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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Defence

Arctic Star and Bomber Command Clasp

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr Mark Francois): I am pleased to be able to provide further details of the new Arctic Star and Bomber Command clasp to the House today. This follows Sir John Holmes’ independent medal review and the announcement by the Prime Minister, on 19 December 2012, that these awards should be made in recognition of the great bravery of those who contributed to two very significant campaigns of world war two.

Since the Prime Minister’s announcement, I have ensured that the necessary work on matters such as design, manufacture and eligibility criteria has been undertaken as quickly as possible in order to get medals and clasps to veterans and widows as soon as we can. We estimate that up to 120,000 veterans or next of kin could be eligible for the Arctic Star and 125,000 for the Bomber Command clasp.

Her Majesty the Queen has now approved designs for the new awards on the basis of recommendations made by the Royal Mint advisory committee. The design for the Arctic Star is based on the other world war two stars and the Bomber Command clasp, to be worn on the ribbon of the 1939 to 1945 star, follows the design of the Battle of Britain clasp.

Production of both awards is now getting under way and we should be in a position to present the first awards in a few weeks time. Both the Arctic Star and Bomber Command clasp are available to veterans and to the next of kin of those who are deceased. Priority in issuing the awards will be given to veterans and widows. Other next of kin may also apply now but will have to wait slightly longer to receive their award.

The qualifying period for the Arctic Star is “service of any length” recognising the particular severity of the conditions experienced by those who served in the Arctic. While the primary intent is to recognise those who served on the Arctic convoys, eligibility is extended to include all who served north of the Arctic circle in world war two. Those eligible will include members of all three services as well of course as the merchant navy who crewed the ships taking the vital supplies to Russia.

The criteria for the Bomber Command clasp requires prior qualification for the 1939 to 1945 star, to which it will be affixed, with the additional requirement to have flown at least one operational sortie with a Bomber Command operational unit. A clasp was deemed more appropriate, by Sir John, in the case of Bomber Command as aircrew had already received either the aircrew Europe star or the France and Germany star and another medal would have constituted “double-medalling” for the same service.

Eligible veterans and next of kin are now encouraged to apply for the new awards and details, including an application form, can be found at: www.veterans-uk.info or by telephoning the MOD medal office on 08457 800 900, a local rate number.

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Details of the designs of the Arctic Star and Bomber Command clasp and the eligibility criteria have been placed in the Library of the House.

Votes A Excess Votes

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): The Ministry of Defence Votes A excess votes will be laid before the House on 26 February 2013 as HC 992. This declares an excess of personnel for years 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12, and requests an increase in the Votes A limits for these years.

Prime Minister

Organisation on Security and Co-operation in Europe (Appointment)

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) has been appointed as a full member of the United Kingdom delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation on Security and Co-operation in Europe in place of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch).

Transport

Better Bus Areas

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I am pleased today to launch the bidding process for designation of better bus areas, and to announce that Sheffield will act as a trailblazer for better bus areas as part of its city deal.

Last March in “Green Light for Better Buses” I announced my intention to reform the way in which we directly support the bus market through the bus service operators grant (BSOG). A key part of this is the development of better bus areas.

These are an innovative way of supporting the bus market for local transport authorities and bus operators working in partnership. Within better bus areas BSOG for services run commercially will gradually be devolved to local authorities and this grant will be supplemented by a top-up fund worth 20% of the commercial BSOG. This money will enable local transport authorities to tackle the local problems that hold back the bus market. I am today publishing guidance for local transport authorities wanting to become a better bus area. Applications need to be with the Department by 21 June and decisions will be made by 1 October 2013.

South Yorkshire passenger transport executive has been working with the Department to develop Sheffield as a trailblazer better bus area and I am pleased to announce that their application, which forms part of Sheffield’s city deal, has been successful. The better bus

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area will increase funding for buses in Sheffield by £530,000 this financial year and just under £1.6 million in future years.

Between September and November last year we consulted on the arrangements for implementing our proposed reforms to the BSOG system. We have now had a chance to review all the responses to the consultation, and are now considering the final arrangements for devolving part of the BSOG budget to local authorities outside BBAs as well as some changes to the categories of bus service which qualify to receive BSOG. I expect to make a detailed announcement on these arrangements around Easter, with a view to implementing them in October this year.

Work and Pensions

Work Capability Assessment

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mr Mark Hoban): I am pleased to announce that Dr Paul Litchfield, the chief medical officer for BT, has been appointed to carry out the fourth of the five independent reviews of the work capability assessment (WCA) required by the Welfare Reform Act 2007.

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The review will continue the process started by Professor Malcolm Harrington to refine the WCA to better identify those who are capable of work over the short and medium term and those who will require longer-term financial support.

Dr Paul Litchfield is chief medical officer and director of health, safety and wellbeing for BT, a post he has held since 2001. His fields of expertise include mental illness and the impact it can have on work prospects. As a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council, he has also played a key role in raising the profile of the economic impact of chronic disease.

An independent scrutiny group, chaired by Professor David Haslam—past president of the Royal College of General Practitioners, national professional adviser to the Care Quality Commission, and chair designate of the National Institute for Health and Excellence (NICE)—will oversee the review process.

Dr Litchfield replaces Professor Malcolm Harrington as independent reviewer. Professor Harrington’s third review, published in November 2012, found that real progress has been made to improve the WCA.

Dr Litchfield will present his report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions before the end of 2013.