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Written Statements

Volume 638: debated on Wednesday 28 March 2018

Written Statements

Wednesday 28 March 2018

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

General Affairs Council

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

A meeting of the General Affairs Council (Cohesion) will be held in Brussels on 12 April 2018.

The General Affairs Council will discuss the future direction of cohesion policy in the next multiannual financial framework. Ministers from member states will present their positions on the strategic context and priorities for post-2020, with a view to influencing the Commission’s proposals. A follow-on discussion will cover how cohesion policy could be better communicated to the citizens of Europe.

The Bulgarian presidency will provide an update on non-legislative and legislative items.

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Industrial Strategy

As part of the industrial strategy, the Government committed to making the most of the UK’s strengths so we can be at the forefront of emerging technologies and industries in the years ahead. The creative industries, from film to fashion, and from arts to video games, are an undoubted strength of our economy; indeed, they are at the heart of the nation’s competitive advantage. It was to build on this strength that the creative industries were identified as a priority for an early sector deal.

Sector deals, where industries are invited to come forward with plans for their future, embody the ethos of our collaborative approach. They show how industry and the Government, working in partnership, can boost the productivity and earning power of specific sectors. We have already struck ambitious sector deals with the life sciences, and the automotive sectors, and we will be publishing deals with the construction and artificial intelligence sectors shortly.

Last year Sir Peter Bazalgette undertook an independent review of the sector. The Creative Industries Council with critical input from the Creative Industries Federation and other leading voices across the sector have championed their industry through the process. Today’s deal represents a key milestone in this journey but it is just the beginning; the first iteration of an agreement that will develop over time.

The deal contains mutual commitments to invest more than £150 million across the lifecycle of creative businesses, including by boosting the places of the future by funding leading creative clusters across the UK to compete globally; enhancing innovation in technologies and content of the future via research into augmented reality and virtual reality; and ensuring that firms can access the creative skills of the future via a careers programme that will open up creative jobs to people of every background. There are further commitments to establish a new industry-led trade and investment board to ensure the sector can better take advantage of international opportunities; a new commercial investment programme to provide business and investment support to creative businesses; and new measures to strengthen copyright protection for intellectual property generating creative businesses.

The creative industries account for £92 billion of GVA, 2 million jobs and are growing twice as fast as the economy as a whole. This deal will help generate an environment in which the creative industries continue to thrive.

Today I will place a copy of the document in the Library of the House.

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Cabinet Office

Government Property Agency

I wish to update the House on the establishment of the Government Property Agency as an Executive Agency of the Cabinet Office.

Government are delivering a modern, innovative public estate strategy that drives a step-change in our property ambitions—broadening from a primary focus on efficiencies and savings to one that uses assets as an enabler to deliver our priorities for excellent public services; economic growth; and more land for housing across the UK.

The previous Chancellor set out some of that ambition at the March 2015 Budget where he announced that Government would implement a new commercially driven approach to land and property asset management across the central Government estate and that it would create a new central body which would own and manage relevant property assets.

I announce today a significant step forward in creating a modern, effective and efficient civil service fit for the 21st Century, positioning property as a strategic enabler of wider civil service transformation, through the creation of a Government Property Agency.

The agency will be a new executive agency of the Cabinet Office from 1 April 2018 and will provide the centralised ownership, control and delivery infrastructure needed to unlock benefits across organisational boundaries. It further positions Government to deliver workforce change and wider business transformation, delivering efficiencies and releasing land and property for productive use, including building new homes.

The assets in scope to transfer to the agency at this stage are general purpose assets (offices, warehouse and depots), plus non-specialist science assets. Specialist assets such as courts, prisons and specialist science assets will remain on Departments’ balance sheets and the model also excludes devolved administrations, local governments, schools, NHS clinical estates, HCA regeneration assets, MOD estate and overseas estate.

The Government Property Agency has been running in shadow form since January 2017, working with a small number of Departments to test structures and processes before launch in April 2018. The agency will initially deliver the Government Hubs programme with HM Revenue and Customs and manage non-specialist properties for Cabinet Office and Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—before expanding its scope to the non-specialist properties of other Government Departments in subsequent years.

Creating the agency will bring benefits to Departments and their arms’ length bodies through more effective management of the assets they occupy and own. It will establish a single agency providing the basis for a joined-up approach to the management of Government property assets. And the taxpayer will also benefit from reduced cost and improved efficiency of the estate.

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State of the Estate

I have today laid before Parliament, pursuant to Section 86 of the Climate Change Act 2008, the “State of the Estate in 2016-17”. This annual report describes the efficiency and sustainability of the Government’s Civil Estate and records the progress that Government have made during the financial year 2016-17. Since 2010 we have delivered savings of over one billion pounds in annual operating costs and a 25% reduction in the size of the estate (2.8 million square metres). We have also made significant progress on other key areas including achieving a 33% reduction in emissions by the end of 2016-17, which exceeds the 2020 target of 32%.

Looking ahead, our aim is to ensure that our estate not only delivers value for the taxpayer but also acts as an enabler to the delivery of the Government’s wider commitments—from releasing surplus Government land to building new homes, to delivering public services that are more accessible and responsive to citizens’ needs and to ensure our estate showcases best practice in mobile technology and workplace design.

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Cross-Government Funds Review

I wish to update the House on how the Government have reviewed the cross-Government funds in order to better support poverty reduction, as well as global and UK security and prosperity.

The major cross-Government funds supporting our national security strategy are the conflict, stability and security fund (CSSF) and prosperity fund (PF). They are a flexible instrument of Government policy overseas. The funds use part of the UK’s aid budget to support developing economies, fragile states and regions to prevent conflict and to promote the conditions that drive global prosperity.

As part of the national security capability review (NSCR), the national security adviser (NSA) commissioned a review of the cross-Government funds. The review covered the CSSF, the PF and the empowerment fund (EF). The Government are committed to ensuring accountability and transparency in our aid spending and this review forms part of our ongoing work to ensure we are delivering value for taxpayers and results for the world’s poorest. The report on this review provides more detail on the NSCR’s specific recommendations and findings for the funds.

The review found that the CSSF and PF were effective mechanisms for making strategic, co-ordinated, prioritised and integrated use of overseas development assistance (ODA) and non-ODA resources. They drive greater flexibility, broader geographic and thematic reach, and greater diversity in programming than could be achieved through departmental allocations alone.

The review noted that the funds gain greater strategic importance as delivery mechanisms for the National Security Council (NSC) as a result of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. Redefining Britain’s place in the world will require us to use our diplomatic, development and defence assets to best effect, which the funds can help deliver. The funds are particularly innovative given their secondary benefits: creating opportunities for international business, including UK business, enhancing UK soft power, and reducing domestic threats.

The empowerment fund was set up to improve links with emerging economies, help tackle extremism globally and support good governance. The review found that the EF’s proposed geographic focus overlapped with that of the CSSF and PF. Integrating its aims into the other two funds would improve efficiency, simplify governance and strengthen delivery. Soft power objectives in support of NSC priorities will therefore now be delivered through the CSSF and PF as well as through other departmental funding mechanisms.

As a result of the review, we will enhance the cross-Government funds by improving strategic direction through the new national security doctrine, the fusion doctrine, governance through a new ministerial committee, and efficient administration by merging the secretariats into a single funds unit.

Implementation of the recommendations of the review across the areas of strategic direction, governance and delivery and capability is now fully under way. I have agreed to chair the new ministerial committee that will set the funds’ strategic direction. A new joint funds unit will be launched in April 2018. All these measures will streamline governance and drive greater coherence. More on the recommendations of the review can be found in the accompanying report.

Further updates on the cross-Government funds will be available on funds’ at GOV.UK pages:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/conflict-stability-and-security-fund-cssf

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cross-government-prosperity-fund-programme.

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Treasury

Double Taxation Convention: UK and Cyprus

A Double Taxation Convention with Cyprus was signed on 22 March 2018. The text of the Convention is available on HM Revenue and Customs’ pages of the gov.uk website and will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses. The text will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

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Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Universal Broadband

The Government’s manifesto said that “our Universal Service Obligation (USO) will ensure that by 2020 every home and every business in Britain has access to high speed broadband”.

Last year we took the first step towards delivering that commitment when the Digital Economy Act 2017 introduced powers enabling the introduction—and review—of a broadband USO with a download speed of at least 10Mbps.

Today I am pleased to announce that we have taken another important step. Following consultation on the design of the USO last year, we are laying our universal service order, setting the design for our 10Mbps broadband USO. Ofcom will now implement the USO in line with the parameters set out in the Order.

We have also published today the Government’s response to our consultation on the design of the USO, which sets out our plans in detail. It can be found here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/broadband-universal-service-obligation-consultation-on-design.

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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 19 March. The Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HRVP), Federica Mogherini. The meeting was held in Brussels.

Foreign Affairs Council

Current Affairs

The Council discussed the Salisbury attack and adopted a statement expressing the European Union’s (EU) unqualified solidarity with, and support for, the UK, including for our efforts to bring to justice those responsible for this crime. The EU takes extremely seriously the UK Government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible.

Ukraine

The Council discussed recent developments, in particular, in Ukraine’s reform process. Ahead of the Ukraine Reform conference that will take place in Copenhagen on 27 June, Ministers welcomed the progress on economic reform but underlined the need for increased efforts in other areas, including the judiciary and anti-corruption.

The Council reiterated its commitment to its policy of non-recognition and support for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. Ministers expressed their concern over humanitarian issues in eastern Ukraine and reiterated their full support for the work of the OSCE in the region.

Syria

The Council discussed the latest developments in Syria with the Secretary General of the United Nations’ Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura. Ministers commended his tireless efforts to push for a political solution to the conflict and recalled that the EU has clearly stated there can be no military solution to the conflict. Ministers expressed their concern over the continued deterioration in the humanitarian situation, in particular in Afrin and eastern Ghouta. They urged all those involved to fully and immediately implement UN Security Council resolution 2401. They also discussed possible repercussions of the situation in Syria for the wider region.

Finally the Council discussed the forthcoming second Brussels conference on “Supporting the future of Syria and the region” on 24-25 April 2018, which will be co-chaired by the EU and the UN.

Informal lunch on the Korean peninsula

Ministers and the HRVP discussed the situation on the Korean peninsula over an informal lunch with the South Korean Foreign Minister, Kang Kyung-wha. Ministers looked ahead to the summit between Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in that is scheduled for April and the meeting announced between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.

Iran

The Council discussed Iran. Ministers underlined the importance of the Iran nuclear deal - the JCPOA - for the security of the region and beyond. They highlighted the need to ensure continuous commitment of all parties involved to the Agreement.

Ministers also discussed other issues outside the scope of the JCPOA, in particular Iran’s ballistic missiles programme, as well as Iran's role in the increasing tensions in the region, including in Syria and Yemen.

Ministers agreed a number of measures without discussion:

The Council lifted the restrictive measures against three persons who had perpetrated violent acts during the incidents in Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina) on 10 February 1997.

The Council prolonged, for 12 months, the validity of the Council decision of 21 March 2011 concerning restrictive measures, making it possible to impose an asset freeze and a travel ban on persons whose activities undermine the sovereignty, territorial integrity and constitutional order of Bosnia and Herzegovina or seriously threaten its security situation.

The Council added four persons to the list of those targeted by EU restrictive measures against the Syrian regime.

The Council authorised the Commission to open negotiations, on behalf of the Union, on an international legally-binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

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Health and Social Care

NHS Winter Performance

I would like to update the House on the winter pressures on the NHS following the opposition day debate held in January.

This winter we have seen worse weather than in many recent years, with sustained drops in temperature known to increase heart attacks, stroke and respiratory conditions. This has been coupled with prolonged pressure on hospitals from beds occupied by patients with norovirus and also flu, having experienced the worst flu season since 2010.

However, despite these extra pressures, thanks to the hard work of NHS staff:

over 55,000 people were seen within four hours per day in February. This is 1,000 more people per day than in the same month last year.

NHS 111 offered 150,000 extra calls each month over winter with the amount of callers receiving clinical advice increased to nearly half; and

over one and a half million more people have been vaccinated against flu compared to the same period last year, with the highest ever uptake among healthcare workers at 68.7%.

Last year’s spring Budget allocated £100 million of capital to help hospitals set up GP streaming services with 99% of NHS trusts now having this in place. In addition, at the autumn Budget, the Government provided £337 million for NHS winter funding; this funding has helped the NHS to open over 2,600 acute beds over the winter period.

In order to support emergency care across the NHS, national clinical leaders advised that non-urgent operations should be postponed in January. NHS England has published the information showing that this freed up around 1,400 beds across hospitals in England. This represents around 3% fewer planned admissions this January compared to last year.

The Government remain firmly committed to ensuring that patients are seen promptly when they need urgent and emergency care. The NHS will receive an additional £2.8 billion between 2017-18 and 2019-20. The NHS England Mandate for 2018-19 sets out the milestones for improved A&E performance during 2018-19.

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Home Department

Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation: Operation Classific

In accordance with section 36(5) of the Terrorism Act 2006, Max Hill QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, has prepared a report on the use of terrorism legislation in Operation Classific, the investigation into the Westminster Bridge attack.

I am today laying this report before the House, and copies will be available in the Vote Office. It will also be published on www.gov.uk.

I am grateful to Max Hill QC for his report. I will carefully consider its contents and the recommendations he makes, and will respond formally in due course.

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Housing, Communities and Local Government

Bellwin Funding

On 13 January 2017, there was a tidal surge on the east coast of England which caused damage to flood defences and led to affected families having to evacuate their homes. I am satisfied that financial assistance under the Bellwin scheme is justified to cover eligible costs incurred by three councils in respect of this flooding.

A scheme will therefore be established under section 155 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. Grant will be paid to the authorities to cover 100% of their eligible costs incurred above a threshold.

The local authorities are:

Scarborough Borough Council

North Norfolk District Council

Waveney District Council

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Business Rates

On 30 March 2017 the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Marcus Jones), the then Minister for Local Government in a written ministerial statement set out the Government’s policy on the treatment of plant nurseries in England for the purposes of business rates stating that:

“Since at least 1928, plant nursery grounds have been treated by the Valuation Office Agency as exempt from business rates as part of the general exemption for agriculture. However, following a recent Court of Appeal decision, the Valuation Office Agency has started to bring into business rates buildings at nursery grounds including structures such as poly-tunnels. The exemption for agricultural properties is an important part of the rating system. It ensures that large areas of agricultural land and buildings are not liable to a property tax which could have a significant impact on the cost of farming.”

I can confirm to the House that the Government’s policy remains that land and buildings at plant nursery grounds should benefit from the agricultural exemption for business rates.

The Government will, therefore, amend the Local Government Finance Act 1988 to ensure both agricultural land and buildings at plant nursery grounds are exempt from business rates. We will bring forward legislation at the next suitable opportunity to meet this commitment. In doing so the legislation will be amended retrospectively, with effect from 1 April 2015. This will allow the Valuation Office Agency to remove from the rating list with effect from 1 April 2015 any plant nurseries which then fall to be exempt from that date.

This change will ensure that agricultural land and buildings are not liable for a property tax which could otherwise have an impact on the cost of farming and produce. It supports the Government’s commitment to a vision for a productive, competitive, sustainable UK agricultural sector.

The previous WMS, 30 March 2017, can be found at:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statements/?page=1&max=20& questiontype=AllQuestions&house=commons &use-dates=True&answered-from=2017-03-30&answered-to=2017-03-30.

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Prime Minister

National Security Capability and Strategic Defence and Security Reviews

I am pleased to announce the combined publication of the National Security Capability Review (NSCR) and the 2017 annual report of the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). I have placed a copy in the House of Commons Library.

The 2015 National Security Strategy and SDSR set out our vision and three overarching National Security objectives: protect our people; project our global influence; and promote our prosperity. The framework of the National Security Strategy and the SDSR remains right and we are focused on implementing it. The National Security Council (NSC) commissioned the NSCR to identify how we could develop, deliver and deploy our considerable national security capabilities to maximum collective effect.

In the SDSR, we committed to giving Parliament an annual update on implementation of the strategy. This combined publication of the NSCR and second annual report on the SDSR sets out the conclusions from the NSCR and our progress in delivering on our SDSR commitments.

The NSCR updates the SDSR’s assessment of the challenges likely to drive UK security priorities over the next decade. These challenges have become more complex and intertwined as the world has become more uncertain and volatile. Domestic, overseas and online threats are increasingly integrated as adversaries develop capabilities and exploit vulnerabilities across borders and between the cyber and physical worlds. We should be confident of the United Kingdom’s ability to rise to these challenges, drawing on our great strengths as a nation, and the strength of our National Security Strategy.

The NSCR focused on capabilities that are critical to our national security to support implementation of the SDSR. As a result we will deliver better military capability through the modernising defence programme, designed to ensure our defence capabilities meet the changing threats we face. We will publish a new counter-terrorism strategy, which will include measures to improve our ability to disrupt terrorist plots in their early stages and improve frontline integration of our counter-terrorism response. We will expand and deepen our overseas network to deliver our ambitions for a truly global Britain, and ensure our development capability responds to changes in global poverty and national security. We will improve assurance of resilience and readiness of local and national capabilities and continue to develop an holistic approach to supporting victims of emergencies. We will take a whole-of-Government approach to serious and organised crime, including a national economic crime centre in partnership with the private sector. Furthermore, we will produce comprehensive strategic threat assessments for the border, and the National Security Communications Team will be significantly expanded. We will continue to implement the National Cyber Security Strategy and ensure it keeps pace with the threat. The cross-Government funds will be strengthened with a new ministerial committee and more efficient administration. Supporting this will be a new national security doctrine, the Fusion Doctrine, which will improve our collective approach to national security, building on the creation of the NSC eight years ago.

We have long been at the forefront of shaping international co-operation on security and the UK is a leading contributor to international missions around the world. The NSCR, alongside successful implementation of the SDSR, will ensure we use our world-leading national security capabilities to greatest effect to protect our people at home and abroad.

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Transport

Lower Emission Lorries

The Government are today announcing new measures to change the rates paid by hauliers of less polluting lorries, as part of our plans to improve air quality across the UK.

The newest lorries generate 80% less nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions than older ones. From February next year, lorries that meet the latest Euro VI emissions standards will be eligible for a 10% reduction in the cost of the heavy goods vehicle (HGV) levy. Euro V and older vehicles which do not meet these emissions standards will pay 20% more.

The HGV road user levy, introduced in 2014, was brought in as a first step to ensure lorries pay a charge to cover the greater wear and tear they cause to road surfaces than other vehicles. This change to the levy will incentivise the industry to choose less polluting lorries.

The Government will make the first changes to the levy to implement the reductions for Euro class VI vehicles through a statutory instrument being laid today, with the remaining changes to increase the rates for Euro V and older vehicles expected to be included in the Finance Bill in the autumn.

Levy rates will continue to comply with the relevant maximum levels set under European law, which for Euro 0-V rates will be determined at the time of the Finance Bill.

Note that the following shows the maximum levy rate. Levy rates depend on vehicle weight and number of axles.

Changes to the Levy

Current rate

Euro VI rate from February 2019

Euro 0-V rate from February 2019

Annual Rate (Band G vehicles)

£1,000

£900

£1,200

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Work and Pensions

Workless Households and Educational Attainment

Later today I will publish “Workless households and educational attainment statutory indicators”, an annual report pursuant to Section A1A of the Life Chances Act 2010 as amended. “Improving Lives: Helping Workless Families”, published on 4 April 2017, set out this Government’s vision to improve outcomes for children who grow up in workless families and face multiple, associated disadvantages. To track our collective progress in improving outcomes for disadvantaged families, my Department made a commitment to publishing the latest data on seven additional non-statutory national indicators each year.

The annual report ‘Workless households and educational attainment statutory indicators’ will be available here later today:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/workless-households-and-educational-attainment-statutory-indicators-2018.

The “Improving Lives: Helping Workless Families” indicators will be available here later today:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/improving-lives-helping-workless-families-evidence-base.

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