Tuesday 3 December 2013
Culture, Media and Sport
Home of Horseracing Trust (Overdraft)
The departmental minute laid today relates to a guarantee to be provided by the Horserace Betting Levy Board to underwrite an overdraft facility for the Home of Horseracing Trust with Weatherbys bank, up to a maximum of £1.5 million.
Over £15 million has been raised by the Home of Horseracing Trust to support a capital project to create a new National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art in Newmarket. This will provide a showcase for British horseracing and sporting art and is expected to provide an attraction for visitors to the town.
While donations to cover the full costs of the project have been pledged, donations will be received over a period until 2017. An overdraft facility for the Home of Horseracing Trust is therefore necessary, to ensure that any occasional cash-flow shortages can be met as the project development progresses. The Horserace Betting Levy Board has been asked by Home of Horseracing Trust to provide security to Weatherbys bank for this overdraft facility up to a maximum of £1.5 million.
The pledges will all be supported by firm letters of commitment and the Horserace Betting Levy Board considers that the risk of this guarantee being called upon is extremely low.
If, during the period of 14 parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which this minute was laid before the House of Commons, a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question or by otherwise raising the matter in Parliament, final approval to proceed with incurring the liability will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.
I am arranging for the minute to be deposited in the Library of the House.
Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme
My right and noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health, Earl Howe, has made the following written ministerial statement:
I am pleased to announce today the publication of the 2014 pharmaceutical price regulation scheme (PPRS). This follows my announcement of 6 November on the scheme’s heads of agreement, Official Report, column WS19. The PPRS is a voluntary scheme agreed between the Department of Health, acting on behalf of the UK Government and Northern Ireland, and the branded pharmaceutical industry, represented by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), under section 262 of the National Health Service Act 2006.
The current voluntary pricing scheme, the 2009 PPRS will terminate on 31 December 2013. Following negotiations, the Department of Health and the ABPI have now reached agreement on the full policy and operational detail of the new scheme. The new scheme will operate for five years starting from 1 January 2014.
The new scheme will provide an unprecedented level of certainty on almost all the NHS branded medicines bill. The bill will stay flat over the next two years and will grow slowly after that. The industry will make payments to the Department of Health if NHS spending on branded medicines exceeds the agreed growth rate. The agreement therefore provides stability and predictability to both the Government and the UK pharmaceutical industry, supporting the industry’s global competitiveness. It will encourage the use of innovative and effective new medicines in the NHS.
The PPRS 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.
Technical Advisory Board (Triennial Review)
On 27 March 2012, I announced in Parliament through a written ministerial statement, Official Report, column 128WS, the commencement of the triennial review of the Technical Advisory Board. I am now pleased to announce the completion of the review.
The Technical Advisory Board advises the Home Secretary on whether the obligations imposed on communications service providers under the terms of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 are reasonable.
The review concludes that the functions performed by the Technical Advisory Board are still required and that it should be retained as a non-departmental public body (NDPB). The review also looked at the governance arrangements for the body in line with guidance on good corporate governance set out by the Cabinet Office. The report makes a number of recommendations which will be implemented shortly.
The full report of the review of the Technical Advisory Board can be found on the gov.uk website and copies have been placed in the Library of the House.
Civil Court System Fees
I am today announcing the publication of the Government’s consultation “Court Fees: Proposals for reform” (Cm 8751).
For many years, the civil court system has operated under the principle that those who use the courts should pay the full cost of the service they receive. However, this has not yet been achieved in practice, and, last year, the deficit was more than £100 million. In a time when we have made deficit reduction our top priority, the Government do not believe that the courts can be immune from the tough decisions we have had to take in order to bring public spending in line with what we can afford.
With that in mind, this consultation outlines the Government’s approach to reducing the cost of the court service to the taxpayer. We seek to do this in two steps.
The first seeks to align court fees with the cost of the service provided, to move closer to our long-term goal of cost recovery through fees. The remissions system will, of course, remain in place, to protect access to justice for those who cannot afford to pay a fee.
However, the Government believe that, in some cases, it is right that those who use the courts pay more than what it costs, where they can afford to do so. The second step of our proposal seeks the introduction of enhanced fees, which will ensure that the taxpayer does not subsidise cases involving sums of money far in excess of any proposed fees.
There will, of course, be measures in place to protect against setting excessive fees and our proposals include scrapping the £75 application fee for domestic violence injunctions which will help thousands of women seeking non-molestation and occupation orders. The Lord Chancellor’s existing duty to protect access to justice will continue to apply and he will also be required to consider the overall financial position of the courts and the impact of any fee changes on the legal services market, so that they do not risk our competitive position. Any enhanced fees which, following this consultation, the Government decide to introduce will be subject to a full parliamentary debate before they come into force.
The consultation lasts for seven weeks, during which time the MOJ will actively engage with stakeholders.
Copies of the Government consultation will be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
An online version of this consultation will be available at: www.gov.uk/moj.
Convention Against Torture
My right hon. and noble friend the Minister of State for Justice, Lord McNally, has made the following written ministerial statement:
The optional protocol to the convention against torture (OPCAT), which the UK ratified in December 2003, requires states parties to establish a “National Preventative Mechanism” (NPM) to carry out visits to places of detention in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Government established the UK NPM in March 2009—[Official Report, 31 March 2009, Vol. 490, Part No. 57, column 56WS].
I am informing the House that the following three organisations are formally designated as additional members of the UK NPM:
Lay Observers, in England and Wales;
Social Care And Social Work Improvement Scotland, better known as the Care Inspectorate (instead of the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care, which no longer exists), in Scotland;
Independent Custody Visitors Scotland, in Scotland.
EU: Unified Patent Court
My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State for Justice, Lord McNally, has made the following written ministerial statement:
The United Kingdom Government have decided to opt in to the proposed regulation amending regulation 1215/2012—the Brussels I recast regulation—on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters.
In December 2102 an agreement was reached on two regulations and an international agreement, laying the ground for the creation of a Unified Patent Court (UPC) in the European Union. The UPC will be split into three central divisions, with London hosting the healthcare division.
In order for the UPC to come into effect, it is necessary to make an amendment to the recently recast Brussels I regulation, which deals with the rules of jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of civil and commercial judgments, including intellectual property and patent litigation. The proposed amendment provides for the UPC to be recognised as a “Court” for the purposes of the Brussels I regulation. In particular, it establishes its jurisdictional rules in respect of defendants domiciled in non-EU countries. The intention is that the UPC will come into being shortly after the recast Brussels I regulation in January 2015. The position adopted by the United Kingdom in negotiations has secured redrafts of the original text which make the scope and limitations of the proposed amendment clearer.
The basis on which the amendment is made is under article 81 of the treaty of the functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The protocol to title V of the TFEU on the United Kingdom’s opt in therefore applies.
The Government believe that the proposed amendment creating the UPC will be of tangible benefit to the United Kingdom’s legal economy and patent litigation business. Costs associated with the new unitary patent—which will have effect in all contracting member states to the UPC agreement—will be significantly lower than those which operate at present. The Government believe that it is in the United Kingdom’s interest to participate.
EU Transport Council
I will attend the final Transport Council under the Lithuanian presidency (the presidency) taking place in Brussels on Thursday 5 December.
The presidency will provide the Council with a progress report on a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Union agenda for railways and repealing regulation (EC) No. 881/2004 (part of the 4th railway package). The UK will be seeking to ensure that necessary revisions are put in place to reflect agreements in the general approach texts for the recast railway interoperability and safety directives. This includes the UK’s proposals to give applicants a choice to apply to national safety authorities for an interoperability authorisation or a safety certificate where operations would be restricted to one member state. The UK also supports the Commission’s proposals to harmonise the management and administration of all European Union decentralised agencies which have been incorporated in the revised text.
The Council will be asked to reach a general approach on a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure—clean power. The UK recognises that alternative fuels infrastructure is an area that can benefit from regulatory support, but is not convinced that setting rigid, mandatory targets for the deployment of technology specific infrastructure is an effective way of building consumer confidence in new technology. So we welcome the approach taken to replace the targets proposed with a more comprehensive and detailed approach to the national policy frameworks. This will allow us to provide transparency and predictability to the market, and mitigate the risk of technology-specific infrastructure being outpaced by future innovations and advancements, and ultimately becoming redundant.
We support the proposals to adopt common technical standards for refuelling across the EU, but are clear that this must not create additional barriers or disadvantage early movers, who must be able to retain confidence that infrastructure installed across the EU today and in the future is available and compatible for them to use.
There will be a progress report on a 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 continue to look to ensure that additional burdens and costs on UK industry are minimised, while retaining an appropriate level of protection for passengers.
The draft decision of the Council and of the representatives of the Governments of the EU member states, meeting within the Council, authorising the Commission to open negotiations with the Federal Republic of Brazil on a comprehensive agreement on air transport services will be adopted. The UK supports the revision of the European Commission’s mandate which should enable resumption of negotiations of a comprehensive air services agreement with Brazil.
Under any other business, the Commission will provide information on the aviation emissions trading scheme (ETS), on passenger ship safety, on the impact of state aid rules on large-scale infrastructure projects in Europe, on progress on Galileo and EGNOS programme and on the blue belt project.
Christopher Irwin (Indemnification)
The Government have decided to indemnify Mr Christopher Irwin, head of the UK delegation to the Channel Tunnel Intergovernmental Commission (IGC) for damages and legal costs incurred in the exercise of his functions in relation to liabilities incurred or proceedings brought in any jurisdiction, whether in the United Kingdom, France, or anywhere else in Europe or in the world. This will cover legal representation, costs and civil liabilities.
A departmental minute providing full detail of the indemnity and the reasons for it has been laid in the House of Commons today.
The contractual position of Christopher Irwin is complex. This is due to the dual role of the IGC, as representative of the British and French Governments and independent regulator under EU law. Chris is appointed by me but, under a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), the independent regulator, I must consult the ORR first. The head of the UK delegation can be dismissed by me, but the MoU restricts my ability to do so to a limited number of cases where he would clearly not be fit to act. Under the MoU, the head of delegation is remunerated by the ORR, but his remuneration comes from the money that the concessionaires of the tunnel (Eurotunnel) are required, under the concession, to pay towards the IGC’s expenses. Chris’s contract is with the ORR—his letter and terms of appointment characterise him not as an employee but as an individual providing services to ORR. He is remunerated on a fees for service basis.
I consider that it is only right and proper for Chris to be afforded an indemnity similar to that enjoyed by senior civil servants—SCS employees—in the course of their duties; given that Chris is an appointee of mine, even though, in order to protect his independence, the ORR “hosts” him.
The terms of the indemnity follows the precedents set for managing public money as well as the civil service management code.
The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle. If, during the period of 14 parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which this minute was laid before Parliament, a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question or by otherwise raising the matter in Parliament, final approval to proceed with incurring the liability will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.
Work and Pensions
In advance of the Pensions Bill Second Reading in the House of Lords today, I can confirm that the minimum qualifying period for the new single-tier pension will be set at 10 qualifying years.
In our White Paper, “The single-tier pension: a simple foundation for saving”, we said that individuals reaching state pension age after the new system is introduced—in April 2016—would need between seven and 10 qualifying years in order to receive any state pension. In response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s recommendations, in the Pensions Bill we have limited the minimum qualifying period to a maximum of 10 years. Today’s announcement proposes that the minimum qualifying period be set at 10 qualifying years, with the intention to lay regulations (under clause 2(3) and clause 4(2) of the Pensions Bill) to this effect in due course.
Putting in place the minimum qualifying period will help ensure that state pension expenditure is targeted at individuals who have made a significant social or economic contribution.
People can build qualifying years in many ways; for example by paying national insurance or by receiving credits for a wide range of reasons, including caring for children, caring for others, or being too ill to work.
We have previously published the estimated effects of a 10-year minimum qualifying period in the impact assessment for the single-tier pension.