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Written Statements

Volume 579: debated on Wednesday 9 April 2014

Written Statements

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Treasury

Equitable Life Payment Scheme

As of 31 March 2014 the Equitable Life payment scheme has made payments totalling £901 million to 860,972 policyholders. The scheme has published a further progress report, which can be found at: http://equitablelifepaymentscheme.independent.gov.uk

The scheme has gone to significant lengths to trace eligible policyholders, and since the last report in January 2014 the scheme has traced over 110,000 additional policyholders. Over the coming months the scheme will be reviewing its records to ensure that all proportionate and effective actions to trace the remaining policyholders have been completed before the scheme shuts.

Any holders of a policy who believe themselves to be eligible should call the scheme on 0300 0200 150. The scheme can verify the identity of most policyholders on the telephone, which means any payment due can usually be received within two weeks.

Cabinet Office

Local and Mayoral Election Guidance (European Parliament)

Guidance has today been issued to civil servants in UK departments and those working in non-departmental public bodies and other arm’s length bodies on the principles that they should observe in relation to the conduct of Government business in the run-up to the forthcoming elections for membership of the European Parliament, and to local authorities in England and Northern Ireland, and for five directly elected mayors. These elections will take place on Thursday 22 May 2014. The period of sensitivity preceding the elections starts on 2 May.

Copies of the guidance have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and on the Cabinet Office website at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/election-guidance-for-civil-servants

Markets for Government Services

The Government are committed to opening up public contracts, with a wide, diverse range of providers competing to deliver high-quality services.

Following the material concerns that emerged last year, relating to overcharging on Ministry of Justice electronic monitoring contracts, G4S has engaged constructively with the Government.

The Government’s approach has been rigorous, and on 12 March my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice was able to announce that G4S has agreed to repay £108.9 million, excluding VAT, to reimburse the taxpayer for overcharging found in an audit of Ministry of Justice contracts, and to cover direct costs to Government arising from these issues. This also included £4.5 million to cover the cost of overpayments made on two contracts for facilities management in the courts. This was a significant announcement and a positive step for G4S.

Throughout, the Government have engaged closely with G4S to understand its plans for corporate renewal. These discussions have been constructive; and following scrutiny by officials, review by the oversight group and reports from our independent advisers (Grant Thornton), the Government have now accepted that the corporate renewal plan represents the right direction of travel to meet our expectations as a customer.

This does not affect any consideration by the Serious Fraud Office, which acts independently of Government, in relation to the material concerns previously identified. However, we are reassured that G4S is committed to act swiftly should any new information emerge from ongoing investigations.

The changes G4S has already made and its commitment to go further over coming months are positive steps that the Government welcome. However, corporate renewal is an ongoing process and the Government place a strong emphasis on their full and timely implementation of the agreed corporate renewal plan. The Crown representative together with Grant Thornton will continue to monitor progress as their plan is implemented, reporting to Government on a regular basis. I hope this will enable our confidence to grow.

The public rightly expects Government suppliers to meet the highest standards, and for taxpayers’ money to be spent properly and transparently. Since 2010 the Government have been working to reform contract management and improve commercial expertise in Whitehall. These reforms have had a substantial impact, saving £3.8 billion in 2012-13 alone. But much more is required, which is why we are redoubling efforts over coming months, including working to build commercial skills across the civil service and create a world-class Crown commercial service that supports all Departments.

Communities and Local Government

Local Planning and Renewable Energy Developments

This coalition Government have reformed the planning process so that communities themselves have the opportunity to influence the decisions that affect their lives. We have abolished regional strategies, and their top-down renewable energy targets, and are encouraging local councils to work with their communities to set out in their local plan where developments for renewable energy should and should not take place. We have also been very clear that the views of local communities should be listened to.

We have published planning guidance to help ensure planning decisions on green energy get the environmental balance right in line with the national planning policy framework. The guidance is designed to assist local councils in their consideration of local plans and individual planning applications. In publishing the guidance, we have been quite clear that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities. We have also introduced a new requirement for compulsory pre-application consultation with local communities for more significant onshore wind applications—that is, of more than two turbines or where the hub height of any turbine exceeds 15 metres. This requirement took effect in December. We will shortly be publishing new planning guidance to help secure the intended improvements in how communities are engaged. This is available on the Department’s planning practice guidance website at:

http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/

These are all crucial steps in improving the quality of proposed onshore wind development and ensuring local communities are listened to.

However, this coalition Government appreciate the continuing concerns in communities when a local decision is challenged on appeal. It is important that local communities continue to have confidence in the appeals process and that the environmental balance expected by the framework is being reflected in decisions on renewable energy developments.

On 10 October 2013, Official Report, column 30WS, I announced a temporary change to the appeals recovery criteria, for a period of six months. In doing so, I explained that I wanted to give particular scrutiny to planning appeals involving renewable energy developments so that I could consider the extent to which the then new practice guidance was meeting our intentions.

I am pleased to confirm that the guidance is helping ensure decisions reflect the environmental balance set out in the framework. I note, for example, that prior to the guidance, more appeals were approved than dismissed for more significant wind turbines. Since the guidance, more appeals have been dismissed than approved for more significant turbines. Every case should, of course, be considered on its individual merits in light of local circumstances and the material planning considerations.

I am encouraged by the impact the guidance is having but do appreciate the continuing concerns in communities. I also recognise that the guidance is still relatively new and some development proposals may not yet have fully taken on board its clear intent. Therefore after careful consideration I have decided to extend the temporary change to the appeals recovery criteria, and continue to consider for recovery, appeals for renewable energy developments, for a further 12 months. This criterion is added to the recovery policy issued on 30 June 2008.

For the avoidance of doubt, this does not mean that all renewable energy appeals will be recovered, but that planning Ministers may recover a number of appeals.

Defence

Glasgow Commonwealth Games (Call-out Order)

A call-out order has been made under section 56(1A) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable reservists to be called out for permanent service as part of Defence’s contribution to the safety and security of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth games.

In providing venue security support to the Police Service of Scotland and other civil and Commonwealth games authorities, Defence will contribute up to 2,000 military personnel, of which up to 400 will come from the reserve forces.

We plan to call out only willing and available reservists, who have the support of their employer. The order takes effect from 8 April 2014 and ceases to have effect on 6 August 2014.

Education

Qualifications Reform

The Government are today announcing the next steps in the reform of GCSEs and A-levels.

We are introducing more rigorous content into reformed GCSEs and A-levels to be taught from September 2016 and 2015 respectively.

Our changes will make these qualifications more ambitious, with greater stretch for the most able; will prepare young people better for the demands of employment and further study; will address the pernicious damage caused by grade inflation and dumbing down, which have undermined students’ achievements for far too long; and will give pupils, parents, teachers, universities and employers greater confidence in the integrity and reliability of our qualifications system.

GCSEs

In November of last year, the Department for Education published details of revised content for GCSEs in English and mathematics, for first teaching from September 2015.

Today, I am publishing revised content for GCSEs in science, history, geography and languages, which will be taught in schools from September 2016.

These GCSEs set higher expectations. They demand more from all students and specifically provide further challenge to those aiming to achieve top grades.

In science, the level of detail and scientific knowledge required has increased significantly, and there are clearer mathematical requirements for each topic. New content has been added, including the study of the human genome, gene technology, life cycle analysis, nanoparticles and space physics.

In history, every student will be able to cover medieval, early modern and modern history—rather than focusing only on modern world history, as too many students do now. Greater emphasis has been placed on British history, which will account for 40% of GCSE rather than 25%, as now; balanced by an increase in the number of geographical areas studied, and an explicit expectation that students will study the wider world. The new GCSE is also clearer about the range of historical knowledge and methods students will need to develop, from critical assessment of sources to understanding of chronology, individuals, events and developments.

In geography, the balance between physical and human geography has been improved—developing students’ locational and contextual knowledge of the world’s continents, countries and regions and their physical, environmental and human features—alongside a requirement that all students study the geography of the UK in depth. Students will also need to use a wide range of investigative skills and approaches, including mathematics and statistics, and we have introduced a requirement for at least two examples of field work outside school.

In modern languages, greater emphasis has been placed on speaking and writing in the foreign language, thorough understanding of grammar and translation of sentences and short texts from English into the language. Most exam questions will be set in the language itself, rather than in English; and there will be a sharper focus on using the language appropriately in different contexts, from personal travel to employment or study abroad.

Finally, ancient languages have been given a separate set of criteria for the first time, reflecting their specific requirements. Students will now need to translate unseen passages into English, and will have the option to translate short English sentences into the ancient language. We have also provided greater detail about the range and type of literature and sources to be studied, without specifying particular set texts.

A-levels

I am also publishing revised content for A-levels in English literature, English language, English literature and language, biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, history, economics, business, computer science, art and design and sociology, for first teaching from September 2015.

The content for these A-levels was reviewed and recommended by Professor Mark E. Smith, vice-chancellor of Lancaster university, drawing on advice from subject experts from higher education establishments and subject associations.

By placing responsibility for the content of A-levels in the hands of university academics, we hope that these new exams will be more rigorous and will provide students with the skills and knowledge needed for progression to undergraduate study.

I thank Professor Smith and all of those involved for their conscientious work and thoughtful suggestions—and I have accepted all of their recommendations for A-level content.

In the sciences, computer science, economics and business, mathematical and quantitative content has been strengthened: for example, understanding standard deviation in biology and the concepts underlying calculus in physics.

In computer science, basic ICT content has been removed and emphasis has been placed instead on programming and far more detailed content on algorithms.

In the sciences, there will also be a new requirement that students must carry out a minimum of 12 practical activities, ensuring that they develop vital scientific techniques and become comfortable using key apparatus. This will make sure that all A-level scientists develop the experimental and practical skills essential for further study.

In history, as well as covering the history of more than one country or state beyond the British isles, A-level students will also now be required to study topics across a chronological range of at least 200 years increasing breadth of focus.

In English literature, to ensure a broad and balanced curriculum, specified texts will include three works from before 1900—including at least one play by Shakespeare—and at least one work from after 2000. In addition, we have reintroduced the requirement for A-level students to be examined on an “unseen” literary text, to encourage wide and critical reading.

Finally, in economics, content has been updated to include the latest issues and topics—for example, financial regulation and the role of central banks.

Copies of the content for these reformed GCSEs and A-levels will be available later today at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications

Alongside these announcements, Ofqual is today setting out its decisions on how these new GCSEs and A-levels should be assessed—with linear assessment rather than modules, and a greater focus on exams rather than controlled assessment.

All of these reformed A-levels will be ready for first teaching in schools from September 2015, and reformed GCSEs from September 2016.

Awarding organisations will publish their detailed specifications for these A-levels this autumn, and for these GCSEs next autumn giving schools plenty of time to prepare.

New A-levels and GCSEs from 2016

Based on the advice of the A-level content advisory board established by the Russell group of leading universities, I have also already announced that A-levels in mathematics, languages and geography will be reformed for first teaching from September 2016.

I can announce today that GCSEs and A-levels in religious studies, design and technology, drama, dance, music and PE—and GCSEs in art and design, computer science and citizenship—will also be reformed and brought up to these new, higher standards for first teaching at the same time, in September 2016.

Awarding organisations and subject experts will draft content for these new A-levels and GCSEs over the coming months, and we will consult on their recommendations for content—while Ofqual consults on its recommendations for assessment later in the year.

All our reforms to GCSEs and A-levels complement the changes we have already made to technical and vocational qualifications, removing those which are not endorsed by businesses or employer bodies from league tables, and leaving only those which represent real achievement.

Taken together, these changes mean that every young person in this country will have the opportunity to study high-quality, rigorous, demanding qualifications across the academic and vocational curriculum from September 2016 onwards.

These changes will increase the rigour of qualifications, strengthening the respect in which they are held by employers and universities alike.

Young people in England deserve world-class qualifications and a world-class education—and that is what our reforms will deliver.

Energy and Climate Change

Scotland Analysis (Energy)

The Government have today published the 12th paper in the Scotland analysis programme series to inform the debate on Scotland’s future within the United Kingdom.

“Scotland Analysis: Energy” (Cm 8826) examines the benefits of the current single energy market across Great Britain (GB) for managing energy policy and examines the potential implications of independence.

The paper concludes that the current single market has underpinned the success of the Scottish energy industry, has helped to keep Scottish energy bills down and is the most effective way of managing energy liabilities, but were Scotland to become a separate independent state, the current integrated GB energy system could not continue as it is now.

Scottish consumers and businesses currently benefit from spreading the cost of supporting Scottish energy network investment, renewables and programmes to support remote consumers over 30 million households and businesses as part of the GB energy market. In the event of independence, Scotland’s three million households and businesses would have to meet these costs alone. Scottish consumers would end up paying more, possibly considerably more, for energy infrastructure in an independent Scottish state than they do as part of the UK.

The paper also sets out that only a small proportion of electricity demand in England and Wales (4.59%) is provided by Scotland. In the event of independence, England and Wales would not be reliant on Scotland to keep the lights on nor would the UK be reliant on Scotland to meet its renewables targets.

Future papers from the Scotland analysis programme will be published over the course of 2014 to ensure that people in Scotland have access to the facts and information ahead of the referendum.

UK Downstream Oil Sector

Today, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is publishing the conclusions of its review of the role of UK’s refining and fuel import sectors. I am grateful to all those who contributed to this review.

As we progress toward a low-carbon economy in the UK, oil products are, and will continue to be, crucial to our economy and to consumers in the UK for some years to come. The review was designed to assess the respective contributions that domestic production and imports make to resilient fuel supplies. It sought to understand better the global context and challenges facing the oil supply sector, and the impact that market distortions and the regulatory framework have on competitiveness. It also considered what role the Government should play in supporting the sector.

Given the recent closures of refineries in the UK, the review had a particular focus on the refining sector in the UK but it also considered the midstream sector more broadly, including the role of the imports sector and the benefits it brings.

The review concluded that resilience and security of supply in the UK is supported by retaining a mix of domestic refining and imported product. This is in line with the Government’s energy security of supply strategy which recognises the benefits of supply diversity. Global commercial factors will continue to affect the refining market in the UK and the EU more broadly, and further closures across the continent are likely in future. A package of actions has been developed by Government, which taken together, could help improve the operating environment for the refining and import sectors.

These measures include the setting up of a new joint Government and industry midstream oil taskforce. This will provide a strategic and collaborative way of working and will deliver a number of the actions from the review. The taskforce will be independently chaired and draw its members from across the midstream oil sector.

DECC is also today publishing the Government response to our consultation on the future management of the compulsory oil stocking mechanism in the UK. In this the Government set out their support for the establishment of an industry-owned and operated central stocking entity in the UK which will encourage a more efficient system that incentivises the development of UK oil storage capacity. There are still important issues to address before the Government can agree to move to legislation, and so we are now asking obligated companies to prepare a road map towards legislation, addressing these issues.

The review and the Government response to the consultation can be viewed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/call-for-evidence-role-of-uk-refining-and-fuel-import-sectors and https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/future-management-of-the-compulsory-stocking-obligation-in-the-uk respectively. Copies of both publications have been placed in the Library of the House.

Home Department

Countering Terrorism

Protecting the safety of the UK and our interests overseas is the primary duty of Government. Terrorism remains the greatest threat to the security of this country.

I have today published the annual report for the Government’s strategy for countering terrorism, Contest (Cm 8848). It covers the progress made during 2013 towards implementing the strategy we published in July 2011. Copies of the report will be made available in the Vote Office.

The principal threat to the UK continues to be from militant Islamist terrorists and many of the threats we face continue to have significant overseas connections, highlighting the importance of our work with international partners. The most significant development in connection with terrorism during 2013 has been the growing threat from terrorist groups in Syria. Several factions of al-Qaeda are active in Syria, supported by rapidly increasing numbers of foreign fighters, including numbers in the low hundreds from this country and thousands from elsewhere.

2013 saw two terrorist murders, the first in Great Britain since 2005. There were also attempted terrorist attacks against mosques in the west midlands and 13 British nationals were killed in terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda linked groups overseas, the highest number since 2005.

Significant resources and capabilities have been put in place to deal with the threat. The number of successful prosecutions and plots foiled over the past year demonstrates the skill and professionalism of the police and security and intelligence agencies, as well as the strength of the systems and structures developed for our counter-terrorist work over many years. In the 12 months to September 2013, there were 257 terrorism-related arrests in Great Britain; 48 people were charged with terrorism offences and 73 with other offences. These figures are comparable to any other 12-month period since 2001.

The wide range of activity under Contest is appropriate for the threats we face and the strategy has been proven over many years. But aspects of our strategy have to evolve to respond to changing threats. During 2013 the Government have continued to provide the police and security and intelligence agencies with the powers and capabilities they need to do their job. These powers are necessary, proportionate and subject to close oversight and scrutiny. We have a sustained cross-Government effort to deal with the new and wider range of terrorist threats we now face overseas. We have increased the pace and range of our prevent work. We are making our border and our aviation sector even more secure. And we are reshaping our emergency response to deal with new terrorist methods and techniques.

The UK’s counter-terrorism response is widely regarded as among the most effective in the world. We will continue to do everything we can to stay ahead of the threat and to protect the public.

Transport

HS2 (Property Compensation)

I am today announcing to the House the outcome of the 2013 consultation on property compensation for the London to west midlands HS2 route (phase 1).

That consultation, which ran from 12 September to 4 December 2013, set out a package of assistance for owner-occupiers of properties affected by phase 1 of HS2 that went beyond the legal requirements for compensation in recognition of the exceptional nature of the HS2 project.

While elements of today’s decision will be launched immediately, I want to make sure we get this decision absolutely right, so I will be asking for further views on the newer aspects of this package before we finalise it.

The details of the package are as follows:

Express Purchase—This is being launched today and is for those people living closest to the line, in what is known as the “surface safeguarded” area. Under this scheme owner-occupiers may be able to sell their home to the Government, if they wish to do so at its full unblighted market value (as it would be if HS2 did not exist), plus 10% (up to £47,000) and reasonable moving expenses, including stamp duty.

Voluntary Purchase—For people in rural areas outside the safeguarding area and up to 120 metres away from the line. Owner-occupiers in this area may be able to sell their home to the Government for its full unblighted value at any time up until a year after the line opens. We intend for this to be launched later this year.

Need to sell—This scheme does not have a boundary and is available to owner-occupiers who have a compelling reason (including job relocation, ill health) to sell their house but are unable to do so because of HS2. The Government would pay the full, unblighted value for these properties. We also intend to launch this later this year, when it will replace the exceptional hardship scheme which will continue to operate in the meantime.

All three options will be accompanied by a rent back option. This is for owner-occupiers who, having sold their property to Government, would prefer to carry on living there and may be able to rent it back, subject to property suitability checks. This will also be implemented immediately.

These compensation arrangements incorporate a range of improvements to our original proposals, taking account of points made by members of the public, property experts and others during the consultation. For example, I have decided that the “need to sell” scheme, as the name suggests, will require applicants only to show they have a compelling need to sell, rather than demonstrating that they would suffer hardship if they could not sell.

In recognition of the exceptional nature of HS2, we are also considering going further than providing compensation and will undertake a further limited consultation on the following proposals:

As an alternative to the voluntary purchase offer, we are proposing a cash payment of between £30,000 to £100,000—for owner-occupiers in rural areas outside the safeguarding area and up to 120 metres away from the line who do not want to sell their home and move.

Home owner paymentThis is proposed to apply to owner-occupiers between 120 metres and 300 metres from the route in rural areas. This could enable people in these areas to share in the benefits of HS2, which will run near them but will not provide them with a direct benefit. The details of (amounts and eligibility) any payments would need to be determined following consultation.

Initial thinking is that payments could be from £7,500 to £22,500 depending on how near the route the property is located. This would come into effect following parliamentary approval of the HS2 route between London and the west midlands.

These decisions and the forthcoming consultation do not apply to other proposed HS2 route sections. I intend to bring forward further proposals for supporting property owners alongside future decisions on extensions to the HS2 route.

In addition to these proposals, we need to ensure residents’ views have an effective way of being heard. HS2 Ltd will develop a residents’ charter, designed to help residents know their rights and will appoint an independent residents’ commissioner who will ensure that they adhere to the commitments made in the charter. The charter and commissioner will provide residents with a voice and representation.

Together, the charter and the commissioner will ensure that residents are informed of any developments fairly and efficiently. The charter will contain a number of principles against which HS2 Ltd will be measured in their communications with people affected by the development of the railway.

I have decided not to introduce a “property bond” which was one of the proposals that was consulted on in 2013. I appreciate that this will disappoint many who were advocating such an approach. We studied the idea very carefully but felt that it was untried, would not facilitate the smooth operation of a normal property market and would add to uncertainty rather than reduce it.

I believe these proposals represent the best possible balance between properly compensating people affected by the line and providing value for money for the taxpayer. The voluntary purchase offer and the need to sell scheme are intended to be launched later this year, following the further consultation which I aim to commence shortly and intend to conclude before the end of the year.

A full description of these proposals is in today’s Command Paper, “Property Compensation Consultation 2013 for the London-West Midlands HS2 route: Decision Document”. I have published this report on: www.gov.uk and provided copies to the Libraries of both Houses.

Work and Pensions

Office for Nuclear Regulation

Following my announcement on 1 April 2014 of the launch of the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) as an independent public corporation, I will place a copy of the ONR annual plan for 2014-15 in the House Library. The annual plan has also been published on the ONR website at: http://www.onr.org.uk/documents/2014/onr-annual-plan-14-15.pdf.

I can confirm, in accordance with schedule 7, section 25(3) of the Energy Act 2013, that there have been no exclusions to the published document on the grounds of national security.

I will place a copy of the ONR/DWP framework document, which sets out the sponsorship arrangements between the Department and the ONR, in the House Library. It is also available on the ONR website at: http://www.onr.org.uk/documents/2014/onr-dwp-framework.pdf.

Single-tier Pension (Contingencies Fund Advance)

The Department for Work and Pensions has obtained approval for a further advance from the Contingencies Fund of £549,000 for the continued development of IT for the single-tier pension before Royal Assent. This advance is necessitated by the lead-in time for delivery in April 2016 which requires IT work to be undertaken prior to Royal Assent of the Pensions Bill.

Parliamentary approval for additional resource of £549,000 for this new service has been sought in the main supply estimate 2014-15 for the Department for Work and Pensions. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £549,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund. The repayment is expected to be made in the financial year 2014-15.

This advance will allow the single-tier programme to continue to work to meet the timetable of April 2016 to implement the single-tier new service.