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Written Statements

Volume 618: debated on Tuesday 20 December 2016

Written Statements

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Cabinet Office

Public Bodies 2016

Public Bodies are a crucial part of how Government deliver their priorities. Well-governed, effective and efficient public bodies help contribute to building public trust in Government at a time when this has never been more important.

CO is collaborating across Government, engaging with senior leaders and non-executive directors from Departments and arm’s-length bodies to promote good governance, disseminate best practice and drive reform. Together, we aim to deliver a more cost-effective, transparent and simplified landscape that is better able to meet the needs of the people it serves.

“Public Bodies 2016” is an annual directory which provides a single source of top-level cost and non-cost data on all executive agencies, non-departmental public bodies and non-ministerial departments. It also sets out the Government’s strategy for public bodies reform for the remainder of the Parliament.

The Cabinet Office will today publish “Public Bodies 2016” and I am also placing it in the Library of the House.

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Treasury

Decommissioning Relief Deeds

At Budget 2013, the Government announced they would begin signing decommissioning relief deeds. These deeds represent a new contractual approach to provide oil and gas companies with certainty on the level of tax relief they will receive on future decommissioning costs.

Since October 2013, the Government have entered into 76 decommissioning relief deeds. Oil & Gas UK estimates that these deeds have so far unlocked more than £5.9 billion of capital, which can now be invested elsewhere.

The Government committed to report to Parliament every year on progress with the deeds. The report for financial year 2015-16 is provided below.

The number of decommissioning relief agreements entered into: the Government entered into no decommissioning relief agreements in 2015-16.

The total number of decommissioning relief agreements in force at the end of that year: 72 decommissioning relief agreements were in force at the end of the year.

The number of payments made under any decommissioning relief agreements during that year, and the amount of each payment: no payments were made under any decommissioning relief agreements in 2015-16.

The total number of payments that have been made under any decommissioning relief agreements as at the end of that year, and the total amount of those payments: no payments had been made under any decommissioning relief agreement as at the end of the 2015-16 financial year.

An estimate of the maximum amount liable to be paid under any decommissioning relief agreements: the Government have not made any changes to the tax regime that would generate a liability to be paid under any decommissioning relief agreements. HM Treasury’s 2015-16 accounts recognise a provision of an aggregate £327 million in respect of decommissioning expenditure incurred as a result of a company defaulting on their decommissioning obligations. The majority of this is expected to be realised over the next five years.

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Economy

Defence

Afghanistan: Locally Employed Civilians

The UK remains committed to supporting our current and former local staff in Afghanistan. They played a vital part in our efforts towards a more secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan, and our well-established redundancy and intimidation schemes recognise their contribution and the debt of gratitude we owe them.

During the past 12 months, our cross-Government ex-gratia redundancy scheme has continued to see real progress, with around 130 former local staff being relocated to the UK with their immediate families. Since the start of the scheme, we have relocated around 350 former local staff and their families, more than 900 people in total, and there are a number of cases currently going through the relocation process. Around 20 local authorities across the UK have supported the relocation of these families.

There are fewer than 100 local staff still to be made redundant as a result of the drawdown of UK forces. We expect these redundancies to be complete by the end of 2017. It is estimated that around half of these will be given the option to apply for relocation to the UK, with the remainder being eligible for the in-country training or finance options.

There are currently over 100 local staff who are benefiting from our in-country option which offers up to five years of training and financial support. These scholars are undertaking a range of courses such as high school diplomas, and qualifications in engineering and law. Around 20 former staff have gifted the training and support to eligible family members, in many cases to daughters who would not have otherwise had the opportunity to attend higher education.

Under a separate Government initiative, a dedicated in-country team has supported almost 400 local staff who have raised concerns about intimidation as a result of their employment with us. This has ranged from providing bespoke security advice, to providing financial support to over 30 staff to help them relocate to safer areas within Afghanistan. We have also provided interim payments in a number of cases to allow individuals assessed to be at high risk to move to a safe location whilst a full investigation is completed. The levels of intimidation faced in these cases has not so far been such that we have had to relocate individuals to the UK to ensure their safety, but we keep the security situation in Afghanistan under careful review.

Over the past year, we have seen the number of claims of intimidation reduce from around 15-20 cases to about six cases per month. Notwithstanding this, I am still committed to ensuring that investigations into claims of intimidation are conducted in an effective and professional manner, and the safety of our former staff remains the paramount consideration.

A Danish military legal adviser has provided a non-UK perspective to the decision-making process. In addition, we have put in place a number of measures to provide outside assurance of the intimidation policy: a randomly selected 20% of case decisions are subject to legal review to ensure that the policy is working as it should; and, as announced in November last year, a Committee has been established to provide additional external assurance of the delivery of the policy.

The Locally Engaged Civilians (LEC) Assurance Committee, which I chair, has oversight and scrutiny of the intimidation policy. We have held four meetings this year. Each Committee member has been selected to ensure they can provide expert, independent and impartial advice on the application of the policy. They include advisers drawn from the House of Lords; the Intimidation Investigation Unit in Kabul; and HM Forces. Additionally, I am pleased to confirm the appointment of a former LEC as an adviser to the Committee. He brings with him a first-hand perspective of the issues, and provides invaluable insight into the genuine threat faced by local staff in Afghanistan, as well as the viability of the proposed mitigation measures. These Committee members are supported by representatives from the Government Departments involved in the policy.

The Committee has agreed a robust set of terms of reference that empower us to identify areas where the administration of the policy could be improved. We have so far reviewed the application of the policy in three closed cases, and some areas for improvement are being addressed as a result. These include a review of the guidance provided to those involved in the decision-making process, to clarify inconsistent or ambiguous language.

We believe our schemes compare well with those provided by other nations that have operated in Afghanistan. On termination of employment, other nations generally offer either a financial lump sum or a relocation package. However, unlike our ex-gratia redundancy scheme, most nations also require staff to prove they are at risk in order to relocate. The UK is the only nation with a permanent team of trained investigation officers in country to investigate claims of intimidation.

I am confident that the UK’s arrangements meet our commitment to protecting our locally employed staff when their safety is at threat as a result of their work for us.

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Future Nuclear Deterrent

On 18 May 2011 the then Defence Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), made an oral statement to the House, Official Report, column 351, announcing the approval of the initial gate investment stage for the procurement of the successor submarines to the Vanguard class ballistic missile submarines. He also placed in the Library of the House a report, “The United Kingdom’s Future Nuclear Deterrent: The Submarine Initial Gate Parliamentary Report”.

As confirmed in the 2015 strategic defence and security review, and in accordance with the motion approved by this House on 18 July 2016, this Government are committed to publishing an annual report on the programme. I am today publishing the fifth report, “The United Kingdom’s Future Nuclear Deterrent: 2016 Update to Parliament”. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House.

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Reserve Forces and Cadets Association

I have today placed in the Library of the House a copy of a letter that I have sent to Lt Gen (Retd) Brims, the Chair of the Future Reserves 2020 External Scrutiny Team to update him on the programme, and particularly on the recommendations that his team’s report made. I am grateful for their work.

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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Avian Influenza

The chief veterinary officer has confirmed a case of avian flu in a turkey farm in East Lindsey, Lincolnshire.

Test results have confirmed the presence of a high pathogenicity H5N8 strain of the disease. This is the strain currently circulating in Europe. As a result, the Animal and Plant Health Agency has raised the risk of an incursion into wild birds in the UK from medium to high and into poultry from low but heightened to low to medium, dependent on geographic location.

While this disease affects birds severely, the advice from Public Health England is that the risk to public health from this strain of bird flu is very low with no human cases ever reported, and the Food Standards Agency has said there is no food safety risk for consumers.

We have taken robust action, imposing a 3 km protection zone and 10 km surveillance zone last Friday to limit the risk of disease spreading. The birds on the farm have either died or were humanely culled. All carcasses have been removed and rendered under strict biosecurity standards. Cleansing and disinfection of the site has commenced.

We have tried and tested procedures for dealing with such animal disease outbreaks and a strong track record of controlling and eliminating previous outbreaks of avian flu in the UK. We are working closely with operational partners, devolved Administration colleagues and the industry to deal effectively with this outbreak.

My Department continues to carefully monitor the situation in the UK and Europe. Following my statement of 7 December where I announced the mandatory housing of poultry and other kept birds, and as a result of the increased risk to UK poultry, I have today announced a change to the licensing of bird gatherings including sales and auctions. This prevents until further notice, gatherings of domestic poultry, and places enhanced biosecurity requirements on gatherings of other species including aviary birds, pigeons and raptors. This follows veterinary advice on the risk of disease spread through such gatherings.

I continue to urge bird keepers to be vigilant for any signs of disease, ensure they are maintaining good biosecurity on their premises, seek prompt advice from their vet and report suspect disease to their nearest APHA office.

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Education

Schools Revenue Funding Settlement 2017-18

Today I am announcing details of schools revenue funding for 2017-18. This announcement includes the dedicated schools grant (DSG), the education services grant (ESG) transitional grant and the pupil premium.

The distribution of the DSG to local authorities will continue to be set out in three spending blocks for each authority: a schools block, a high needs block and an early years block.

The schools block has been allocated on the basis of the schools block units of funding announced in the Secretary of State’s statement to the House on 21 July 2016. To protect schools from significant budget reductions, we will continue with a minimum funding guarantee that ensures no school loses more than 1.5% per pupil in its 2017-18 budget—excluding sixth-form funding and ESG—compared to 2016-17, and before the pupil premium is added.

We have been able to provide an additional £130 million for the DSG high needs block. The high needs block supports provision for pupils and students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), up to the age of 25, and alternative provision for pupils who cannot receive their education in schools.

The DSG early years block comprises funding for the 15 hours’ entitlement for three and four-year-olds: the additional 15 hours for three and four-year-old children of eligible working parents from September 2017; participation funding for two-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds; the early years pupil premium; and the disability access fund. The provisional allocations for this block were announced in the Secretary of State’s statement of 1 December 2016.

The ESG transitional grant for local authorities will be set at a financial year rate of £66 per pupil and paid for the period April to August 2017. We will also continue to provide a protection to limit the reduction of academies’ budgets as a result of the ending of ESG from September 2017.

The pupil premium per pupil amounts for 2017-18 will be protected at the current rates, which are:

Pupils

Per pupil rate

Disadvantaged pupils: primary

£1,320

Disadvantaged pupils: secondary

£935

Pupil premium plus: looked after children (LAC) 1 and those adopted from care or who leave care under a special guardianship order or child arrangements order (formally known as a residence order).

£1,900

Service children

£300

1A looked after child is defined in the Children Act 1989 as one who is in the care of, or provided with accommodation by, an English or Welsh local authority.

Pupil premium allocations for financial year 2017-18 will be published in June 2017 following the receipt of pupil number data from the spring 2017 schools and alternative provision censuses.

Details of these arrangements have been published on gov.uk.

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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council: 12 December 2016

I attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 12 December. The Foreign Affairs Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. The meeting was 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/2016/12/12/

EU-Africa relations

The Council discussed EU-Africa relations in preparation for the EU-Africa summit in November 2017. Ministers discussed priorities in the EU’s relations with Africa, as well as how those relations should evolve in the light of emerging economic, security, demographic and migration challenges. I encouraged the EU to fulfil its security commitments, whilst supporting capacity building and African ownership of African challenges in the longer term.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Council adopted restrictive measures against seven DRC officials, and had a short discussion on the situation in the country. Ms Mogherini set out the clear aim of the measures: to deter a violent response to likely protests on 19 December when President Kabila’s mandate would come to an end.

Syria

Over lunch, Ministers discussed the situation in Syria in view of the latest developments, in particular in Aleppo. I stressed the severity of the situation in Aleppo, underlining the role of Russia and Iran as well as the Syrian regime, and the importance of holding to account those responsible for the appalling situation.

Migration

Ministers discussed migration issues ahead of the European Council on 15 December. The Council took stock of the progress made on the migration partnership framework approach; and on the country-specific compacts with the five priority countries (Mali, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria and Ethiopia).

Any Other Business (AOB)

France raised the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, noting the importance of swift implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2270 and encouraging consideration of further EU autonomous measures.

In the margins of the Council, Ms Mogherini, EU Foreign Ministers and the Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, signed the EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Co-operation Agreement. After the Council meeting, Ministers had an informal discussion with President Santos of Colombia. The EU and participating member states then signed the constitutive agreement of the EU Trust Fund for Colombia.

Ministers agreed without discussion a number of measures:

Council conclusions on South Sudan.

Council conclusions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

A protocol to the framework agreement on comprehensive partnership and co-operation between the EU and Vietnam, to take account of the accession of Croatia.

The EU position for the 3rd meeting of the EU-Ukraine Association Council in Brussels on 19 December 2016.

Prolonging the mandate of the EU monitoring mission in Georgia for a further period of two years (until 14 December 2018) and allocating to the mission a budget of €18 million for the period 15 December 2016 to 14 December 2017.

Prolonging the mandate of the two common security and defence policy missions in Somalia, the civilian capacity-building mission (EUCAP Nestor) and the military training mission (EUTM), until 31 December 2018. The Council renamed EUCAP Nestor capacity-building mission “EUCAP Somalia”.

Renewing for two years the declaration on the common funding of the deployment of EU battlegroups, until December 2018.

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Travel Advice

Travel advice is one of the most important public services which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) delivers. Its purpose is to give British nationals the best possible understanding of the context, threats and hazards they face overseas, in order for them to make informed decisions about travel. It draws on a range of sources, including intelligence assessments, open source and media reporting, the local knowledge of our overseas posts and their diplomatic reporting. Travel advice is, however, precisely that. A decision on whether to travel to a specific country or area has to be for the individual concerned.

The FCO provides travel advice notices for 225 countries and territories worldwide. There were more than 40 million individual hits on the online travel advice service in 2015. The FCO in London and all posts throughout our diplomatic network overseas actively monitor safety and security issues on a 24-hour basis and we made 2,200 updates to our travel advice in 2015. Where possible, we publish country maps to help communicate this advice. In some cases we will advise against travel or all but essential travel to a country or region as a result of terrorism, security concerns or other risks. We know that when we advise against travel it can have an impact on individuals and business, but the safety of British nationals is our overriding concern.

The threat from terrorism is evolving. Despite the pressure of military action in Syria and Iraq and concerted and sustained counter-terrorism action globally, the main terrorist groups—Daesh, Al Qaeda and groups associated with them—continue to pose a threat to UK interests globally, including British travellers. Since 2012, there have been more than 25 major terrorist attacks resulting in the deaths of at least 300 tourists around the world, including 31 British nationals. In particular, we have seen the growth of so called “lone wolf” attacks, which are difficult to predict and disrupt and could take place in almost any country.

In response to the changing nature of the threat the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), commissioned a review to assess whether changes in how we present travel advice might help us reflect the evolving threat from terrorism, while providing the clearest possible advice to the public. This included a public consultation to help consider potential improvements to the travel advice service. One thousand and nine people responded to the online consultation in March and April 2016. The consultation team met stakeholders, including the travel and insurance industries; encouraged written feedback; and consulted other Government Departments, including the Department for International Development and UK Trade & Investment, as well as several other countries whose travel advice systems are comparable with our own. The aim of the public consultation was to make sure British nationals continued to have information that was readily accessible and easy to understand so they could make informed decisions whenever and wherever they travel. The consultation sought to find out how people used the travel advice service; whether they found it useful; and whether the way information was presented could be improved to make it more accessible. It also looked at whether changes could be made to provide a greater level of detail and better understanding of the level of risk travellers face in any given country.

Taking all of this in to account, I have decided to make a number of improvements to the travel advice service. I want British nationals to be able to travel abroad for business, study or pleasure, but with a clear personal understanding of the risks entailed in doing so.

While the principles of travel advice set out in the 2004 review (Review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice, Cm 6158) in relation to the threat from terrorism remain unchanged, we shall now describe the threat in greater narrative detail, moving away from simple descriptors (e.g. “there is a high threat from terrorism”). This is to provide a greater level of information to the public, helping them to understand better the levels of risk in their travel plans. The new expanded text will describe the threat in terms of its predictability (whether attacks are likely to happen), extent (targets and locations of previous attacks and methodologies employed), context (which groups are responsible, and the history of attacks) and, where appropriate, mitigation (where host nations are actively countering the threat, including through publicly avowed counter terrorism measures and arrests). During the consultation, the public and travel industry said they would welcome this approach. We will also make design improvements to travel advice pages so that users can more easily find the information relevant to them. These changes will be introduced over the coming months, building on work that officials have already begun to increase the amount of detailed information about terrorism in our advice.

I am confident that these changes will ensure our travel advice continues to provide effective information to help British travellers make informed decisions about their personal travel plans and security overseas. Our travel advice will continue to reflect the best judgements we can make on the information available to us at the time.

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Home Department

Policing and Crime Bill

I will shortly be placing in the Library of the House the Department’s analysis on the application of Standing Order No. 83 O of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons relating to public business in respect of the Lords amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill.

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Prime Minister

Parliamentary Delegations

The hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) and the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) have been appointed as full members of the United Kingdom delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe in place of the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (David Jones) and the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes). The hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) has also been appointed as an alternate member in place of the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith).

The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Cheryl Gillan) has been appointed as a representative member of the United Kingdom delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in place of the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb). The hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) has been appointed as a substitute member of the delegation in place of the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Virendra Sharma), who has been appointed as a representative member in place of the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler). The right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton) has been appointed as a representative member of the delegation in place of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff). The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) have been appointed as substitute members of the delegation in place of the hon. Member for Newport East (Paul Flynn) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Bar (Khalid Mahmood). Lord Wilson of Tillyhorn has also been appointed as a substitute member of the delegation in place of Lord Wright of Richmond.

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Transport

Road Freight

I chaired a roundtable on 2 November about roadside facilities and parking for lorry drivers. This followed an Adjournment debate, secured by the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), on 7 September about fly-parking in Kent.

Key issues identified at the roundtable, which could be considered in the Kent context and which will have wider applicability and interest, are:

the join up between national and local planning frameworks;

provision of lorry parking facilities

minimum standards at such parking facilities;

payment systems for facilities; and

when facilities are supplied ensuring there is enforcement against lorries stopping in the wrong place (including achieving that without a proliferation of signs and lines).

In due course I will set out actions to tackle each and all of these.

Some of these issues as they relate to Kent, in particular, were discussed at a meeting of the Kent Strategic Freight Group on 2 December, chaired by the County Council. I am urgently considering how they can be progressed, including how enforcement against fly-parking can be made to work better.

A contract was awarded last week for an extensive national survey of lorry parking to be completed by the spring will add to the evidence about what should be done where.

Work is also under way to encourage private sector distribution centres to allow drivers to have access to decent facilities when supplying them.

I chaired another roundtable on 17 November about recruitment into the logistics sector. Better lorry parking and facilities can contribute to improving the recruitment and retention of drivers. However it is one of many issues where Government working with the private sector can contribute.

Already waiting times for lorry driving tests have been reduced substantially at a time of increasing demand for tests, through the recruitment of more examiners. Processes for licence renewals are being streamlined. Apprenticeships for lorry driving and other jobs in the road haulage and logistics industry start early next year through the new trailblazers scheme.

I look forward to working with Members of Parliament (including the All Party Parliamentary Group on Freight), local authorities, the haulage industry, the trade unions and all other interested stakeholders to develop our plans.

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