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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
12 February 2019
Volume 654

Written Statements

Tuesday 12 February 2019

Treasury

ECOFIN

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A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) will be held in Brussels on 12 February 2019. The UK will be represented by Mark Bowman (Director General, International Finance, HM Treasury). The Council will discuss the following:

Early morning session

The Eurogroup President will brief the Council on the outcomes of the 11 February meeting of the Eurogroup, and the European Commission will provide an update on the current economic situation in the EU.

European system of financial supervision review

The Council will be invited to agree a general approach on the review of the European system of financial supervision.

Current financial services legislative proposals

The Romanian presidency will provide an update on current legislative proposals in the field of financial services.

Decision making in EU taxation policy

The Council will hold an exchange of views on the European Commission’s proposal to move to qualified majority voting (QMV) in EU taxation policy.

Fiscal sustainability report

The Council will be invited to adopt Council conclusions on the 2018 fiscal sustainability report.

Discharge of the EU budget

The Council will be invited to approve a Council recommendation to discharge to the European Commission in respect of the 2017 EU budget.

EU budget guidelines

The Council will be invited to adopt Council conclusions on the EU budget guidelines for 2020.

AOB—carbon pricing and aviation tax

The Dutch Finance Minister will present a paper to the Council on carbon pricing and aviation tax.

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Home Department

National DNA Database Strategy Board Annual Report

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My noble Friend the Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) has today made the following written ministerial statement:

The Secretary of State for the Home Department, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) is today laying before the House the annual report of the national DNA database strategy board for 2017-18. This report covers the national fingerprints database and the national DNA database (NDNAD).

Chief Constable James Vaughan has presented the annual report of the national DNA database to the Home Secretary. Publication of the report is a statutory requirement under section 63AB(7) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 as inserted by section 24 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.

The report shows the important contribution that the NDNAD and the national fingerprint databases (policing collections) make to supporting policing and solving crimes. I am grateful to the strategy board for their commitment to fulfilling their statutory functions.

A copy of the report will be made available on gov.uk.

[HCWS1326]

Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group

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My noble Friend the Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) has today made the following written ministerial statement:

On 20 July 2017, the Home Secretary extended the remit of the National DNA Database Ethics Group (NDNADEG) to cover the ethical issues associated with all forensic identification techniques and renamed the group as the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group (BFEG).

To support the Home Office’s strategic approach to data, and to build public trust, it has been agreed to extend the remit of the BFEG further. The group will now also be asked to consider strategic issues relating to the use of large and complex data sets by the Home Office. This will include providing independent oversight of the data ethics governance framework established to ensure balanced consideration of the use of data within the Home Office.

The group will act within the legal framework of the Department on an advisory basis. It will not be in the remit of the group to consider whether the Department has complied with the relevant laws, nor will the Department disclose personal data to the group to enable it to discharge its responsibilities.

The BFEG will continue to consider the ethical aspects of:

the application and operation of technologies which produce biometric and forensic data and identifiers;

ethical issues relating to scientific services provided to the police service and other public bodies within the criminal justice system;

applications for research involving access to biometric or forensic data; and

matters relating to the management, operation and use of biometric or forensic data.

[HCWS1325]

Transport

East Midlands Rail Franchise

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I wish to inform the House that the Secretary of State for Transport, has reached agreement with Stagecoach Group to continue to operate train services on the east midlands rail franchise. This direct award means that passengers from London St Pancras International to Northamptonshire, the east midlands, Lincolnshire, Staffordshire and South Yorkshire will continue to be served by East Midlands Trains until 18 August 2019. If required there is an option to extend this agreement by up to a further six rail periods.

East Midlands Trains has achieved good performance and passenger satisfaction levels during the time they have been operating the franchise and the new agreement will allow for a smooth transition into the next competitively- tendered franchise. In the forthcoming months I expect East Midlands Trains to deliver the following improvements as part of the new agreement:

investment of £150,000 on accessibility improvements at stations;

a simplified application process for Delay Repay.

As a minimum East Midlands Trains will also be expected to continue to deliver the following:

good performance levels and passenger satisfaction;

a mobile app which provides real time information on the operation of passenger services and enables customers to book and pay for travel;

a 4G wi-fi service and provide at least 15 minutes of free access per passenger journey on standard class.

This direct award will ensure a smooth transition from the current operator to the next franchise which is expected to deliver significant passenger benefits including more services and seats across the franchise, in addition to better facilities and further improved accessibility at stations.

[HCWS1322]

Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Licensing

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I am today announcing to the House the launching of a consultation on statutory guidance to be issued to taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) licensing authorities and that the Government have issued their response to the report of the task and finish group on taxi and private hire vehicle licensing.

The draft statutory guidance proposes a range of robust measures to protect taxi and PHV passengers, particularly those most vulnerable. Government and licensing authorities must work together to ensure that, above all else, the taxi and PHV services the public use are safe. The consultation on this guidance will run until 22 April 2019.

The taxi and PHV trade has experienced significant and rapid changes in recent years which have brought with them benefits but have exacerbated concerns over the existing structure of the industry and the environment in which it operates. In particular, many of these changes have highlighted inconsistencies in the licensing standards, and in the rigour with which these standards are applied by some licensing authorities.

The recommendations proposed in the draft statutory guidance are a result of extensive consultation, and in particular learning from the best practice of exemplary licensing authorities. Consulting on statutory guidance is an important first step to reforming the way the taxi and PHV sector is regulated.

In addition to the statutory guidance consultation, the Government are today publishing their response to the report of the chair of the task and finish group. The Government have set out their plans to introduce legislation and bring forward the urgent reforms necessary. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Chair, Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq, for his report, and the members of the group for their dedication in considering the issues facing the trade and their potential remedies.

The Government will, when time allows, bring forward legislation to introduce national minimum standards for taxi and PHV licensing, reinforcing the consistently high standards that the statutory guidance will bring to the sector. To ensure that drivers are under the same level of scrutiny when operating away from their licensing area we will legislate to enable enforcement and compliance checks to be conducted by any licensing officer against any vehicle regardless of where they have been licensed. Where drivers or vehicles fail to meet the national minimum standards, they will be able to take appropriate action to protect the public. Underpinning these measures will be the introduction of a national licensing database to assist the sharing of relevant information between licensing authorities and other bodies necessary to ensure that all those in the trade are “fit and proper” and warrant the trust that is placed in them by the public. This database will build on the work of the Local Government Association and the National Anti-Fraud Network in establishing the national register of revocation and refusals.

Taxis and PHVs provide a vital community service which is used by many people; helping them get to the shops, see their friends, or go to work or school. We will work with the trade, drivers and regulators as well as passenger groups to meet the challenges the sector is expected to face in the future and ensure that change is not at the expense of a safe and well-functioning market. This work is already under way through the future of mobility grand challenge and the Law Commission’s consideration on enabling autonomous vehicles. I would encourage all to engage on these issues and help shape a successful sector that all can be proud of.

[HCWS1323]

Second Additional Provision to the High Speed Rail (West Midlands – Crewe) Bill

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I would like to inform the House about the introduction of a second additional provision to the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill, which is currently before a Select Committee.

As part of this Government’s industrial strategy we are investing in High Speed 2, a transformational infrastructure project that will improve people’s journeys, create jobs, generate economic growth and help to rebalance our country’s economy. HS2 is more than a railway and the project’s vision is to be a catalyst for economic growth. It has cross-party support and support from councils, local enterprise partnerships, metro Mayors and businesses who can see the transformational potential.

HS2 is making progress and the benefits are already being seen in towns and cities in advance of HS2 services. Around 2,000 businesses have been awarded HS2 contracts and over 7,000 jobs have been supported, a figure that will increase to around 30,000 at peak.

The additional provision proposes a number of changes to the powers in the Bill for the Select Committee’s consideration. These changes have arisen as a result of requests from petitioners, directions from the Select Committee currently considering the Bill, and further design development, principally in relation to utility works. Those directly and specially affected by these changes may petition against them, and once any petitioners have been heard, the Committee will decide whether the amendments to the Bill should be made. The main changes in the additional provision are as follows:

The lowering of the viaduct at Kings Bromley which reduces environmental effects such as visual impact;

a revised and more simple Handsacre junction layout, where phase one connects to the west coast main line;

a new traction power connection, requiring over 7 km of high voltage electricity lines, from the HS2 line at Newlands Lane to the east of the route. This change ensures the necessary resilience and redundancy required for traction power on a high-speed railway;

temporary and permanent power supply routes to the Whitmore and Madeley tunnels, to support the operation of the tunnel boring machines during construction and later, the operation of the tunnels;

a southward extension of the southern end of the tunnel at Whitmore, to avoid the need for complex surface works where the A53 crosses the route; and

works at and around Crewe station including the extension of platform 5 to accommodate 400-metre HS2 trains. These changes support the realisation of the Crewe hub vision.

The additional provision also includes works and powers related to utilities following detailed discussion with utility companies. Other changes relate to highway safety and capacity improvements.

All of these changes require additional land to be acquired, and/or works to be carried out. In some cases land now affected is at some distance from the line of route. Full details are shown in the plans and sections deposited alongside the additional provision. Affected landowners will receive notification this week, including information on how to petition against the changes, should they decide to do so.

The following amendments are also included in this additional provision:

An insertion to allow easements over land to be for the benefit of a third party (i.e. utility companies) rather than for the benefit of the Secretary of State;

dis-application of some sections of the Building Act 1984 in relation to demolitions which are already otherwise authorised by the Bill; and

increasing the controls on the nominated undertaker in relation to low-volume lorry movements.

I am also publishing an environmental statement setting out the significant effects and mitigation from the changes in the additional provision, alongside a supplementary environmental statement reporting new environmental information relating to the scheme. In accordance with Standing Orders, there is a public consultation on these documents which will run until 29 March 2019. The documents will be put in the Public Bill Office of the House, and will also be made available in locations open to the public in all local authorities and parishes affected by the changes.

In October 2018, I committed to updating the House regularly on the progress of HS2. I intend to make further statements to this House to update colleagues on HS2’s progress during the course of 2019.

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