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Written Statements

Volume 593: debated on Wednesday 4 March 2015

Written Statements

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Cabinet Office

UK Statistics Authority (2011 Census)

The UK Statistics Authority has published the general report of the 2011 census.

The general report is the official, and comprehensive, account of the 2011 census in England and Wales. It reviews the entire census operation and provides a wealth of detail about how the census was carried out and what lessons have been learned.

It is aimed at both the experienced and occasional user of census data, but it is hoped the wider public may also find the report useful and informative.

This general report is being laid before both Houses of Parliament pursuant to the Census Act 1920.

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Treasury

Infrastructure (Sale of Eurostar)

I am pleased to inform the House that the Government have agreed the sale of their entire interest in Eurostar International Ltd (“Eurostar”) for £757.1 million.

The autumn statement 2013 and “National Infrastructure Plan 2013” set out the Government’s ambition to achieve £20 billion from corporate and financial asset sales by 2020. Eurostar was identified as a possible candidate for sale and following a competitive auction process which started in October 2014, the Government have now reached final agreements.

A consortium comprising Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) and Hermes Infrastructure has agreed to acquire Government’s 40% stake in Eurostar for £585.1 million. In addition, Eurostar has, on closing of the sale of the Government stake, agreed to redeem HMG’s preference share, providing a further £172 million for the Exchequer.

Eurostar is the high-speed train service linking London, Ebbsfleet and Ashford with Paris, Brussels, Lille and other French destinations. Established in 1994 as a partnership between three railway companies: SNCF, SNCB and British Rail—subsequently London and Continental Railways (LCR)—Eurostar became a single, unified corporate entity owned by three shareholders: SNCF, SNCB and LCR in September 2010. In June 2014 the ownership of the UK holding transferred from LCR, a Department for Transport owned company, to HM Treasury.

The sale receipts will be paid on completion of the contract, which is expected to happen in the second quarter of 2015. SNCF and SNCB—the other shareholders in Eurostar—have the option (the “Pre-emption Right”) to acquire HMG’s 40% stake for a 15% premium to the agreed price of £585.1 million. Closing of the sale to the CDPQ and Hermes Infrastructure consortium is conditional on SNCF and SNCB not exercising the Pre-emption Right. The transaction is also conditional on certain regulatory approvals including EU merger clearance.

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Communities and Local Government

Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, has made the following written ministerial statement:

I am today announcing key performance targets that have been agreed for the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre for the period 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016.

The agency’s principal financial target for 2015-16 is to achieve a minimum dividend payment to the Department for Communities and Local Government of £1.7 million as proposed in the business plan for the year.

The agency also has the following targets to achieve:

Room hire—to achieve a capacity utilisation ratio of 53%.

To generate secondary revenue from audio visual and information technology services and catering royalty which in total equates to a ratio of 90% of room hire revenue.

To achieve an overall score for client satisfaction of at least 90%.

To receive less than two complaints per 100 events held.

The centre is forecasting an increase in its annual dividend payment to the Exchequer from £1.5 million in 2014-15 to £1.7 million in 2015-16 which is projected to rise further over its corporate plan period.

I am also delighted to announce that the centre has delivered significant improvements and enjoyed considerable success over the course of the last two years.

For the year ending 2014-15 the centre delivered a growth in room hire revenue of 17.3% in comparison to the previous year, a substantial achievement.

For 2014-15 the centre also delivered the best trading results across all income streams since 2009-10 and in one month, June 2014, delivered the highest occupancy level and revenue generating month since it opened 29 years ago.

In economic terms it is estimated that the centre delivered an economic impact to the London and UK economy of £122 million in 2014-15.

The centre remains fully self-funding and has invested wisely in improving its facilities and services and as a result was awarded the 2014 gold award for best large venue by Eventia, the UK’s largest event industry association.

The centre is an increasingly successful profit-making agency, paying an annual dividend which is forecast to increase again in 2015-16 and in each of the years covered by its corporate plan.

I would like to offer my congratulations to the centre’s management team for their proactive and determined efforts in modernising and improving this agency and its performance.

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Deputy Prime Minister

Returning Officers (Indemnity)

It is normal practice, when a Government Department proposes to undertake a contingent liability in excess of £300,000 for which there is no specific statutory authority, for the Minister concerned to present a departmental minute to Parliament giving particulars of the liability created and explaining the circumstances; and to refrain from incurring the liability until 14 parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the minute, except in cases of special urgency.

Returning officers for UK parliamentary elections in England and Wales are appointed under section 24 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (“RPA 1983”). The post is an honorary one, held by the sheriff of a county or the mayor or chairman of a local council. However, in practice, under section 28 of the RPA 1983, the returning officer discharges functions through an acting returning officer, who is usually a senior officer in the local authority.

In Scotland, under sections 25 and 41 of the RPA 1983, returning officers for UK parliamentary elections are appointed local authority officers.

For the purposes of UK parliamentary elections, returning officers and acting returning officers throughout Great Britain—referred to below as “ROs” and “AROs”—are independent officers. They are separate from both central and local government. As a result, they are exposed to a variety of legal risks varying from minor claims for injury at polling booths, to significant election petitions and associated legal costs.

ROs and AROs make their own arrangements to insure themselves against any risks they face in taking forward their statutory duties at local and UK parliamentary elections. The cover obtained usually forms part of the local authority’s own insurance arrangements.

In a small sample of AROs from the Cabinet Office’s electoral policy coordination group, all provided details of existing insurance cover in place with the local authority that extended to cover the AROs conduct in relation to UK parliamentary elections.

The upper limit of [Professional/Officials Indemnity] cover in the sample ranged from £5 million to £15 million, with excesses ranging from nil to £500,000.

This insurance mainly sought to cover:

liability for damages arising out of wrongful acts in the performance of official duties;

reasonable legal expenses for defending any proceedings; and

costs arising out of holding another election.

While this insurance, coupled with local authority’s employers and public liability insurance, will cover the great majority of risks to which ROs and AROs will be exposed to at UK parliamentary elections, they could ultimately be liable for claims of a type not covered by insurance policies. They could also be liable for claims that exceed the insurance limits in existing cover.

In light of this, the Cabinet Office proposes to provide ROs and AROs with a specific indemnity for UK parliamentary elections to supplement the insurance policies that have been arranged locally. The indemnity will fund ROs and AROs for costs—including reasonable legal costs and reasonable expenses—incurred in connection with a UK parliamentary election, which arise in relation to their discharge of responsibilities as RO or ARO but fall outside of the scope of the insurance cover which they have arranged locally, and where all other forms of recourse have been exhausted.

The indemnity will be limited to the extent that:

it will not cover any costs which arise in whole or part from any deliberate or wilful negligence by an ARO/RO;

it will not generally cover any excess costs which the ARO/RO has negotiated on his/her insurance policy—although individual claims for excess costs will be judged on their merits;

it will not cover situations where the ARO/RO’s insurance policy offers an alternative means of cover;

it will not cover any reduction, under section 29A of the Representation of the People Act 1983, in the amount to which the RO or ARO is entitled for his/her services;

it will not cover any penalty imposed in relation to a criminal offence;

it will not cover any claim relating to the carrying out of electoral registration duties; and

it will not cover any claim relating to the use of a motor vehicle where such use should have been covered by a valid insurance policy but was not.

The indemnity will cover costs arising in relation to UK parliamentary elections, including by-elections, where the date of the poll is on or before 31 March 2020. Any claim must be made within 13 months of the poll at the election to which it relates.

The Government gave similar indemnities in relation to previous UK parliamentary general elections.

The likelihood of the indemnity being called is very low. The volume of claims which have been made at previous national elections has been very low. So far there have been no claims against the indemnity given in respect of the recent European parliamentary elections on 22 May 2014. The largest claim met under previous Government insurance or indemnity arrangements for a national election was £24,035.75 at the 2009 European parliamentary election. Minor injury and damage claims met under Government insurance or indemnity arrangements at national elections have amounted to less than £10,000 over the last decade.

However, the possibility of a successful claim in the future cannot be ruled out. The potential risk associated with election petitions could be significant. For example, the costs for the Winchester election petition in 1997, following the general election of that year, amounted to £250,000. If a petition involving an ARO or RO went to a full trial and ran for several days it is conceivable that the bill for legal costs could run into millions of pounds. It is also conceivable that there could be more than one occurrence associated with a single election. The costs of an election petition might not be completely covered through existing insurance arrangements and may require the indemnity to be called upon.

The indemnity is therefore unlimited. If the liability is called, provision for any payment is likely to be met from the Consolidated Fund.

The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle. If, during the period of 14 parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which this minute was laid before Parliament—or, if there are fewer than 14 such sitting days in this Parliament, the period ending with the last sitting day in this Parliament—a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question or by otherwise raising the matter in Parliament, final approval to proceed with incurring the liability will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.

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Energy and Climate Change

Concessionary Coal

I want to update the House on matters concerning the provision of concessionary fuel entitlements to the miners of UK Coal Production Ltd (UKC).

On 15 January 2015, UKC submitted to Government a request for additional public sector funding to extend the life of its two deep coal mines. Under the company’s current plans, Thoresby is due to close in August 2015 and Kellingley in December 2015. The support requested constitutes state aid to the coal sector, which is governed by Council decision 2010/787/EU, and is restricted to facilitating the safe and orderly closure of loss-making coal mines by 2018 at the latest.

The company’s request is for total additional support of £338 million. Of this, £244 million is to cover the mine’s operating losses prior to closure in 2018 (“closure aid” under article 3 of the coal decision) and £94 million is aimed at mitigating the social and environmental impacts of mine closure (article 4 aid for “exceptional costs”).

I wish to announce now that the Government will ensure UKC miners receive their concessionary fuel entitlements.

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Energy Council

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Baroness Verma, has made the following written ministerial statement.

Today, in advance of the forthcoming Energy Council in Brussels on 5 March, I am writing to outline the agenda items to be discussed.

Under the first item on the agenda the Latvian presidency has suggested an exchange of views on the strategic framework for the energy union, with a view to contributing to the discussion and conclusions on the energy union expected at the European Council on 19-20 March. The UK broadly welcomes the Commission’s communication setting out a strategy for a “resilient Energy Union with a forward looking Climate Change Policy” and considers it a promising start to delivering the EU reform needed to strengthen Europe’s energy security, decarbonise cost-effectively and deepen the internal energy market. The UK will be arguing that the scale of the challenges ahead requires further ambition and flexibility and that member states need to be able to draw on the full range of low, and lower, carbon technologies to deliver secure, low carbon and competitive energy, including renewable, energy efficiency, nuclear, CCS and gas.

The Council will then hold a policy debate on energy infrastructure, focusing on measures to promote the efficient implementation of an interconnected cross-border energy market, including ending the energy isolation of member states. The UK agrees that more needs to be done by member states to complete the single market and that particular priority needs to be given to the facilitation of new interconnection and investment projects.

The Commission and presidency will then report on the current situation in relation to European energy security.

Finally, the Czech delegation is expected to present proposals on the European Nuclear Energy Forum.

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