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Written Statements

Volume 568: debated on Wednesday 9 October 2013

Written Statements

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Energy and Climate Change

Export Guarantees Advisory Council (Triennial Review)

My noble Friend the Minister for Trade and Investment, Lord Green, has made the following statement:

The Government are committed to periodically reviewing public bodies to ensure their roles, functions and operations continue to be necessary. A triennial review of the Export Guarantees Advisory Council, a statutory non-departmental public body of the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD), will commence shortly in line with published Cabinet Office guidelines. The review will be carried out by ECGD officials. Interested parties will be invited to make representations. The aim is to complete the review by the end of 2013. The outcome will be presented to Parliament.

Business, Innovation and Skills

British Hallmarking Council (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 British Hallmarking Council 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 October 2013.

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 British Hallmarking Council 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 British Hallmarking Council 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 British Hallmarking Council as a non-departmental public body, then the second stage of the project will be to ensure that it is 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.

Treasury

Equitable Life Payment Scheme

The Government announced today that the Equitable Life payment scheme (“the scheme”) will be extended to 2015.

The Government are taking this action to make sure as many Equitable Life policyholders as possible receive the payment they are due for the injustice they suffered. The scheme’s latest progress report confirmed that policyholders have already received £734 million in payments, and since then payments continue to be made.

Despite this good progress, the Government want to maximise the number of people who receive their payment. This has been our aim from the start of the scheme, but because the address information received from Equitable Life can be up to 20 years old, or non-existent in some cases, the scheme has been unable to trace a number of policyholders.

We will shortly launch a national advertising campaign to encourage eligible policyholders to come forward and claim their payment. This work will complement the ongoing work the scheme is doing to trace policyholders. By extending the scheme we are giving this work a greater chance of success.

Any policyholder who believes themselves to be eligible for the scheme, but has not yet been contacted, is encouraged to call the scheme directly on 0300 0200 150 where they will be advised of the next steps to take.

Opening up UK Payments

In March 2013 the Government published a consultation, “Opening up UK payments”, which set out the Government’s proposal to introduce a new, competition-focused, utility-style regulator for retail payment systems in the UK. This proposal reflected the Government’s concerns about the market for UK payment systems, in which strong network effects and vertically integrated ownership structures give rise to problems in three main areas: competition, innovation and delivery against end-user needs. The consultation presented a set of questions identifying the key issues on which the Government sought views. The consultation closed on 25 June.

The Government are publishing their response to the consultation today. The Government are introducing amendments to the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill to establish the new payment systems regulator as a separate body under the FCA. The payment systems regulator will have objectives to promote competition, innovation and the interests of end-users. The regulator will be able to oversee any payment system operating in the UK that is brought into scope by being designated by HM Treasury. Once a payment system is designated, the payment systems regulator will have a range of powers over its participants—operators, infrastructure providers and payment service providers that provide payment services using the system—in order to advance its objectives.

The payment systems regulator will have powers to make requirements regarding rules for the operation of designated systems, and to give directions to participants in such systems. It will also have specific powers to require direct and indirect access to designated systems, and to vary agreements relating to such systems, including fees, charges and terms and conditions. The payment systems regulator will also have enforcement powers to publish details of compliance failure, to impose financial penalties in respect of a compliance failure, and to require owners of payment systems to dispose of their interests in them, subject to HM Treasury approval. The regulator will also have concurrent Competition Act powers to enforce the Competition Act 1998 prohibitions against anti-competitive agreements and abuse of dominance, and to make market investigation references to the Competition and Markets Authority.

I am placing copies of this document in the Libraries of both Houses.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Bovine TB

The two badger cull pilots, in Somerset and Gloucestershire, were designed to test that controlled shooting is a safe, humane and effective means of reducing badger numbers. Successfully tackling bovine TB (bTB) in the badger population is a key element in our strategy to rid England of bTB within 25 years.

Today I am announcing to the House that the six-week period of the Somerset TB control pilot cull was completed on 6 October. Current indications suggest that the pilot has been safe, humane and effective in delivering a reduction in the badger population of just under 60%. We set ourselves a challenging target of aiming to ensure that 70% of the badger population was removed during the pilot. The chief veterinary officer (CVO) has advised that the 60% reduction this year will deliver clear disease benefits as part of a four-year cull. However, Natural England are considering an application from Somerset for a short extension of the culling period, as provided for under the agreement with the company. The advice of the CVO is that further increasing the number of badgers culled would improve those benefits even further and enable them to accrue earlier.

The targets for this cull were set at the outset on the basis of population estimates carried out in September 2012. This was repeated in August 2013 immediately before the culls started.

The results of this latest exercise show that the estimated number of badgers is significantly fewer in both areas compared to last summer. In Somerset the latest population estimate is 1,450 compared to 2,400 last year, and in Gloucestershire 2,350 compared to 3,400.

In the six weeks of the cull, 850 badgers have been removed in Somerset.

One of the lessons we have learned already from this pilot is that in order to ensure high levels of safety and humaneness, the cull period may need to be longer than six weeks in future. The independent panel of experts will consider all the information which has been collated during the culls and it will be made publicly available after the culls have finished.

The cull in Gloucestershire is still ongoing and I will make a further statement when the six weeks is completed. I understand that this morning Gloucestershire is also submitting an application for an extension to Natural England.

To achieve our aim of ridding England of bTB within 25 years will require long-term solutions and considerable national resolve. This Government are committed to tackling the disease in all reservoirs and by all available means. Our cattle industry and the countryside deserve no less.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Russia: Arrest of British Nationals (Greenpeace)

I wish to inform the House of developments concerning the arrest of 30 people, including six British nationals who were onboard the Arctic Sunrise in the Arctic circle. All have all been charged with “committing acts of piracy”, and the investigation continues.

Since we were made aware of the detention of the ship on 19 September, our priority has been to provide full consular assistance to the six British nationals, and to their families and friends in the UK. This has included ensuring their welfare and that they have access to lawyers. We have also provided consular support to two New Zealand nationals.

Murmansk is around 1,500 km from Moscow. We deployed a consular team prior to the vessel’s arrival in port and arranged for access to the detained. On 24 September consular officials met the British nationals on their arrival in Murmansk.

Subsequently, our consular officials were in attendance for the preliminary court hearings for the British nationals between 26 and 29 September. All 30 detainees were placed on remand for up to two months and transferred to pre-trial detention facilities while the authorities carried out further investigation. Before and after the hearings, consular officials were permitted to talk with the British nationals and take messages from them to pass to concerned relatives in the UK.

On 2 October the Russian Investigative Authority charged all 30 detainees with acts of piracy. Consular officials carried out further consular visits on 3 and 4 October to all six British nationals, and one of the New Zealand nationals. We were able to check on their welfare and address any concerns. We are working closely with the Russian authorities and we remain grateful for their continued co-operation. Going forward, we will remain in regular contact with the British detainees and continue to provide all appropriate consular assistance. We are working closely with Greenpeace to address any concerns they may have about due process and welfare.

On 3 October, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs met John Sauven, Greenpeace executive director and Ruth Davis, Greenpeace political director, to discuss their concerns. He made it clear that he was following the case closely and that he had spoken with Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov in New York on 25 September. The Foreign Secretary said we would remain in close contact with all other nations whose citizens were involved, and make representations to the Russian authorities if necessary.

Senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials have also raised the case with Russia’s ambassador to the UK on 26 September and our ambassador in Moscow raised the case with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov on 2 October.

Transport

EU Transport Council

I will attend the first Transport Council of the Lithuanian presidency (the presidency) taking place in Luxembourg on Thursday 10 October.

There will be an orientation debate on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending regulation (EC) No 261/2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights and regulation (EC) No. 2027/97 on air carrier liability in respect of the carriage of passengers and their baggage. The UK will look to ensure that additional burdens and costs on UK industry are minimised (while retaining an appropriate level of protection for passengers), particularly on the core issues that the presidency have identified for discussion.

The Council regulation amending regulation (EC) No. 219/2007 on the establishment of a joint undertaking to develop the new generation European air traffic management system (SESAR) will be adopted. The single European Sky initiative aims to modernise the European air traffic management system and has considerable scope to reduce costs and improve the travelling experience for UK passengers. We plan to support the proposed extension of the SESAR joint undertaking to 2024 because it still has an important role to deliver the research and development set out in the air traffic management master plan in support of the wider single European Sky initiative.

There will be a general approach on three proposals.

The first is a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on railway safety (part of the fourth railway package). The UK’s position on the recast railway safety directive is to ensure that we build on processes that already work well and, where appropriate, modify these to recognise changes such as the introduction of the single safety certificate. All UK interests and objectives are maintained by the proposed general approach text. I therefore fully support this proposal and the adoption of a general approach by the Council.

The second is a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending regulation (EU) No. 912/2010 setting up the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) Agency which will play a central role in improving the governance and management of the EU’s satellite navigations systems Galileo and EGNOS. I fully support this proposal and the adoption of a general approach by the Council.

The third is a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on multi-annual funding for the action of the European Maritime Safety Agency in the field of response to pollution caused by ships and to marine pollution caused by old and gas installations. The Commission is proposing a multi-annual financial packet to be dispensed from the European Union budget for the period from 1 January 2014 to 31 December 2020 coinciding with the new multi-annual financial framework. This planned funding will not be agreed until the overall multi-annual financial framework is finalised.

The Commission proposes earmarking an amount of €160.5 million for the referenced period compared to €154 million for the previous period. Annual appropriations will then be determined by the budgetary authority within the limits of the financial framework. As this is coming from within the existing EU budget there are no additional financial burdens to the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom supports the work of the European Maritime Safety Agency and recognises the contribution it makes to maritime safety.

Under any other business, the Commission will provide information on the aviation emissions trading scheme (ETS), on recent transport accidents, requirement of passenger data by the Russian Federation (PNR) and on the system for monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from international maritime transport.

Fares and Ticketing Review

Today I am publishing “Rail Fares and Ticketing: Next Steps”, the outcome of the Government’s review of fares and ticketing. The review has been an opportunity to consider a range of options to address issues about fares and ticketing raised by passengers and others.

In conclusion, we are setting out our vision for a modern, customer-focused fares and ticketing system that will support our objectives of allowing even more people to travel by rail and ensure they have a better experience and which:

supports a passenger-focused railway, meeting changing needs and travel patterns;

promotes a vibrant future for our railways supporting economic growth and prosperity and helping to reduce the country’s carbon footprint;

enjoys the trust of passengers and the commitment of the rail industry; and

maintains its current strengths while embracing sensible change in the interest of passengers and taxpayers who fund our railways.

New track and trains are only part of the story for improving our railways. We remain committed to rolling out smart ticketing across the network. We want the whole experience of travelling by rail to be modern, seamless and easy, starting with buying a ticket to travel. We also recognise that the cost and complexity of train fares is naturally a key concern for passengers.

To help passengers, I can confirm that from January 2014 we will give rail passengers a better deal by capping the upper limit of any individual fare rise at 2% above the permitted average of inflation plus 1%, for all regulated fares. This will protect passengers from large fare increases which can have a significant impact on household budgets by taking 3% off the maximum.

We are trialling a scheme to regulate longer distance off peak tickets on a single-leg basis to remove the scenario where some single off-peak tickets cost nearly as much as return tickets.

We will also trial more flexible tickets that can provide a more attractive offer for commuters travelling fewer than five days a week or outside peak hours.

The report reconfirms the Government’s commitment to ensuring that ticket offices remain an important route for passengers to buy tickets. Reflecting changes in the ways that people are buying train tickets, the Government are at the same time setting out ways that train operators can make improvements to their ticket offer at stations providing that appropriate passenger safeguards are also put in place. We intend for passenger representative bodies to play a greater role in shaping the packages that are brought forward by train operators.

Other measures highlighted in the report include:

A ticketing code of practice—The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) will oversee the code to ensure that passengers are provided with the information they need to choose the best ticket for their journey and that this information is clear and not misleading;

A market review—The ORR will look into the sale of tickets and consider whether current markets are operating efficiently, effectively, and in the best interests of passengers and taxpayers. The Department has committed to consider any cost-effective recommendations that come out of the review;

Annual surveysThe Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) has agreed to release the information to customers from next year on how well ticket office staff, ticket machines and websites perform in regards to selling passengers the best ticket for their journey.

Our railways are a vital part of our nation’s future. The Government are determined to build on the continued success of our railways and that is why we are providing over £16 billion to support the network and make sure it can respond to increasing passenger demand, help economic growth and cut our carbon footprint.

While above-inflation fare rises in recent years have been necessary to help fund our record investment in the network, it remains our firm ambition to cap fare rises at the level of inflation, just as soon as economic conditions allow and savings have been made to the cost of running our railways.

The review document explains how we will blend the best of regulation with the best of market forces to deliver a fares and ticketing system that puts passengers first and our railways on a sustainable footing for the future.

I will place copies of the document, “Rail Fares and Ticketing: Next Steps” in the Libraries of both Houses.

Work and Pensions

Cold Weather Payments Scheme 2013-14

I am pleased to announce that later today we intend to lay regulations to amend the cold weather payment scheme. The changes detailed in these regulations will come into force on 1 November this year, in time for the beginning of the winter period.

Following advice from the Met Office, for winter 2013-14, no new weather stations are recommended. However Rostherne weather station has been upgraded and given a permanent status at the same location and Church Fenton weather station is no longer listed as the alternative station for Linton on Ouse and has been replaced with Bramham weather station.

Also, and as a result of MPs’ representations, a few postcodes will be reassigned to suitable weather stations.

This will ensure that the weather stations to postcode links are as representative as the current arrangement.

I am writing to each Member who made representations about the administration of the scheme last winter to make them aware of the advice from the Met Office.

Cold weather payments are separate from, and in addition to, winter fuel payments.

The amendments resulted from the Department’s annual review of the cold weather payments scheme. The review drew on expert advice from the Met Office and took account of representations from benefit claimants and Members of Parliament.

For winter 2013-14 the cold weather payment rate will continue to be £25 for each seven-day period of very cold weather.