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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Business, Innovation and Skills

Consumer Alternative Dispute Resolution

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): The UK has opted in to the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on alternative dispute resolution for consumer disputes and amending regulation (EC) No 2006/2004 and directive 2009/22/EC (directive on consumer ADR).

The directive contains a provision which imposes a civil judicial co-operation obligation and therefore triggers the UK’s Justice and Home Affairs opt-in protocol. The proposal meets the criteria set out in the coalition agreement with regard to EU justice and home affairs measures. In particular, the Government consider that it is in the UK’s interest to opt in to the proposal because of the greater consumer protection it will bring.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) refers to schemes that are available to help complainants resolve their disputes outside court. The proposal will oblige member states to ensure that ADR schemes meeting certain, specified quality standards are available for any contractual dispute between a consumer and a business, should both parties wish to use ADR. The objective of the proposal is to build consumer confidence in the internal market, an aim which is aligned with the UK’s growth agenda.

The provision which triggers the opt-in protocol requires time limits for bringing claims to court to be extended if an ADR process is ongoing. Most ADR procedures are completed well within existing time limits, but this provision will ensure a consumer is not disadvantaged in the event that a time limit is due to expire while an ADR process is ongoing.

The European Parliament and the Council have now voted in favour of the proposal, which will be adopted in the coming weeks. The UK will then have two years in which to implement the legislation.

Treasury

Cash Ratio Deposit Scheme

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): The Treasury has today published a summary of consultation responses in relation to the review of the cash ratio deposit scheme, copies of which are available on the HMT website and have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

UK Guarantee Scheme

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): UK Guarantees was announced in July 2012 with enabling legislation, the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act 2012, receiving Royal Assent on 31 October 2012.

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The Government are confirming that they have approved a guarantee for up to £75 million to Drax Finance Ltd for the partial conversion of a coal-fired power station to biomass.

UK Guarantees was launched in response to constraints in the long-term debt markets by providing a sovereign-backed guarantee to help infrastructure projects raise debt finance. In exchange for a guarantee a fee will be charged to the borrower, determined by the nature of the guarantee and the risks inherent in the project. Guarantees for up to £40 billion in aggregate can be offered under the initiative.

The Government will report to Parliament on the financial assistance given in line with the requirements set out in the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act 2012.

Education

Children and Families Bill Committee (Ministerial Clarification)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Edward Timpson): During the Children and Families Bill Committee on 16 April I said in the debate on the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West’s (Mrs Hodgson) new clause 20 that:

“The Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service already publish information on the number of appeals registered, the outcomes, the type of special educational need to which the appeals relate, the number of appeals registered against each local authority, and other information, including judicial costs, venue costs, administration costs, the cost to a local authority defending a tribunal case and so on”.

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) does publish statistics on the appeals to the first-tier tribunal (special educational needs and disability) on its website but it does not include information about costs.

The MOJ publishes for each quarter on its website statistics on the work of the tribunals within Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCS). The publication for the second quarter (July to September) which is usually published in January, contains annual statistics for the first-tier tribunal (SEND), covering September to August of the previous academic year.

The tables for SEN appeals cover the number of appeals by type of appeal, by the type of SEN, the decisions by type of SEN, the outcomes (whether they were decided, withdrawn or conceded) the outcomes by type of SEN, the breakdown of the child’s ethnic origin and the legal representation for parents and local authorities at hearings (although the figures for the last two years are not available). Similar information is published on disability discrimination claims the tribunal receives. Figures on the number of SEN appeals registered by local authority, both raw numbers and per 10,000 of the school population, are also published. The first-tier tribunal (SEND) section of the MOJ’s website (http://www.justice.gov.uk/tribunals/send) has also now started providing a link to the quarterly statistics. Information about costs is not published.

I apologise for inadvertently misleading the Committee and I have written to Committee members in addition to this statement. A copy of that letter has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Afghanistan Progress Report (March 2013)

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 24th progress report on developments in Afghanistan since November 2010.

Foreign Office Senior Minister of State Baroness Warsi made her second visit to Afghanistan on 4-6 March. Key themes of the visit were emphasising the UK’s enduring commitment to Afghanistan and protecting the gains in human rights, particularly women’s rights, Afghanistan has seen since the fall of the Taleban.

In a speech on 4 March the International Development Secretary pledged to step up UK support for women and girls in the world’s poorest countries. This pledge included a commitment to making tackling violence against women and girls in Afghanistan a priority in the next DFID country plan.

The Afghan special case tribunal announced its verdict on the Kabul bank fraud trial on 5 March. The former chief executive and chairman of the Kabul bank, were each convicted of breach of trust and sentenced to five years in prison. In addition, the individuals received fines equivalent to the value of the assets they are deemed to have stolen from the bank. Other defendants were given shorter prison sentences. The Afghan Attorney-General has lodged an appeal against the entirety of the verdict seeking stronger sentences.

On 6 March the Prime Minister hosted an investors forum with the Afghan Minister of Mines at No. 10 Downing street. The event provided an opportunity to demonstrate Afghanistan’s natural resource potential. At the forum the Prime Minister and International Development Secretary announced a new DFID programme of £10 million over the next three years, which will support the Ministry’s work to negotiate, grant, manage and monitor contracts, appoint experts to key posts and develop the mineral and hydrocarbon sector.

The UK continues to support an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process. Now is the time for all Afghans to sit down together to help shape a peaceful and prosperous future for their country. This process must be inclusive. The Taliban has an opportunity to engage in dialogue about Afghanistan’s future by opening an office in Doha.

The Afghan national security forces are progressing well. A total of 21 out of 26 brigades are now operating either independently, or with ISAF only in an advisory role. ISAF forces continue work to build and train the key military enabling capabilities that the ANSF need to operate. By way of example, the Afghan air force achieved a major milestone in their combined strategic flight plan, with the first combined training exercise including multiple aircraft and supporting capabilities.

I am placing the report in the Library of the House. It will also be published on the gov.uk website: www.gov.uk/government/publications/afghanistan-progress-reports.

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Health

Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr Daniel Poulter): Today the review of the regulation of cosmetic interventions has been published. I wish to express my thanks to Sir Bruce Keogh, the chairman, and the other members of the review body for their report.

The Poly Implant Prothése (PIP) breast implant scandal highlighted the unacceptably poor quality of clinical practice in parts of the cosmetic surgery industry, as well as with other cosmetic interventions, including concerns about clinical safety and regulation. Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS medical director, was asked in January 2012 by the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley), to carry out a review of the regulation of cosmetic interventions. The review’s scope was broad, covering both surgical (e.g. breast implants) and non-surgical (e.g. “botox” injections) cosmetic interventions.

This review highlights how the rapid growth of the cosmetic interventions sector has outstripped the current legal framework, exposing people who undergo these procedures to a concerning lack of safeguards. It makes recommendations to improve the quality of care, to inform and empower the public and to ensure resolution and redress when things go wrong.

The review examined attempts at self-regulation to establish effective standards and found these wanting. It may be necessary, therefore, to consider new legislation or amendments to existing regulation for some of the recommendations. It may also be possible for much to be accomplished through revised professional standards and improved training.

I am supportive of the principal conclusions of the review, and the Government will make their formal written response to the recommendations before the summer recess.

“Review of the Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions—Final Report” has been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

Work and Pensions

Social Justice: Transforming Lives

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Iain Duncan Smith): A year ago, we published “Social Justice: transforming lives”, a landmark document setting out a new vision for supporting the most disadvantaged families and individuals across the UK. The social justice strategy outlined how family breakdown, low educational attainment, worklessness, problem debt, and addiction combine to cause the entrenched poverty affecting many of our communities, highlighting the complexity of the issues that many people face.

To meet this challenge, the strategy signalled that a new approach was needed—putting early intervention first, while tackling the root causes of poverty to give those experiencing disadvantage a meaningful second chance.

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Today, I wish to inform the House that I am laying the command paper “Social Justice: transforming lives—One year on”, which demonstrates the progress that we have made in turning that vision into a reality.

Over the last 12 months, we have started the cultural change needed in order to achieve our aims, spanning not only families and individuals, but also public services and the way the Government fund them.

As today’s report sets out, delivering this aim has required a complete shift in how the Government tackle social problems: an unrelenting focus on preventing problems arising in the first place; giving people the support they need to make transformational changes to their own lives when problems arise; and spearheading new multi-agency, outcome-focused approaches in order to address problems in the round.

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The achievements set out in this report, and in supporting documents published on the Department for Work and Pensions’ website, show how much can change in a year, and what this change means to individuals. We have made substantial progress against over 100 commitments set out in “Social Justice: transforming lives”, each of which equates to meaningful life change for the most vulnerable in our society.

While the challenges we face remain significant, this is a strong and positive start—much to the credit of those championing social justice in Government, at a local level and across the voluntary sector. By restating our commitment to transforming lives, and continuing to drive change in how we help families and individuals in need, we will make social justice a reality for everyone in the United Kingdom.