Thursday 25 June 2015
Business, Innovation and Skills
Green Investment Bank
Over the last two years, the UK Green Investment Bank has seen success in unlocking private sector investment in key low-carbon and green sectors. The GIB has helped develop markets and shown that investment in green projects is good business. I want to see this success continue and to see the GIB continue to accelerate investment across the UK’s green sectors.
To meet our low-carbon and green objectives, we know that we need to continue to see significant investment. I want to see the GIB continue to play an important role in the transition to a green economy.
Attracting private investment to GIB will, I believe, enable the company to do this. It will allow the bank to grow its business, giving the expert teams we have established within GIB access to a much greater volume of capital than would be the case if GIB were to remain in 100% Government ownership. This will enable the company to have the greatest possible impact in mobilising investment and lead to more green projects getting financed more quickly than would otherwise be the case.
In the debate on the Budget in March, the then Secretary of State for Business updated Parliament about work to explore options for bringing in additional capital into the Green Investment Bank as a way to ensure it is an enduring institution and has the operational freedom for investment across the green economy. We have therefore been exploring options for how best to get that capital and, with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we have concluded that the best approach is to move GIB into private ownership subject to ensuring we achieve value for money. This should bring a number of important benefits, giving GIB greater freedom to operate across a wider range of green sectors in accordance with its green purposes, which are enshrined in legislation.
It has always been our intention that GIB should leverage the maximum amount of private capital into green sectors for the minimum amount of public money. Moving the company into private ownership is a natural development for GIB that further delivers this aim. Our aim is that a transaction should result in GIB no longer being classified as a public sector body. This would mean GIB would be free to borrow capital so as to achieve its business ambitions without this having an effect on public sector net debt.
The detail and timing of any transaction will be set out in due course.
The cost of support provided to Government witnesses to the Leveson inquiry though the Government Legal Department (formerly Treasury Solicitors) is £287,491.10.
UK Debt Management Office (Business Plan)
The United Kingdom Debt Management Office (DMO) has today published its business plan for the year 2015-16. Copies have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and are available on the DMO’s website, www.dmo.gov.uk.
It is also available online at: http://www.parliament.uk/writtenstatements.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Sasha Wass Inquiry
It is normal practice, when a Government Department proposes to undertake a contingent liability in excess of £300,000 for which there is not statutory authority, for the Minister concerned to present a departmental minute to Parliament giving particulars of the liability created and explaining the circumstances; and to refrain from incurring the liability until 14 parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the statement, except in cases of special emergency. I have today laid a departmental minute proposing to provide an indemnity that is necessary in respect of a Foreign Office-established independent inquiry into alleged child abuse and associated cover-up on the British overseas territory of St Helena. The Government take any such allegations extremely seriously, and the inquiry reflects their commitment to a full and independent investigation into any wrongdoing. Last year (2014), the Foreign Secretary announced the establishment of the inquiry (Hansard, column 13-14WS, on 20 November 2014) to be led by Sasha Wass QC. This indemnity will cover the entire duration of the inquiry’s work, from November 2014 until when the inquiry submits its report in the autumn of 2015. The indemnity will cover Sasha Wass QC, the inquiry panel, the inquiry solicitor and one staff member against any liability for any act done or omission made honestly and in good faith in the execution of his or her duty as such, or in the purported execution of his or her duty as such. The indemnity only applies to acts done or omissions made during the course of the inquiry. If the liability is called, provision for any payment will be sought through the normal supply procedure. The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle. If, during the period of 14 parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which this minute was laid before Parliament, a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question or by otherwise raising the matter in Parliament, final approval to proceed with incurring the liability will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.
Arm’s Length Bodies (Triennial Reviews)
I am today announcing the start of the triennial reviews of the Committee on Mutagenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the Human Tissue Authority, and NHS Blood and Transplant.
The triennial review programme ensures that all Government Departments review their non-departmental public bodies on a regular basis. In order to ensure that the Department of Health is operating as an effective system steward and can be assured of all the bodies it is responsible for, it has extended the programme of reviews over the period 2014-17 to include all of its arm’s length bodies.
The reviews are conducted in two stages. The first stage will examine the continuing need for the function and whether the organisation’s form, including operating at arm’s length from Government, remains appropriate. If the outcome of this stage is that delivery should continue, the second stage of the review will assess whether the bodies are operating efficiently and in line with the recognised principles of good corporate governance.
The Health Council met in Luxembourg on 19 June 2015 as part of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council meetings. I represented the UK.
Member states agreed to a partial general approach on regulations concerning medical devices and in vitro medical devices. The compromise brokered by the Latvian presidency represents significant progress on this issue—after almost three years of negotiations—and paves the way for trilogue negotiations with the European Parliament and Commission once remaining work on the recitals (and certain technical aspects of the texts) is completed. Overall it was a very positive outcome for the UK, enhancing patient safety but ensuring pre-market scrutiny remains light-touch and clinically led, and that NHS in-house tests are exempted from most of the requirements of the regulations.
Slovenia requested that the Commission produces a new alcohol strategy, given the growing problems caused by alcohol abuse and the need for EU-level action to support member states’ own efforts to tackle it. The UK joined many other countries which spoke in favour of this proposition, highlighting the sharp rise in alcohol-related deaths and the strain being put on vital public services. In response, the Commission—Health Commissioner Andriukaitis—committed to considering the issue further.
Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Malta introduced a paper on the health aspects of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean, highlighting the strain being put on their health systems. The Commission noted that 60 million euros had recently been allocated in emergency funding to assist them, but reiterated his call to member states to provide bilateral assistance through the EU’s civil protection mechanism. The UK acknowledged the health dimension of the crisis, and saluted the efforts of hard-pressed health professionals in front-line Mediterranean countries. Further, the UK emphasised the contribution of our armed forces in saving lives at sea, but also noted that the most effective solution remains addressing the root cause of the problem, and highlighted the work of DFID promoting stability and prosperity in source countries.
Spain introduced an addition to the agenda concerning the recent discovery of its first case of Diphtheria in 28 years. The main issue is one of access to Diphtheria anti-toxin (DAT), which is now patchy across Europe. Speakers called on member states to work together to ensure that all have access to this treatment.
Luxembourg set out its priorities for its upcoming EU presidency, which begins on 1 July. These include innovation and personalised medicine, dementia, and cross-border healthcare. As mentioned above, Luxembourg will oversee the finalisation of the Council position on medical devices, and further work will also be undertaken on alcohol and lessons learnt from Ebola.
Judicial Diversity Taskforce (Annual Report)
The judicial diversity taskforce has today published its fourth annual report, which details the progress the group has made in addressing the 53 recommendations of the advisory panel on judicial diversity. The taskforce comprises of senior members of the judiciary, the Judicial Appointments Commission, the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and the Ministry of Justice.
Our judges are rightly held in high regard around the world, and it is important that they reflect today’s diverse society, which is why we are pleased such significant progress was made by members of the taskforce over 2014. In large part this was driven by our collaborative approach to improving diversity and engaging in new ways of working across the legal and judicial professions.
Some of the achievements of the taskforce include:
Successful implementation of the equal merit provision; which allows for a candidate to be recommended for appointment for the purpose of improving diversity within the judiciary in instances when two or more candidates are of equal merit.
Extending the opportunity for salaried office holders to sit part time in the High Court and above.
Identification of ways to improve the selection and recommendation process for judicial appointments through an external review.
Improvements in statistical reporting, and in data collection and management, to better monitor and evaluate progress on judicial diversity.
Arranging a series of workshops and training programmes aimed at encouraging under- represented groups to enter the judiciary.
Increasing the amount of Diversity and Community Relation Judges, who play a key role in outreach events and act as figureheads for diversity and community engagement.
The judicial diversity taskforce held its last meeting in November 2014 and this will be its final annual report.
The oversight function of the taskforce will now be the responsibility of the Judicial Diversity Forum, which brings together most of the parties who were in the taskforce. The forum will continue to review progress against the outstanding and ongoing recommendations listed at the end of the report, and will work to identify new opportunities for action. This will ensure that the goal of improving judicial diversity continues to be embedded in the working practices of the judiciary, legal professions and Government.
Copies of the taskforce’s report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The report is also available online at:
Intelligence Services Commissioner and Chief Surveillance Commissioner (Annual Reports)
I have today laid before both Houses copies of the latest annual reports from the Intelligence Services Commissioner and the Chief Surveillance Commissioner.
The Intelligence Services Commissioner, the right hon. Sir Mark Waller, was appointed by me to keep under review the exercise by the Secretaries of State of their powers to issue warrants and authorisations to enable the intelligence services to carry out their vital functions. The Commissioner also uses his position to check the lawful use of the powers and duties imposed on the intelligence services and the Ministry of Defence by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994.
The Chief Surveillance Commissioner, the right hon. Sir Christopher Rose, was appointed by me to keep under review public authority use of covert surveillance, covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) and property interference powers. The Commissioner provides statutory oversight to ensure that public authorities use correctly and lawfully the relevant provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 and the Police Act 1997.
Both reports provide a comprehensive summary of the conscientious inspection, authorisation and oversight regimes that have been undertaken.
The Intelligence Services Commissioner makes it clear that those involved in the authorisation of investigatory powers that he oversees take compliance very seriously. It is reassuring that in all cases inspected by the Commissioner there has been proper consideration of the necessity and proportionality of the proposed action, including careful consideration of the intrusion into the target’s and other people’s privacy.
I am also grateful for the Commissioner for identifying a number of administrative errors and making recommendations on how these can be avoided in future. While it is reassuring that these errors were not deliberative or significant, we cannot be complacent. Sir Mark also makes some helpful recommendations in relation to amending the legislation which we will consider as part of the future legislation relating to investigatory powers.
Sir Mark’s annual report considers the intelligence’s use of bulk personal data for the first time as a result of my direction on 12 March 2015. I welcome his finding that the safeguards over the use of, and access to, bulk personal data are satisfactory and that the data is properly used for the statutory purposes for which it was collected.
The Office of Surveillance Commissioners, under Sir Christopher, continues to carry out a thorough and detailed inspection of all public authorities’ use of the surveillance powers, looking at both operational usage and management structures. The commission also scrutinises a high proportion of surveillance deployments including those which the legislation requires to be individually notified to the commission and those which require the prior approval of the Commissioners. The report reflects that there continue to be a small number of errors in public authorities’ practices in this area, though these are not indicative of any systematic abuse or failing. It shows that public authorities are taking their responsibilities seriously and applying good standards of management and control over their covert surveillance activities. The report highlights, in particular, real improvements in the management of undercover police officers.
I want to thank both Commissioners for the diligence and rigour with which they undertake their oversight roles and commend these reports to the House.
Work and Pensions
Personal Independence Payments
Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is a major reform which is transforming the way we support disabled people to live independently.
PIP replaces the outdated Disability Living Allowance (DLA). PIP focuses support on those who need it most and, unlike DLA, a significant majority of claimants will have a face-to-face assessment as part of the application process. It is a more dynamic benefit with regular reviews to check entitlement remains correct—payments can increase as well as decrease—whereas 70% of those receiving DLA were on indefinite awards. And PIP is a more modern benefit which takes better account of mental health conditions.
I now intend to roll out the final phase of this vital reform, that of the reassessment of all remaining people on DLA for PIP. We have already rolled out PIP across GB for new claimants and for individuals who choose to claim PIP or whose circumstances change or where their DLA award comes to an end, including for children when they reach 16.
My original intention was to start this final phase in October 2015 GB wide. In May departmental statistics confirmed that average reassessment claims for PIP were waiting only four weeks from returning their PIP forms until an assessment, which is in line with our expectations. This improved performance means I am pleased to announce that we are now in a position to begin the final phase in July, initially at small volumes and in a limited number of areas. We recognise that this will result in some claimants being invited to reassessment earlier than they might have expected. But by operating at a smaller scale initially, this will enable us to monitor the system closely in small volumes to ensure an efficient reassessment process is in place.
It will also provide us with an opportunity to test key parts of the PIP process, such as the way in which we communicate with claimants. This is in line with the previous Government’s response to recommendations in the independent review of PIP carried out by Paul Gray in December 2014. My priority remains safe and secure delivery of PIP and we will use evidence from this early roll-out to ensure we are continuously improving the way in which we deliver PIP, offering the best claimant experience possible.