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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
30 March 2017
Volume 624

Written Statements

Thursday 30 March 2017

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Companies House Public Targets 2017-18

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My noble Friend, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Prior), has made the following written statement:

I have set Companies House the following targets for the year 2017-18:

To digitally enable 99% of all possible accounts filings

To achieve an 87% take-up of our digital filing services

To maintain an availability of our digital services of 99.9%

To reach a compliance level of 75% of confirmation statements filed early or on time

To reach a compliance level of 95% of accounts filed early or on time

To reduce the costs of our baseline activities by 3.5%

To achieve a customer satisfaction score of at least 88%

These targets reflect the key priorities for Companies House in the coming year, with a focus on moving customers away from paper to digital channels, and ensuring the register is up to date.

[HCWS576]

Intellectual Property Office: Performance Targets

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As an Executive agency and trading fund of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, we set targets which are agreed by Ministers and laid before Parliament. For 2017-18 our targets are:

We will have ratified the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement for international registration of designs by 31 March 2018 and be in a position to launch the service on 6 April 2018 (the common commencement date).

We will publish 90% of acceptable applications for national trade marks for opposition within 90 days of filing.

We will offer faster handling of patent applications, by providing an examination report with a search report when both are requested at the application date, and meeting at least 90% of requests for an accelerated two-month turnaround for search, publication and examination.

We will ensure that overall customer satisfaction is at least 80%.

We will work with industry and enforcement partners to build a co-ordinated response to the growth of illicit streaming, including robust analysis of current legal sanctions and developing proposals for change as appropriate.

We will increase the number of businesses that better understand how to manage their IP: at least 35% of an expected 100,000 businesses we reach will make an informed decision regarding management of their IP.

We will provide market-specific IP advice to 5000 current and prospective British exporters. As part of this work, we will deliver bespoke one-to-one business support activity to at least 200 companies annually.

We will demonstrate our commitment to diversity by securing external validation for our approach to inclusion for under-represented groups.

We will achieve return of capital employed of at least 4%.

We will deliver an efficiency gain of 3.5%.

[HCWS575]

Cabinet Office

Cabinet Committees

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Today the Government are publishing an updated list of Cabinet Committees and implementation taskforces. As part of the changes, the Prime Minister will chair two new Sub-Committees of the European Union Exit and Trade Committee.

The two new Sub-Committees are as follows:

European Union Exit and Trade (Negotiations) Sub-Committee: to oversee the negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from, and future relationship with, the European Union.

European Union Exit and Trade (International Trade) Sub-Committee: to focus on issues relating to the UK’s trading arrangements with non-European Union countries.

Copies of the associated documents will be placed in the Library of House and published on gov.uk.

[HCWS587]

Treasury

Convergence Programme

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Article 121 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union (TFEU) requires the UK to send an annual convergence programme to the European Commission reporting upon its fiscal situation and policies. The UK’s convergence programme will be sent to the European Commission by 30 April. This deadline was set in accordance with the European semester timetable for both convergence and national reform programmes. The UK will continue to have all of the rights, obligations and benefits that membership brings up until the point we leave the EU, and as such the Government will continue to submit the UK’s convergence programme until that time.

Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993 requires that the content of the convergence programme must be drawn from an assessment of the UK’s economic and budgetary position which has been presented to Parliament by the Government for its approval. This assessment is based on the Budget 2017 report and the most recent Office for Budget Responsibility’s economic and fiscal outlook and it is this content, not the convergence programme itself, which requires the approval of the House for the purposes of the Act.

Article 121, along with Article 126 of the TFEU, is the legal basis for the stability and growth pact, which is the co-ordination mechanism for EU fiscal policies and requires member states to avoid excessive Government deficits. Although the UK participates in the stability and growth pact, by virtue of its protocol to the treaty opting out of the euro, it is only required to “endeavour to avoid” excessive deficits. Unlike the euro area member states, the UK is not subject to sanctions at any stage of the European semester process.

Subject to the progress of parliamentary business, debates will be held soon in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, In order for both Houses to approve this assessment before the convergence programme is sent to the Commission. While the convergence programme itself is not subject to parliamentary approval or amendment, I will deposit advanced copies of the document in the Libraries of both Houses and copies will be available through the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office.

The UK’s convergence programme will be available electronically via HM Treasury’s website prior to it being sent to the European Commission.

[HCWS582]

Communities and Local Government

Business Rates: Plant Nurseries

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Since at least 1928, plant nursery grounds have been treated by the Valuation Office Agency as exempt from business rates as part of the general exemption for agriculture. However, following a recent Court of Appeal decision, the Valuation Office Agency has started to bring into business rates buildings at nursery grounds including structures such as polytunnels.

The exemption for agricultural properties is an important part of the rating system. It ensures that large areas of agricultural land and buildings are not liable to a property tax which could have a significant impact on the cost of farming. I can confirm to the House that the Government’s policy is that land and buildings at plant nursery grounds should benefit from the agricultural exemption for business rates.

Therefore, we intend at the soonest opportunity to amend the Local Government Finance Act 1988 to ensure both agricultural land and buildings at plant nursery grounds are exempt from business rates. This will return the law to align with the practice followed by the Valuation Office Agency before the decision in the Court of Appeal.

[HCWS585]

Architects Registration Board Review

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The UK has a reputation for the high quality of its architectural profession. To maintain that reputation it is important that anyone who hires an architect can be assured of their competence. This is partly why we have a system of regulation under the Architects Act where nobody can use the title of architect unless they are registered with the Architects Registration Board (ARB). However, it is critical that the board conducts its regulatory function in a way that is proportionate, cost-effective and transparent and does not impose unnecessary burdens on those wishing to practice as architects.

The ARB has been the subject of a periodic review, in line with Cabinet Office guidance for reviews of arm’s length bodies. I am today publishing the report of that review. This confirms the decision taken by the last Government to continue light-touch regulation of architects based on protection of title to provide protection for home owners, businesses, builders and others commissioning work from architects.

The ARB also acts as the UK competent authority role for architects under the mutual recognition of professional qualifications directive. While the UK remains a member of the European Union, ARB will continue to play that role but this will be kept under review in the light of any arrangements made as the UK leaves the EU.

We have been grateful for suggestions about how to modernise the operation of the board and the review has identified a number of opportunities to reduce costs and improve services. These include strengthening the board’s governance and accountability and improving the complaints handling and disciplinary processes. It is the Government’s intention to implement these recommendations.

The review also made a number of recommendations relating to the way in which qualifications are set which entitle people to register as architects. These recommendations could lead to extensive change for UK architects and architectural education but also relate directly to UK compliance with the EU mutual recognition of professional qualifications directive. The Government have decided that it would be premature to take forward these recommendations at this time, but as the UK leaves the EU, we recognise these will need to be addressed. This will minimise disruption and cost to business, architects and the educational sector.

The Government are grateful for the work of the board in delivering its role. The recommendations of the review will enable the board to serve both architects and their clients even more effectively and the Government look forward to working with the board on implementing them.

I am placing a copy of the review report in the Library of both Houses.

[HCWS583]

Culture, Media and Sport

UK Anti-Doping Tailored Review

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I am announcing today the start of a tailored review of UK Anti-Doping (UKAD).

The principal aims of tailored reviews are to ensure public bodies remain fit for purpose, are well governed and properly accountable for what they do.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/tailored-reviews-of-public-bodies-guidance

UK Anti-Doping is the UK’s national anti-doping organisation responsible for ensuring sports in the UK are compliant with the world anti-doping code. UKAD is sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and implements and manages the Government’s national anti-doping policy.

The review will consider UKAD’s position and its status as a DCMS-sponsored non-departmental public body (NDPB), and if the functions of UKAD are appropriate. If they are found to be, then the review will go on to consider UKAD’s efficiency, effectiveness and governance; and how it is preparing for the future.

The review process and findings will be examined by a challenge group, chaired by DCMS non-executive director, Matthew Campbell-Hill.

In conducting the review, officials will engage with a broad range of stakeholders across the UK (and further afield) in sport, science, medicine, law enforcement and education, and they will explore best practice in the public and private sectors. The review will follow guidance published in 2016 by the Cabinet Office: “Tailored Reviews: Guidance on Reviews of Public Bodies”. The terms of reference for the review and a public survey consultation about the work of UKAD can be found on gov.uk .

I will inform the House of the outcome of the review when it is completed and copies of the report of the review will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS586]

Education

Primary Assessment in England

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Last October, I made a statement to Parliament about the primary assessment and accountability system in England. In that statement, I reaffirmed the importance of a good primary education, and particularly the importance of mastering the basics of literacy and numeracy, to ensure that every child is given the best chance to succeed in life, whatever their background. I also recognised that we must move to a settled system which is ambitious, supports teachers to help every child to reach their potential, allows schools to benchmark their own performance, and enables them to be held to account in a way that is fair and accurate.

Since then, we have taken a number of steps to improve the operation of the assessment system. We have worked with the teaching profession to produce new guidance for the moderation of teacher assessment, to improve the quality and consistency of that moderation, and we have provided additional training for local authority moderators. We have also taken steps to improve the test experience for pupils this year.

We have also talked to headteachers, teachers and others about the longer-term issues that need to be resolved to establish a settled, sustainable system. We are today launching a public consultation on the primary assessment system in England. Our consultation document, “Primary Assessment in England”, sets out wide-ranging proposals for improving our primary assessment system. These include how the system can help to prepare children to succeed at school, the starting point from which to measure the progress that children make in primary school, how we can ensure that the primary assessment system is proportionate, and how end of key stage assessment can be improved, particularly in the case of the statutory teacher assessment frameworks.

It is important that our assessment system can assess the progress and attainment of children of all abilities. The report of the independent Rochford review, also published last October, set out a number of recommendations to improve the way that the attainment and progress of children working below the level of the national curriculum tests is assessed in primary schools. The recommendations, if adopted, would result in significant changes and it is important that we hear the views of those who would be affected, and particularly teachers and others working with children who have special educational needs. That is why we are today also publishing a consultation document on the Rochford proposals and their possible implementation.

During the consultation period, which will last for 12 weeks, we want to hear from as many headteachers and teachers as possible to gather their views and feed them into our final decisions. I would encourage all those with an interest in primary education to engage with these consultation exercises and to share their opinions and insights.

Copies of these consultation documents have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament.

[HCWS584]

Justice

Justice Update

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As I committed on 27 February, when I set the new discount rate, I am today launching a six-week consultation on how the personal injury discount rate, used to help calculate lump sum payments of damages in personal injury claims, should be set in the future. The consultation document is available at: https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/personal-injury-discount-rate/.

It is a long-standing principle under our system that people who suffer injuries wrongfully at the hands of others should be compensated fully, and put in the financial position they would have been had the injury not happened. Where damages are awarded for future loss in the form of a lump sum, that award is adjusted to take account of the effect of the injured person being able to invest the money before the loss or expense for which it is awarded has actually occurred. The factor by which the award is adjusted is determined by the discount rate.

Under the Damages Act 1996, the Lord Chancellor has the power to set the discount rate from time to time. The rate must be set in accordance with the Act and the applicable legal principles set out in case law, particularly the 1998 House of Lords case of Wells v. Wells. The principles in Wells v. Wells lead to the conclusion that the discount rate should be based on the investment portfolio that offers the least risk to personal injury claimant investors in protecting an award of damages against inflation and against market risk. A change to the current legal framework would need primary legislation.

The power to set the discount rate was used first in 2001, when Lord Irvine set the rate at 2.5% by reference to a three-year average of real yields on index-linked gilts (ILGs). Following a review, I announced a change to the rate on 27 February this year to minus 0.75%, which came into force on 20 March. In doing so, I pledged to review the current law to consider: whether the rate should in future be set by an independent body; whether more frequent reviews would improve predictability and certainty for all parties; and whether the methodology—which in effect assumes that claimants would invest only in virtually risk-free ILGs—is appropriate for the future.

The consultation document I am publishing today covers these points, and includes a call for evidence on how investors in the position of personal injury claimants are likely to invest. The consultation document explores what an appropriate investment risk profile could look like for such investors, and what the effect would be of moving from the current virtually risk-free model, to a low-risk model. While my responsibility extends only to England and Wales, the principles and method for setting the rate have read-across to all jurisdictions in the UK, and the consultation is produced in partnership with the Scottish Government.

We must have a justice system that works for all. I fully recognise the impact that the discount rate has, not just on claimants—including some of the most vulnerable in society—but also on defendants in both the public and private sectors, and the further impact this has on consumers’ insurance premiums and taxpayers. The consultation I am launching today will look at the way the rate is set in future, and I am inviting anyone with evidence and expertise to take part. The consultation will close on 11 May.

[HCWS579]

Leader of the House

EVEL Standing Orders Update

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The Government introduced English votes for English laws on 22 October 2015 to address the long-standing West Lothian question. English votes for English laws has provided MPs with constituencies in England (or England and Wales) the right to consent to legislation that applies only to England (or England and Wales).

Upon introduction, the Government committed to a technical review of the Standing Orders related to English votes for English laws and the procedures they introduced. The Government launched the technical review on 26 October 2016.

I am pleased to announce the publication of the Government’s report following the technical review. The Government report also responds to three parliamentary Select Committees which have led inquiries into English votes for English laws over the past 12 months.

The publication can be found through the following link:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/english-votes-for-english-laws-review

[HCWS581]

Transport

Light Dues 2017-18

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A strong and growing maritime industry is vital to the economy of the United Kingdom and it is critical that we treasure and protect this vital artery if we are to remain a world-leading maritime centre.

The work of the general lighthouse authorities, which provide and maintain marine aids to navigation and respond to new wrecks and navigation dangers in some of the busiest waters in the world, is crucial to underpinning that vision while maintaining our vigorous safety record and continuously improving standards of safety.

Reductions in the three general lighthouse authorities’ running costs has already enabled the UK to reduce light dues for three successive years.

For 2017-18 I intend to cut light dues by a further half a penny to 37½p per net registered tonne. This will mean that light dues will have fallen by 25% in real terms since 2010.

Light dues rates will continue to be reviewed on an annual basis to ensure that the general lighthouse authorities are challenged to provide an effective and efficient service which offers value for money to light dues payers while maintaining the highest levels of safety for mariners.

[HCWS578]

MCA Business Plans

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I am proud to announce the publication of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s (MCA) business plan for 2017-18. The MCA does vital work to save lives at sea, regulate ship standards and protect the marine environment. The agency affects not just those working on the coast or at sea, it upholds the legacy of our great maritime nation.

The business plan sets out:

The services that the agency will deliver and any significant changes it plans to make;

The resources the agency requires; and

The key performance indicators, by which its performance will be assessed.

This plan allows service users and members of the public to assess how the agency is performing in operating its key services, managing reforms and the agency finances.

The business plan will be available electronically on gov.uk and copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The business plan can also be viewed online at:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2017-03-30/HCWS577/.

[HCWS577]

Motoring Agencies Business Plans

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I am pleased to announce the publication of the 2017-18 business plans for the Department for Transport’s motoring agencies—the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA).

The business plans set out:

the services each agency will deliver and any significant changes they plan to make;

the resources they require; and,

the key performance indicators, by which their performance will be assessed.

These plans allow service users and members of the public to assess how the agencies are performing in operating their key services, managing reforms and the agency finances.

The business plans will be available electronically on gov.uk and copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Attachments can be viewed online at:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2017-03-30/HCWS580/

[HCWS580]

Work and Pensions

Personal Independence Payment

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The second independent review of the personal independence payment assessment by Paul Gray is being published today. This is the second of the two independent reviews as required by the Welfare Reform Act 2012.

Building on the recommendations from the first independent review, Paul Gray has explored how closely the ongoing implementation of the personal independence payment reflects the policy intent. He has considered:

How effectively further evidence is being used to assist the correct claim decision, and the speed and effectiveness of information gathering;

The degree of claimant confidence and transparency in the claim process; and

How to further promote quality and consistency to produce fair outcomes for all.

The Government welcome the publication of the review and will consider its findings and issue a detailed response in due course.

[HCWS574]