Monday 1 July 2013
Business, Innovation and Skills
Industry Training Boards (Triennial Review)
The coalition Government made a commitment to review public bodies, with the aim of increasing accountability for actions carried out on behalf of the state. The triennial review of the industry training boards is one of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) reviews of non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) scheduled to commence during the third year of the programme (2013-14). The review will commence in July 2013. This is not a review of the policy relating to skills funding, to which the Government remain committed.
The review will be conducted as set out in Cabinet Office guidance, in two stages.
The first stage will:
Identify and examine the key functions of the industry training boards and assess the requirement for these to continue;
If continuing, then assess delivery options and where the conclusion is that a particular function is still needed examine how this function might best be delivered, including a cost and benefits analysis where appropriate;
If one of these options is continuing delivery through the industry training boards then make an assessment against the Government’s “three tests”: technical function; political impartiality; need for independence from Ministers.
If the outcome of stage 1 is that delivery should continue through the industry training boards as an NDPB, then the second stage of the project will be to ensure that they are operating in line with the recognised principles of good corporate governance, using the Cabinet Office “comply or explain” standard approach.
When completed the report of the review will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
ISA Qualifying Investments
On 13 March the Government published a consultation on including shares traded on small and medium-sized enterprise equity markets within ISA qualifying investments. This consultation sought views on the Government’s proposed method of implementing this policy.
Following the consultation, the Government today publish their response. The majority of respondents to the consultation broadly agreed with the Government’s proposal, although some suggested alternative approaches. The Government have carefully considered all the responses. On balance, they believe that their proposed approach remains the most appropriate: their reasons are set out in the summary of responses.
The Government therefore intend to introduce the necessary legislation before summer recess to amend the ISA regulations in line with the consultation proposal. They will be amended to expand the range of ISA qualifying investments to include company shares admitted to trading on a recognised stock exchange in the European economic area. This will meet the main objective of allowing company shares on SME equity markets into the scope of ISA qualifying investments.
I am placing copies of the summary of responses in the Libraries of both Houses.
Communities and Local Government
Planning and Travellers
The coalition Government have taken a series of steps to ensure fair play in the planning system. We have tackled the abuse of planning rules by a small minority, abolished top-down targets, increased protection of the green belt and aligned the planning system for Traveller sites with that for settled housing. A more detailed list of measures we have taken is outlined in my answer of 25 April 2013, Official Report, column 1132W.
Protecting the Green Belt
Our policy document, “Planning Policy for Traveller Sites”, was issued in March 2012. It makes it clear that both temporary and permanent Traveller sites are inappropriate development in the green belt and that planning decisions should protect green belt land from such inappropriate development.
As set out in that document and in March 2012’s national planning policy framework, inappropriate development in the green belt should not be approved except in very special circumstances. Having considered recent planning decisions by councils and the planning inspectorate, it has become apparent that, in some cases, the green belt is not always being given the sufficient protection that was the explicit policy intent of Ministers.
The Secretary of State wishes to make clear that, in considering planning applications, although each case will depend on its facts, he considers that the single issue of unmet demand, whether for Traveller sites or for conventional housing, is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt and other harm to constitute the “very special circumstances” justifying inappropriate development in the green belt.
The Secretary of State wishes to give particular scrutiny to Traveller site appeals in the green belt, so that he can consider the extent to which “Planning Policy for Traveller Sites” is meeting this Government’s clear policy intentions. To this end he is hereby revising the appeals recovery criteria issued on 30 June 2008 and will consider for recovery appeals involving traveller sites in the green belt.
For the avoidance of doubt, this does not mean that all such appeals will be recovered, but that the Secretary of State will likely recover a number of appeals in order to test the relevant policies at national level. The Secretary of State will apply this criteria for a period of six months, after which it will be reviewed.
Revoking “Equality and diversity in planning”
Under the last Administration’s flawed rules, a sense of unfairness was embedded in the planning system. Unauthorised developments created tensions between Travellers and the settled population, while some community groups seemingly were given favoured treatment. That approach has harmed community cohesion. We want to redress the balance and put fairness back into local communities.
I appreciate that there is ongoing concern, as reflected by some hon. Members recently proposing a Private Members’ Bill on this issue.
I can announce today that the Government are cancelling the last Administration’s practice guidance “Diversity and Equality in Planning” which was issued by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in 2005.
This guidance is outdated, excessive in length (at 186 pages), and sends unhelpful signals about the planning process. For example, the document:
Fails to strike the correct balance between the spatial impact of a planning proposal and the background of the applicant in considering a planning application.
Encourages monitoring of local residents’ private lives—such as through intrusive lifestyle/diversity surveys.
Promotes the excessive use of equality impact assessments, which are an expensive and bureaucratic burden on the public sector.
Tells councils to translate into foreign language, which undermines integration by discouraging people from learning English, weakens community cohesion and a common British identity, and wastes taxpayers’ money.
As part of our wider consolidation of practice guidance, we do not intend to replace it.
The national planning policy framework makes it clear that councils should plan to provide wide choice of high-quality homes based on the needs of their local community. Councils should simply use their common sense in the light of prevailing legislation, planning policy and material considerations.
I hope this will send a positive message about treating all members of the community with respect and with due process, and that this Government are restoring a proper sense of fairness to the planning system.
Armed Forces Pay Review Body (Appointment)
I am pleased to announce that the Prime Minister has appointed John Steele as the next chair of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body commencing 1 July 2013 until 28 February 2016. This appointment has been made in accordance with the guidance of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.
The armed forces covenant is a priority for the Government. It places an obligation on the whole of society—including government at all levels, charitable bodies, private organisations and individuals—to support the armed forces community. The community covenant, which we launched in 2011, provides a mechanism for local authorities and other local organisations to show their commitment, and over 330 local authorities—over three quarters of the total across the United Kingdom—have now signed one.
The corporate covenant will now allow businesses of all sizes to express their support for the whole armed forces community as well.
The new corporate covenant is a written and publicised voluntary pledge from businesses and charitable organisations who wish to demonstrate their concrete support for the armed forces community. All corporate covenants include a core statement of commitment that businesses adopting the scheme sign up to, which reiterates the two key principles of the armed forces covenant. This states that:
no member of the armed forces community should face disadvantage in the provision of public and commercial services compared to any other citizen; and
in some circumstances special treatment may be appropriate, especially for the injured or bereaved.
In addition, each company or charitable organisation will be encouraged to offer support in a way most appropriate to their situation and capacity, with the pledge document including a “menu” of areas for them to sign up to. This menu covers employment support for veterans, reservists, service spouses and partners, as well as support for cadet units, Armed Forces day, and discounts for the armed forces community. For instance, in practical terms, this may mean committing to offer veterans and service spouses and partners job interviews, or providing extra leave to allow reservists to complete their training. There is also an opportunity for companies and charitable organisations to add their own commitments, based on local circumstances.
By offering companies and charitable organisations the opportunity to sign up to a range of commitments, we hope to encourage small and medium organisations as well as larger corporations, to participate in the corporate covenant.
Five key business organisations (the British Chambers of Commerce, the Business Services Association, the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses, and the Institute of Directors) publically pledged their support for the corporate covenant at its launch on the eve of Armed Forces day. We will now begin a process of recruiting individual companies, both large and small across the UK, to sign up to the corporate covenant. We will report back to Parliament on the progress of this initiative later this year.
I am placing a copy of the corporate covenant and the associated concise guidance notes in the Library of the House and copies of both will also be available on the new website at: https://www.gov.uk/the-corporate-covenant.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
National Adaptation Programme/Strategy for the Adaptation Reporting Power
I wish to inform the House that I have today laid in Parliament both a report on the “National Adaptation Programme” and the “Strategy for the Adaptation Reporting Power”.
National Adaptation Programme
Recent extreme weather in Britain, such as the flooding last year, has brought into sharp relief just how important anticipating and managing weather extremes can be. In the case of flooding, the costs of rebuilding can run in to hundreds of millions of pounds. Essential public services such as schools and hospitals can be heavily disrupted and business—particularly small businesses—can be hit severely. Extreme weather abroad also affects us at home. For example, harvest failures abroad can push up food prices here.
The Climate Change Act 2008 requires the Government to undertake a climate change risk assessment, followed by the publication of a national adaptation programme. In January 2012 the Government published the “Climate Change Risk Assessment” (CCRA). This brought together the best available evidence, using a consistent framework to identify the main risks and opportunities related to climate change. The Government’s response to the CCRA is the first National Adaptation Programme (NAP).
The report on the National Adaptation Programme I am publishing today sets out the progress we have achieved through the programme and describes what the Government consider to be the most urgent areas for action structured around seven themes: built environment, infrastructure, healthy and resilient communities, agriculture and forestry, natural environment and business. The themes address a range of different types of risk. These include: flooding, water availability, extreme weather events and heat waves.
However, the Government cannot act alone. That is why I am delighted that we have worked so closely with so many experts from outside Government—from industry, from local government and from civil society and the report describes action by the Government and these other organisations. All the actions agreed so far are listed in a section of the report called the “Register of Adaptation Actions”. These preparations, based on the best evidence and a spirit of partnership, will help avoid costs and damage and so support the growth of a stronger and more balanced economy.
The National Adaptation Programme is primarily for England but also covers reserved, excepted and non-devolved matters. The individual devolved Administrations are developing their own programmes and the Government are working with them on areas of common interest to ensure a consistent approach in the shape and focus of all the programmes.
Strategy for the Adaptation Reporting Power
The Adaptation Reporting Power was introduced under the Climate Change Act and aims to:
ensure climate change risk management is systematically undertaken by reporting authorities;
help ensure public services and infrastructure are resilient to climate change;
monitor the level of preparedness of key sectors to climate change.
Following consultation, the strategy I am publishing today sets out a voluntary approach for the second round of reporting. I will invite those organisations which took part in the first round of adaptation reporting to provide progress updates on the actions that they set out in their reports to Government. These organisations are primarily from the energy, water and transport sectors. I will also invite a small number of organisations to report for the first time on their assessment of the current and predicted risks and opportunities from climate change to their functions, as well as their proposals and policies for adapting to climate change. I am not intending to issue directions to organisations to report under the second round of the adaptation reporting power.
I am placing these documents in the Libraries of both Houses. They will also be published on: https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/adapting-to-climate-change
Agriculture and Fisheries Council
I represented the UK at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 24 and 25 June in Luxembourg. Richard Lochhead MSP, Alun Davies AM and Michelle O’Neill MLA also attended.
The Irish presidency’s objective for council was to obtain political agreement from member states on the four regulations that set out the rules for the common agricultural policy (CAP) over the 2014-20 financial period. An agreement was reached on a revised mandate late on Tuesday night. On the basis of that mandate, the presidency was then able to reach an outline agreement with the European Parliament on Wednesday 26 June.
The UK agreed to the mandate on the direct payments, rural development and the horizontal regulations. Overall I do not think the CAP package represents genuine reform. However, thanks to our efforts, working with other like-minded member states, it is in a much better state than the original proposals. By agreeing a deal on these regulations we have provided certainty for farmers and delivery bodies.
On the direct payments regulation, I argued strongly on the importance of flexibility for member states to deliver the Commission’s “greening” proposals, if they wish to, through national certification schemes, allowing all the regions of the UK the possibility to achieve a better balance between costs and environmental benefits than if we were to apply the measures set out in the Commission’s original proposal. On coupled support, the prospect of return to tobacco subsidies has been successfully resisted. However, it is disappointing that there is not a common set of rules for member states and there will be an opportunity to increase the use of coupled schemes. This is a backward step as EU agriculture has made good progress in phasing out subsidy linked to production. In terms of simplification there will be a mandatory active farmer test but we successfully negotiated this should only be based on assessing against a much shorter list of business types. In addition, the small farmer measure will also be voluntary though the young farmer provisions ended up as mandatory.
On rural development, the agreed regulation will enable all regions of the UK to deliver environmental benefits and rural economic growth through their rural development programmes. A solution was found which removes the threat of farmers being paid twice, once under each pillar of the CAP, for carrying out the same environmental measures. Member states will also have to spend at least 30% of their rural development budget on environmental measures. This is important to help support farmers in their crucial role in enhancing and protecting the natural environment.
On the horizontal (finance and control) regulation, there was the inclusion of some UK-inspired simplifications. This includes on areas such as audit provisions, having a longer transition period for mapping requirements under the greening measures, and a more proportionate approach on penalties. The ability to use a monthly average euro to sterling exchange rate may also help give more certainty to farmers and paying agencies who decide to use this option.
Together with Germany I abstained in the vote on the single common market organisation (single CMO). In an attempt to secure agreement with the European Parliament, changes were introduced which did not continue on the trajectory of reform. Market intervention is unnecessary, costly, and should only be used in times of genuine crisis as it has negative effects on farmers’ abilities to respond to market signals and consumer demand. While end dates have been set for production quotas for sugar beet and planting rights for vines, these have been extended beyond dates previously agreed. Nor were adequate safeguards introduced for the sugar refinery sector. This is bad for businesses and consumers, and will keep prices artificially high. In addition, I was unhappy with the move to allow the European Parliament’s involvement in decisions on reference prices and intervention prices that was part of the final agreement. I believe this does not adhere to the treaty on the functioning of the European Union principles on the balance of responsibilities between the Council and the European Parliament. It was right that the UK took a principled stand.
Throughout the negotiations, I worked closely with all of the devolved Administrations and, as a result, secured outcomes that successfully address some of their key concerns. Most importantly, I achieved a statement from the European Commission which acknowledges that all four regulations can be implemented regionally, in line with the UK’s devolution arrangements. I also obtained a smoother transition than in the Commission’s original text from historical to area-based direct payments, a switch that the devolved Administrations have yet to make. Finally, I was able to ensure that the text included a provision giving them flexibility to utilise their regional reserves to top-up payments to new entrants to farming, an issue which was particularly important to the Scottish Government.
There was one AOB point on the Council agenda from a number of member states who had been affected by flooding in central and eastern Europe. The Council noted concerns on the impact on agriculture in these countries and noted that there were a number of existing tools available that member states could draw on to provide additional support in such times of crisis.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Foreign Affairs Council/General Affairs Councils
I attended the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 24 June and the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 25 June. 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 by the Irish presidency. The meetings were held in Luxembourg.
Commissioners Hedegaard (Climate Action), Ftile (Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy) and Piebalgs (Development) were in attendance for some of the discussions at the FAC.
Commissioners Šefcovic (Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration), Lewandowski (Financial Programming and Budget), and Füle were in attendance for some of the discussions at the GAC.
Foreign Affairs Council
A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa. eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/137593.pdf.
Baroness Ashton raised the outcome of the elections in Iran and assured Ministers that she would seize any opportunity for greater engagement on the nuclear issue.
Baroness Ashton updated the Council on the situation regarding Turkey, expressing concern about the Government’s and police’s handling of the recent protests while stressing the importance of the EU remaining engaged.
Baroness Ashton noted the good progress made in the association agreement (AA) negotiations with Armenia, Georgia and Moldova, and the real prospect that they would be initialled at the eastern partnership summit in Vilnius in November. The European External Action Service (EEAS) and Commission maintained regular and intense dialogue with Ukraine, underlining the need for the December 2012 FAC conclusion benchmarks to be met.
I underlined that the UK wanted a successful summit and hoped that some of the AAs could be signed/initialled at Vilnius, assuming the documents were technically ready and remaining conditions met. The UK wanted to move forward with Ukraine, but significant concerns remained. In this climate signature at Vilnius could not be guaranteed, so the EU would need to consider alternative measures of success.
Baroness Ashton and Commissioner Hedegaard introduced the second FAC discussion of climate diplomacy following the previous discussion in July 2011. Climate change was a core foreign policy issue given its security, economic and physical impacts. The EU had played a key role in the agreement at the UN climate change conference in Durban in 2011 thanks to our ability to speak with one voice and build the right alliances with over 100 progressive developing countries.
Member states strongly supported the EEAS and Commission work, reflection paper and proposed way ahead. I emphasised that the commitments from Durban were only achievable with political support at the highest levels so, with a critical two years ahead, we needed to raise the issue of climate change at the strategic level, across the EEAS, Commission and member states. Conclusions were agreed and it was decided that the FAC should return to this next year.
Middle East Peace Process (MEPP)
Member states agreed on the importance of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s current efforts and discussed the best ways for the EU to support these. Member states’ views varied as to the most effective use of conclusions this month, which were not agreed. Following the debate, the high representative reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to a two-state solution and stressed that the EU fully supports the current efforts of the US in support of the resumption of direct and substantial negotiations. The FAC will revert to the issue in July.
Over lunch, NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen shared views about Afghanistan’s development post-2014, and how the international community should continue to support the country after military draw-down. Ministers were cautiously optimistic about the recent opening of a political office in Qatar for peace negotiations with the Taliban, and pressed for all stakeholders to participate constructively in the process. The Council agreed that, in co-ordination with other international players such as NATO and the UN, the EU should agree a comprehensive strategy for its engagement with Afghanistan post-2014. This would complement the EU-Afghanistan co-operation agreement on partnership and development, which would hopefully be finalised soon.
I underlined the importance of the EU continuing to send a strong signal of support to Afghanistan beyond 2014 and of prioritising funding for it. EUPOL should be a key part of this, following a strategic review in the autumn. Conclusions were agreed which focused particularly on urging progress on fulfilment of Afghanistan’s commitments under the Tokyo mutual accountability framework and on preparations for the elections in 2014. They also re-stated the EU’s commitment to strengthening civilian policing in Afghanistan, including beyond the transition period.
In Baroness Ashton’s view, overall, the EU had responded to the Arab spring in a comprehensive way that underlined the strategic importance of the region, including through taskforces, enhanced financial support and close contact with civil society. I emphasised the need to continue to evaluate the effectiveness of our engagement, including via a rigorous country-by-country analysis. This would guide decisions on how to calibrate EU support. I welcomed the EEAS and Commission’s focus in their recent letter to the European Council on effective public messaging and enhanced co-ordination. The Commission’s sectoral DGs in particular should adhere more closely to the overall European neighbourhood policy framework.
Baroness Ashton also reported on her recent visit to countries in the region, including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. This had left her particularly concerned at the prospect of major protests in Egypt on 30 June. She had urged President Morsi to reach out to the opposition.
On Syria, there was broad agreement on the need for the EU to focus on support to the Geneva II process. I set out how the G8 had agreed a strong statement in support of a political settlement, and welcomed the EEAS/Commission communication on the EU approach to Syria. The EU had stepped up by pledging €400 million as part of the overall G8 pledge of $1.5 billion for the UN appeal. But there was still a huge shortfall. Given the unprecedented scale of the humanitarian crisis, I urged the EU to raise that amount to $l billion, and for member states to match that with a further $l billion.
On Somalia, I raised last week’s terrorist attack on the UN compound in Mogadishu under AOB. The Somali National Security Forces and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) had been a central part of the response, demonstrating the importance of continued EU support to AMISOM. I emphasised that the technical issues on funding needed to be resolved.
Also under AOB, Sweden raised the recent Arctic Council meeting and the EU’s efforts to become an observer.
Ministers agreed without discussion a number of others measures, including:
The Council adopted the agenda for the EU-Gulf Co-operation Council joint council and ministerial meeting, to be held on 30 June in Bahrain.
The Council adopted guidelines on the promotion and protection of all human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, on the basis of existing international legal standards in this area.
The Council adopted EU guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief.
The Council allocated EUR 5 million from the EU budget in support of physical security and stockpile management activities to reduce the risk of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons and their ammunition in Libya and its region.
The Council decided to suspend the application of the EU travel ban on Vladimir Makey, Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs, with a view to facilitating diplomatic contacts between Belarus and the EU and its member states. This does not imply any change in the EU’s policy of critical engagement with Belarus.
The Council amended regulation 881/2002 imposing specific restrictive measures directed against persons and entities associated with the al-Qaeda network. Changes were made to implement decisions taken at the UN.
The Council prolonged the mandate of Mrs Patricia Flor, EU Special Representative for central Asia, until 31 October 2014.
The Council extended the mandate of the EU Special Representative for the southern Mediterranean, Mr Bernardino Leon, until 30 June 2014.
The Council took note of the sixth implementation report of the EU action plan for Afghanistan, covering the period from March 2012 until March 2013.
The Council adopted the EU priorities for the 68th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations that will convene from 17 September 2013.
General Affairs Council
A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa. eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/genaff/137614.pdf.
The 25 June GAC focused on EU enlargement and preparation for the 27-28 June European Council. There was also a discussion on a rule of law initiative.
In addition, there was a meeting with the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, which also focused on the June European Council.
The FAC and GAC both discussed the good progress that Serbia and Kosovo had made in recent months, including in reaching and starting to implement the historic April 2013 agreement between the two sides. On the basis of this progress in meeting the conditions set out in December, the GAC recommended that the June European Council: agree to open accession negotiations with Serbia in January 2014 at the latest; agree a negotiating framework should be drawn up, which will also address the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina; and agree that pre-screening work on the acquis is started, particularly focused on justice and home affairs reform issues. The GAC also asked the Commission and HR/VP to report further on implementation of the April agreement by December to inform final decisions on the adoption of the negotiating framework and the start of accession negotiations. The GAC started procedures for member states to adopt the necessary texts to open negotiations on a stabilisation and association agreement with Kosovo.
The GAC agreed in principle the EU’s common negotiating position on chapter 22, which looks at regional policy, but delayed the inter-governmental conference (at which the chapter will be formally opened) until the autumn. The presidency agreed to write to the Turkish Government to clarify the situation. They did so on 25 June.
Proposal for an initiative on Democracy, Fundamental Values and the Rule of Law
Denmark, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands sent a letter to the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, asking for a discussion on their initiative for a new mechanism to safeguard fundamental values of the Union in member states and a greater role for the European Commission in safeguarding these. At the GAC on 22 April further discussion was scheduled for this meeting.
Consequently in this meeting the signatories of the letter to President Barroso called again for the Commission to propose options for a specific mechanism.
I highlighted that this issue is already being discussed in the Justice and Home Affairs Council and there is a danger of confusion if the issue is pursued in separate Councils formations. There was also a risk of duplication with the work of the Council of Europe in relation to human rights so we should guard against setting up new initiatives that could be duplicative or otherwise unnecessary.
Preparation of the 27-28 June European Council
The GAC discussed the 27-28 June European Council with the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy. Discussion focused on how to promote growth and tackle youth unemployment. There was also a discussion on strengthening economic and monetary union (EMU) which largely focused on the timetable for progress on this issue. I stressed that action on youth unemployment or otherwise should not prejudge the unresolved multi-annual financial framework (MFF) negotiations. We need to establish what resources will be available before committing to programmes that could be undeliverable. On EMU, I also emphasised that the rights of all 27 member states needed to be respected as work in this area progressed.
The GAC also approved the reports on the European semester and recommendations on national reform programmes.
The Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF)
The GAC discussed the MFF with the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, following a presentation on the progress of the trilogue negotiations between Ireland (as President of the Council), the European Parliament and the European Commission.
I highlighted again that there was little room for further manoeuvre within the mandate agreed at the February European Council which any deal must respect.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anna Soubry): We plan to publish for consultation in the autumn draft regulations to allow mitochondria replacement. These will be subject to full scrutiny from the public and Parliament.
In anticipation of significant advances in this field, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act was amended in 2008 to include an amendment to introduce a regulation-making power that, if introduced, would enable mitochondria replacement to take place in treatment.
The Government have now given very careful consideration to the advice they received from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and the information gathered during a comprehensive public dialogue and consultation process into the acceptability of new techniques for mitochondria replacement. We are grateful to all those who contributed to this process from a range of representative bodies, leading organisations and individuals.
One in 6,500 babies is born with mitochondrial disease which can lead to problems such as heart and liver disease and respiratory disorders. It can even lead to death in infants. Around 12,000 people in the United Kingdom live with these conditions, which are passed on from mother to baby.
Across the range of public consultation engagements there was general support for allowing the new mitochondria replacement techniques, subject to strict regulation. However, we also recognise that there were also many respondents who had significant reservations on ethical grounds.
We largely accept the advice contained in the HFEA’s report of 28 March. We therefore propose moving towards laying regulations under the affirmative procedure to allow mitochondria replacement techniques to prevent the transmission of serious mitochondrial disease, subject to strict safeguards. These techniques are currently prohibited under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 (as amended).
We therefore intend to publish draft regulations for consultation in autumn 2013, with the intention that, subject to the views received, these would be laid before Parliament next year.
This proposed change in the legislation would give an opportunity for women who carry mitochondrial disease the choice to have genetically related children without risk of serious and life-shortening conditions. It would also keep the UK in the forefront in scientific development in this area.
We will ensure that the consultation document setting out the draft regulations actively seeks the views of all those who contributed to the HFEA public dialogue and consultation.
Care and Support System
On Friday 28 June, the Government published draft national eligibility criteria, as part of a discussion document describing eligibility in the context of the new care and support system and indicating the impact of setting the criteria in regulations. We hope this will inform debates on part 1 of the Care Bill. We will continue to engage with stakeholders and gather evidence to support the development of the draft regulations before a formal consultation next year.
The discussion document, including the draft 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.
The Government’s White Paper “Caring for our future: reforming care and support” set out our long-term programme to reform care and support. The introduction of the Care Bill into Parliament is a major step in taking forward these reforms, as it will modernise social care legislation and put in place a system that promotes people’s well-being.
One of the important new changes we are introducing through these reforms is establishing national eligibility criteria for adult care and support. These will set the minimum threshold for people’s needs for care and support which must be met by local authorities in all areas. This is to be achieved through the draft regulations which we propose will be made under powers in clause 13 of the Care Bill.
Lasting Powers of Attorney (Digitisation)
In the response to the consultation “Transforming the Services of the Office of the Public Guardian”, published on 23 January 2013, the Government said that they would consult further on their proposals for changes to the process for making lasting powers of attorney. This is part of the Office of the Public Guardian’s commitment to deliver online services which maximise the benefits to customers of a simpler, clearer and faster service.
We are now considering the next phase of the OPG’s transformation programme and I am pleased to announce that the Department intends to publish a consultation paper shortly containing high-level proposals about how a fully digital process for creating and registering lasting powers of attorney might be achieved. Our intention is to make a final decision in 2014 on whether legislation to enable the making of a fully digital lasting power of attorney should be made.
As we develop these proposals further, the Department will engage with a range of interested organisations to ensure we address any concerns.
Criminal Justice System (Digitisation)
On 28 June I published “Transforming the CJS: A Strategy and Action Plan to Reform the Criminal Justice System”. The action plan builds on recent criminal justice reforms and contains a number of steps for each part of the system to take to increase its efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency.
It also sets out how we will build on the innovation of recent years—for example, by completing the process of digitising the criminal justice system, transforming it from a fragmented paper-based system to a digital service which meets the standards the public rightly expect from a modern public service.
I have established a criminal justice board made up of senior leaders from across the criminal justice system who have provided their advice and support in shaping this plan, and who have collectively committed to its delivery.
Copies of the paper have been placed in the Vote Office and in the Printed Paper Office. The document is also available online, at gov.uk
I would like to inform the House that a contract to design, build, finance and maintain a fleet of 1,140 new carriages for use on the Thameslink rail line has been awarded to Siemens plc and Cross London Trains, a consortium comprising Siemens Project Ventures, Innisfree Ltd and 3i Infrastructure plc.
Siemens expects the award of the rolling stock project will create up to 2,000 jobs across the UK supply chain in component manufacturing, the construction of two new depots and subsequent maintenance.
The deal is part of an overall circa £6 billion infrastructure and rolling stock upgrade to radically increase capacity on one of Europe’s busiest stretches of railway improving connectivity and reliability across the capital and the south-east.
The deal is expected to see the first new train running on the network by the start of 2016. The introduction of the full fleet by the end of 2018 will enable a 24 trains per hour service operating through the capital at peak times. A new interchange at Farringdon will give Thameslink passengers access to Crossrail for east-west journeys across London.
The new generation of electric commuter carriages will release existing carriages for use elsewhere on the network, particularly as further routes are electrified, for example in the north-west of England and the Thames Valley commuter lines.
The jobs created by the rolling stock project are in addition to those created by the Thameslink infrastructure works which are currently under way. At the peak of construction activity it is expected that around 3,000 people will be directly employed on the Thameslink programme infrastructure works with as many again employed in related jobs in the wider community.
Confirming the completion of this important deal is good for transport, good for the economy, and good for growth.
Work and Pensions
I am pleased to announce that later today we intend to lay draft regulations to prevent the use of consultancy charges in automatic enrolment schemes. This will apply to both personal and occupational pension schemes providing money purchase benefits.
Under the draft regulations, a scheme with a provision allowing amounts to be deducted from a jobholder’s pension pot or contributions will not be an automatic enrolment scheme if that amount is to be paid to a third party under an agreement between the employer and the third party.
These draft regulations will not affect pension schemes where there was a legally enforceable agreement in place between an employer and a third party before 10 May 2013.
In my statement on 10 May 2013, I announced the Government’s intention to publish a consultation in the autumn following the publication of the Office of Fair Trading’s market study on charges in defined contribution workplace pensions. As part of this, I intend to consult on extending the prohibition on consultancy charges to all qualifying schemes. Regulations could be introduced using the power in clause 35 of the Pensions Bill, subject to the successful passage of the Bill currently before the House.
Work Capability Assessment
Today the Government will publish a call for evidence as part of the fourth independent review of the work capability assessment (WCA), carried out by Dr Paul Litchfield.
The first three independent reviews were carried out by Professor Malcolm Harrington, and published in November 2010, November 2011 and November 2012. In the third review, Professor Harrington noted that much progress had been made, and that significant and lasting improvements were being put into place.
This call for evidence will be one of several methods used to gather information during the review. Evidence submitted will be used to inform Dr Litchfield’s report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, which will be laid before Parliament before the end of 2013.
As this is the fourth independent review, this year’s call for evidence focuses on the impact of previous reviews, seeks new evidence and establishes where further improvements are needed.
The call for evidence runs until 27 August 2013.
I will place a copy of the call for evidence in the Libraries of both Houses. It will also be available on the Government’s website (www.gov.uk/DWP) later today.