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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 23 February 2012

Business, Innovation and Skills

City Skills Fund

The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes): I am writing to inform the House that we are announcing the availability of the city skills fund, worth £4.5 million in total, designed to help cities and their surrounding areas realise the positive impact of high-quality skills training on their local economies and on the lives of people in their areas. This follows the announcement made on 8 December 2011 by the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) who is responsible for decentralisation and cities, of the publication of “Unlocking Growth in Cities”, which described a new framework for the relationship between our largest cities and central Government

Cities are at the heart of our nation. As ever, they embody the best of what has been achieved and what could be. Each of us values civic pride and wants to inspire still greater civic purpose. Economic growth fuelled by the progress of citizens and communities feeds purposeful pride. Inspired by our determination to build ever more confident civic life and appreciative of the central role of local government in doing so, we have jointly planned a new initiative to secure economic growth by feeding opportunity.

In particular, I want cities to be able to develop apprenticeship hubs and, working with colleges and independent providers, to tailor skills provision to the needs of employers.

The fund will be administered on my Department’s behalf by the Skills Funding Agency. I am today writing to the core cities and London to invite them to express an interest in bidding to the fund for up to £500,000 each. Copies of the letters will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Student Loan Repayment

The Minister for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts): I am today confirming that there is to be no system of charges introduced for early repayment of student loans.

Last year, we consulted as to whether there should be a charge for early repayment, and if so, what form such a charge would take. This consultation, which closed on 20 September 2011, prompted 154 responses from the general public and key stakeholders including a diverse range of HE providers and representative bodies, consumer groups, employers and professional bodies.

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Analysis of the consultation responses showed that a substantial majority of respondents were opposed to there being any restrictions on a borrower’s ability to make early repayments. A smaller number of respondents were sympathetic to the principle of protecting the progressive nature of the student support system, but most of these felt that restrictions on early repayments were generally an ineffective way of delivering progressivity.

Having carefully considered all the evidence and responses submitted, we agree that individuals should be allowed to repay without penalty if they so wish. We have therefore decided that we will not make any changes to the status quo and will not implement any early repayment system. The proposed new student finance package is fair, sustainable and progressive and will remain so.

A list of respondents and summary of responses can be viewed online at: http://discuss.bis.gov.uk/hereform/early-repayment/.


Annual Tri-Service Survey

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Andrew Robathan): Today I am publishing the 2010 recruit trainee survey annual report. All recruits and trainees passing through phase 1 and 2 training are offered the opportunity to participate in the survey which is anonymous and administered independently on behalf of the services by an external contractor.

The annual report contains the views of recruits and trainees about topics such as: the preparation for joining and their treatment during phase 1 and 2 training, food, accommodation, access to instructional and welfare staff and complaints procedures. Overall the results are positive and importantly, the findings are used by service training headquarters and units to monitor the training environment and make improvements.

During preparation of the 2010 recruit trainee survey annual report, a contractor’s error was discovered in the previously published annual report for 2009. The data error relates to the findings on four questions in the fairness, equality and diversity sections of the previously published report. The 2010 RTS annual report has been prepared using the corrected 2009 data where trends are reported. I therefore intend to place a revised version of the full recruit trainee survey 2009 annual report in the Library of the House together with the 2010 recruit trainee survey annual report.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council/General Affairs Council

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): The Foreign Affairs Council will meet on 27 February and the General Affairs Council on 28 February. Both meetings will take place in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will attend the Foreign Affairs Council. I will attend the General Affairs Council.

foreign affairs council (fac)


We hope to secure Council adoption of strong conclusions and a new package of sanctions to put pressure on the Assad regime, in the light of the UN

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General Assembly resolution of 16 February and the Friends of Syria group meeting in Tunis on 24 February. We also hope that the FAC will agree to press for more EU action on the humanitarian front, and highlight the need for more support for the Opposition.


The Council will reflect on the transition in Egypt, which is at a key point following parliamentary elections. Further progress on the elections is threatened by the continued deterioration in the economy, crackdown on civil society and recent violence. We hope the Council will adopt conclusions that maintain the pressure for progress and set out EU support for Egypt, once there has been a fair and free transition to civilian rule.


We expect Ministers to discuss progress in the EU-facilitated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. This will be followed by a more in-depth discussion at the GAC the following day, where member states will consider whether to grant Serbia EU candidate status. The Government welcome progress made by Serbia and Kosovo in the dialogue so far, and urge both sides to maintain a constructive engagement in the process. The Government urge Serbia to continue to make every effort to meet the requirements set out by the European Council in December. The Government are also a strong supporter of Kosovo’s EU future.


Over lunch, Ministers will be updated on contact between the Israelis and Palestinians, with an assessment of the current state of Palestinian reconciliation talks. This discussion is not expected to lead to formal conclusions—which are instead expected at the subsequent FAC in March.

South Caucasus

Ministers hope to discuss developments of the EU’s engagement in the south Caucasus since the last FAC discussion in June 2010, when the Council agreed the following conclusions:

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/115147.pdf.

We expect conclusions to be adopted covering the EU’s relationship with the three countries of the south Caucasus, and covering efforts to achieve peaceful settlement of the conflicts in the region. We believe the conclusions should emphasise that forthcoming elections in the south Caucasus should meet internationally recognised democratic standards.


My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary hopes to brief the Council on developments at the 23 February London conference on Somalia. This may be followed by further, concrete EU action to be agreed at the March FAC.


Baroness Ashton may brief on her recent visits to Brazil and Mexico. Following this, there may be a short discussion on the current state of the EU’s relationship with each of these emerging powers.

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general affairs council (gac)

March European Council

Ministers will discuss preparation for the March European Council being held the following week (1-2 March); which will focus on economic policy; preparation for international summits (G8 in May, G20 in June and the Rio plus 20 in June) and Serbia.

i) Economic Policy

Ministers will discuss economic and employment policies with an emphasis on green growth and on structural reforms to increase competitiveness and create more jobs, in line with the statement from the January informal European Council. That Council agreed to accelerate action on the digital single market and legislation that will strengthen further the single market; for instance in the services and energy sectors.

The statement of the January informal European Council can be found at:


In preparation for the March European Council, the Prime Minister jointly wrote a letter with 11 other EU member states to Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, and Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, to outline a plan for growth in Europe. I have placed copies of this letter in the Libraries of both Houses.

There will also be a discussion on the reforms implemented under the European semester and the Commission will announce their new recommendations for 2012. The UK specific recommendations for 2011 focused on addressing the fiscal deficit, housing benefit reform, encouraging financing, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises and measures to tackle unemployment.

The UK specific recommendations can be found at:


ii) International Summits

Ministers will discuss the EU’s approach to the upcoming G8, G20 and Rio plus 20 conferences. The May G8 summit in Chicago will focus on political and global issues. The June G20 summit in Mexico will focus on economics and finance and is expected to include green growth. The June Rio plus 20 will cover green growth in the context of sustainable development and institutional reform.

iii) Serbia

The March European Council is expected to endorse the decision on Serbia reached at the General Affairs Council (please see link).


Ministers will be expected to make a decision, in the light of the discussion at the Foreign Affairs Council, on whether to grant Serbia candidate status. The discussion was deferred to this GAC from the December European Council. The December European Council tasked the Council with examining and confirming whether Serbia has continued to show credible commitment and made further progress in the dialogue, among other issues.

The December European Council conclusions can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/126714.pdf.

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Bulgaria and Romania

We expect Council conclusions in relation to Bulgaria and Romania’s progress on the co-operation and verification mechanism (CVM), a safeguard measure to monitor progress for acceding states in the areas of freedom, security and justice. The Council is expected to welcome the interim reports on the progress in Bulgaria and Romania under the CVM and acknowledge the continued efforts by Bulgaria and Romania to meet the objectives set under the mechanism. Further reports are expected in the summer of 2012 including the overall assessment of progress since accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU in 2007.

Lunch with Herman V an Rompuy

Following the GAC, Herman Van Rompuy will present, over lunch, the latest progress on the intergovernmental treaty. The intergovernmental treaty is expected to be signed in the margins of the March European Council on 2 March.

Central Asia

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): Last year the countries of Central Asia celebrated the 20th anniversary of their independence from the Soviet Union. 2012 marks two decades since the UK established diplomatic relations with these countries.

The central Asian states—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan—were in many respects dealt a difficult hand at independence. Their mixed record in responding to the challenge of independence over the past 20 years, in a resource-rich but unstable and landlocked region, reflects that. Active and constructive UK engagement with these countries remains essential. They constitute a region of growing importance for the UK’s prosperity and security interests. We have a commitment to promoting the core values of rule of law, human rights and democracy that we hold dear and that we regard as the best basis for future stability and growth in this region. With our new embassy in Bishkek opening in December 2011, we now have embassies in all five countries.

Central Asia’s scope for economic development is considerable. We must proactively pursue commercial opportunities and seek to unlock the region’s energy potential. The UK is already among the largest international investors in Kazakhstan, and we are rapidly developing our trade relations elsewhere in the region: UK bilateral trade with central Asia in 2011 was more than double that in 2010, standing at some £1.1 billion by November. We want this trend to continue. We also give priority, bilaterally and with our EU partners, to the diversification of energy supplies—including through the development of a southern corridor bringing gas from the Caspian region via Turkey to the EU. Visits such as that by the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) to Kazakhstan in September 2011 are a key component in supporting our prosperity goals. We need more regular contacts of this kind with the region.

As another important element of the UK’s engagement, the Department for International Development continues to play an active role in the region. Their bilateral programme, set at £14 million per year, is helping to

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reduce poverty in the region through promoting sustainable growth and good governance, in particular in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and through building on the positive opportunities for regional development.

Central Asia is equally important to our security interests. We have a shared interest in regional stability and in achieving a stable transition and secure future for Afghanistan, which borders three of the central Asian states. We welcome the constructive role the central Asian states are already playing in helping secure Afghanistan’s long-term stability, including through infrastructure projects. We are keen to see them co-operate ever more closely with Afghanistan on such “connectivity” projects and make their voices heard in regional dialogue. They can also play a key role in helping us support the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and UK forces in particular as we actively look for ways to improve our supply lines into and out of Afghanistan through the Northern Line of Communication. More broadly, we and the international community must engage with the central Asian states on a range of security issues, including counter-narcotics and border security, conflict prevention and crisis management work, counter-radicalisation, and some aspects of defence reform and co-operation, if we are to promote effectively wider regional security and stability. Ministry of Defence Ministers will be visiting the region shortly in support of UK security goals.

Underpinning our prosperity and security interests is our commitment to promote the UK’s core values in all our activities in the region. The central Asian states will continue to face many challenges in this regard, and several of them have a considerable way to go before meeting their international commitments on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. We need to be clear both in recognising their deficiencies in these areas and in voicing our related concerns. But we also believe that, as in other parts of the world, the most effective way to address such concerns is through constructive engagement, both with Governments and civil society in the region. Promoting international standards, working bilaterally and multilaterally to support the region as it seeks to reform and, when necessary, robustly raising our human rights concerns with the host Governments will remain at the heart of what we do.


National Health Service Charges

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): Regulations will be laid before Parliament shortly to increase certain National health service charges in England from 1 April 2012.

There will be an increase in the prescription charge of 25p from £7.40 to £7.65 for each quantity of a drug or appliance dispensed.

The cost of a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) will remain at £29.10 for a three-month certificate. The cost of the annual certificate will remain at £104.

PPCs offer savings for those needing four or more items in three months or 14 or more items in one year.

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Regulations will also be laid to increase NHS dental charges from 1 April 2012. The dental charge payable for a band 1 course of treatment will increase by 50p from £17 to £17.50. The dental charge for a band 2 course of treatment will increase by £1 from £47 to £48. The charge for a band 3 course of treatment will increase by £5 from £204 to £209.

Dental charges represent an important contribution to the overall cost of dental services. The exact amount raised will be dependent upon the level and type of primary dental care services commissioned by primary care trusts and the proportion of charge-paying patients who attend dentists and the level of treatment they require.

Charges for elastic stockings and tights, wigs and fabric supports supplied by hospitals will also be increased.

The range of NHS optical vouchers available to children, people on low incomes and individuals with complex sight problems are also being increased in value. In order to continue to provide help with the cost of spectacles and contact lenses, optical voucher values will rise by an overall 2.5%.

Details of the revised charges are in the following tables.

NHS Charges - England
  New Charge (£)

Prescription charges


Single item


3 month PPC


12 month PPC



Dental Charges


Band 1 course of treatment


Band 2 course of treatment


Band 3 course of treatment



Wigs and Fabrics


Surgical brassiere


Abdominal or spinal support


Stock modacrylic wig


Partial human hair wig


Full bespoke human hair wig


Optical voucher values from 1 April 2012
Type of optical appliance  

A. Glasses with single vision lenses:


spherical power of ≤ 6 dioptres, cylindrical power of ≤ 2 dioptres.


B. Glasses with single vision lenses:


spherical power of > 6 dioptres but < 10 dioptres, cylindrical power of ≤ 6 dioptres;


spherical power of < 10 dioptres, cylindrical power of > 2 dioptres but ≤ 6 dioptres.


C . Glasses with single vision lenses:


spherical power of ≥ 10 dioptres but ≤ 14 dioptres, cylindrical power of ≤ 6 dioptres.


D . Glasses with single vision lenses:


spherical power of >14 dioptres with any cylindrical power;


cylindrical power of > 6 dioptres with any spherical power.


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E . Glasses with bifocal lenses:


spherical power of ≤ 6 dioptres, cylindrical power of ≤ 2 dioptres.


F . Glasses with bifocal lenses:


spherical power of > 6 dioptres but < 10 dioptres, cylindrical power of ≤ 6 dioptres;


spherical power of < 10 dioptres, cylindrical power of > 2 dioptres but ≤ 6 dioptres.


G. Glasses with bifocal lenses:


spherical power of ≥ 10 dioptres but ≤ 14 dioptres, cylindrical power of 6 ≤ dioptres.


H. Glasses with prism-controlled bifocal lenses of any power or with bifocal lenses:


spherical power of >14 dioptres with any cylindrical power;


cylindrical power of > 6 dioptres with any spherical power.


I. (HES) Glasses not falling within any of paragraphs 1 to 8 for which a prescription is given in consequence of a testing of sight by an NHS Trust.


Care Quality Commission

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Andrew Lansley): I wish to inform the House that the Department is today publishing the report of its performance and capability review of the Care Quality Commission (CQC). The review is intended to provide robust assurance to the public, the Department and Parliament that CQC is improving its performance and that action will be taken to build and sustain its capability for the future.

The review ran from October 2011 to February 2012, and was led by a panel of senior departmental officials and external reviewers, chaired by the permanent secretary. The review gathered evidence from a range of external stakeholders and CQC staff. It also considered findings of the recent reports from the Health Select Committee and the National Audit Office.

The review sets out recommendations to challenge CQC and support its continuing improvement by providing clearer strategic direction, strengthening the CQC board and developing and delivering the underlying regulatory model. These recommendations will be important to ensure that CQC builds and sustains its capability for the future. The review also recognises that the Department has more to do as a sponsor and work is under way to strengthen accountability arrangements across all the Department’s arm’s length bodies.

I have today placed in the Library copies of a letters exchanged between the permanent secretary of the Department and the chair and chief executive of the CQC, together with a copy of “Performance and Capability Review: Care Quality Commission”. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

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Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): “The Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme—11th Report to Parliament” has been published today.

The Department published the first report on the “Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme” (PPRS) in 1996 following a comment by the Health Committee that the “Department of Health should introduce greater transparency into the PPRS”. Since then, the Department has published a report to Parliament on the operation and management of the scheme most years, the last report being December 2009. This latest report covers an update on the operation of the 2009 scheme, and other developments on PPRS since the last report. In addition, an update has been provided on innovation provisions under the 2009 scheme, Government support for the life science industry and an update on international price comparisons.

A copy has been placed in the Library. Copies are available for hon. Members from the Vote office and for noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

Work and Pensions

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 17 February 2012 in Brussels. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who is responsible for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs, represented the United Kingdom.

There were two discussions at this Council. The first was a debate on women on company boards. The Commission presented the economic case for greater diversity on company boards and stated that progress to date was poor. It outlined its intention to take stock

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and consider possible measures including the need for quotas. My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk intervened to stress that the UK did not favour quotas. Instead the UK preferred positive measures such as putting pressure on companies to set their own targets; requiring companies to disclose information on gender balance; and making changes to training and mentoring. He further highlighted that the significant recent increase in women on UK company boards proved that such measures work.

The second debate was on the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy in the field of employment and social policy. It centred on a set of Council conclusions on the joint employment report priorities for action. Member states acknowledged the challenging economic and social climate and emphasised the importance of tackling youth unemployment. My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk intervened to set out details of the UK youth contract, which would provide nearly half a million work places for young people. He also emphasised the importance of removing barriers to participation in the labour market through welfare reform, generating skills through apprenticeships and reducing burden on business through smart regulation.

The Council also adopted conclusions on priorities for action in the areas of employment and social policies and the joint employment report. My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk abstained on behalf of the UK on parliamentary scrutiny grounds.

Under any other business the Commission stated that it had taken due note of the intention of nine member states including the UK to retain transitional arrangements for Bulgarian and Romanian workers. The presidency provided information on the preparation of the tripartite social summit. The Commission and presidency provided information on preparation for the G20 meeting of Labour and Employment Ministers; and on the Euro-Mediterranean employment and labour high level working group. Finally, the Employment Committee and Social Protection Committee chairs provided information on their work programmes for 2012.

My statement of 9 February 2012 ahead of the Employment and Social Affairs Council referred to a discussion about proposals related to posting of workers. That discussion was removed from the final Council agenda.