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Written Statements

Volume 579: debated on Wednesday 30 April 2014

Written Statements

Wednesday 30 April 2014

Business, Innovation and Skills

Assisted Areas Map 2014-20

I am today publishing the Government’s response to the stage 2 consultation on the UK’s 2014-20 assisted areas map. This includes the final UK map notified to the European Commission. The new map will replace the current version which expires on 30 June 2014. Copies of the consultation response document and the map will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

A two-stage public consultation seeking views on the designation of assisted areas for 2014-20 took place from July 2013 to February 2014. Approximately 330 written responses were received from a wide range of organisations and individuals. The consultation included an interactive online draft map that allowed respondents to search easily for areas of interest, bringing greater clarity and transparency to the consultation process.

The Commission’s regional aid guidelines (RAG) define the parameters for assisted areas for 2014 to 2020. Under the guidelines the UK’s overall regional aid coverage may cover a maximum of 27.05% of the UK population, an increase on the 23.9% coverage in 2007-14.

Working within the guidelines, assisted areas coverage has been granted based on the potential to use regional aid to encourage economic growth through levering private sector investment, as well as the economic need of the locality. A strong principle underpinning the map is for coverage to focus on areas that are able to use the flexibility provided: many parts of the UK do not have the scale of industrial or development sites necessary to exploit assisted area status.

There was a high level of demand for assisted areas status, and given the limited population coverage available, we have targeted those areas that can benefit most. The UK’s industrial heartlands are central to the map, and a wide range of different sized manufacturers are included, from the high-tech sectors at the core of our industrial strategy to the more traditional industries that still provide vital employment to many communities. Support will also be available for additional disadvantaged coastal areas. Sites and businesses that can support growth in less advantaged localities have been included, as well as many that will make significant contributions to growth at a regional and national level.

Assisted area coverage permits the UK to provide additional financial support to firms in the designated areas. It does not itself bring specific funding. Other forms of financial support are available both inside and outside assisted areas, including aid for research and development, to improve access to venture capital and to support environmental projects.

The map has been sent to the Commission for approval, and its decision is expected by the end of May. The new map is expected to come into force from 1 July 2014.

National Space Security Policy

Together with my right hon. Friend, the Minister for Europe and NATO, and my hon. Friends, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) who is responsible for defence equipment, support and technology and the Minister for Security and Immigration, I am today publishing the Government’s first ever national space security policy. I have placed a copies in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Government acknowledge that there is a continuing opportunity for strong economic growth in the UK space sector and that with annual growth rates averaging over 7.5% in recent years it is essential to recognise that for the space sector, growth and security must be viewed as mutually reinforcing principles which should be supported by national policy. The Government recognise that the space sector, as well as being a high-growth sector in its own right, provides via satellites vital services for other sections of our economy. The national space security policy sets out how we will work to sustain access to these services, with adequate resilience against threats and hazards. The policy reinforces the national security strategy, which identifies severe disruption to information received, collected or transmitted by satellites as a tier 2 risk to the United Kingdom and meets a commitment in the strategic defence and security review to address this.

The national space security policy takes a broad approach to the United Kingdom’s space security interests, underpinning our prosperity, well-being and national security, and is based on four objectives. These are to:

make the United Kingdom more resilient to risks to space services and capabilities, and British infrastructure less vulnerable to space weather;

enhance the United Kingdom’s national security interests through space;

promote a safe and more secure space environment; and

enable industry and science to grasp commercial and academic opportunities in support of national security interests.

The Government remain determined to promote the commercial and scientific benefits while ensuring the United Kingdom is a safe and secure place in which to pursue these. This includes work to promote awareness of space dependencies—for example, in highly automated distribution networks and control centres, precise navigation and timing systems and weather forecasting. The policy also sets out how we intend to monitor and prepare against threats and hazards which might harm these interests, and our wider national security. It identifies potential threats from state-sponsored and criminal attacks against satellite capabilities and services, and hazards such as severe solar storms and growing debris in space and how these might be prevented or the impact mitigated.

Central themes in our policy response are stronger coherence at home—across Government and in partnership with industry and science—and continuing co-operation internationally with our allies and space-faring partners.

Through the national space security policy, the Government will foster a closer space security partnership with industry and science that would allow more pooling of space security expertise and better sharing of information on space security risks, and on ways and opportunities to mitigate these. We recognise that maintaining and enhancing co-operation with our international partners is also fundamental to our space security objectives. We will sustain co-operation with the United States, as our pre-eminent national security partner, maintaining capabilities and assets which bring mutual benefit to a relationship that greatly enhances our space security interests. We will work closely with France and other key European partners such as Germany, including in ensuring that European space programmes and future opportunities for collaboration move forward on a sound security footing. We will continue to promote transparency and confidence-building measures at the United Nations, and through an international space code of conduct to which all states would benefit in subscribing.

Implementation of the policy will be overseen by an ad hoc ministerial-led steering group, which will report on progress through the National Security Council.

Culture, Media and Sport

Betting Shops and Gambling

The 2005 Gambling Act was introduced by the then Government with the aim of liberalising the gambling market in Great Britain. Nearly seven years on from the Act’s implementation, the gambling industry has developed in innovative ways, with new products now marketed and made available on a greater scale than ever before.

In many local communities concerns have been expressed about the clustering of betting shops on high streets. These shops contain highly sophisticated gaming machines that now make up a greater proportion of revenue than over-the-counter betting. In addition, we have seen significant growth in the scale of gambling advertising. The pervasive nature of such advertising means that both children and adults are exposed to a considerably greater amount of gambling advertising than ever before.

The Government want to give local communities a proper voice so their views are taken into account when plans for a new betting shop are submitted. My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, is therefore proposing a re-emphasis within the current planning classes. A smaller planning use class containing betting shops will mean that in future where it is proposed to convert a bank, building society or estate agents into a betting shop it would require a planning application. In addition, the Government will remove the ability for other premises such as restaurants and pubs to change use without being obliged to seek planning permission. The Department for Communities and Local Government will consult on the detail of proposals as part of a wider consultation on change of use in summer 2014.

Furthermore, given the growth in marketing and promotion of virtual and electronic gambling, which present fewer opportunities for face-to-face interaction, I believe new measures are necessary to ensure that vulnerable players are protected. I want players who use gaming machines to be in control of the choices they make. This is particularly important for users of category B2 gaming machines.

I have therefore decided that Government should adopt a precautionary approach and take targeted and proportionate action to protect players further when using high-stake gaming machines on the high street.

I intend to require customers accessing stakes over £50 to use account-based play or load cash over the counter. Requiring better interaction between customer and operator for those engaged in high-stake play improves opportunities for more effective provision of information and interventions. This measure will put an end to unsupervised cash staking above £50, which can rapidly result in significant losses. This is a sensible and balanced approach which allows players continued use of these machines on the high street, while ensuring greater opportunities for supervision and player protection.

In addition, the Gambling Commission is undertaking a review of its licence conditions and codes of practice with a view to strengthening their measures to protect players. In particular, the Gambling Commission intends to consult on requiring gaming machines in betting shops to present players with a choice to set limits on the maximum amount of time or money they want to spend before commencing play. The Gambling Commission is also looking at how additional measures to protect players of gaming machines, such as pauses in play and messaging, should be toughened and made mandatory.

The Government will now prepare the necessary impact assessments and regulatory measures to implement their proposed changes. I expect these changes to be implemented from October 2014.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Plant Biosecurity Strategy

I would like to update the House on the progress that my Department has made in implementing the recommendations of the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Taskforce. This is further to my written ministerial statements of 20 May 2013, Official Report, column 54WS, 16 July, Official Report, column 78WS, and 12 December, Official Report, column 53WS, in which I accepted the recommendations of the taskforce.

Today my Department has published a plant biosecurity strategy for Great Britain which sets out the new, strengthened approach to plant biosecurity my Department, together with the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales, has adopted in order to meet the taskforce recommendations. The strategy is being published alongside an update on operational activity to manage tree pests and disease, including Chalara fraxinea (ash dieback).

The strategy is based on the principles that action taken must be risk-based; to make the most effective use of resources, and that Government, industry, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), landowners and the public must all be more aware of plant health risks and know what they can do to reduce and mitigate them, therefore playing their part to ensure plant biosecurity is enhanced. It sets out high-level plans for strengthening existing risk-based activity and developing new and innovative approaches such as a publicly-available risk register and novel approaches to detection and diagnosis of pests and pathogens, which will include:

Pre-border activities to reduce the risk of pests and diseases arriving here from overseas, including our work with countries beyond the EU to drive up standards;

Activities at the border to reduce the risk of pests and diseases entering the EU and the UK;

Action inland to step up surveillance and improve preparedness.

Work has already commenced to deliver the activity within this strategy, with the UK plant health risk register having been published on 21 January 2014, and Professor Nicola Spence having taken up the post of chief plant health officer on 1 April.

The strategy will be underpinned by a robust evidence base and a programme of work to identify and address capability and capacity issues. My officials have conducted extensive public engagement over the past six months on the content of the strategy and will continue to work with those interested on its implementation.

A copy of the strategy will be placed in the Library of the House.

Health

European Health Care Payments

The Government have taken the decision to cease certain payments that the UK is not obliged to make under the European regulations governing health care entitlements, effective from 1 July 2014. These are payments made to UK citizens who may be visiting or residing in another member state, and removing these entitlements could save up to £7 million.

These payments are reimbursements for European health insurance card (EHIC) co-payments and residual SI forms. EHIC co-payments are the payments individuals may need to make when accessing health care in another EEA country using their EHIC card where that country requires a financial contribution from its own citizens, for which reimbursements can currently be claimed from the UK. These reimbursements will cease from 1 July 2014. It will still be possible to claim reimbursements for any course of treatment received before 1 July, and for a treatment started before 1 July and continuing beyond that date during a particular stay in another EEA member state, for example a continuous stay in hospital.

Residual SI forms are currently issued to early retirees moving to another EEA country and not taking up employment, providing a temporary period of health care cover for maximum period of 30 months, dependent upon the individual’s recent national insurance contribution record in the UK. Applications for residual SI forms will no longer be accepted after 1 July 2014. This change does not affect current holders of residual SIs or the right of UK state pensioners to access health care when they retire to another EEA country.

These payments are not required under EU law, so the UK is currently going over and above its European obligations. These proposals were outlined in the consultation in July 2013 on migrant access to the NHS and then in the subsequent Government response, published in December 2013.

Transport

Highways Agency

In October 2013 the Government began a period of public consultation on proposals for transforming the Highways Agency into a Government-owned company.

Today I am publishing the Government’s response to this consultation. This document summarises the main views and issues raised by respondents on the consultation questions and explains the Government’s final decisions made as a result of the views provided.

Following the broadly positive response to most of the proposals we consulted on, today’s publication confirms our intention to:

Set up the Highways Agency as a Government-owned strategic highways company—with the legal powers and duties to manage and run the roads, appointed by licence from the Secretary of State for Transport which sets clear conditions about how the company must act.

Put in place a robust system of governance for this company—giving the road operator the flexibility needed to operate, manage and enhance the strategic road network effectively, while ensuring clear accountability to the Secretary of State, Parliament and road users. We intend to make drafts of the governance documentation, including licence, the framework agreement and the articles of association, available over the summer to support the legislative process.

Establish—for the first time—a “road investment strategy” which will detail the performance standards the company will achieve and an investment programme it will deliver over the next five years. We will publish this before the end of the year.

Set up new, discrete units within Passenger Focus and the Office of Rail Regulation—to represent the interests of all those who use and rely upon the strategic road network, and to monitor the efficiency and performance of the company.

This change represents a clear break from short-term thinking and the stop-start culture that has characterised the sector in the past, enabling the operator to deliver the biggest ever upgrade of our road network while saving the taxpayer at least £2.6 billion over 10 years.

It will put in place the structures, commitments and relationships to support a more ambitious infrastructure programme, and allow the strategic highways company to operate more like the best-performing infrastructure companies in other sectors. It will allow Government to adopt a more strategic role in managing the road network, meaning those running the roads day to day can be better held to account for the services they deliver, ensuring that the roads are run responsibly and in the public interest.

We believe these reforms will deliver significant benefits to road users and to the country as a whole, including:

a longer term investment programme, which is vital for the many companies who help plan, build and maintain our roads who can start thinking about the skills and equipment needed well in advance;

enabling delivery of national road infrastructure fit for the 21st century, to support jobs and growth up and down the country;

providing road users with a better quality service;

driving down the cost of improvements;

creating a more transparent system with clearer accountability;

ensuring effective scrutiny and a stronger voice for road users.

Transforming the Highways Agency is an essential component of success in delivering these benefits. It will give the road operator the ability to develop a more business-like approach, attract and retain skilled staff and to deliver more efficiently—as proposed by Alan Cook in his 2011 review.

Taken together, these reforms will provide a strong, certain framework for managing our roads. It will strengthen accountability, drive efficiency and increase transparency. It will also create far more certain conditions for investment, enabling the supply chain to gear up for the Government’s ambitious plans for the future. This will support the economy, promote jobs and skills and ultimately transform the quality of our national infrastructure. We look to move to the new model with minimal disruption.

A copy of the Government’s response to the consultation will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The document is available at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/transforming-the-highways-agency-into-a-government-owned-company