12 Dec 2012 : Column 33WS

12 Dec 2012 : Column 33WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 12 December 2012



The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr George Osborne): A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held in Brussels on 12 December 2012. The following item will be on the agenda.

Banking Supervision Mechanism

Council will seek to agree a general approach for the Commission’s proposal for a single supervisory mechanism (SSM).

Cabinet Office

Open Data

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Mr Francis Maude): I am today providing the first update on Her Majesty’s Government’s commitments to open data as set out in departmental Open Data Strategies and its performance against the Public Data Principles for the period between July and September 2012. The UK is seen as a global leader in the field of transparency and it is important that we monitor and report on progress achieved.

I am pleased to report that overall progress made shows that the open data agenda have become more established within individual Departments since the publication of the Open Data White Paper in June 2012. This first statement will act as a benchmark for progress on the Government’s commitment to open data. A detailed report elaborating on the figures, giving examples of progress made and the barriers to be overcome can be found on the data.gov.uk website and will be placed in the Library of the House.

Performance against the Public Data Principles

The Public Data Principles(1) state that all data should be released in an open format, be reusable, machine-readable and linkable across sectors to allow for comparative “like-for-like” analysis. The openness of datasets is measured using Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s “Five Star Data Deployment Scheme” and our aspiration is to have all datasets released at the level of at least “Three Stars” which means that datasets released on data.gov.uk must be published now in a non-proprietary format. By adherence to these principles, Government can help to encourage greater use of published data and also help to reduce potential barriers to innovation based on the use of these data. Fifty-two per cent of datasets published on data.gov.uk by central Government Departments and their arm’s length bodies are of “Three Stars” and above quality.

Data.gov.uk provides a single portal for access to all Government datasets and its functionality has been greatly improved over the summer to enable the automatic

12 Dec 2012 : Column 34WS

validation of formats, a better publishing process, as well as the ability for users to monitor the frequency of publications. Data.gov.uk provides a forum for data users to discuss, request and comment on datasets. This has been supplemented with a service that directs requests for new unpublished datasets to the Open Data User Group to review and, if deemed worth pursuing, prepare business cases in support of their publication.

Completion of commitments undertaken by Departments

Of the 17 central Departments, nine are reported as having “Met” their commitments to make available data on central and local corporate spend, salaries, organograms and crime data as set out in the first of the Prime Minister’s letters to Government Departments on opening up data (May 2010) with the remainder reporting a delay.

Completion of the commitments to publishing key data on the national health service, schools, criminal courts and transport as set out in the second of the Prime Minister’s letters to Cabinet Ministers on transparency and open data (July 2011) is better. Eleven Departments are reporting their commitments are “Met” and only five reporting a delay. One Department is reporting it would be unlikely to meet its commitment due to security issues.

Compliance against departmental Open Data Strategies commitments sees 13 Departments reporting they have “Met” or are “On Track” and only four Departments reporting a delay.

A key commitment in the Open Data White Paper was for all transparency sector panels to establish privacy experts by September 2012. I can report that five out of seven of these panels have confirmed that they have privacy experts embedded within their membership. Two Departments have internal groups with no representation of external open data users although they do have a privacy expert as part of their membership.

Summary of the July to September Reporting Period

We are seeing the release of open data steadily becoming the norm within Government, despite the issues surrounding legacy infrastructures and business change. Infrastructure barriers will not be overcome until legacy systems are replaced or revised with more efficient and transparency-orientated systems or additions to allow for systematic publication of corporate data.

Further work must also be carried out to embed transparency as a culture and open data as a process within Government Departments and their arm’s length bodies. This can be achieved through further investment in stronger guidance, for example in how best to publish consistently to allow for better use of the datasets across sectors, and through good practice sharing among the policy and delivery community, with particular focus on arm’s length bodies. This will help ensure that these bodies comply with all their commitments and that the datasets they publish are done so in a format consistent with those published by central Departments.

The actions noted under each section of this report will be updated in future statements to Parliament.

(1)See http://www.data.gov.uk/library/public-data-principles.

12 Dec 2012 : Column 35WS

Deputy Prime Minister

2011 Referendums

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Miss Chloe Smith): Today we are publishing The UK Government’s response to reports on the 2011 referendums. It includes responses to the Electoral Commission’s report on “Referendum on the voting system for UK parliamentary elections: Report on the May 2011 referendum”. The response also includes comments on recommendations made by the Association of Electoral Administrators’ report “Administration of the referendums and elections across the UK in 2011”.

The Government have already brought forward legislation as part of their programme of constitutional reform which should assist the effective administration of future elections and referendums. We were grateful for the analysis and recommendations within the reports.

Copies of the Government’s response will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Environment Agency and Natural England (Review)

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): The Government are committed to high levels of environmental protection and to the effectiveness of the bodies entrusted with those obligations. Today I am announcing the start of the review of the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England (NE). This review is part of the Government’s rolling programme of reviews of non-departmental public bodies.

The review will consider the functions and form of the EA and NE to ensure that delivery arrangements are sufficiently strong and resilient to deliver the Government’s environment and flood risk management priorities and statutory obligations in the short and longer term, while also achieving better quality outcomes for the environment, the economy and for people on a sustainable basis.

The review will also assess the opportunities for innovation, cost saving and improvements in service delivery for customers. It will have due regard to affordability and best value for money for the taxpayer.

I am committed to conducting the review through an open, inclusive and evidence-based approach, working closely with the EA and NE and their stakeholders to ensure they have the opportunity to contribute their views. I am issuing a discussion paper today, inviting responses by 4 February 2013.

I have established a challenge group, chaired by Dame Deirdre Hutton, to rigorously and robustly test the assumptions and conclusions of the review.

Terms of reference for the review, a copy of the discussion paper and the terms of reference for the challenge group have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

I expect to announce the findings of the review and recommendations in spring 2013.

12 Dec 2012 : Column 36WS

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Afghanistan (Monthly Report)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I wish to inform the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, is today publishing the 22nd progress report on developments in Afghanistan since November 2010.

On 9 October the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2069 (2012) extending the authorisation of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) by a further year. The resolution provided a 12-month roll-over of the chapter VII authorisation, with an unqualified “all necessary measures” provision. It also incorporated NATO Chicago summit commitments to support the training, equipping, financing and capability development of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) up to and beyond 2014.

The UK and Afghanistan held the first meeting of the Afghanistan-UK Joint Commission chaired by Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin and Baroness Warsi to review implementation of the “Enduring Strategic Partnership” document signed by President Karzai and the Prime Minister in January.

On 25 October the International Development Committee (IDC) published its “Afghanistan: Progress and Prospects after 2014” report. The Government welcome this report. The Department for International Development will shortly publish a formal response.

On 31 October the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) publicly announced that 5 April 2014 would be the date for the next presidential election in Afghanistan. The provincial council elections, postponed from 2013, will also take place on 5 April. As part of this announcement, the IEC published an ambitious time line for the full electoral processes. Although the time line as it stands does not cover the parliamentary elections due in 2015, it effectively meets the Afghan commitment at the Tokyo development conference to produce a timeline by early 2013. An implementation plan is set to follow.

October typically marks the end of the so-called Afghan summer fighting season. This time is used by insurgents to recuperate and plan. Overall the levels of violence are likely to decline, and in accordance with seasonal norms, we can expect the character of operations to change during the winter.

Four members of UK armed forces lost their lives while deployed on operations in Afghanistan in October. The two separate incidents that caused these deaths were assessed to be the result of insider attacks. We take these attacks and their causes extremely seriously and we continue to work at the highest level to reduce the risk of insider attacks.

The Government of Afghanistan continued to progress plans for the privatisation of the New Kabul Bank. The first in a series of investor road shows took place in October. A road show in Dubai is planned for November. Tenders are being managed by the Afghan Ministry of Finance, Central Bank, and the Cabinet. The process aims to attract high-quality investors. The New Kabul

12 Dec 2012 : Column 37WS

Bank is a commercially viable bank, with US $550 million of deposits and over 100 branches across Afghanistan. As one of the largest banks in Afghanistan, its survival is important for economic development and jobs. The UK is supporting the Afghan Government with the sale of the bank, thus promoting a transparent and effective process.

I am placing the report in the Library of the House. It will also be published on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website (www.fco.gov.uk).

International Piracy Ransoms Task Force

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): I wish to inform the House that the International Piracy Ransoms Task Force, established by the Prime Minister at the London conference on Somalia in February, yesterday presented its conclusions to the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia.

The taskforce was constituted of 14 members: Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Liberia, Malaysia, Norway, Panama, Spain, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. This broad-based membership included some of the world’s largest flag states, the countries at the forefront of the military response to piracy, and those nations whose seafarers are most commonly at risk from pirate attack.

Since the taskforce was launched, there has been a dramatic reduction in piracy activity: reported attacks have declined from 176 in 2011 to 35 as of November 2012. Successful attacks have fallen even more dramatically, with ransom payments in 2012 falling by more than 700% from their level in 2011. However, this positive trend is fragile and reversible, and the taskforce agreed that the international community needs to maintain its efforts across the board to drive down the threat to global security and prosperity. The ultimate goal for the international community must be to reach a position whereby pirates are no longer able to receive or profit from ransom payments.

The taskforce identified a range of options for reducing and avoiding ransom payments and bearing down on those who demand ransoms to ensure that they are not rewarded. It concluded that work should urgently be undertaken to:

develop a new strategic partnership between flag states, the private sector and law enforcement agencies that brings together those tackling piracy and those subjected to it in a united effort to break the piracy business model;

develop a more co-ordinated approach to information sharing to provide evidence to pursue and prosecute all involved in piracy;

strengthen co-ordination between flag states, the private sector and military responders to prepare for potential hostage situations; and

encourage implementation of anti-piracy measures, including greater compliance with best management practice.

The Government firmly support and endorse the conclusions of the international taskforce. They recognise that an internationally co-ordinated and implemented approach will be vital in achieving the goal of bringing an end to the role of ransoms in piracy. The Government

12 Dec 2012 : Column 38WS

will continue to work as a leading member of the contact group and with industry in taking forward the implementation of the taskforce’s recommendations.

Home Department

Immigration Rules

The Minister for Immigration (Mr Mark Harper): My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is today laying before the House a statement of changes in immigration rules. The main effect of these changes is twofold.

First, they will apply most of the changes to the immigration rules on family and private life contained in the statement of changes in immigration rules laid on 22 November 2012 (HC 760) to all applications decided on or after 13 December 2012, rather than only to applications made on or after that date. This will provide greater clarity for applicants and for the UK Border Agency as to the requirements in respect of family and private life applicable to all applications decided from 13 December 2012.

Secondly, they will apply a transitional concession to migrants under tier 1 (Investor) of the points-based system who entered the route, or applied to do so, before the clarifications in HC 760 regarding loans secured against investments and overseas custodisation of investments come into effect on 13 December 2012. This will ensure that such migrants are not adversely affected by these changes.


Civil Litigation Funding and Costs

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mrs Helen Grant): In the context of his “An Inquiry into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press”, Lord Justice Leveson recommended that costs protection should be extended to defamation and privacy claims. This would mean that individuals of modest means should not be in the position of bringing or defending actions without some form of protection against having to pay the other side’s costs if the case is lost. The Government have accepted this recommendation and I am therefore today announcing that provisions relating to sections 44 and 46 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012, which would remove the recoverability of success fees and insurance premiums, will not come into force for defamation and privacy claims until costs protection has been introduced for these proceedings.

The Government have already asked the Civil Justice Council (CJC) for advice by the end of March 2013 on this issue. Given that the reforms in part 2 of the LASPO Act generally come into effect on 1 April 2013, this short delay in implementation will mean the protection which currently exists through recoverable insurance premiums will continue until a new regime of costs protection can be implemented through changes to the civil procedure rules.

12 Dec 2012 : Column 39WS

Work and Pensions

Youth Contract Employer Wage

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mr Mark Hoban): The Youth Contract, worth almost £1 billion, builds on existing support to provide young people with more intensive adviser support and work experience, as well as providing employers with wage incentives and apprenticeship grants to encourage them to recruit young people. This will create around 500,000 opportunities for young people and will ensure that every unemployed young person will receive the support that they need.

On 17 December 2012, the Government will extend the eligibility of the employer wage incentive element of the Youth Contract to include all young people, aged 18

12 Dec 2012 : Column 40WS

to 24, who reach six months on benefit. This will make an incentive worth up to £2,275 available to businesses that employ these young people for six months or more, as it has been in 20 youth unemployment “hotspots” since July. This means that wage incentives will be available via Jobcentre Plus before most young people enter the Work programme.

Providing earlier access to wage incentives across Great Britain will simplify the offer for employers and will allow greater collaborative working between Jobcentre Plus and Work programme providers.

In order to maintain additional provision in the youth unemployment “hotspots”, extra Jobcentre Plus support will be made available for young people at the start of their claim in these areas. This is equivalent to an additional 80 minutes adviser time every fortnight from day one to month three of a young person’s claim. This will start to become available from January next year.