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Written Statements

Volume 603: debated on Thursday 3 December 2015

Written Statements

Thursday 3 December 2015

Culture, Media and Sport

Horserace Betting Levy

On 4 November 2015 the Chair of the Horserace Betting Levy Board (“the HBLB”) informed me that the HBLB had been unable to approve a recommendation from the Bookmakers’ Committee as to the terms of the 55th levy scheme. Under section 1(2) of the Horserace Betting Levy Act 1969 (“the Act”), it therefore now falls to me to determine those terms. The Act allows me to determine a new scheme for the said period or direct that the current scheme shall continue to have effect for that period.

I have decided to direct that the current levy scheme should continue to have effect for 2016-17. In making this determination I have had regard to the offer made by the Bookmakers’ Committee, which also proposed that the headline rate of 10.75% was maintained for another year. I also took into account the reason why the offer was rejected by the HBLB, which is that racing felt that it could not accept the overall proposed package, which included supplementary contributions outside of the statutory levy.

Any discussions or negotiations about voluntary levy contributions in respect of offshore remote betting operators are outside the scope of my statutory role in making this determination. I am aware that such negotiations took place and several bookmakers had undertaken to make wholly voluntary levy contributions, which would have secured additional funding for racing for the next three years, and I welcome this offer. With the statutory levy rate now set for next year, I hope that these discussions continue and that an agreement can be reached.

Having concluded the determination I would like express my disappointment that the HBLB and Bookmakers’ Committee were not able to agree the levy scheme and that it has been necessary to refer this matter to Government.

[HCWS353]

Health

Employment, Social Policy, Health and consumer Affairs Council

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will meet on 7 December in Brussels. The Health and Consumer Affairs part of the Council will take place in the afternoon.

The main agenda items will be the following:

Council conclusions—the Council will adopt conclusions on:

“An EU strategy on the reduction of alcohol-related harm”

Personalised medicines for patients

Supporting people living with dementia: improving care policies and practices

Lessons learned for public health from the Ebola outbreak in west Africa—health security in the European Union

Under any other business there will also be presentations on three other points:

Regulations on medical devices and in vitro diagnostic medical devices—the presidency will provide an update on the state of play, with negotiations currently at trialogue stage.

The regulations seek to address weaknesses in the current regulatory system, ensure a more consistent level of implementation across the EU, and ensure that the EU will continue to be viewed by business as an innovation-friendly regulatory environment. The UK has broadly supported the Commission’s proposals in order to ensure high standards of patient safety.

Public health conferences—information from the presidency of conferences it organised in this field

Dutch presidency—the Dutch delegation will set out priorities for their forthcoming presidency, which will run from January until June 2016.

A copy of the latest agenda can be found online at:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2015-12-03/HCWS354/

[HCWS354]

Home Department

Online Child Sexual Exploitation

I am pleased to share with the House the Government’s progress in galvanising a co-ordinated global response against online child sexual exploitation.

On 16 and 17 November the UK and United Arab Emirates brought together Governments, companies and civil society organisations in Abu Dhabi for the second WePROTECT summit, to protect children from online sexual exploitation. This built on the first summit hosted by the Prime Minister in London last year.

While I could not attend due to the Paris attacks, Baroness Shields and His Highness Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan opened the summit. I am pleased Baroness Shields was able to attend in my place, and welcome that she has been appointed as joint Minister for Internet Safety and Security for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office. This appointment serves to further underpin the importance this Government place on tackling online child sexual exploitation. The event secured a wider global reach for WePROTECT, with new countries from the middle east and Latin America and, for the first time, China. This brought to 62 the total number of countries and international organisations signed up to the WePROTECT commitments.

The summit commitments included an agreement on taking co-ordinated national action against online child sexual exploitation, guided by the WePROTECT model national response. To drive national action, Governments will publish an analysis of their own response and use this to identify further capabilities needed.

I am pleased to say that the UK has already made significant progress in tackling this crime. All UK police forces and the National Crime Agency are now connected to the new child abuse image database (CAID) that was launched last year. A new operational victim identification strategy has been established around CAID by the National Crime Agency and is helping to identify even more victims of online child abuse. In the first six months of this year alone, UK authorities identified over 185 victims—already more than for the whole of any previous year.

In addition, the Internet Watch Foundation shared almost 19,000 digital fingerprints of child sexual abuse material—all of which originated from CAID—with five major global technology firms, to enable the removal and prevent the sharing of potentially thousands of images from their platforms and services. Companies have committed to build on this by co-ordinating the sharing of these digital fingerprints globally. The Prime Minister will hold international discussions next year to take this forward.

We are also fulfilling our commitment to support others to build their capabilities. At the London summit, the Prime Minister pledged £50 million over five years to tackle violence against children globally. The first £10 million of this funding is financing a global programme by UNICEF to tackle online child sexual exploitation in 17 countries.

To drive further progress, all WePROTECT signatories at the Abu Dhabi summit agreed to put the WePROTECT advisory board on a firm long-term footing, as a body responsible to all those signed up to this initiative and charged with supporting countries and other stakeholders to implement their commitments. The board will also take forward a joint proposal by the UK, US and EU Commission to merge WePROTECT with the global alliance against child sexual abuse online to bring together global efforts to combat online child sexual exploitation.

[HCWS356]

Justice

Courts

The courts take money from offenders in a number of ways, including fines, the victim surcharge, compensation orders, prosecution costs and the criminal courts charge.

This array of penalties, fines and charges is complex and confusing. I have therefore asked my Department to review the entire structure, and purpose, of court-ordered financial impositions for offenders, in order to bring greater simplicity and clarity to the system.

This review will seek to achieve three goals: giving the judiciary greater discretion in setting financial impositions; making financial penalties a more effective tool in delivering improved noncustodial sentences; and ensuring that money raised through financial penalties plays an appropriate—and sustainable—role in supporting taxpayers to meet the costs of running the courts.

The review will consider how to ensure offenders make a fair contribution. The criminal courts charge was introduced in order to ensure that those who break the law make a financial contribution to the costs of seeing justice done.

The basic principle behind the policy—that those who have broken the law should bear some of the costs of running the criminal courts—is right. However, as the Justice Select Committee set out in its recent report, there have been concerns raised about how this has worked in practice.

I am today laying in Parliament an amending statutory instrument which will mean that, as of 24 December, the criminal courts charge will no longer be imposed. Our review will consider alternative ways of ensuring that criminals pay their fair share.

[HCWS355]

Transport

Rail Franchising: West Midlands

Today I have announced the successful conclusion of negotiations for a new directly awarded franchise agreement with London Midland. This deal will see London Midland continue to run passenger rail services on the West Midlands franchise until October 2017 covering services between London, the West Midlands and the North West of England. The direct award ensures continuity of passenger services and paves the way for the start of the formal franchise that will commence in autumn 2017. This franchise competition will be launched later this month.

During the course of this direct award, West Midlands passengers will benefit from a £13 million package of improvements; which builds on the massive £750 million refurbishment of Birmingham New Street station and the investment of a £60 million fleet of brand new trains, which has already been delivered.

First, the new direct award will put the passenger first and provide new and extended services across the route, resulting in around 6,600 additional seats from Euston to Crewe, into Birmingham on a Sunday and the Abbey line every week. These services include two extra evening services every weekday from London Euston to the Trent Valley providing 2,300 extra seats each week; earlier services to Birmingham on Sunday mornings from a number of towns including Rugby and Lichfield, with new Sunday services from Dorridge, Whitlocks End and Longbridge providing more than 900 extra seats, and an extra return evening service on the Abbey line between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey which will provide an extra 3,400 seats every week.

Secondly, passengers will benefit from new ticket machines, an upgrade of existing ticket machines with “click and collect” capability and contactless payment options. Also, passengers on all long distance services between London Euston, Birmingham, Crewe and Liverpool will be able to enjoy free wi-fi. When the next full franchise starts in 2017, it is our commitment to roll-out free wi-fi on all London Midland services.

Thirdly, new passenger satisfaction, punctuality and cleanliness targets will be introduced on the franchise. These commitments will be supported through greater staff presence. In the contract, London Midland will recruit additional drivers, conductors, revenue protection staff and employ more apprentices in different departments across the business. London Midland will be contracted to achieve a 2% improvement in overall customer satisfaction before the end of the direct award franchise.

As well as the benefits delivered through the direct award franchise, the Government are also continuing to invest in rail infrastructure in the franchise area, improve rail services in the West Midlands including projects to electrify the line at Bromsgrove and between Walsall and Rugeley, as well building a new station at Kenilworth.

Reaching this agreement with London Midland builds on the success of my Department’s ongoing rail franchising programme; working in partnership with the rail industry to deliver better services for passengers as well as value for money for the taxpayer.

[HCWS351]

Work and Pensions

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council: Agenda

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will take place on 7 December 2015 in Brussels. Baroness Neville-Rolfe, Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, will represent the UK.

The Council will be invited to seek a general approach on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on a better gender balance among the non-executive directors of listed companies and related measures.

The Council will receive a progress report on the proposal for a Council directive on implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.

The Council will be invited to adopt draft Council conclusions on: equality between women and men in the field of decision making, the promotion of social enterprise as a key driver of economic and social development in Europe and on social governance for an inclusive Europe.

The Council will be invited to seek political agreement on a proposal for a Council recommendation concerning the integration of the long-term unemployed into the labour market.

The European Commission will present the annual growth survey 2016, the draft joint employment report, the alert mechanism report and also seek the views of member states on a draft recommendation of the Council of the eurozone.

Under any other business, the presidency will provide an update on progress on EURES and undeclared work. The Commission will present information on the pact for youth employment launched at the summit “Enterprise 2020”, the European Accessibility Act and measures to advance the equal treatment of LGBTI people. The current presidency will report on the conferences and initiatives it has organised and the Dutch delegation will present the work programme of their upcoming presidency.

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