Thursday 27 February 2014
Armed Forces Pay Review Body (Triennial Review)
I am today announcing the start of the triennial review of the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body (AFPRB), an advisory non-departmental public body (NDPB).
Triennial reviews of NDPBs are part of the Government’s commitment to ensuring, and improving, the accountability and effectiveness of public bodies.
The AFPRB provides independent advice to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence on the remuneration and charges for members of the armed forces.
The review will be conducted in accordance with Government guidance for reviewing NDPBs, and will focus on the core questions of effectiveness and good governance. It will be carried out in an open and transparent way, and interested stakeholders will be given the opportunity to contribute their views.
I shall announce the findings of the review in due course.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Public Records: FCO Archives
On 30 November 2012, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe informed Parliament, Official Report, column 36WS, that a large volume of FCO archive records had come to light which are known as the “special collections”. On 12 December 2013, my right hon. Friend also informed Parliament, Official Report, column 55WS, that a high-level inventory of the special collections we published on gov.uk in 2012 had been updated with significantly more detail.
There are an estimated 600,000 special collection files. Initially, a specialist contractor appointed by the FCO estimated the number of files at 1.2 million but this has since been corrected following a reassessment of the number of files in formats other than paper.
The special collection files are outside the normal FCO filing sequence and many—but by no means all—contain records of historical value. The historical value of the files will be determined through an appraisal and selection process under the guidance and supervision of The National Archives (TNA). The FCO also holds a further 600,000 standard files created by FCO departments and overseas posts, around 500,000 of which are not yet due for transfer to TNA.
On 5 May 2011, Official Report, column 24WS, I made a commitment to Parliament that every paper of interest from our holding of colonial administration files would be released to The National Archives, subject only to legal exemptions. This project, involving the release of nearly 20,000 files, was completed in November 2013 in line with the published timetable.
I am equally committed to the release of the records in the special collections. This is a much bigger project which will take longer. Work is under way. We have already conducted an audit of the material and we are currently building the capability to begin preparing the files for release. We have published an overview of our release plans on www.gov.uk/archive-records.
I am very pleased that Professor Tony Badger, Paul Mellon Professor of American history and Master of Clare College at the university of Cambridge, is continuing in his role of independent reviewer and will be providing rigorous and independent oversight of our release programme.
We are today publishing for consultation draft regulations to allow mitochondrial donation to prevent the transmission of serious mitochondrial disease from mother to child. The regulations will be subject to full scrutiny by the public and Parliament through the affirmative procedure.
It is estimated that one in 200 children born every year in the UK have some form of mitochondrial DNA disorder. These disorders can range from mild and asymptomatic to severe enough to be fatal. However, at present, mitochondrial donation techniques to prevent the transmission of serious mitochondrial disease are prohibited.
In anticipation of significant advances in this field, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act was amended in 2008 to include a regulation-making power that, if introduced, would enable mitochondrial donation to take place in treatment. This legislation is reserved to Westminster.
The Government gave very careful consideration to advice they received from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in March 2013 about the comprehensive public dialogue and consultation process the HFEA has undertaken into the acceptability of new techniques for mitochondrial donation. As a result, in June 2013 we announced our intention to consult on draft regulations which would allow this.
This proposed change in the legislation would give women who carry mitochondrial DNA disease the opportunity to have genetically-related children without risk of serious conditions. It would also keep the UK in the forefront of scientific development in this area. In framing the draft regulations, we have largely accepted and taken account of the advice contained in the HFEA’s report of 28 March 2013.
Consultation on the draft regulations begins today and will run until 21 May 2014. We welcome responses from everyone with an interest in this area. We have also asked the HFEA to reconvene the expert panel to review the latest evidence of safety and efficacy. We will consider their advice alongside the responses to the consultation.
Expert briefing meetings for hon. Members and peers will be arranged during the consultation period, and will be an opportunity to discuss issues arising from the consultation document.
“Mitochondrial Donation: A consultation on draft regulations to permit the use of new treatment techniques to prevent the transmission of a serious mitochondrial disease from mother to child” has been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.
Justice and Home Affairs Council
The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council is due to be held on 3 and 4 March in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and I will attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. The Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland is also due to attend on behalf of the Scottish Administration. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed.
The Interior day of the Council will start with a general state of play update from the presidency on the Europol negotiation. The presidency are also expected to seek agreement from the Council to remove the provisions in the Europol text relating to European Police College (CEPOL). This would secure formal agreement not to proceed with the Commission’s proposed merger of the two agencies. The UK will support this position and there is expected to be a strong overall consensus in favour of opposing the merger.
There will be a discussion on the EU’s future JHA programme, which will replace the current Stockholm programme. This exchange of views will focus on the Commission’s forthcoming communication, which will not be published until after Council. The UK will press for more clarity on the next steps towards developing a strong JHA Council contribution to the new programme, which should include key priorities such as a strong commitment to tackle free movement abuse and modern slavery.
The Council will be updated on current migratory pressures, with presentations from Frontex and the European Asylum Support Office. The pressures stemming from the Syrian crisis are of particular importance here, in particular the situation in Bulgaria, which has been under particular pressure in recent months. This item will be followed by discussion on the Task Force Mediterranean, which was convened by the Commission following the tragedy off Lampedusa last October. The UK participated in the taskforce meetings, which led to a set of coherent proposals for concrete action to prevent further migrant deaths in the Mediterranean. At this Council we understand that the Commission will set out an action plan for implementation, which will require the co-operation of the member states, European External Action Service and EU agencies. The UK will reiterate its support for this work; we are currently developing plans for our contribution in conjunction with other European partners.
Over lunch, practical co-operation on the area of returns will be discussed.
During the mixed committee there will be an update on the proposed data protection directive which covers areas of police co-operation and judicial co-operation in criminal matters and would replace the existing data protection framework decision 2008/977/JHA. The UK’s priority is to ensure the right of access to, and to erase, personal data does not prejudice or hinder criminal investigations or proceedings.
During AOB there will be an update by the Commission on the implementation of the new financial programmes for 2014-20 for home affairs. The presidency may also wish to discuss the draft directives on intra-corporate transfers and student researchers.
The justice day will begin with information from the presidency on a number of current proposals. First, the European account preservation order to facilitate cross-border debt recovery in civil and commercial matters which the UK has not so far opted into, given our concerns about the adverse impact on debtors. The Council will then be updated on the regulation amending the “Brussels I” regulation on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters. This is a technical amendment, fully supported by the UK, to set the rules governing jurisdiction for the Unified Patent Court. Finally the Council will receive an update on the proposal for a regulation amending the Council regulation on insolvency proceedings, which is a key measure for growth and the UK broadly supports the Commission’s proposal.
The presidency will next facilitate a state of play/orientation debate on the proposal for a Council regulation on the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office. The Government continue to oppose this measure and agree with Parliament that the Commission has on this occasion breached the principle of subsidiarity.
This will be followed by an orientation debate on the recently published proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on procedural safeguards for children suspected or accused in criminal proceedings. The presidency is expected to try to establish some guidance to inform the expert-level negotiations. The Government have offered time in March for the House of Commons to debate the question of the UK’s opt-in regarding this proposal.
There will be a state of play/orientation debate on the proposal for a general data protection regulation. The UK continues to believe that this proposal is far from ready for a general agreement, and that no such agreement can occur until the text as a whole has been approved. The proposal remains burdensome on both public and private sector organisations and the Government would not want to see inflexible rules on transfers outside the European economic area which do not reflect the realities of the modern, interconnected world.
Over lunch there will be a discussion on the ways and means to promote the simplification and acceptance of public documents: expectations by the citizens and business.
On non-legislative activities, the Commission will present its 2014 anti-corruption report, which we broadly welcome, to the Council. There will then be a presentation of the Commission’s communication on the future development in the JHA area where the UK, as mentioned before, will push for a strong Council contribution, including a focus on better targeted legislation, consolidation where necessary, and ensuring that the EU prisoner transfer agreement is fully implemented by member states. The Council will then seek to adopt conclusions on justice systems in the European Union. The UK supports these conclusions which highlight the deficiencies of the justice scoreboard approach to monitoring national justice systems and suggest a more collaborative dialogue between member states. This will be followed by a presentation by the Commission on the 2014 justice scoreboard itself, expected for publication in March. Justice day will end with a presentation by the Commission on the 6th annual EU disability high-level group report on the implementation of the UN convention on the rights of person with disabilities.
Contingencies Fund Advance
I would like to inform the House that the Department for International Development: Overseas Superannuation requires an advance to discharge its commitments which are set out in its supplementary estimate 2013-14, published on 12 February 2014 as HC 1006—CG supply estimates, supplementary estimates.
Parliamentary approval for additional net cash of £6 million for existing services has been sought in a supplementary estimate for the Department for International Development: Overseas Superannuation. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £3 million will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.
Transforming Legal Aid: Next Steps
I am today publishing the Government response to the “Transforming Legal Aid: Next Steps” consultation that took place in the autumn of 2013. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The House will be aware that this programme of reform commenced in April last year when we launched the initial consultation “Transforming Legal Aid: Delivering a more credible and efficient system”. The rationale for proposing this package of measured reforms has always been clear and has always remained the same: due to the acute pressure on the public finances we must continue to bear down on the cost of legal aid to ensure we are getting the best value possible, while ensuring that the system commands the confidence of the public. When almost every area of public spending is facing increased scrutiny, the legal aid scheme cannot be ring-fenced.
Today’s publication outlines the Government’s final decision on a modified model of competitive tendering for criminal legal aid contracts in England and Wales; and a range of new measures requested by the Law Society and others to help lawyers through what I know will be a challenging period. The plans published today include a package of financial support and specialist advice specifically designed to help lawyers respond to the current challenging economic climate, including:
a commitment to work with BIS to provide guarantees for commercial loans to legal firms who need to invest to deliver the new contracts;
measures to ease cash flow in legal aid firms through interim payments for lengthy Crown court cases;
exploring the possibility of grants to aid practitioners to invest in digital technology as part of a digital criminal justice system; and
providing, through business partnering, support and guidance on business planning and restructuring.
The response paper also outlines our approach to reform the advocates graduated fees scheme (AGFS) in order to achieve further simplification of the fee structure by adopting a model broadly based on the Crown Prosecution Service model.
As part of our ongoing monitoring of the impact of reforms and the sustainability of the scheme generally, the Ministry of Justice will undertake reviews of the operation of the new advocacy and litigation services frameworks one year after each is implemented.
We recognise that it is not simply legal aid funding arrangements that determine the success and viability of the criminal justice system, and we have distinct pieces of work that will complement our plans for legal aid. The independent Jeffrey review into the provision of independent criminal advocacy in the courts continues and will report in due course. In addition, the Lord Chief Justice has asked Sir Brian Leveson, president of the Queen’s bench division, to conduct a review to identify ways to reduce to the minimum the number of pre-trial hearings that necessitate defendants in custody and advocates attending court; and to identify ways to reduce and streamline the length of criminal proceedings.
Alongside the response to consultation we are laying later on today the Government response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) report on three parts of the reform package: restricting the scope of criminal legal aid for prison law, the residence test for civil legal aid and removing civil legal aid for borderline cases.
As we move away from the consultation phase to delivery, subject to parliamentary approval where applicable, we will continue to engage with the professions to help them prepare for the implementation of these reforms.
Taken in its entirety, we estimate the “Transforming Legal Aid” package will save the taxpayer around £215 million per annum by 2018-19.
Electoral Commission Committee
Parliamentary Question (Correction)
The Electoral Commission informs me that the response to written question number 186084, which was printed on 10 February 2014, Official Report, columns 414-16W, contained an error. The question asked for the 50 wards with the greatest change in turnout between the 2005 and 2010 general elections. The original answer showed changes in turnout with plus signs where there should have been minus signs and vice versa. I regret any inconvenience caused as a result of this.
The correct response is shown below.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): To ask the hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, if he will list the 50 wards with the greatest change in turnout between the 2005 and 2010 general elections. 
The Electoral Commission informs me that it does not hold this information at ward level. This is because Returning officers are not required to report data at ward level for parliamentary elections.
However, the table below shows the 50 constituencies with the greatest change in turnout between the 2005 and 2010 general elections (note a positive percentage indicates an increase in turnout in 2010, a negative indicates a decrease).
Constituency (2010 names)
(Inc votes rejected at count)
( Inc votes rejected at count)
Percentage point change in turnout 2001-101
Poplar & Limehouse
Thirsk & Malton3
Hackney North & Stoke Newington
Feltham & Heston
Penistone & Stocksbridge
Cambridgeshire North East
Brentford & Isleworth
Greenwich & Woolwich
Islington South & Finsbury
Bethnal Green & Bow
Newry And Armagh
Bolton North East
Hull West & Hessle
Holborn & St. Pancras
Esher & Walton
Leyton & Wanstead
Ealing Central & Acton
Hampshire North East
Dulwich & West Norwood
Liverpool West Derby
Newcastle Upon Tyne Central
Hackney South & Shoreditch
Salford & Eccles
1Professors Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher at the Elections Centre, Plymouth University, collected and collated these data from Returning officers on the Commission’s behalf.
22005 election postponed and held on 23 June.
32010 election postponed and held on 27 May.
These data come from an analysis provided to the Commission by the University of Plymouth. It should be noted that because of changes to constituency boundaries and names between the 2005 and 2010 general elections, direct comparisons cannot always be made. Some of these figures may therefore only give an indication of what the levels of turnout might have been had the 2010 constituency boundaries been in use at the 2005 general election.
I am today publishing the report on the review of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), which I announced on 8 October 2013. The Department for Transport commissioned this review as part of its commitment to delivering improved quality and better value motoring services to the public, business and other interested parties.
The review has concluded that while DVLA is an effective organisation that is delivering important services, there is significant scope to increase efficiency. Strategic recommendations have been made covering DVLA’s digital transformation, reducing the burden on customers, modifying the governance and management structure and optimising DVLA’s value as a service provider for Government.
I am content to accept all of the recommendations in the report. I have asked the chief executive to prepare a strategic plan for DVLA on this basis, which prioritises those measures that will bring the greatest advantage to customers.
I am placing a copy of the review and my response in the Libraries of both Houses and on the Department’s website. I would like to thank Mary Reilly and the review team for their work.
Local Tolled Crossings
Today I am publishing a consultation document detailing proposals to simplify the process set out in Transport Charges &c. (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1954—the “1954 Act”—for amending tolls at local statutory tolled undertakings.
Local statutory tolled undertakings can be bridges, tunnels, lifts and ferry crossings where tolls are charged for their use in accordance with relevant Acts of Parliament. The majority of these are owned by private companies or individuals but some are owned by local authorities. There are around 11 local statutory tolled undertakings in England that are currently required to follow the procedures contained in the 1954 Act to increase their tolls.
Under this Act, operators are required to apply to the Secretary of State for any increase in tolls regardless of how big or small. This process can be costly and time consuming for the operator, and will often involve a public inquiry. These costs are likely to be passed on to the user through higher tolls. The Government have therefore decided the process needs to be simplified to reduce the administrative burden on operators and Government, while ensuring the interests of users continue to be protected.
Our preferred option is a simplified procedure for increases in tolls which are no greater than inflation minus 1%, so providing an incentive for the crossing operators to keep any increases in tolls below this level. The consultation document, including the impact assessment, will be available in the Libraries of both Houses and on the Department’s website.
1. Aldwark bridge, near Linton-On-Ouse, north Yorkshire
2. Bournemouth-Swanage motor-road ferry, entrance of Poole harbour, Dorset
3. Clifton suspension bridge, Leigh Woods, Bristol
4. Dartmouth-Kingswear floating bridge, Dartmouth, Devon
5. Dunham bridge, Dunham-on-Trent, Lincolnshire
6. Rixton and Warburton bridge, Warburton, Cheshire
7. Shrewsbury (Kingsland) bridge, Shrewsbury, Shropshire
8. Swinford bridge, Swinford, Oxfordshire
9. Tamar bridge and Torpoint ferry, Saltash, Cornwall
10. Whitchurch bridge, Whitchurch-on-Thames, Oxfordshire
11. Whitney-on-Wye bridge, Whitney-on-Wye, Herefordshire
Work and Pensions
Child Poverty Strategy 2014-17
Today, jointly with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Schools, I am publishing the Government’s draft child poverty strategy 2014-17. We are seeking views through a public consultation, closing on 22 May 2014.
Our draft strategy builds on the good progress we have made so far in tackling child poverty. Despite the tough economic climate, employment has increased by 1.3 million since 2010 and the number of children in workless households has fallen by 274,000. Poor children are doing better than ever at school; the proportion of children on free school meals getting good GCSEs including English and maths has increased from 31% in 2010 to 38% in 2013.
Alongside our strategy, we are publishing an in-depth evidence review which identifies what leads families to be stuck in poverty and what leads poor children to become poor adults. By identifying and understanding the root causes of child poverty, now and across generations, we can target action effectively. This is an important step in our mission to eradicate child poverty.
Based on the evidence in the review, our strategy sets out the action Government are taking to tackle child poverty.
It sets out how we will tackle poverty now through supporting families into work and to increase their earnings, support living standards through decreasing costs for low-income families and prevent poor children becoming poor adults through raising their educational attainment.
However, central Government action cannot, by itself, end child poverty. Action is also needed by employers, the devolved Administrations, local areas and the voluntary and community sector. Today, we are asking for views on what more can be done and how we can all work together to end child poverty. Only by working together can we transform the lives of the poorest children in our society.