Monday 6 March 2017
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Departmental Contingency Liability: Postal Services Holding Company Ltd
The Government intend to put the Postal Services Holding Company Limited into voluntary liquidation on 30 March 2017. This company, previously known as Royal Mail Holdings plc, is wholly owned by Government.
The Government have decided that, following the disposal of all of the Royal Mail shares held by the company, there is no longer a need to retain the company. The voluntary liquidation will save the taxpayer money by removing the company’s running costs of around £120,000 per annum.
Shares held by the company in Post Office Limited (POL) will be transferred to direct ownership by the Secretary of State for BEIS and this transfer will have no impact on POL’s operations.
The directors of the company (all unremunerated, public or civil servants) are required to issue a Declaration of Solvency prior to the company’s liquidation.
The expectation is that all the company’s identified and existing liabilities will be met, apart from minimal expenses incurred during the liquidation process, after placing into to liquidation.
However, there is a small risk that some as yet unidentified liabilities could emerge. To give the directors comfort that such liabilities could be met, and to enable them to sign the Declaration of Insolvency, my Department intends to grant an indemnity to the Postal Services Holding Company Limited. The granting of an indemnity is effectively neutral to BEIS because if the company were not placed into liquidation and a liability emerged, the company would look to work with the Department, as sole shareholder, to address that liability.
The indemnity will be uncapped for a period of six years and will be issued prior to the liquidation.
When a Government Department proposes to undertake a contingent liability in excess of £300,000 for which there is no specific statutory authority, it is required practice 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 fourteen parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the minute, except in cases of special urgency.
As a matter of record I have attached a departmental minute for both Houses explaining the procedure followed and containing a description of the liabilities undertaken.
Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament. uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2017-03-06/HCWS519.
Anonymous Electoral Registration
I am pleased to publish the Government’s plans setting out our aim of ensuring survivors of domestic abuse can participate in our democracy by making it easier for them to register to vote without their names and addresses appearing on the electoral register.
Our proposals are intended to make the anonymous electoral registration scheme more accessible to those escaping domestic abuse. They will broaden the evidentiary requirements for an application for anonymous registration to make them more accessible and relevant for survivors of abuse, while maintaining clarity and certainty around the registration process for electoral administrators. The policy will provide more ready access to anonymous registration for those whom it is intended to help.
The publication of the policy will welcome comment from domestic abuse organisations, professional bodies and those with technical electoral expertise.
This is one of a number of proposals to make sure our democracy works for everyone. The Government are also encouraging registration in under-registered areas, equalising constituencies, and giving all British citizens who have lived in the UK a lifelong right to vote in Parliamentary elections.
I am placing a copy of the policy statement in the Libraries of both Houses.
On 13 July 2016 the Government announced their response to the January 2016 consultation on reform of the current ex-gratia payment schemes for individuals infected with HIV and/or hepatitis C following treatment with NHS-supplied blood or blood products before September 1991.
The Government recognise the suffering experienced by people as a result of this tragedy and the Prime Minister apologised on behalf of the Government in March 2015. Since 1988, successive Governments have set up five schemes to provide financial and other support to those affected. The Government committed further funding of up to an additional £125 million over the existing baseline budget. This additional money more than doubles the Department of Health’s annual spend on the scheme over the spending review period to April 2021. This is significantly more than any previous Government have provided for those affected by this tragedy.
On account of this increased allocation, July’s consultation response set out a package of support measures for those infected and affected by the infected blood tragedy. For the first time, almost 2,500 beneficiaries with chronic hepatitis C infection were eligible to receive an annual payment of £3,500 per year. Those with advanced hepatitis C and HIV received an uplift in their annual payment to £15,500, and we introduced a new £10,000 payment to bereaved partners and spouses.
Since July, the Government have also worked on the detail of the measures proposed for 2017-18 for scheme beneficiaries infected in England such as the new special appeals mechanism for those with chronic hepatitis C infection and reformed discretionary support scheme. The special appeals mechanism, which is now called special category mechanism (SCM) will be a significant new element of the infected blood reforms. Therefore, today the Government announce the launch of a new consultation on the details of the new SCM and our proposals for ensuring the scheme remains within its budget as a result of the new SCM. We invite beneficiaries and other interested parties to comment on our proposals.
The consultation published today and attached will run until 17 April 2017. This is a six-week consultation to ensure that all those who wish to respond have time to do so. There are four elements of reform on which the Government would welcome views.
The addition of a new condition to qualify for the higher financial support given to those infected with hepatitis C who have developed advanced liver disease.
The new special category mechanism (with appeal) (SCM) to identify hepatitis C stage one beneficiaries whose infection has a substantial and long term adverse impact on their ability to carry out normal daily activities, offering those who are successful the higher annual payment.
Proposals to keep the scheme within budget in light of the increased annual payment for successful SCM applicants while preserving discretionary fund.
The type of support the reformed discretionary scheme would offer that is fair to all groups of beneficiaries.
The Government understand that there has been uncertainty about how the SCM and reformed discretionary support will be implemented during 2017. The outcome of the consultation will be crucial to informing our final decisions about these elements. Informed by the consultation responses, the Government will implement the decisions as soon as possible in 2017-18. The Government do not anticipate that there will be any reduction in current spending as a result of the consultation proposals. No one who currently receives an annual payment will be worse off than they are now as a result of the proposed changes to the annual payments.
This consultation does not affect any of the reform elements introduced in the financial year of 2016-17.
Finally, the Government have heard beneficiaries’ feedback regarding our plans for a new scheme administrator. As a result, we announce today that the NHS Business Services Authority will become the new single scheme administrator during 2017. While this transition takes place, annual and discretionary payments and services will continue to be made by the current schemes to ensure a smooth transition to the new scheme administrator with minimum impact on the important financial and non-financial ex-gratia services infected blood beneficiaries will receive this Parliament.
Consultation Document can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2017-03-06/HCWS520/.