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Written Statements

Volume 575: debated on Thursday 13 February 2014

Written Statements

Thursday 13 February 2014

Business, Innovation and Skills

Student Loans

On 25 November 2013, Official Report, column 2WS, I announced the completion of the sale of the remaining publicly owned mortgage-style (MS) student loans under the Education (Student Loans) Act 1990 as amended by the Education (Student Loans) Act 1998.

Administration of the loans has remained the responsibility of the Student Loans Company (SLC) while work was being undertaken to prepare for migration of the sold accounts to the purchaser, Erudio Student Loans Ltd.

Migration of accounts is now commencing and borrowers will soon begin to receive letters informing them of this change and any actions they are required to take as a result. The terms and conditions of borrowers’ loans—including the interest rate charged, which will continue to be set annually by reference to published RPI figures—are not changing as a result of the sale, and borrowers will not need to take any action at this stage. Successful migration will trigger the payment to Government of the second and final instalment of ca. £43 million out of the total purchase price of £160 million.

Late on in the sale and migration process, a potential issue was identified with some of the arrears correspondence that had previously been issued by SLC to a proportion of MS loan borrowers. These letters could be interpreted as having not been fully compliant with the Consumer Credit Act (CCA) 1974—as amended in 2008—and associated secondary legislation.

Although borrowers are not thought to have been disadvantaged as a result, the decision has been taken to adjust the balance of the affected loans. Erudio Student Loans Ltd will remove any loan interest and/or charges paid by the affected borrowers from the time that they first received such a letter. Borrowers need take no action and all affected borrowers will be informed as part of migration.

Migration represented the first practical opportunity at which affected borrowers could be notified of their individual circumstances and at which their accounts could be updated. The agreed purchase price of £160 million reflects the £6.25 million cost of balance adjustments and associated administration.

Additionally, there are a small number of affected customers who paid off their loans prior to the sale—or had them cancelled under the loan terms—and whose loans were consequently not included in the sale. The SLC will separately be making contact with these customers to make arrangements for a refund. The cost of this is estimated at £0.75 million.

Income contingent repayment (ICR) loans, offered to students after 1998, were not included in the 25 November sale and these loans continue to be owned by the Government and administered by the Student Loans Company. As ICR loans were not issued under the CCA, they are not affected by the issue identified above. The Government are in the process of preparing for a first sale from the ICR loan book by the end of 2015-16.

Treasury

Fuel Markers

The Government are today announcing the introduction of a new product to mark rebated fuels. The new marker will be produced by the chemical company Dow, and will be mandated for use in off-road diesel, known as red diesel in the UK, and kerosene, primarily used for heating oil.

Today’s announcement represents a significant step forward in the battle against criminals who “launder” rebated fuel and sell it on for road use at a profit. The new marker being introduced will be highly resistant to such laundering.

The UK and Ireland launched a joint search for a new marker in 2012, which concluded last autumn after rigorous evaluation. This unique co-operation recognises that the criminals responsible for fuel laundering do not respect borders, and it means that for the first time the UK and Ireland will share a significantly improved marker. The Government are confident that this will severely limit the supply of oils fraudsters can use.

This Government are clear that fuel laundering is not a victimless crime; it robs the Government of tax revenue that could be used to fund vital public services; it puts all businesses that follow the rules at a commercial disadvantage, from retailers to haulage firms; and it can have a severe environmental impact, with considerable clean-up costs.

The new marker will be introduced in consultation with the oil industry and other affected sectors and will be used alongside the current marker mix. It is anticipated that the new marker will be introduced within 12 to 18 months and the relevant legislation will be amended during this period.

Scotland Analysis

The Government have today presented to Parliament the 11th paper in the Scotland analysis programme series to inform the debate on Scotland’s future within the United Kingdom.

“Scotland analysis: Assessment of a sterling currency union” (C8815) examines what independence would mean for Scotland’s economy and how this would impact on Scotland’s macro-economic framework choices, including its choice of currency.

The analysis sets out that the UK is one of the most successful monetary, fiscal and political unions in history, and the current arrangements bring significant benefits to Scotland. Taxation, spending, monetary policy and financial stability policy are co-ordinated across the whole UK to the benefit of all parts of the UK. Risks are pooled and the UK has a common insurance against uncertainty.

Within a sterling currency union, an independent Scottish state would find it more difficult to adjust to the effects of economic challenges, such as a fall in the global price of oil, than Scotland is able to as part of the UK. In turn, the continuing UK would become exposed to much greater fiscal and financial risk from a separate state, creating risks for continuing UK taxpayers. The subsequent experience of the euro area in the financial crisis highlights the challenges of creating a durable currency union.

The analysis concludes that, in the event of a vote for independence, the Treasury would advise the UK Government against entering into a currency union.

The UK pound is one of the oldest and most successful currencies in the world. If people in Scotland vote to leave the UK they are also voting to leave the UK pound.

This paper builds on the analysis already published as part of the Scotland analysis programme including papers relating to currency and monetary policy, financial services and banking, business and micro-economic framework and macro-economic and fiscal performance. It also draws on legal opinion published by the Government alongside their paper “Scotland analysis: Devolution and the implication of Scottish independence” published in February 2013.

Business Rates Administration Review

The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), and I have today published the terms of reference for the Government’s review of business rates administration. This follows the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s autumn statement, where he announced a £1 billion package of business rates measures which benefits all 1.8 million ratepayers and means that around 360,000 small businesses pay no rates at all, and committed to discuss with business options for longer-term administrative reform of business rates post-2017. The terms of reference are set out below.

Terms of reference

Business rates are a tax based on property values. In England they raise around £23 billion each year, which helps fund services provided by local government. The review will consider the way in which the business rates system in England is administered by the Valuation Office Agency and local authorities, with a view to strengthening its responsiveness to changes in property values and its simplicity and transparency to business ratepayers.

The review will include consideration of the:

administration of billing and collection by local authorities, including the application of reliefs and exemptions; and of valuation by the Valuation Office Agency, including the scope for improvements in communication and the exchange of information between ratepayers and public bodies;

the circumstances under which liability can be backdated;

changes to valuation methods, consistent with the principle that business rates are based on rental property values and that the rates retention system rewards local government for growth in values; and

frequency of revaluations to enable tax assessments to be based on up-to-date property values.

In considering possible changes to the business rates system to be made post-2017, the review will balance the need for any system to deliver fairness, stability and predictability to ratepayers. Any changes will need to maintain the aggregate tax yield from which to fund local services, preserve the same level of financial autonomy to authorities and the local incentives to promote growth that were delivered through the implementation of the business rates retention scheme introduced on 1 April 2013.

Communities and Local Government

Flood Response

The country continues to suffer the effects of the recent extraordinary weather. The Government are determined to do everything possible to help those communities affected to recover as quickly as they can.

This statement updates the House on further changes being made to the Bellwin scheme which provides emergency financial assistance to local authorities in England.

The Bellwin scheme is designed to help local authorities recover the immediate and additional costs they incur when taking action to safeguard lives and properties or to prevent suffering and inconvenience to local residents. The scheme normally works through an application to my Department by local authorities once they have determined costs incurred to receive reimbursement.

Last week I took steps to strengthen this scheme in response to the exceptional circumstances caused by this winter’s flooding. The Government will now pay 100% of the costs incurred above the threshold, rather than the usual 85%. We have reduced the threshold for all county councils and unitary authorities to make it easier for them to claim Bellwin support. This is the first time that the thresholds have been reduced in 30 years. In a related measure, we have allowed upper-tier authorities with responsibility for fire to claim Bellwin on a comparable basis to stand-alone fire authorities for fire-related costs.

I am today announcing a further extension of this scheme to provide certainty and financial security to local authorities in the front line. First, local authorities now have until the end of May to incur eligible spending recognising the extended nature of the weather. This vital extension will give councils the reassurance that they will have time to deal with the effects of the weather and still have time to properly assess local costs.

Secondly, we will allow a large proportion of those Bellwin payments to be made available now, rather than waiting until the situation has cleared up before local authorities can make those claims. This means that local authorities will have access to the cash they need right now to deal with the pressing problems caused by the weather. Local authorities simply need to put in a request to my Department and we will pay up to 80% of spending which is eligible under the Bellwin scheme. We will pay the remainder upon receipt of the formal claim through the usual channels. This will be paid quickly, with as little bureaucracy as possible. These changes recognise the exceptional nature of the situation which communities are facing.

For the avoidance of doubt, where local authorities issue sandbags as a result of an emergency the cost can be claimed through the Bellwin scheme. In that context, I wish to be clear that no local authority should be charging their residents for sandbags.

These changes are one part of the Government’s immediate response to the floods. Yesterday the Prime Minister announced a comprehensive package of new measures to help hard-working homes, businesses and farmers hit by the recent flooding including a £5,000 “repair and renew” grant for all affected home owners and businesses for when the flood waters subside; £10 million for farmers and a commitment to give affected businesses relief from business rates; together with investment plans to strengthen our flood defences with a further £130 million for the future.

The Government’s emergency committee continues to meet regularly to lead the national response and we will continue to do everything we can to help the emergency services, local authorities and community members to deal with the extremely difficult situation they are facing. I would like to praise the ongoing hard work of local authorities and the emergency services and I hope that today’s announcement will give them the financial confidence to continue serving their local residents in these challenging times.

Culture, Media and Sport

Sporting Legacy

Our ambition is to be the first host nation to increase the number of people playing sport off the back of the Olympic and Paralympic games. The long-term trends show we are on track and according to the “Active People Survey” data published in December 2013, some 15.5 million people are playing sport at least once a week. That is 1.5 million more than when we won the bid to host the London 2012 games. We are committed to building on that.

This shows a strong recovery on the last six months and a sustained growth a year after the games. As we said in June, bad winter weather during 2012-13 meant that people lost the opportunity to play sport but not the motivation. We have also seen record numbers of disabled people playing sport—1.67 million people aged 16 years and over with a long-term limiting illness or disability—and more people from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities participating than ever before—2.7 million). The number of women playing sport has also increased by 55,000 over the last six months.

Elite Sport

Elite Funding

In February, UK Sport will publish the results of the annual investment reviews of summer Olympic and Paralympic sports. UK Sport continues to track their progress towards Rio 2016.

The Sochi 2014 winter Olympic and Paralympic games take place in February and March. UK Sport has invested £14.1 million into eight winter sports and is targeting at least three medals at the Olympics and at least two at the Paralympics.

As part of the continued Government funding for elite sport to 2016, all funded athletes have been asked to give up to five days a year to inspire children and young people to get involved in sport. UK Sport’s most recent survey of this activity, completed in October 2013, revealed that athletes had given more than 6,000 days to community and school sport since London 2012.

World-class Facilities

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

The Copper Box arena has welcomed over 100,000 visitors and played host to the Badminton Grand Prix, the International Handball Cup, boxing and Great Britain’s men’s basketball and is home to the London Lions British basketball league team who are hosting 21 games for the 2013-14 season.

Major Sports Events

UK Sport’s gold event series, the legacy programme for major events hosting within the UK, has secured 39 major events for the UK and is on track to secure 70 major international sporting events for the UK between 2013 and 2019.

This year will see another 10 major events staged in the UK as part of the series, with three London 2012 legacy venues hosting major international sports for the first time since the London 2012 games. July will also see the UK hosting three stages of the Tour de France for the first time.

Community

Places People Play

Sport England’s investment in grassroots sports facilities now stands at £71 million, with some 1,366 clubs already having benefited from the “Inspired Facilities” programme. The next round of applications for funding has been received, and awards for successful bids will be announced in the spring.

Since the last update over 40,000—14 to 25-year-olds have completed the six-eight week Sportivate coaching course, bringing the total number trying new sports to 297,232. Some 80% of these have continued to play regularly since completion of the course. The community outreach sports programmes developed by the London Legacy Development Corporation with over 20 delivery partners and stakeholders including Take 12, Barry McGuigan Boxing Academy, Active People Active Park (APAP) have already helped over 20,000 local people to get more active. The full APAP programme will be launched in spring 2014.

Youth Sport Strategy

There are now over 1,500 satellite clubs in secondary schools. One hundred and fifty of these are for girls only.

Sport England’s £15 million university sport activation fund was launched in November 2013. This is a revenue fund aimed at universities, to challenge themselves continue to enhance their sport offer to appeal to more higher education (HE) students, and demonstrate the value that sport plays within wider university objectives. We hope that by doing this we will start to create a sporting habit for life among more HE students.

Volunteering

The volunteering legacy remains a key priority for the Government. Join In had a target of supporting 10,000 events across the UK and, in December 2013, published their evaluation of the summer campaign which showed they supported over 11,000 events, helping clubs and community organisations to recruit over 100,000 new volunteers.

More information on the Join In evaluation and the plans for 2014 can be found on the Join In website. This includes their local leaders network of volunteers which launched in January 2014 and will continue to grow over the coming year.

School Games

Some 16,491, or nearly 70% of all schools, are fully engaged in the programme. This is an increase of 7%. Some 2,343 schools have gained a school games kitemark with 260 of these achieving the highest “gold” award—an increase from 69 schools the previous year. Over 100 county festivals of sport took place during the summer and winter of 2013, involving more than 100,000 young participants.

The hugely successful School Games National Finals took place in Sheffield in September, with Manchester recently being announced as this year’s host city. Once again a delegation of young athletes from Brazil took part in three sports winning 15 medals. In return, the UK sent some of our best young disabled athletes to compete at Brazil’s school Paralympic-style games in November, finishing 10th overall in the medal table with an impressive haul of 21 gold medals, three silver and one bronze.

PE/School Sport

Some £150 million per year of ring-fenced funding will now go directly to primary school head teachers to spend solely on PE and sporting provision. An extra year’s funding was announced in the Chancellor’s autumn statement bringing the total to £450 million over the next three years.

In addition, £18 million of lottery money will be used to help around 600 schools improve their outdoor sporting facilities.

Disability Sport Legacy

A record number of disabled people now play sport each week. This has increased by 62,000 over the last year, bringing the total number to its highest recorded figure of 1.67 million.

Awards for the next round of the inclusive sport fund and the new “Get Equipped” fund will be announced in the spring.

The London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) has continued to deliver its Paralympic legacy programme, and has now agreed a business case to invest £1.7 million over the coming three years, to be matched by a £3 million funding from external partners. Led by LLDC in partnership with Sport England, “Motivate East” is an inclusive sports participation project for disabled people living in the host boroughs, inspired by the Paralympic games. Launched in early 2013, it is on track to deliver 26,000 opportunities to participate in inclusive sports and physical activity by 2015-16, meeting initial targets relating to throughput, supported by the appointment of Para-legacy agents to promote the programme.

The date for National Paralympic day 2014 has been agreed (to be held on the 30th August), which will also feature the Mayor of London’s Liberty Festival as well as elite sport in two or three venues on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park.

International Development

The international inspiration programme is (or has been) active in 20 countries. The vision was to reach 12 million young people. At present more than 15.6 million have been reached with more than 230,000 trainers, coaches and teachers receiving funding.

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

Defence

Submarine Dismantling Project

I am announcing today that the Ministry of Defence’s submarine dismantling project (SDP) has published the provisional shortlist of candidate sites for the storage of intermediate level radioactive waste removed from nuclear-powered submarines after they have left naval service and been defuelled. The storage will be for an interim period until the UK’s geological deposit facility is available some time after 2040.

I previously announced on 22 March 2013, Official Report, column 61WS that all nuclear licensed and authorised sites in the UK, including those owned by the MOD, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and industry, would be considered on an equal basis. This approach was based on the findings from an initial public consultation, which ran from October 2011 to February 2012, and was announced by the then Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Sir Peter Luff) on 27 October 2011, Official Report, column 16WS.

All such sites have now been considered and the five that have been provisionally shortlisted for the interim store are as follows:

the atomic weapons establishment sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire, which are owned by the MOD and run by AWE plc;

Sellafield in Cumbria and Chapelcross in Dumfriesshire, which are owned by the NDA; and

Capenhurst in Cheshire, which is run by Capenhurst Nuclear Services.

In line with good practice on public consultation, we will now enter a period of pre-engagement with local authorities, elected representatives and established site stakeholder groups at each of the candidate sites. This will provide these groups with an early opportunity to understand and comment on the criteria that should be considered during the main assessment of shortlisted sites. It will also help us to shape the formal public consultation that we will carry out before any decisions are made.

Following this period of pre-engagement, our aim is to publish the final shortlist of sites in summer 2014. These will then be taken forward as the basis for public consultation, which will be carried out locally, around each candidate site, and nationally. Our plan is for the public consultation to begin towards the end of this year and end early next year.

Further information on the SDP and a copy of the proposed criteria and screening report, which contains more detail about why individual sites were chosen for the provisional shortlist, can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/submarine-dismantling-project-interim-storage-of-intermediate-level-radioactive-waste.

Copies of these reports will also be placed in the Library of the House.

Education

School Teachers Review Body (23rd Report)

The 23rd report of the School Teachers Review Body (STRB) is being published today. Its recommendations cover the issues that were referred to it in April 2013—leadership pay; allowances; provisions relating to safeguarding; and teachers’ non-pay terms and conditions. The recommendations seek to continue the process of reform that had begun with the STRB’s 23rd report on classroom teachers’ pay with a view to producing a framework of pay and conditions that will raise the status of the teaching profession, and support the recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers and school leaders.

I am grateful for the consideration which the STRB has given to these important matters and fully support the guiding principle of increased flexibility for schools within a simplified and consistent national framework that it has used as the basis for its recommendations. Copies of the STRB’s 23rd report are available in the Vote Office, the Printed Paper Office and the Libraries of both Houses, and online at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-education

The STRB has made recommendations that seek to build on the reforms to teachers’ pay and provide a framework for leadership pay that is consistent with that for classroom teachers. It proposes greater autonomy for schools to determine the appropriate level of pay depending on the circumstances of each post and additional flexibility within the national pay framework to reflect the changing nature of school leadership, including recognition of the most demanding roles. It also proposes greater freedom in setting the levels of allowances, the simplification of salary safeguarding provisions and the removal of unnecessary detailed guidance on non-pay conditions.

I am grateful to the STRB for these recommendations and, subject to the views of consultees, I intend to accept all the key recommendations.

My detailed response contains further information on these matters.

Annex to written ministerial statement

School Teachers Review Body’s (STRB’s) recommendations and response from the Secretary of State for Education.

[The following sets out the full set of recommendations from the STRB as published in the 23rd report (CM 8813) on 13 February 2014, together with the response from the Secretary of State for Education.]

The 23rd report of the STRB is being published today. It covers matters referred to the STRB in April 2013. Copies are available in the Vote Office, the Printed Paper Office and in the Libraries of both Houses and online at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-education

In making its recommendations, the STRB was asked to consider:

how to provide a simplified and flexible framework for ensuring school leaders’ pay is appropriate to the challenge of the post and their contribution to their school or schools;

how the current detailed provisions for allowances, other pay flexibilities and safeguarding could be reformed to allow a simpler and more flexible STPCD; and

how the framework for teachers’ non-pay conditions of service could be reformed to raise the status of the profession and support the recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers, and raise standards of education for all children.

I am grateful for the in-depth consideration which the STRB has given to these important matters. I am inviting comments on the STRB’s report and my response to its recommendations by 13 March 2014.

The STRB has recommended:

Leadership pay framework

A simple three-stage process to guide governing bodies in setting pay for heads and wider leadership group, taking account of challenge of the role.

Relevant allowances to be subsumed into the pay setting arrangements for base pay.

The removal of unnecessary rigidities in form of spine points and differentials.

Pay progression that better reflects individual performance, for the leadership group.

Continuing scope for governing body discretion to set pay 25% above the broad bands, and exceptionally beyond if supported by a business case.

Providing formal headroom above the current leadership range for the biggest leadership roles in large multiple schools.

Scope for fixed-term contracts in limited circumstances with provision for reward linked to delivery of specified outcomes.

Allowances

The existing broad framework of TLR payments be retained, with removal of the current provisions relating to differential levels of TLR payments within schools.

The SEN allowance be retained unchanged.

The chartered London teacher scheme be abolished with transitional arrangements for teachers already registered.

The unqualified teachers’ allowance, acting allowance and performance payments to seconded teachers and payments for residential duties and additional payments be retained, with amendment as necessary consequential on the changes to leadership pay.

Recruitment and retention benefits and incentives to be retained as a separate allowance for teachers, but be limited to housing/relocation allowances for head teachers and other members of the leadership group where pay has been set under the new arrangements.

A discretionary payment may only be made to head teachers for additional responsibilities undertaken on a temporary or irregular basis.

The General Teaching Council for Wales’ fee allowance be retained.

The Department consider simplification of the presentation of allowances in a revised STPCD.

Safeguarding

The Department should bring together the current safeguarding provisions into one simplified section of the STPCD.

Non-pay recommendations

The core provisions in section 2 be retained, but the list of 21 administrative and clerical tasks at annex 3 to section 2 be removed from the STPCD.

The section 4 guidance be removed from the STPCD.

The existing statements of professional responsibilities for teachers be retained.

I am grateful to the STRB for its consideration of the issues and, subject to consultees’ views, I intend to accept all these recommendations. I regard them as providing the framework to move towards a more flexible and simpler system, where the emphasis is on less unnecessary detailed prescription and greater autonomy for schools in deciding how to reward their head teachers.

The recommendations to remove the list of 21 administrative and clerical tasks and the section 4 guidance are particularly welcome. They will not only contribute towards the Government’s objective of reducing unnecessary guidance and of simplifying and shortening the overall STPCD, but they will also provide greater flexibility for teachers and school leaders to use their professional judgement in exercising their professional responsibilities and as such represent an important step in the reform of teachers’ conditions of employment.

In addition to its recommendations, the STRB has made a number of suggestions about the timing and handling of the implementation of changes to leadership pay and to TLRs, including that these changes should be applied by schools as and when appointments are made or when responsibilities change. It has also made a number of observations about governance. I will want to ensure that alongside greater flexibilities there are sensible controls to avoid excessive payments and wage inflation. I would welcome consultees’ views on all these points.

Finally I will want to ensure that we have had due regard to equalities considerations before confirming the Government’s response. I would welcome consultees’ views on these matters also.

Sir Martin Narey's Report (Children's Social Workers Training)

Children’s social work is one of the most demanding careers a person can pursue, with the power to transform the lives of deeply disadvantaged children. It requires a unique and highly complex set of skills and knowledge. When those skills and that knowledge are not present, lives which might have been transformed immeasurably for the better can be left damaged instead.

Today we publish an independent report, by former Barnardo’s chief executive Sir Martin Narey, which reveals a training system which in too many universities is not fit for purpose. He concludes that entry demands are not high enough, the system of endorsement of courses is insufficiently rigorous, and the content of those courses too generic. The result is a failure to protect the most vulnerable children in our society.

While Sir Martin stresses that some fine social work courses do exist, in too many universities and in many social work texts, social work training can be dominated by an emphasis on inequality, empowerment and anti-oppressive practice. As Sir Martin Narey says,

“Sometimes, parents and other carers neglect and harm children. In such circumstances, viewing those parents as victims, seeking to treat them non oppressively, empowering them or working in partnership with them can divert the practitioner’s focus from where it should be: on the child.”

Sir Martin argues that there is too much theory, not enough good practical experience. Training for children’s social work ought to include: recognition of the signs of abuse; understanding of the impact of child abuse and neglect in very early years and beyond; assessment and analytical skills; training in how to question and engage parents and children; a sound knowledge of the evidence base around parental capacity and effective intervention including how to prepare a child to move home, either in an emergency or to a new permanent family; management of risk; the legal framework; and child development. To learn how to apply this knowledge in practice, training must always include a placement in a statutory setting.

Sir Martin reveals there are some good undergraduate courses, and there are many better Masters-based entry routes—but too many social workers are leaving university today ill-prepared for their vital role working to protect at-risk children.

Children’s social work requires a uniquely fine balance of moral, legal, practical and psychological considerations; challenge as well as support; a hard intellect as well as a generous heart.

Too many prospective social workers, as Sir Martin also reports, are entering university ill-equipped to meet those demands. Between 2003 and 2012, no fewer than 307 social work degree courses at 83 institutions were formally approved, with a rapid increase in the number of entrants and worryingly low entry standards: less than a third of those on undergraduate courses had one or more A-levels. The failure rate on these courses was just 2.5%. We want to see universities demand more of prospective social workers.

We accept Sir Martin’s recommendation to set out, in one place, what a newly qualified children’s social worker needs to understand, based first on a definition of what a children’s social worker is—work which is being led by the chief social worker for children, Isabelle Trowler. And we want to see university students committed to working with children specialise in children’s issues both academically and in their practice placements.

The chief social worker is also developing plans for the introduction of a more rigorous testing regime for children’s social workers, including a license to practise examination, continuing professional development and compulsory revalidation; and I am personally supportive of this work.

The Frontline and Step Up to Social Work programmes are leading the way in increasing the ambition of children’s social work; more traditional entry routes must, at all universities, have similar aspiration. We want to do for social work what has been done so successfully for teaching: raise the status of the profession and the quality of those wishing to join it through higher-quality entry routes and training.

The cluttered landscape of standards and university endorsement criteria should be cleared, and the criteria sharpened. We shall consider Sir Martin’s recommendations for a single body to approve and audit children’s social work training; and further consider how to strengthen regulation of the profession.

The fundamental reform of social work training recommended by Sir Martin sits alongside our existing reform programme in children’s social work: a swifter and surer adoption system; sharper intervention in inadequate authorities; diversification in delivery; and an innovation programme to encourage a wider range of partners, greater creativity, and more intelligent and supportive practice systems. What we would want for our own children, we should aim to deliver for all children.

Copies of Sir Martin’s report will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The next Agriculture and Fisheries Council will be on 17 February in Brussels. I will represent the UK. Richard Lochhead MSP and Alun Davies AM will also attend.

There are no fisheries items on the agenda. On agriculture the Commission will present their proposal for a regulation combining and reinforcing existing school fruit and school milk schemes. There will be debates on the situation in the dairy sector and a proposal for reform of the regulation on information provision and promotion measures for agricultural products, on the internal market and third countries.

There are currently two any other business items:

implementing innovation partnership for agriculture productivity and sustainability;

conclusions from the 34th conference of directors of EU paying agencies.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Ofwat (Contingencies Fund Advance)

An urgent cash advance of £1.5 million will be required on 27 February 2014, to fund Ofwat’s ongoing operating cost commitments while it awaits Royal Assent of its supplementary estimate.

Ofwat is heavily committed to the successful delivery of the 2014 price review and is reliant on the expert input of a number of suppliers to deliver highly specialised work and help meet peaks of demand associated with the price review. Without this input Ofwat would be unable to regulate effectively and protect the interests of 52 million consumers in England and Wales.

Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £3,850,000 will be sought in a supplementary estimate for the water services regulation authority. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £1,500,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

EU (Balance of Competences Review)

I wish to update the House on the progress of the balance of competences review that I launched on behalf of the Government in July 2012. The first set of reports was published on 22 July 2013 and I am pleased to inform the House that the second set of reports has been published today on the gov.uk website. As per my written ministerial statement of 23 October 2012, Official Report, column 46WS, the reports were written by lead Departments for each policy area. This set of reports covers the single market: free movement of goods, asylum and non-EU migration, trade and investment, environment and climate change, transport, research and development, culture, tourism and sport, and civil judicial co-operation.

Calls for evidence for these reports were published in May 2013. As with the first set of reports, the level of interest shown was very welcome and the evidence we received was again of high quality. We received over 600 pieces of written evidence from parliamentary committees, Members of the European Parliament, the European Commission, foreign Governments, local government, businesses, trade associations, think-tanks, academics, civil society groups, and professional membership associations. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who contributed, including the devolved Administrations and Crown Dependencies, for their continued involvement.

As with the first set of reports, each report draws on the evidence submitted to provide a wide-ranging and balanced analysis of the EU’s ability to act in a specific area, the impact that EU action has on the UK national interest, and the future challenges that may arise.

The reports have undergone rigorous internal challenge to ensure they are balanced, robust and evidence-based. Evidence submitted (subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Act) has been published alongside the reports on the gov.uk website to ensure transparency.

Work is continuing on the report entitled “The Single Market: Free Movement of Persons” which will be published at a later date.

Calls for evidence for semester three reports were launched in October 2013 and closed in January. Reports in this semester cover: single market: services; single market: financial services and the free movement of capital; EU budget; cohesion; social and employment; agriculture; fisheries; competition and consumer policy; energy; and fundamental rights. Reports are expected to be published over summer 2014. Calls for evidence for semester four reports will launch in spring 2014.

The first two sets of reports and the calls for evidence for semester three reports are available at: https://www.gov. uk/review-of-the-balance-of-competences . Copies of the second set of reports will be made available in the Libraries of both Houses and hard copies are also available in the Vote Office.

Health

Cosmetic Interventions

On 23 April 2013, the independent “Review of the Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions”, chaired by Sir Bruce Keogh, was published. A copy has already been placed in the Library.

The review highlighted how the rapid growth of the cosmetic interventions sector is exposing people who undergo these procedures to a concerning lack of safeguards. It made recommendations to improve the quality of care, to inform and empower the public and to ensure resolution and redress when things go wrong.

We fully accept the principles of the Keogh review and the overwhelming majority of the recommendations. Work is already underway on a number of them, in particular to address the issue of ensuring proper training for cosmetic practitioners. The Royal College of Surgeons has set up an inter-specialty committee to ensure standards for cosmetic surgery and will work with the General Medical Council on a code of ethical conduct. Health Education England is leading on a review of training for providers of non-surgical interventions, such as botulinum toxin—commonly known as “Botox”—and dermal filler injections.

Work is also underway on a breast implant registry to reassure women that if problems arise they can be contacted, kept informed and called in for treatment if necessary.

There are examples of high-quality surgical and non-surgical cosmetic interventions provided by trained staff to high standards of care and satisfaction. It is these high standards that must be universal. We must protect the public and ensure proper training and oversight of non-surgical as well as surgical cosmetic interventions. We shall legislate where required to achieve this.

Today I have pleasure in laying before Parliament “Government Response to the Review of the Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions” (Cm 8776). Copies are available in the Library.

Home Department

Licensing Fees

I am today informing Parliament of the publication of a public consultation on the move from centrally set to locally set fees under the Licensing Act 2003. The consultation will run for eight weeks, from 13 February to 10 April. The consultation is available at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/locally-set-licensing-fees

The Licensing Act 2003 (the 2003 Act) regulates the sale of alcohol, the provision of late night refreshment and regulated entertainment in England and Wales, and is primarily administered by local authorities, acting in their capacity as licensing authorities. Licensing fees are intended to recover the costs that licensing authorities incur in carrying out their licensing functions under the 2003 Act, and are payable to licensing authorities by holders of licences and certificates, and those making applications or issuing notices.

Current fee levels were set in 2005 and apply nationally. They have not been adjusted since—other than for the introduction of new fees for new processes. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 amended the 2003 Act to introduce a power for the Home Secretary to prescribe in regulations that in future fee levels should be set by individual licensing authorities on a cost-recovery basis. We consider that this is the best way of enabling local government to recover their costs, as these vary significantly between areas.

The consultation proposals have been developed with the intention of avoiding cross-subsidisation between different classes—or types—of fee payer. The consultation seeks views on whether and how licensing authorities should be able to charge different classes of fee payer different amounts and what the cap on each fee should be. It also seeks views on how best to provide guidance to licensing authorities so as to ensure that unjustifiably high costs and “gold-plating” (exceeding the requirements of the 2003 Act) are avoided and efficiency encouraged.

Copies of the consultation document will be placed in the Library of the House.

Covert Surveillance/Covert Human Intelligence Sources

I am today announcing the publication of the Government’s consultation on the covert surveillance and the covert human intelligence source codes of practice. The regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) contains a requirement for codes of practice to guide those who use the powers for which the Act provides.

The majority of the proposals to update the codes of practice are as a consequence of the regulation of Investigatory Powers (Covert Human Intelligence Sources: Relevant Sources) Order 2013 which I laid on 31 October 2013 and which came into force on 1 January 2014. In addition, there are a number technical or other amendments which provide greater clarity for those authorising and using covert techniques.

RIPA and its associated codes of practice have greatly improved control and oversight of the way public authorities use covert investigatory techniques, in order to protect our right to privacy. The proposed changes will promote the highest standards of professionalism and excellence in this most sensitive aspect of law enforcement.

The consultation will last for six weeks, during which time the Home Office will actively engage with partners. Copies of the consultation will be placed in the House Library. An online version of this consultation will be available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/ consultations/covert-surveillance

Immigration Concessions (Syrian Nationals)

I am today announcing a further renewal of concessions to the immigration rules for Syrian nationals lawfully in the UK.

In light of the ongoing violent conflict in Syria it has been decided that the Home Office should continue to operate some discretion to enable Syrians legally in the UK to extend their stay here.

Syrians in the UK with valid leave (or leave which has expired within the last 28 days) in specified visa categories will continue to be able to apply to extend their stay in that visa category, or switch into a different specified category from within the UK (with some restrictions) rather than being required to return home first. Those applying will still need to meet the requirements of the relevant visa category, pay the appropriate fee, and adhere to the normal conditions of that category—no access to public funds, for example. If a required document is not accessible due to the civil unrest in Syria the Home Office may apply its discretion and the requirement to provide that document may be waived where appropriate.

These concessions will remain in force until 28 February 2015. The Government continue to monitor the situation in Syria closely in order to ensure our response is appropriate and that any emerging risks are addressed.

I am placing a copy of the authorisation for this concession in the Library of the House.

Police Officers and Staff (Remuneration and Conditions of Service)

This statement is about police pay and conditions. It provides the Government’s response to the police arbitration tribunal’s findings on six recommendations in the final report of Tom Winsor’s independent review of police officer and staff remuneration and conditions.

On 15 January last year, Official Report, column 31WS, I laid a statement to respond to the police arbitration tribunal’s findings on all recommendations in the final report of Tom Winsor’s independent review of police officer and staff remuneration and conditions. The tribunal had not been able to reach a conclusion on measures to introduce compulsory severance, and I therefore referred the matter back to the Police Negotiating Board. The Police Negotiating Board was not able to reach agreement on compulsory severance, nor on the management of officers on restricted duties and these matters were referred to the police arbitration tribunal in November 2013.

The tribunal has now provided its recommendation and reasons, which I received on 20 December. The tribunal considered six recommendations from the Winsor review’s final report. The tribunal rejected the three recommendations which relate to compulsory severance and accepted the three relating to restricted duties. I have today placed a copy of the police arbitration tribunal report in the Library of the House.

I am grateful to the tribunal for its consideration of these important issues. Having considered the tribunal’s report thoroughly, I have decided to accept its recommendation on restricted duties and will implement the reforms it has put forward. I have decided to accept the tribunal’s recommendation not to implement measures to introduce compulsory severance at this time. However, this remains a reform that I believe government and the police should continue to consider. I have written to the Police Negotiating Board to explain my decision in further detail.

These reforms build on the changes we have already implemented following the two reports of the Winsor review. They continue our programme to modernise police pay and conditions so that they are fair to both officers and other taxpayers, to retarget pay to reward contribution, and increase local flexibility.

We remain committed to the review’s principles and objectives, in particular linking pay and skills, and modernising management practices. These will be important considerations in further discussions in the Police Negotiating Board and in the related work that is being taken forward by the College of Policing.

The police must be able to make use of these reforms to the management of officers on restricted duty as soon as possible. I will therefore begin the process of amending the police regulations and determinations to implement the tribunal’s award, including making any necessary consequential and ancillary changes.

Surveillance Camera Commissioner

My hon Friend the Minister of State for Criminal Information, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, has today made the following written ministerial statement:

I am today announcing arrangements for the appointment of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner under section 34 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. Following an open competition overseen by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, this ministerial appointment will be filled by Mr Antony Porter. Mr Porter’s three-year term of appointment will commence on 10 March 2014.

The Surveillance Camera Commissioner appointment has been filled by Mr Andrew Rennison who has now completed his term of office. I should like to record the Government’s appreciation of Mr Rennison’s contribution in laying the foundations for regulation of surveillance camera systems.

Mr Rennison also holds the non-statutory appointment of Forensic Science Regulator. Arrangements for the recruitment of a new Forensic Science Regulator are in hand, and Mr Rennison will continue to fulfil that role on a part-time basis until a new appointment is made.

Justice

Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

I am today announcing the Government plan to commence reforms to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 on 10 March 2014. These reforms are important in supporting our wider agenda on transforming rehabilitation. We know that obtaining employment can be an important factor in reducing reoffending and these reforms will help more people who have shown that they have put their offending behaviour behind them to get back into productive work. The provisions will reduce the period of time during which some offenders may have to disclose their convictions to prospective employers—the rehabilitation period. I should emphasise, however, that public protection will not be compromised. It will remain the case that fuller disclosure of cautions and convictions will continue to apply to a range of sensitive occupations and activities. In addition, the most serious convictions will remain subject to disclosure for any job.

The measures being commenced are contained in sections 139 and 141 and schedule 25 to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. These reforms shorten the rehabilitation periods for most convictions, after which they are considered to be “spent” and need no longer be disclosed for most purposes. The changes also extend the scope of the 1974 Act as it applies in England and Wales so that custodial sentences of up to, and including, 48 months may become spent. Previously the longest custodial sentence which could become spent was 30 months. The reforms will act retrospectively.

These amendments to the 1974 Act apply in England and Wales only and impact on criminal conviction certificates, which show an individual’s unspent convictions. section 112 of the Police Act 1997 governs the issue of these certificates and it is also being commenced in England and Wales on 10 March to ensure that accurate criminal convictions certificates are available reflecting the revised rehabilitation periods in this jurisdiction.

The above reforms will also allow the Government to take steps to commence fully section 56 of the Data Protection Act 1998, the only provision in this Act not to be in force. Section 56 of the Data Protection Act 1998 will come into force shortly after the changes to the 1974 Act are commenced.

Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority Committee

IPSA Supplementary Estimate 2013-14

The Speaker’s Committee for the IPSA is established under the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. The Committee must review IPSA’s estimates before they are laid before the House and decide whether it is satisfied that the estimate is consistent with the efficient and cost-effective discharge by the IPSA of its functions. IPSA’s supplementary estimate 2013-14 makes minor technical amendments and does not change IPSA’s net cash requirement in 2013-14.

The Committee has approved the draft supplementary estimate without modification.