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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Business, Innovation and Skills

Debt Relief Orders

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): We are today announcing plans to amend the eligibility criteria relating to Debt Relief Orders (DROs) in order to allow access to those people who are currently excluded because they have certain pension rights that they cannot draw down for some years.

DROs were introduced in April 2009 following research that identified that there were people in long-term debt difficulties who had nothing to offer their creditors and who could not afford to make themselves bankrupt. Delivered in partnership with the professional debt advice sector, DROs provide low-cost easy access to debt relief for those overwhelmed by relatively low levels of unmanageable debt. They are designed to provide a fresh start for the most vulnerable people trapped in debt.

There are strict eligibility criteria of assets less than £300, debts no more than £15,000 and surplus income of less than £50 per month. Because a pension is treated as an asset, some people who would otherwise qualify find themselves unable to apply for a DRO because they have pension rights, even where the pension is of low value and not receivable for many years. The Insolvency Service issued a consultation asking whether changes should be made to make the system fairer for these people.

After considering the consultation responses, I propose to allow those with HMRC-approved pension schemes to have access to a DRO. This brings DROs into line with bankruptcy where debtors are able to keep their approved pensions, and will provide welcome assistance to many of the most vulnerable. I intend to lay a Statutory Instrument which, subject to parliamentary approval, would bring these changes into effect from April 2011.

I am placing copies of the summary of consultation responses in the Libraries of both Houses.

Exports to Iran

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Mark Prisk): Iran's nuclear activities continue to cause significant concern to the international community, and we are determined to stop it obtaining the material that it needs to pursue a range of proliferation-sensitive activities prohibited by UN Security Council Resolutions. The UK refuses all export licence applications where we believe there is an unacceptable risk that the goods would contribute to Iran's nuclear programme.

The UK respects Iran's right to a peaceful civilian nuclear programme as long as it meets its international obligations. But it has consistently failed to do so. Iran
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has continued to develop its nuclear programme in defiance of six United Nations Security Council resolutions, which call on Iran to fully comply with its international obligations, increase transparency with the IAEA and answer a range of outstanding questions about its overall intentions. The UK therefore welcomes the success of the EU in securing a strong EU Council decision in respect of new sanctions against Iran in July.

Until now, the UK has exercised discretion, on a case-by-case basis, to permit the export of goods listed in annex IV to Council Regulation (EU) 961/2010 of 25 October 2010 (previously annex II to Council Regulation (EC) 423/2007 of 19 April 2007).

However, these are dual-use goods which, by definition, may have utility to Iran's nuclear programme. The UK therefore strongly believes that it should go further than the new measures agreed by the EU. With immediate effect therefore, we will no longer issue any licences for the export of goods or technology listed in annex IV of Council Regulation (EU) 961/2010 or for the provision of brokering services or technical or financial assistance related to those goods and technology, apart from the most exceptional cases-such as supplies for humanitarian purposes-where there is manifestly no risk that the goods will be used in connection with Iran's nuclear programme. Furthermore we will not issue licences for investment in an Iranian person, entity or body engaged in the manufacture of goods listed in annex IV. Annex IV can be viewed at:

Extraordinary EU Competitiveness Council (10 November 2010)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Baroness Wilcox has today made the following statement:

Post Office Network

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): On 13 October the Government published the Postal Services Bill. This Bill will safeguard the universal postal service and secure a sustainable future for Royal Mail and the Post Office. We promised at that time that we would shortly bring forward a more detailed statement on the future of the post office network.

At the Second Reading of the Postal Services Bill, we announced £1.34 billion of Government funding for the Post Office network over the spending review period. Today we are publishing a statement on our plans to secure the future of the Post Office network.


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The funding we have announced will enable the Post Office to invest in the network, reaching out to new customers by refurbishing its branches, extending its opening hours and reducing queues. This will make the Post Office more convenient and an even stronger retail partner for Royal Mail. Securing the Post Office network in the digital age also sets out:

Copies of the document will be available in the Vote Office, the Printed Paper Office and will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses. It will also be accessible online on the Department's website.

Higher Education Funding and Student Finance (Supplement to Statement)

The Minister for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts): During the statement I made to the House on 3 November 2010, on higher education funding and student finance, and repeated by Baroness Wilcox in the other place, I regret that the description of the proposed maintenance package was incomplete.

The statement said:

The current maintenance support system is complicated. The maintenance grant is means-tested: when the maintenance grant was reintroduced in 2004 and 2006 it was in partial substitution for maintenance loan and hence the means-testing now involves a number of tapers by which maintenance grant is reduced with increasing family income. The result is that it is difficult for students and their families easily to calculate the support they are entitled to; and it adds to the administrative burden on the Student Loans Company in calculating means-tested entitlement.

It is in order to simplify the system that in the proposed maintenance arrangements for 2012-13 academic year and beyond, the multiple tapers for maintenance grants have been substituted by a single taper, and the reduction in total support (maintenance grant and maintenance loan taken together) as income increases is a more constant one.

As a result of the sum of these changes, almost all students receive an increase in their total financial support, but there is a very small proportion of students who will receive less maintenance loan than they would have if they entered under the old system. Students with a household income of around £49,000 to £53,000 will receive, on average, £120 less in maintenance loan. This equates to a 2.5% reduction for around 2.5% of students.


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Treasury

Improving Tax Policy (Finance Bill 2011)

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): At the June Budget the Government set out a commitment to build a new approach to tax policy making(1)-one founded on predictability, stability and simplicity-with consultation on policy design and scrutiny of draft legislation as the cornerstones. The Government will therefore publish draft clauses planned for Finance Bill 2011 on 9 December. At the same time, the Government will publish a formal response or update on the following consultations that it has undertaken over the summer/autumn:

Ahead of this, the Government will publish more details on corporate tax reform, including interim improvements to controlled foreign company legislation and reform of foreign branches planned for inclusion in the Finance Bill 2011. It will also publish the outcome of consultations that have been carried out on a number of anti-avoidance measures.

Culture, Media and Sport

Government Olympic Executive (Quarterly Report)

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): I am publishing today the Government Olympic Executive's quarterly report-"London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games Quarterly Report November 2010". This report explains the latest budget position as at 30 September 2010, and outlines some of the many wider economic and social benefits to the UK.

The overall public sector funding package for the games will remain at £9.298 billion following the spending review announcement on 20 October 2010. The funding package will, however, be reconfigured from April 2011 to make provisions for operational requirements, reflecting the changing focus of the programme from construction to operational delivery. Also from April 2011, Government funding for the programme-excluding security which sits with the Home Office and other Government Departments-will be held by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games remain on time and within budget. The Olympic Delivery Authority's (ODA) anticipated final cost has reduced by £29 million to £7.232 billion as of 30 September 2010. The majority of contingency remains unreleased and savings have also been made in the quarter through project and procurement efficiencies. The ODA continues to make strong progress in preparing the venues and
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infrastructure in the Olympic park, with over 75% of the programme to the 2012 games now completed. The Olympic stadium is structurally complete with the cable net roof covered and all 14 lighting towers in place. The aquatics centre permanent structure and roof are in place, while the velodrome remains on target to be the first Olympic park sporting venue to be finished early in 2011. The structures of the handball and basketball arenas are now completed. More than three-quarters of the residential plots on the Olympic village are structurally finished, with the structure of the Chobham academy education campus also nearing completion. At the Lee Valley White Water Centre, the 10,000 square metre lake is full and water is flowing through the courses, with internal fit-out works of the two-storey facility building approaching completion.

The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games are continuing to help businesses and people through the difficult economic times. Already, £5 billion worth of contracts have been awarded by the ODA, with 98% of the ODA's suppliers being British companies, and many more winning work in the supply chains of its contractors. As of September 2010, over 10,000 people were working on the Olympic park and village.

The Olympic Park Legacy Company has announced that in legacy the Olympic park will be called "Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park". It has set out new plans to help deliver family-focused neighbourhoods; to make the park a top visitor destination; to ensure the venues provide a lasting sporting legacy; to create commercial and job opportunities; and to help stitch together the area's communities through new road connections.

I would like to commend this report to the Members of both Houses and thank them for their continued interest in and support for the London 2012 games.

Copies of the quarterly report November 2010 are available online at: www.culture.gov.uk and will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Defence

Northern Grouping Initiative

The Secretary of State for Defence (Dr Liam Fox): The strategic defence and security review made it clear that alliances and partnerships would remain a fundamental part of this Government's approach to defence and security. We will therefore deepen our multilateral and bilateral defence relationships with key allies. Last week, I informed the House about our deepened relationship with France. As the next step, tomorrow I will have a meeting with the new Northern Grouping which includes Nordic and Baltic nations, as well Poland and Germany. The Northern Grouping will help us build a closer bilateral relationship with Norway, which is one of our key strategic partners. It will create a further framework that makes it easier for Sweden and Finland to have a closer relationship with NATO, and through our involvement as a nuclear power it will reassure the Baltic states about the value of article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty. In a world in which there is a multi-polar power base, we need more different levers to act in the interests of our national security.


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Cabinet Office

Political and Constitutional Reform Committee's Report on Fixed-term Parliaments Bill (Government Response)

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee published its report on the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill (HC 436) on 10 September 2010, immediately prior to Second Reading.

I am pleased to inform the House that the Government's response to the Committee's report has been laid before Parliament and published (Cm 7951). Copies are available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office.

The Government's response to the Committee will assist consideration of the details of the Bill in Committee on 16 November.

Home Department

Prevent Review/New Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I am pleased to announce today that the Government are formally reviewing the Prevent strand of Contest, the UK's counter-terrorism strategy.

That we need a preventative approach to terrorism is not in question: we have to deal with the causes of terrorism as well as its symptoms. But we want to avoid the mistakes of the previous Government. The new Prevent strategy will follow the principles of our counter-terrorism legislation. It will be proportionate to the specific challenge we face; it will only do what is necessary to achieve its specific aims; and it will be more effective. It will be separate from work to tackle wider forms of extremism and to promote integration, which is being led by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The review will, among other things:

I am also announcing today a period of public consultation to enable delivery partners, front-line service providers and all other interested parties to participate in the review of Prevent. Contributions can be submitted by e-mail (preventreview@homeoffice.x.gsi.gov.uk) or online at: (http://preventreview.homeoffice.gov.uk).

I am pleased to announce that Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, the current reviewer of terrorism legislation, will provide expert, independent oversight of the Prevent review. His role is essential in ensuring that the review takes into consideration all the relevant information and looks at all the options.


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I am also pleased to announce that I intend to appoint Mr David Anderson QC as the new independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. Mr Anderson QC is a specialist in European Union and public law and human rights and has been a QC for over 10 years. He is a Recorder and visiting professor at King's College London. I expect him to take up this role early in the new year. Until then, I have extended the period of appointment of Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, as the current independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. During this period. Lord Carlile will also conduct a brief review of the arrests (and subsequent release) of six individuals under the Terrorism Act 2000 during the recent state visit to the United Kingdom by the Pope.

I am extremely grateful to Lord Carlile for his willingness to continue in his role, one he has performed with distinction.

Transport

High Speed 1

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Philip Hammond): I am pleased to inform the House that the Government have approved the sale by London and Continental Railways Ltd of HS1 Ltd.

HS1 Ltd is the company that holds the concession to operate Britain's first high-speed railway, running from central London to the channel tunnel. It also includes
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the stations at St Pancras International, and the international stations at Stratford, Ebbsfleet and Ashford. It is used by Eurostar and the Kent domestic high-speed services. Deutsch Bahn have also recently announced their intention, by 2013, to start running international services over the line to Frankfurt and Amsterdam, via Brussels.

The successful bidder is a consortium comprising of "Borealis Infrastructure" and "Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan", each with a 50% stake. The acquisition value is just under £2.1 billion. The sale receipts will be paid on completion of the contract, which is expected to happen later this month. At that point, the consortium will become the owner of HS1 Ltd which has a 30-year concession to manage the High Speed 1 line and stations. Under the terms of the concession, HS1 has the rights to sell access to track and stations on a commercial basis while having to preserve the nature and capacity of the high-speed railway and to maintain and renew it to modem standards. Compliance with these terms is overseen by the Office of Rail Regulation.

The Secretary of State for Transport will continue to own the infrastructure of the railway and the freehold to the associated land. On expiry of the concession, the Government will once more take unencumbered ownership of the railway with the opportunity to let a further concession. In addition, the Government retain a 40% stake in Eurostar International Ltd and development rights on the major associated regeneration sites at Kings Cross and Stratford.


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