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Written Statements

Volume 584: debated on Wednesday 16 July 2014

Written Statements

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Education

Qualifications and Curriculum Reform

I am today announcing next steps on reform of the national curriculum, and consultations on new GCSEs and A levels. We want these reforms to ensure that all young people can achieve their potential, by studying a curriculum and qualifications that support them in progressing into further study and employment, and set expectations which match those of the highest performing countries.

GCSE and A level subject content to be taught from 2016

The Government have already published subject content for GCSEs in English baccalaureate subjects and for the first group of A levels to be reformed.

Today, I am publishing, for consultation, new subject content for a further set of GCSEs and A levels. These subjects will be first taught in 2016. The content for these subjects will prepare students better for further and higher education and employment. GCSE content will provide young people with more fulfilling and demanding courses of study; new A level content will encourage development of the skills and knowledge needed for progression to undergraduate study.

There are two parts to the consultation. The first part seeks views on content which awarding organisations have developed, working with subject associations and other stakeholders. At GCSE these subjects are art and design, computer science, dance, music and physical education. At AS and A level, the subjects are dance, music and physical education.

The second part of the consultation seeks views on content for AS and A levels in modern foreign languages, ancient languages, mathematics, further mathematics and geography. The proposed content reflects the recommendations of the A level content advisory board, which is publishing its reports to me today. Ofqual is consulting in parallel on the assessment arrangements for all these subjects.

This consultation is an opportunity for teachers, further and higher education, employers and all those with an interest in these important subjects to provide their views. We intend to listen to those views in shaping our final proposals.

In September, we will consult on content for the remaining subjects to be taught from 2016, citizenship studies, design and technology, drama and religious studies.

We want the reformed content for the subjects I am consulting on today to lead to more ambitious qualifications with more stimulating courses of study.

In art and design, there is a greater focus on creativity and new emphasis on drawing.

In computer science, students will be expected to develop deep knowledge and understanding of key principles and concepts including data representation, Boolean logic and different data types.

In dance, there is new theoretical content including critical appreciation, knowledge and understanding of professional works.

In music, there are new expectations for performing and composing and for students to apply knowledge and understanding in making critical judgments. At GCSE, students will need to write (as well as read) staff notation and understand chord symbols.

In physical education, rigour has been increased by sharpening the definition of what is expected of students and emphasising the theoretical knowledge needed to underpin physical activity and practical performance.

In modern languages, there is more stimulating A level content with new requirements to engage critically with literary works and carry out independent research, presenting findings.

In ancient languages, the new A level content has increased focus on developing strong interest in the literature, history and culture of the ancient world. Students will be required to read and understand in depth literary texts in the original language.

In mathematics, requirements are specified in more detail and the A level has new emphasis on problem solving, interpretation and testing so that students’ deep understanding of mathematical concepts is strengthened.

In further mathematics, A level content provides greater specification of the areas which need to be covered and new minimum requirements for matrices and complex numbers within the AS.

In geography, A level content provides a better balance between physical and human geography, with new emphasis on fieldwork and geographical skills needed at this level.

The consultation on reformed subject content for these GCSEs and A levels will be available later today at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications. Ofqual’s consultation on assessment arrangements will be available on its website at: http://ofqual.gov.uk.

Publication of key stage 4 English and mathematics national curriculum programmes of study

On 11 September 2013, the Government published the new national curriculum for all subjects except for English, mathematics and science at key stage 4. The Department consulted on the draft programmes of study for key stage 4 English and mathematics from 2 December 2013 to 3 February 2014 and, from 14 May until 13 June this year, on the draft order and regulations that will give effect to the new programmes of study.

I am publishing the final programmes of study for English and mathematics at key stage 4, which will be taught in schools from September 2015 alongside the new English and mathematics GCSEs. Last year, the Government published the new GCSE subject content for English language, English literature and mathematics. It is important to consider these programmes of study in tandem with the GCSE subject content to ensure that the curriculum and qualifications are fully coherent.

We are currently consulting on the key stage 4 science programme of study which will be introduced from September 2016, alongside first teaching of the new science GCSEs.

Copies of the new programmes of study for key stage 4 English and mathematics will be placed in both House Libraries.

Energy and Climate Change

Wood Review (Government Response)

The UK should be proud of its world-class oil and gas industry. It makes a substantial contribution to the economy, supporting around 450,000 jobs and supplying the UK with around half of the oil and gas we use, reducing our reliance on imports. It is vital therefore both for Britain’s energy security and long-term economic outlook that we take positive steps to maximise the economic recovery of our indigenous hydrocarbon reserves. As our carbon plan has shown, Britain will still need significant oil and gas supplies over the next decades, while we decarbonise our economy and transition to a low-carbon economy.

As the North sea enters the next phase of its development, Government have a critical role to play in ensuring the stewardship and regulation of such an important national asset evolves with it. The outlook is bright and investment levels have risen in recent years. However there remain challenges. As stated in my June 2013 statement to Parliament when I commissioned Sir Ian to conduct the review, the UK continental shelf (UKCS) has faced steeply falling levels of production and exploration in recent years as well as declining production efficiency.

Sir Ian reported his findings earlier this year and it is clear that the size of the prize on offer is considerable. The review estimated that full and rapid implementation could deliver 3 to 4 billion barrels of oil equivalent more than would otherwise be recovered over the next 20 years, worth over £200 billion. It is for this reason that I am committed to fully implementing his recommendations as quickly as possible.

Sir Ian made recommendations for both industry and Government and the full impact of his report will not be realised unless industry take up his challenge in equal measure. In particular it will be vital for companies to change the way they work together within fields and between fields to maximise economic recovery. Also in support of this is the need to curb the over-zealous legal and commercial activity which can often increase cost and make co-operation more difficult.

The key policy decisions we have taken are summarised in this statement.

The four main recommendations from Sir Ian’s report are as follows:

That Government and industry should develop and commit to a new strategy for maximising economic recovery from the UK continental shelf (MER UK)

That stewardship of the UK continental shelf (UKCS) should move to a new arm’s length body that is better resourced, and funded by industry

That additional powers should be secured to implement MER UK

The new regulator should work with industry to develop and implement new industry strategies, such as on exploration and decommissioning cost reduction.

A phased approach to implementation

In order to make swift progress, we are taking a phased approach to implementation and we have already achieved a great deal. It has only been a year since I commissioned the review and less than six months since Sir Ian published his recommendations. In that time we have announced that the new oversight body will be called the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA); have determined its structure and that it will be headquartered in Aberdeen; begun recruitment of a world-class CEO to lead and shape the OGA; and have tabled clauses for introduction into the Infrastructure Bill in order to enshrine the MER UK principles into law and provide for a levy-making power to fund the body.

These steps will allow the OGA to operate effectively in shadow form, which could begin as early as autumn 2014. We will continue this momentum to build the OGA so it has the right skills, resources and powers to deal with the challenges facing the UKCS.

Maximising economic recovery from the UKCS (MER UK) principles

Government have tabled amendments to the Infrastructure Bill to place the MER UK principles into statute. Our proposals will ensure that we maximise the economic recovery of petroleum, and licence holders will be required to act in a manner best calculated to give rise to maximising the economic recovery of petroleum from UK waters as a whole, not just that recoverable under their own licences. The clauses also place a requirement on the authority to produce a strategy for enabling the principle objective to be met along with a corresponding duty for the authority, licence holders, owners and operators of production infrastructure to act in accordance with the strategy. The strategy, developed in collaboration between Government, the OGA and industry must be produced within a year of these provisions coming into force and can be updated as necessary.

Initially, the principles will apply to offshore activity, however Government intend that the OGA’s remit should extend to onshore—as well as to the licensing activity for natural gas storage and unloading and carbon dioxide storage—and so, working with the respective industry stakeholders and trade groups, we will look to extend the principles accordingly.

Establishing the Oil and Gas Authority

The establishment of the additional powers the OGA will need to perform its MER UK obligations will require primary legislation which cannot be delivered in the remainder of the current Parliament. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) will, therefore, in the first instance, and in order to demonstrate pace and its strong commitment to implementing Sir Ian’s recommendations, establish the authority in shadow form as an Executive agency. Our intention is for this to be operational in autumn 2014.

However, Government do not believe that an Executive agency provides an optimum long-term solution. It is our intention therefore to establish the OGA in its final form as a Government company. This will give the authority greater operational independence from Government. As such it will provide a more suitable platform to provide the arm’s length regulatory certainty the industry requires to invest in exploration and production activity to maximise economic recovery from the UK’s oil and gas resources.

DECC will develop the plans for establishing the OGA further in the coming months, working closely with industry and other partners to get the substance and the detail right. We will work both through the interim advisory panel, chaired by Sir Ian Wood and in wider fora, including the industry’s principal trade association, Oil and Gas UK.

Funding the Oil and Gas Authority

Government agree with Sir Ian that the challenge of delivering MER UK requires the OGA to be significantly better resourced than the current equivalent team in DECC. In line with the long-established practice across regulation and service delivery, and to ensure the OGA is not restricted by any future Government funding constraints, the Government consider that, in the long-term, the body should recover its costs from the companies who will benefit from the services of the authority. However, to demonstrate their commitment to the tripartite approach recommended in the review, and help realise the benefits outlined in Sir Ian’s report, Government have committed to contribute £3 million per year for five years beginning in 2016-17 to the running costs of the OGA.

Additional powers and strategies

The Government are committed to ensuring the new authority makes effective use of its existing powers, which in many respects are not inconsiderable, and they will therefore review the full range of current powers to see whether, and if so how, they could be deployed more effectively by a better-resourced regulator. As recommended, the Government will also equip the authority with additional powers to enhance its ability to maximise economic recovery by encouraging and facilitating collaboration and dispute resolution without compromising the incentives for efficiency and innovation achieved by healthy competition.

Government will work closely with industry and other interested parties in the months ahead to undertake this work and ensure we are ready to put legislation on the additional powers before the House in the first Session of the new Parliament.

Once it is established, the OGA will work with industry and Government to develop the sector strategies detailed in the Wood review. As outlined in the 2014 Budget, the Government will task the new authority to review how best to encourage exploration and reduce decommissioning costs as a priority with a view to reporting back its initial findings and recommendations at Budget 2015.

This Government’s commitment to change is clear. We also need an equally strong commitment to change from industry and, from my own contacts with the industry during the Wood review and since, I am very confident indeed that it will pull together and play its part fully in the spirit that Sir Ian has set out.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

NATO Wales Summit

I wish to update the House on preparations for the NATO summit in Wales on 4 to 5 September, 50 days from now. Our theme for this summit is building stability in an unpredictable world.

This will be the largest gathering of international leaders ever to take place in the UK. It requires us to accommodate, move, feed and protect up to 185 VIPs, around 4,000 delegates and 1,500 media representatives. We have reserved over 24,000 room nights in 80 hotels in Newport, Cardiff and Bristol. It is a huge undertaking and preparations are on track.

The Wales summit will be one of the most important in NATO’s history, and comes at a key moment for the alliance. NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan is drawing to a close and, as events in Ukraine and Iraq have shown, the world faces more complex threats than ever before. This summit will show that NATO, the most successful military alliance in the world, remains strong, united and ready to meet and defeat any threat.

NATO is the bedrock of the UK’s defence and security. As a leading player in NATO over the last 65 years, the UK continues to contribute to alliance operations around the world today. Beyond Afghanistan, there are British personnel serving in the Baltic air policing mission and counter-piracy missions. The UK is also home to NATO’s Maritime Component Command and the headquarters of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.

In today’s unpredictable world, familiar threats remain, but new challenges are appearing alongside them. At the summit, we will therefore focus on three key themes.

First, we will discuss the situation in Afghanistan as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission draws to an end, and decide how we will continue to support the Afghan Government. We must sustain Afghan confidence in their resourcing as we make this transition. And we should take the opportunity to recognise the sacrifices made by the alliance’s armed forces, and commit to safeguarding the welfare of our veterans and their families. In this context, we want to build on the Government’s work on the UK military covenant, by persuading all allies to articulate shared values on the importance of supporting our armed forces and their families, during and after their service, and by sharing best practice on supporting service personnel, supporting transitions into civilian life and supporting the wounded, injured and sick

Second, we need to agree on the long-term implications of the Russia-Ukraine crisis and how the alliance will continue to provide for the collective security of all allies. We must take the necessary decisions to strengthen NATO’s ability to respond quickly to threats, including new ones, to reassure those who fear for their security, and to deter further aggression from Russia.

Third, we must agree how NATO will adapt itself to address the new risks and challenges from an unstable world of failed states, regional conflicts, terrorism and cyber-attacks. In particular, we should show alliance unity through a commitment to invest in our defence sectors and agree how NATO can provide practical support to countries that need to strengthen their security sector by launching specific NATO defence capacity building missions. It also means building the broadest global security network ever by strengthening NATO’s relationship with partners elsewhere in the world, ensuring that we have the relationships necessary to tackle threats wherever they emanate from.

The then Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs had a productive meeting with NATO Foreign Ministers at the end of June—the last major milestone before the summit—where they agreed some key deliverables for the summit. Foreign Ministers endorsed a package of support measures to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defend itself and agreed on plans to develop a robust readiness action plan for the summit in September. They also reaffirmed NATO’s commitment to an “open door” policy and agreed continued support for the aspirant countries who hope to join the alliance in due course.

Parliament has an important role to play in preparing for the Wales summit. Portcullis House recently hosted an exhibition on the past “65 years of NATO” and I welcome the fact that the NATO Parliamentary Assembly will meet in London on 2 September to discuss these issues before NATO leaders meet in Wales. This summit also offers an unrivalled opportunity for all of us to shine the spotlight on Wales. In advance of the summit, we are highlighting Wales’ strong commercial sector and encouraging the world to visit Wales by showcasing the tremendous potential in Wales for investment and business, tourism and higher education.

Home Department

Justice and Home Affairs Council

The Informal Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held on 8 and 9 July in Milan. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), and a senior Home Office official attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following items were discussed.

The interior day began with a discussion of the strategic guidelines for legislative and operational planning in JHA that were agreed at the June European Council. The discussion focused on the migration aspects, and on the proposed replacement of the EU’s internal security strategy.

On migration, the Commission highlighted the progress being made on the EU’s legal migration policy and called for full implementation of the common European asylum system, for action against the smuggling of migrants and for enhanced regional protection efforts.

A number of member states said that limited migration from outside the EU was necessary to address skill shortages, though stressing that it needed to be balanced with action against illegal migration. Others emphasised that policy on legal migration should be primarily for member states to determine—legislation in this area only applies to the UK if we opt in to it. Some called for more action to address migration problems at their source and a more effective returns policy. The UK argued for effective action to tackle abuse of free movement.

The presidency concluded by calling for a balanced approach to migration addressing both legal and illegal aspects.

The Commission announced that it will issue a communication on the internal security strategy in early 2015, and hold a conference in Brussels on 29 September. Many member states intervened calling, variously, for a short and focused strategy and for the strategy to cover the organised crime policy cycle, cyber-security, counter radicalisation, data exchange and environmental crimes.

The UK called for the new strategy to cover modem slavery, foreign fighters and the exchange of passenger name records. The presidency agreed that foreign fighters were a top priority and also emphasised the need to agree the draft passenger name records directive.

The Council then discussed the implementation of Task Force Mediterranean, its agreed programme of actions to deal with illegal migration in the Mediterranean region.

The presidency called for FRONTEX to step up its activity in the region so the Italian “Mare Nostrum” search and rescue operation could be scaled back. The Commission called for a single, coherent operational structure to co-ordinate Mare Nostrum with Frontex’s operations. It also called for more efforts to persuade Tunisia to address the problem of its boats being used to pick up migrants in Libya, for the EU border assistance mission to Libya to be reinforced and for member states to resettle more refugees from outside the EU. The UK emphasised the importance of concerted action at the regional level and welcomed the involvement of the European external action service in working with countries of origin.

On justice day the Council discussed whether there should be greater flexibility within the proposed general data protection regulation for member states to provide a higher standard of data protection for the public sector at national level. Various approaches were discussed, including providing for specific exemptions throughout the text of the proposed regulation. The UK argued that the best way to achieve the desired flexibility was to legislate by way of a directive rather than a regulation as this already provides sufficient flexibility under the current framework. Member states in general believed that flexibility at national level for the public sector was necessary but further discussion on how this would be best achieved was required in the Council’s technical working group.

The second session was an exchange of views on the proposal to establish a European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO). The presidency asked whether the proposal provided for an appropriate system of judicial review and, in particular, whether certain decisions by it to dismiss cases should be subject to judicial review.

The majority of member states agreed that some form of judicial review before national courts was necessary, although there was no consensus over which decisions should be subject to review. The UK is not participating in the proposal to establish an EPPO and did not take part in the discussion. The presidency concluded that further discussion was needed at expert level.

Over lunch, there was a discussion on the justice aspects of the strategic guidelines agreed by the European Council, especially developments regarding mutual recognition of judgments, and freezing and confiscation orders. Member states, including the UK, reinforced the message in the JHA strategic guidelines that the priority is now to implement and consolidate the EU acquis in the justice area rather than bring forward new legislation. The main feature of the discussion was the importance of judicial training to support implementation. Most member states wanted to see further EU support for judicial training, although some including the UK, cautioned about the need to ensure that judicial training remained primarily a matter of national competence.

During the final session, the presidency introduced its paper on the Commission’s proposal to abolish legalisation—a formality to confirm the authenticity of a public document—and reduce the need for certified copies and translations. Member states were invited to give views on the scope of the proposal and on the need for new information technology to support cross-border co-operation in this area.

Almost all member states who intervened believed that the scope should be limited only to civil status documents—that is, birth, marriage, death—in the first instance. The UK agreed that the scope should be limited in this way, and set out the reasons why the inclusion of educational certificates, intellectual property documents, and court judgments should not fall within the scope of the proposal. The UK also argued that the proposal should provide a common format for translations of civil status documents rather than creating a legal status for common format multilingual forms. This would avoid legal uncertainty and respect the sovereignty of member states in issuing the documents.

The Commission proposed to use the existing internal market IT system for a cross-border verification mechanism, but was willing if necessary to consider a feasibility study for a new IT system. The UK opposed this on cost grounds. The presidency concluded that there was strong preference for a step-by-step approach with the initial scope limited to civil status document and further work was required on the most appropriate IT system to use.

Transport

Rail Franchising

On 27 June 2014, my Department announced its intention to award the Essex Thameside franchise to NXET Trains Ltd (National Express), pending the successful completion of a standstill period. I am happy to confirm to the House that this standstill period has ended and we completed the contract after the markets closed on 15 July. This means that NXET Trains Ltd (under their brand name c2c) can begin the mobilisation process that will mean the new franchise will begin in November this year.

The contract will run for 15 years and will allow the company to build on the impressive performance of the franchise and deliver a host of passenger benefits, worth around £160 million. The Essex Thameside franchise provides vital commuter services to millions of passengers every year travelling between London and the commuter hubs of Barking, Basildon, Southend. The new franchise will see c2c provide more capacity and a new fleet of trains during the franchise. The 17 new trains will provide almost 4,800 extra seats, on top of the 25,000 additional seats for morning peak-time passengers c2c has committed to provide every week by the end of the contract.

More than £30 million will be invested in improving stations during the franchise, including at the major hubs of Fenchurch Street and Barking. The operator will also provide free wi-fi, smart ticketing and better customer information that will all improve the experience for passengers on the busy route. This franchise will also see an enhanced delay repay scheme including automatic repayment for passengers with smart tickets, a first for the railway in Great Britain.

The successful award of this contract shows the continuing success of my franchising programme. A programme that is seeing real benefits for passengers and taxpayers.