Tuesday 10 February 2015
Business, Innovation and Skills
British Hallmarking Council
Commencement of the triennial review of the British Hallmarking Council (BHC) was announced in Parliament through a written ministerial statement on 9 October 2013 and I am now pleased to announce the completion of the review.
The British Hallmarking Council is a non-departmental public body set up by the Hallmarking Act 1973. With an independent chairman and secretary, its 19 members represent a broad range of interests covering the trade, consumer interest, and the four UK Assay Offices: London, Birmingham, Sheffield, and Edinburgh. The Assay Offices were set up either by statute or charter and are non-profit making organisations that recover their operating costs through hallmarking fees and assay-related services.
The review concludes that the functions performed by the British Hallmarking Council are still required and that it should be retained as an NDPB. The review also examined the governance arrangements for the British Hallmarking Council. The review concluded that the council operates in line with the principles of guidance on good corporate governance set out by the Cabinet Office, but identified opportunities to improve its functions, which were reflected in the stage 2 recommendations.
The full report of the review of the British Hallmarking Council can be found online at: http://www.gov.uk and copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Public Service Pensions Uprating
Legislation governing public service pensions requires them to be increased annually by the same percentage as additional pensions—state earnings-related pension and state second pension. Public service pensions will therefore be increased from 6 April 2015 by 1.2%, in line with the annual increase in the consumer prices index up to September 2014, except for those public service pensions which have been in payment for less than a year, which will receive a pro-rata increase.
Counter-IED Equipment: Iraq
I have today laid before the House a departmental minute describing a package of surplus counter-improvised explosive device (C-IED) equipment, comprising 1,000 surplus Vallon counter-improvised explosive device (C-IED) metal detectors, which the UK intends to gift to Iraq. Iraq is currently facing a severe threat from IED attacks: the number, scale and lethality of which has increased in recent months.
Additionally, the UK will act as the coalition lead for the planning and co-ordination of all aspects of the C-IED training package for the Iraqi security forces and also deploy a team to Erbil to provide training. The gifting package will complement that programme.
This gifting is part of the UK’s contribution to the international coalition to degrade and defeat ISIL. The training team will add to the 560 UK military personnel in the region supporting coalition efforts and building on earlier packages through which the UK has gifted weapons and trained 1,000 Iraqi security forces in how to use them. This is alongside the continued significant UK contribution to coalition air strikes, of which the UK has carried out the second highest to date.
Subject to completion of the departmental minute process, gifting is expected to begin next month.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory
I am writing to inform the House of the publication today of the report of the independent feasibility study on resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory by consultants KPMG LLP. We particularly welcome the contribution of Chagossians and other interested parties here, in Mauritius and Seychelles, in developing the outcome of this factual study resulting in a credible, comprehensive evaluation of the practicalities and substantial challenges of possible resettlement. This is an important milestone, enabling interested parties with different perspectives to better understand the range of issues affecting any potential resettlement.
While recognising the options in KPMG’s report are not exhaustive even for resettlement, the report provides a solid basis on which to begin our policy review. The Government will need to consider carefully the study’s factual findings alongside a range of factors, including the history of the territory and its former population, ongoing costs and liabilities to the UK taxpayer, the ability of the military facility on Diego Garcia to operate unhindered and other Chagossian aspirations that do not involve permanent resettlement of BIOT.
I will keep the House updated on developments. Copies of the full report and accompanying annexes can be found online at: http://www.parliament.uk/writtenstatements
Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration
I am pleased to announce Mr David Bolt’s appointment as the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration. The appointment has been made in accordance with the UK Borders Act 2007 following a fair and open competition. The appointment will be for a fixed term of two years. Mr Bolt will take up post as soon as possible.
David Bolt is currently chief executive of the International Federation of Spirits Producers, an organisation whose purpose is to combat the counterfeiting of its members’ distilled spirits. Between 2006 and 2010 he was executive director of intelligence at the Serious Organised Crime Agency with responsibility for knowledge management, tasking and co-ordination and covert collection. He was deputy director-general at the National Criminal Intelligence Service between 2001 and 2006 with responsibility for the corporate governance division.
Agricultural Tractors and Trailers
Today I am announcing that I am laying the regulations to increase the weight and speed limits of tractors and trailers on roads in Great Britain.
These changes, which I announced on 17 October 2014, are being implemented by The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) Regulations 2015. They will take effect from 9 March 2015. Existing limits will apply until then.
From 9 March 2015 an agricultural tractor towing an agricultural trailer will be able to travel at a higher combination weight limit of 31 tonnes, increasing from 24.39 tonnes. The existing trailer limit of 18.29 tonnes remains in place. This change will allow farmers to more appropriately size their combinations as the current outdated weight limit incentivises farmers to use smaller tractors to tow larger trailers. This change could also increase the amount of produce that some farmers can carry in a journey resulting in fewer journeys and thus fewer risks of incidents.
Furthermore, agricultural tractors and agricultural trailers which are currently restricted under the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 (as amended) to travelling at 20mph will be able to travel at 40km/h (approximately 25mph).
These increases, which I expect to create over £57 million a year in deregulatory savings for the farming industry will, when in force, update our regulations to better reflect modern machinery and bring British farmers more in line with their international counterparts.
The regulations, which come into force on 9 March 2015 will complete the first stage of changes. We are also considering further increases to speed and weight limits including to the 18.29 tonnes trailer weight limit to bring further benefits to the industry alongside a roadworthiness test for harvest 2016.
I am publishing a revised impact assessment alongside the regulations. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Work and Pensions
Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme
My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud) has made the following written statement:
I am today announcing an increase to the tariff of payments made under the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme which was introduced by the Mesothelioma Act in April 2014. I will shortly bring forward regulations to increase the tariff from 80% of average civil claims to 100% for those diagnosed on or after today’s date. While the uprating will apply to those diagnosed from today, the formal payment process will take effect when the regulations become law next month.
This uprating reflects our monitoring of the progress of the scheme. The number of claimants has proven to be below the level anticipated. I made it clear through the passage of the Mesothelioma Act that I planned to monitor the scheme to gauge the extent that the assumptions made when it was being set up had been borne out in practice and would also consider the impact on the insurance companies who pay for it.
It is already clear that the insurance industry, through its Employer Liability Tracing Office, is doing an increasingly good job at tracing insurance policies which means sufferers can more easily pursue compensators for a remedy. I am determined that this success is maintained, reinforced by regulation from the Financial Conduct Authority.
Following discussion with the insurance industry, I have agreed to introduce some additional administrative safeguards to ensure that we can all be confident that the scheme continues to act as we intended and remains a scheme of last resort. I am pleased to be able to agree to their requests.
This change reflects our ongoing commitment to sufferers of this disease and their families.