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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
25 March 2015
Volume 594

Written Statements

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Business, Innovation and Skills

National Measurement and Regulation Office

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I have tasked the National Measurement and Regulation Office (NMRO) to simplify technical regulation for the benefit of British business.

I have agreed with the NMRO that their objectives for 2015-2016 will be to:

simplify the legislative framework for weights and measures and hallmarking to support well-functioning competitive markets, and use our strong international influence to shape new and existing EU legislation to ensure that burdens on UK business are minimised or eliminated and UK weights and measures protected;

provide the assurance businesses need to understand and apply legislative requirements and give them confidence that their investments in research and development are protected against unfair competition;

enforce technical regulations intelligently using the regulators’ code to achieve better outcomes for British businesses;

provide a legal metrology infrastructure to underpin trade measurement and confidence in the market, and certification services to enable businesses to export their products globally.

The performance targets I have set the agency are as follows:

identify an appropriate methodology to measure the benefit to UK business from simplifying technical regulation including guidance and enforcement, and achieve an upwards trend in benefit over the next three years;

generate a positive 3:1 net contribution to consumers and the environment as well as the low carbon economy, through enforcement team activities;

deliver enforcement services to meet the expectations of Government clients;

implement the new legal framework for EU measuring instruments legislation by the target date of April 2016;

support stakeholders by ensuring at least 95% of gas and electricity metering enquiries are answered within three business days of receipt of all necessary documentation;

achieve a satisfaction rating among certification service customers of at least 95% of customers scoring satisfied or above, with at least 60% scoring ‘very satisfied’;

achieve a 5% increase in income from the 2014-15 financial year;

reduce the per capita overhead rate from 2014-15;

ensure the smooth transition of finances and records of NMS activities from NMRO to BIS by the end of December 2015.

[HCWS475]

Treasury

Environmental Taxes

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Over the Parliament this Government have introduced reforms to the tax system to make it more competitive, simpler, fairer, and greener. As part of this, in May 2010 Government committed to increasing the proportion of tax revenue accounted for by environmental taxes.

In 2012, the Government published their definition of environmental taxes which set the baseline for achieving that commitment. This statement provides an annual update of the Government’s progress against that commitment, using the independent OBR forecasts published alongside the Budget.

The Government classify environmental taxes as those that meet the following three principles:

The tax is explicitly linked to the Government’s environmental objectives; and

The primary objective of the tax is to encourage environmentally positive behaviour change; and

The tax is structured in relation to environmental objectives—for example: the more polluting the behaviour, the greater the tax levied.

The Government have defined the following as environmental taxes based on these principles:

Climate change levy

Aggregates levy

Landfill tax

EU emissions trading system (EU ETS)

Carbon reduction commitment energy efficiency scheme

Carbon price floor

The OBR forecasts demonstrate that the coalition remains on track to achieve its commitment to increase the proportion of revenue accounted for by environmental taxes.

Tax

2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

2013-14

2014-15

2015-16

2016-17

2017-18

2018-19

2019-20

Climate change levy and carbon price floor (£bn)

0.7

0.7

0.6

1.1

1.5

2.0

2.0

1.9

1.7

1.5

Aggregates levy (£bn)

0.3

0.3

0.3

0.3

0.3

0.3

0.3

0.3

0.3

0.3

Landfill tax (£bn)

1.1

1.1

1.1

1.2

1.1

1.1

1.0

1.0

1.0

1.1

EU ETS (£bn)

0.4

0.2

0.3

0.4

0.3

0.4

0.4

0.5

0.6

0.8

Carbon reduction commitment (£bn)

0.0

0.0

0.5

0.6

0.6

0.8

0.7

0.6

0.6

0.6

Total revenue from environmental taxes (£bn)

2.5

2.3

2.7

3.5

3.9

4.6

4.5

4.3

4.3

4.3

Total current receipts forecast (£bn)

572.5

593.4

601.4

624.1

646.9

667.4

700.9

731.2

764.5

804.3

Proportion of total tax receipts (£bn)

0.4

0.4

0.5

0.6

0.6

0.7

0.6

0.6

0.6

0.5

[HCWS481]

Off-payroll Engagements (UK Export Finance)

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On 5 March 2015, I published the conclusions of HM Treasury’s second evaluation of Departments’ compliance with the rules governing off-payroll appointments in central Government.

The evaluation raised a number of concerns regarding implementation of the guidance at UK Export Finance. I stated that I had asked the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury to commission the Government Internal Audit Agency to carry out an independent audit of the implementation of the off-payroll guidance at UK Export Finance, following which further consideration would be given to the need for any sanction.

The independent audit is now complete and has identified that the off-payroll guidance was not properly implemented at UK Export Finance. As a result I shall be issuing a fine against UK Export Finance of £500,000 for breaches of the guidance which involve the failure to seek proper assurance regarding the tax arrangements of a number of individuals.

While the vast majority of off-payroll contracts are in place for legitimate reasons, I am committed to ensuring that the public sector demonstrates the highest standards of integrity in this area and that public sector employers meet all their tax obligations. The Treasury will continue to monitor compliance to ensure this is the case.

[HCWS485]

National Reform Programme

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Under Council Recommendation 2010/410 of 13 July 2010, member states send National Reform Programmes each year, which report to the Commission on their structural reforms and plans.

The UK 2015 National Reform Programme reports on actions taken by the UK as a whole, including by the Government and by the devolved Administrations where policy responses are of a devolved competence.

The 2015 National Reform Programme:

puts the UK’s structural reforms in the context of deficit reduction, the 2014 autumn statement and Budget 2015;

reports on the broad macroeconomic context;

reports on policies to tackle the six country-specific recommendations addressed to the UK by the July 2014 Council of the European Union on: fiscal consolidation; housing market reforms; youth employment; low-income households, child poverty and child care; access to finance; and the national infrastructure plan;

and sets out the UK’s approach to national monitoring, in line with the five headline Europe 2020 targets agreed by the Council of the European Union in June 2010.

The National Reform Programme is based heavily on the announcements and forecasts of Budget 2015 and the autumn statement 2014. It is, furthermore, drawn entirely from information already in the public domain.

The UK’s National Reform Programme will be available electronically via HM Treasury’s website after it is sent to the European Commission.

[HCWS487]

Communities and Local Government

Contingencies Fund

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I should like to make a statement about the Contingencies Fund.

Durham housing stock transfer

Durham county council proposes to transfer its housing stock of some 18,500 council and 180 leasehold dwellings to a new social landlord, known as the County Durham Housing Group. The transfer has the support of the council and council tenants, who have given a positive ballot result.

To facilitate this transfer, which is still subject to the necessary approvals and consents and which will require funding support of up to £214,000,000, the Department is seeking to increase its capital AME budget for 2015-16 by £120,000,000.

Parliamentary approval for the 2015-16 funding increase is being sought in the main supply estimates for the Department for Communities and Local Government. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure will be met principally from a repayable cash advance of £205,000,000 from the Contingencies Fund.

Ebbsfleet urban development corporation

At Budget 2014, the Chancellor set out plans for a new urban development corporation to deliver a garden city settlement of up to 15,000 homes at Ebbsfleet in Kent. This is being taken forward in consultation with local MPs, councils and residents.

Urban development corporations are established by means of a statutory instrument under section 135 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. Our aim is to lay such a statutory instrument later this month with a view to establishing the Ebbsfleet urban development corporation in April 2015.

Parliamentary approval for additional resources for this new body will be sought in the main supply estimates for the Department for Communities and Local Government. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £633,000 will be met by a repayable cash advance from the Contingencies Fund.

[HCWS486]

Planning Update

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I would like to update the House on further steps we are taking to streamline the planning system, protect the environment, support economic growth and assist locally led decision making.

Solar energy: protecting the local and global environment

Last year, the coalition Government published a comprehensive solar photovoltaic strategy setting out our ambitions for the technology as an important part of the United Kingdom’s energy mix. In doing so, the strategy underlines the importance of focusing growth on domestic and commercial roof space and previously developed land.

My Department supported this by consulting on reforms to permitted development rights which will encourage the take up of much larger scale solar power generation (solar photovoltaic) on non-domestic buildings and complement the existing flexibilities for home owners. These reforms allow for a twenty-fold increase in the amount of solar that can go onto the roofs of non-domestic buildings such as warehouses and offices without having to submit a full planning application, subject to strict safeguards to protect local amenity. The proposals have been widely welcomed by the solar industry, and the measure will come into force from 15 April.

The national planning policy framework includes strong protections for the natural and historic environment and is quite clear that local councils when considering development proposals should take into account the economic and other benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land. Yet, some local communities have genuine concerns that when it comes to solar farms insufficient weight has been given to these protections and the benefits of high-quality agricultural land. As the solar strategy noted, public acceptability for solar energy is being eroded by the public response to large-scale solar farms which have sometimes been sited insensitively.

Meeting our energy goals should not be used to justify the wrong development in the wrong location and this includes the unnecessary use of high-quality agricultural land. Protecting the global environment is not an excuse to trash the local environment. When we published our new planning guidance in support of the framework, we set out the particular factors relating to large-scale ground mounted solar photovoltaic farms that a local council will need to consider. These include making effective use of previously developed land and, where a proposal involves agricultural land, being quite clear this is necessary and that poorer quality land is to be used in preference to land of a higher quality.

We are encouraged by the impact the guidance is having but do appreciate the continuing concerns, not least those raised in this House, about the unjustified use of high-quality agricultural land. In light of these concerns we want it to be clear that any proposal for a solar farm involving the best and most versatile agricultural land would need to be justified by the most compelling evidence. Of course, planning is a quasi-judicial process, and every application needs to be considered on its individual merits, with due process, in light of the relevant material considerations.

Brownfield land: increasing support for councils

We are clear that brownfield land that is suitable for housing has a vital role to play in meeting the need for new homes and have challenged local authorities to have local development orders in place on more than 90% of brownfield land suitable for new homes by 2020. We have agreed funding for those local authorities who successfully bid for funding to help deliver 200,000 new homes on brownfield sites across the country. These councils will deliver local development orders for housing on brownfield land which will help to speed up the delivery of housing on these sites.

Green belt: protecting against inappropriate development

The Government continue to attach great importance to safeguarding the green belt. The fundamental aim of green-belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open; the essential characteristics of green belts are their openness and their permanence.

We remain concerned about harm to the green belt where there is unauthorised development of land in advance of obtaining planning permission. In such cases, there is no opportunity to appropriately limit or mitigate the harm that has already taken place.

For these reasons, we will be seeking to introduce a new evidenced-based planning and recovery policy for the green belt to introduce early in the next Parliament to strengthen protection against unauthorised development.

Unauthorised encampments: ensuring fair play in the planning system

My Department, in conjunction with the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, is publishing an updated guide for councils, police and crime commissioners and police forces on unauthorised encampments, and the powers that public bodies have. We are making very clear that public bodies should not gold-plate human rights and equality laws and turn a blind eye to breaches of the rules. The cause of equality is assisted by taking firm and fair action against anyone who breaches planning rules, and stopping the small number of cases which undermine community relations and hinder integration.

We are also revoking today the following guidance from the last Administration which is now redundant following previous changes to planning policy and planning legislation: DCLG, “Local authorities and Gypsies and Travellers: a guide to responsibilities and powers”, May 2007, and DCLG, “Preparing Regional Spatial Strategy reviews on Gypsies and Travellers by regional planning bodies”, May 2007.

Parking: helping local shops and preventing congestion

This Government are keen to ensure that there is adequate parking provision both in new residential developments and around our town centres and high streets.

The imposition of maximum parking standards under the last Administration led to blocked and congested streets and pavement parking. Arbitrarily restricting new off-street parking spaces does not reduce car use, it just leads to parking misery. It is for this reason that the Government abolished national maximum parking standards in 2011. The market is best placed to decide if additional parking spaces should be provided.

However, many councils have embedded the last Administration’s revoked policies. Following a consultation, we are now amending national planning policy to further support the provision of car parking spaces. Parking standards are covered in paragraph 39 of the national planning policy framework. The following text now needs to be read alongside that paragraph:

“Local Planning authorities should only impose local parking standards for residential and non-residential development where there is clear and compelling justification that it is necessary to manage their local road network.”

Building on the success of our previous guidance to help householders rent out underused car parking spaces, we have also updated planning guidance to local authorities to clarify that non-residential car parking space can be rented out. This will support the shared economy and increase the provision of competitively priced car parking spaces.

Planning applications: streamlining the process

As part of our commitment to streamline the planning application process, we have laid in Parliament a newly consolidated development management procedure order, to come into force on 15 April. The new order consolidates the 15 amendments made to the 2010 order in order to simplify and improve the planning process for all users of the system. It will also bring into force a number of important new measures including; changes to improve the process of statutory consultation and the introduction of a new “deemed discharge” of conditions to ensure that planning conditions are cleared on time so that homes and other development granted planning permission can start on site without delay.

Short-term lets: championing the shared economy

The Deregulation Bill takes forward our reforms to 1973 legislation which arbitrarily restricts the ability of Londoners to let out their homes on a short-term basis. The provisions in the Bill will commence two months after Royal Assent.

We set out our policy on short-term letting in London in a paper published on 9 February. The Bill allows for local authorities to request that the Secretary of State agrees to targeted localised exemptions from the new flexibility, where there is a strong amenity case to do so in exceptional circumstances.

Any application should be very localised—for example, specific properties or a specific street not for wider exemptions. Any local authority should consult with the public before making an application, and there should be clear evidence of specific harm once the new provisions have actually been introduced and operated. The Deregulation Bill contains provisions so that the flexibility can be withdrawn following a successful enforcement action against a statutory nuisance. We should be very clear that the broader goal of the policy is to deregulate, and to put London on a similar footing as the rest of the country.

Planning guidance: making the planning system more accessible

Alongside the consolidation of national policy through the national planning policy framework, my Department has also been working to streamline associated planning guidance and make it more accessible.

Following the 2014 review of the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime, we are updating guidance on the pre-application and examination stages. These changes clarify aspects of guidance, benefiting users of the regime.

Planning practice guidance on hazardous substances (“Seveso III”) is being updated to reflect changes to new regulations being introduced on 1 June 2015. My Department is producing draft guidance to help people understand and prepare for these changes. The guidance explains planning controls for storage of hazardous substances in England, which will streamline the current system and bring regulations in line with international standards. The guidance follows technical consultation last year on the role of land-use planning in preventing major accident hazards involving hazardous substances.

Planning practice guidance is also being updated to explain the changes to the environmental impact assessment screening thresholds which will come into effect on 6 April 2015. The changes will remove unnecessary gold-plating of a European directive, reduce costs for local planning authorities and developers and provide more certainty about when an assessment is required.

The Government are committed to tackling delays associated with section 106 planning obligation negotiations. We have today published our response to the “Section 106 Planning Obligations—speeding up negotiations” consultation which supports our view that Government should consider further strengthening the legislative framework for resolving delays in negotiating these agreements. Revised guidance will be published alongside this.

We have previously revised national policy on section 106 thresholds to help small builders and to encourage empty buildings to be brought back into use. Some councils have misinterpreted the written ministerial statement of 28 November 2014, Official Report, column 54WS, as just a change in guidance—to clarify, this was a change in national policy and we will be updating the online planning guidance/policy website to make this crystal clear. We are also publishing guidance tomorrow on the vacant building credit to assist in the delivery of the new policy.

We are also to publish guidance on the new social housing relief rules under the amended community infrastructure levy regulations which will help increase the delivery of affordable housing; on supporting the provision of dedicated student accommodation to take pressure off the private rented sector; on supporting the built to rent sector and increasing institutional investment in new build rented accommodation; on ensuring effective pre-application discussions; and improving awareness of the new homes bonus—taking forward recommendations from our new homes bonus evaluation.

In response to our commitment made during the passage of the Infrastructure Bill, 26 January 2015, Official Report, column 644, the Government are also updating planning guidance to make clear that up-to-date assessments of housing need should not normally need to be updated for a full 12 months, and that untested assessments of housing need are inevitably less robust than those which have been subject to examination.

Change of use: supporting brownfield regeneration

To further reduce unnecessary planning regulations, we have brought forward new permitted development rights in line with our “third way”, reducing the number of development types which are required to go through the full planning process.

We consulted in the technical consultation on planning on a range of measures to support housing, the high streets and growth. We have laid the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 to introduce new permitted development rights from 15 April 2015.

These permitted development rights allow more development to take place without the need for a planning application. Where appropriate, the development may require prior approval, allowing consideration by the local planning authority of specific planning matters. These new measures will benefit businesses and householders.

The changes we are announcing today include:

Supporting mixed and varied high streets by allowing more change of use between shops and financial and professional services, allowing the change of such uses to restaurants or leisure use, and allowing retailers to adapt their facilities more freely to support click and collect;

Increasing housing supply by allowing change of use from some business uses to residential and continuing to allow larger, rear domestic extensions; we have also clarified the wording on front extensions following requests by some local authorities.

Supporting growth by allowing commercial filming for longer periods, allowing larger capacity solar panels on non-domestic buildings, making permanent larger business extensions, allowing like-for-like replacements within waste management facilities and allowing equipment housings for sewerage undertakers;

Introducing this regulation also meets our red tape challenge commitment to simplify and reduce planning regulation, by consolidating the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 and its 22 amendments; and

Delivering on our commitment in gambling protections and controls, we are also introducing a new requirement to enable local consideration of a planning application for any change of use to a betting shop or pay day loan shop.

The Government will further consider the case for extending the office to residential reforms, which are helping provided more new homes on brownfield land.

Zero-carbon homes: supporting small builders

We are committed to implementing the zero-carbon homes standard in 2016 and in addition to the future strengthening of minimum on-site energy performance requirements we have introduced in the Infrastructure Act 2015 the powers needed to enable off-site carbon abatement measures (Allowable Solutions) to contribute to achieving the zero-carbon standard. However we recognise that achieving the zero-carbon standard will be a challenge for home builders and in particular smaller home builders and so last year we consulted on how an exemption for small sites could operate and we will publish the Government’s response shortly.

We have decided there will be an exemption for small housing sites of 10 units or fewer, which are most commonly developed by small-scale home builders and can be more expensive to develop irrespective of the size of the builder, from the allowable solutions element of the zero-carbon homes target. This means that all new homes will be required to meet the strengthened on-site energy performance standard but those building on small sites will not be required to support any further off-site carbon abatement measures. We will also put in place legislation to ensure that this exemption is not abused.

Housing standards: streamlining the system

New homes need to be high-quality, accessible and sustainable. To achieve this, the Government have created a new approach for the setting of technical standards for new housing. This rationalises the many differing existing standards into a simpler, streamlined system which will reduce burdens and help bring forward much needed new homes.

The new system will comprise new additional optional building regulations on water and access, and a new national space standard—hereafter referred to as “the new national technical standards”. This system complements the existing set of building regulations, which are mandatory.

To implement this new regime, this written ministerial statement sets out the Government’s new national planning policy on the setting of technical standards for new dwellings. This statement should be taken into account in applying the national planning policy framework, and in particular the policies on local standards or requirements at paragraphs 95,174, and 177, in both plan making and decision taking.

Plan making

From the date the Deregulation Bill is given Royal Assent, local planning authorities and qualifying bodies preparing neighbourhood plans should not set in their emerging local plans, neighbourhood plans, or supplementary planning documents, any additional local technical standards or requirements relating to the construction, internal layout or performance of new dwellings. This includes any policy requiring any level of the code for sustainable homes to be achieved by new development; the Government have now withdrawn the code, aside from the management of legacy cases. Particular standards or requirements for energy performance are considered later in this statement.

Local planning authorities and qualifying bodies preparing neighbourhood plans should consider their existing plan policies on technical housing standards or requirements and update them as appropriate, for example through a partial local plan review, or a full neighbourhood plan replacement in due course. Local planning authorities may also need to review their local information requirements to ensure that technical detail that is no longer necessary is not requested to support planning applications.

The optional new national technical standards should only be required through any new local plan policies if they address a clearly evidenced need, and where their impact on viability has been considered, in accordance with the national planning policy framework and planning guidance. Neighbourhood plans should not be used to apply the new national technical standards.

For the specific issue of energy performance, local planning authorities will continue to be able to set and apply policies in their local plans which require compliance with energy performance standards that exceed the energy requirements of building regulations until commencement of amendments to the Planning and Energy Act 2008 in the Deregulation Bill. This is expected to happen alongside the introduction of zero-carbon homes policy in late 2016. The Government have stated that, from then, the energy performance requirements in building regulations will be set at a level equivalent to the (outgoing) code for sustainable homes level 4. Until the amendment is commenced, we would expect local planning authorities to take this statement of the Government’s intention into account in applying existing policies and not set conditions with requirements above a code level 4 equivalent. This statement does not modify the national planning policy framework policy allowing the connection of new housing development to low-carbon infrastructure such as district heating networks.

Measures relating to flood resilience and resistance and external noise will remain a matter to be dealt with through the planning process, in line with the existing national policy and guidance. In cases of very specific and clearly evidenced housing accessibility needs, where individual household requirements are clearly outside the new national technical standards, local planning authorities may ask for specific requirements outside of the access standard, subject to overall viability considerations.

Decision taking, transition and compliance

From the date the Deregulation Bill is given Royal Assent until 30 September 2015: The Government’s policy is that planning permissions should not be granted requiring, or subject to conditions requiring, compliance with any technical housing standards other than for those areas where authorities have existing policies on access, internal space, or water efficiency.

Planning permission may still be granted on the basis of existing local plan and neighbourhood plan policies on access, internal space, and water efficiency, even though they may have a degree of conflict with the new national technical standards.

Where there is an existing plan policy which references the code for sustainable homes, authorities may continue to apply a requirement for a water efficiency standard equivalent to the new national technical standard, or in the case of energy a standard consistent with the policy set out in the earlier paragraph in this statement, concerning energy performance.

From 1 October 2015: Existing local plan, neighbourhood plan, and supplementary planning document policies relating to water efficiency, access and internal space should be interpreted by reference to the nearest equivalent new national technical standard. Decision takers should only require compliance with the new national technical standards where there is a relevant current local plan policy.

Planning policies relating to technical security standards for new homes, such as door and window locks, will be unnecessary because all new homes will be subject to the new mandatory building regulation approved document on security (Part Q). Policies relating to the external design and layout of new development, which aim to reduce crime and disorder, remain unaffected by this statement.

Where policies relating to technical standards have yet to be revised, local planning authorities are advised to set out clearly how the existing policies will be applied in decision taking in light of this statement.

If, in the light of experience in implementing this policy statement, the Government consider that it is not being accorded sufficient weight by planning authorities, we will consider bringing forward new legislation to secure implementation.

Conclusion

This package of measures will help deliver more homes in a locally led planning system, protect the environment, provide certainty for local residents and business, and contribute to the Government’s long-term economic plan and economic growth.

We will be placing in the Library of the House copies of the documents associated with these announcements.

[HCWS488]

Defence

Armed Forces Pay Review: Medical and Dental Officers

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The supplement to the 2015 report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB) making recommendations on the pay of service medical and dental officers has been published today. I wish to express my thanks to the chairman and members of the review body for their report.

In line with the Government’s 2013 Budget statement, which announced that public sector pay awards would be increased by an average of up to 1% for 2015-16, the AFPRB has recommended an increase of 1% to base military salaries for all ranks within the medical and dental cadre for 2015-16. In addition, the AFPRB has recommended a 1% increase in general medical practitioner and general dental practitioner trainer pay and associate trainer pay, and the retention and expansion of the Golden Hello scheme for medical officers.

The AFPRB’s recommendations are accepted in full with implementation effective from 1 April 2015.

Copies of the AFPRB supplementary report are available in the Vote Office.

[HCWS483]

Royal Navy Nuclear Reactor Prototype Review

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On 6 March 2014, my predecessor announced his decision to refuel the nuclear reactor in HMS Vanguard, one of the UK’s four ballistic missile submarines, during its planned deep maintenance period. This was a prudent precaution following the discovery of a microscopic breach in the cladding around one of the fuel cells in the prototype reactor plant at our shore test facility at Dounreay in Scotland. My predecessor also asked the MOD Chief Scientific Adviser to review again the evidence on which the decision was taken not to prototype the next generation PWR3 reactor, due to be fitted in the Successor ballistic missile submarines.

The review was undertaken by three eminent nuclear experts, Professor Robin Grimes, Professor Dame Sue Ion and Professor Andrew Sherry. I have received the review panel’s report and am grateful for the panel’s efforts and insights.

The panel concluded that it was a valid decision not to prototype PWR3. They also agreed that there was no practical course of action that would have enabled a prototype facility to be built ahead of the first Successor submarine.

The panel have advised that, with no PWR3 shore test facility, far greater requirements will need to be placed on other elements of the submarine enterprise to provide data, experience and assurance to underpin safety and availability especially those elements that are unique to the UK. As such, I have agreed to their recommendation that the Department undertake a nuclear propulsion capability review to ensure the necessary capability and capacity is in place to sustain these requirements. This review will form part of the Department’s routine work to ensure that continuous at-sea deterrence can be sustained now and in the future.

The review confirms that the Vulcan Naval Reactor Test Establishment will not be required to support reactor core prototyping activity beyond 2015, as set out to Parliament on 2 November 2011, Official Record, column 37WS. It is anticipated that defueling and fuel management activities will continue at the site until 2022. The Vulcan defuel and decommissioning project is assessing detailed options which range from placing the prototype facilities into care and maintenance— while retaining the site’s strategic capabilities—to decommissioning the site and returning it to Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Initial decisions on the future of the site are expected around 2016.

[HCWS482]

Education

Voluntary and Community Sector National Prospectus Grants

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I am pleased to announce, together with my colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), the Minister responsible for children and families, that today we are publishing the results of the National Prospectus grants competition to fund voluntary organisations working with children and their families.

After a highly competitive application process we have chosen 94 projects that I believe will have a significant impact on children’s lives. This represents an investment of almost £25 million in 2015-16 across seven key priority areas. The money will be spread between organisations specialising in adoption, children in care, early education and child care, family advice and support, mental health, safeguarding and special educational needs and disabilities. The grants are additional to existing Government funding that supports these areas.

For the first time we identified mental health as a theme in the National Prospectus. I am very pleased to say that we received a number of high-quality bids under this theme, and will be funding 17 projects worth almost £5 million in total.

These projects will help children and young people, from the early years through to those making the transition to adulthood. We are also continuing to provide funding to the Young Minds helpline for parents worried about the emotional problems, behaviour or mental health of their children. Support will be given in a number of different ways including face-to-face, peer support, by telephone, online and through apps. They will also help specific groups of children who face particular issues: those who have suffered brain injury; homeless young people; bereaved children; and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people.

Many of these projects will make vital links to schools. To support this, we are today also issuing two pieces of guidance which will help schools to make themselves places where mental health issues can be learned about and discussed openly and safely, and where effective early support is given for mental health issues through high-quality counselling.

We have funded the Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) Association to produce guidance that will help schools provide age-appropriate teaching on mental health problems from anxiety and depression to eating disorders and self-harm. This will be supplemented by specific lesson plans over the coming months so that schools can use them to plan for teaching from September.

We are also providing a new blue-print for schools on counselling services––developed in conjunction with experts in the field––which provides head teachers with practical advice on how to secure high-quality school based counselling services that meet the needs of those it intends to support.

A list of all the organisations receiving funding through the National Prospectus grants are available online at: http://www.parliament.uk/writtenstatements.

[HCWS479]

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

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I represented the UK at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 16 March in Brussels. Rebecca Evans AM and Richard Lochhead MSP were also present.

There were only agriculture items on the agenda.

Organic production and labelling of organic products

The Council held an orientation debate on the proposal for a regulation on organic production and labelling of organic products. Most member states agreed that good progress had been made. Austria and the Netherlands, however, repeated their calls for the proposal to be withdrawn, arguing that it would hinder rather than support development of the organic sector. I, along with a number of other member states, argued for the removal of the requirement for annual physical inspections in favour of a risk-based approach. I also stressed that the Commission’s proposal to move to an import regime based on compliance with EU rules should not impact negatively on developing countries and that a significant transition period should be included. The presidency confirmed work on the proposal would continue with the aim of reaching a Council position in May.

Milk Sector: market situation, trends and EU measures

The Council discussed the milk sector focusing on the market situation, trends and EU measures. Poland stressed that its producers were finding the current market situation tough and France and Spain repeated their request for the Commission to consider stronger crisis management tools. I stressed that further work was needed to identify and develop new markets and urged the Commission to come forward with its feasibility study on dairy country of origin labelling as soon as possible. Commissioner Hogan acknowledged the difficulties in some parts of the sector but expressed optimism about global demand in the future. He also said he would consider suggestions for broadening the scope of the Milk Market Observatory.

CAP implementation and simplification

Commissioner Hogan opened the session on CAP by announcing that he would consider extending the 15 May deadline by when farmers had to submit their scheme applications given the administrative demands of the new regime. I supported Italy and other member states in calling for that extension and I stressed that it should be a minimum of a month. The Commissioner also confirmed that his services were examining all of the ideas submitted by member states in response to his simplification exercise. Ministers then proceeded to highlight a wide range of priorities for change, including the new greening requirements. I called for more realistic greening mapping and control regimes and argued that member states’ own interpretations and implementation should be respected. The presidency confirmed that they would seek to agree Council conclusions on CAP simplification at the May Council.

International agricultural trade issues

The Commission provided an update on EU agricultural imports and exports and the progress of a range of bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations during a Minister-only lunch session. I agreed with those member states who stressed that the EU’s high production standards and system of geographical indications should not be undermined. However, I underlined that global trade could boost economic growth across Europe and that significant opportunities were available to the EU, in particular in negotiations with the US and Japan.

AOB: Angora wool and fur from maltreated rabbits and furred animals

The Netherlands highlighted the issue, mainly in China, of plucking live angora rabbits for wool and furred animals being maltreated. I shared their concern and stated that UK officials would approach our textile and clothing industry to better understand their position. The Commission noted that the World Trade Organisation rules currently prevent the EU from imposing its animal welfare standards on third countries and agreed that a business to business approach would be best.

AOB: Xylella fastidiosa in southern Italy and risk of further spread in the EU

Commissioner Andriukaitis underlined the seriousness of the threat of the Xylella fastidiosa bacteria not only for olive trees but also potentially to the wider agriculture sector. Italy explained what measures had been taken and that the eradication of host plants was now under way. I supported the need for stronger EU emergency measures as well as updating the plant health directive, to provide better protection against all strains, from all countries and on all host plants.

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Red Tape Challenge

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As part of the Government’s red tape challenge initiative, DEFRA will complete this Parliament an ambitious programme of reform to improve and simplify its regulation. These reforms will reduce regulatory costs to business by around £300 million per year, thus helping to promote growth, while maintaining our high standards of environmental, animal and plant health protection.

In total, 650 legislative reforms will have been made which will reduce the number of regulations in force by more than 20% compared to May 2010. I am today placing a full list of these legislative reforms in the Libraries of both Houses.

Reforming the amount of guidance that accumulated over many years has also been an important priority. In May, DEFRA and its regulator network will have reduced their guidance by more than 70,000 pages, which is a reduction of over 80%. I am placing in the Libraries of both Houses the current impact assessment to support this reform.

All DEFRA’s legislation in force is now accessible to the public via DEFRALex, an online portal on legislation.gov.uk/defralex. This is designed to make legislation more accessible and easier to locate by businesses and the public.

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Health

Health Services: East of England

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In November 2011, Hinchingbrooke Health Care National Health Service Trust entered into a franchise management contract with Circle Hinchingbrooke Ltd. Circle Hinchingbrooke Ltd has issued a termination notice to the contract, and arrangements have been put in place for the trust to revert to operating independently again with effect from 1 April 2015.

Hinchingbrooke Health Care National Health Service Trust has always remained an NHS trust with all of the buildings and equipment owned by the trust, and all full-time staff apart from some of the executive leadership employed by the NHS. Responsibility for running the trust will return to the NHS as of 1 April. A new board has been appointed to run the trust, led by Alan Burns as the chair.

To ensure minimal disruption to services at the trust, Circle will continue to provide certain procurement services for a limited period to allow for a long-term plan to be put in place.

As for every provider of NHS services, the priority at Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust will continue to be the provision of safe, high-quality services to patients. To address the concerns raised by the chief inspector of hospitals in the CQC report, the NHS Trust Development Authority has appointed an improvement director as part of the special measures regime now in place at Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust.

The trust will be supported to ensure a smooth transition to the new arrangements and to ensure continuity of all services provided by the trust, protecting care for patients and providing security for trust staff.

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Infected Blood

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In January 2011, my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Andrew Lansley), recalled with sadness how what happened during the 1970s and 1980s, when thousands of patients contracted hepatitis C and HIV from NHS blood and blood products, is one of the great tragedies of modern health care. I would like to say on behalf of this Government how sorry we are for what happened, and express my sympathy for the pain and grief suffered by many infected people and their families.

Since 1988, the Government have established a number of schemes to provide financial support to people affected by that tragedy. The system has evolved in an ad hoc and incremental manner, now comprising five infection-focused schemes that operate according to their own individual criteria. In January 2011, this Government acknowledged the system then had shortcomings and introduced a number of improvements. Despite these improvements, there have been continued criticisms of the system, as reflected in the reports produced earlier this year by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and by the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for haemophilia and contaminated blood, and described by hon. Friends and Members across the House during the Backbench Business Committee debate held on 15 January 2015.

From listening to a range of views on the current system, it is apparent that there might be some people who are experiencing significant ill health which may result from their infection(s) who feel they are not well supported by the existing system. However, it is important to recognise there are elements of the current system which do find favour among the beneficiary community. The challenge for any future Government will be to identify the most appropriate way of targeting financial assistance, while ensuring that any system can be responsive to medical advances and is sustainable for Government in financial terms.

I thank both my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and the APPG for their reports, both of which we are considering carefully. It is with frustration and sincere regret that our considerations on the design of a future system have been subject to postponement while we awaited publication of Lord Penrose’s final report of his inquiry in Scotland. We had hoped to consult during this Parliament on reforming the ex-gratia financial assistance schemes, considering, among other options, a system based on some form of individual assessment. However, I felt that it was important to consider fully Lord Penrose’s report before any such consultation. Given its publication today, we clearly are not in a position to launch a consultation, on one of the last sitting days of this Parliament.

However, Lord Penrose’s report has now been published. It can be found on the inquiry website at: http://www.penroseinquiry.org.uk. While it will be for the next Government to consider all of Lord Penrose’s findings, I would hope and fully expect proposals for improving the current complex payment system to be brought forward, with other UK health departments.

In the meantime I am pleased to announce that I will be allocating up to an additional one-off £25 million from the Department of Health’s 2015-16 budget allocation to support any transitional arrangements to a different payment system that might be necessary in responding fully to Lord Penrose’s recommendations. We intend this to provide assurances to those affected by these tragic events that we have heard their concerns and are making provision to reform the system.

Finally I can formally announce that, in line with our consistent policy of openness, we are now preparing for transfer to the National Archive remaining Department of Health documents relating to blood safety for the period from 1986 to 1995. These documents, which will be open for public scrutiny, will be followed by subsequent tranches of documents covering later years.

While I recognise that this statement does not immediately fulfil the desires of all who campaign on this matter, I hope that it signposts this Government’s positive direction on these matters.

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Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority Committee

IPSA: Estimate 2015-16

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(Representing the Speaker’s Committee for the IPSA): The Speaker’s Committee for the IPSA is established under the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. Under statute it must review IPSA’s estimate before it is laid before the House and decide whether it is satisfied that the estimate is consistent with the efficient and cost-effective discharge by the IPSA of its functions.

The Committee has approved IPSA’s draft estimate for 2015-16 without modification, in line with the advice provided to it under statute by HM Treasury.

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Work and Pensions

Relationship Support

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We will be extending seven contracts with organisations delivering relationship support provision and related services. These services include preventive support for couples during key transition points in their relationships; targeted support for parents with complex needs; work to promote healthy relationships and encourage the take-up of support services; help for couples experiencing difficulties; training for health visitors to recognise and respond to the signs of relationship distress; training for relationship support specialists; and policy development work.

In addition, we will be launching a pilot to test the inclusion of relationship education in perinatal classes in eight areas of the country. The objectives of this pilot are to test the effectiveness of this approach in:

preparing couples for the impact having a baby will have on their relationship;

normalising the fact that relationship changes in this period are common; and

providing strategies on how to manage any differences/conflict.

These contracts will be worth just over £7.2 million with further funding earmarked to help local authorities develop strategies to help improve the quality of family relationships. This will bring total funding for 2015-16 to just under £8 million.

In addition, we will also be offering a six month extension to all of the 16 Help and Support for Separated Families Innovation Fund projects, which focus on helping parents going through separation to resolve conflict and work together in the interests of their children. The extending projects will share in a total of £2.5 million which will enable further work with families and the opportunity to gather more data to evaluate the success of these projects.

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