Thursday 26 May 2016
Business, Innovation and Skills
Today the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has announced its decision to create a combined BIS headquarters and policy function in London to deliver a simpler, smaller Department that is more flexible and responsive to stakeholders and businesses by 2020. This involves basing all policy roles in London by 2018 and closing the St Paul’s Place office in Sheffield.
Everyone affected will be able to stay in post in their current location until January 2018 and if they choose to take up a post in London there will be financial assistance for travel available for the first three years.
Anyone choosing to leave will benefit from the best exit terms currently available in the civil service. The support package on offer will include money for re-skilling, career coaching, and time off to look for other jobs.
The executive board and ministerial team take the future of staff affected by this decision, and the contribution they have made, very seriously. We are aware this decision will directly affect people’s lives, livelihoods and families and it has therefore not been taken lightly. Support for staff has been and remains our priority.
This unanimous decision has been reached by the BIS executive board after the Department conducted a consultation with staff and with the departmental trade unions which closed on 2 May. Inevitably it has been a period of uncertainty for staff but the consultation period has enabled the executive board to reflect on its proposal, to hear from staff, to take into account the equality analysis, and to consider the alternative business models which have been put forward.
Following the recent spending review, BIS has set itself the target of becoming a more flexible and efficient Department, as well as reducing its cost to the taxpayer. We have committed to deliver reductions in the Department’s operating expenditure which equate to around £350 million by 2020. Savings of this magnitude can only be delivered by fundamentally changing the Department’s overall business model in a way that works for a smaller workforce with more streamlined structures in a demanding service and policy environment.
BIS 2020 is the transformation programme to deliver that new business model—creating a Department that is simpler, smaller, and better for users by 2020. As a transformation programme it is ambitious. It means reducing our operating costs and associated headcount by 30% to 40%; more than halving our 45 public bodies; and rationalising customer support, grant giving and digital service delivery. It also involves reducing our locations from around 80 sites to seven business centres plus a regional presence across the country. These business centres will each focus on a key area of business activity bringing together expertise and helping us to build our capability.
One of these business centres will be a combined BIS headquarters and policy function in London. Crucial to this decision was bringing together BIS’ policy capability which is currently dispersed across 14 offices, and locating it near Ministers, Parliament, and other Government Departments in Whitehall.
Over the course of this Parliament our policy function will reduce from around 2,000 roles to around 1,500 roles, reflecting the size of the Department’s pay bill on our operating expenditure. As we get smaller we need a simpler structure that allows staff to interact easily and to respond rapidly and flexibly to Ministers, Parliament and other stakeholders. Being more flexible, agile and re-deployable enables us to respond to the challenging demands of modern Government. The steel crisis is a recent example of where we have had to urgently re-deploy large numbers of staff to address an urgent priority.
Operating split site and split team working as we become smaller would put an increasing strain on our organisational effectiveness which is why the executive board has concluded that a combined headquarters and policy function is the most effective model to continue to serve Ministers and stakeholders flexibly, effectively and sustainably.
Higher Education Student Support
I can confirm that I am laying regulations today, which are subject to parliamentary scrutiny, to launch a new postgraduate master’s loan.
Students will be able to apply for a loan of up to £10,000 as a contribution towards the cost of an eligible postgraduate master’s qualification. The loan will be available to eligible students under the age of 60 undertaking certain full or part-time master’s courses in any subject from academic year 2016-17 onwards. Repayment will be on an income contingent basis to ensure the loan is affordable.
By delivering on this manifesto commitment we will be helping to remove the financial barrier faced by many wishing to study at this level and providing students with the means to invest in their futures.
Consumer Protection: Resale of Tickets
Together with my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, I am today laying before Parliament an independent report by Professor Michael Waterson, on the outcome of his “review of consumer protection measures concerning online secondary ticketing facilities”.
The report is required by Section 94 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The report is available at: www.gov.uk website and is available in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Government will carefully consider the report’s recommendations and will be providing a response in due course.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Professor Waterson for his time and diligence in carrying out this review into an important topic for consumers.
Post-Foreign Affairs Council (Trade)
My noble Friend the Minister of State for Trade and Investment (Lord Price) has today made the following statement.
I represented the UK at the EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) in Brussels on 13 May 2016. A summary of the main discussions follows.
EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)
Trade Commissioner Malmström introduced CETA and made clear that the EU now needed to implement the deal. The Commission intended to sign the deal at the end of October at the EU-Canada summit. A consent vote in the European Parliament would then follow in late 2016, or early 2017. I urged rapid implementation of CETA. I and most of my counterparts from other member states were of the view that this trade agreement should be mixed as it contained areas of member state competence.
Commissioner Malmström highlighted good progress on some areas but that work remained on others. The Commissioner’s aim was to finalise TTIP under the Obama Administration. Before the summer, negotiators were therefore working towards full consolidated texts in most areas. The EU was also pushing for a new US procurement offer.
All member states reiterated their desire for a balanced and ambitious agreement. I pressed for conclusion of an ambitious deal in 2016, pointing out that with projected economic gains from TTIP of €250 billion globally, each month’s delay was €8 billion foregone for the EU economy. I signalled the UK’s desire to see the Commission table a market access offer in financial services.
Trade-related aspects of the recent communication on steel
Commissioner Malmström outlined the Commission’s response so far to the steel crisis, and went on to set out the latest Commission ideas for disapplying the “lesser duty rule” (LDR), and redefining the methodology for calculating the injury caused to industry. She finished by announcing that the Commission had that day launched an anti-subsidy investigation into Chinese imports of hot-rolled coiled steel. Discussion revolved around whether LDR needed to be disapplied in extreme cases.
I lauded the Commission’s efforts on the steel crisis so far, including the announcement on hot-rolled coiled steel. I said that trade defence modernisation was needed, and the UK was keen to play a constructive role in finding a solution. But on LDR, the evidence suggested that the rule had been working and had delivered the right results.
In preparation for the 11th WTO ministerial conference (December 2017), Commissioner Malmström said the EU should focus on the areas where it could add most value, i.e. on the development of rules rather than market access negotiations, and on sectoral initiatives.
Indemnity for Petition Officers (Recall Petitions)
It is normal practice, when a Government Department proposes to undertake a contingent liability in excess of £300,000 for which there is no specific statutory authority, for the Department concerned to present to Parliament a minute giving particulars of the liability created and explaining the circumstances; and to refrain from incurring the liability until 14 parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the minute, except in cases of special urgency.
Insurance for specific elections has historically provided extremely poor value for money, with claims made under such cover being smaller than the cost of the insurance premium. An indemnity therefore provides better value for money and this approach has been taken for elections since 2009.
On this basis, I have today laid a minute setting out the Cabinet Office’s proposal to indemnify petition officers for claims that arise out of the conduct of their duties in relation to the Recall of MPs Act 2015. This Act requires a recall petition to be held if one of the provisions under section 1 of the Act is met in relation to an MP. The responsibility for the conduct of the petition will rest with the petition officer for the constituency in which the petition is to be held. Section 6 of the Recall of MPs Act 2015 provides that every constituency is to have a petition officer for a recall petition and identifies who the petition officer is for each constituency: in England and Wales, it is the person who is the acting returning officer for UK Parliamentary elections for the relevant constituency; in Scotland it is the returning officer for UK parliamentary elections for the relevant constituency. The petition officer is an independent entity, separate from both central and local government.
We will also provide a certificate confirming that we will bear any employee liabilities of the returning officer which would otherwise be covered by insurance procured under the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969. An indemnity was previously provided by the Home Office to returning officers for the 2012 Police and Crime Commissioner elections and Cabinet Office regularly provides indemnities for UK parliamentary and European parliamentary elections. HM Treasury has approved the indemnity in principle.
Attachments can be viewed online at:
Double Taxation Conventions
A double taxation convention with Uruguay was signed on 24 February 2016 and with the United Arab Emirates on 12 April 2016. The text of each convention has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and will be made available at: www.gov.uk website. Each text has been scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons.
Insurance Fraud Taskforce
The Insurance Fraud Taskforce was established as an independent body by HM Treasury and the Ministry of Justice in January 2015 in order,
“to investigate the causes of fraudulent behaviour and recommend solutions to reduce the level of insurance fraud in order to ultimately lower costs and protect the interests of honest consumers”.
The final report of the Insurance Fraud Taskforce published on 18 January 2016 made 26 recommendations to tackle fraudulent activity ranging from organised or premeditated crime to opportunistic fraud. It is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ insurance-fraud-taskforce-final-report.
The Minister of State for Civil Justice (Lord Faulks) and I are very grateful for the work of the taskforce members, and to all those who contributed to it. We are particularly grateful to David Hertzell for his efficient stewardship of the taskforce.
The report highlighted the particular problem of fraud in relation to low value personal injury claims and the Government have established a programme of reforms in this area, particularly in respect of whiplash claims. We are pleased that the report’s recommendations reflect and support that reform programme. The Government accept each of the recommendations addressed to it and we will set out in due course how we propose to implement them. However, there needs to be a concerted effort by all those involved in the insurance process to tackle this serious problem, which is estimated to cost policyholders up to £50 each per year, and the country more than £3 billion. We therefore expect organisations tasked with taking forward recommendations to do so with urgency. The Government will do what they can to assist and, in order to make sure that all of the recommendations are actively pursued, we will seek an update on progress later in the year.
Counter-terrorist Asset-freezing Regime
Under the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Act 2010 (TAFA 2010), the Treasury is required to report to Parliament, quarterly, on its operation of the UK’s asset-freezing regime mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 1373.
This is the 18th report under the Act and it covers the period from 1 January 2016 to 31 March 2016.1This report also covers the UK implementation of the UN ISIL (Daesh) and al-Qaida organisations asset-freezing regime (ISIL-AQ) and the operation of the EU asset-freezing regime in the UK under EU regulation (EC) 2580/2001 which implements UNSCR 1373 against external terrorist threats to the EU. Under the ISIL-AQ asset-freezing regime, the UN has responsibility for designations and the Treasury has responsibility for licensing and compliance with the regime in the UK under the al-Qaida (Asset-Freezing) Regulations 2011. Under EU Regulation 2580/2001, the EU has responsibility for designations and the Treasury has responsibility for licensing and compliance with the regime in the UK under part 1 of TAFA 2010.
Annexes A and B to this statement provide a breakdown, by name, of all those designated by the UK and the EU in pursuance of UN Security Council resolution 1373. The one individual subject to a designation, which has been notified on a restricted and confidential basis, under sections 3 and 10 of TAFA 2010 is denoted by “A”.
The table attached sets out the key asset-freezing activity in the UK during the quarter ending 31 March 2016.
Moazzem Begg, who was previously designated under TAFA 2010, lodged an appeal on 3 November 2014, challenging the Treasury’s decision to revoke rather than quash his designation. These proceedings were ongoing during the reporting period.
One individual, C, designated under TAFA 2010, lodged an appeal against his designation on the 26 May 2015. These proceedings were ongoing during the reporting period.
Mohammed al Ghabra’s challenge of his listing under the EU ISIL (Daesh) and al-Qaida regulation was heard by the CJEU in February 2016. Judgment is to follow.
There were no criminal proceedings in respect of breaches of asset-freezes made under TAFA 2010, during the reporting period.
Annex A: Designated persons under TAFA 2010 by name2
1. Hamed ABDOLLAHI
2. Imad Khalil AL-ALAMI
3. Abdelkarim Hussein AL-NASSER
4. Ibrahim Salih AL-YACOUB
5. Manssor ARBABSIAR
6. Usama HAMDAN
7. Nur Idiris HASSAN NUR
8. Nabeel HUSSAIN
9. Hasan IZZ-AL-DIN
10. Mohammed KHALED
11. Parviz KHAN
12. Musa Abu MARZOUK
13. Khalid MISHAAL
14. Khalid Shaikh MOHAMMED
15. Abdul Reza SHAHLAI
16. Ali Gholam SHAKURI
17. Qasem SOLEIMANI
18. A (restricted designation)
1. Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA)
2. Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN)
3. Fuerzas armadas revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC)
4. Hizballah Military Wing, including external security organisation
5. Popular Front for the Liberation of PALESTINE—General Command (PFLP- GC)
6. Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine— (PFLP)
7. Sendero Luminoso (SL)
Annex B: Persons designated by the EU under Council Regulation (EC)2580/20013
1. Hamed ABDOLLAHI*
2. Abdelkarim Hussein AL-NASSER*
3. Ibrahim Salih AL YACOUB*
4. Manssor ARBABSIAR*
5. Mohammed BOUYERI
6. Hasan IZZ-AL-DIN*
7. Khalid Shaikh MOHAMMED*
8. Abdul Reza SHAHLAI*
9. Ali Gholam SHAKURI*
10. Qasem SOLEIMANI*
Groups and entities
1. Bu Nidal Organisation (ANO)
2. Al-Aqsa E.V.
3. Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade
4. Babbar Khalsa
5. Communist Party of the Philippines, including New People’s Army (NPA), Philippines
6. Devrimci Halk Kurtulu Partisi-Cephesi—DHKP/C (Revolutionary People’s Liberation Army/Front/Party)
7. Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army)*
8. Fuerzas armadas revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC)*
9. Gama’a al-Islamiyya (a.k.a. Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya) (Islamic group—IG)
10. Hamas, including Hamas-Izz al-Din al-Qassem
11. Hizballah military wing, including external security organisation
12. Hizbul Mujahideen (HM)
14. International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF)
15. Islami Büyük Dogu Akincilar Cephesi (IBDA-C) (Great Islamic Eastern Warriors Front)
16. Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF)
17. Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) (a.k.a. KONGRA-GEL)
18. Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
19. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)
20. Popular Front For The Liberation of Palestine—General Command (PFLP-GC)*
21. Popular Front For The Liberation of Palestine— (PFLP)*
22. Sendero Luminoso (SL) (Shining Path)*
23. Teyrbazen Azadiya Kurdistan (TAK)
1 These figures are correct as at 30 September 2015
2 For full listing details please refer to: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/current-list-of-designated-persons-terrorism-and-terrorist-financing
3 For full listing details please refer to: www.gov.uk
* EU listing rests on UK designation under TAFA 2010
Culture, Media and Sport
Education, Youth, Culture and the Sport Council
The Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council will take place in Brussels on 31 May. Baroness Neville-Rolfe, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Minister for intellectual property will represent the UK at the both the culture/audiovisual and the sport sections of the Council.
Culture and audiovisual
The Commission is expected to present its draft proposal for a recast audiovisual media services directive. The audiovisual media services directive seeks to ensure the effective operation of the internal market for television broadcasting services by ensuring the free movement of broadcasting services throughout the EU. This new proposal follows a Commission consultation on revision of the existing directive, to which the UK submitted a detailed response.
The presentation will be immediately followed by a policy debate on revision of the audiovisual media directive and the promotion of European content. The UK intervention will reiterate the key messages in its response to the Commission consultation, including the importance of maintaining the country of origin principle that means a channel is regulated in the country in which it is licensed, rather than each of the countries to which it broadcasts.
The Council will then be asked to adopt Council conclusions on the role of Europeana for the digital access, visibility and use of European cultural heritage. The conclusions will emphasise the importance of promoting access to cultural heritage through digital channels and will propose that Europeana moves to a more sustainable funding model by October 2017. The UK intends to support the adoption of the conclusions.
Turning to the sport sector, the Council is expected to adopt draft conclusions on enhancing integrity, transparency and good governance in major sport events. The draft conclusions look to ensure that integrity, transparency and good governance are present through all stages of a major sporting event, including feasibility, bidding, preparation, organisation, evaluation, and legacy. The UK has already embedded these measures into the bidding processes for major sporting events and so intends to support adoption of the conclusions.
This will be followed by policy debate on improving governance in sport. The debate will be focused on the role Governments can play in the promotion of integrity and governance of sport. The UK will intervene to share examples of work the UK is already carrying out around governance and integrity in sport and to highlight the Prime Minister’s recent anti-corruption summit and the domestic charter for sport and governance code, which will be launched later this year.
The European Commission will present information on the forthcoming European year of cultural heritage (2018). This will then be followed by information from the French delegation on the interoperability of digital content. The Council will then be presented with information on the recent World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) meeting in Montreal. This information will be provided by the EU member states representatives in WADA: Belgium, UK and Malta.
The European Commission will then present information on this year’s European week of sport and introduce recent Commission studies on i) specificity of sport, and, ii) the contribution of sport to regional development through the structural funds.
Additional items will also be presented by Italy, on funding of the European youth orchestra, and Poland, on the financing of cultural projects under the European regional development fund.
Finally, there will be a presentation from the Slovak delegation on the work programme for their incoming presidency of the Council of the EU.
The UK will also be represented at a high-level structured dialogue on sport after the main Council meeting. This dialogue has been organised by the Netherlands EU presidency to facilitate an exchange of views between member state Ministers, the EU Commissioner responsible for sport and leading representatives of the IOC, EOC, FIFA and UEFA on enhancing dialogue and co-operation regarding major sport events.
LSCB Review and Government Response
Today I am publishing Alan Wood’s review of the role and functions of local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs), along with the Government’s response.
Local agencies—police, health, local authorities, schools—are the frontline when it comes to safeguarding our children and it is vitally important that they work together to ensure children are protected from harm. There is widespread evidence that the current arrangements, delivered through LSCBs, are not always as effective as they need to be. That is why we asked Alan Wood to carry out this important review, which looked at local multi-agency arrangements, the child death review process and how the intended centralisation of serious case reviews could work.
Alan’s wide experience in the sector has been invaluable and I thank him for his hard work in undertaking this review and the radical, inquiring approach he has brought to it. I am also grateful for the valuable contributions made by all those who put forward their views as part of Alan’s far-reaching consultation.
The review sets out a wide range of proposals. The Government response sets out in detail our plans to introduce a stronger but more flexible statutory framework. This framework will support local agencies to work together more effectively to protect and safeguard children and young people, embedding improved multi-agency behaviours and practices. And it will set out clear requirements for the key local partners—the local authority, the police and the NHS—while allowing them freedom to determine how they organise themselves to meet those requirements to improve outcomes for children locally.
We intend to bring forward legislation on revised multi-agency working arrangements as soon as possible to implement these changes.
We have already proposed some changes, through the Children and Social Work Bill, in relation to new arrangements replacing the existing system of serious case reviews. We intend to establish a child safeguarding practice review panel, to review cases which are complex or of national importance. We will also bring forward further changes to address the need for good quality, rapid local reviews, linked to the reform of multi-agency working arrangements.
Finally we plan to amend arrangements for child death overview panels (CDOPs) as part of these reforms. We will put in place arrangements to transfer national oversight of CDOPs from the Department for Education to the Department of Health, while ensuring that the keen focus on distilling and embedding learning is maintained. That reflects the very high proportion of child deaths which have a clinical or public health cause.
These important reforms will take time to implement and I recognise that change can be difficult to manage at local level. It is very important that the local agencies currently engaged in LSCBs continue working together to keep children safe while preparing for the future.
Energy and Climate Change
Planning Act 2008: Hornsea Offshore Wind Farm
I have been asked by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to make this written statement. This statement concerns an application made under the Planning Act 2008 by SMart Wind Limited on 30 January 2015 for a proposed development known as the Hornsea offshore wind farm (zone 4)—project two (“the development”).
The development would consist of up to 300 wind turbine generators, each with a capacity of between 6 MW and 15 MW, approximately 89 km east of the East Riding of Yorkshire coast. The total installed capacity of the development would be up to 1,800MW. The Planning Inspectorate’s examining authority commenced examination of the application on 16 June 2015 and the examining authority’s report was delivered to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on 16 March 2016.
Section 107(1) of the Planning Act 2008 requires the Secretary of State to make her decision within three months of receipt of the examining authority’s report unless she exercises her power under section 107(3) to extend the deadline and make a statement to the House of Commons announcing the new deadline.
The deadline for the decision is to be extended to 16 August 2016 (an extension of two months). This extension is to enable the Secretary of State to obtain further information in order to fully assess the possible impact of the development on the southern North sea possible special area of conservation for harbour porpoise, and to ensure that her duties in relation to the requirements under regulation 61 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 have been met.
The decision to set a new deadline is without prejudice to the decision on whether to grant development consent for the development.
Carbon Capture and Storage: Yorkshire and Humber
This statement concerns the application made by National Grid Carbon Limited under the Planning Act 2008 on 18 June 2014 for the construction of a pipeline of approximately 75 km in length from the White Rose carbon capture and storage project to the coast at Barmston in the East Riding of Yorkshire (“the pipeline project”).
The proposed pipeline project would transport carbon dioxide from industrial emitters and electricity generating stations fitted with carbon capture infrastructure to an offshore pipeline system and a storage facility under the North sea. Consent applications for the offshore pipeline system and the proposed storage facility are being considered outside the Planning Act regime.
Under section 107(1) of the Planning Act 2008, the Secretary of State must make her decision within three months of receipt of the examining authority’s report unless exercising the power under section 107(3) to extend the deadline and make a statement to the House of Parliament announcing the new deadline. The deadline for the decision on the pipeline project was 19 May 2016 having been extended from 19 November 2015 by way of my written ministerial statement of 19 November 2015 [columns 21-22 of the Official Report].
The Secretary of State has decided to extend the deadline for the decision to 31 August 2016 to allow consultation on the need case for the pipeline project given the decision to refuse consent for the White Rose CCS project on 13 April 2016 and consideration of other relevant outstanding issues.
The decision to set the new deadline for the project is without prejudice to the decision on whether to grant or refuse development consent for the project.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Agriculture and Fisheries Council
My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), represented the UK at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 17 May in Brussels.
There were four main agenda items. The presidency introduced the first debate on climate and agriculture since the COP21 agreement. The target is to cut 40% of emissions by 2030, which requires legislation on national targets and includes initiatives such as LULUCF (land use, land use change and forestry). Commissioner Hogan, DG Agriculture, sought to reassure the Council of the need to balance food security with climate targets. In a full round table, all member states supported ambitious climate goals as long as they do not compromise food security, and there was a general call to include and strengthen environment CAP tools.
The Commission then presented the Eurobarometer results, which show significant public support for the EU’s work and standards on animal welfare. All member states except Austria and the Czech Republic pushed the Commission to establish a platform to share best practice on implementation and enforcement between themselves. Commissioner Andriukaitis, DG Sante, agreed to present his plan at the next Council.
The Czech Republic raised an issue about the different qualities of multinational branded food products sold across the single market. Commissioner Andriukaitis encouraged any member states to send any evidence of consumers being misled to the Commission.
Commissioner Hogan then made a short presentation on the state of play of CAP simplification. He gave a summary of direct payment simplifications enacted so far, and made it clear that greening simplification would be discussed in June Council. There were interventions, including from the UK, on the proposed yellow card system. The UK reiterated requests made in March Council on audit and controls simplification.
Commissioner Hogan then moved to update member states on the market situation support measures. During this agenda item four related AOBs were addressed: the crisis situation in the milk market; the situation in commodity markets; severe damages in agricultural production due to late frost and snow; and geographical indications during international trade negotiations.
There was a full round of interventions from member states who maintained their existing positions on the market crisis. The UK intervention focused on sustainable solutions to improving the market situation and noted progress made in these areas such as increased export opportunity, the work of the market taskforce, and the new meat market observatory that will be up and running by the summer
Any other business items
Austria requested that TTIP be discussed. Several member states had complained about a lack of transparency in sensitive TTIP negotiations. Commissioner Hogan intervened about this and other trade deals. He reminded Council that his objective was to conclude deals, but that he was looking at the big picture. On Mercosur, the Commission had amended the EU offer but he warned the Council that there would be a compromise on agriculture at some point.
The Commission reported back on the recent G7 agriculture meeting in Japan. He noted valuable conclusions had been reached, with formal cooperation having been agreed on anti-microbial resistance and animal disease.
Poland introduced the proposed NEC Directive, and described the impact it could have on agriculture. They noted that reducing ammonia emissions would be costly for farmers, particularly medium-sized farms. Commissioner Hogan reported that Commissioner Vella was looking for a compromise in trilogues.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 May and I attended the General Affairs Council on 24 May. The Foreign Affairs Council was chaired by the high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the General Affairs Council was chaired by the Dutch presidency. The meetings were held in Brussels.
Foreign Affairs Council
A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa. eu/en/meetings/fac/2016/05/23/
EU—Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting
Immediately before the Foreign Affairs Council, EU Foreign Ministers met with the Foreign Ministers of the six Eastern Partnership states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine) to review progress on the Eastern Partnership initiative since the EU-Eastern Partnership summit held in Riga on 21-22 May 2015. Ms Mogherini concluded it was a positive meeting, reconfirming commitment and unity in the partnership.
Foreign Affairs Council
In her introductory remarks, Ms Mogherini welcomed the adoption of a mandate to begin negotiations to revamp the EU-Mexico global agreement. She noted that a joint communication on EU policy for the Arctic had been adopted at the end of April, and suggested the council have a full discussion of this in June.
The Council agreed conclusions setting out the decision to extend the mandate of EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia by one year and to expand it to include capacity-building and training of the Libyan coastguard and implementation of the UN arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya. In that context the Government welcome the recent letter from the president of the presidency Council of the Government of national accord, Mr Serraj, requesting support from and expressing readiness to co-operate with the EU.
It is important that planning for this new mandate is completed as quickly as possible so that these new tasks can begin. The Government will work with other EU member states and international organisations, as well as with the Libyan authorities and countries in the region, to achieve this. The Government share the view expressed by Ms Mogherini and the NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, that there is scope for greater co-operation between the EU and NATO in the central Mediterranean; and is working with partners in both organisations to take this forward.
EU Daesh/Iraq/Syria regional strategy
The Council considered a review of the March 2015 regional strategy for Syria and Iraq as well as the Daesh threat and adopted conclusions. The EU and member states discussed priority areas for Iraq, including governance reform, economic reform and development, humanitarian assistance, and stabilisation, all of which are reflected in the conclusions. An EEAS/commission options paper on increasing EU efforts in Iraq will be circulated in July. Responding to UK-led efforts, the EU agreed to step up its efforts within, and contribution to, the global coalition’s campaign against Daesh. Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to support a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition based on the principles of the Geneva communique?, including the establishment of a transitional governing body, which is needed to bring a lasting peace to Syria, defeat Daesh in Syria and allow refugees to return home. Ministers agreed that there can be no peace under Assad, who is responsible for the vast majority of attacks against civilians and deaths in the country during the civil war. The EU will support the international Syria support group’s call for full humanitarian access to all those in need in Syria and for compliance by all parties with the cessation of hostilities. The EU will step up support to the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC), representing the Syrian opposition in the UN-brokered talks in Geneva.
EU Global Strategy
Ms Mogherini updated Ministers over lunch on the preparation of the EU global strategy on foreign and security policy. The strategy will identify and describe EU member states’ interests, priorities and objectives, existing and evolving threats, challenges and opportunities and the instruments and means to meet them. The Government support this initiative, which complements the UK’s strategic defence and security review, and have engaged regularly with Ms Mogherini during its preparation. The Government believe that the global strategy can enhance UK and other member states’ foreign and security policy by covering the full range of external action tools and setting broad direction, rather than proposing detailed action on specific issues.
External aspects of migration
Ministers exchanged views on the external aspects of migration and adopted conclusions. The Foreign Secretary raised the need to focus on implementation of the outcome of the Valletta summit and for effective EU co-ordination ahead of upcoming international events such as the world humanitarian summit and high level meetings taking place in the margins of the UN General Assembly in September 2016.
Ministers agreed without discussion a number of measures:
The Council adopted conclusions on the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Council adopted conclusions on South Sudan.
The Council adopted a decision finalising the conclusion of the association agreement between the European Union and Georgia.
The Council adopted a decision finalising the conclusion of the association agreement between the European Union and Moldova.
The Council adopted the EU position to be taken on the draft declaration of the union for the Mediterranean ministerial conference on regional co-operation and planning.
The Council established the EU’s common position for the 45th meeting of the European Economic Area Council to take place in Brussels on 25 May.
General Affairs Council
A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa. eu/en/meetings/gac/2016/05/24/
The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 24 May focused on preparation of the June European Council and the rule of law.
The presidency informed the Council that due to the change in date of the June European Council, the GAC will now take place on 24 June in Luxembourg.
Preparation of the June European Council
The GAC discussed the agenda for the European Council on 28-29 June, which the Prime Minister will attend. The Council agreed the draft agenda which will cover: migration; jobs, growth and investment; external issues; and the outcome of the UK referendum.
On migration, I welcomed the progress made since the EU-Turkey summit and emphasised that additional work needed to be done to tackle the upstream pressures, in particular looking at the Sahel, Somalia and Libya routes.
On jobs, growth and investment, I said that it was important to fully implement the single market, and in particular improve access for services across Europe and the digital single market.
Rule of Law
The Council held its second annual rule of law dialogue, which focused on the current challenges related to the integration of migrants into member states. In particular, the Council discussed the importance of ensuring both the rights of migrants and values shared by member states are respected.
Jaguar Land Rover
I would like to inform the House that the British embassy in Beijing has accepted an offer, from Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), of nine vehicles for their official fleet.
The value of this arrangement is around £340,000. The new vehicles will replace a range of official vehicles, of many foreign brands, that are currently used by the embassy. Under the arrangement, JLR has offered to purchase nine existing fleet vehicles at second-hand value of £115,000, and provide the new vehicles by way of gift of a value of £225,000.
The saving to the British taxpayer from this arrangement is estimated to be around £300,000, which represents the cost of replacing the nine vehicles by other means. JLR is the UK’s leading exporter of goods to China, and this arrangement will help promote British excellence in manufacturing. The new vehicles that JLR will provide have been made in the UK, using British steel.
I am satisfied that this arrangement properly constitutes a gift to the embassy from JLR and conforms to all procedures governing such transactions. All other manufacturers based in the UK, who produce vehicles in the UK, were approached about future fleet requirements. The embassy will own the vehicles outright and use them for official business requirements only.
I am today announcing that a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination pilot for men who have sex with men (MSM) will start this June.
Since 2008, an HPV vaccination programme for girls has been delivered to help prevent cervical cancer, which also confers a benefit for many boys over the life course.
HPV infection is also associated with ano-genital and oral cancers, and genital warts. In November 2015, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised that a HPV vaccination programme should be introduced for MSM aged up to 45 years who attend genitourinary medicine (GUM) and HIV clinics, subject to procurement of the HPV vaccine and delivery of the programme at a cost-effective price.
Through this pilot, the HPV vaccine will be offered during existing appointments at selected GUM and HIV clinics in England to test delivery in these settings. Public Health England is in the process of agreeing which GUM and HIV clinics will take part in the pilot. A full roll-out of an HPV vaccination programme for men who have sex with men will be dependent on the progress and outcome of the pilot.
Many people in this country of different faiths follow religious codes and practices, and benefit from the guidance they offer. Religious communities also operate arbitration councils and boards to resolve disputes. The overriding principle is that these rules, practices and bodies must operate within the rule of law in the UK. However, there is evidence some Sharia councils may not follow this principle and so, through the Government’s counter-extremism strategy, I committed to commissioning an independent review to understand whether, and the extent to which, Sharia is being misused or applied in way that is incompatible with the law.
I am pleased to announce Professor Mona Siddiqui’s appointment as chair of the review, the terms of reference, and the appointment of the panel.
Professor Mona Siddiqui OBE is a highly respected professor at the University of Edinburgh, specialising in classical Islamic law, juristic arguments, and contemporary ethical issues, who was appointed OBE for services to inter-faith relations. Professor Siddiqui will be supported by a review panel consisting of Sir Mark Hedley, Sam Momtaz and Anne Marie Hutchinson OBE QC. Imam Sayed Razawi and Imam Qari Asim will serve as advisers to the chair and panel. Together these individuals represent a wide range of experience and expertise.
Sharia law review terms of reference
Many British people of different faiths follow religious codes and practices, and benefit from the guidance they offer. Some religious communities also operate arbitration councils and boards which seek to resolve disputes. There is, however, some evidence that Sharia councils may be working in a discriminatory manner.
This review will be a full, independent review to explore whether, and to what extent, the application of Sharia law may be incompatible with the law in England and Wales, such as legislation around equality. The review will also examine the ways in which Sharia may be being misused, or exploited, in a way that may discriminate against certain groups, undermine shared values or cause social harms. It will not be a review of the totality of Sharia law, which is a source of guidance for many Muslims in the UK.
This review will focus on issues including:
the ways that Sharia may be being used which may cause harm in communities;
the role of particular groups and Islamic authorities in England and Wales;
the role of Sharia councils and Muslim arbitration tribunals;
the treatment of women—particularly in divorce, domestic violence and custody cases; and
seeking out examples of best practice in relation to governance, transparency, and assuring compliance and compatibility with UK law.
Justice and Home Affairs Post-Council Statement
A meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held on 20 May. I attended on behalf of the UK.
The Council began with an adoption of the A items, before a discussion on the current migration situation. The Commission reminded Ministers that the EU-Turkey agreement of 18 March has had a significant impact but needs to be implemented in full, and that it had assessed Turkey as a safe third country for the purposes of returns from Greece. Supported by a number of others, I intervened to emphasise the need to get returns working properly, calling on the Council to support the Commission’s assessment.
The Council then moved on to talk about the central Mediterranean route. I supported the Italian position on the need to enhance our efforts upstream and highlighted the need to build on successful approaches such as the Niger centre. I and others emphasised the importance of proper asylum processes, including appropriate use of detention, and screening.
A number of member states also intervened to highlight the difficulties with relocating migrants from Italy and Greece. The UK does not, of course, take part in the EU’s relocation mechanism.
The presidency concluded that the Council had expressed political support for returning migrants to Turkey and reflected this position in its post-Council press statement.
Next, the presidency chaired a discussion on Schengen visa policy in the context of the revised Schengen visa suspension mechanism and specific proposals to lift Schengen visa requirements for Georgia, Ukraine, Kosovo and Turkey. All Ministers were in agreement that benchmarks must be met prior to any liberalisation. The UK welcomed the revised visa suspension mechanism and the possibility of triggering it on public security grounds. Ministers agreed a general approach on the visa suspension mechanism, allowing the presidency to begin trilogue negotiations with the European Parliament. The UK also noted the close relationship between liberalisation and the wider EU relationship with these countries; it would be important to establish clear and firm expectations on security and migration. The UK is not a member of the Schengen border free zone, so neither the visa suspension mechanism nor the Schengen visa programmes for Georgia, Ukraine, Kosovo and Turkey will apply to the UK.
The presidency concluded that the Council expected further reporting on Kosovo and Turkey once all benchmarks had been met, that Georgia would go to COREPER the following week for agreement to start negotiations with the European Parliament, and that Ukraine would be discussed further.
Finally, the presidency updated Ministers on the negotiations for the European border and Coastguard. The European Parliament had not reached a position. There had been no significant change since the general approach was agreed in April. The UK will not participate in this measure.
Report of the Biometrics Commissioner
Today I am publishing a report of the Biometrics Commissioner, on the retention of biometric material by the police on the grounds of national security, which I asked the Commissioner to prepare the following publication of his second annual report on 11 March 2016.
The Biometrics Commissioner, Alastair MacGregor QC, is appointed under section 20 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. His responsibilities are:
to decide applications by the police for extended retention of DNA profiles and fingerprints from persons arrested for serious offences but not charged or convicted;
to keep under review national security determinations made by chief officers under which DNA profiles and fingerprints may be retained for national security purposes;
to exercise general oversight of police use of DNA samples, DNA profiles and fingerprints.
I am grateful to Mr MacGregor for this report. No redactions to it have been made on the grounds of national security.
Copies of the report will be available from the Vote Office.
Foreign Affairs Council for Development
My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Baroness Verma) has made the following statement:
On 12 May, I attended the Foreign Affairs Council for Development in Brussels. The meeting was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission, Federica Mogherini. She also hosted a joint lunch with the Afghan Minister of Finance, Eklil Hakimi, which discussed the preparations for the upcoming Brussels conference on Afghanistan, in September this year. A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted will be deposited in the Library of the House for the convenience of members.
Revision of the European Consensus of Development in light of the 2030 agenda
The Council discussed the prospects of updating the 2005 European Consensus on Development—the EU’s overarching development strategy. Discussion of a new European Consensus on Development in light of Agenda 2030 focused on the links between development policy and the areas of security, humanitarian, migration. I led calls for a long-term approach, with our commitment to 0.7% and the “Beyond Aid” agenda at the heart of implementation. Also discussed was the need for modernised, innovative financial instruments, with general support for a greater role for the European Investment Bank (EIB).
Trade, private sector and sustainable development
Council conclusions on global value chains, which the UK had strongly supported, were adopted with agreement on the integral role of the private sector and trade for sustainable development. The garment initiative was held up by Development Commissioner Mimica as a good example of a multi-stakeholder and the “policy coherence for development” approach. I highlighted the UK’s promotion of the involvement of the private sector in sustainable development in recent years, and argued that it is clear that to achieve the 2030 Vision for sustainable development more investment capital is needed from the private sector.
Discussions were held on the forthcoming Brussels conference on Afghanistan, and Council conclusions on this subject were adopted with the UK’s full support. The Brussels conference on Afghanistan in October 2016 is a key opportunity for the international community to reaffirm their ongoing commitment to Afghanistan’s security and development. During the lunchtime session, Afghan Finance Minister Hakimi presented the Afghan National Unity Government’s new national development strategy to the Council.
Council conclusions on joint programming were agreed, which stated that the approach will remain voluntary. I emphasised the point that local context is key when discussing the suitability of a particular programme. Consideration of this should drive decisions, and joint programming should complement, not replace, bilateral relationships and programmes. This view was echoed by a number of other member states and supported by the Council conclusions.
Migration and development
Council conclusions on forced displacement were agreed by the Council. More broadly on the subject of migration, Commissioner Mimica said that the emergency trust fund for Africa agreed at the Valetta summit in November 2015 was an important tool, and urged member states to support and contribute to it. I set out the UK’s support for the trust fund, but called for greater consistency in its operation, as well as an ongoing commitment to strong oversight. I also noted that the EIB could play a key role in responding to the causes of the migration crisis.
Preparation of the World Humanitarian summit
Conclusions were adopted by the Council concerning preparations for the World Humanitarian summit, which took place from 23-24 May in Istanbul. It was the first global summit on humanitarian issues, and it came at a time of unprecedented need. The Council were agreed that the summit would be an important opportunity to take ambitious and practical steps that will drive real change on the ground.
Attachments can be viewed online at:
World Humanitarian Summit
I would like to update the House on my recent visit to the world humanitarian summit, where I headed the UK delegation.
The world humanitarian summit took place from 23 to 24 May in Istanbul. It was the first global summit on humanitarian issues, and came at a time of unprecedented need: around the world, 60 million people have been forced from their homes and 37 million children out of school in conflict-affected countries.
The summit was truly global, bringing together participants from Governments, the private sector, civil society and non-governmental organisations. Leaders welcomed the UN Secretary-General’s agenda for humanity as well as his five priority areas: global leadership to prevent and end conflicts; upholding the norms that safeguard humanity; leaving no one behind, moving from delivering aid to ending need; and investing in humanity.
It was one of a number of important events this year, including February’s supporting Syria and the region conference in London and the UN Secretary-General’s high-level meeting on refugees and migrants and the Obama summit on global refugees in September. The summit was a key moment following the global goals agreed last year, galvanising political attention on how to better serve those most affected by conflict, extreme poverty and environmental change.
At the summit I was able to demonstrate UK leadership in addressing global crises and advance our UK objectives to:
Secure a new approach to protracted crises, including situations of long-term displacement of large numbers of people. The UK effectively built on the important legacy from the successful supporting Syria and the region conference in February, scaling up the approach that the UK pioneered in the Syria region as a global model for protracted crisis and displacement—going beyond people’s basic needs and investing in education, jobs and livelihoods. As part of this, alongside existing commitments to Syrian children, I committed an extra £30 million of support to a new joint fund for education in emergencies which was launched at the summit to help make sure no child misses out on an education. The Education Cannot Wait fund aims to reach more than 13.6 million young people living in emergency situations with quality education over the next five years, and all crisis-affected young people by 2030.
Strengthen commitment to the protection of civilians in conflict. I reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to compliance with International humanitarian law and ending impunity, galvanising support on protection of the medical mission and preventing sexual violence in conflict. There was strong consensus amongst participants that a lack of compliance is causing significant levels of suffering and displacement, as well as prolonging conflict. There was widespread agreement that conflict resolution and protection of civilians are the only sustainable solutions. We will now need to build quickly on this momentum.
Call for a reformed humanitarian system, including smarter financing. The summit marked the beginning of a new relationship between the humanitarian and development communities, with widespread agreement of the need to work together better. The UK led the way to secure agreement to a “Grand Bargain” on more efficient humanitarian financing. This will change the way donors and agencies do business, including by adopting common standards to put affected people at the centre of the response, streamlining reporting systems and increasing the use of cash-based approaches in crisis situations. UN agencies pledged a more systematic use of shared analysis and planning. The UK, alongside other partners, will continue to drive this reform agenda in the months and years ahead.
Ensure a stronger focus on protecting and empowering women and girls in crises. I also committed to put gender equality at the heart of 21st-century humanitarian action, going beyond protection and making sure girls and women have a voice, choice, and control—even when crisis hits.
Overall, the summit was a success with widespread agreement that the humanitarian system needs to reform and an emerging consensus on the way forward, in particular a renewed commitment to compliance with international humanitarian law. Improving the architecture to tackle forced displacement and migration was a major theme running throughout the summit as was the need to ensure the most vulnerable are not left behind: girls and women, youth and people with disabilities. A more effective and efficient global humanitarian system will help to build global security and prosperity—which will, in turn, help advance the security and prosperity interests of the UK.
The summit provided us with a compelling agenda for change—now we need to deliver. We will hold participants to their commitments, particularly the UN, and renew our efforts to roll out a new approach in crisis-affected countries.
This Government are committed to making sure our prisons become places of reform, where offenders can change their lives and turn away from crime. Alongside giving governors more freedom to innovate and introducing sharper accountability, we are also investing £1.3 billion in a high-quality, modern prison estate.
We have already announced that we will build new prisons that have better education and work facilities and close ageing and ineffective prisons. As part of these reforms I can announce today that the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) will not be renewing the lease with Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust for the site at HMP Kennet. The prison will therefore close by July 2017.
The staff at HMP Kennet have been undertaking excellent work with the prisoners from Merseyside and surrounding areas. The prison however does not provide an ideal environment for the rehabilitation of the men it holds. Its design and layout make it difficult to operate, it has the highest levels of crowding in the estate and is one of the most expensive category C prisons in the country.
Closing facilities like that at HMP Kennet will enable us to invest the money in a modern prison estate, with facilities for training and rehabilitation that help prisoners turn their lives around.
Intelligence and Security Committee
The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) reported in March 2015 on Women in the UK Intelligence Community, and today I am laying the Government’s response before both Houses of Parliament. The Government and all agencies wholeheartedly agreed with the ISC’s statement that,
“Diversity should... be pursued not just on legal or ethical grounds—which are important in themselves— but because it will result in a better response to the range of threats that we face to our national security”.
I am grateful to the Committee for its thorough examination of this issue. Our response provides an update on the progress that has been made over the last year. I am determined to see positive change, recognising that it will take time to achieve the full impact we want.
Since the publication of the ISC’s report, all three agencies have increased their focus on all aspects of diversity, and have taken concrete steps to attract, encourage, and support women. The ISC rightly pointed to the benefit of sharing initiatives across the intelligence community, and I welcome the joint activities the agencies have delivered, and their collaboration with international partners.
Diversity strengthens our public sector organisations. Ensuring the agencies reflect the country they serve will be essential in enabling them to respond to the complex threats we face. This has been a positive year for promoting all forms of diversity in the intelligence community, as their exceptional commitment to inclusion has been externally acknowledged and celebrated. But there is more to be done to sustain our efforts and build on this success.
HS2 Phase 2a
I am today announcing to the House the Government’s package of measures to provide assistance to owner occupiers along the line of route for phase 2a of the High Speed 2 project (west midlands to Crewe).
This announcement responds to the public consultation the Government conducted from November 2015 to February 2016 on the long-term property compensation and assistance schemes for phase 2a. A Command Paper setting out the Government’s detailed response to the consultation and way forward has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament today.
Following detailed consideration, the Government are to implement the following long-term property compensation and assistance schemes for phase 2a which are based upon schemes already in place for phase 1 (London to west midlands) of the route. They will apply with immediate effect and replace the temporary exceptional hardship scheme that has been in place for phase 2a since 2013.
Express Purchase—owner-occupiers may be able to sell their property to the Government at its full unblighted market value (as it would be if there were no plans for HS2), plus 10% (up to a maximum of £53,000, known as a home-loss payment) and reasonable moving expenses, including stamp duty.
Need to sell—this scheme does not have a boundary and is available to owner-occupiers who can demonstrate a compelling reason to sell their house but are unable to do so other than at a discount because of HS2. The Government will pay the full, unblighted value for these properties.
Rent back—is available if a property that the Government has purchased under any of the HS2 property schemes is suitable for letting.
Extended homeowner protection zone—where a property is removed from surface safeguarding, an owner-occupier will in most instances continue to be able to apply under express purchase for a period of five years from the date the property ceases to be affected by the directions.
Further measures will be provided in rural areas where the line runs on the surface in recognition that the short-term effects on communities can reasonably be expected to be much more marked in these areas. This rural support zone (RSZ) will cover the area outside safeguarding up to 120 metres from the centre line of the railway. The RSZ will run from the connection with phase 1 near Fradley in the west midlands to the A500 south of Crewe. The schemes available in the RSZ are:
Cash offer—this is a lump sum payment of 10% of the unblighted open market value of a property. This payment is a minimum of £30,000 and is capped at £100,000. This scheme will be available to eligible owner-occupiers from today until one year after phase 2a first opens for public use.
Voluntary purchase—eligible owner-occupiers will be able to sell their home to the Government for its full unblighted value. This scheme will be available from today until one year after phase 2a first opens for public use. This scheme will be made available when Royal Assent is obtained for the phase 2a hybrid Bill.
Homeowner payment scheme—those beyond the rural support zone and within 300 metres of the centreline of the railway will, following Royal Assent of the HS2 phase 2a hybrid Bill, be able to apply for a homeowner payment ranging from £7,500 to £22,500.
I also confirm that we are going to make a number of changes to the discretionary property assistance schemes which will apply to phase 1 and phase 2a. They will be implemented with immediate effect. Key changes include:
NTS health and mobility—we have added additional guidance on health and mobility whereby HS2 Ltd will give wider consideration to an applicant’s health and mobility and suitability of their current property.
Valuations for NTS, EHS and RSZ—we are going to permit the use of local valuers in the valuation process.
I believe these refined schemes demonstrate our continued commitment to provide a package of compensation and assistance schemes for owner-occupiers along the HS2 route that far exceeds what is required by law in recognition that HS2 is an exceptional project. I am confident the schemes we now have in place represent the best possible balance between supporting affected communities and providing value for money for the taxpayer.
I am pleased to inform the House that my Department has published its refreshed programme for rail franchising. Through this my Department is setting out an ambitious plan for new rail franchises that will give passengers high-quality rail services.
It is making it clear to the whole rail industry that competition for rail franchises is the best way to secure services for passengers at good value for the taxpayer.
Through our plan for the railways we are making journeys better for everyone—we are reducing crowding, cutting journey times and improving trains and stations across the country. This supports our regional economies, creating jobs and opportunities and connecting people to business.
During this Parliament my Department has already delivered the new Northern and TransPennine Express franchises which will oversee a massive £1.2 billion private-sector investment in our rail services. This includes hundreds of brand-new modem trains, thousands more seats, more services. Together this will deliver a modern, 21st century service for passengers, help to close the economic gap between north and south and help bring the northern powerhouse to life. We expect to continue to deliver similar results for our upcoming franchise competitions.
Private sector competition is good for passengers, local communities and taxpayers. That is why as part of our latest schedule we have started the competition for new franchises for the Intercity West Coast, East Anglia, South Western, East Midlands and West Midlands. I am confident that, through these franchises we will deliver the rail network this country needs.
I am placing a copy of the franchising schedule in the Libraries of the House.
Work and Pensions
British Steel Pension Scheme
Today I am publishing a consultation on options for the British Steel Pension Scheme. Britain’s steel industry is an important part of our economy and this Government are working to help the industry secure a long-term viable future. As part of this work we are considering the future position of the pension scheme. The consultation includes a full range of options that consider whether and how the scheme could be separated from the existing sponsoring employer and whether it will be necessary to reduce the benefits within the scheme. The consultation will run until 23 June 2016. I will place a copy of the consultation document in the House Library.