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Written Statements

Volume 536: debated on Friday 25 November 2011

Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 25 November 2011


Rural Fuel Rebate Pilot Scheme

I am today announcing that the Government have secured EU clearance for a rural fuel rebate pilot scheme. The scheme will apply a 5p per litre discount on petrol and diesel in the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Northern Isles, the islands in the Clyde and the Isles of Scilly.

The scheme will provide much-needed relief to these remote island communities. Pump prices in these areas are particularly high due to the high costs of transporting and distributing fuel.

The Government intend to introduce a retailer-based scheme. Registered retailers will be required to reduce their selling prices of road diesel and petrol by 5ppl. Retailers will claim a 5ppl rebate on the fuel they purchase, by submitting a monthly claim to HMRC.

To support retailers in covering the initial costs of the scheme HMRC will provide an up-front rebate. From 1 January 2012, retailers will be allowed to claim a 5ppl refund on fuel purchased in each of their first two months in the scheme without having to pass on the discount to customers. Following this, retailers will then be required to fully pass on the 5ppl discount. This design will ensure that there are no adverse cash-flow problems for the retailers and that from 1 March 2012 motorists will benefit from a 5ppl reduction in pump prices.

HMRC have today published the draft legislation for the pilot scheme.

Cabinet Office

Cyber-security Strategy

I have today published the new cyber-security strategy for the United Kingdom. I have placed a copy in the Library.

The growth of the internet has transformed our everyday lives.

But with greater openness, interconnection and dependency comes greater vulnerability. The threat to our national security from cyber-attacks is real and growing. Organised criminals, terrorists, hostile states, and “hacktivists” are all seeking to exploit cyberspace to their own ends.

This Government have moved swiftly to tackle the growing danger posed by cyber-attacks. Our national security strategy published last year classed cyber-security as one of our top priorities alongside international terrorism, international military crises and natural disasters. To support the implementation of our objectives we have committed new funding of £650 million over four years for a transformative national cyber-security programme (NCSP) to strengthen the UK’s cyber-capabilities.

The new cyber-security strategy we have published today sets out how the UK will tackle cyber-threats to promote economic growth and to protect our nation’s security and our way of life.

One of our key aims is to make the UK one of the most secure places in the world to do business. Currently, around 6% of the UK’s GDP is enabled by the internet and this is set to grow. But with this opportunity comes greater threats. Online crime, including intellectual property theft, costs the UK economy billions each year. So we must take steps to preserve this growth, by tackling cybercrime and bolstering our defences, to ensure that confidence in the internet as a way of communicating and transacting remains.

The Government cannot tackle this challenge alone. The private sector—which owns, maintains and creates most of the very spaces we are seeking to defend—has a crucial role to play too. This strategy outlines how we will cement a real and meaningful partnership between the Government and private sector in the fight against cyber-attacks, to help improve security, build our reputation as a safe place to do business online, and turn threats into opportunities by fostering a strong UK market in cyber-security solutions.

Together with the private sector, we are pioneering a new national cyber-security “hub” that will allow the Government and businesses to exchange information on threats and responses. This promises to transform the way we manage cyber-attacks and greatly strengthen our security capacity. We will work with the business services sector to raise industry awareness. We will also work with industry to develop private sector-led standards for cyber-security that help consumers navigate the market in security products and give firms which are good at security the means to make it a selling point.

The UK is a world leader in cyber-security research, development and innovation. GCHQ is the lead in this area and the new strategy aims to capitalise on this through an innovative approach which will explore options with UK industry to harness this expertise and know-how for the benefit of the UK economy.

This strategy also outlines our plans for a new cybercrime unit with the National Crime Agency, to be up and running by 2013. This unit will build on the groundbreaking work of the Metropolitan police’s e-crime unit by expanding the deployment of “cyber-specials”, giving police forces across the country the necessary skills and experience to handle cybercrimes. We will also ensure that the police use existing powers to ensure that cybercriminals are appropriately sanctioned as well as introducing a new single reporting system to report financially motivated cybercrime through the existing Action Fraud reporting centre.

To defend against significant threats we need to continue the work we are doing to protect and prepare our critical national infrastructure. We also need to update our military defence capabilities for a new cyber-world; this strategy outlines the creation of a new joint cyber unit hosted by GCHQ which will develop our military capabilities to give the UK a comparative advantage in cyberspace.

We will also strengthen the role of the Centre for Protection of the National Infrastructure to increase its reach to organisations that have not previously been considered as part of the critical infrastructure, thereby augmenting our ability to protect critical systems and intellectual property.

Prevention and education are also crucial. Get Safe Online is a very good example of how Government, industry and law enforcement can work together to address this issue and improve the website by early 2012. In addition, we will work with ISPs to seek a new voluntary code of conduct to help people identify if their computers have been compromised and what they can do about it.

Cyber-risks are transnational in nature. We will work with other countries to tackle them. Through the London cyber conference, hosted by the Foreign Secretary earlier this month, the UK is taking a lead in addressing international discussions on how we can establish a more focused international dialogue to develop principles to guide the behaviour of Governments and others in cyberspace. We will continue to foster this level of international dialogue through various forums and through international co-operation on tackling cybercrime.

This strategy sets out the change that is needed; we now need to work together to deliver it. The Government will update the House in a year’s time on how we are doing.


Music Education

“The Importance of Music: A National Plan for Music Education” has been developed jointly by the Department for Education and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport following a review of music education in England by Darren Henley, managing director of Classic FM, published on 7 February 2011. The Departments intend to publish the plan today.

The plan sets out a vision for music education—to enable children from all backgrounds and every part of England to have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument; to play music with others; to learn to sing; and to have the opportunity to progress to the next level of excellence.

Key announcements are for:

Department for Education funding, to 31 March 2015, available for music education on an area-by-area basis.

Funds distributed to music education hubs following an open application process, conducted by Arts Council England operating as a fund holder.

A new Initial Teacher Training add-on module to boost new teachers’ skills and confidence in teaching music.

Development of a music educator qualification ensuring the wider music work force is better skilled, more professional and recognised for their role in and out of school.

Continued Department for Education funding, matched by Arts Council England, for the successful In Harmony Sistema England programme, targeting children and communities in areas of exceptional deprivation.

A national plan monitoring board, chaired by and answerable to Ministers, to hold those responsible for delivery across the national plan to account.

A national network of music education hubs, building on the existing music education provision, will bring together partnerships between music services, schools, education and arts organisations. Hubs will deliver at least some core roles, which are to:

Ensure that every child aged 5-18 has the opportunity to learn a musical instrument (other than voice) through whole-class ensemble teaching.

Provide opportunities to play in ensembles and to perform from an early stage.

Ensure that clear progression routes are available and affordable to all young people.

Develop a singing strategy to ensure that every pupil sings regularly and that choirs and other vocal ensembles are available in the area.

Copies of “The Importance of Music”, together with funding allocations, have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Consulate General (Recife)

I wish to update the House on recent changes to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s overseas network. The Foreign Secretary said in the House on 11 May, Official Report, column 1165, that there will be no strategic shrinkage of Britain’s diplomatic influence overseas. He announced plans for the opening of up to six new embassies and seven new consulates general in emerging powers, including in Recife, Brazil. We are further strengthening our network by sending more diplomats to a total of 22 countries. The Foreign Secretary made clear in a speech in London on 8 September that he intends to strengthen the long-term capability and international effectiveness of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and to improve our country’s capacity to pursue effective foreign policy for decades to come.

So I am pleased to confirm to Parliament the inauguration on 28 November of a British consulate general in Recife in north-east Brazil. The consulate general will open up opportunities for Britain in this gateway city to the dynamic north-east of the country. There are existing British interests in the region’s petrochemical industry, and growing co-operation in education and culture. An expanded presence on the ground will enable Britain to increase co-operation in a range of areas.

North-east Brazil is currently the most economically dynamic region in the country. Pernambuco State, of which Recife is the capital, is leading the regional charge, with 8.4% GDP growth in 2010. The whole region has a population of 50 million. Over the last eight years north-east Brazil has undergone an intensive economic diversification process. To sustain growth, the region needs to invest heavily in infrastructure and other areas where the UK can offer expertise.

The United Kingdom first had a diplomatic presence in Recife as early as 1808. The consulate general will be a considerable upgrade from the small consulate and British Council office in the city and is part of our conscious diplomatic advance in Latin America. We are putting more staff on the ground to expand co-operation on trade and investment, science and innovation and cultural links, as well as to strengthen our consular service in Brazil.

As the Foreign Secretary said in the House on 11 May, the strength of our embassy network is a signal to the world of our engagement and commitment to international peace and security. By strengthening Britain's diplomatic network in Brazil, we will ensure that the UK has the necessary reach and capacity to respond quickly and effectively when British companies need our assistance or British nationals are in danger. The extension and strengthening of our global diplomatic network, with staff who have the necessary abilities and diplomatic skills, are key objectives of this Government and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have made funding these goals a priority.

Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty

I would like to inform the House of measures being taken by the United Kingdom in relation to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). These measures were formally announced in the treaty’s Joint Consultative Group in Vienna on 22 November.

Since December 2007, we have continued to fulfil our CFE treaty obligations, and attempted to exercise our treaty rights. We, our North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies and other states parties to the treaty have also made considerable efforts to engage the Russian Federation in negotiations aimed at finding a mutually acceptable resolution, but without success.

The Russian Federation has failed to fulfil its obligations under the treaty since December 2007 to provide information to the United Kingdom and other states parties and to allow entry to the Russian Federation in order to verify that the information provided was correct. The United Kingdom, alongside other NATO allies, has repeatedly called on the Russian Federation to return to full compliance with its treaty obligations. We and other NATO allies publicly stated at NATO summits in Strasbourg/Kehl and Lisbon that a situation where 29 states parties fulfilled their treaty obligations and one did not could not continue indefinitely.

As a result, alongside a number of CFE treaty signatories, the United Kingdom announced that for as long as the Russian Federation fails to fulfil its obligations towards the United Kingdom under the CFE treaty, we will cease fulfilment of our key obligations towards the Russian Federation. In effect the United Kingdom:

Will no longer provide information to the Russian Federation in the annual data exchange that takes place under the terms of the CFE treaty on 15 December;

Will no longer provide any notifications to the Russian Federation under the terms of the CFE treaty;

Will no longer accept inspections requested by the Russian Federation pursuant to the CFE treaty.

The United Kingdom remains committed to conventional arms control in Europe and will continue to fulfil our treaty obligations with respect to all other states parties to the CFE treaty. We will also continue to abide by and respect the numerical limitations on conventional armaments and equipment established by the treaty.

We remain open to negotiations with the Russian Federation should they demonstrate a willingness to address constructively the key issues which are currently preventing progress.

Work and Pensions

Youth Contract

I am pleased to announce today the details of a new Youth Contract, which includes a range of additional help for unemployed young people, building on the support already available through Jobcentre Plus and the Work programme.

This will include more intensive support for all 18 to 24-year-olds including additional adviser time and weekly signing requirements, extra work experience and sector-based work academy places, and a new wage incentive scheme delivered through the Work programme.

We are also making extra funding available for the Department for Education to support the most vulnerable NEET 16 and 17-year-olds into learning, an apprenticeship or job with training.

The package of support follows extensive discussion with businesses about the practical help Government can provide to make it easier for them to take on fresh talent. The new support is worth nearly a £1 billion over the next three years.

The Government’s offer to young people who are unemployed is based on a clear strategy for supporting young people into work whether they need short-term or more intensive long-term support, and ensuring that work pays.

This is supported by work experience, apprenticeships, sector-based work academies, the Jobcentre Plus Flexible Support Fund and an increasingly robust conditionality and sanctions regime. Young people who need more intensive support or who become long-term unemployed are referred to the Work programme.

The support we already have in place is helping many young people into employment, indeed our existing programmes will support 350,000 young people over the next two years. However, we recognise that the current economic situation means that some young people are still finding that getting work is not easy. This new support is designed to ensure that they are not left behind.

We know that different young people need different types of support, so this package includes a range of measures to ensure that every 18 to 24-year-old who finds themselves unemployed has the right support, at the right time, to help find a job and move into employment.

The Youth Contract brings together our existing support and also announces new measures, which include:

A total of 160,000 wage incentives to make it easier for employers to take on young people aged 18 to 24. A wage incentive will be worth £2,275, available as part of the Work programme. This will be more than enough to cover the cost of an employer’s National Insurance contributions for employing a young person for a year, and exceeds the recommendations by the CBI in their recent report on youth unemployment.

An offer of a work experience place for every unemployed 18 to 24-year-old who wants one, before they enter the Work programme. We are providing an additional 250,000 places.

Extra support through Jobcentre Plus in the form of weekly, rather than fortnightly, signing-on meetings; more time to talk to an adviser and a careers interview with the National Careers Service.

At least 20,000 extra incentive payments worth £1,500 each for employers to take on young people as apprentices.

A new £150 million programme for the most vulnerable NEET 16 and 17-year-olds to get them learning, on an apprenticeship or in a job with training.

The measures differ from previous schemes over the last decade, as they are focused on equipping young people with the experience and opportunities to gain long-term sustainable employment.

We are providing more support and more opportunities for young people but we also expect more in return. The signing regime will be more demanding of them than the current one. And those that drop out of a work experience place or a subsidised (or other) job without good reason will lose their benefits.

The Department for Work and Pensions components of the Youth Contract are Great Britain-wide, with Barnett consequentials for Northern Ireland. Apprenticeships and the Education Department component for 16 and 17-year-olds are England only with Barnett consequentials included in the package for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.