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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
24 March 2015
Volume 594

Written Statements

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Business, Innovation and Skills

Companies House: Public Targets

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I have set Companies House the following targets for the year 2015-16:

Public Targets

Digital

To achieve an average electronic filing target of 85% (received and accepted) by the end of the year.

Customer

Achieve an overall satisfaction score of more than 88% in the Companies House satisfaction survey.

Efficiency

To reduce the average cost per company, adjusted for inflation and excluding exceptional items, by 10% in 2015-16.

Compliance

To achieve a monthly compliance rate of 94% for accounts submitted to Companies House. To achieve a monthly compliance rate of 77% for annual returns submitted to Companies House.

Service availability

Our online services are available 99.9% of the time.

[HCWS453]

Adult Vocational Education

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The Government are today launching the consultation document––“A Dual Mandate for Adult Vocational Education”. A copy will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

This builds on our reform programme to date and explores some of the key issues that will ensure our vocational education system is able to meet the major skills challenges that will face this country over the next five years and beyond.

The issues raised in the document imply important changes for how we think about further education for adults. The further education sector covers a wider range of learners than either schools or higher education. It ranges from basic literacy, numeracy and elementary social skills at a level that would be taught in a primary reception class or even pre-school through to degree level technical education.

The primary focus of the document is on how we can strengthen higher level vocational education in this country. This is defined as education which goes above what should be achieved in compulsory education, but will often not involve a full-time academic degree. This is an area where England has had a historic weakness and where we continue to lag behind the performance of other developed countries.

The Government have started work to reverse these long-term issues: notably by supporting National Colleges as specialist institutions for areas including digital skills, the nuclear industry, high speed rail, and advanced manufacturing techniques; and by introducing high level apprenticeships as a parallel route to full-time higher education in order to provide more choice for learners and increase business engagement. But there is more to do, and sustained action by Government, businesses, and educational institutions will be necessary if we are to succeed.

This second part of the mandate is also important. Further education provides a vital lifeline to those, often in the most disadvantaged circumstances, who reached adulthood without the basic skills they need for the workplace or for modern life. We have set out how we improved the delivery of basic skills and community learning by allowing greater flexibility for providers to tailor services to the needs of users and to innovate by encouraging the development of a more diverse supplier base.

The final section of the document looks at the implications for providers of adult further education, particularly further education colleges. It sets out two key trends that the Government forecast will continue over the rest of this decade and beyond. First, reductions in public funds for skills are unlikely to be reversed, and resource allocation will increasingly be contestable. Secondly, effective delivery will increasingly require greater specialisation.

The Government have supported a shift to greater influence and control over skills at the local level. The logic for such an approach is strong: adult further education essentially serves local labour market needs. The document therefore explores how greater influence at the local level, as signalled by city deals and the devolution agreements with Manchester and Sheffield may be further strengthened and extended in future years.

The consultation period runs until 16 June 2015.

[HCWS457]

Cabinet Office

Public Data Principles

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I am laying the “Report on departmental open data commitments and adherence to public data principles for the period between April and June 2014”.

The report is released on a quarterly basis and details progress against our commitment to open up Government data.

[HCWS454]

Security and Intelligence Agencies: Contingencies Fund Advance

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My statement of 17 March informed Parliament of the intention to access £66,800,000 from the contingency fund pending parliamentary approval of the supply estimates 2014-15. Royal Assent of the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill has been further delayed therefore the Security and Intelligence Agencies are seeking an additional advance of £42,900,000.

As the Security and Intelligence Agencies are non-ministerial departments, I am making this statement on behalf of their Accounting Officer, to ensure that Parliament is informed of this advance from the Contingencies Fund.

[HCWS455]

Treasury

ECOFIN

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A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 10 March 2015. Ministers discussed the following items:

Investment plan for Europe

The Council agreed a general approach on the proposal on the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI). This will allow the presidency, on behalf of the Council, to start negotiations with the European Parliament.

Current legislative proposals

The presidency updated delegations on the state of play of legislative proposals in the field of financial services.

Implementation of the banking union

The Commission informed delegations on the state of play on banking union implementation, providing updates on the bank recovery and resolution directive (BRRD) implementation and the ratification of the intergovernmental agreement (IGA) on the single resolution fund (SRF).

European semester: Country reports

The Commission presented the 27 “Country Reports” published in February.

Implementation of the stability and growth pact

The Commission set out the main conclusions of the country report and in depth review exercise as they related to the stability and growth pact (SGP). The Council adopted, through a vote by Eurozone member states, a recommendation under the excessive deficit procedure (EDP) for France to correct its deficit by 2017.

Other business

ECOFIN had a short exchange of views regarding the fight against tax avoidance, in relation to the presidency “Road Map” on fighting base erosion and profit shifting.

[HCWS466]

Finance Bill

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The Government are today publishing Finance Bill 2015.

In December 2014, the Government published over 250 pages of draft Finance Bill 2015 legislation for technical consultation, meeting their commitment to publish the majority of Finance Bill clauses in draft at least three months ahead of introduction. The final legislation reflects comments received during the consultation process.

The Government have subsequently decided to defer a number of measures previously announced for Finance Bill 2015 to a future Finance Bill, in recognition of the accelerated parliamentary process that the Bill will be subject to. At the same time, a number of priority measures announced at Budget 2015 will be included in the Bill. The detail of these changes is set out in the “Overview of Tax Legislation and Rates”, published on 18 March:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/finance-bill-2015-overview-documents-at-budget-2015

In addition, a number of clauses which had been intended for Finance Bill 2015 have been deferred as a result of discussions with the Opposition in the context of the end-of-Parliament wash up process. These clauses concern:

A new tax exemption for travel expenses of members of local authorities (announced July 2014);

A new statutory exemption from income tax for trivial benefits in kind, implementing a recommendation of the Office of Tax Simplification’s review of employee benefits and expenses (announced at Budget 2014);

Simplifying link company requirements for consortium claims under corporation tax (announced autumn statement 2014);

Changes to scheme rules for the Enterprise Investment Scheme and Venture Capital Trusts (announced at Budget 2015)—on which draft legislation is being published today and which are subject to EU State aid approval; and

A separate rate of excise duty for aqua methanol (announced at Budget 2014).

The Government intend that measures deferred to a future Bill will be legislated at the earliest opportunity in the new Parliament.

[HCWS467]

Culture, Media and Sport

Analogue Commercial Radio Licence Renewals

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The UK has a rich and thriving commercial radio sector, providing a wide range of programmes that appeal to a variety of different tastes. Commercial radio plays a key role in the provision of national, international and local news, delivering large amounts of locally produced and relevant content, and providing a dynamic platform for the UK’s world leading music and entertainment industries.

A key part of supporting commercial radio is the need to create and maintain a stable regulatory framework that fully supports continued investment by commercial radio in the face of increased competition for audiences and changes in patterns of media consumption.

In December 2013, the Government concluded that it was not the right time to commit to a future radio switchover or set a firm or indicative timetable for such a move. This remains the Government’s view. However, the Government fully support the transition to digital radio and have provided up to £7.75 million to fund the expansion of local digital radio coverage to approach commercial FM coverage by September 2016. An effect of the Government’s decision in December 2013 was that the licences which were renewed for seven years under the provisions of the Broadcasting Act 1990—as amended by the Digital Economy Act 2010 Act—will begin to expire from 2017, before a switchover is possible, and leaving around 60 licences facing expiration.

In November 2014, the Government therefore consulted on whether the current legislation should be amended to allow further renewal of existing analogue commercial radio licences without re-advertising the affected licences. Our consultation found that there is widespread support for renewal of the affected licences. Although some respondents considered that the sector and listeners could potentially benefit from re-advertisement of these licences, Government have concluded that the benefits of allowing further renewals outweigh any potential benefits of stations re-competing for licences.

For this reason, the Government believe it is appropriate to give Ofcom the ability to further renew national and local analogue commercial radio licences under sections 103B (which covers national licences) and 104AA (which covers local licences) of the Broadcasting Act 1990 for a further period of five years. We believe a renewal period of this length will drive momentum in the continued transition to digital radio, and provide commercial radio with the stability it needs to support this transition.

The Government therefore intend to lay a Legislative Reform Order in Parliament as soon as possible to bring forward this change.

The Government are also today publishing their response to the consultation, alongside the full impact assessment and findings of an independent study carried out by value partners into the advantages and disadvantages of the proposals on which we consulted.

We believe this important change will continue to support the whole of commercial radio and provide the necessary stability for the sector as a whole as it moves towards a digital future.

[HCWS465]

Defence

Logistics Commodities and Services Transformation Programme

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On 23 February 2015, in a ministerial written statement, I informed the House that Leidos had been selected as the preferred bidder for a transformation programme within Logistic Commodities and Services (LCS), part of Defence Equipment and Support.

Contractual negotiations have now been completed, and I am pleased to announce that the Ministry of Defence will shortly be signing a 13-year contract with Leidos to run the procurement and inventory management of commodity items and the storage and distribution elements of LCS. The transformation programme is expected to deliver financial savings of around £0.5 billion over the life of the contract and involve the TUPE transfer of some 1,250 staff. It will bring defence logistics up to the standard of industry best practice, deliver more efficient and effective processes across the supply chain and enhance the quality of support provided to our armed forces.

LCS staff are based at a number of MOD sites across the United Kingdom, but the bulk of the current LCS storage activity in the UK is located at LCS Bicester in Oxfordshire and LCS Donnington in Shropshire. The majority of procurement and inventory management of commodity items is currently undertaken at Abbey Wood, Bristol. It is of course early days and I cannot be definitive on the impact on jobs; it is a matter for Leidos, ultimately, to determine the number of staff necessary to undertake the work. What I can say is we do not foresee any site closures as a direct result of LCS(T).

Team Leidos is a skilled and experienced team of private sector defence and logistic specialist partners with the global expertise to deliver the transformation required. The programme represents a significant financial investment in new facilities—including the investment of around £90 million in the construction of a new defence fulfilment centre next to the existing LCS site at Donnington in Shropshire—and a further £40 million investment in new IT systems to provide the modern and efficient services that the UK armed forces need.

[HCWS473]

Welfare and Duty of Care in Armed Forces Initial Training: Ofsted Report

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Today Ofsted publish their eighth report on welfare and duty of care in armed forces initial training, copies of which I have placed in the Library of the House. Following inspections of eight armed forces initial training establishments between September 2014 and January 2015, Ofsted report that recruits and trainees feel safe and that their welfare needs are being broadly met.

The report is, largely, a positive one and emphasises the improvement in many aspects of welfare and duty of care in the establishments inspected; indeed all the locations assessed by Ofsted were judged as “good” or better, and two, in particular, were rated as “outstanding”. In a change from previous years Ofsted conducted, for the first time, an ungraded monitoring visit to review the arrangements for welfare and duty of care of phase 1 reserve recruits. This reflects the growing importance of the reserves within the armed forces as a whole and paves the way for further Ofsted involvement with reserve forces training in future years.

In another development this year, Ofsted conducted visits to each of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force training headquarters. These visits, which did not result in graded judgements, identified strengths in the provision of support and strategic direction for training, as well as identifying specific areas for development and improvement.

Ofsted make a number of recommendations for improvement, particularly in the areas of instructor selection and qualification, site infrastructure and information and data management and analysis.

The armed forces remain committed to ensuring that initial training is supportive of the needs of its recruits, cadets and trainees and this year’s Ofsted report provides assurance and recommendations to maintain our commitment to a culture of continuous improvement.

[HCWS463]

Service Complains Commissioner: Annual Report

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I am pleased to lay before Parliament today the Service Complaints Commissioner’s annual report for 2014 on the fairness, effectiveness and efficiency of the service complaints system.

This is the first report to be published by Nicola Williams as the Service Complaints Commissioner, and covers the work of her office in 2014 under the leadership of her predecessor Dr Susan Atkins. I would like to take this opportunity to echo her praise for the work done by Dr Atkins during her time in post.

The report details those areas where further work is required to make improvements to the way complaints are handled, while also recognising the good work that the services have undertaken during 2014 and the changes that they have made to the way they manage complaints. The continuous improvement approach that the services have adopted since the complaints system was introduced in 2008 has, year on year, delivered significant changes to how complaints are managed by all those involved in the process. These changes, and those proposed by the Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill will make the process shorter and quicker, while also strengthening oversight and accountability through the powers of the new Service Complaints Ombudsman.

The findings of the report and the recommendations made are now being considered in detail. A formal response to the Commissioner will follow when that work is complete.

[HCWS472]

Independent Medical Expert Group: Triennial Review

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I am today announcing the start of the triennial review of the Independent Medical Expert Group. Triennial reviews are part of the Government’s commitment to ensuring that non-departmental public bodies continue to have regular independent challenge.

The review will examine whether there is a continuing need for the Independent Medical Expert Group’s function and its form, and whether it should continue to exist at arm’s length from Government. Should the review conclude there is a continuing need for the body, it will go on to examine whether the body’s control and governance arrangements continue to meet the recognised principles of good corporate governance.

The House will be informed of the outcome of the review, which is expected to be completed in the summer.

[HCWS469]

Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committees: Triennial Review

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The Ministry of Defence is required to review their non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) at least once every three years to ensure that they have regular independent challenge. I am today announcing the review to examine whether there is a continuing need for the function provided by the Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committees

The review will be conducted in two stages. The first stage will examine the key functions of the VAPCs. If the outcome of this stage is that delivery should continue, the second stage of the review will ensure that the body is operating in line with the recognised principles of good corporate governance.

I will inform the House of the outcome of the review in the summer when it is completed.

[HCWS468]

Energy and Climate Change

International Investments

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Further to the statement made on 11 June 2014 by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, I would like to inform Parliament that we have agreed, along with the Secretary of State for International Development, to pursue a new pilot joint venture with the UK Green Investment Bank (GIB) to assist in investment of the UK’s international climate fund (ICF).

GIB has been very successful in mobilising private sector investment into the UK’s green infrastructure and economy—since its official launch in autumn 2012, GIB has invested in 42 projects and committed £1.8 billion of capital, which will deliver £6.6 billion of new infrastructure investment. The projects supported by GIB will, when complete, save 3.7 million tonnes of CO2 per year. At the same time, the Government have ambitious targets for providing support to projects in developing countries that will mitigate climate change or enable communities to adapt to its effects. Developed countries have committed to jointly mobilising US$100 billion of climate finance a year by 2020 for developing countries, from both public and private sources. The UK is playing its part; we have already allocated £3.87 billion to the UK’s ICF to finance such projects. This also contributes to the Government’s 0.7% of GNI aid commitment. Unmitigated climate change will hit the poorest first and hardest.

It is vital that we use public climate finance to catalyse private investment into developing countries. By working with the Green Investment Bank, DECC will be able to draw on its unique mix of investment expertise, commercial discipline and close alignment of green policy objectives to maximise the impact and effectiveness of UK climate finance.

We intend to commit £200 million of UK climate finance in the pilot over three years, to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in developing countries; supporting economic growth, job creation, and development of reliable energy infrastructure. In doing so the pilot aims to demonstrate the commercial viability of low carbon investment and crowding-in of private investment in addition to delivering significant emissions reductions. This will complement the existing portfolio of ICF investments, which work through multilateral development partners, such as the World Bank, as well as direct support to programmes developed and delivered in countries.

This new venture will have no impact on the resources or capital of £3.8 billion which we have allocated to GIB for investment in the UK. GIB remains fully committed to helping the UK meet its domestic climate change goals. Indeed, this additional activity should benefit GIB’s core UK operations as GIB further builds its global reputation both as an expert in green finance and as a fund manager.

The UK’s financial services industry is world renowned, as is our leadership in tackling climate change, and this vehicle brings together these two strengths in a partnership that will enhance the UK’s reputation globally.

[HCWS462]

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council

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My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 16 March in Brussels. The Foreign Affairs Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini.

Dimitris Avromopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, was in attendance for the working lunch at the FAC on migration. The General Affairs Council was chaired by the Latvian presidency. The meetings were held in Brussels.

Foreign Affairs Council

A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/fac/2015/03/16/

Africa

Ministers held an in depth strategic discussion on EU relations with Africa, covering peace, prosperity and partnership with regional African organisations. Ms Mogherini highlighted the opportunities Africa offered to the EU and was keen to emphasise that there was a story of progress, growth, and economic opportunity. The Foreign Secretary highlighted the need to focus on both challenges and opportunities, highlighting the contribution Africa could make to an EU energy strategy. He also highlighted the economic benefits that could flow from reform, with the prospect of greater inward investment for those countries that provided good governance and stability.

The Council adopted conclusions on Ebola, noting the scope for the EU and its member states to keep playing a leading role in supporting co-operation in the affected region to end Ebola and ensuring it did not resurge. The Council also adopted conclusions on the Gulf of Guinea action plan, and Mali.

Libya

Ministers discussed the situation in Libya and possibilities for EU support in the event of a positive outcome of the UN-led peace talks. Ms. Mogherini stressed the need for urgent consideration of possible EU support once a National Unity Government was established. The Foreign Secretary agreed that the EU needed to be prepared to respond swiftly to the different scenarios, and set out the importance of focusing on the twin-tracks of the political process and counter-terrorism. He also highlighted the need for the EU to focus on working with international partners to stem the flow of irregular migrants and weapons from Libya, and ensuring that Libya’s financial assets were safeguarded for the benefit of all Libyans. Other member states emphasised concerns over the humanitarian situation, irregular migration flows, energy instability and the rise of extremists. Ministers called on the high representative to prepare policy options, including on possible CSDP activities, ahead of the April FAC. The Commission was also invited to develop a comprehensive strategy for Libya, taking into account the regional context.

Migration

Over lunch, ministers explored how EU foreign policy could contribute to comprehensively tackling Europe’s migration challenges. The debate will feed into the preparation of more concrete proposals for decision at one of the next Foreign Affairs Councils.

Eastern Partnership

The FAC discussed preparations for the fourth Eastern Partnership summit in Riga on 21 and 22 May 2015. The summit, chaired by European Council President Donald Tusk, will bring EU heads of state or Government together with those of Eastern partner countries. A meeting between EU Foreign Ministers and their counterparts from the Eastern Partnership countries is scheduled to take place in the margins of the Foreign Affairs Council in April.

Other business

Hungary raised the situation of Christians in Iraq and passed on a request from the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil for humanitarian assistance. Luxembourg raised Israel’s withholding of tax receipts from the Palestinian Authority.

Ministers agreed without discussion a number of other measures:

The Council adopted conclusions on the EU regional strategy for Syria and Iraq as well as the ISIL/Da’esh threat

The Council welcomed the political agreement to conclude the Bosnia-Herzegovina SAA

The Council approved the EU position for the EU-Ukraine Association Council: The EU agreed the EU-Ukraine Co-operation Council would adopt the EU-Ukraine association agenda

The Council established the EU position for the first meeting of the EU-Moldova Association Council, to take place on 16 March 2015 in Brussels

The Council adopted the EU position for the 11th meeting of the EU-Tunisia Association Council, which will be held on 17 March 2015 in Brussels

The Council authorised the EU to approve the implementation of the EU-Tunisia action plan at the EU-Tunisia Association Council

The Council extended the mandates of two EU special representatives until 31 October 2015:

1. EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa, Mr Alexander Rondos. A budget of €1.77 million was allocated to him for the period between 1 March 2015 and 31 October 2015.

2. EU Special Representative for the Sahel, Mr Michal Reveyrand-de Menthon. €900.000 has been set aside for his activities during the period between 1 March 2015 and 31 October 2015.

The Council authorised the opening of negotiations for an agreement on co-operation between the United Nations and the European Union in crisis management operations

The Council extended the mandate of the EU military mission to contribute to the training of Somali security forces

The Council launched the EU military advisory mission in the Central African Republic

The Commission pledged €1 million to Vanuatu in the wake of Cyclone Pam.

General Affairs Council

A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/gac/2015/03/17/

The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 17 March focused on: preparation of the European Council on 19 and 20 March 2015; and the European semester 2015.

Preparation of the March European Council

The GAC prepared the 19 and 20 March European Council, which the Prime Minister attended. The March European Council agenda covered: energy union, including energy security; the internal market and climate security; economic issues including the annual European semester process; and external relations issues, including Ukraine, Libya and the Eastern Partnership summit to be held in Latvia in May.

On energy union I emphasised the importance of having the right governance system in place. Member states must have flexibility to decarbonise in the most efficient way by choosing their own energy mix and the EU must not impose unnecessary burdens, as was recognised at the 2014 October European Council. I also welcomed the commitment to a technology and innovation strategy, but as set out in the Commission’s communication, this should cover the full range of emerging technologies.

On economic issues, I supported the goal of concluding negotiations on an ambitious, comprehensive and mutually beneficial TTIP agreement by the end of the year. I also emphasised the need to pursue the better regulation agenda and reduce regulatory burdens, especially for SMEs.

European semester 2015

The GAC noted the presidency synthesis report and updated road map for the 2015 European semester for further discussion at the March European Council.

Any other business

Under any other business, the presidency briefed the Council on a letter it had received from the Icelandic Minister for Foreign Affairs outlining the intentions of the Government of Iceland in relation to their application to join the EU.

[HCWS460]

British Indian Ocean Territory: Resettlement

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My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr Hugo Swire, informed the House on 10 February 2015 of the next steps in the Government’s review of its resettlement policy in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), following completion, on schedule, of an independent feasibility study. The study found there was not a clear indication of likely demand for resettlement, and costs and liabilities to the UK taxpayer were uncertain and potentially significant. Ministers have now agreed that further work should proceed to address these fundamental uncertainties to a point that a decision on the way ahead is possible.

[HCWS461]

Home Department

Passport Office: Annual Report

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The annual report and accounts for Her Majesty’s Passport Office has been laid before the House today.

On 26 September 2014, the Home Secretary announced that Her Majesty’s Passport Office would cease to operate as a separate agency and would be absorbed into the Home Office on 30 September. These accounts cover the period from 1 April to 30 September 2014 only.

Copies of the report are available from the Vote Office.

[HCWS470]

National DNA Database: Ethics Group Annual Report

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My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) has today made the following written ministerial statement:

I am pleased to announce the publication of the 7th annual report of the National DNA Database Ethics Group on 24 March 2015. The group was established on 25 July 2007 to provide Ministers with independent ethical advice on the operation and practice of the National DNA database.

I welcome the recommendations made within the report including the need to ensure rigour across DNA methodologies to minimise the risk of error and contamination and the importance of sharing DNA information internationally in order to assist in the apprehension of those that commit crimes across national borders.

The Ethics Group’s annual report can be viewed on the website of the National DNA Database Ethics Group and I am arranging for a copy to be placed in the Library the House.

[HCWS471]

Transport

Crossrail 2 Safeguarding Consultation Response

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I am today publishing a response document summarising the views given during the consultation on updating the safeguarding direction for the proposed Crossrail 2 rail project, and providing the Government’s response.

The Government have considered the responses to the consultation carefully, and the Secretary of State has decided to issue the safeguarding direction with changes at Wimbledon, Wandsworth Common, Angel and Soho Square. The updated direction will come into effect from today.

Crossrail 2 is a proposed new rail line across Central London, running from New Southgate and Tottenham Hale in the north-east to Wimbledon in the south-west. The route passes through the City of Westminster, the London boroughs of Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Merton, and Wandsworth, and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Safeguarding is the first stage in the planning process. It enables the Secretary of State for Transport to issue a direction to local planning authorities to protect land needed for long-term infrastructure projects. Safeguarding does not necessarily prevent other developments from taking place, but it ensures that when they do take place the design can accommodate the planned infrastructure.

The response document will be made available on the Department for Transport website. Copies of the response document, the direction, guidance and associated maps have been made available in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS458]

Budapest Convention on Contract for Carriage of Goods by Inland Waterways

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The Government have decided to opt in to the proposed Council decision authorising Austria, Belgium and Poland to ratify, or to accede to, the Budapest convention on the contract for the carriage of goods by inland waterways (CMNI).

The Budapest convention was adopted by the diplomatic conference organised jointly by the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine and the Danube Commission in collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. It entered into force on 1 April 2005, and is intended to harmonise contractual and navigational standards on inland waterways in European countries. The UK is not a contracting party to the Budapest convention.

The convention is intended to harmonize contractual and navigational standards on inland waterways in European countries. Article 29 of the Budapest convention contains provisions on the choice of law by the parties to a contract of carriage falling under the convention. Those provisions affect the rules laid down in the Rome I regulation, which came into force on 24 July 2008 and applies in situations involving a conflict of laws and to contractual obligations in civil and commercial matters.

Austria and Poland have on several occasions expressed their interest in becoming parties to the convention. Although Belgium ratified the Budapest convention on 5 August 2008, it was after the adoption and entry into force of regulation (EC) 593/2008—the Rome I regulation—on the law applicable to contractual obligations within the EU. Therefore, the Budapest convention falls partly under exclusive European Union competence, because of its relationship with the EU regulation and any member state wishing to join the Budapest convention is first required to obtain Union authorisation to do so. The proposal is therefore also addressed to Belgium, in order to ensure Union authorisation and to rectify the currently unlawful situation.

The proposal has been published with a legal base falling within title V of part 3 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union (TFEU)—justice and home affairs (JHA) matters. The EU currently has competency in this matter; the Government also maintain that the UK is still entitled to use its opt-in under protocol 21 of the treaty and in negotiations the Government will continue to seek amendments to the wording of the relevant recital of the proposed decision to reflect this. If the Government are unable to succeed, we will revert to laying a minute statement to underline the UK’s position.

The UK is not a party to the Budapest convention and has no cross-border exchange of goods within EU inland waterways. The UK has previously indicated, as has the Republic of Ireland, that there is no commercial carriage of goods by inland waterways between the two and so there is no impact on the UK. Nonetheless, it is clearly an important legal instrument for those member states that do have cross-border exchange of goods within EU inland waterways, since it provides a mechanism for resolving conflicts of law in relation to the contracts associated with the carriage of goods.

Since the provisions are not expected to have any impact on UK businesses or operations involving contracts for the carriage of goods by inland waterways, and there are no effects on relations with the three member states seeking authorisation, the Government have chosen to opt in.

[HCWS459]

Work and Pensions

Employment Support

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Today I am pleased to announce the outcome of the recent commercial procurement exercise to select providers for the new specialist employability support contracts, the new provision which replaces the residential training college contracts.

Funding will be maintained at the current level, but will help more than double the current number of disabled people and comprehensively improve the geographic availability and accessibility of intensive support.

Specialist employability support is an innovative new programme that will focus on helping those disabled people who need the most support either to enter work or to move closer to the labour market and engage in further employment related courses or activities.

Specialist employability support will offer intensive, specialist support to disabled people, provided by a network of more than 70 specialist organisations throughout the country.

This new provision will ensure that high quality, intensive support is accessible to twice as many people than under current contracts, with the annual number of customers helped increasing from around 800 to up to 1,700. In addition, over the two years of the contract we anticipate that the new programme will deliver around 1,250 job outcomes, up to two thirds of which will lead to sustained employment in the open labour market.

The new programme is designed to forge stronger links with a range of other programmes and will bring together a variety of existing Work Choice and Work programme providers, many different specialist voluntary organisations and a number of condition-specific specialists.

Specialist employability support will be provided through six separate contracts, each providing national coverage to ensure that the customer group has the optimum choice of support.

Four will be “pan disability” contracts, meaning that support will be provided for people with a wide range of disabilities. Two will be specialist sensory impairment contracts; one focusing on people whose primary disability is a visual impairment, the other on supporting people whose primary disability is a hearing impairment.

The specialist employability support programme features two main types of support:

Specialist employability support—which consists of intensive, employability support provision, and;

Specialist employability support start back—which is a shorter term provision that will help to prepare disabled people for other support provided by DWP or other organisations. All six specialist employability support providers will offer both support options.

The six successful bidders were:

Pan disability

Shaw Trust

Remploy

Kennedy Scott

Steps to Employment

Visual impairment

Royal National College for the Blind

Hearing impairment

Doncaster Deaf Trust

The new provision will go live on 1 September 2015.

There was strong competition for each of the contracts on offer, with bids showing real innovation and flexibility. The majority of the current residential training colleges were involved in successful tenders to continue to provide support under the new provision.

DWP has consistently engaged with the existing contractors to prepare them for the tendering process and has developed a range of potential options to support the two residential training colleges currently offering DWP provision who will not be involved in delivery of the new provision.

[HCWS464]

Social Security Advisory Committee

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My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Lord Freud, has made the following written statement:

Today, I will publish the outcome of the review of the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC). I am pleased to announce that the Government support the continuation of the committee in its current form. The Department for Work and Pensions has completed a robust examination of the committee’s functions, delivery arrangements and governance structure. The review was carried out in line with the Cabinet Office’s key principles for reviews of non-departmental public bodies (NDPB). The SSAC is a cost-effective advisory NDPB whose functions are integral to improving the quality of policy making and of secondary legislation in the Department for Work and Pensions. I attach a copy of the review report to this statement and will place a copy in the Library of the House.

[HCWS456]