Written Ministerial Statements
Friday 1 March 2013
Culture, Media and Sport
This Government believe that no one should suffer prejudice because of caste. That is why we have been giving the issue careful consideration in order to identify the most appropriate and effective way of tackling the problem.
We are therefore pleased to announce that the Government Equalities Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government have appointed Talk for a Change to engage with the affected communities to run an educational programme to help tackle this complex and sensitive issue.
Talk for a Change will be working with interested organisations and individuals, particularly from within the Hindu and Sikh communities, to find practical solutions to the problems and harm that caste-based prejudice can cause. Talk for a Change has extensive experience of facilitating difficult conversations and working with local partners to address tough issues, helping to build positive relationships and resilient communities.
This educational programme will be used to raise awareness of those channels of help and redress that are already open to those who feel themselves to have been victims of caste discrimination or harassment. The programme will also be used to generate educational material that will subsequently be made available to local authorities, schools, colleges, employers, police and any others who may be likely to come into contact with caste-related issues.
Talk for a Change will be engaging with partners from local communities to deliver regional events in London, the midlands and the north. Participation in these events will be open to all individuals and organisations who wish to take part in this opportunity.
We believe that this programme will be an appropriate and targeted way of dealing with incidents relating to caste and which are not already susceptible to criminal law or other remedies. We have decided not to exercise the caste power contained in the Equality Act 2010 at the present time—though we have no plans to remove the power from the Act, in case the position should change.
In addition to the work being done by Talk for a Change, we have also been in discussion with the Equality and Human Rights Commission about caste discrimination. The Government Equalities Office and the commission have agreed that the latter can usefully contribute to this issue by examining over the next few months the nature of caste prejudice and harassment as evidenced by existing studies, and the extent to which this problem is likely to be addressed by either legislative or other solutions. The commission will publish its findings later in 2013.
School Capital Funding
Today I am announcing details of the capital funding of around £4 billion that will be made available to create new school places and to carry out maintenance and repair work to existing school buildings.
The number of pupils in England is rising and is set to continue to rise well into the next Parliament. Ensuring that every child is able to attend a good or outstanding school in their local area is at the heart of the Government’s comprehensive programme of reform of the school system. We have previously made available core annual allocations of £800 million to help local authorities meet the demand for additional school places together with a further £500 million in 2011-12 and £600 million in 2012-13. Today we are allocating capital funding for basic need of £1.6 billion covering the two years 2013-14 and 2014-15.
It is vital that this money is targeted where it is needed and so we have worked with local authorities to improve the way that funding for new school places is distributed across the country.
Until now, we have not had detailed information about the specific areas within local authorities where the demand for school places is expected to increase. This meant that we could not target funding in the most effective way possible to meet pockets of demand within local authorities.
Over the past 12 months, we have worked with local authorities to ensure that funding is distributed more fairly across the country. Local authorities told us that funding should be allocated based solely on projected shortfalls between the places available and the places required within the smaller planning areas that they use when assessing the need for new school places. They also said that funding should be confirmed for at least two years in order to aid better planning.
We redesigned the annual school capacity survey, which local authorities submit to the Department each year, to ensure that, for the first time, we have detailed information about the pressure points within individual authority areas.
As a result of these changes, the distribution of funding to local authorities for additional school places should be fairer, more accurate and better value for money. Some local authorities will see their funding go up, while others will see funding levels go down. This reflects changes in the number of new school places required in different areas of the country as well as the use of more detailed data and it is right that money is allocated where it is needed.
These changes in allocation will get the best value from our core funding for new places. But, in view of the urgent need for more school places following the steep rise in birth rates in many parts of the country, this extra investment needs further enhancement. That is why, in his autumn statement on 5 December, the Chancellor announced that the Government will provide additional investment of £982 million for schools in England over the remainder of this Parliament.
With this additional money, we are now launching the targeted basic need programme to fund the provision of new, high-quality school places in the areas that need it most. The programme will offer additional support to those local authorities experiencing the greatest pressure on places and will help them to prepare for further rises in pupil numbers. The programme will deliver new academies and free schools, as well as enabling investment to expand existing good and outstanding schools.
Local authorities will be able to bid for funding to increase the number of high-quality school places available in areas with the most acute levels of need. All new schools will open as academies or free schools and successful local authorities will be required to run a competitive process in order to select the best provider. This will enable greater parental choice where it is most needed, thereby driving up standards across the local area.
This, together with the additional local authority allocations we made in 2011-12 and 2012-13 will bring the total amount of funding allocated to local authorities for new school places over the current spending review period to over £5 billion. This is more than double the £1.9 billion spent by the previous Government over an equivalent period. We are also setting out our expectation today of greater transparency so that local authorities’ decisions about where to add places are more transparent and accessible to the public. Local authorities will be required to make available details of how they have used their basic need allocations to create additional places and in which schools.
In addition, we must also ensure that existing school buildings are kept in good condition. In 2013-14, as in the previous two years, an additional £1.2 billion will be made available to local authorities and academies to maintain and improve the condition of existing school buildings across the country.
The previous Government did not collect comprehensive and consistent data about the schools most in need of repair and investment. That is why we are in the process of gathering extensive information about the condition of the school estate through the property data survey. In the meantime, funding for condition and maintenance will be allocated on a simple and transparent per-pupil basis. In addition to this £1.2 billion in 2013-14, a further £200 million of devolved formula capital funding will be given directly to maintained schools and academies in 2013-14 to maintain the condition of their buildings.
Today’s announcement also includes capital funding for 16 to 19 provision. Some £80 million will be made available for 2013-14 and 2014-15 to maintained schools, academies, sixth-form colleges and independent specialist providers to fund additional places needed as a result of demographic changes. This funding will also support the provision of new places for students with learning difficulties and disabilities.
Some £61 million of capital maintenance funding will be allocated to sixth-form colleges in 2013-14. Alongside this, £15 million of capital maintenance funding will be allocated to independent specialist providers for 2013-14 and 2014-15.
Capital allocations for 2013-14 and 2014-15 have been published on the Department for Education’s website and I will also place a copy of this and accompanying documents in the Libraries of both Houses.
Energy and Climate Change
Parliamentary Written Question (Correction)
An error has been identified in the written answer given to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), Official Report, 12 February 2013, column 614W . The wording was incorrect as the calculation used for the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) was per card holder rather than per member of staff, with the result that the stated CNC averages were too high.
The full answer given was as follows:
The mean average spend using a Government Procurement Card per member of staff is as below:
Committee on Climate Change
Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
Civil Nuclear Constabulary
The correct answer using average number of staff for CNC rather than the average number of staff holding a Government Procurement Card is:
Committee on Climate Change
Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
Civil Nuclear Constabulary
2011—GPC spend—£87,984/1,049 (average number of staff in 2011) = £84
2012—GPC spend—£65,799/1,244 (average number of staff in 2012) = £53
Energy Council (Post-Council Statement)
I represented the United Kingdom at the EU Energy Council in Brussels on 22 February 2013.
The presidency reported that they had reached political agreement with the European Parliament on the proposal for legislation on the safety of offshore oil and gas. I welcomed the agreement.
The presidency then held an orientation debate on the Commission’s proposal on Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC), which attempts to reduce the greenhouse gas-associated impacts of first generation land-based biofuels. The Commission noted that it could be flexible with respect to the cap of 5% on the contribution of first generation biofuels towards the 10% renewable energy target for transport and in relation to the recognition of the different greenhouse gas impacts of biodiesel and bioethanol. I agreed that a single approach was not helpful as the evidence indicated that bioethanol and biodiesel have very different ILUC implications and suggested that basing the proposal instead on the “ILUC factors” of biofuels would be a more appropriate way of tackling the problem and would allow investment to continue in more sustainable bioethanol. A number of member states supported this position. Most member states considered that the 5% cap on industry was too restrictive and damaging to investor confidence.
The Commission then opened the policy debate on the future of the internal energy market and noted that the functioning of the electricity market was falling behind other parts of the single market. It noted its concerns about capacity markets. Member states responded by stating their support for the principle of the single market. I emphasised the UK’s strong support for the single market, including the network codes which will enhance cross-border exchange of power. I pointed out that security of supply is also a vital consideration which is why the UK planned to implement a capacity market to ensure continuity of supply while we modernised our power sector and made the transition to low-carbon sources. A number of member states also supported the need for capacity mechanisms. Although most member states had doubts about capacity markets, some indicated increasing flexibility.
Finally, on the European semester annual growth survey, the presidency noted that as member states had submitted written contributions, there was no need for further discussion.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Afghanistan (Monthly Progress Report)
I wish to inform the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, is today publishing the 24th progress report on developments in Afghanistan since November 2010.
In January, President Karzai and President Obama issued a joint statement, which included an announcement that they would support an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the High Peace Council and the authorised representatives of the Taliban. Her Majesty’s Government support the opening of a Taliban office as an important step forward in the Afghan peace and reconciliation effort.
In January the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan—UNAMA— released its 2012 report on the “Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees in Afghan Custody”. Its report contained findings that are of significant concern. Her Majesty’s Government have already recognised the risk of torture or serious mistreatment at Afghan facilities. This was why we suspended transfers of UK-captured detainees to the National Directorate of Security in April 2012. This moratorium was reaffirmed by the Defence Secretary in November 2012.
The UK’s support for phase one of the Bost agricultural business park in Helmand has delivered real benefits, including regular commercial flights connecting Helmand to the rest of the country. However, the UK has decided not to fund phase two, because it did not represent value for money. The money released will be used to support infrastructure projects with higher returns.
January saw some high profile attacks in Kabul that were dealt with by the ANSF, without a call for ISAF assistance. The first, on 16 January, attempted to enter the National Directorate of Security. The second, on 20 January, saw another IED attack outside the Kabul City traffic police headquarters. While these attacks demonstrate the insurgency’s intent to carry out a continued campaign of violence in Afghanistan, the response from the ANSF to both incidents was prompt and professional. With the exception of ISAF advisors within Afghan elements, there was no request for, or involvement of, ISAF forces.
I am placing the report in the Library of the House. It will also be published on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website (www.fco.gov.uk).
National Health Service Charges
My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe) has made the following written ministerial statement.
Regulations will be laid before the House shortly to increase certain National Health Service charges in England from 1 April 2013.
There will be an increase in the prescription charge of 20p from £7.65 to £7.85 for each quantity of a drug or appliance dispensed.
For another year, the cost of a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) will remain at £29.10 for a three-month certificate. The cost of the annual certificate will remain at £104. PPCs offer savings for those needing four or more items in three months or 14 or more items in one year.
Regulations will also be laid to increase NHS dental charges from 1 April 2013. The dental charge payable for a band one course of treatment will increase by 50p from £17.50 to £18. The dental charge for a band 2 course of treatment will increase by £1 from £48 to £49. The charge for a band 3 course of treatment will increase by £5 from £209 to £214.
Dental charges represent an important contribution to the overall cost of dental services. The exact amount raised will be dependent upon the level and type of primary dental care services commissioned by the NHS Commissioning Board and the proportion of charge-paying patients who attend dentists and the level of treatment they require.
Charges will also be increased, by an overall 2.5%, for wigs and fabric supports.
The range of NHS optical vouchers available to children, people on low incomes and individuals with complex sight problems are also being increased in value. In order to continue to provide help with the cost of spectacles and contact lenses, optical voucher values will rise by an overall 1%.
Details of the revised charges are in the following tables.
New Charge (£)
3 month PPC (no change)
12 month PPC (no change)
Band 1 course of treatment
Band 2 course of treatment
Band 3 course of treatment
Wigs and Fabrics
Abdominal or spinal support
Stock modacrylic wig
Partial human hair wig
Full bespoke human hair wig
Type of optical appliance
A. Glasses with single vision lenses: spherical power of = 6 dioptres, cylindrical power of = 2 dioptres.
B. Glasses with single vision lenses: spherical power of > 6 dioptres but < 10 dioptres, cylindrical power of = 6 dioptres; spherical power of < 10 dioptres, cylindrical power of > 2 dioptres but = 6 dioptres.
C. Glasses with single vision lenses: spherical power of = 10 dioptres but = 14 dioptres, cylindrical power of = 6 dioptres.
D. Glasses with single vision lenses: spherical power of >14 dioptres with any cylindrical power; cylindrical power of > 6 dioptres with any spherical power.
E. Glasses with bifocal lenses: spherical power of = 6 dioptres, cylindrical power of = 2 dioptres.
F. Glasses with bifocal lenses: spherical power of > 6 dioptres but < 10 dioptres, cylindrical power of = 6 dioptres; spherical power of < 10 dioptres, cylindrical power of > 2 dioptres but = 6 dioptres.
G. Glasses with bifocal lenses: spherical power of = 10 dioptres but = 14 dioptres, cylindrical power of 6 = dioptres.
H. Glasses with prism-controlled bifocal lenses of any power or with bifocal lenses: spherical power of >14 dioptres with any cylindrical power; cylindrical power of > 6 dioptres with any spherical power.
I. (HES) Glasses not falling within any of paragraphs 1 to 8 for which a prescription is given in consequence of a testing of sight by an NHS Trust.
J Contact lenses for which a prescription is given in consequence of a sight test by an NHS trust or NHS foundation trust.
Personal Health Budgets
On 30 November 2012, Official Report, column 37WS, I informed the House of our intention to roll out personal health budgets, including direct payments for health care, beyond the pilot programme.
In November we committed to publishing a consultation on the policy changes that the Department proposes to make to the National Health Service (Direct Payments) Regulations 2010 in light of the learning from the pilot programme. Today we have published the consultation and we welcome views on it.
Primary legislation will need to be updated in order to allow direct payments for health care in the NHS beyond the pilot programme. An order will be laid before Parliament under the affirmative procedure in the near future which, subject to parliamentary approval, will allow us to make the necessary changes to the regulations following on from the consultation.
“Direct Payments For Health Care—a consultation on updated policy for regulations” has been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.
Skilled Migrant Workers (Codes of Practice)
The Home Office is today announcing changes to the codes of practice for skilled migrant workers from outside the European economic area.
The codes of practice provide important information to migrant workers and their sponsoring employers. They set out which occupations are skilled to the necessary level to qualify for tier 2 of the points-based system, minimum appropriate rates of pay, and how employers should carry out a resident labour market test to determine whether suitable settled workers are available before they offer a job to a migrant worker.
Last year, the Government commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to review the codes of practice. The MAC published a detailed report on 17 October 2012. Today we are setting out the Government’s response to the MAC’s recommendations. In general we have accepted the MAC’s recommendations, although there are some additional details which have resulted from developing the proposals. Taken as a whole, the changes are intended to update the system and make it more user-friendly, rather than significantly change the policy.
On lists of skilled occupations, as advised by the MAC, we are updating the codes of practice from the old SOC 2000 classification system to the new SOC 2010 system. Transitional arrangements will ensure that no migrant worker is unable to continue working in their current job as a result of the reclassification.
On minimum salary requirements, we are updating the minimum appropriate rates for each occupation in line with the MAC’s recommendations and to reflect changes in pay for settled workers. We have accepted the MAC’s recommendation that the minimum should generally be set at the 25th percentile of wages in that occupation. We are introducing alternative rates for new entrants. These will be set at the 10th percentile of wages in each occupation. After three years the new entrant—usually these will be those aged 25 or under—will have to be paid at the experienced worker rate. In addition, we are updating the minimum pay thresholds which exist across tier 2 (regardless of occupation) in line with wage inflation for settled workers.
On the resident labour market test, we are, in line with the MAC’s recommendations, simplifying the current rules to give employers more freedom to advertise in the media they think are most likely to be successful for their sector. This will mean settled workers looking for jobs in that sector will be better targeted and will have more opportunities to apply for skilled jobs. We will still require most jobs to be advertised via a Jobcentre Plus online service (or JobCentre Online, for jobs based in Northern Ireland), but we will keep this requirement under review.
The changes will be implemented on 6 April and we will lay changes to the immigration rules nearer the time to bring them into effect. The Home Office is publishing a statement of intent today, in order to give employers and applicants as much time as possible to review the changes we are making and prepare for them coming into effect. I am placing a copy of the statement of intent in the Library of the House.
On 30 November, I released a written ministerial statement outlining my decision not to release general budget support to Rwanda at that time. That decision was made on the basis of a breach of the partnership principles which underpin the disbursement of general budget support.
At that time I signalled my commitment to continue with the successful development partnership with Rwanda, and initiated work to look at how we could protect the poorest groups in Rwanda through reprogramming funds that were no longer disbursed as general budget support.
The work I requested has now been completed and I have agreed to the reprogramming of £16 million support to Rwanda. This reprogrammed development spend will be channelled through projects that directly reach and protect the poorest people in Rwanda. In line with my earlier decision regarding the breach in the partnership principles, it is not appropriate to release any of these funds as general budget support.
The funds being released will be used to provide cash transfers and cash for work opportunities for around 545,000 of the poorest individuals and to support non-governmental organisations in Rwanda to provide essential services. We will also pay directly for 1.8 million textbooks for primary and secondary students. A further £2 million will support up to 20,000 refugees in refugee camps on the Rwanda side of the border with DRC.
Additionally, since November I have released funds for a social cash transfers programme, a scholarship scheme which focuses primarily on women and girls, and support to continue a highly successful lands registration programme.
The UK Government remain fully committed to supporting long-term solutions which bring stability and resolve the causes of conflict in eastern DRC, and will continue to work with our international and regional partners to achieve this goal.
The Government have today published a consultation on our proposed coroner reforms to be made under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.
Our proposals are key to enabling us to meet our aims of putting the needs of bereaved people at the heart of the coroner system; retaining local coroner services but within a new national framework of standards and with new national leadership; and enabling a more efficient system of investigations and inquests.
We began the process of reform with the appointment of the first Chief Coroner of England and Wales, His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC, in May 2012. The next step is to implement the Chief Coroner’s powers under the 2009 Act, along with a number of other important reforms to the coroner system.
Our consultation therefore seeks views on the following proposals:
New “Coroners (Investigations) Regulations”—setting out the investigation process (excluding the inquest part of proceedings) including new measures intended to tackle delays within the coroner system.
New “Coroners (Inquests) Rules”—governing the practice at inquests, including new provisions about disclosure of information to bereaved relatives and other interested persons, allowing them to play a more active role in the process.
New “Coroners Allowances, Fees and Expenses Regulations”—setting out the fees and allowances that coroners can pay or charge, largely replicating current provisions.
A new “Guide to Coroner Services”—updating and combining the current “Guide to Coroners and Inquests” and “Charter for Coroner Services”.
New coroner areas—mapping out the new coroner area framework and commencing the process of amalgamating areas to deliver a more consistent, efficient and professional coroner system.
In developing these proposals. Ministry of Justice officials have worked closely with colleagues in the Department of Health on the death certification reforms which also flow from part 1 of the 2009 Act and on which the Department of Health will be consulting separately.
The coroner reforms consultation will run until 12 April 2013. A response paper will be published online and the Government intend to implement the reforms in summer 2013.
Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, in the Vote Office and in the Printed Paper Office. The document is also available online, at http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/consultations.htm.
I would like to inform the House about a change in the financing approach for the Crossrail rolling stock and associated depot facilities contract.
The Mayor of London and Transport for London have proposed using the flexibility in the original procurement to move from the current financing model, involving a substantial element of private sector funding, to one that is entirely funded by the public sector.
I can inform the House that the Government have agreed to this change. The decision reflects the unique circumstances that apply to Crossrail. As a new route that is currently under construction it has no inherited train fleet and without new trains the service cannot open.
Transport for London and the Government believe this decision is an appropriate course of action to deliver a very complex and unique infrastructure project within the delivery timetable. Trains need to be ordered by the middle of 2014, so that testing and delivery of the fleet can start in spring 2017, well ahead of the opening of Crossrail’s central tunnel section in late 2018.
Any delay in the rolling stock order would place this delivery timetable in jeopardy. By removing the private financing requirement and moving to a wholly publicly funded procurement the contract negotiations will be simplified and as a result Transport for London believes this will provide greater certainty that the contract can be awarded in time.
In considering these concerns and the importance of the Crossrail project to the country, the Government have been convinced that—in this specific case—a change in the financing strategy is an appropriate course to pursue.
Within the current spending review period this will involve the use of existing TfL budgets. The remaining costs that fall beyond 2014-15 will be factored into future capital spending plans.
The Department for Transport remains committed to the use of private finance in transport projects where it provides value for money and fits with our timetables for planned investment.
The financing of the contract is the only key element of the contract that will change. The “responsible procurement” requirements set out by my predecessor last February will remain as will the requirements for bidders to set out an estimate of the contract value that will be spent in the UK. While this is not an assessment criterion in the decision process, the successful bidder will be required to report against it following contract award.
Following this decision, Crossrail Ltd intends to issue a revised invitation to negotiate in due course. I will ensure that a copy of this is available in the Library of the House as soon as it is available. Bidders will then be asked to resubmit their bids based on this revised financing structure later this year.
I will keep the House updated with progress on this issue.