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Written Statements

Volume 657: debated on Thursday 4 April 2019

Written Statements

Thursday 4 April 2019

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Whirlpool Tumble Dryers

The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) will imminently publish its review of Whirlpool’s tumble dryer modification programme.

In 2015 Whirlpool identified a design issue in several tumble dryer models which could lead to increased risks of fire incidents due to excessive lint accumulation at the rear which then ignites. The company then undertook a modification programme to address the issue. However, concerns were raised about the modification programme and in May 2018 my predecessor, the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), commissioned OPSS to review the actions taken by Whirlpool.

Following a review of the modification programme, as well as consideration of technical documents supplied by Whirlpool, the OPSS has concluded that the risk is low and further reduced by the modification. However, shortcomings were found in the testing and quality assurance procedures, and the business must improve its monitoring and management of risk. They must also continue their consumer outreach programme and use more creative methods to contact affected consumers.

Given the full circumstances of the current position, in particular that the overall level of risk is low and that efforts have been made by Whirlpool to address the identified problem and to comply with its legal obligations, formal enforcement action is not justified at this stage. However, OPSS has produced a list of requirement actions for Whirlpool to take in light of the findings of the review, and OPSS will continue to monitor the programme. Should Whirlpool fail to take the expected action within appropriate timescales, enforcement action would need to be considered.

The main findings of the review are:

The ongoing risk from tumble dryers modified by Whirlpool is low and consumers can continue to use them.

Whirlpool has made efforts to address the identified problem but must do more.

OPSS is requiring Whirlpool to take further action and will continue to monitor the steps taken to ensure the efficacy of the modification in consumers’ homes over the long term.

The modification and outreach programme should continue, with new and different methods used to reach consumers.

The safety of consumers is the number one priority for Government. We acknowledge the steps Whirlpool has taken to reach consumers and modify their tumble dryers, and we will continue to monitor the situation.

[HCWS1490]

Intellectual Property Office: Performance Targets

Our industrial strategy sets out the Government’s vision for making the UK the most innovative country in the world. The UK starts from a position of strength and is already ranked in the top four of the global innovation index and top 10 by the World Bank as the best place to start and grow a business. But the global landscape is changing and we must continue to invest in research and development. The industrial strategy has set an ambition to raise total research and development to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027, helping businesses access the right funds and equip them to face the challenges and opportunities presented by new technologies and new ways of doing business.

Intellectual property (IP) plays a crucial role in innovation and touches everything that makes modern life more enjoyable, easier, safer and prosperous. It provides inventors, creators and entrepreneurs with the confidence to invest knowing that they will reap the benefits of their investments. UK investment in IP rights reached almost £64 billion in 2016 and studies have shown that industries that rely on IP have accounted for over a quarter of UK employment and almost half of GDP. Our IP system matters. It creates jobs and economic growth and is helping to propel Britain to the forefront of innovation.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) corporate plan 2019-20 explains how through its stewardship of the IP system, it will help the UK to be the most innovative and creative country in the world. It will do this through delivering excellent IP services, creating a world leading IP environment and attracting and retaining the best people by making the IPO a brilliant place to work. This plan outlines the start of the IPO’s transformational journey, which will provide truly modern IP services to its customers.

The UK already has one of the best IP regimes in the world, consistently ranked as one of the top regimes in indices such as those from the Taylor-Wessing Global IP Index and US Chamber of Commerce International IP Index, and during 2019-20, the IPO will continue to contribute to building a business environment that makes the UK the best place in the world to start and run a business.

As an executive agency and trading fund of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the IPO has set targets which are agreed by Ministers and laid before Parliament. I am glad that today I can inform the House that for 2019-20 the IPO’s targets are:

At least 85% of our customers to rate us 8/10 for overall satisfaction.

By the end of March 2020 we want 90% of renewals to be conducted via the new enterprise-wide digital renewals service.

75% of the businesses we reach confirm that they are able to make informed decisions about their IP.

Deliver our services efficiently through continuously improving our systems, processes and ways of working to make things better for our customers and our people, reduce costs and improve the value for money we provide. Our target is to achieve efficiencies worth at least 3.5% of our core operating costs.

[HCWS1485]

Cabinet Office

Common Frameworks Analysis

I am today placing in the Libraries of both Houses a copy of the revised UK common frameworks analysis, which is also available on gov.uk. When the UK leaves the European Union, powers previously exercised at EU level that intersect with devolved competence will flow back directly to Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. In some areas, we will need to maintain UK wide approaches, or common frameworks, after we leave the EU. Frameworks will create a common approach across the UK in a range of policy areas. They will provide a number of benefits, including ensuring it remains simple for businesses from different parts of the UK to trade with each other, helping the UK to fulfil its international obligations, safeguarding our common resources and ensure the effective functioning of the UK internal market.

The revised analysis sets out the progress we have made to develop common frameworks in collaboration with the devolved administrations since the first analysis was published in March 2018. There is a reduction in the number of policy areas where primary legislation is being considered, from 24 to 21, in these areas only some of the elements of the framework are expected to be in legislation. In the majority of areas (reduced from 82 to 78), non-legislative arrangements, such as a concordat, are being considered. The number of areas where no further action is required to create a framework has increased from 49 to 63. In these areas, to ensure certainty for businesses is maintained, the UK Government and devolved administrations will continue to cooperate when appropriate. Finally, there are now only four areas where competence is disputed, and conversations between the UK Government and devolved administrations continue (reduced from 12 in the first publication), demonstrating the significant progress made in this area. These changes demonstrate the careful and considered joint work underway to establish common frameworks, which in some areas has led to reclassification.

The co-operative approach to frameworks so far demonstrates the progress that can be achieved through proceeding collaboratively. We welcome the commitment demonstrated by the Scottish and Welsh Governments to agree on the direction of travel set out in the analysis and to continued close working to develop frameworks. We also welcome the commitment to co-operative working, including in policy areas where no formal common frameworks are required.

[HCWS1486]

Treasury

Informal ECOFIN

An informal meeting of Economic and Financial Affairs (ECOFIN) Ministers will be held in Bucharest on 05-06 April 2019. Ministers will discuss the following:

Working Lunch - Multiannual Financial Framework

Ministers will discuss the multiannual finance framework in the context of the European semester and financing of the EU budget.

Working Session I

The Council will then be joined by Central Bank Governors for the first working session.

Institutional Cycle Priorities

Following a presentation from Bruegel, Ministers and Central Bank Governors will discuss the priorities for the next EU institutional cycle.

Capital Markets Union

Ministers and Central Bank Governors will then discuss the way forward for the Capital Markets Union.

Working Session II

Labour Mobility in the EU

Following a presentation from the Centre for European Policy Studies, Ministers will discuss the macroeconomic and fiscal impact of labour mobility in the EU.

Taxation and Economic Growth

Ministers will discuss the role of taxation in supporting EU economic growth.

Preparation of the April G20 and IMF meetings

Ministers will be invited to approve the EU terms of reference for the G20 meeting and International Monetary and Financial Committee statement, ahead of the spring meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C.

[HCWS1491]

Education

School Condition Funding

Today, I am announcing the allocation of over £1.4 billion of capital funding in the financial year 2019-20 to maintain and improve the condition of the school estate.

This funding is provided to ensure schools have well maintained facilities to provide students with safe environments that support a high-quality education. It is part of £23 billion committed over 2016-21 to deliver new school places, rebuild or refurbish buildings in the worst condition and deliver thousands of condition projects across the school estate.

For the financial year 2019-20, the £1.4 billion of capital funding includes:

Almost £800 million for local authorities, voluntary aided partnerships, larger multi-academy trusts and academy sponsors, to invest in maintaining and improving the condition of their schools.

Over £400 million available through the condition improvement fund for essential maintenance projects at small and stand-alone academy trusts and sixth-form colleges.

Over £200 million of devolved formula capital allocated directly for schools to spend on small capital projects to meet their own priorities.

Details of successful applications to the condition improvement fund have also been published today, covering 1,413 projects at 1,210 schools and sixth-form colleges.

Details of today’s announcement will be published on the Department for Education section on the gov.uk website. Announcement notifications are also being sent electronically to responsible bodies’ chief executive officers.

[HCWS1482]

Exiting the European Union

Citizens’ Rights: UK Nationals in the EU

Citizens have always been our priority in the negotiations for our departure from the EU. Today I am setting out further details on the steps that the Government are taking to protect UK nationals.

Reciprocal arrangements for social security co-ordination, including reciprocal healthcare, in a no-deal scenario

UK nationals who have chosen to build their lives in the EU and wish to remain there are concerned about their social security entitlements, including healthcare cover in the event of a no deal.

In the Government’s December announcement on citizens’ rights, we highlighted that aspects of the social security co-ordination section of the withdrawal agreement, including reciprocal healthcare, require reciprocity from the EU or member states and cannot be protected unilaterally. We set out that we were exploring further options to protect these rights in a no-deal scenario and the Department for Health and Social Care proposed maintaining existing healthcare arrangements with EU member states and EFTA states until 31 December 2020 on 19 March; with the aim of minimising disruption to citizens’ healthcare provision.

However, to fully protect UK nationals in the EU, the UK is seeking to protect the social security co-ordination rights of UK nationals in the EU, including reciprocal healthcare, by reaching reciprocal arrangements with the EU or member states to maintain existing rights for a transitional period until 31 December 2020, consistent with our guarantee of the healthcare rights of EU citizens living in the UK.

Family reunification

UK nationals are also concerned about their right to return from the EU with non-UK national family members after exit. Having listened to these concerns, I can confirm that UK nationals will be able to return to the UK with their existing close family members under current rules, until 29 March 2022. This means that where the relationship exists before exit or where a child was born overseas after this date, they will be able to apply to and qualify for the EU settlement scheme until 29 March 2022. After this date, such family members will be able to return to the UK by applying under the relevant UK immigration rules.

UK nationals living in the EU who return to the UK after exit will be able to be joined by future spouses and partners, where the relationship was established after exit, and other dependent relatives until 31 December 2020 if they previously lived in the EU with that family member. From 2021, the UK immigration rules will apply to such family reunion. These arrangements will apply in both a deal and no-deal scenario, providing UK nationals in the EU with sufficient continuity after exit to allow families to plan with confidence, while also bringing family reunion rights for all UK nationals in the UK and abroad into alignment from 29 March 2022.

Access to benefits and services

The Government have already announced that UK nationals living in the EU will continue to receive benefits, including child benefit and disability benefit, where the recipient is exporting a UK benefit to their EU country of residence. UK nationals in the EU who are already in receipt of a UK benefit, including the state pension, will also continue to receive these benefits should they choose to return to the UK.

UK nationals returning to live in the UK who meet the ordinary residence test will be able to use NHS services. This means that UK nationals who have returned to the UK permanently in a no-deal scenario would have access to NHS-funded healthcare on the same basis as UK nationals already living here.

UK nationals considering returning to the UK and planning to make new applications for benefits and services should check eligibility requirements for the relevant benefits and services on gov.uk. The usual entitlement conditions, which exist for both resident and returning UK nationals, will apply and we expect most returning UK nationals will be able to satisfy the necessary eligibility requirements. Certain benefits and services, such as non-contributory benefits, include satisfying certain residence criteria and individual decision makers will carefully consider each application to ensure that UK nationals receive the benefits and services that they are entitled to.

Access to higher education, further education 19+ and apprenticeship funding in the UK

UK nationals living in the EEA or Switzerland on exit day, who wish to study in England, will continue to be eligible for home fee status and student support from student finance England, along with access to further education 19+ funding for courses and apprenticeships in England starting up to seven years from exit day in a no deal scenario. In a deal scenario, the seven-year transition period will commence at the end of the implementation period.

The seven-year transition period will ensure that eligible UK nationals living in the EEA or Switzerland wishing to study in further education 19+, higher education, or undertake an apprenticeship in England, will be able to do so immediately on their return to the UK during this transition period.

Further information

The measures outlined above are without prejudice to the rights and privileges accorded, by virtue of the common travel area, to Irish and UK nationals when in each other’s state.

The Government continue to pursue a ring-fenced agreement with the EU and has exchanged letters with the European Commission on the subject. The UK has also reached separate agreements with the EEA EFTA states and Switzerland, which will mean that in a no-deal scenario UK and EFTA nationals living in each other’s countries before exit day will be able to continue living their lives broadly as they do today.

We will continue to provide updates to UK nationals in the EU on gov.uk and through our network of embassies, consulates and high commissions.

Let me reiterate that securing the negotiated withdrawal agreement is in the mutual interest of all our citizens. It is the most effective way for the Government to guarantee the rights of UK nationals in the EU and to provide certainty.

I will be depositing the policy paper “Citizens’ Rights - UK nationals in the EU” in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS1483]

General Affairs Council

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

The UK and the EU have agreed an extension to Article 50, until 12 April 2019, which is legally binding in EU and international law. Until we leave the European Union, we remain committed to fulfilling our rights and obligations as a full Member State, and continue to act in good faith.

I will attend the General Affairs Council in Luxembourg on 9 April 2019 to represent the UK.

The provisional agenda includes:

Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-27

Ministers and the Commission will discuss progress on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) negotiations. The intention is to reach an agreement on the negotiations in autumn 2019.

Conclusions on the Reflection Paper Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030”

The Council will adopt conclusions on the reflection paper titled “Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030, on the follow-up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change”. The paper was released in January 2019 by the Commission as part of its 2019 Work Programme. Ministers will discuss this paper ahead of the Sibiu Summit in May, where issues relating to Europe’s future will be discussed.

Values of the Union - Hungary / Article 7(1) TEU Reasoned Proposal

Ministers will discuss the Article 7(1) procedure in relation to Hungary.

Rule of Law in Poland / Article 7(1) TEU Reasoned Proposal

The Commission will provide an update on “Rule of Law” developments in Poland and Ministers will discuss next steps.

[HCWS1487]

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council

The Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) will take place in Luxembourg on 8 April. It will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HRVP), Federica Mogherini.

The FAC will discuss current affairs, Afghanistan, Eastern Partnership and Venezuela.

Current Affairs

We expect HRVP Mogherini to update Ministers following her visits to the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting in Dinard and the League of Arab States summit in Tunis. She will also provide an update on the first round of Ukrainian presidential elections.

Afghanistan

Ministers will discuss developments in Afghanistan, including recent efforts to make progress on peace, and will look ahead to the presidential elections scheduled for later in 2019. They will also discuss the EU’s future role in Afghanistan.

Eastern Partnership

Ministers will discuss preparations for the Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting on 13 May and will reaffirm the EU’s commitment to supporting greater resilience, security and prosperity across the region. They will assess progress against the priorities identified as the “20 deliverables for 2020”: to achieve a stronger economy, governance, connectivity and society. Ministers will also take stock of ongoing work to mark the partnership’s 10th anniversary.

Venezuela

Ministers will receive an update from HRVP Mogherini following the latest meeting of the international contact group on Venezuela and on plans for next steps. Ministers will discuss how to maintain pressure on the Maduro regime including the possibility of further targeted sanctions.

Council Conclusions

The Council is expected to adopt conclusions on Afghanistan, which call for an Afghan-led process and confirm EU support and its future role, as well as the Court of Auditors’ special report on Mali and Niger.

[HCWS1488]

Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission

I am announcing today the publication of the recent tailored review of the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission (MACC), an arm’s length body of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

The MACC was established in 1953 to express gratitude to the American people for the post-war support and assistance conceived by US Secretary of State George C Marshall, subsequently known as the Marshall plan. It provides postgraduate scholarships in the UK for US students with the potential to excel in their chosen fields of study and future careers. Marshall alumni become advocates for greater mutual understanding and cooperation between our two countries, bolstering our bilateral relationship and our soft power.

As a non-departmental public body (NDPB) sponsored by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), the MACC is required to undergo a tailored review at least once in every Parliament.

The principal aims of tailored reviews are to ensure public bodies remain fit for purpose, are well governed and properly accountable for what they do.

The full report can be read on gov.uk: https://www.gov. uk/government/publications/tailored-review-of-the-marshall-aid-commemoration-commission

This Review involved consultation with a broad range of stakeholders across the UK and the US, including MACC commissioners and staff, former and current Marshall scholars, FCO officials, staff working on similar scholarship programmes and academic institutions in both the UK and US. It provided an opportunity to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the commission and its programme, and to understand how it delivers on the FCO’s strategic priorities.

The review concluded that the MACC runs a high-quality and well-managed programme that is still needed and contributes to strengthening the UK’s relations with the US. As such, it is a valuable soft power asset, providing a good return on a relatively small financial investment. It also concluded that NDPB status remains the right classification for the commission. However, it identified areas for improvement, making a total of 24 recommendations, including:

The Association of Commonwealth Universities, which currently administers the MACC, should draw on in-house expertise to support the commission and ensure the sustainability of the programme’s administration.

The FCO should establish more consistent active outreach activity throughout the US network.

The commission should develop a shared communications strategy, while the FCO should ensure communications about the programme are incorporated into FCO communications work.

The commission and FCO should develop and implement a stronger monitoring and evaluation system.

A joint implementation plan is being developed by the FCO and the MACC, with agreed recommendations expected to be implemented by the first quarter of 2020.

Copies of the Review will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS1489]

Housing, Communities and Local Government

Parks and Green Spaces

In September 2017, the Government agreed to provide a written update to Parliament to assess the progress made against the recommendations of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s report into the future of public parks. Today I am updating the House on a suite of initiatives to secure this future.

These have been formulated in conjunction with the parks action group (PAG) who advise on the steps the Government could take to ensure the future of our parks and green spaces. The PAG, which is comprised of a cross-government group of senior officials and a sectorial group, along with its co-ordinator have been key in driving forward the recommendations of the Select Committee. We published details of the PAG’s membership and aims on 19 September 2017: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-pledges-500000-for-new-action-group-to-grow-future-of-public-parks

In its first recommendation, the Committee advised that the Government should develop models to support local authorities in the assessment of the value of their parks. In 2018 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, provided funding for the outdoor recreation valuation tool https://www.leep.exeter.ac.uk/orval/ which enables the recreational value of publicly accessible parks, paths and beaches in England and Wales to be estimated and factored into decision-making. Additionally, in July 2018 the Office for National Statistics, working in partnership with DEFRA, published a national set of UK urban natural capital accounts as part of a work programme to develop natural capital accounts for the UK.

The Committee’s second recommendation covers the relationship between local communities, local authorities and the free use of parks. The Government ran a public consultation on the free use of parks, “Running Free: Preserving the Free Use of Public Parks Consultation”, between April and July 2017. We published our response in December 2018 and it can be found here: https://assets. publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/764830/Parkrun_Consulation_Response.pdf. Whilst we recognise the right of local authorities to quite legitimately charge for specific events in parks as a means of income, our position is that public parks should remain free for members of the public for reasonable everyday use.

The Committee, in its third and fourth recommendations, rightly asked the Government to support the development and working of friends' groups. My Department recently provided Locality and the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces with £130,000 to develop a national infrastructure for “Friends of Parks” groups and create a network of green champions. Working with local authorities, friends groups and other voluntary organisations, these green champions will be invaluable in supporting community groups who wish to take greater responsibility in the management of their local parks. This funding will also expand the existing Government-sponsored “My Community” website to provide a hub for community groups interested in supporting their local parks.

In line with our response to the Committee’s fifth recommendation, my Department has addressed health and safety in parks by promoting best practice and quality standards. The green flag award scheme, run under licence from my Department and operated by Keep Britain Tidy, continues to highlight community and local authority-run parks that have achieved a national quality standard for parks and green spaces. This scheme ensures that all participating parks meet high quality standards and that these parks act as ambassadors for best practice. 1,577 sites achieved the award in 2018 and I hope to see further parks added this year. Green flag award parks can be found here: http://www.greenflagaward.org.uk/award-winners/

In its sixth recommendation, the Committee rightly asked the Government to investigate the action that could be taken to increase provision of parks and green spaces. The House will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government recently announced significant funding to support parks across the country. He committed £9.7 million to local authorities to support them in the maintenance of their parks. He also provided £3.75 million in funding to 200 community-led organisations as part of our successful and very popular pocket parks plus programme. Working with their local authorities, these community groups will expand access to green space for our communities.

The Committee’s seventh recommendation asked local authorities to adopt a whole-place approach, and co-operate with other local authorities, when updating their local plans. The Government are confident that the national planning policy framework equips local authorities with the decision-making powers to secure the protection of parks—for both new and established communities. Additionally, we have recently provided £1.2 million to the future parks accelerator programme which is an initiative, developed by the National Trust and Heritage Lottery Fund, to support local authorities and, importantly, area-based partnerships to pilot and test new and innovative models of managing and funding parks estates.

In response to recommendation eight, my Department has invested £30,000 in a joint project with DEFRA and Natural England to develop a framework of green infrastructure standards. Local authorities will be supported to assess their green infrastructure provision against this new framework. This project will also examine how our commitments on green infrastructure can be incorporated into national planning guidance and policy.

In its ninth recommendation, the Committee asked further questions of the Government’s 25 year environment plan. This plan, published in January 2018, recognises the importance of parks and green infrastructure for people’s health and wellbeing. It includes the commitment to green our towns and cities and details a series of actions relating to green infrastructure and trees. One of these actions is to develop a national view of what “good” green infrastructure looks like. DEFRA and MHCLG have helped to establish the cross-government project led by natural England mentioned above that will review and update existing standards for green infrastructure. The project is working with a range of expert stakeholders, including the PAG, to develop an initial framework for testing and piloting in summer 2019.

The Committee’s tenth to thirteenth recommendations asked the Government to support the development of new and innovative models of parks estate management and funding. My Department has invested £20,000 in the Landscape Institute to support them in the development of apprenticeship standards for the roles of “landscape technician” and “chartered landscape professional”. We will continue to work with the PAG to ensure the findings from the Association for Public Service Excellence’s forthcoming research report into the skills of existing parks managers are reflected in these standards. As outlined above, we have also supported the future parks accelerator programme to provide examples of new and innovative models of parks estate management and funding. Additionally, we have provided £210,000 to help capture and share the lessons learnt from Newcastle City Council’s transformative parks management project, and to help them make available governance and legal templates to others wishing to adopt this innovative model.

We can all agree that parks and green spaces are vital to the communities we serve. They provide space for respite from our busy lives, opportunities to spend time with our friends and families, and they are oases in our busy urban areas. I am confident that the initiatives I have outlined above demonstrate that the Government is making significant progress on delivering on our shared commitment to secure the long-term sustainability of parks for our future generations.

[HCWS1494]

International Development

Ebola Outbreak: UK Response

The number of cases of Ebola in the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has recently passed 1000. Given this, it is both proper and timely to update the House on the steps which the UK Government are taking to continue to support the response in DRC and to ensure robust and effective preparedness in neighbouring countries.

Since I last updated the House on 14 February, there has been an increase in the number of confirmed and probable cases of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in eastern DRC. As of 31 March 2019, 1,089 Ebola cases have been recorded (1,023 confirmed and 66 probable) and 679 people have died. Twenty-one health zones have been affected and 12 are currently reporting active new cases.

Despite the success of the response in curbing the disease in a number of health zones, the outbreak is still not under control. The last few weeks have seen a substantial increase in the number of cases reported, and the security context remains extremely challenging. In late February, two Médecins Sans Frontières Ebola treatment centres were attacked in Butembo and Katwa. The UK condemns these attacks in the strongest of terms; health workers fighting this disease should never be the target of violence and nor should patients. However, I am pleased to note that the affected treatment centres have now re-opened, run for the moment by the Government of DRC’s Ministry of Health in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), both of whom the UK is supporting.

The attacks underline the difficulty of responding to this outbreak in an area of ongoing conflict, and the vital importance of strengthening community engagement to break the chain of transmission. Despite the challenges faced there has not been a rapid rise in cases as was seen during the West Africa outbreak in 2014-16.

With UK support and technical advice, the response is now shifting to become more locally-owned, including through the hiring and training of more local staff, which will have the additional benefit of building longer-term health capacity and resilience. The response communications strategy has been revised to ensure that messages come primarily from local, influential leaders and figureheads.

The UK remains one of the major supporters of the response and DFID has recently released new funds to the third strategic response plan for this outbreak. Some of this new funding has been used to target specific areas of the response that need strengthening, particularly around infection prevention and control, and water, sanitation and hygiene. The vaccination campaign remains a key element of the response, with over 93 thousand people vaccinated in DRC so far. Once again, at the request of the Government of DRC who are leading the response I am not announcing specific funding figures to avoid putting front-line responders at further risk of attack.

As mentioned in my statement to the House on 26 March regarding Cyclone Idai, I recently spoke with both Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, and Sir Mark Lowcock, Head of the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), to underline UK support and urge further measures on the part of the UN system in tackling the outbreak. We welcome WHO and OCHA strengthening their leadership in-country to support the DRC Government in delivering an effective response.

There remains a significant risk of transmission to neighbouring countries and measures are being taken to prepare accordingly. The UK is leading donor efforts to support regional preparedness. In Uganda we have supported the vaccination of 4,420 front-line health workers, with a further 1,000 planned over the next month. We have also helped establish a screening facility at the border with DRC. In Rwanda we have strengthened surveillance activities at borders, carried out infection prevention and control training, and supported the roll out of vaccinations for at-risk health workers. We have also supported similar activities including in South Sudan, and have recently deployed staff to strengthen efforts in Burundi.

The risk of Ebola to the UK population remains very low. Public Health England continues to monitor the situation daily and review the risk assessment on a two-weekly basis.

The UK is committed to supporting our partners to end this outbreak of Ebola as quickly as possible. We have continued our “no regrets” approach, providing both funding and expertise—recognising that this is an international crisis that both requires and deserves a sustained international response. Tackling the spread of deadly diseases in Africa is firmly in our national interest—saving lives, reducing suffering, and helping prevent transmission across borders.

[HCWS1492]

Transport

Access for All

Improving access to Great Britain’s railway stations is a key priority for this Government and we want all passengers to be able to travel easily and confidently. The Department’s Access for All programme is critical to delivering this; the programme has already delivered an accessible, step free route at more than 200 stations, as well as smaller scale accessibility improvements at more than 1,500 others.

The “Inclusive Transport Strategy”, published on 25 July 2018, included a commitment to extend the Access for All programme, announcing an additional £300 million of funding from the public purse. Our approach is to work with transport operators and partners to target investments where they are needed most and where they can deliver the greatest impact. This funding will enable us to deliver accessibility improvements at more stations across the rail network, and allow us to proceed with the station enhancements that were deferred from Control Period 5.

In total 73 stations are set to benefit from this funding. This is in addition to the 24 station projects that are ongoing. The selected stations will, subject to a feasible design being possible, receive an accessible route into the station, as well as to and between every platform.

The new stations due to be upgraded from this funding are listed below. They have been selected following nominations from the rail industry, which engaged with local authorities and other stakeholders. We then assessed them against annual footfall, weighted by the incidence of disability in the area, and also took account of local factors such as nearby hospitals and the availability of third party funding. Due consideration was also given to the preferences of the train operating companies and, finally, a number were chosen to ensure a fair geographical spread across the country.

Abergavenny

Anniesland

Beaconsfield Station

Biggleswade

Birkenhead Park

Bridlington

Broad green

Caerphilly

Catford

Chalkwell

Chorley

Cricklewood

Crowborough

Cray

Cwmbran

Daisy Hill

Dumfries

Flint

Hackney Downs

Handforth

Herne Bay

Hertford North

Hillside

Hunt’s Cross

Irlam

Isleworth

Johnstone

Kings Langley

Leatherhead

Ludlow

Menston

Mill Hill Broadway

Port Glasgow

Retford

Selby

Shotton

Smethwick Rolfe Street

St Erth

St Michaels

Stoneleigh

Stowmarket

Tenby

Todmorden

Uddingston

Wandsworth Town

Wellington

The stations deferred from Control Period 5, which will now be progressed are:

Alfreton (Parkway)

Barnes

Barry (Town)

Battersea Park

Cathays

Chatham

Garforth

Grays

Hither Green

Liverpool Central

Llanelli

Luton

Market Harborough

Northallerton

Peckham Rye

Petts Wood

Queen’s Park

Seven Sisters

Southend East

St Mary Cray

Streatham

Theale

Trefforest

Walton-on-Thames

Warwick

Weston-Super-Mare

Worcester Shrub Hill

All work at the stations is due to be completed by the end of March 2024.

In addition to these significant upgrades, we intend to use £20 million of the funding to re-launch the Mid-Tier Access for All programme. This will be focused on stations where accessibility improvements can be delivered with between £250,000 and £1 million of government support. We will be seeking nominations for this funding in due course.

All of the work carried out by Access for All comes in addition to access improvements that the industry is required to deliver as part of other projects or renewals of station infrastructure.

Together these measures will make a real difference to people’s lives, opening up access to leisure and employment for disabled rail passengers as well as making it easier for those with heavy luggage or children in buggies to use the network.

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Work and Pensions

Pensions Dashboards Consultation

Later today I will publish the Government’s response to the consultation on the pensions dashboard CP75.

Pensions dashboards will revolutionise retirement planning. They will enable people to access their pension information in a single place online, in a clear and simple form, whether that is on a laptop or tablet, and from their own home. Putting individuals in control of their data, pensions dashboards will bring together all pensions information from multiple sources, which can then be accessed at a time of their choosing.

This Government’s pensions reforms have transformed Britain’s retirement savings culture. More than 10 million people have benefitted from our revolutionary policy of automatic enrolment into workplace pensions.

On 3 December 2018 the department published a consultation “Pensions dashboards: Working together for the consumer”. The Government’s response to the pensions dashboards consultation outlines how the Government will facilitate the pensions industry to deliver this project.

Both the quantity and quality of the 125 responses received were helpful in informing the approach we set out. The responses we received were largely positive in nature.

The result of this feedback is that Government will facilitate the delivery of pensions dashboards as a key priority. We expect to see to see initial industry dashboards developed and tested from this year.

The Government remain committed to ensuring the individual is in control of their data and is conscious of the need for pace in order to deliver dashboards. Our priority is to ensure that information is presented securely, in a clear and simple format to support consumers with their retirement planning. The response to the consultation on dashboards includes:

a commitment to bring forward legislation at the earliest opportunity to compel all pension providers to make consumers’ data available to them through a dashboard;

an expectation that the majority of schemes will be ready to ‘go live’ with their data within a three to four year window;

confirmation that state pension information will be included as soon as possible;

and that dashboards will help to reconnect people with “lost” pension pots, benefitting savers and providers.

A crucial entity in taking this forward will be the industry delivery group; made up of stakeholders from across the industry, consumer groups, regulators and Government who will be accountable to the Single Financial Guidance Body board. We anticipate the delivery group should be fully operational by the end of the summer. The priorities for the delivery group in 2019 are to create a clear strategy for delivering the digital architecture, design a robust governance and security framework and to work with industry on their readiness to provide data via dashboards.

It is my firm belief that the pensions industry is best placed to develop and deliver dashboards.

However, there is a role for Government in facilitating industry’s delivery of dashboards which work for consumers and put people in control of their data.

Pensions dashboards can be an enabler for a real step-change across the sector to modernise the way it communicates with its members. They also provide an opportunity to build trust with consumers, ensuring they can access their pensions information in a convenient way.

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