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Written Statements

Volume 570: debated on Tuesday 5 November 2013

Written Statements

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Business, Innovation and Skills

New Debt Management Protocol

A new voluntary protocol is now in place for commercial debt management companies, which will provide greater protection for consumers.

A total of 22 companies, who supply more than half of the commercial market, have signed up to the protocol which went live on 1 October 2013.

The firms have agreed not to charge upfront fees and to spread the recovery of their set-up fees evenly over at least the first six months, ensuring that plans are affordable and sustainable for the consumer. They will also have to tell consumers free debt advice and management services are available and that there are other debt relief options. Creditors will also benefit from the protocol as they will have more reassurance over repayment of their debts and will always be told when a customer is in a debt management plan.

The protocol commits companies to:

No upfront fees for consumers

Spreading the cost of setting up a debt management plan over at least six months

Telling consumers that free debt advice is available to them

Providing payments to creditors from the first month

An assurance for creditors that only sustainable plans will be put forward for them to consider, that is where there is a realistic commitment to repayment

Dividing payments pro rata among all creditors

Providing access for creditors to full financial information about customers (subject to compliance with Data Protection Act principles).

This is a major step forward for people using commercial companies to manage their debt problems. They will now have added protections if they use firms signed up to the debt management plan protocol.

It is important that consumers should also know that free advice is available. They can contact the National Debtline on 0808 808 4000 for free and confidential advice. The Money Advice Service can also signpost people to appropriate and free debt advice services and can be contacted on 0300 500 5000.

Culture, Media and Sport

Sporting Legacy

In July the Government and the Mayor of London published “Inspired by 2012”. This report detailed the range of impressive legacy benefits from London 2012 that had been delivered one year on from the games.

As Minister responsible for sport and equalities, I am committed to delivering a lasting sports legacy from London 2012 for all. I would like to update the House on progress with the delivery of the sport legacy action plan since then. The June “active people survey” showed 15.3 million people doing sport at least once a week, every week. That is 1.4 million more people doing sport than when we won the bid in 2005. There was a slight dip in figures for the previous six months, due to the exceptionally cold weather in January and March.

The meta-evaluation of the 2012 games impact and legacy benefits was published in July. Some 36% of children aged five to 10, 52% of children aged 11 to 15, and 25% of young adults aged 16 to 24 reported that the games had motivated them to do more sport.

The annual children participation figures published in “Taking Part” in September remained largely unchanged since 2008-09. While some measures showed a slight decrease, there had been a significant increase since 2010-11 in the rate of 11 to 15-year-olds who had played cricket, dodgeball, rounders, tennis, table tennis, basketball, badminton and taken part in cross-country, jogging or road running and athletics.

Elite Sport

Elite Funding

In June, UK Sport published the medal targets for summer Olympic and Paralympic sports for their targeted competition events in 2013. UK Sport continues to track their progress towards Rio 2016.

As part of the continued Government funding for elite sport to 2016, all funded athletes have been asked to give up to five days a year to inspire children and young people to get involved in sport. UK Sport’s first survey of this activity, published in July 2013, revealed that athletes had given more than 4,000 days to community and school sport since London 2012.

World-class Facilities

Good progress continues to be made on the transformation of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park. All eight of the park venues, including the five sporting venues, now have operators in place, to manage each of the facilities as the park reopens to the public between now and 2014.

The Copper Box arena reopened in July this year and the London Lions British basketball league team will host 21 games for the 2013-14 season.

Major Sports Events

The UK has had an excellent summer of sport. Major events supported by the UK Sport Gold series include:

June

International Cricket Council Champions Trophy

Canoe Slalom, World Cup Series

Rowing World Cup Series

European Athletics Team Championships

Hockey World League

IPC Para-Athletics Grand Prix Final

July

London Anniversary Games Athletics and Para Athletics

August

World Youth Netball Championships

September

Triathlon World Championship Series Final

October

London Grand Prix Badminton

Rugby League World Cup

November

UCI Track Cycling World Cup Series

We have also secured the right to host the following major sports events:

World Cup Gymnastics

2013

Taekwondo Grand Prix

2013

Triathlon World Championships Series

2014

IPC European Athletics Championships

2014

BMX Supercross World Cup

2014

European Judo Championships

2015

European Wheelchair Basketball Championships

2015

Track Cycling World Championships

2016

European Swimming Championships

2016

We are currently bidding to host more events including:

FINA Diving World Series

2014

European Modern Pentathlon Championships

2015

World Indoor Athletics Championships

2016

World Half Marathon Championships

2016

Men’s Champions Trophy Hockey

2016

Men’s World League Hockey

2017

Women’s Hockey World Cup

2018

Community

Places People Play

Some 1,361 grassroots sports facilities have now benefited from nearly £70 million of Sport England investment.

In August, Sport England announced an extra £40 million to extend the popular Inspired Facilities fund to 2017.

Over 83,408 sport makers are now volunteering regularly in their local communities. The programme officially ended on 30 September, but Sport England will continue to support the volunteers.

Another 30,000 14 to 25-year-olds have completed the 6-8 week Sportivate coaching course, bringing the total number trying new sports to 256,297. Some 80% of these have continued to play regularly since completion of the course.

Youth Sport Strategy

There are now over 1,181 satellite clubs in secondary schools. One hundred of these are for girls only.

More than 102,000 students have tried sport in the past year thanks to Sport England’s Active Universities programme, surpassing its initial target by more than 20,000.

Join In

Join In had a target of supporting 10,000 events, across the UK, with 75% of them focusing on sport organisations and the remainder on community activities. They also hosted the “Go Local” event on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park which aimed to encourage 2012 volunteers to continue to inspire others to volunteer. An evaluation of the summer is currently under way and will be published near the end of the year.

School Games

Some 18,253 schools have registered for the school games, of which 15,342 are fully engaged in the programme. This is an increase of 16%. Some 2,000 schools have gained a school games kitemark (approximately 183 of these achieved the highest “gold” reward—an increase from 69 schools the previous year). Over 100 county festivals of sport took place during the summer and winter, involving more than 100,000 young participants.

The hugely successful school games national finals took place in Sheffield in September; 1,439 of some of the UK’s best young elite athletes, 15% of whom were athletes with disabilities, took part in 12 different sports. Some 535 volunteers, including 411 young people, supported the competitors and spectators. Once again a delegation of young athletes from Brazil took part in three sports winning 15 medals. In return, the UK will send a team of some of our best young disabled athletes to compete at Brazil’s school Paralympic-style games in November, providing them with valuable experience in competing against high-class international competition at a major sporting event.

PE/School Sport

Some £150 million per year of ring-fenced funding has now gone directly to primary school head teachers to spend solely on PE and sporting provision.

Sport England has provided additional funding to County Sport Partnerships to provide support and advice to schools on accessing the best sporting opportunities for their pupils.

A new cadre of 120 primary school teachers with a particular specialism in teaching PE is being trained through a pilot scheme delivered by the Teaching Agency. Sport England has lowered the ages of their Sportivate and Satellite Club programs from 14+ to 11+ giving all secondary school children more opportunities to participate in community sport.

Ofsted inspectors will report on how well the school uses its funding.

Disability Sport Legacy

On 7 September, Sport England announced a further £8 million of national lottery funding to give disabled people across the country more opportunities to get into sport: £7 million through a second round of the inclusive sport fund and £1 million in “Get Equipped” a new disability fund. Sport England also invested £190,000 into the Special Olympics national summer games in September which saw 1,700 athletes from England, Scotland and Wales competing in 12 disciplines over three days.

International Development

An independent evaluation of the international inspiration programme has confirmed that more than 15 million children have benefited from the programme in 20 partner countries. The programme has helped to promote sustainable change in these countries’ sports systems.

I will continue to provide quarterly updates to the House on progress with delivery of this plan.

Tour de France Grand Départ

I wish to inform the House that on 2 September 2013 the Department for Culture, Media and Sport laid a minute recording the Government’s commitment to underwrite the 2014 Tour de France Grand Départ and stage 3 from Cambridge to London. I have arranged for the document to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The budget for the event is £27 million. As announced on 10 April 2013, the Government will provide up to £10 million to support the delivery of the event. Leeds city council, on behalf of the Yorkshire local authorities, is contributing £11 million and Transport for London is providing £6 million for stage 3, from Cambridge to London. The Government underwrite, therefore, creates a contingent liability for the Department in 2014 of £27 million.

I am pleased to inform the House that very good progress is now being made to develop robust delivery plans for the event. The event owner, the ASO, announced the route for the whole event in Paris on 23 October. We now have an organising committee in place in Leeds, chaired by Sir Rodney Walker, which is working in close partnership with Leeds city council and Welcome to Yorkshire, as well as all the other host authorities. The volunteering programme has been launched and is already heavily over-subscribed. In addition, Arts Council England has announced £1 million to support a cultural festival in Yorkshire, and Sport England funding is available, via British Cycling, to ensure a strong sporting legacy from the event.

I am confident that planning for the event is now on track, drawing on the expertise and lessons learned from London 2012. Above all, all the key partners are working closely together to deliver a first-class event that allows our cyclists to continue to shine, inspires more people of all ages to take up and enjoy cycling and showcases the best of Britain at home and internationally.

Defence

Global Counter-terrorism Call-out Order

With the expiry of the call-out order made on 6 November 2012, a new call-out order has been made under section 56 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable reservists to continue to be called out into permanent service to support our wider efforts to counter the threat from international terrorism and piracy, and to assist our maritime security objectives. The order takes effect from 8 November 2013 and ceases to have effect on 7 November 2014. Some 107 members of the reserve forces were called out under this order last year and their continued support is greatly appreciated and valued.

Energy and Climate Change

Chief Nuclear Inspector's Annual Report

The independent nuclear regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), has today published the chief nuclear inspector’s inaugural annual report, which provides information on the performance of the UK nuclear industry.

The report is published as part of the ONR’s commitment to openness and transparency on an annual basis.

The report is based on the areas that the ONR regulates: safety, security, transport and emergency preparedness. It also includes information relating to nuclear safeguards where ONR has a duty to ensure that the UK’s international responsibilities are met.

Copies of the report can be obtained from the ONR’s website:

http://www.hse.gov.uk/nuclear/.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Bovine TB

Successfully tackling bovine TB (bTB) in the badger population is a key element in our strategy to rid England of this disease within 25 years. It is this broad strategy, of which badger control is one component, that was endorsed by the House of Commons on 5 June by a majority of 61 votes.

The two badger control pilots, in Somerset and Gloucestershire, were designed to test that controlled shooting is a safe, humane and effective means of reducing badger numbers.

Today I am announcing to the House that the three-week extension period in the Somerset control area concluded as planned on Friday 1 November. During this period, a further 90 badgers have been removed, giving an overall total of 940 for the first year of the four-year cull. This represents a reduction of 65% in the estimated badger population before culling began. This will deliver clear disease benefits as part of a four-year cull in the area.

Before the extension was licensed by Natural England, the advice of the chief veterinary officer was that a further increase in the number of badgers culled after the initial six-week period would improve the disease control benefits achieved even further and enable them to accrue earlier. With the further removal of badgers seen, the extension has been successful in meeting this aim.

While conclusions will need to await the findings of the independent panel of experts, current indications also suggest that the pilot has been safe and humane.

I would like to pay tribute to the local farmers and landowners who have undertaken the cull, often in difficult terrain and weather, and often in the face of intimidation by a small minority who are determined to stop this disease control policy.

The eight-week extension period in Gloucestershire began on 23 October and I will make a further statement when operations there have concluded.

The independent panel of experts will consider the information collected during the pilots on the safety, effectiveness and humaneness of controlled shooting. This will be made available to Parliament and the public after the culls have concluded and inform my decision on the wider roll-out of badger control in those parts of England most severely affected by this disease.

Achieving 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.

Transport

Ministerial Correction

On 31 October 2013, Official Report, columns 1124-25, in the course of my statement to the House during the report stage of the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill, I quoted a figure for the annual departmental budget for the Department for Transport.

The figure quoted was actually a figure for the Government’s annual capital investment budget.

Woodhead Tunnels

The Woodhead tunnels are located on the former Manchester to Sheffield railway line, known as the Woodhead route, which was closed to passenger traffic in 1970 and to freight in 1981. The original single bore Victorian tunnels were replaced in 1953 by a new tunnel when the line was electrified. In the 1960s, National Grid bought the Victorian tunnels and installed high voltage cables to transmit electricity. When the line finally closed in 1981, National Grid purchased the modern tunnel with a view of installing new cables in the modern tunnel and abandoning the Victorian tunnels when cables needed renewing some 30 years later.

In 2007, National Grid began work on this project. This is now close to completion and a contract will shortly be let for the permanent sealing of the Victorian tunnels.

In 2007-08 Ministers received many representations urging them to protect the Woodhead tunnels so that the Woodhead route could be reopened to rail traffic in the future. There was no case then for taking any steps to halt National Grid’s plan but Ministers did agree to consider, at the appropriate time, whether or not to instigate an inspection and maintenance regime on the Victorian tunnels This would leave open the option to move cables back into the Victorian tunnels and reuse the modern tunnel for rail traffic in the future. With completion of the work imminent, that decision needs to be made now before the tunnels are sealed.

Since 2008, much has happened which has helped inform my decision. The Government have committed funding to the northern hub programme. This includes schemes to increase capacity and line speeds on the Hope valley route. A study recently carried out by Network Rail indicates that demand for travel between Manchester and Sheffield could more than double in 30 years. With the planned investment, the Hope valley line and its trains could accommodate this growth. If freight grows, schemes have also been identified which could enable more freight trains to run.

The Victorian tunnels are not in a good condition and would require ongoing funding to keep them in a condition necessary for possible reuse. These costs would fall on the taxpayer or mean less money for other vital rail investment in the north.

If an additional rail route was ever required between Manchester and Sheffield, it is unlikely that even the modern tunnels would be suitable for reuse and, given advances in tunnelling technology even since 2008 as witnessed by Crossrail, the best solution is most likely to be the construction of a new tunnel.

I am therefore announcing that the Government will not be purchasing the tunnels from National Grid in order to instigate an inspection and maintenance regime and I shall be informing National Grid accordingly.

Before reaching my decision, the Rail Minister at the time, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), wrote to over 40 MPs representing constituencies both east and west of the Pennines, and received three replies. He also wrote to other statutory bodies with an interest in the tunnels and Network Rail. In total just seven replies were received by early September but I have given them full consideration.

My decision does not rule the possibility of reopening the Woodhead route to rail traffic in the future, should a new line ever be required.

Also large parts of the closed route are protected from development and will continue to be available for the enjoyment of cyclists, horse riders and hikers passing through the magnificent landscape of the South Pennines.

Work and Pensions

Child Maintenance Reform

On 19 July 2012, the Government published “Supporting separated families; securing children’s futures” (Cm 8399), a public consultation on the draft Child Support Fees Regulations 2013 and the draft Child Support (Ending Liability in Existing Cases and Transition to New Calculation Rules) Regulations 2013. The consultation ran until 26 October 2012 and attracted a total of 90 responses.

On 20 May 2013, I tabled a written ministerial statement—Official Report, column 58WS—which outlined an initial response to this consultation. Later today, the Government will publish their full response. The response will provide further detail, setting out the main points made by respondents to each of the consultation questions, together with proposed next steps.

We have made a number of changes to our proposals in order to address the concerns raised by some respondents around the charging of fees and the closure of existing Child Support Agency cases.

First, we have reduced the proposed parent with care collection fee from 7% to 4%. Secondly, we have extended the list of organisations to which domestic violence can be reported in order to qualify for the application fee waiver. We have updated our definition of domestic violence to keep it in line with the current cross-Government definition, which includes financial abuse.

We have also changed the proposed order in which Child Support Agency cases will close. Nil-assessed cases will be closed first in order to minimise payment disruption. We estimate that around 50,000 cases could move from being nil-assessed to being positively assessed, should a new application be made to the Child Maintenance Service. Cases with an enforced method of payment in place, or where enforcement action is ongoing, will be closed last. These non-resident parents will be subject to a compliance test before they are allowed to choose the “Direct Pay” option.

We believe that these changes address the concerns raised by respondents, while preserving the Government’s intention to rebalance the overall child maintenance landscape. Our intention is to ensure that parents who are able to make their own arrangements are supported to do so, while a more efficient and more sustainable statutory service is still available as a backstop for those who really do need to use it.

We intend to lay amended draft regulations before Parliament later this year.