Monday 13 October 2014
Bilateral Loan to Ireland
I would like to update the House on the UK’s bilateral loan to Ireland.
In 2010, the Government committed to providing a £3.2 billion bilateral loan to Ireland as part of an international assistance package of €67.5 billion including loans provided by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Union (EU), euro-area member states and other bilateral lenders Sweden and Denmark.
The UK provided this bilateral loan in order to help put Ireland back on a sustainable path, ensure economic stability and because Ireland is a key trading partner and ally. I regard Ireland’s stability to be a key component of the stability of the UK economy and the banking sector, particularly in Northern Ireland.
Ireland has now set out its intention to repay early up to €18.3 billion of loans obtained from the IMF. The IMF loans carry a significantly higher interest rate than other elements of the programme.
The loan agreements of all other creditors under the assistance package, including the UK, each have a clause requiring that Ireland makes a proportional early repayment to them in the event that Ireland repays any creditor under its assistance programme ahead of schedule. On 19 September, Ireland formally requested that the UK, and all other lenders besides the IMF, provide a waiver for this clause.
I can inform the House that I have today provided a waiver under clause 19.3 of the Credit Facility Agreement (Amended 4 October 2012) enabling Ireland to make early repayments to the IMF of up to €18.3 billion without the requirement to make pro rata early repayments to the United Kingdom. This decision does not amend the amount or timing of interest and principle repayments owed to the UK as originally foreseen in the Credit Facility Agreement (Amended 4 October 2012).
It is clear to me that, where all other lenders provide similar waivers, granting a waiver for the UK bilateral loan delivers significant benefits to Ireland’s fiscal position and debt sustainability in the coming years. However, the benefits of these actions are not exclusive to Ireland, as the potential improvements also enhance the likelihood of repayment of the UK’s loan.
The waiver I have agreed is conditional upon all other assistance providers, besides the IMF, issuing similar waivers. Ireland has also committed to ensuring the IMF continues to play a role in monitoring Ireland in the coming years. All member states have now agreed to provide a waiver to Ireland on the outstanding loans.
In addition to this announcement, HM Treasury has today provided a further report to Parliament in relation to Irish loans as required under the Loans to Ireland Act 2010. The report relates to the period from 1 April 2014 to 30 September 2014.
A written ministerial statement on the previous statutory report regarding the loan to Ireland was laid in Parliament on 28 April 2014, Official Report, column 33WS.
Communities and Local Government
Work of the Department during Conference Recess
I would like to update hon. Members on the main items of business undertaken by my Department since the House rose for conference recess on 12 September.
Getting Britain building
The coalition Government's housing investment is supporting the construction industry to get Britain building the homes that our country needs. House building is now at its highest level since 2007, which shows our long-term economic plan is working and bringing in results. But there is more to do.
On 26 September, I launched a new £400 million Rent to Buy programme to boost the building of new rental homes that will help hard-working people rent now and buy later. This new scheme provides more flexibility for those who want to rent affordably now, save for a deposit, and then buy their home. Under the scheme, housing associations and other providers can bid for a share of £400 million in low-cost loans to build up to 10,000 new homes across the country. Landlords must then make these homes available for rent at below-market rates for at least seven years giving the tenants the opportunity to save a deposit and get ready to buy their new home.
Figures published by my Department on 25 September showed how almost 53,000 households in England have already benefited through the Government’s Help to Buy schemes. These schemes enable hard-working people to buy a home with a fraction of the deposit they would normally require.
On 30 September, we announced plans to help 11 areas across England to be at the forefront of helping aspiring self-builders. The chosen areas—Cherwell, South Cambridgeshire, Teignbridge, Shropshire, Oldham, West Lindsey, Exmoor and Dartmoor, Pendle, Sheffield, South Norfolk and Stoke-on-Trent—will establish and maintain a register of prospective custom and self-builders in their area and begin identifying, shovel-ready sites for them.
On 9 October, my Department announced new powers for councils to help them build new affordable homes across the country, building on the reforms we have already delivered to the decentralised Housing Revenue Account. This will allow 22 councils to borrow an additional £122 million over the next two years to deliver more than 1,700 new affordable homes and support local growth. There is further funding available to local councils, which is only available thanks to the decisive action we have taken to reduce the deficit left by the last Labour Government.
On 10 October, we announced a new £3 million Site Delivery Fund to get work on housing sites back on track. The money will help deliver up to 25,000 new homes across the country on sites that have been given planning permission but remain caught up in red tape. The fund is being shared across 60 bids from councils for areas where large housing developments have been agreed, and councils have shown how Government support will allow them to tackle planning barriers and accelerate delivery on as many sites as possible.
Boosting local infrastructure
The Local Infrastructure Fund is another way we are getting Britain building and boosting local economies. It is targeted at housing schemes that could deliver real benefits to their communities but are struggling to move forward. Already 85,000 homes have been unlocked through this scheme. On 24 September, my Department announced a £16.5 million cash boost to fast forward the development of a further 1,600 new homes at Newton Leys, Milton Keynes, which despite receiving planning permission for development in 2006, has been stalled for years.
On the same day, we also published a progress report on the Growing Places Fund, which showed local enterprise partnerships are continuing to make excellent progress in delivering the economic growth, jobs and homes that communities need. The fund has supported 323 projects across the country leveraging £2.8 billion of extra investment including some £1.8 billion from the private sector. I expect this to support almost 70,000 new housing units and four million square metres of commercial and industrial floor space.
Supporting the Right to Buy
Since the launch of the reinvigorated Right to Buy scheme in 2012, 22,500 social tenants have benefited from expert support and thousands of pounds worth of discounts in order to become home owners. But such a right cannot be exercised if those eligible do not know about it.
On 25 September, my Department began writing to almost 1 million social tenants across the country to remind them of their Right to Buy. This letterbox campaign will be supported through advertisements in selected local newspapers. These people will be informed about the new levels of discount available and the Right to Buy Agent service launched in August which provides reliable personal advice from start to finish of the process. There might never be a better time for eligible council and housing association tenants to make this life-changing decision for them and their families.
Delivering a localised planning system
On 29 September, I announced my Department’s latest estimates on planning permissions being granted for new homes. Based on our analysis of Glenigan data, a total of 230,000 new homes received planning permission in England in the 12 months to Q2 2014. Combined with the fact that the number of planning appeals has fallen, this shows that our locally led planning system, following the abolition of the Labour’s top-down regional strategies, is working.
Despite house building levels being on an upward trajectory there is still an acute need for more homes, especially in London. Since May 2013, those looking to convert offices into new homes have been able to do so under a permitted development right without applying for planning permission. Decentralisation is not just about bringing power down to councils, but also down to neighbourhoods and individual firms and householders. Such rights have been enthusiastically adopted by the housing industry, with a particular move towards providing new studio and one-bedroom flats.
This has included the conversion and refurbishment of the Archway Tower in Islington. However, Islington council issued an inappropriately wide Article 4 Direction, seeking to abolish these rights across the whole borough. This is despite there being a previous exemption process. After discussions with the council, on 17 September we took steps to ensure empty and redundant office space in Islington can continue to be converted into new homes for Londoners. Avoiding a blanket ban across the borough, office to residential conversions have been disapplied in very small, targeted parts of the borough instead.
On 2 October, my Department published new figures showing that during the three months up to June 2014, councils received 1,900 applications to enable redundant office buildings to be turned into new homes. They also revealed 900 had been approved during the same period. Permitted development rights are also enabling people to extend their homes without having to apply for planning permission. These figures revealed councils received 7,700 applications for home extensions—6,500 of which got the go-ahead without needing to go through the whole planning process. These figures are just for one quarter, but illustrate how our local planning reforms are helping deliver new homes and support home improvements.
Protecting the countryside and Green Belt
The coalition Government are determined to protect our countryside and the green belt, as stated in the coalition agreement.
On 2 October, my Department published new planning guidance reaffirming how councils should use their local plan drawing on protections in the National Planning Policy Framework, to safeguard their local area against urban sprawl. This guidance explains that, once established, green belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional cases, through the preparation or review of the local plan. It also states that housing need does not justify the harm done to the green belt by inappropriate development. Unlike the Labour’s discredited regional strategies, we have been very clear that there is no central diktats demanding that councils rip up the green belt.
On 14 September, we announced proposals for consultation on amending planning policy and planning guidance on Travellers. The new measures that will ensure fairness for all in the planning system and provide greater protection for our green belt and countryside. The measures will crack down on unauthorised Traveller sites to tackle those who flout planning rules and abuse the system.
It also proposes that the definition of Travellers in planning law will be changed so that local authorities would only be asked to plan ahead to meet the needs of those who lead a genuine travelling lifestyle. This would mean any application for a permanent site by someone who has stopped physically travelling would be considered in the same way as an application from the settled population—rather than be considered under policies relating to Travellers.
Ensuring high standards in private rented housing
On 1 October, my Department brought forward new rules that require letting agents to join one of three redress schemes, to ensure tenants and leaseholders have a straightforward option to hold them to account.
The vast majority of landlords and letting agents provide a good-quality service to those looking for a home in the private rental sector. The redress schemes will help ensure standards are maintained and provide tenants with somewhere to go if they feel like they are getting a poor deal.
The schemes run by the property ombudsman, Ombudsman Services Property and the property redress scheme offer independent investigation into complaints about hidden fees or poor service.
Increasing accountability and transparency in local government
Greater power for local government must go hand in hand with greater local transparency and accountability. The public should be able to hold local councils to account about the services they provide. But to do this, people need information about what decisions local councils are taking, and how local councils are spending public money.
This Government have introduced a new publicity code for local councils in England, to help defend the independent free press. The code sets out a range of provisions on the frequency, content and appearance of taxpayer-funded news sheets. Alas not everybody follows these guidances. So on 26 September, my Department warned 11 councils that legal action could be taken in a matter of weeks if they fail to stop or justify actions considered not to be in compliance with this code. Action is being taken against the London Boroughs of Enfield, Greenwich, Hackney, Hillingdon, Lambeth, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest, as well as Luton, Medway and North Somerset councils over the frequency of their municipal newspapers. Tower Hamlets was also notified about the provisions in the code on lawfulness of council publicity.
On 3 October, my Department also updated the local government transparency code, which will further extend and entrench local accountability and openness on how councils spend taxpayers’ money and make decisions. This will now become a legal requirement, subject to the passage of the associated secondary legislation through Parliament.
Enhancing efficiency and resilience of local fire and rescue services
On 10 October, my Department published the September updates of the Future Control Room Services Scheme and an update on the marketing and disposal of the Regional Control Centres. These updated national summaries provide good evidence to show that the Future Control Rooms projects remain on track to deliver the benefits outlined in the original national summary. Good progress is also being made to market and dispose of the remaining Regional Control Centres which were a legacy of the failed FiReControl programme and its flawed contracts (signed by the Labour Government) with no break clauses.
Improving local welfare provision
The nationally run community care grants and crisis loans were poorly targeted and failed to help those most in need. So, in 2012 as part of wider welfare reform, the Department for Work and Pensions made the decision to abolish these discretionary funds and transfer responsibility to councils so they could deliver and tailor new local support because they best know their areas’ needs. In contrast to the centralised grant system, under the Department for Work and Pensions’ reforms, councils could choose how best to provide support in their areas.
The Department for Work and Pensions has provided a separate fund for 2013-15 and is currently conducting a review of the provision to date. On 10 October, the Government published a consultation on how local welfare provision should be funded in 2015-16. We will analyse the responses to this consultation alongside the findings of the ongoing Department for Work and Pensions’ review into the existing provision. The Government will make a decision on funding for 2015-16 in time for the provisional local government finance settlement in December 2014.
Improving governance of public-sector pensions
On 10 October, my Department published consultations on the governance of the pension schemes for local government and firefighters, as part of the coalition Government’s wider public service pension reform to ensure better value for taxpayers’ money.
Celebrating and rejuvenating the Great British high street
The high street has been the cornerstone of our communities for decades and we are starting to see them re-emerge with a renewed sense of self confidence. The Great British High Street Awards to find Britain’s best high streets is shining a light on hard-working traders and communities around the country and showing what can be done to help shopping streets evolve to be places where people want to shop, socialise and work.
On 3 October, my Department published a shortlist of 21 high streets which are battling it out in seven categories—coastal, market town, city, village, local parade, town centre and London—for the coveted Great British high street crown.
Championing united communities and British values
To mark International Day of the Girl on 11 October, the Government announced further funding to help tackle, both at home and abroad, the unacceptable practices of female genital mutilation and forced marriage. This package includes funding from my Department to support community engagement, such as working with local faith leaders and improving education to make clear that such practices have no place in modern Britain.
On 3 October, Ministers gave their best wishes to Muslims in the United Kingdom for Eid ul-Adha, which is the second of two religious holidays celebrated by Muslims worldwide each year. Ministers also gave their best wishes to Jewish people for Yom Kippur (also known as Day of Atonement), which is the holiest day of the year for those of the Jewish faith.
This Government have been championing local communities continuing to cherish and celebrate traditional ties and community spirit, including flag-flying. On 29 September, my Department raised the flag of Westmorland to celebrate Westmorland Day and on 1 October, my Department raised the flag of Lincolnshire to celebrate Lincolnshire Day. England's counties and historic counties continue to form an important part of our cultural and local identity in this country and many people remain deeply attached to their home county.
I am placing copies of the associated press notices and documents in the Library of the House.
Reserve Forces (Defence Objectives)
Changes brought about by the Defence Reform Act 2014 allow reservists to be called out under new section 56(1B) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 if it appears to the Secretary of State that it is necessary or desirable to use members of a reserve force for any purpose for which members of the regular services may be used. Reservists called out under this power may be required to serve for a period of up to 12 months.
In line with these changes and our policy of having more capable, usable, integrated and relevant reserve forces, I have today made four call-out orders under section 56(1 B) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 which will allow reservists to be called into permanent service in support of defence engagement (for example the provision of short term training teams and military capacity building overseas); Global Counter- terrorism and Counter-Piracy; operation of our permanent joint operating bases in Cyprus, the Falkland Islands, Ascension Island, Diego Garcia and Gibraltar; and maritime security operations.
We anticipate calling out only a small number of reservists under these call-out orders (initial estimates suggest fewer than 250 over the course of the next year) and currently plan on only calling out willing and available reservists, who have the support of their employer. For operations that fall outside the scope of these orders, for example Military Aid to the Civil Authorities, war fighting, or operations which are likely to involve a large number of reservists, I would expect to make separate call-out orders.
These orders take effect from 1 October 2014 and cease to have effect on 30 September 2015.
Reserve Forces (Security and Humanitarian Relief)
A new call-out order has been made under section 56(1B) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable reservists to be called into permanent service as part of the UK’s contribution to stabilising the security and humanitarian situation in Northern Iraq.
We anticipate calling out only a small number of primarily RAF reservists, with the necessary skills and experience who will operate alongside their regular colleagues. This is fully in line with our policy of having more capable, usable, integrated and relevant reserve forces.
Currently, we plan on calling out only willing and available reservists, who have the support of their employer.
The order takes effect from 3 October 2014 and ceases to have effect on 30 September 2015.
Defence Nuclear Safety Committee and Nuclear Research Advisory Council (Triennial Reviews)
I am today announcing the publication by the Ministry of Defence of the findings of the triennial reviews of the Defence Nuclear Safety Committee (DNSC) and the Nuclear Research Advisory Council (NRAC). Triennial reviews are part of the Government’s commitment to ensuring that non departmental public bodies (NDPBs) continue to have regular independent challenge and to improving the accountability and effectiveness of public bodies.
The DNSC’s remit includes all safety aspects relating to the naval nuclear propulsion plant and nuclear weapon systems, including related issues of design, development, manufacture, storage, in-service support, handling, transport, operational training, support facilities and capabilities, and the safety of workers and the public.
The NRAC is responsible for reviewing the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) nuclear warhead research and capability maintenance programme, including the requirement for above-ground experiments and other facilities and techniques necessary to develop and maintain a UK nuclear weapon capability in the absence of underground testing; NRAC also examines AWE’s programme of international collaboration.
The reviews concluded that DNSC and NRAC not only provide a valuable source of independent advice, but that they also undertake a vital challenge function on behalf of the Government, and that both bodies should be retained as advisory NDPBs. The reviews also noted that the terms of reference and governance arrangements for both bodies are entirely appropriate.
The reviews also looked closely at the option of merging the two bodies, but concluded that, although their scope is complementary, they do examine different aspects of the deterrent programme, and that there would be no advantage in merging the two.
The review was carried out with the participation of a wide range of internal and external stakeholders and I am grateful to all those who contributed to these triennial reviews.
The Triennial Review Report: Nuclear Research Advisory Council (NRAC) and Defence Nuclear Safety Committee (DNSC) has been placed in the Library of the House. It is also available at:
Maritime Support Delivery Framework Contracts
I am notifying the House that the Ministry of Defence has awarded two contracts to support the management of the UK’s naval bases and maintain and repair the Royal Navy’s warships. These contracts, which have a combined value of £3.2 billion, represent a new approach to contracting for support services at the naval bases, known as the maritime support delivery framework (MSDF).
Contracts have been awarded to both our industrial partners at the naval bases. The contract awarded to Babcock, to provide support services at Her Majesty’s naval bases (HMNB) at Devonport and Clyde, is valued at £2.6 billion, while BAE Systems has been awarded a contract worth £600 million to provide support services at HMNB Portsmouth.
The Babcock MSDF contract is for five and a half years, running from 1 October 2014 to 31 March 2020. The BAE Systems MSDF contract is for four and a half years initially, also running from 1 October 2014, with an option to extend it for an additional year. These contracts replace the three warship support modernisation initiative contracts as well as ship services contracts with BAE Systems and Babcock, plus a number of support-based contracts with Babcock for engineering services.
The MSDF contracts will sustain around 7,500 jobs across the three naval bases, with 1,500 of these jobs at HMNB Clyde, up to 4,000 at Devonport and more than 2,000 at HMNB Portsmouth.
MSDF is a modern commercial and financial strategy replacing existing contracts with one wider contracting framework to incentivise industry to transform and rationalise to meet the needs of the Royal Navy.
By bringing the provision of naval base support services and ship services contracts under MSDF, the MOD is able to deliver a saving of some £350 million, drive continuous performance improvement and thereby provide a better deal for defence and the taxpayer.
UK Operations Against ISIL
On 26 September 2014, the House voted in favour of military operations in support of the Government of Iraq’s fight against ISIL, including the use of air strikes. Military action is part of the Government’s comprehensive strategy, working in consultation with our allies in the wider coalition, to tackle ISIL.
As set out in statements on 2 September, Official Report, column 15WS, and 9 September, Official Report, column 33WS, our Armed Forces had already been involved in Iraq supporting humanitarian efforts, delivering equipment, weapons and ammunition to the Kurdistan Regional Government and contributing to coalition surveillance of ISIL. We are now undertaking military action in support of the coalition campaign.
The RAF began flying Tornado GR4 strike missions on 27 September. As of 10 October they have conducted 20 missions over Iraq. The Tornado provides strike capability with its highly accurate Brimstone missiles and Paveway guided bombs, allowing strikes against ISIL while minimising the risk of civilian casualties, and supports the coalition’s need for greater intelligence and surveillance with its reconnaissance pods. The first UK strike took place on 30 September, and six Tornado missions have resulted in weapons being released, hitting eight separate targets. The presence of armed jets in the skies has also curtailed ISIL’s ability to move freely and given Kurdish and Iraqi defenders time to organise and space to attack. ISIL fighters have been observed changing their tactics and trying to draw the coalition into inflicting civilian casualties as they take shelter amongst the civilian population.
We announced the short term deployment of two additional Tornado GR4s to RAF Akrotiri to provide resilience to our operation and allow us to maintain our tempo of missions. The new Voyager air-to-air refuelling capability and the Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft which began operation on 9 August continue to provide vital support to both British and coalition aircraft.
We are continuing to deliver support to the Kurdistan Regional Government forces at the request of the Government of Iraq. C-17 and C-130 aircraft in co-ordination with Canadian and Danish transport planes have so far delivered over 300 tonnes of supplies to Erbil for Kurdish Peshmerga units. This includes over 100 tonnes of UK-gifted weapons and equipment and over 200 tonnes of weapons and ammunition from supportive countries.
A training team has begun instructing Peshmerga soldiers on the operation of 40 UK-gifted heavy machine guns. Other training teams addressing soldiering skills, medical and counter-explosive device knowledge are planned.
Our network of liaison officers in Iraq and the region has expanded to better understand the situation, work with our partners and help sustain the coalition which critically includes regional partners involved in operations. The Ministry of Defence is working closely with the Foreign Office to ensure our activity is co-ordinated to support the Iraqi authorities in providing a more inclusive government in Sunni areas liberated from ISIL control.
Throughout the campaign C-130 transport aircraft remain ready to deliver more humanitarian aid provided by the Department for International Development (DFID) and pre-positioned in Cyprus.
I will continue to keep the House informed of defence activities.
Energy and Climate Change
Informal Energy and Environment Council
I am writing to report discussions at the Informal Energy and Environment Council in Milan on 6 October, where I represented the UK.
The Council discussed the Italian presidency’s report on energy security in the EU, which put forward a number of medium to long-term measures to address energy security, as required by the June European Council conclusions. Following a detailed discussion the report went forward as a presidency document, because of concerns expressed by some member states. A number of member states wanted to ensure that energy security was discussed in tandem with the 2030 framework for climate and energy policies and others had concerns over interconnection targets. I broadly supported the report as a useful contribution to the debate on energy security.
The Council then considered the completion of the internal energy market. The European Commission opened the session by outlining the main challenges to completing the internal energy market, focusing on the need for completion of the network code process, and the cross-border interconnections covered by the projects of common interest process. The importance of regional co-operation was also focused on as a key priority by the discussion. The importance of the internal market for climate change action and energy security policy was made clear in the discussion.
Over lunch, Ministers discussed the Commission’s Communication on the contribution of energy efficiency to energy security and climate-energy policies.
In the afternoon there was a round-table discussion on the EU 2030 framework for climate and energy policies I urged member states to agree a package by the October European Council. I stated that the UK wants to see a package that is ambitious and has a target for EU domestic greenhouse gas emission reductions of at least 40%; that addresses the challenges of energy security and investment that Europe faces today; and that reflects the principles of fairness, solidarity and cost effectiveness. I reiterated the importance the UK places on the need for member states to have flexibility in the way they implement the package.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Afghanistan Monthly Progress Report (July/August 2014)
I wish to inform the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, is today publishing the 40th progress report on developments in Afghanistan since November 2010.
The announcement of the preliminary results of the second round of the presidential election by the IEC on 7 July triggered a political crisis. Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah threatened to pull out of the process. Intervention by the US Secretary of State John Kerry secured the agreement of both Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani to abide by the result of a full audit of the second round vote under a UN supervised process. The Afghan Government are currently facing significant fiscal challenges, exacerbated by the protracted election process.
On 12 July, UNAMA published their mid-year report “Protection of civilians in armed conflict” which recorded a 24% rise in civilian casualties, compared to the first six months of 2013. It attributed 74% of these to Taliban action, undermining their claims that they try to minimise civilian casualties. The insurgent offensive in Northern Helmand that began in June persisted, but reduced in intensity, through July. The ANSF were better prepared compared to last year’s fighting season and resisted Taliban attempts to make significant gains.
In contrast, Kabul has experienced an increased number of insurgent incidents compared with last year, with 52 by 20 August, compared to only 30 incidents in the whole of 2013. Throughout July there were also significant attacks that threatened or struck Kabul International Airport.
On 5 August, at the Marshal Fahim National Defence University in Kabul, Major General Harold J. Greene (US Army), the Deputy Commander of the Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan was killed by an Afghan National Army soldier. Two UK personnel were amongst the wounded.
ISAF redeployment continues and the number of bases has now reduced to just 42 locations. There are only 18 locations left to transfer or close before the end of the current ISAF mission.
I am placing the report in the Library of the House. It will also be published on the gov.uk website: www.gov.uk/government/publications/afghanistan-progress-reports
I have been following the situation in Hong Kong particularly closely in recent weeks. The Government have called on all sides to ensure that the demonstrations remain peaceful. Equally, it is important that Hong Kong’s fundamental rights and freedoms continue to be respected, including the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in accordance with the law. The Government remain fully committed to the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, on the implementation of which the Foreign Secretary will continue to report to Parliament regularly.
On the question of constitutional reform, the Foreign Secretary and I have consistently expressed to all parties the Government’s view that Hong Kong’s future is best served by a transition to universal suffrage, in line with the Basic Law, which meets the aspirations of the people of Hong Kong, and which offers them a genuine choice in the election of the Chief Executive.
The Government continue to encourage all parties to engage in dialogue and to work towards a consensus that allows a significant step forward for democracy. I look forward in due course to the resumption by the Hong Kong Government of the official consultation on plans to implement universal suffrage in 2017.
Informal Health Council
EU Health Ministers met in Milan on 22 and 23 September The UK was represented by a senior official from the Department of Health. The agenda included discussions on therapeutic innovation for patients’ benefit, the Ebola outbreak and the European Union’s response, cancer prevention and pharmaceutical policy in the commission.
The meeting began with a discussion on therapeutic innovation for the benefit of patients, led by the Italian presidency. The discussion encompassed a broad range of issues including the increasing interaction between industry, patients, prescribers and regulators, the need for greater transparency and sharing of data, and the budgetary challenges posed by high cost new medicines. The UK strongly supported the better use of regulatory flexibilities to support patient access, highlighting the introduction, in the UK, of the early access to medicines scheme, and recognised the importance of encouraging innovation within sustainable healthcare systems.
In terms of the Ebola outbreak, there was a discussion informed by presentations from the Italian presidency, the Chair of the European Parliament Public Health committee and the WHO European Regional Director. The UK recognised the importance of maximising collective resources by sharing information through the EU’s early warning system and in terms of work in-country invited international partners to join their 700 bed initiative (which involves providing 700 beds for Ebola patients in Sierra Leone).
Discussions concerning the prevention of cancer centred on tobacco control, inequalities, screening and a cross-sectoral innovative initiative. The UK stressed the importance of investing in prevention, regarding obesity, tobacco control and alcohol misuse and agreed on the importance of a cross-sectoral approach, also stressing that healthier choices should be the easiest for consumers. The need for flexibility for member states to take initiatives to promote public health was also emphasised by the UK.
A ministerial lunch meeting also took place which focus on palliative care in the context of an ageing population.
Her Majesty's Passport Office
In June, following exceptional demand for passport applications and renewals, I asked the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office to commission two reviews to ensure that HM Passport Office is run in as efficient and accountable a manner as possible. I have considered the outcome of those reviews and relevant Cabinet Office guidance. On 1 October, Her Majesty’s Passport Office ceased to be an Executive agency of the Home Office and now reports directly to Ministers.
On 26 September, I wrote to the chairmen of the Home Affairs Select Committee and Public Accounts Committee to notify them of my decision. A new director general of HM Passport Office will be appointed, taking on HM Passport Office responsibilities, including civil registration.
“Our Commitment to Victims”
On 15 September 2014 the Government published Our Commitment to Victims, setting out a bold new vision for the treatment of victims in the criminal justice system.
This Government have made significant progress in how we support victims: investing more than ever in services for victims, tailoring provision for individual and local need, being clearer about what every victim can expect. But the criminal justice system can be daunting and victims—especially the most vulnerable—can find their experiences traumatic, with no idea where to turn for advice and support.
We need to do more to help victims of crime navigate the system and access the information and support they need, to protect vulnerable victims and witnesses in court, and to guarantee their rights in law. As part of Our Commitment to Victims, we will:
1. Establish a new nationwide Victims’ Information Service by March 2015, and develop this into a comprehensive service that allows victims to access the information and support they need.
2. Strengthen the protection for vulnerable victims by making the experience of going to court a better one.
3. Increase transparency and accountability, to ensure criminal justice agencies are held to account for the services they provide to victims.
4. Introduce a Victims’ Law to guarantee key entitlements for victims.
5. Develop plans for paying compensation to victims up front, rather than victims having to wait for their money.
For the first time, we will create a joined-up experience for victims of crime. A new helpline and website will help victims navigate the criminal justice system, understand progress in their case, and access the support they need to help them to cope and recover from the impact of the crime.
Where vulnerable victims give evidence, we will give them more options about how and where they do so: whether before the day of the trial, or from a location away from the courtroom.
We will require all publicly funded advocates in cases involving serious sexual offences to have appropriate training on working with victims.
Where things go wrong, victims will be helped to direct their complaints more easily. And we will consider whether the ombudsman or other organisations need new powers—underpinned by law—to make sure victims get redress where they deserve it.
Where offenders are ordered to pay compensation, the victim should not have to wait to receive the money until years afterwards, whenever the offender can afford it: we will consult on how they could opt to be paid up front.
Our reforms will be underpinned by legislation when parliamentary time allows but I would hope for a suitable vehicle in the first session of the next Parliament, to ensure that the rights of victims are enshrined in law, putting the key entitlements of the Victims’ Code into primary legislation, and ensuring their voice is heard in court.
Criminal justice and the provision of care and services to victims of crime is a devolved matter in Scotland and Northern Ireland. These proposals apply to England and Wales only.
A copy of Our Commitment to Victims has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The document is also available online, at
I am pleased to announce that I have appointed my right hon. Friend, the Minister for Business and Enterprise, as the Government’s new Anti-Corruption Champion. He will oversee the Government response to domestic and international corruption and his appointment demonstrates the Government’s continued commitment to tackling this issue both at home and abroad.
The Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd have announced two new funds that will provide an additional £30 million of Government support for communities and local economies situated close to the route of HS2 phase one.
HS2 is crucial to the long-term prosperity of this country. It will free up space on our railways, cut journey times between our biggest cities and drive forward our economy for years to come. However, it is only right we do all we can to help those living and working close to this vital railway. The Community and Environment Fund and the Business and Local Economy Fund are being introduced to further help those on phase one of the route between London and the West Midlands.
The £30 million that will be provided from these two funds is in addition to the comprehensive package of support we have already announced and will further help communities and businesses make the most of this once-in-a-generation scheme and crucial part of the Government’s long-term economic plan.
The Community and Environment Fund will support local projects that bring community and environmental benefits to areas affected by HS2, in a similar way that the countryside initiative did for HS1. Examples of projects that could be supported include refurbishment of local community centres or sports grounds and environmental conservation and enhancement. All projects supported by this fund will be in addition to the extensive environmental mitigation already set out within the HS2 Bill and environmental statement.
The Business and Local Economy Fund will support local economies and hence employment, for example, by supporting activities that increase footfall in areas affected by HS2 construction. This fund responds to the representations that honourable Members have made on behalf of businesses in their constituencies that are on the phase one line of route. It is in addition to the wide-ranging measures that we will put in place to enable local people and businesses to obtain employment and contracts arising out of the construction and operation of the railway.
HS2 Ltd will be working with the not-for-profit charity New Philanthropy Capital, which has extensive experience of similar grant schemes, to ensure the funds are delivered in the most effective way possible. They will also advise HS2 Ltd on eligibility and application criteria informed by engagement with local authorities and local enterprise partnerships. We expect to announce full details of the funds, following this work, in early 2015 with the funds becoming available following Royal Assent of the HS2 hybrid Bill.
Work and Pensions
Cold Weather Payments Scheme 2014/15
I am pleased to announce that on 7 October 2014 regulations were laid to amend the cold weather payment scheme. The changes detailed in these regulations will come into force on 1 November this year, in time for the beginning of the winter period.
There have been no Royal Mail postcode changes affecting this year’s scheme. The Meteorological Office however has recommended that the primary station at Manston be replaced with Langdon Bay and the primary station at Lyneham will be replaced with Westonbirt. The Morpeth, Cockle Park station is proposed as a more suitable station than the primary station at Boulmer. There are no proposed changes to postcode linkages for these stations.
Also, and as a result of MPs’ representations, a few postcodes will be re-assigned to suitable weather stations.
This will ensure that the weather stations to postcode links are as representative as the current arrangement.
I am writing to each Member who made representations about the administration of the scheme last winter to make them aware of the advice from the Meteorological Office.
Cold weather payments are separate from, and in addition to, winter fuel payments.
The amendments resulted from the Department’s annual review of the cold weather payments scheme. The review drew on expert advice from the Meteorological Office and took account of representations from benefit claimants and Members of Parliament.
For winter 2014/15 the cold weather payment rate will continue to be £25 for each seven day period of very cold weather.
Today I can confirm plans for the next stage of implementing universal credit to all remaining jobcentres and local authorities as we progress national expansion through 2015-16 and secure delivery of universal credit across Great Britain.
Universal credit is a major reform which is restoring work incentives and transforming the welfare state in Britain for the better.
Once fully implemented, universal credit will account for £70 billion of benefit spending each year with up to £35 billion of potential economic benefits to society over 10 years. It is estimated to increase those in work by up to 300,000 once its impact is fully realised.
For a programme of this scale, the Government’s priority has been, and continues to be, safe and secure delivery. This started with the successful launch of the pathfinder in April 2013 where our test and learn approach enabled us to test that universal credit was working as intended. We have maintained this careful, controlled expansion of universal credit, continually learning as we go, from October 2013.
Universal credit claims are now taken in over 50 jobcentres and will be available in nearly 100 jobcentres by Christmas—more than one in eight across Great Britain.
We have increased the groups who can claim universal credit to include couples and, from this autumn, we will extend this further to include families in the north-west.
Now national expansion will progress from February 2015 to all remaining jobcentres and local authorities for new single claimants previously eligible for jobseeker’s allowance, including those with existing housing benefit and tax credit claims.
The Department continues to deliver universal credit based on experience and early evidence, with changes in perceptions and attitudes beginning to lead to positive changes in behaviour, and will shortly publish its report 'Universal Credit at Work' alongside an associated evaluation.
The universal credit service is being continuously improved, working with our local authority delivery partners to enhance support offered to households. I can confirm:
We are now trialling key aspects of universal support—delivered locally in 11 partnership areas across Great Britain to inform future delivery. These include triaging household needs to tailor personalised integrated services, and the sharing of data, skills and estate to support more households into work—to ensure the right integrated local foundations are established for further universal credit expansion.
We will put in place funded delivery partnership agreements between Jobcentre Plus and local authorities to make available more support for those who need extra help, including developing co-commissioning capability as we establish personal budgeting support in all local communities through expansion.
Through national expansion we will establish these partnerships to help households progress into work as we develop Universal Support—delivered locally building on the Local Support Services Framework—ensuring effective integrated services are established locally ahead of expansion to all claimant groups from 2016 as legacy benefit systems close to new claims.
We are also bringing forward further test and learn innovations. I can confirm:
Universal credit work coaches will engage with all households at their work search interviews to assess financial capability, referring to co-commissioned personal budgeting support for advice as appropriate; and identifying if an alternative payment arrangement is necessary for the housing element of universal credit.
In-work progression pilots will be extended to help households increase their earnings once they have found work. These trials will ensure we develop our approach further based on evidence as we progress universal credit labour market transformation, working in partnership with local authorities, employers, colleges and other partners to boost in-work support and progression.
We will also build smarter segmentation capability for work coaches, including via enhanced digital channels, to maximise the impact and efficiency of early interventions for those who need extra support.
We will commence testing an enhanced digital service for universal credit later this year for the full scope of universal credit households in a limited local area.
Taken together, these steps will secure the delivery of universal credit.
This plan—assured by the Major Projects Authority and signed off by HM Treasury—delivers national expansion and transition, enabling natural migration to build the universal credit case load over time as household circumstances change and they become eligible for, and claim, universal credit.
The Department will personalise support to maximise flows into work as more households move onto universal credit as legacy benefits close to new claims from
2016. This establishes the universal credit service across Great Britain, complete by 2017, with the case load continuing to build naturally thereafter.
We will keep all longer-term plans under review as we progress universal credit based on our test and learn approach, securing long-term transformation of the welfare state and UK labour market in a safe and secure way.