of how to apply, including an application form, can be found via the MOD website at: www.mod.uk/defenceinternet/defencefor/veterans/medals/, while those without access to the internet may call 0800 085 3600 and ask for details to be sent to them.
For new qualifying deaths after 1 August 2009, it is intended that, in most cases, the next of kin will be offered the opportunity for the Elizabeth Cross and Memorial Scroll to be presented privately and in an appropriate way at the time of the funeral if they so wish.
For retrospective cases, next of kin who are resident in the UK will be offered the opportunity to receive the Elizabeth Cross and Memorial Scroll at a formal presentation ceremony in the region where they live. Such presentations may be made by a Lord Lieutenant or a senior military representative. It is likely to be some months before these events are arranged as locations will very much depend on the number of recipients living in a particular region and we cannot establish this until applications are received.
If they prefer, families may choose to receive the Elizabeth Cross and Memorial Scroll by recorded delivery. Next of kin living overseas will normally receive the cross and Scroll in this way.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to the men and women who serve in our armed forces and who have done so in the past. That debt extends to the families who support them and who bear the burden while loved ones are deployed away from home. I am delighted that the families of those who sadly die in the circumstances that I have described are now to receive some tangible evidence of the nation’s gratitude in the form of the Elizabeth Cross and Memorial Scroll.
Members will be able to view the Elizabeth Cross and Memorial Scroll from this afternoon in the Library of the House.
The Law on Damages
We are today publishing the Government response to the consultation paper “The Law on Damages”, together with a summary of the responses to consultation.
The response paper indicates that changes will be made to the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 to extend the categories of people eligible to claim damages for bereavement to include children under 18 for the death of a parent; cohabitants of at least two years duration for the death of a partner; and unmarried fathers with parental responsibility for the death of a child under 18.
The ability to claim as a dependant of the deceased person will also be extended to include any person who was being wholly or partly maintained by the deceased person immediately before the death.
The response paper also confirms our intention to make certain changes to the law in relation to damages for gratuitous care and on aggravated and restitutionary damages.
Copies of the Government’s response will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and can also be obtained on the Ministry’s website at:
Franchised Rail Services
My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has made the following ministerial statement:
This morning, National Express Group has announced that they will not provide the further financial support necessary to ensure that their subsidiary, National Express East Coast, remains solvent. As a consequence, National Express East Coast is no longer able to continue its franchise agreement to its full term.
The Government’s first and overriding obligation in this situation is to ensure continuity of service to passengers, with no disruption or diminution of service standards. When the Government have had to step in to protect rail services in the past, there has been no such impact on passengers.
I have therefore established a publicly owned company, which will take over this franchise from the point at which National Express East Coast ceases to operate. We will agree an orderly handover with National Express. Until that date, National Express will operate services on the current basis; after that date the new public company will do so. There will be no interruption of services. Existing operational staff—who continue to provide a good service—will transfer to the new East Coast Main Line company; so will the assets necessary for the continuation of the service. I can assure the travelling public that services will continue without disruption and all tickets will be honoured.
National Express also operates rail services on the East Anglia main line and associated commuter routes. The company has said that it does not intend to default on its obligations in respect of these franchises. Notwithstanding this, the Government believe they may have grounds to terminate these franchises, and we are exploring all options in the light of the group’s statement this morning. In the meantime, we expect National Express to meet its obligations on these franchises in full.
A company which had defaulted in the way National Express now intends would not have pre-qualifed for any previous franchises let by the Department. I note that the parent groups of previous franchise failures are no longer in the UK rail business. It is simply unacceptable to reap the benefits of contracts when times are good, only to walk away from them when times become more challenging.
It is the Government’s intention to tender for a new East Coast franchise operator from the end of 2010. The specification of the new franchise will reflect my concern to secure better passenger services and facilities. I intend to consult fully on the new franchise specification, including with passenger groups, parliamentarians and the Scottish Executive.
The rail franchising system was examined by the National Audit Office last year. It was found to deliver good value for money, and steadily improving services. Passenger numbers are at their highest levels since the 1940s, punctuality is over 90 per cent. and overall passenger satisfaction is steadily rising. The revenue from rail franchises is enabling us to make record investments in upgrading the network and services on it.
Legislative Competence Order (Culture)
I am pleased to inform the House that the proposed National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Culture and other fields) Order 2009 has been laid today, as Command Paper (Cm 7668). Copies of this can be found in the Vote Office and will be placed in the Library from 12 noon. I have written to the Welsh Affairs Committee and to the House of Lords Constitutional Committee to request they undertake pre-legislative scrutiny.