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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
16 November 2017
Volume 631

Written Statements

Thursday 16 November 2017

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Contingency Liability: Mercator Ocean

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Today I will lay before Parliament a departmental minute describing the purchase of a shareholding in Mercator Ocean and the resulting contingent liability.

Copernicus is the EU earth observation programme that monitors the global health of the planet. Mercator Ocean is the “co-ordinating entity” for the Copernicus marine services which provides free and open access to constantly updated information about the global ocean and the seas of the European region. Mercator Ocean is currently owned by five French public institutions with an interest/obligation to deliver research aligned to operational oceanography. It is broadening its ownership structure to be more in line with other delegated authorities.

The Secretary of State, acting through the Met Office, intends on 29 November 2017 to buy a 5% (€100k) share of Mercator Ocean, alongside equivalent organisations from Norway, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

The organisation is a “société civile” (a not-for-profit organisation) under French law, meaning it has unlimited liability, and its shareholders are exposed to liability risk in proportion to their shareholding. A remote contingent liability will therefore exist as long as the Secretary of State retains a shareholding in Mercator Ocean.

The organisation protects its shareholders through contractual mechanisms and through insurance. Also any residual claim would first be met from the assets of the company. Any contingent liability is considered to be extremely remote. In addition any contingent liability will cease to exist should the Met Office dispose of the shares, which it is able to do so at cost at any point within the first three years of ownership, and with six months’ notice after this point.

Regrettably, on this occasion pressing commercial requirements to procure the shares have meant that it has not been possible to provide the full 14 sitting days prior to taking on the contingent liabilities.

[HCWS255]

Cabinet Office

Social Care Update

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Today the Government are setting out plans to publish a Green Paper by summer recess 2018 presenting their proposals to reform care and support for older people. Reform of this vital sector has been a controversial issue for many years, but the realities of an ageing society mean that we must reach a sustainable settlement for the long term.

To achieve reform where previous attempts have failed, we must look more broadly than social care services alone, and not focus narrowly on questions of means-testing, important though these are. Our vision for care must also incorporate the wider networks of support and services which help older people to live independently, including the crucial role of housing and the interaction with other public services. It must consider how care is provided at present and challenge the system to embrace new technology, innovation and workforce models which can deliver better quality and value.

To deliver a lasting solution, it is right that we take the time needed to debate these complex issues and listen to a range of perspectives to build consensus. For this reason, over the coming months, we will work with experts, stakeholders and people using care and support services to shape the long-term reform which is urgently needed. The Government have already established an inter-ministerial group to oversee development of the Green Paper, and as part of this initial engagement we have asked a number of independent experts in this area to provide their views to the group. The Government will also engage closely with representatives from local government, the NHS, the voluntary sector and care providers, as well as with people who use care and support, to underpin development of the Green Paper. When the Green Paper is published, it will be subject to a full public consultation, providing a further opportunity for interested parties to give their views.

We recognise that many MPs and Peers are already engaging in the debate about the future of care and support, and we want to hear their views. I am therefore writing today to invite the chairs of relevant all-party parliamentary groups to meet me in the coming weeks to listen to their perspectives and priorities for the reform agenda.

While the Green Paper will focus on care for older people, the Government recognise both the challenges faced by people of working age with care needs and the many common questions about the sustainability of the care system. Many of the discussions on the Green Paper reforms will impact on care and support for adults of all ages. However, to ensure that issues for working-age adults with care needs are considered in their own right, the Government will take forward a parallel programme of work, led jointly by the Department of Health and the Department for Communities and Local Government, which will focus on this group. This work will also be overseen by the inter-ministerial group to ensure alignment with the Green Paper.

The Green Paper presents a unique opportunity to build consensus around reforms which can last. There is no escaping that building a sustainable care and support system will require choices about what that system should provide and how it is paid for. But getting this right promises a better system that everyone can have confidence in, where people understand their responsibilities, can prepare for the future, and know that the care they receive will be to a high standard and help them maintain their independence and wellbeing.

[HCWS258]

Communities and Local Government

Local Plans

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On 7 February we published our Housing White Paper in which we made clear that the housing market in this country is broken, and the cause is very simple: for too long, we have not built enough homes. We have identified three systemic problems: not enough local authorities planning for the homes they need; house building that is simply too slow; and a construction industry that is too reliant on a small number of big players.

Up-to-date plans, including local plans, are essential because they provide clarity to communities and developers about where homes should be built and where not, so that development is planned rather than the result of speculative applications. At present too few places have an up-to-date plan.

On 21 July 2015 we made a written ministerial statement to the House on this same subject. At that point 82% of authorities had published a local plan under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 regime. Today that figure stands at 92%.

In the 13 years that have passed since the 2004 Act received Royal Assent, over 70 local planning authorities have yet to adopt a plan and, of those, 27 authorities still have failed to reach the publication stage. I am particularly concerned about the 15 local planning authorities that have recently either failed the duty to co-operate or failed to meet the deadlines set out in their local development schemes, the public timetable that all local planning authorities are required to put in place.

I am therefore writing today to the local planning authorities of:

Basildon, Brentwood, Bolsover, Calderdale, Castle Point, Eastleigh, Liverpool, Mansfield, North East Derbyshire, Northumberland, Runnymede, St Albans, Thanet, Wirral and York.

These letters will start the formal process of intervention we set out in the Housing White Paper. We set out that we will prioritise intervention where:

the least progress in plan-making has been made;

policies in plans had not been kept up to date;

there was higher housing pressure; and

intervention would have the greatest impact in accelerating local plan production.

We also made clear that decisions on intervention will also be informed by the wider planning context in each area (specifically, the extent to which authorities are working co-operatively to put strategic plans in place, and the potential impact that not having a plan has on neighbourhood planning activity).

I am writing today to give the local authorities the opportunity to put forward any exceptional circumstances, by 31 January 2018, which, in their view, justify their failure to produce a local plan under the 2004 Act regime. I will take responses received into account before any final decisions on intervention are taken.

The remaining authorities who are not making progress on their plan-making and fail to publish a plan for consultation, submit a plan to examination or to keep policies in plans up to date are on notice that consistent failure to make sufficient progress will no longer be tolerated. My Department will begin formally considering the case for intervention as deadlines are missed.

We will also bring forward the important provisions we legislated for earlier in the year through the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017. I will shortly lay the regulations under section 12 to prescribe that local planning authorities must review their plans every five years.

We will also shortly be commencing Section 8 of the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 which will place a requirement on all local planning authorities to have plans in place for their area which set out their strategic policies. Those strategic priorities are set out at paragraph 156 of the National Planning Policy Framework.

As we set out in July 2015 we recognise that production of local plans is resource intensive. On 19 October 2017 we laid the regulations which, subject to approval of both Houses, will bring forward our White Paper commitment to increase planning fees by 20%. This delivers on our commitment to increase resources for local planning authorities where they commit to invest the additional fee income in their planning department. All local planning authorities in England have given this commitment. We will shortly announce details of the £25 million of funding to help local authorities plan for new homes and infrastructure in their area that we announced in the White Paper.

We have supported and we will continue to support, local planning authorities in plan-making, through the planning advisory service, with support from officials of my Department and the planning inspectorate.

Where local planning authorities continue to fail to produce a plan to provide certainty to their community on where future development will be brought forward, we will use our intervention powers to ensure plans are put in place.

[HCWS254]

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Civil Society Strategy

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I wish to inform the House today of the Government’s intention to develop a civil society strategy.

Civil society plays a vital role in the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities across our country, and in helping to address some burning injustices.

This strategy will provide an opportunity to explore ways to build new partnerships within and between sectors and communities, so that we can better mobilise resources and expertise and find practical new solutions to the problems we face. It will reaffirm the value that Government places on civil society. It will explore what more Government can do to support its work.

Civil society in England is broad. It encompasses the work of individuals, charities, youth organisations and communities. Civil society is increasingly diverse, with growing numbers of social enterprises, mission-led businesses and public service mutuals, as well as many more private businesses and investors that want to make a meaningful contribution.

I would like the strategy to help shape the future direction for our work with and for civil society, and encompass all who have a role to play in building a stronger and fairer society.

It will be developed through dialogue and debate with people, groups, and organisations across government, businesses and wider civil society. It will build on engagements to date, including work with young people and youth organisations, as well as work to grow social impact investing, among others.

The Office for Civil Society, in the Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport, will lead this work, with input from the Department for Communities and Local Government and other Departments. A listening exercise will be launched in the new year and findings reported later in the year.

[HCWS252]

Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council

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The Education, Youth, Culture and Sport (EYCS) Council will take place in Brussels on 20 and 21 November 2017. The UK’s deputy permanent representative to the EU will represent the interests of the UK at the Youth, Culture and Sport sessions of this Council.

Youth

The Council will seek to gain a general approach among EU member states on the proposals laying down the framework for the European solidarity corps. The UK is proposing to vote in favour, subject to scrutiny. Also tabled is the adoption of draft Council conclusions on smart youth work, which the UK supports. This will be followed by a policy debate as proposed by the presidency. The Commission will also provide information on a new narrative for Europe.

Culture and audiovisual

The Council will begin by presenting, for adoption, draft Council conclusions on promoting access to culture via digital means, which will have a focus on audience development. The UK intends to support the adoption of these conclusions. This will be followed by a policy debate on the role of culture in building cohesive societies in Europe, as proposed by the presidency.

On audiovisual, the presidency is expected to provide an update on the audiovisual media services directive (AVMSD). This update will act as the first reading since the general approach was achieved at the last EYCS Council in May 2017. The discussion is expected to focus on the progress, thus far, of trilogue discussions between the Council and the European Parliament.

In addition to these files, the German delegation will provide information pertaining to the file on the regulation of the import of cultural goods. This file is at an early discussion stage. However it is anticipated that it will be implemented by January 2019, DCMS and HMRC are engaging with the member states in developing this policy.

Additional agenda items include for information items on international cultural relations, offences relating to cultural property, defence of cultural heritage, re-establishing Europe through culture and the mobility of artists.

Sport

There will be two non-legislative activities tabled regarding sport. Firstly, the adoption of the draft Council conclusions on the role of coaches in society. Secondly, adoption of the Council resolution on the EU structured dialogue on sport. The UK intends to support the adoption of both sets of conclusions. These will be followed by a policy debate on the main challenges facing sport in the 21st century and co-operation between the EU, Governments and sport movement, as proposed by the presidency in accordance with the Council rules of procedure.

Information will be provided from the EU member states representatives in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA foundation board). This will act as a follow up to WADA meetings in Seoul on 15 and 16 November 2017. The Greek delegation will also provide information to the Council on supporting the Olympic truce during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Other

The Council will be receiving information from the Bulgarian delegation, as the incoming presidency in the first half of 2018, to set out their work programme for the next six months.

[HCWS250]

Education

Schools and Early Years Update

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Today the Government are launching a public consultation on their proposed approach to revising the entitlement criteria for free school meals and the early years pupil premium, in light of the national roll out of universal credit.

Universal credit is replacing a number of qualifying benefits for free school meals, such as job seeker’s allowance, child’s tax credit and income support.

Subject to the outcome of this consultation, we propose to introduce a net earned income threshold of £7,400 per annum for those in receipt of universal credit. A typical family earning around £7,400 per annum would, depending on their exact circumstances, have a total household income between £18,000 and £24,000 once benefits are taken into account. A threshold of £7,400 will increase the free school meals cohort by approximately 5% once universal credit is fully rolled out and in steady state. This equates to approximately 50,000 additional pupils being eligible to receive a nutritious free school meal than currently.

Furthermore, to ensure that no child who currently benefits from a free school meal loses this entitlement as a result of this criteria change, we aim to protect current beneficiaries’ eligibility up until the end of the roll-out of universal credit. from that point on, all children should retain this protection for the rest of their current phase of education.

The economic eligibility criteria for the early years pupil premium are the same as for free school meals. We believe that this consistency is important so that the most disadvantaged families benefit from this additional funding across the whole age range. As such, we propose to apply the same threshold as mentioned above for free school meals to the early years pupil premium, and to mirror the protection arrangements for current beneficiaries during the UC roll-out period.

If, following the public consultation and subject to the will of the House, the Government decide to take forward their proposals, we expect the revised regulations to come into force in April 2018.

The “Eligibility for free school meals and early years pupil premium under universal credit” consultation will commence today and run for eight weeks. The consultation document containing full details of the proposals and inviting responses will be published on the Department for Education’s website. Copies of the consultation document will also 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/2017-11-16/HCWS260/.

[HCWS260]

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Water Protocol: England and Wales

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In conjunction with the Secretary of State for Wales I will today lay before the House a water protocol for England and Wales, agreed between the UK Government and the Welsh Government. The protocol, which the Welsh Ministers are laying in the National Assembly for Wales in parallel, is made under Section 50 of the Wales Act 2017.

The protocol reaffirms the close working between the two Governments on matters relating to water resources, water supply and water quality. It underlines our commitment that no action or inaction by either Administration should have any serious adverse impact on either England or Wales and crucially, that the interests of water consumers on both sides of our borders are safeguarded.

Agreement of the protocol paves the way for the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention in relation to water to be repealed. These powers, in the Government of Wales Act 2006, enable the Secretary of State to intervene if they believe an Assembly Bill, or the exercise of a devolved function, risks having a serious adverse impact on water resources, water supply or water quality in England.

The protocol replaces these intervention powers with a reciprocal agreement. The intervention powers will be repealed when the new reserved powers model of Welsh devolution come into effect on 1 April 2018.

[HCWS251]

Exiting the European Union

General Affairs Council

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My hon. Friend Lord Callanan, Minister of State for Exiting the European Union, has made the following statement:

I will be attending the General Affairs Council in Brussels on 20 November 2017 to represent the UK’s interests. Until we leave the European Union, we remain committed to fulfilling our rights and obligations as a full member.

The provisional agenda includes:

Preparation of the European Council, 14 and 15 December 2017

There will be a discussion on the agenda for the December European Council. This includes: defence, focusing on the launch of PESCO (permanent structured co-operation) and a review of EU-NATO co-operation; social, education and culture, which includes a follow up to the November Gothenburg social summit; migration, involving a leaders’ debate on both the internal and external dimensions of migration as part of Donald Tusk’s leader’s agenda; and external relations.

European Council follow-up

The presidency will give an update on the implementation of the October European Council conclusions on migration, digital Europe, security and defence, and external relations.

Legislative programming—Commissions work programme for 2018 (CWP 2018)

Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans will present the CWP 2018, which sets out the legislation and other initiatives that the Commission intends to present to the Council of Ministers and European Parliament over the coming year.

Interinstitutional agreements (IIA) implementation

The presidency will lay out what progress has been made on the interinstitutional agreement on better law-making (IIA), signed by the Presidents of the European Council, Commission and Parliament in April 2016. The IIA set out the commitments of these institutions regarding better regulation, interinstitutional relations and the legislative process.

European semester 2018

The presidency will introduce the timetable for the European semester 2018, which will provide a framework for the co-ordination of economic policies across the EU.

[HCWS248]

Home Department

Disclosure and Barring Service: Annual Report

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The 2016-17 Annual Report and Accounts for the Disclosure and Barring Service (HC178) is being laid before the House today and published on www.gov.uk. Copies will be available in the Vote Office.

[HCWS256]

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000: Codes of Practice

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I am today publishing three revised codes of practice for consultation under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

The consultation is in relation to the following codes:

The covert surveillance and property interference code of practice

The covert human intelligence sources code of practice

These codes provide guidance on the authorisation of directed surveillance, intrusive surveillance and covert human intelligence sources under part 2 of RIPA, as well as property interference under the Police Act 1997 and Intelligence Services Act 1994. These powers are available to law enforcement and intelligence agencies as well as a number of other public authorities specified under RIPA, for use where necessary and proportionate for purposes such as the prevention or detection of crime, and the protection of national security. The codes reinforce the safeguards provided by the Acts, for the careful and lawful deployment, management and oversight of the powers.

The investigation of protected information code of practice

This code sets out guidance on the use of powers under part 3 of RIPA governing the investigation of protected electronic information, usually in pursuance of a criminal investigation.

The three codes are being updated to reflect changes in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 which will impact on the use of the powers covered by the codes. In particular the codes reflect the creation of the new Investigatory Powers Commissioner, who has replaced the three existing oversight bodies, the requirement for public authorities to report errors to the commissioner, and the new arrangements for authorisation of equipment interference which will apply in future to some techniques currently authorised under property interference provisions, and be relevant for use of the power under part 3 of RIPA. At the same time the guidance in the codes under part 2 of RIPA are being updated to reflect best practice in authorisation and management of the powers, to strengthen the safeguards relating to handling of confidential or legally privileged material, and to clarify the application of the RIPA framework to online investigation and research.

The consultation will last for six weeks. Copies of the consultation document and draft codes will be placed in the Library of the House. Online versions will be available on the www.gov.uk website.

[HCWS257]

Northern Ireland

Universal Credit: Northern Ireland Implementation

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In the light of recent questions in the House, I wish to set out the policy and respective responsibilities regarding the non-consensual conception exception to the policy to provide additional support in child tax credit and universal credit, and its interaction with Northern Ireland criminal law.

There has been particular focus on Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (Nl) 1967. This provides that where a relevant offence has been committed, it shall be the duty of every other person who knows or believes that the offence has been committed and that has information which is likely to secure, or to be of material assistance in securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of any person for that offence, to give the information, otherwise they shall be guilty of an offence, unless they have a reasonable excuse. This provision is not new, nor has it been affected in any way by the implementation of universal credit in Northern Ireland. Its implications for those who are victims of crime, including rape, date back to 1967. And as criminal law is a devolved matter, the UK Government have no role in determining the appropriateness of this particular provision, nor in proposing any amendment to it. What is more, we understand that there has not been a single prosecution of a victim of rape under section 5 of the 1967 Act in 50 years. That means that there is no recorded case where it has been considered that those limbs of the prosecutorial test have been met since 1967.

As to the non-consensual conception exception more broadly, it is an important part of the two-child limit policy. It is in place to protect those who are not always able to make choices about the number of children in their family. But given its complex and sensitive nature, great care is taken in its application right across the United Kingdom. We have worked with the Department for Communities, given that the administration of universal credit is a devolved matter, to ensure the same is true in Northern Ireland.

In particular, the legal position is made very clear on the forms and guidance for child tax credits and universal credit, so that both the claimant and the third party professional are clear before any disclosure is made:

“Please be aware, that in Northern Ireland, if the third party knows or believes that a relevant offence (such as rape) has been committed, the third party will normally have a duty to inform the police of any information that is likely to secure, or to be of material assistance in securing, the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of someone for that offence”.

In addition, claimants applying for this exception will be told that they do not have to tell the third party professional the name of the child’s other biological parent. Nor is there a requirement on the approved third party professional to seek any further evidence to confirm the circumstances around the conception of the child beyond what the claimant has described to them. The role of a third party professional will simply be to confirm, by ticking boxes on a form, that the claimant has made a declaration to them which is consistent with the criteria for the non-consensual conception exception in relation to their child. No officials of either the UK Government or the Northern Ireland Civil Service will question a claimant about an incident. You can find details of the guidance and the forms online (https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/publications/form-ncc1niis-support-child-conceived-without-your-consent).

Taken as a whole, therefore, the implementation of universal credit in Northern Ireland has been undertaken in a way that reflects the interests of claimants on the one hand, and the interests of those taxpayers who support themselves solely through work on the other. Ultimately, however, given the devolution settlement, the questions raised are properly for a restored Northern Ireland Executive.

[HCWS259]

Prime Minister

Machinery of Government Change: Gender Recognition Act

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This written statement confirms that responsibility for the Gender Recognition Act 2004 will transfer from the Ministry of Justice to the Government Equalities Office. This change will be effective immediately.

[HCWS253]

Work and Pensions

Pensions

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The Government have now completed the examination of the cap that applies to member-borne charges in default investment funds within defined contribution (DC) pension schemes used for automatic enrolment (AE).w

After seeking a range of industry and consumer views and considering the findings of the recent pension charges survey, which captures data from providers covering 14.4 million scheme members, we do not feel that now is the right time to change the level or scope of the cap.

The cap is working broadly as intended, helping to drive down member-borne costs, while allowing flexibility to allow asset diversity or tailored services for members and employers. It appears some small schemes are less able to take advantage of the most competitive market rates, and we have launched proposals to simplify the scheme consolidation process. This will allow smaller schemes who cannot secure value for money in the long term to exit the market and secure a better deal for their members elsewhere.

There continues to be a lack of transparency on transaction costs, which is hindering trustees and independent governance committees’ (IGC) attempts to monitor and evaluate whether these represent value. We believe that it is vital to get disclosure right before deciding on whether a cap on transaction costs is appropriate. Recently announced DWP legislative proposals will ensure trustees have sight of these costs and can give that information to members. The FCA is developing similar rules for providers.

The Government remain committed to ensuring AE members are protected from unreasonable and unfair charges, and recognise that there is ongoing concern among consumers.

We will actively monitor the situation, by reviewing the information which trustees of DC schemes will be required to publish from April 2018, and which providers will publish in due course, to monitor whether the downward trend in charges is continuing.

That will also inform our next review. In 2020 we intend to examine the level and scope of the charge cap, as well as permitted charging structures, to see whether a change is needed to protect members. This will also allow us to evaluate the effects of the next stage of AE and the new master trust and transaction costs regimes.

While we are not pre-judging the decision, we expect there to be a much clearer case for change in 2020.

[HCWS249]