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Written Statements

Volume 554: debated on Wednesday 28 November 2012

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Business, Innovation and Skills

Higher Education

Following our higher education White Paper commitment I can today announce that I am satisfied that 10 higher education institutions have now met the criteria for university title.

The higher education White Paper “Students at the Heart of the System” (CM8122) and the associated technical consultation set out the Government’s vision for a world-class higher education sector that is free to respond to the needs of students. It set out specifically our intention to stimulate further competition in the sector by widening access to university title for smaller, high-quality higher education institutions.

We therefore announced in June this year that we were reducing with immediate effect the student numbers criterion for university title from 4,000 to 1,000 full-time equivalent higher education students. We have specified in the new criterion that of those 1,000 at least 750 should be registered on degree courses, including foundation degree programmes, and the number of full-time equivalent higher education students must exceed 55% of the total number of full-time equivalent students.

To be eligible to become a university an institution must meet several criteria.

It must have been granted powers by the Privy Council to award taught degrees. It must meet the student numbers criterion set out above. It must also be able to demonstrate that it has regard to the principles of good governance as are relevant to its sector.

I am pleased to say that, following the change to the student numbers criterion, 10 institutions expressed an interest in obtaining university title.

I have now considered the information these institutions have submitted in support of their applications and taken advice from the Higher Education Funding Council for England. I am able to announce today that I am satisfied that all 10 have met the criteria for university title.

They are:

The Arts University College at Bournemouth

Bishop Grosseteste University College Lincoln

Harper Adams University College

Leeds Trinity University College

Newman University College, Birmingham

Norwich University College of the Arts

Royal Agricultural College

University College Birmingham

University College Falmouth

University College Plymouth St. Mark & St. John

They are now able to take their applications forward to the Privy Council who are responsible for the formal process to approve university names in these circumstances.

University title is prestigious, desirable and precious and the Government protect and will continue to protect its integrity. The criteria are stringent and the application process rigorous. However, the previous numbers criterion was an arbitrary barrier preventing high-quality institutions, and in particular smaller and specialist higher education providers, from being able to call themselves universities. We are confident that this reform will open up access to a diverse range of institutions without compromising the idea of what constitutes a university either in terms of the higher education offer itself or the student experience involved.

As for these institutions themselves, they are all well known and highly regarded university colleges with long and distinguished records and histories. I am delighted that they have taken up the opportunity offered by our reforms.

Energy and Climate Change

EU Energy Council

In advance of the forthcoming Energy Council in Brussels on 3 December, I am writing to outline the agenda items to be discussed.

We are expecting progress reports on the proposal for a regulation on guidelines for trans-European energy infrastructure and on the proposal for legislation on safety of offshore oil and gas. The Cyprus presidency is optimistic that it can secure a first reading deal with the European Parliament on the regulation on guidelines for trans-European energy infrastructure by the end of the year and we are content that the negotiated text addresses all our concerns. Negotiations of the proposal on offshore safety are likely to continue into the Irish presidency. Our main concern with this proposal was that it should be reframed in the form of a directive and it now seems likely that there will be agreement on this.

The Council is then expected to agree conclusions on the Commission communication on a strategy for renewable energy, which was published on 6 June. We are content with the text of the conclusions. The conclusions will contribute to the debate about a post-2020 EU climate and energy framework, including the issue of 2030 targets. While we are still developing our view of the framework, we do not favour 2030 technology-specific targets. The Commission is aiming to publish proposals in the second half of next year and the debate is expected to be prominent in the EU for the next year or so.

The Commission will then present its communication on the internal energy market, published on 16 November. The communication assesses the progress being made by member states towards completing the internal energy market and considers what remains to be done. We strongly support the completion of the single energy market and welcome the Commission’s assessment of progress to date and its consultation on capacity mechanisms. The debate on the communication will be combined with a tour de table on progress in delivering the conclusions on energy agreed by the European Council in February 2011.

The presidency and Commission will present a report on a number of international energy relations items, including the energy charter, the energy community, EU-China, the southern corridor, EU-Russia, and the EU-US.

Finally, the Irish delegation will present the programme for their presidency.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The next Agriculture and Fisheries Council is on Wednesday 28 November and Thursday 29 November in Brussels. I will be representing the UK, accompanied by my hon. Friends the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, responsible for the natural environment, water and rural affairs, the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), and the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath). Richard Lochhead MSP, Alun Davies AM and Michelle O’Neill MLA will also attend.

The first day will cover agricultural issues. The discussion will cover common agricultural policy (CAP) reform. Specifically the proposals on direct payments, the single CMO regulation, and rural development. There is an any other business point regarding increased error rates in rural development and corrective/preventative actions.

The second day will be dedicated to fisheries issues. The Council will discuss a proposal on the fixing for 2013 and 2014 fishing opportunities for EU vessels for certain deep sea stocks, and the EU/Norway 2013 negotiations. There is an any other business point about the fixing of the total allowable catch (TAC) for Norway pout.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Balance of Competences Review

I wish to inform the House that, further to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs’ oral statement launching the Balance of Competences Review—12 July 2012, Official Report, column 468 and written ministerial statement on 23 October 2012, Official Report, column 46W—the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is today publishing its call for evidence on the foreign policy aspects of the review.

The foreign policy report will be completed by June 2013 and will provide an analysis of the balance of competences between the EU and the UK in foreign affairs strategic defence issues and civil protection. The report will not produce specific recommendations and will not prejudge any future policy.

The call for evidence will be open until 28 February 2013. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, working with other interested Departments, will take a rigorous approach to the collection and analysis of evidence. The call for evidence sets out the scope of the report and includes a series of questions on which contributors are asked to focus. Interested parties are invited to provide evidence, which will be published (subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Act) alongside the final report in June 2013.

As the review will be objective and evidence-based, it will be important to encourage a wide range of interested parties to contribute. The Department will therefore pursue an active engagement strategy, consulting widely across Parliament, the devolved Administrations, think-tanks, business and civil society in order to obtain evidence to inform our analysis. The EU institutions and our foreign partners will also be invited to contribute, as will members of the public.

I am placing this document and a copy of the call for evidence in the Library of the House. They will also be published on the Balance of Competences Review pages on the FCO website. If there are any further questions regarding the foreign policy report please consult the website or contact: (020 7008 3936/1670); (020 7008 5740); or (02072182594) on defence issues; or (0207 276 0902) on civil protection matters.

Mr Alan McMenemy (Coroner's Verdict)

I would like to update the House on the case of the five British hostages who were kidnapped from the Ministry of Finance in Baghdad in May 2007.

The House will recall that one of the hostages, Peter Moore, was released alive in December 2009. The bodies of Jason Creswell, Jason Swindlehurst and Alec Maclachlan were returned to the UK in 2009. In my statement of 22 June 2011, Official Report, column 16WS, I informed the House that HM coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon, who is responsible for determining the cause of death, had completed his inquest into the deaths of Mr Creswell, Mr Swindlehurst and Mr Maclachlan and recorded a verdict of unlawful killing. I called on those holding the last hostage, Alan McMenemy, to return Alan.

The House will be aware that the body of Alan McMenemy was returned to the UK in January this year. I can report to the House that HM coroner completed his inquest into the death of Mr McMenemy on 26 November and he has recorded a verdict of unlawful killing. The coroner concluded that Mr McMenemy had been brutally murdered by his captors.

I am sure that the House joins me in extending our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Alan McMenemy. They had to suffer uncertainty and pain after Alan was taken hostage and grief on news of his death. I am sure the House would also wish to join me in reiterating our sympathy to the family and friends of his three colleagues as well.

We call on the Iraqi Government to continue their investigations into these horrific crimes and to bring those responsible to justice.

Home Department

Alcohol Consultation

Today I am publishing “A consultation on delivering the Government’s policies to cut alcohol-fuelled crime and antisocial behaviour”.

In the past few years the Government have already legislated for a wide set of reforms to tackle binge drinking and the corrosive effect it has on individuals and our communities. We have:

Rebalanced the Licensing Act in favour of local communities, for instance by removing the “vicinity test” to ensure that anyone—no matter where they live—can input into a decision to grant or revoke a licence;

Legislated to introduce a late night levy, empowering local authorities to make those businesses that sell alcohol late at night contribute towards the cost of policing and wider local authority action;

Introduced early-morning alcohol restriction orders, enabling local areas to restrict the sale of alcohol late at night in all or part of their area if there are problems.

However we need to continue the work to tackle the drink-fuelled antisocial behaviour and crime blighting our communities. So we are launching a 10-week consultation, seeking views on five new areas:

A ban on multi-buy promotions in shops and off-licences to reduce excessive alcohol consumption;

A review of the mandatory licensing conditions, to ensure that they are sufficiently targeting problems such as irresponsible promotions in pubs and clubs;

Health as a new alcohol licensing objective for cumulative impacts so that licensing authorities can consider alcohol-related health harms when managing the problems relating to the number of premises in their area;

Cutting red tape for responsible businesses to reduce the burden of regulation on responsible businesses while maintaining the integrity of the licensing system; and,

A minimum unit price of 45p per unit, ensuring for the first time that alcohol can only be sold at a sensible and appropriate price.

We are consulting on these measures because too many of our high streets and town centres have become no-go areas on a Friday and Saturday night. Just under half of all violent crimes involve alcohol and a great deal of antisocial behaviour is alcohol-fuelled.

It is responsible drinkers, businesses and the wider community who are paying the price in terms of crime and disorder on our streets, violent, alcohol-related injuries clogging up our accident and emergency rooms and significant long-term health problems. The Government will consult on a new approach to turn the tide against irresponsible drinking which costs the taxpayer £21 billion a year. It will help reverse a culture that led to almost 1 million alcohol-related violent crimes and 1.2 million alcohol-related hospital admissions last year alone.

The consultation is targeted explicitly at those harmful drinkers, problem pubs and irresponsible shops. It is not about stopping sensible, responsible drinking or penalising responsible shops, pubs and off-licences.

A copy of the consultation will be placed in the House Library.


Cycling Infrastructure

The coalition Government has today made available an additional £20 million for our existing infrastructure projects to support cycling.

The funding will increase the total available for:

1. The community linking places fund (in addition to the £15 million announced on 7 February 2012)

2. Improving cycle safety at junctions (in addition to the £15 million announced on 26 June 2012)

This community linking places fund is primarily for improvements to cycling and walking infrastructure, facilities and links. This includes improving access to the rail network by bicycle. In addition the fund aims to support jobs, enhance access to employment and encourage greater use of more environmentally friendly transport. Projects currently being supported were announced on 6 March 2012.

The investment in junctions—for use by English local authorities outside London—will help to tackle accident hotspots where cyclists have been killed or seriously injured, or are deemed to be at greater risk. Local authorities are currently submitting bids for funding.

Demand from local authorities, Sustrans and train operating companies, who are delivering the infrastructure, has been high. An increase of £20 million to the total funding available will allow the Government to support more high-quality proposals.

Details of the projects to be supported under the additional funding will be published early next year.