Thursday 12 December 2013
Business, Innovation and Skills
EU Competitiveness Council
The EU Competitiveness Council took place in Brussels on 2 and 3 December 2013. The UK was represented by Shan Morgan, Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU. A summary of those discussions follows.
The main internal market and industry issues discussed on 2 December were on: electronic invoicing in public procurement; the directive for rules governing actions for damages under national law for infringements of competition law; the European trade mark system. There was also a policy discussion on the European semester and industrial strategy in the context of the February European Council; conclusions were adopted on single market policy, industrial policy and better regulation policy; and, outside the chamber, there was a lunchtime discussion about defence industries.
Council began with a discussion about electronic invoicing in public procurement. There was broad support for the compromise text presented by the presidency and all member states agreed to the general approach.
This was followed by a discussion regarding the directive for rules governing actions for damages under national law for infringements of competition law. In its presentation, the Commission emphasised the importance of this instrument, arguing that it provided a framework for complementing public enforcement of competition law while also providing a practical instrument to give effect to the right to compensation while protecting the leniency regimes on which the ability to break cartels depend. There was a full round-table discussion, with member states agreeing to the objective of the directive and the proposed general approach.
The next substantive discussion was a policy debate on the conclusions on better regulation, industrial policy and internal market policy. The internal market conclusions were adopted without discussion. Some concerns were expressed that the industrial policy conclusions did not sufficiently reflect the lack of alternative energy supplies in some EU countries. Following a minor amendment the conclusions were adopted. The conclusions on smart regulation were adopted following the removal of a reference to the work done by the high-level group on better regulation.
Member states then discussed the key messages that should be inputted into the February European Council discussion on industrial policy. A number of broad themes emerged including: the need to focus on securing prosperity by focusing on smart regulation, removing barriers to trade within the single market and removing barriers to trade with third countries; the cost of energy for industry; the digital single market; and access to finance for SMEs.
The final substantive item was on the European trade marks system. Council noted the importance of getting the trade marks package agreed.
Five AOB points were also on the agenda: the general block exemption regulation; the consumer product safety and market surveillance package; the collective rights management directive; the European patent and patent court; and the work programme of the upcoming Greek presidency.
Space and research issues were covered on 3 December. A general approach was reached on the Copernicus (previously known as GMES—global monitoring for environment and security) programme, with several member states including the UK intervening to support the role of the European Space Agency (ESA) as contracting authority. Discussion ensued on a Commission proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a space surveillance and tracking (SST) support programme. After noting issues raised by the Council legal service, the presidency concluded that the file required further discussion at technical level.
The Council subsequently reached a general approach on proposals for four decisions of the European Parliament and of the Council in respect of public-public partnerships with member states under article 185 TFEU in the following fields: metrology, research performing SMEs (“Eurostars 2”), European and developing countries clinical trials partnership programme (EDCTP) and active and assisted living (AAL) research and development programme.
The Council also reached a general approach on five Council regulations regarding public-private partnerships called joint technology initiatives (JTIs) established as joint undertakings under article 187 TFEU in the following areas: bio-based industries. clean sky 2, ECSEL (electronics), fuel cells and hydrogen 2 and innovative medicines initiative 2.
The Council reached unanimous political agreement on a proposal for a Council decision amending decision 2007/198/Euratom establishing the European joint undertaking for the global nuclear fusion project ITER. This text provides the basis for the financing of the activities of Fusion for Energy—the European procurement agency for ITER—and will enable Euratom to make its contribution to the ITER organisation for the construction of ITER and other ITER-related activities for the period 2014-2020. In addition the Commission reported back on the most recent ITER council and highlighted that significant work was underway to reduce the delays where possible in the construction of the new nuclear fusion reactor.
A wide-ranging debate took place on the topic of public sector innovation, on the basis of an expert group report. In its intervention, the UK noted the importance the Government attached to the digital delivery of public services as well as to modernisation of internal administrative processes. There was scope for mutual learning and networking between member states . At EU level we should seek to build on existing initiatives and prioritise carefully those actions which have the potential to add most value.
Finally, the Council adopted as A points the Horizon 2020 legislative package—with the exception of the Euratom file—which will permit the timely launch of the Horizon 2020 programme.
UK Cyber-security Strategy
Last December, I placed the first of my annual reports before Parliament on progress on the UK Cyber-security Strategy. I am pleased to present a second report to both Houses today.
The “Cyber-Security Strategy”, published in November 2011, set out the Government’s vision of “a vibrant, resilient and secure cyberspace”, providing a framework to guide our actions to “enhance prosperity, national security and a strong society”. To support the strategy we put in place a national cyber-security programme (NCSP) backed by £650 million of funding to 2015. This year we increased that investment with a further £210 million in 2015-16. This funding will build on existing projects and also support new investment, enabling the UK to retain its emerging reputation as a leader in the field of cyber-security.
The strategy set out four clear objectives:
Making the UK one of the most secure places in the world to do business in cyberspace;
Making the UK more resilient to cyber-attack and better able to protect our interests in cyberspace;
Helping shape an open, vibrant and stable cyberspace that supports open societies;
Building the UK’s cyber-security knowledge, skills and capability.
These objectives continue to drive our work and are as relevant today as they were in 2011 even in the face of a rapidly changing technological and threat landscape. In this report, I will highlight significant areas of progress, new announcements and our forward plans.
Making cyberspace safer for UK business
Our partnership with industry continues to advance and bear fruit to mutual benefit. In March this year, I launched the Cyber Security Information-Sharing Partnership (CISP) which we funded through the NCSP. It provides a trusted platform in which the security services, law-enforcement authorities and industry exchange information on threats and mitigations in real time. The partnership already includes more than 250 companies. In November this year, the CISP supported the financial sector’s “Waking Shark II” exercise in conjunction with the Bank of England which tested the financial sector’s ability to respond to a cyber-attack. Going forward, we plan to expand its partnership by doubling the number of members to 500 by the end of 2014.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has also worked with partners to deliver a “Cyber Governance Health Check” for FTSE350 companies and cyber-security guidance for small businesses, both of which help companies to identify and tackle cyber-risks. In addition, they have also been working closely with industry to develop an agreed “Organisational Standard”. Last month, the Minister for Universities and Science announced details of this new standard which will not only give companies a clear baseline to aim for in addressing cyber-security risks to their company but will enable them to advertise the fact that they meet a certain set of criteria on cyber-security. This provides them with an obvious competitive advantage in a marketplace that increasingly demands better cyber-security from suppliers. To reinforce this and give the standard a kick-start, we will be mandating its use in Government procurement. Its adoption will be subject to proportionality and relevance, particularly in relation to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as this is not designed to impose costs on business but rather to boost cyber-security while improving the security of the Government’s supply chain.
In concert with this, BIS has developed a new cyber-security suppliers scheme as part of the work being done in conjunction with techUK and the cyber-security sector through the new Cyber Growth Partnership. The scheme provides UK companies with a means of demonstrating, via a public list, that they are a supplier of cyber-security products and services to the UK Government. We want to help UK companies capitalise on a growing market in cyber-security products and services, and we are setting a target for future export growth. The target, the first of its kind, has been set at £2 billion worth of annual cyber sales by 2016, a significant increase on the 2012 export sales figure of £850 million.
Tackling Cyber Crime
The launch of the National Crime Agency (NCA) in October saw the establishment of the new National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU). The NCCU brings together the skills and expertise of its precursors, Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) Cyber and the Police Central e-Crime Unit, into a world-leading organisation dedicated to fighting the most serious cyber-criminals.
The NCCU has already had significant successes. Just in the past month, it issued an urgent alert to inform internet users of a risk of infection linked to a mass email spamming event aimed at millions of consumers. In addition, NCCU delivered a quick response to a threat to a bank that enabled security measures to be put in place and prevented approximately £14 million from potentially being extracted from accounts. Working closely with the Metropolitan police, six suspects were also sentenced to a total of 28.5 years after being convicted of stealing thousands of pounds from job hunters using fake online adverts for companies. The group defrauded UK financial institutions for many years and stole personal data from thousands of members of the public. We look forward to the NCA developing its capabilities further over the coming year to provide a relentless law-enforcement response to cybercrime.
Meanwhile Government Departments have also taken action to prevent cyber-fraud. A dedicated Cyber Crime Capability in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customes (HMRC) has provided specialist advice to approximately 20 criminal cases, resulting in an overall revenue loss prevented of more than £40 million and more than 2,300 fraudulent websites have been shut down since January 2011.
Making the UK more resilient in cyberspace
Improving our resilience to and diminishing the impact of cyber-attacks is vital. Much of our national infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector and over the past year, the Centre for the Protection of the National Infrastructure (CPNI) has further extended its range of guidance and products to help companies protect their networks from cyber-threats. CPNI’s Cyber Risk Advisory Service provides in-depth support to senior executives and boards of the UK’s most critical firms.
The safety of industrial control systems is an important element of infrastructure protection. Helping build our capability in this important area, in conjunction with the EPSRC, we are establishing a new Research Institute in Trustworthy Industrial Control Systems. This is the third such institute to be established with the aid of NCSP funding. Based at Imperial college, the institute will broaden our understanding of the threats to these control systems and find ways to enhance their security.
The MOD continues to mainstream cyber throughout our defence forces. In May this year, the MOD stood up Joint Forces Cyber Group to deliver defence’s cyber-capability. The group includes the Joint Cyber Units (JCUs) at Cheltenham and Corsham, with the new Joint Cyber Unit (Reserve) which we announced last year. Recruitment for the Joint Cyber Unit (Reserve) commenced in October 2013 with a high number of applications received following the Defence Secretary’s announcement in September 2013. The MOD continues to develop new tactics, techniques and plans to delivery military capabilities to confront high-end threats.
An open and secure cyberspace
Complementing these domestic efforts, we have been pursuing an international agenda for an open, stable and secure cyberspace, as set out by the Foreign Secretary at the London Cyber conference in 2011. This has been advanced through subsequent conferences in Budapest in 2012 and Seoul this October, where over 85 countries were represented. In Seoul, we succeeded in getting agreement on a clear statement of the importance of maintaining an open internet for economic progress.
We are working in partnership with a whole host of nations and organisations including the G8, the UN, NATO, and the EU to help shape norms of behaviour for cyberspace while promoting the UK as a leader in cyberspace technology and policy. And we are investing in capacity and co-operation internationally by establishing a Cyber Capacity Building Fund. Through this we have supported the creation of the Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre at Oxford university this year. The fund is already helping the UK to tackle cyber-threats at source, with the arrest in June 2013 of a major global e-fraud network following UK training of partners in south-east Asia.
Cyber-security is a long-term project, so we are investing for the future with a new engagement process in which Chevening, Commonwealth and Marshall scholars from Africa, Asia, and America by selecting a number of these students to attend the annual Academic Centres of Excellence in Cyber Research conference in December and to enrol in an international cyber policy course at Cranfield university. Through this initiative, we aim to help ensure that future cadres of global leaders will have a good understanding of cyber security issues.
Education and Skills
We know that our efforts to expand the UK’s cyber-security sector mean that we need more people with the right skills and education to support this. The national cyber-security programme is working with business, academia and the education sector to ensure we have a future workforce with cyber-skills and expertise, as well as a basic understanding and awareness of cyber-security among the public in general.
We are addressing skills at every level and have funded development of cyber-security learning and teaching materials at GCSE and A-level, with further materials to be released to schools in January 2014. We are also funding initiatives at university level for graduates and post-graduate students, as well as internship and apprenticeship initiatives, such as the one being run by GCHQ to attract technically minded people.
To promote research in cyber-security, we have: set up 11 universities as academic centres of excellence in cyber-security research; established three new research institutes in the science of cyber-security; and set up two cyber-security centres for doctoral training to ensure the UK gains the high-end cyber-security skills needed to tackle current and future cyber-challenges.
For the future, with NCSP funding, the Open university is developing a massive open online course (MOOC) in cyber-security, to be run for the first time in summer 2014. The course is free and has a potential reach of 200,000 students worldwide. Through this initiative, we have a unique opportunity to raise awareness of cyber-security to a mass audience of students, not just those in courses involving it, with an ultimate aim of bringing more students into the field.
Throughout 2012-13 we have continued to fund work by the Cyber Security Challenge across the UK which runs innovative competitions to seek out talented, young people and motivate them into entering the field of cyber-security. We have also funded a new schools programme for the CSC which enabled them to run a pilot for which 562 schools have already signed up. For the coming year, we will be giving them a further £100,000 to roll out this pilot nationally.
We are also investing in public sector skills. For example, the National Archives are ensuring that staff across the public sector are trained in protecting information and have worked with National Fraud Authority to produce the e-learning course “Responsible for Information”, which has been taken by nearly 70,000 central Government staff since July 2013. It is widely available across the public sector and we will be adapting it for an SME audience in early 2014.
However, we also need to cast our net wider to ensure that people across the UK have a better understanding of potential threats and are better equipped with the necessary protection to go about their business online with confidence. To this end, BIS has been working with the UK’s internet service providers (ISPs) on a set of “Guiding Principles” for ISPs to improve the online security of their customers. The principles, being launched today, set out that at a minimum, ISPs will provide cyber-security information to their customers, or signpost to information elsewhere. ISPs will assist and empower their customers to protect themselves by offering tools and security solutions, or indicate where solutions can be accessed. If their customer does experience a problem, ISPs will support them by providing clear information about how to report the incident. They will also inform them of a potential compromise, in line with company policy, and explore ways to bring potential issues to the attention of customers. This is an important step in not only protecting people online but in helping to minimise the number and impact of cyber-attacks in the UK.
Lastly, we are investing in a major campaign to increase awareness of cyber-security among both the general public and small businesses. The campaign, led by the Home Office and backed by £4 million of funding from the NCSP, is to be launched next month. It is being supported by a broad range of organisations, including Facebook, BT, a number of anti-virus companies such as Sophos, banks and financial organisations as well as community and trade organisations. These organisations are providing financial and in-kind benefits worth around £2.3 million, which will extend the breadth and reach of the campaign and help to improve our nation’s cyber-health.
We are in a much better place than two years ago when we launched the strategy. This reflects the collective effort of numerous Government Departments and agencies, and powerful partnerships with industry, academia and international counterparts.
Today, I have also placed before Parliament a list of achievements over the past year, as well as a document which outlines our forward plans, priorities and some key initiatives we will be taking forward over the next 12 months.
There is still much work to be done, but our progress to date has put us in a strong position for the future.
War Pensions Scheme (Uprating)
The new rates of pensions and allowances payable under the war pensions scheme proposed from April 2014 are set out in the tables below. The annual uprating of awards and allowances for 2014 will take place from the week beginning 7 April. Rates for 2014 are increasing by 2.7% in line with the September 2013 consumer prices index.
(Weekly rates unless otherwise shown)
Disablement Pension (100% rates)
officer (£ per annum)
other ranks (weekly amount)
Age allowances payable from age 65
over 50% but not over 70%
over 70% but not over 90%
Disablement gratuity (one-off payment)
specified minor injury (min.)
specified minor injury (max.)
1 - 5% gratuity
6 - 14% gratuity
adult dependency increase
increase for first child
increase for subsequent children
Constant Attendance Allowance
full day rate
Allowance for lowered standard of occupation (maximum)
Therapeutic Earnings Limit (annual rate)
Exceptionally Severe Disablement Allowance
Severe Disablement Occupational Allowance
Clothing Allowance (annual rate)
Education Allowance (annual rate) (max)
Widow(er)s’ - other ranks (basic with children) (weekly amount)
Widow(er) - Officer higher rate both wars (basic with children) (£ per annum)
Childless widow(er)s’ u-40 (other ranks) (weekly amount)
Widow(er) - Officer lower rate both wars (£ per annum)
(a) age 65 to 69
(b) age 70 to 79
(c) age 80 and over
Increase for first child
Increase for subsequent children
Increase for first child
Increase for subsequent children
Unmarried dependant living as spouse (max)
Rent Allowance (maximum)
Adult orphan’s pension (maximum)
Deputy Prime Minister
Following the successful completion of the first wave of city deals with the eight largest English cities outside London in July 2012, the Government invited a further 20 cities and their wider areas to negotiate a second wave of city deals in October 2012.
I can announce today that the Government and business and civic leaders in the black country, Coventry and Warwickshire and Norwich have reached agreement on city deals.
The black country city deal will support the growth of the region’s high-value manufacturing sector by bringing into use key industrial development sites across the black country, backed by a black country investment fund of £30 million from local and national sources. Specialist support will be available to businesses in the sector, and at least 1,500 apprenticeships will be created in high-value manufacturing employers. The city deal includes a programme to work intensively with 2,800 long- term unemployed people to move them into employment. The black country local enterprise partnership estimates that the city deal will lead to around £130 million of private investment and create 5,800 new jobs in manufacturing over the next four years.
The Coventry and Warwickshire city deal is targeted at the area’s advanced manufacturing and engineering sector. Specialist support will be available for companies in the sector, including small and medium-sized enterprises, from a single service bringing together organisations such as UK Trade and Investment, chambers of commerce and finance specialists under one roof. New ways to equip the sector with the skills it needs will be trialled including a shared apprenticeship scheme across small engineering businesses below the scale to have an apprentice scheme individually. The city deal will enable the expansion of the automotive test track and research and development facility at Fen End in Warwickshire, supporting the ability of small firms in the automotive sector to innovate. The Coventry and Warwickshire local enterprise partnership estimates that the city deal will lead to around £66 million of private sector investment and over 8,000 jobs in the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector.
The Greater Norwich city deal will reinforce the success of the Norwich research park. It makes available business support and early stage finance to commercialise research excellence in life sciences and biotechnology at the Norwich research park, in the digital creative cluster in the city centre and the aviation cluster based around Nonwich international airport. The city deal provides the means for £80 million additional investment in local infrastructure to allow housing growth, including an additional 3,000 homes. A framework will be established to make investment in skills more responsive to the needs of local employers. The new Anglia local enterprise partnership estimates that the city deal will help create 13,000 additional jobs by 2025, support the establishment of 300 new businesses and bringing forward 3,000 additional homes, on top of the 37,000 previously envisaged.
Pupil Premium Funding
Today I am confirming the pupil premium final allocations for the 2013 to 2014 financial year and pupil premium allocations for the 2014 to 2015 financial year. The figures for 2014 to 2015 use early pupil data and will be updated when final pupil numbers are confirmed.
Final pupil premium allocations for the 2013-14 financial year
We now have the final figures for the number of pupils eligible for the premium, which means we are able to provide primary schools with an extra £53 to the end of the financial year for every primary pupil who is currently eligible for free school meals (FSM) or has been eligible for FSM in the past six years (FSM “Ever 6”). This is on top of the £900 primary schools currently receive for each of their FSM Ever 6 pupils. Primary schools will be able to use this additional funding to further raise pupil attainment. Secondary FSM Ever 6 and looked-after children will continue to attract a premium of £900 and service children attract a premium of £300.
Final pupil premium allocation tables for the 2013 to 2014 financial year based on these rates are available on the Department’s website for each local authority, parliamentary constituency and school.
Pupil premium allocations for the 2014-15 financial year
In the 2014 to 2015 financial year, the total pupil premium budget will increase from £1.875 billion to £2.5 billion. I am pleased to confirm that this rise in funding will enable us to increase substantially the funding per pupil for primary school pupils, allowing schools to intervene early, where the impact is greatest. From next year, primary FSM Ever 6 pupils will attract £1,300 which will help primary schools raise attainment and ensure that every child is ready for the move to secondary school. Meanwhile, we will allocate £935 for secondary FSM Ever 6 pupils.
In the 2014 to 2015 financial year, the pupil premium plus for looked-after children will have more than doubled, from £900 in 2013-14 to £1,900 per pupil. We are also extending eligibility to include those who have been looked after for one day or more, as compared with the six months in care currently required. The role of the virtual school head will be enhanced to ensure that, as the “corporate parent” of looked-after children, the virtual school head works closely with schools to ensure the funding is used to maximum effect.
We will, for the first time, include children who have been adopted from care or leave care under a special guardianship or residence order. This change recognises that the needs of those children who leave care do not change overnight. Schools will receive £1,900 for each eligible pupil adopted from care who has been registered on the school census and the additional funding will enable schools to offer pastoral care as well as raising pupil attainment.
We are continuing to support children with parents in the armed forces through the service child premium. In the 2014 to 2015 financial year, the service child premium will be set at £300 per pupil and we are continuing to expand the protection for pupils previously attracting the service child premium since its introduction in April 2011 whose parents are no longer in the armed forces or where parents have divorced. We will also continue to fund schools in respect of children of parents who were killed in action. These changes will mean an increase in the number of children eligible for the service premium from around 45,000 in 2011 to over 60,000 in 2014.
Illustrative 2014 to 2015 financial year allocations for each local authority, parliamentary constituency and school are available on the Department’s website. These will be updated when data from the January 2014 school census becomes available.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks
On 4 June 2013, Official Report, column 92WS, I informed the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I had asked Professor Chris Elliott to carry out an independent review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks following the horsemeat fraud. I would like to inform the House that Professor Elliott published his interim report today, it is available at: http://www.gov.uk/government/publications and copies are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The report recognises UK consumers have some of the safest food in the world. It highlights the key characteristics of a food supply network which protects consumers and enhances the reputation of the British food industry and in particular the steps needed to deal with the threat of food fraud.
My right hon. Friend and I welcome the interim report which affirms the complex nature of food fraud, with its possible links to serious organised crime. The horsemeat fraud earlier this year demonstrated the international context and complexity of food crime.
Significant action is already being taken to prevent and identify food crime. We have increased unannounced inspections of meat cutting plants. We are working with the European Commission and other member states to establish an EU-wide food fraud unit. We are undertaking a study to test that products which are labelled as from the UK are genuine. We have increased Food Standards Agency (FSA) funding to £2 million to support local authorities’ delivery of the national co-ordinated programme of food sampling.
The UK Government continue to work closely with the European Commission, other European member states and Europol to share information to strengthen reporting mechanisms for food fraud. We are already working with the European Commission to identify further targeted sampling programmes and how they might be implemented. I am bringing the interim report to the attention of the European Commission as its findings can contribute to activity to combat food fraud at European-level as well as in the UK.
Professor Elliott’s report recognises the leading role of the food industry, placing responsibility for delivering a food supply to consumers which is safe, resilient and free from crime, firmly on food businesses. EU food law makes it clear that it is the responsibility of food business operators to ensure that the food they sell is safe and is as described. The need for a more standardised audit process and the need for a balance between random and routine testing, reflect concerns expressed during the horsemeat fraud incident. The food industry undertakes a rigorous testing programme to ensure food authenticity. For horsemeat alone, the results of over 31,000 tests have been reported to the Food Standards Agency over the past nine months, none of which post incident have tested positive. During the incident less than 1% of tests of beef products in the UK were positive for horsemeat, compared to over 4% in the Europe-wide testing programme. The Government will continue to work with food businesses and local authorities responsible for enforcement to ensure measures are effective and not burdensome. We are already working with the sector to generate better food fraud intelligence by identifying barriers and solutions to intelligence sharing. This includes work being led by the FSA to develop a new intelligence hub to improve its capability to identify and prevent threats to food safety and integrity, based on an approach used by police.
There are a number of recommendations for Government, for example on intelligence gathering, enforcement and laboratory capacity. This is an interim report. The Government will be interested in views from interested organisations on these, as we consider them and how they might work in practice before taking a definitive decision on any implementation. Significant action is already under way to address the threat of food crime and the Government want to ensure Professor Elliott’s review builds on the good work already being done to ensure that British food is not just among the safest in the world but also the most authentic.
This interim report provides a foundation for further discussion between the Elliott review, the food industry, Government and others, on how to effectively address the threat of food crime. The report makes clear that food crime prevention is essential to maintaining consumer trust and that this is something on which we must all work together to ensure the integrity of our food supply networks.
Professor Elliott will be working further on these issues in the coming months, with the Government, food businesses and others to strengthen the evidence base as he finalises his recommendations.
I look forward to updating the House on Professor Elliott’s final report in the spring.
Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Taskforce
I would like to update the House on the progress that my Department has made in implementing the recommendations of the tree health and plant biosecurity taskforce, which published its report in May. This is further to my written ministerial statements of 20 May 2013, Official Report, column 54WS, and 16 July, Official Report, column 78WS, in which I accepted three of the recommendations relating to risk assessment, contingency planning and appointment of a chief plant health officer, and agreed to provide an update before the end of the year. I would like to thank the taskforce for their review of UK plant health controls.
I have made plant health one of my Department’s top priorities. Since then, we have made rapid progress in meeting that commitment and in implementing the taskforce’s recommendations. A single, prioritised plant health risk register has now been produced and we have started to use it to identify risks from specific pests and diseases and agree priorities for action. In addition we have commenced work to put in place new procedures for preparedness and contingency planning to ensure we can predict, monitor and control the spread of pests and pathogens. We expect to see the results of this work next summer and this will help ensure the UK is ready to deal effectively with future incursions of diseases into this country and is also able to respond better to those that are already established. Finally, recruitment for the senior post of chief plant health officer is under way and will be completed early in the new year.
The remaining recommendations are to:
Review, simplify and strengthen governance and legislation.
Improve the use of epidemiological intelligence from EU/other regions and work to improve the EU regulations concerned with tree health and plant biosecurity.
Strengthen biosecurity to reduce risk at the border and within the UK.
Develop a modern, user-friendly system to provide quick and intelligent access to information about tree health and plant biosecurity.
Address key skills shortages.
I can confirm today that I am accepting the remaining taskforce recommendations, and that in order to deliver these, my Department is developing an enhanced plant health programme. This programme will encompass all plants since the threats facing our plants are not restricted to trees. Details of this programme will be set out in a new plant health strategy, which I will publish in the spring of 2014. The strategy will set out a new approach to biosecurity for our plants and will include:
Pre-border activities to reduce the risk of pests and diseases arriving here from overseas, including our work with countries beyond the EU to drive up standards.
Activities at the border to reduce the risk of pests and diseases entering the EU and the UK.
Action inland to step up surveillance and improve preparedness.
All of this will be informed by the risk register, which will be published in January. It will be underpinned by a programme of work to build skills and capacity on plant health and to raise awareness of the threats facing our plants. I have reprioritised resources to enable this.
Since Government alone cannot make the radical changes needed to protect our plants from pests and disease the strategy will include details of what industry, environmental groups and the general public can do to help us to protect our plants from pests and disease. We will be sharing an initial version of the strategy with industry and environmental groups at a summit on 20 January next year to seek their input and to develop areas where they can contribute and we can work together. We will then finalise an agreed strategy at which point I will provide a further update to the House.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Crisis Response IT System
In my written statement of 21 February 2012, Official Report, column 74WS, I updated the House on the changes the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had made to its response to overseas crises. This statement updates the House on further progress made by the FCO as part of its commitment to excellence in all areas of its work.
The review into the FCO’s response to the multiple crises of 2011 highlighted that our crisis IT system, LOCATE, did not provide a platform suitable for the 21st century. I therefore made a commitment that the FCO would introduce a new crisis IT system for British nationals affected by crises overseas. Our new crisis IT system, the crisis hub, is now fully operational.
The crisis hub is designed to make it easier for British nationals affected by a crisis overseas to ask for help, whether this is by phoning the FCO’s crisis hotline, sending a text message, completing a form online or speaking to a member of our crisis team on the ground. The FCO used the crisis hub to help British nationals in the aftermath of the recent Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. It was a highly effective part of the Government response, giving our crisis teams around the world access to the same information.
The crisis hub is one of the many changes which the FCO has introduced to its crisis response since the review of consular evacuation procedures in 2011. These changes include a cadre of crisis response experts, a requirement for all of our overseas missions to have their own crisis management plan, which is regularly tested in exercises, and a refurbished crisis centre with space for over 100 staff from across Government to work together on a continuous, 24-hour basis during crises. Our improved crisis response structures have supported our response to 25 crises in the past 24 months.
Crises will continue to occur, many without warning. British nationals should sign up for the FCO’s free country-specific travel advice alerts via email or social media, and updates will then be sent to them. In a crisis our latest advice will be published online and publicised by our crisis response teams in London and overseas. Continuous improvement will remain at the heart of the culture of the FCO’s crisis management department, driven by a thorough and objective assessment after each crisis of lessons learnt and areas for improvement.
Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council
I chaired the second meeting of the overseas territories joint ministerial council in London on 26 November. The council was attended by political leaders and representatives from Anguilla; Ascension Island; Bermuda; the British Virgin Islands; the Cayman Islands; the Falkland Islands; Gibraltar; Montserrat; Pitcairn; St Helena; and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The council focused this year on measures to increase economic growth and create jobs in the territories. The plenary day included sessions on economic diversification and promoting investment; employment and vocational education; the relationship with the EU; renewable energy; and international financial services regulation. The council agreed a communiqué which identified priorities and set out a clear action plan for joint work. A copy of this communiqué has been deposited in the Library of the House. The communiqué reflects the commitment of the Governments of the overseas territories and the UK to continue to work together in partnership to achieve the vision set out in the June 2012 White Paper “The Overseas Territories: Security Success and Sustainability”.
Later in the week we organised meetings with territory delegations and Government departments on health, the environment, passports, visas, immigration and asylum, and criminal justice. We also organised a major investment forum for the territories which was attended by well over 100 UK companies.
In line with our commitment in the White Paper we will continue to report to Parliament on progress in implementing the commitments in the communiqué by territory Governments and UK departments. We have also deposited in the Library of the House a report on progress made in meeting the commitments in the communiqué from the joint ministerial council in 2012. The communiqué, UK progress report and reports by the territories are available for viewing on the website:
Public Records: Colonial Documents and FCO Archives
On 5 May 2011, My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary informed Parliament of his intention to release to the public every paper from a large collection of colonial administration files, subject only to legal exemptions, Official Report, column 24WS. On 5 December 2011, I informed the House of our plans to release these files over a two-year period, Official Report, column 5-6WS.
I am pleased to report that the final tranche of files was opened to the public at the National Archives on 29 November. This tranche included files from Malta, Singapore, Tanganyika, Trinidad, Turks and Caicos Islands, West Indies, western Pacific, Uganda and Zanzibar as well as files relating to land transfer in Kenya and files documenting the management of the migrated archive. Professor Badger, the independent reviewer appointed by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in June 2011, is expected to submit his final report shortly on these files and a copy of his report will be placed in the Library of the House.
In my statement of 30 November 2012, Official Report, column 36WS, I also informed the House that an up-to-date inventory of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) archival holdings had brought to light a large accumulation of other material outside the FCO departmental file series, known as the “Special Collections”, much of which was over 30 years old and therefore overdue for review. A copy of this high-level inventory was published on the FCO website at that time. This high-level inventory has since been updated, with additional detail, and was published on www.gov.uk. It can be found at, www.gov.uk/archive-records. Plans to review and release this legacy material are under development and our aim is to prioritise material that is likely to be of greatest public interest and to release this over a six-year period, starting in 2014. More detailed information will be published in the new year on the archive records pages at, www.gov.uk.
I am pleased to announce that Professor Badger will continue in his role as independent reviewer to oversee the selection, review and release of the remaining legacy material
I can reassure all that we remain fully committed both to complying with our public records obligations and to doing so with maximum transparency.
The Government have decided to opt in to the Council decisions to sign and conclude an agreement to extend the EU-Switzerland free movement agreement to Croatia.
The proposal seeks to amend the agreement to reflect the accession of the Republic of Croatia to the European Union on 1 July 2013. The amendment is a natural step following accession and will extend the agreement to apply to nationals of Croatia in Switzerland, and to nationals of Switzerland in Croatia. The proposed amendment will not extend a right of free movement in the UK to persons who do not already enjoy such a right. Therefore, the proposed amendment will have no impact on the UK.
Immigration Transparency Data
The Government are committed to openness and transparency to enable the public to hold the Government and other public bodies to account. This Government have made more data available than ever before. The Home Office contributes to that agenda by regularly releasing information about its work, spend and outcomes in a publicly accessible and open format.
This includes information about the immigration family returns process on our website. Unfortunately between 15 and 28 October 2013 some personal data were available on the Home Office website as part of a spreadsheet alongside the regular data set, in error. This was identified by Home Office officials on 28 October 2013 and the personal information was removed immediately. The personal data related to the names of 1,598 main applicants in the family returns process, their date of birth and limited details about their immigration case type and status. It did not include personal addresses or financial information.
The Department has taken steps to establish whether the data were viewed or accessed outside of the Home Office. That analysis suggests there were fewer than 30 visits to the relevant webpage. It has not been possible to ascertain whether those who visited the webpage went on to open the data sheet in question or accessed the part of the data sheet which contained the personal information.
The Home Office has notified the Information Commissioner’s Office and is undertaking an internal investigation. Measures have been put in place to prevent a recurrence of the error and verify that no similar error has previously taken place.
Our official assessment is that the risk to those whose personal information was accessible for the period is low. However, I have instructed my officials to take steps to notify those individuals concerned, where it is possible and appropriate to do so.
I am today announcing that the coalition Government will conduct a review into new psychoactive substances. We are prepared to enhance our UK-wide legislative framework to ensure that law-enforcement agencies have the best available powers, sending out the clearest possible message that the trade in these substances is reckless and that these substances can be dangerous to health, even fatal.
At the heart of the review will be external expertise drawn from law-enforcement agencies and local authorities, together with medical and social science, forensic experts and academics. The terms of reference can be found on the Home Office website and a copy will be placed in the House Library.
New psychoactive substances—so-called “legal highs”—are a significant global challenge. They can pose serious risks to public health and safety. Despite often being marketed as legal alternatives to controlled substances, in 2011, 19% of them contained illegal substances. Users can have no certainty of the health risks that will arise from using them or their legal status. We take this very seriously and together with law-enforcement partners, the Home Office has recently taken part in a concerted programme of enforcement activity. This has resulted in 73 warrants being deployed, 44 arrests and the seizure of a large number of illicit items, including banned new psychoactive substances. However, the market continues to evolve with the rapid development of new drugs.
The coalition Government has put in place a forensic early warning system which enables us to closely monitor the availability of these substances, so we can target activity to reduce demand and supply. Hundreds of these drugs have already been banned under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the UK is playing a leading role in galvanising international partners and institutions to tackle the threat from these new drugs. Using the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, I have asked the Advisory Council to put in place a process by which the range of our generic definitions—used to ban families of harmful drugs—is reviewed, with the first tranche of its advice due in early 2014.
We have also published guidance for local authorities on a range of legislative tools already available to tackle “head-shops” across the UK. This can be found on the Home Office website and a copy will be placed in the House Library.
Police and Crime Commissioner Elections
I am today publishing the Government’s response to the recommendations contained in two reports by the Electoral Commission on the 2012 PCC elections. The first, “Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England and Wales: report on the administration of the elections held on 15 November 2012”, is a broad report into the planning and administration of the PCC elections. The second, “2012 Police and Crime Commissioner elections spending report”, is focused solely on candidate spending during the election.
The response to these reports has been placed in the House Library. The Government are grateful for these reports from the commission, and those from other organisations such as the Association of Electoral Administrators. The analysis and recommendations will inform and assist the development of PCC electoral policy and legislation.
Justice and Home Affairs Council
The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held on 5 and 6 December in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and I attended on behalf of the United Kingdom; David Ford MLA, Justice Minister for the Northern Ireland Assembly, also attended. The following items were discussed.
At the start of the interior day the Commission (Reding) introduced its communication on the free movement of persons, which came as a result of UK pressure over recent months. The communication noted that while free movement was a right, that right did not include moving to another member state to claim benefits. The Commission noted that appropriate safeguards and tools were available under EU law to combat fraud and abuse and committed to work with member states on these issues. The Commission believed that the five actions set out in the communication represented concrete tools to maximise and protect the benefits of free movement. In particular, the Commission committed to finalise the draft of the sham marriage handbook and, together with the Committee of the Regions, agreed to organise a conference of mayors on 11 February 2014.
The UK (Home Secretary) acknowledged that freedom of movement was an important principle of the EU, but it could not be an unqualified one. While recognition in the communication that pressure had increased at a local level was welcome, it was disappointing that the Commission had failed to take seriously the evidence provided by member states. The UK believed the Commission needed to accept that fraudulent claims for social welfare were a growing problem, and that current rules on social security co-ordination prevented member states from taking the necessary steps to ensure that only those migrating to work and contribute to a host country’s economy could access welfare benefits. On the sham marriage handbook, the UK and others were not in a position to accept the draft given its narrow focus. The Home Secretary also highlighted the domestic changes to tighten the UK’s implementation of free movement rules and to protect local communities, which had been announced by the Prime Minister. In conclusion, the UK said the EU of today was different to the EU of 30 years ago and the Prime Minister had recently been clear that transition to free movement for future accession countries could not be done on the same basis as it was in the past. The UK believed that abuse of free movement must also be part of the next justice and home affairs work programme.
A number of other member states thought the Commission’s response to the abuse of free movement was insufficient and ineffective, by failing to clarify member states’ legal powers or proposing new actions to protect the freedom of movement from abuses such as benefit fraud, document fraud and sham marriage. If the Commission was not in a position to support, member states would consider working together outside the EU structures. Free movement rights came with responsibilities, and tackling abuse would increase public trust in the EU and the national authorities. Others noted that free movement was a fundamental right and that the overwhelming majority of citizens move to work. However, abuse, where it existed, needed to be tackled. The presidency noted that the Council would return to these issues in the future.
The counter-terrorism co-ordinator (CTC) presented a paper on foreign fighters in Syria and asked for a steer on how the proposals should be taken forward. The Commission emphasised that while much of this work was the responsibility of the member states, it stood ready to support. The European External Action Service (EEAS) drew attention to the fact that not every European who travelled to Syria was driven by extremism and that humanitarian motives played a significant role. Eurojust noted that the existing legal framework across the member states was sufficient and considered judicial co-operation with non-EU states to be crucial. Europol stressed that the success of its work relied upon information provided by member states.
All interventions supported the CTC’s paper and the majority called for an emphasis on prevent work, third country engagement, and for greater use of existing information systems. Almost all member states specifically referenced the importance of agreeing the EU passenger name records (PNR) directive. The UK updated Ministers on the key findings of the extremism taskforce report of 4 December and pushed for EU work to focus on prevent initiatives, particularly welcoming moves in the internet and social media sphere. The UK underlined the importance of the PNR directive, particularly intra-EU PNR, third country engagement and aligning foreign fighters work with that of the EEAS and external affairs partners.
Over lunch the Commission presented its biannual report on the functioning of the Schengen area and its fourth report on the post-visa liberalisation mechanism for the western Balkan countries. Those member states that had experienced spikes in asylum claims from the western Balkans region last year expressed continued concerns.
Following the commitment made at the March JHA Council, the presidency presented the state of play on Bulgarian and Romanian accession to Schengen. A unanimous decision at this time was not possible. Romania and Bulgaria stressed that all criteria to accede to Schengen had been met. The presidency suggested the Council return to this at its earliest convenience.
The Council discussed the Commission’s communication setting out the EU’s response to the Lampedusa tragedy of 3 October developed through the Commission-led “Task Force Mediterranean”. The short and medium-term actions to prevent further migrant deaths in the Mediterranean were broadly endorsed and there was a strong consensus that co-operation with countries of origin and transit was the key to preventing migrant deaths and illegal immigration flows. Ministers were more cautious about further sea operations in the Mediterranean, and the Commission’s proposal to open more legal migration channels was met with scepticism by some member states. The UK broadly welcomed the proposed measures, but shared others’ concerns about proposals for more protected entry and legal migration routes to the EU, which were unlikely to have any significant impact on the problem. The focus of the EU response should instead be on preventative work upstream, particularly in Libya and Tunisia; this activity was also important in the context of Syria. The presidency confirmed that it would report the outcome to the December European Council.
The Council considered the future JHA strategic guidelines and the principles which should underpin them. A central theme running through the debate was to ensure implementation and consolidation of existing EU measures while ensuring that all future measures were carefully assessed against the need for new measures and their added value. The UK supported development of a short, strategic set of priorities and reiterated that tackling free movement abuse, reducing illegal immigration, action against human trafficking, return of foreign offenders and improved exchange of criminal records should be the most important priorities for action. The UK also argued that the JHA Council should play a leading role in developing future guidelines. The Commission noted its priorities would include better integration policies, implementation of the common European asylum system, solidarity and contingency planning, credible policies on tackling irregular migration and return, strengthening internal security, and preventing cross-border crime, tackling trafficking of firearms, linking internal and external policies and using EU funds to support Home Affairs priorities. The presidency welcomed written contributions it received from member states which would consolidate and share with the incoming Greek presidency. It was agreed that the new presidency stood ready to continue work at the start of 2014.
Under AOB the presidency reported on the EU-US Ministerial meeting in Washington on 18 November.
The incoming Greek presidency then listed its priorities which included reviewing a strategy to combat terrorism, focusing on the western Balkans; developing measures dealing with the source of illegal immigration and returns; combating trafficking in conjunction with third countries; revising the European common asylum system; completing the legal migration legislative framework; and promoting discussion on the entry of third-country nationals to the EU for study and work.
Justice day began with a discussion of the “One Stop Shop” in relation to the data protection regulation, the part of the regulation intended to streamline oversight and decision-making by supervisory authorities, by conferring these powers on a single supervisory authority in cases where a data controller has establishments in a number of member states.
The UK expressed support for a simple model with decision-making made in the majority of cases by a single supervisory authority. Other member states had mixed views. Given the conflicting positions, it was clear that the experts group would need to reconvene. The Commission nonetheless hoped that the Council could adopt an approach quickly. The Council agreed a general approach on the compromise text for the regulation on the European Account Preservation Order (EAPO), which the UK has not opted into, allowing the Council to open negotiations with the European Parliament in December.
There was then an orientation debate on the insolvency proposal, which focused on jurisdiction, interconnection of registers and co-operation between courts. While there was broad support for the proposal, specific concerns remain. In particular, the UK, along with others, raised concerns about the “adequate safeguards” and additional search criteria for consumer insolvency cases being too onerous and stressed the need for free access to the registers. Other member states raised concerns about abusive forum shopping (especially as concerns natural persons). The presidency concluded that although there was support for much of the text, there were still several difficulties, and called for continued work at expert level.
The Council adopted a general approach on the amendment to Brussels 1 regulation on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters. The amendment is necessary to give effect to the patent package adopted last December and will include two common courts in the Brussels 1 system — the Unified Patent Court and the Benelux Court.
The presidency noted progress on the common European sales law proposal and that this had been a priority file, but also cautioned that this was very technical and there needed to be careful consideration of the detailed provisions in the annex.
Over lunch there was a discussion on the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO). This followed the recent publication of the Commission’s response to the subsidiarity yellow card triggered by a number of national Parliaments. The UK expressed concern that the Commission’s review was inadequate. It amounted to more of a legal defence of the proposal than a considered review of the opinions expressed by national Parliaments. There was some support from other member states for this position, and the Commission committed to consider the concerns of national Parliaments further during the course of negotiations.
The Council debated the Commission’s justice scoreboard. Eleven member states, including the UK, expressed concerns. The UK, supported by some other member states, expressed more fundamental concerns with the principle of the Commission undertaking this work and stressed that there should be no duplication with the work undertaken by the Council of Europe.
The presidency then informed the Council of its intention, at the request of Attorney-General holder, to provide the US with a contribution from the EU and its member states to the ongoing US review of its own surveillance legislation. The draft contribution was agreed.
There was then an initial discussion on future priorities for the JHA area following the expiry of the Stockholm programme, prior to the adoption of strategic guidelines at the European Council in June. The UK, along with a substantial number of other member states, expressed strong support for an approach based on practical co-operation, better regulation principles, consolidation and implementation of existing legislation, cost-effectiveness and cost-analysis in impact assessments, subsidiarity, and proportionality. The presidency concluded that work would continue under the Greek presidency with an overall approach based on: strategic guidelines that were concise and results-orientated; correct implementation of legal acts already adopted; consolidation; avoiding a catalogue of measures; a focus on quality; increased mutual trust; a focus on fundamental rights; and e-justice.
On the EU Accession to ECHR, the presidency explained that it was waiting for the consolidated text of the internal rules but the Commission’s formal proposal would only be issued after the Court opinion.
The Council adopted a strategy on e-justice, as well as Council conclusions on the fundamental Rights Agency; combating hate crime and citizenship. Both the presidency and the Fundamental Rights Agency recalled the conference in Vilnius on combating hate crime and crimes of totalitarian regimes.
The Council concluded with a presentation of priorities by the incoming Greek presidency. This would include continuing the work on post-Stockholm planning for the JHA area. They would aim for a general approach on data protection and insolvency. They would also aim for adoption of the European account preservation order, protection of the financial interests of the Union, as well as counterfeiting the euro and other currencies. They would also work on common European sales law, legalisation, European Public Prosecutor’s Office, Eurojust and the market abuse directive.
Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures
Section 19(1) of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 (the Act) requires the Secretary of State to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on the exercise of her TPIM powers under the Act during that period.
The level of information provided will always be subject to slight variations based on operational advice.
TPIM notices in force (as of 30 November 2013)
TPIM notices in respect of British citizens (as of 30 November 2013)
TPIM notices extended (during the reporting period)
TPIM notices revoked (during the reporting period)
TPIM notices revived (during the reporting period)
Variations made to measures specified in TPIM notices (during the reporting period)
Applications to vary measures specified in TPIM notices refused (during the reporting period)
During the reporting period: one individual was charged in relation to an offence under section 23 of the Act—contravening a measure specified in a TPIM notice without reasonable excuse—and his TPIM notice was revoked upon the subject’s remand in custody.
As Parliament is aware one individual subject to a TPIM notice—Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed—absconded on 1 November 2013.
Section 16 of the Act provides rights of appeal in relation to decisions taken by the Secretary of State under the Act. One appeal was lodged under section 16 during the reporting period. No judgments were handed down by the High Court in relation to appeals under section 16 of the Act.
The TPIM review group (TRG) keeps every TPIM notice under regular and formal review. The TRG has met twice during this reporting period.
I would like to provide the House with an update on the Ministry of Justice’s electronic monitoring contracts, and specifically on interim arrangements that have been put in place to help prepare for implementation of the next generation of contracts next year.
The House will recall that I made a statement on 11 July 2013 about significant anomalies in the billing practices under the current contracts with G4S and Serco. Members will be aware that these matters are now the subject of a criminal investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.
My Department’s current contractual arrangements with G4S and Serco for the delivery of electronic monitoring services are due to expire on 31 March 2014. To ensure continuity of service from that point until the new contracts come into effect later in 2014, we have signed a contract with Capita to take over the management of the existing electronic monitoring services on an interim basis. This will mean that management of these services, which are now operated by G4S and Serco, will transition to Capita by the end of the current financial year. Under these arrangements, Capita will be using the systems and equipment of G4S and Serco, but the two companies will no longer have a direct role in delivering the service on the ground.
Capita is one of our preferred bidders in the ongoing competition for electronic monitoring contracts and, if negotiations and testing with the company conclude to our satisfaction, will take responsibility for the monitoring and field staff under the next generation of electronic monitoring.
The interim arrangements announced today mark an important step from our existing contracts towards the next generation of electronic tagging, which will introduce the most advanced technology in the world and deliver better value for the taxpayer.
EU Transport Council
I attended the final Transport Council of the Lithuanian presidency in Brussels on Thursday 5 December.
The Council noted progress on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Union Agency for Railways and repealing regulation (EC) no 881/2004 (part of the fourth railway package). This regulation would define a range of new tasks for the European Railway Agency following changes in the recast railway interoperability and safety directives. The presidency noted the importance of completing this regulation which would conclude consideration of the technical pillar of the fourth railway package.
The Council reached a general approach on the proposed directive on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure. With member states divided in terms of levels of regulation they would like to see the presidency successfully reached a compromise position acceptable to all which removed EU-level binding targets. There were reservations from three member states, who had hoped for more ambitious binding targets for electric vehicle recharging infrastructure deployment. There was widespread support for harmonised technical EU standards for infrastructure, with the general approach text successfully safeguarded to allow for a multi-standard approach for electric vehicle plug types, ensuring that member states can continue to support existing standards. The upcoming Greek presidency will seek to reach a first reading agreement with the European Parliament in early 2014.
The Council noted progress made on the review of 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 presidency pointed to progress made in a number of areas including time/distance triggers for compensation and what would constitute an extraordinary circumstance. Greece will seek to reach an agreement within the Council on this dossier during its presidency.
The Council agreed a mandate for the Commission to open discussions with Brazil to secure an EU comprehensive air service agreement. The Commission stressed the importance of securing a positive outcome from the forthcoming discussions, especially given the rapid development of Brazil and the opportunities presented by the World cup and Olympics that would take place over the next few years.
Under any other business, the Commission reported on the latest developments on aviation emissions trading noting that although the revised Commission proposal was legally sound, it had not been received well at international level due to its inconsistencies with the outcome of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Assembly in October.
I commented that our primary concern should be to agree a global market based measure (MBM) in ICAO, and I raised concerns that a negative reaction to the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) at international level could jeopardise progress in ICAO. I therefore agreed with others, who supported the extension of the 2013 intra-European ETS to 2020 with a review in 2016 which could assess progress and make any appropriate amendments to the ETS.
The Commission suggested that comments made by Transport Ministers should be forwarded to their environment colleagues who would be meeting on 13 December. The Commission felt that this needed to be resolved at national Government level and the threat of a trade war remained very real. The presidency concluded that Council take note of the positions expressed.
The Commission presented its information paper on passenger ship safety and called for a constructive and co-ordinated approach at International Maritime Organisation (IMO) on this issue. The UK supported the Commission’s aims and would consider a future joint EU submission to the IMO following further discussions at the technical level. The Council took note.
On state aid—Denmark outlined their concerns with the Commission’s interpretation of the Leipzig-Halle case and the consequences this could have on existing and future infrastructure projects. The Commission confirmed that it had no intention of preventing the development of infrastructure on the grounds of state aid.
The Commission reported that Galileo and EGNOS programme had become a success story and was moving forward positively. In the Commission’s opinion, there remained no obstacles to the launch of the next satellites which would occur towards the end of 2014.
The Commission updated Council on progress on the blue belt initiative. The Council took note.
The incoming Greek presidency outlined their transport presidency programme over the next six months. They said that maritime transport would be the key element of their residency, focusing on progressing the ports services regulation, the, IMO co-ordination, blue belt and integrated maritime policy. Other priorities included the fourth railway package, Shift2Rail, eCall and weights and dimensions for land transport, passenger rights and noise for aviation and cleaner power for transport would be the main focus for horizontal issues. The key dates for their presidency would be Transport Councils on 14 March in Brussels and 5 and 6 June in Luxembourg. An informal council would be held in Athens on 7 and 8 May.
Lower Thames Crossing
On 21 May 2013, Official Report, column 74WS, the Department for Transport announced the launch of a public consultation on “Options for a New Lower Thames Crossing”. The consultation document set out the case for additional road-based river crossing capacity in the lower Thames area and the relative merits of three potential locations with one variant. It invited views on where to locate a new crossing.
The three options on which we consulted were:
Option A—at the site of the existing A282 Dartford-Thurrock river crossing;
Option B—connecting the A2 with the A1089; and
Option C—connecting the M2 with the A13 and the M25 between junctions 29 and 30.
Option C—variant: additionally widening the A229 between the M2 and M20.
The consultation closed on 16 July 2013.
I am pleased to announce this consultation resulted in a very good response. We received more than 5,700 consultation responses expressing a range of opinions. These have been analysed and I am publishing a report on the consultation on the Government website. A copy of the report will also be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Respondents raised a number of important points, which deserve due attention. At the same time we are committed to reaching a decision on location as speedily and effectively as possible.
The Department’s review of options showed that option B has the weakest case. Consultation feedback has additionally shown that option B receives limited support and instead raises serious concerns that it would jeopardise major redevelopment of the Swanscombe peninsula, a key part of the growth strategy for the Thames gateway area. A number of stakeholders have urged me to discard this option as swiftly as possible.
I have therefore decided that there are sufficient grounds to discard option B and that Government should focus on the choice between options A and C. The consultation evidence has persuaded me that this decision is one that has far reaching consequences for local people and users of the crossing. It is therefore not a decision to be taken lightly.
To assist Government in considering the consultation feedback and weigh up the relative merits of options A and C I am obtaining further advice on:
Potential scale of further improvements which may be required on the M25 and A13;
Potential implications for air quality in terms of compliance with national and European targets;
Potential scale of mitigation relating to possible impacts on protected habitats.
I will make a further announcement regarding the consideration of options A and C as soon as possible. This need not delay the delivery of the crossing as development of the remaining options continues.
In the meantime, we remain committed to introducing free flow charging at the Dartford-Thurrock crossing by October 2014. This will help alleviate congestion on the crossing in the short term.
Northern Lighthouse Board and Trinity House (Triennial Review)
We will shortly commence a triennial review of Trinity House in its capacity as a General Lighthouse Authority, and the Northern Lighthouse Board. Trinity House provides Aids to Navigation (AtoN) in England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar; and the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses, operating as the Northern Lighthouse Board provide AtoN in Scotland and the Isle of Man.
Reducing the number and cost of public bodies is a coalition priority. The triennial review process has been established to continue the Government’s work in ensuring accountability in public life by examining all non-departmental public bodies NDPBs at least once every three years.
The review will be conducted as set out in Cabinet Office guidance (“Guidance on Reviews of Non-Departmental Public Bodies, June 2011”). This review has two aims:
To provide a robust challenge of the continuing need for both organisations. The first stage of the review will examine both their key functions and the form in which those functions are delivered, which will include an assessment of a range of delivery options.
If it is agreed that these two lighthouse authorities should remain as Executive NDPBs (as defined by Cabinet Office), then stage 2 will review the control and governance arrangements in place to ensure that both bodies are complying with recognised principles of good corporate governance for NDPBs, having regard to their legal and constitutional positions.
Further details of the review, including detailed terms of reference, will be published on the www.gov.uk website shortly.
If you would like further information, or to contribute to the review, please contact Helen McGill by email (Helen.McGill@dft.gsi.gov.uk).
I remain committed to the continuing review of public bodies and my Department continues to work with the Cabinet Office to develop forward plans of reviews.
The report of the review, which is expected to be completed in spring 2014, will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Work and Pensions
Work Capability Assessment (Independent Review)
The Government are pleased to announce that the “Fourth Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment”, carried out by Dr Paul Litchfield, will be published later today. This is the fourth of five annual independent reviews as required by the Welfare Reform Act 2007.
Dr Litchfield has reported on the progress of the implementation of recommendations made by Professor Harrington in the first three annual independent reviews of the work capability assessment. He has also evaluated the operation and effectiveness of the work capability assessment, perceptions of objectivity surrounding the assessment and recommended further changes that may be needed to improve the assessment.
The work capability assessment is integral to the Government’s commitment to ensuring that as many people as are able to do so engage in employment and those who genuinely cannot work receive the appropriate support.
The Government welcome Dr Litchfield’s report as a key step in making sure the assessment is as effective as possible and are currently carefully considering his recommendations. The Government’s response to Dr Litchfield’s report will be published next year.