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Written Statements

Volume 586: debated on Friday 17 October 2014

Written Statements

Friday 17 October 2014

Cabinet Office

The Osmotherly Rules

On 2 October 2014 the Prime Minister announced that John Manzoni had been appointed to the new position of Chief Executive of the Civil Service. Details of that announcement can be found on gov.uk: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/chief-executive-for-civil-service-appointed

The Government have also published the latest progress report on Civil Service reform. This report can also be found on gov.uk: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/civil-service-reform-plan-progress-report

Our Civil Service Reform Plan committed to reviewing the Osmotherly Rules—the guidance to departments governing the nature of Ministers “and civil servants” interactions with Select Committees. Following consultation with the Liaison Committee I will today publish updated guidance on gov.uk. This restates the primacy of the principle of ministerial accountability but confirms that the Senior Responsible Owners (SROs) of the Government’s major projects (as defined by the Major Project Authority’s Portfolio) will now be directly accountable to Parliament for the implementation of their project. We also confirm that former Accounting Officers can be called to give evidence about their previous responsibilities within a reasonable time period. We will publish a list of SROs in due course and update it periodically.

The updated guidance is available at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/departmental-evidence-and-response-to-select-committees-guidance

Treasury

Peer-to-Peer Loans

To extend choice for savers the Government are consulting on the proposal to allow peer-to-peer loans to be included within ISAs, allowing earnings on interest to be entirely tax free.

The consultation “ISA qualifying investments: consultation on including peer-to- peer (P2P) loans” forms part of the Government’s wider drive to support savers by increasing the choice of investments available to ISA investors. It also supports the Government’s aim to diversify the different sources of finance that are available to borrowers by encouraging the growth of the peer-to-peer lending sector.

Following Budget 2014, the Government have informally consulted with interested parties, seeking their views on the best way to implement the inclusion of peer-to-peer loans within ISAs. This next stage of formal consultation aims to engage with a wider range of stakeholders and individuals involved in the investment industry.

The consultation seeks views on whether peer-to-peer loans should be included in existing stocks and shares ISAs, or whether they would be best suited to a new, third type of ISA. The Government also ask whether peer-to-peer loans should be subject to the same transfer requirements as existing ISA investments, and whether they are suitable assets to be held in child trust funds and junior ISAs. The consultation will run for eight weeks, closing on Friday 12 December 2014 and can be found at the following address:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/isa-qualifying-investments-consultation-on-including-peer-to-peer-loans.

Defence

Gibraltar

I made my first visit to Gibraltar as Secretary of State on 15 and 16 October. During my visit I met with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, the hon. Fabian Picardo QC, and reaffirmed the closeness of the partnership between the Government of Gibraltar and the Ministry of Defence, the strategic importance of the permanent joint operating base there, and the UK’s continuing commitment to protecting and preserving the sovereignty of Gibraltar, including British Gibraltar Territorial Waters. Together with the Chief Minister, I also paid tribute to all those working in support of the Ministry of Defence’s activities in Gibraltar.

The Chief Minister and I agreed jointly a package of new measures including agreement that the UK and Gibraltar will share equally the cost of the first resurfacing work at Gibraltar Airport in over 20 years. The runway resurfacing agreement will ensure the future operation of the airport, and maintain Gibraltar as a forward mounting base for Defence as well as helping to ensure Gibraltar’s continuing economic development. I also welcomed the Chief Minister’s commitment to introduce legislation in the next few weeks to place the Royal Gibraltar Regiment on the same footing as its British Army counterparts, highlighting its valuable contribution in Gibraltar and deployed on operations.

The Chief Minister and I also reaffirmed our joint commitment to transfer Defence Fire and Rescue Services in Gibraltar to the Government of Gibraltar at the earliest opportunity, and to complete a series of transfers of areas of land no longer required for Defence purposes to the Government of Gibraltar to retain, or dispose of, for community or commercial use.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Gifting of Equipment to the Lebanese Armed Forces

Contagion from the worsening crisis in Syria is having a direct effect on its neighbours, particularly in areas adjacent to Lebanon’s eastern border. The UK remains firmly committed to Lebanon’s stability, and in supporting the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to minimise contagion from the Syrian conflict, and to combat the spread of ISIL. As part of this commitment, since 2012, the UK has been assisting the LAF to establish and mentor the LAF Land Border Regiments (LBRs). The mission of the LBRs is to observe, identify, deter and interdict activities by illegal armed actors in the near border areas, in line with agreed international human rights standards. Between 2012 and 2014 around £14 million of conflict pool funds was allocated to enhance the capabilities of 1 and 2 LBRs. These efforts have resulted in the construction of 12 protected border observation posts along 140km of the border, and the deployment of the two LBRs.

Recent ISIL actions in the Arsal area, and the threat that ISIL poses to UK interests, now make it imperative that the LAF expands the presence of the LBRs southwards, as part of an overall strategy to bring the entire eastern border with Syria back under the authority of the state. The Commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces has recently authorised the establishment of 3 LBR to cover a further 70km of the border south from Arsal to Tfail. He has requested UK assistance consistent with that already provided to 1 and 2 LBRs.

The departmental minute laid today therefore sets out our intention to gift a package of £3,596,844 of equipment to support the establishment of the 3rd Land Border Regiment of the Lebanese Armed Forces. The proposed gift will be funded by the Government’s conflict pool programme and will consist of the following UK sourced equipment:

800 sets of personal protective equipment, including body armour, helmets, gloves, belts, first aid kits, camouflage clothing and protective glasses. £793,600

14 Land Rover Defenders and additional equipment to enable them to operate in difficult terrain. £408,244

5 protected border observation posts and 6 mobile observation platforms, with observation aids and ballistic protection for fixed 3 LBR positions. £1,395,000

Radio equipment to allow the command elements of 3LBR to link back to LAF HQ in Beirut. £1,000,000

Alongside the gift, the UK is expanding its existing package of training and mentoring with additional operational and engineering expertise worth £1,402,197.

The proposed gift has been assessed against the consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. The proposed gift has been scrutinised and approved by a senior, cross-Whitehall conflict pool approval board, which has confirmed that it fits with the Government’s strategic and delivery objectives. Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials also assessed the project for human rights risks, using the Overseas Security and Justice Assistance guidelines established by the Foreign Secretary in 2011. They concluded that the risk of human rights violations arising from the project’s delivery could be successfully mitigated.

The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle. If, during the period of 14th parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which the minute was laid before the House of Commons, a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question or a motion relating to the minute, or by otherwise raising the matter in the House, final approval of the gift will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.

Gifting of Non-lethal Equipment to Ukraine

The UK is committed to supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. The situation in eastern Ukraine remains extremely fragile despite the Minsk protocol, including a ceasefire agreement, being signed on 5 September. We are seeing daily outbreaks of violence which have led to over 50 Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) fatalities since the ceasefire began. Some progress has been made including the withdrawal of several thousand Russian regular troops, but we estimate a few hundred remain. The UAF are facing a chronic shortage of basic equipment which will become more acute when winter sets in. Our non-lethal equipment package is defensive and designed to prevent further UAF fatalities and casualties.

It will be funded by the Government’s conflict pool fund (FCO, MOD and DFID). It is in response to a direct request from the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (UAF). The Defence Attache’s Office at the British Embassy in Kyiv has designed the package in close co-operation with the UAF. It has also been carried out in close co-ordination with other donors (US, Canada and France), who are providing similar equipment.

The departmental minute laid today therefore sets out our intention to gift a package of £840,300 of equipment to the Ukraine Armed Forces. The proposed gift will consist of the following UK-sourced equipment:

1. 1000 sets of body armour (NIJ level IV) and helmets (NIJ Level IIIA): £408,000

2. 80 Medical kits (for vehicles): £52,800

3. 500 sets of winterisation equipment (winter clothing/sleeping bags): £314,500

4. 500 Ponchos: £10,000

5. Transport and clearance: £55,000

The proposed gift has been assessed against the consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. The proposed gift has been scrutinised and approved by a senior, cross-Whitehall conflict pool approval board, which has confirmed that it fits with the Government’s strategic and delivery objectives. Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials also assessed the project for human rights risks, using the Overseas Security and Justice Assistance guidelines established by the Foreign Secretary in 2011. They concluded that the risk of human rights violations arising from the project’s delivery could be successfully mitigated.

The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle. If, during the period of 14th parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which this minute was laid before the House of Commons, a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question or of a motion relating to the minute, or by otherwise raising the matter in the House, final approval of the gift will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.

Transport

Agricultural Tractors and Trailers (Weight and Speed Limit)

Today I will be announcing my intention, following public consultation and the recommendations from the farming task force, to increase the weight and speed limits of agricultural tractors and trailers and to develop detailed proposals for a roadworthiness test for these vehicles. These changes will apply to Great Britain and will be introduced in two distinct phases from spring 2015. I intend to update these regulations to better reflect the capabilities of modern machinery, improve the efficiency of the farming sector and help to boost the economy.

The regulations governing tractors and trailers are outdated and the limits were set in the 1980s and do not reflect the significant advances in technology that have been made in this sector. As well as having improved braking systems today’s tractors are heavier.

Current weight restrictions to the total combined weight of tractors and trailers offer farmers a perverse incentive to use smaller tractors to pull large trailers, in order to maximise the amount of produce that they can carry within the maximum weight allowed. Larger tractors pulling trailers laden to the same weight will tend to be better matched to the loads. There would also be fewer journeys and hence less risk of incidents.

Initial changes to weights and speed limits will be introduced by March 2015 through amendments to the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations. I expect these changes to generate almost £62 million in deregulatory benefits to farmers per year and bring our farmers more in line with their international counterparts.

I intend to increase the maximum combination weight limit for tractors and trailers from 24.39 ton to 31 ton. This will allow farmers to have more flexibility in sizing their combinations, allow larger tractors to haul the same maximum loads that smaller ones do already and will offer some farmers a modest increase in the amount of produce they can carry in each journey. The maximum laden weight of trailers will remain unchanged (at 18.29 ton) and the maximum axle weights for tractors and trailers will not change.

An effective speed limit of 25mph will be applied for conventional tractors. Modern tractors are designed to safely travel at speeds of up to, or over 25mph, but current regulations restrict their speed to 20mph, lower than many other EU countries. We are therefore unnecessarily restricting our farmers, adding time and cost on to their operations. Those tractors allowed to exceed 25mph will continue to be subject to tighter design and regulatory requirements.

Phase 2 is planned for introduction before harvest 2016 and it includes the consideration of further increases in weights and speeds, including maximum laden trailer weight limits and a roadworthiness test for some agricultural tractors and trailers.

I am also publishing today the summary of responses for the consultations into examining the maximum weights of agricultural trailers and combinations and examining the maximum speed limit of tractors on public road, as well as the Government’s response and the impact assessment which cover both measures. I shall ensure copies are placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Work and Pensions

Workplace Pensions

Four million people have been automatically enrolled into workplace pensions since 2012—a significant step as we expand retirement saving in the UK. Millions more will be enrolled before 2018 as the workplace market is transformed.

We must make sure workplace pensions are well governed, with competent trustees and managers and members’ interests at the heart of everything they do. Today’s Command Paper confirms that we intend to place minimum governance standards on all money purchase schemes. The Pensions Regulator and the Financial Conduct Authority will continue working with the DWP to make sure members are protected regardless of the type of workplace arrangement they are saving into.

We will also press on with the charges measures we announced in March—protecting members from high and unfair charges. Today we provide more detail on how these protections will be implemented, along with more information on measures to drive greater transparency, so pension savers and those running schemes know exactly what they are paying for.

Alongside today’s Command Paper we are publishing draft regulations on the governance and charges measures that, subject to parliamentary approval and any changes as a result of this consultation, will commence from April 2015. The consultation will last for four weeks and we look forward to engaging with our stakeholders during that period to make sure we get this important legislation right.

This Government are putting savers at the heart of the pensions system. Alongside the flexibilities announced in the Budget, these measures will provide savers with the best chance of securing a financially independent retirement.