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Written Statements

Thursday 12 September 2013

Business, Innovation and Skills

Royal Mail

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Vince Cable): On 10 July, I laid a report in Parliament and made a statement, Official Report, column 361, setting out the Government’s plans to float Royal Mail shares on the London Stock Exchange via an initial public offering (IPO) during this financial year.

Today, the Government have made a formal intention to float announcement for listing Royal Mail on the premium segment of the official list and the main market of the London Stock Exchange.

Shares will be made available to institutions, members of the public—through intermediaries or direct application to Government—and 10% of the shares will be allocated to eligible employees free of charge through an employee share scheme. Government are delivering on the commitment to employees that Parliament made two years ago, and this will be the largest employee share scheme of any major privatisation for almost 30 years.

Our announcement provides additional detail about the retail offer and the employee priority offer further to my July report. It also highlights Royal Mail’s performance, strengths and strategies.

The sale will be the final stage of the Government’s reforms of the postal sector which are designed to ensure the maintenance of the universal postal service—the six day a week, one price goes anywhere service that we have enshrined in legislation. Changes to the universal service’s minimum requirements, which include free services for the blind and services to urban and rural areas alike, can only be changed by affirmative resolutions in both Houses of Parliament. Moreover, any changes to the uniform nature of the service would require new primary legislation.

We have already relieved Royal Mail of its historic pension deficit and put in place a new regulatory regime with greater protections for the universal postal service.

A sale will give Royal Mail real commercial freedom and enable it future access to private sector capital so that it can invest in the business, innovate and act quickly to take advantage of new opportunities such as those that exist in the e-fulfilment market.

The Post Office is separate from Royal Mail plc and is not for sale. This Government are committed to the Post Office’s sustainable future and we have committed to no programme of Post Office closures. Government are providing funding of £1.34 billion over four years to maintain a network of at least 11,500 branches and ensure that 90% of the population live within one mile of a Post Office outlet. This is the largest investment in the Post Office’s history and will also enable the modernisation of up to 6,000 branches.

I have placed a copy of the intention to float announcement in the Libraries of both Houses.

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Treasury

City Deal

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Greg Clark): Following the successful completion of the first wave of city deals in July 2012 with the “core cities”, the Government committed to work with a further 20 cities and their wider areas to negotiate a second wave of city deals in October 2012.

These cities—the next 14 largest cities and the six cities with the highest population growth—are in the process of negotiating the devolution of specific powers, resources and responsibilities required to deliver locally-determined economic priorities.

Over recent months I have been in negotiation with Preston city council, South Ribble borough council, Lancashire county council and the Lancashire local enterprise partnership and I am pleased to inform the House that the following proposals from Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire will take effect as the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire city deal, the first of the second wave of city deals.

The Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire city deal will help to ensure that the city deal area continues to grow by addressing strategic transport infrastructure and development challenges to deliver new jobs and housing across the city deal area.

Over a 10-year period the local enterprise partnership assesses that the deal will support:

More than 20,000 net new private sector jobs, including 5,000 in the Lancashire enterprise zone;

17,420 new homes; and

£2.3 billion in leveraged commercial investment.

The key proposal of the city deal is:

The City Deal Infrastructure Delivery Programme

The city deal infrastructure delivery programme will deliver the critical infrastructure required to enable the full development of significant housing and commercial development schemes. This includes four major new roads, a motorway junction, the preparatory works for a new Ribble crossing bridge and the necessary local community infrastructure, such as new schools, health facilities, open spaces and district centre improvements required to support the scale of such ambitious development.

To achieve this and as a result of significant local investment, the Government have agreed to:

10-Year Transport Majors Allocation—Following prioritisation of transport projects by Transport for Lancashire (TfL) the Government will give TfL a six-year confirmed allocation and a four-year indicative allocation confirming the ten-year investment profile.

Stewardship Board—The homes and communities agency will also invest in the deal through the creation of a city deal stewardship board. The city deal stewardship board will be responsible for guiding the sale of assets belonging to the HCA and local partners for inclusion within an infrastructure delivery programme. Government will transfer into the infrastructure delivery programme the proceeds from the sale of assets placed in the stewardship board and allow the infrastructure delivery programme

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to retain any uplift in HCA land values over and above the book value of £50.75 million, up to a maximum of £37 million.

The City Deal Investment Fund

The Lancashire county pension fund’s agreement to allocate £100 million for investment in commercial schemes in the city deal area is a core city deal offer. The Lancashire pension fund committee has agreed to approve a new local allocation of £150 million for Lancashire—approximately 3% of the £5 billion fund—to be funded through a re-allocation of existing global equity allocation. This allocation is targeted at the acquisition of real income generating assets in Lancashire, with a target of £100 million within the city deal area and £50 million across the rest of Lancashire.

Banking Act 2009 Reporting

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Greg Clark): The Treasury has laid before the House of Commons a report required under section 231 of the Banking Act 2009 covering the period from 1 October 2012 to 31 March 2013. Copies of the document are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Culture, Media and Sport

Historic Royal Palaces (Borrowing Facility)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): The departmental minute laid today is in respect of an extension to the period whereby Government act as guarantor on behalf of historic royal palaces (HRP) for a borrowing facility of up to £4 million to meet short-term cash flow requirements.

The renewed guarantee will be available until 30 September 2016 and HRP will only enter into borrowing facilities at such times and within such monetary limits as the Department shall agree.

The guarantee provides a safeguard protecting HRP’s business from a sudden and serious decline in economic conditions affecting HRP’s admissions income until the savings from their planned rationalisation measures could come through, and would only be used in extreme circumstances. The guarantee has been in place since 2002 and it has never yet been called upon.

Historic Royal Palaces is a charity established by royal charter. By virtue of a contract entered into on 1 April 1998, it carries out the functions of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport under section 21 of the Crown Lands Act 1851 of managing the unoccupied royal palaces.

I am arranging for the document to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

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Education

Education Reform (Schools)

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): On 8 July 2013, I launched a statutory one-month consultation seeking representations on the draft legislative order—The Education (National Curriculum) (Attainment Targets and Programmes of Study) (England) Order 2013—required to bring the new national curriculum into effect from September 2014.

The consultation was accompanied by the publication of final proposals for the new national curriculum for all subjects and key stages (except for key stage 4 English, mathematics and science). A further consultation on the programmes of study for key stage 4 English, mathematics and science will follow, in line with the timetable for the reform of GCSE qualifications.

Officials in the Department for Education have received 750 responses to the consultation which have been carefully analysed. Yesterday we published a summary of the responses received.

The new national curriculum that we published yesterday has been developed with due regard to the views of subject experts and teachers and to the findings of international best practice comparisons. In response to representations made during the recent consultation period, changes have been made to improve clarity, precision and consistency of the content.

The new national curriculum will provide a rigorous basis for teaching, a benchmark for all schools to improve their performance, and will give children and parents a better guarantee that every student will acquire the knowledge and skills to succeed in the modern world. It has been significantly slimmed down and will free up teachers to use their professional judgment to design curricula that meet the needs of their pupils.

This new national curriculum represents a clear step forward for schools, ensuring that all children have the opportunity to acquire a core of essential knowledge in key subjects. It embodies rigour, high standards and will create coherence in what is taught in schools. It sets out expectations for children that match the curricula used in the world’s most successful school systems.

The majority of the new national curriculum will come into force from September 2014, so schools will now have a year to prepare to teach it. From September 2015, the new national curriculum for English, mathematics and science will come into force for years 2 and 6; English, mathematics and science for key stage 4 will be phased in from September 2015.

Copies of the new national curriculum have been placed in the Library of the House.

Energy and Climate Change

Radioactive Waste (Site Selection)

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey): I am today launching a public consultation on the site selection aspects of the managing

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radioactive waste safely (MRWS) programme. The consultation follows a call for evidence earlier in the year.

As I confirmed in my statement in January this year, the Government remain wholly committed to geological disposal as the right policy for the long-term, safe and secure management of higher-activity radioactive waste, and continues to favour a site selection process based on working in partnership with interested local communities. This approach is consistent with similar geological disposal programmes that are ongoing in other countries.

The construction of a geological disposal facility is a multi-billion pound infrastructure initiative, which will directly create hundreds of jobs for many decades, with even more during peak construction periods. This would have a transformative effect on the economy of the area selected for the site, stimulating local businesses, supply chains, and providing skilled jobs and training opportunities.

Since the decisions of the local authorities in Cumbria in January, which brought the existing MRWS site selection process in west Cumbria to an end, my Department has been reviewing the site selection aspects of the MRWS programme in order to identify any areas where improvements could possibly be made. Our public call for evidence closed in June, and the evidence obtained from this, as well as information gathered from the direct engagement with stakeholders and international bodies, has informed the proposals in the consultation document that I am publishing today.

The consultation will run for three months, and will include a series of deliberative events nationally with members of the public and interested parties. My officials are of course happy to discuss any aspects of the wider MRWS programme, and how the current consultation proposals would sit within the wider policy framework, with interested parties.

Following our analysis of the responses to the consultation, we intend to re-launch the MRWS site selection process in 2014.

The consultation covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland—and is being issued jointly with the Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive—but not Scotland, which has a different policy for the long-term management of higher-activity radioactive waste.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

EU Foreign Ministers Meeting

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the informal Foreign Ministers meeting on 6 and 7 September in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The informal format of the Gymnich allows EU Foreign Ministers to engage in a free-ranging discussion on a number of issues. In contrast to arrangements in the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), Ministers do not agree any formal written conclusions. The next FAC is due to be held on 21 October.

The Gymnich was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland. Her remarks following the meeting, and the statement issued reflecting

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the position agreed by all member states on Syria, can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/138691.pdf.

The meeting was structured around three themes: common security and defence policy (CSDP) and the December 2013 European Council discussion on defence; eastern partnership; and the southern neighbourhood.

Commissioners Füle (enlargement and european neighbourhood policy) and Georgieva (international co-operation, humanitarian aid and crisis response) were in attendance for some of the discussions, as were US Secretary of State John Kerry, and Elmar Brok MEP, chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs.

CSDP/December European Council discussion on Defence

Ministers welcomed Baroness Ashton’s draft interim report on proposals for the December Council. There was broad support for improved CSDP co-ordination with international actors, especially NATO, the US and the UN, with some Ministers calling for greater engagement with eastern partners, and Turkey. Ministers also considered how the EU could develop its role in response to new challenges, including cyber security, energy security, and maritime security.

The Foreign Secretary said that the December European Council was a real opportunity to signal how the EU can contribute to global security, to agree practical improvements to CSDP and to ensure that European partners had the capabilities both civilian and military to act, whether through the EU or NATO. The EU’s comparative strength was the ability to deploy a spectrum of political, military and civilian tools as part of a comprehensive approach to conflict prevention, crisis management and stabilisation. Baroness Ashton concluded by saying that her final report would aim to build a consensual approach.

Eastern Partnership

Baroness Ashton argued that the Vilnius summit should show partners the real value in their relationship with the EU. Foreign Ministers discussed latest developments in the region, including progress of reforms and eastern partners’ relationships with Russia.

The Foreign Secretary emphasised the importance of keeping a focus on judicial reform and tackling corruption in Ukraine. Baroness Ashton concluded by encouraging member states to keep up their strong support for reform.

Southern Neighbourhood: MEPP

Secretary Kerry briefed EU Foreign Ministers on the middle east peace process (MEPP) and emphasised that the US could not succeed without EU support. He noted that, while the cost of failure would be great, success would open up political and economic benefits in the wider region. Ministers reiterated their strong backing for Secretary Kerry’s efforts. Secretary Kerry also raised implementation of recent guidelines on the eligibility of Israeli entities for EU funding.

Southern Neighbourhood: Syria

Ministers considered the issue of Syria, including possible military action. The Foreign Secretary stated that the evidence on regime culpability was clear, and that the EU should support an early response which deterred further use, avoid being prescriptive on the UN

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process, push the political track, and step up support for the humanitarian effort in line with the Prime Minister’s initiative launched at the G20.

Ministers agreed a statement to be issued by Baroness Ashton (see above link) which: condemns in the strongest terms the 21 August attack as a war crime and a crime against humanity; notes “strong evidence” of regime responsibility; calls for a “clear and strong response”; underscores the need to address the Syrian crisis through the UN process, welcomes Hollande’s decision to await the inspectors' report, and calls on the UN Security Council to fulfil its responsibilities; notes the individual responsibility of perpetrators before the International Criminal Court; calls for the swift convening of the Geneva II peace conference; and restates the EU’s support for humanitarian assistance. At his press conference afterwards Secretary Kerry said he was very grateful for this “strong statement”.

Health

Information Sharing (Caldicott Review)

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Jeremy Hunt): Today I am publishing the Government’s response to Dame Fiona Caldicott’s review of information sharing. This review was recommended by the Future Forum on information which reported in January 2012.

I am grateful to Dame Fiona and her panel and to the many people who provided valuable input into her review. Building on the wealth of experience, viewpoints and insights gained through the review and the preceding NHS Future Forum’s work, this document sets out the overall ambition and actions to transform how our health and our care services use and share information to the benefit of patients and service users.

For citizens, patients and users of care services, this response sets out how a new approach to information sharing across health and care can support more joined up, safer, better care for us. Dame Fiona’s review and our response look at actions for clinicians and other care professionals, managers, commissioners, councillors, researchers, and many others.

There are four key themes in the response:

patient and citizen rights—they should have confidence in how their information is handled through knowing how it is used and shared and how to object and through having access to their electronic care records;

improving sharing for direct care—appropriate and legal data sharing to drive integrated, joined-up, person-centred and safer care for people (where information governance rules have, in the past, been seen as a barrier);

improving sharing for other purposes—the importance of information for research, commissioning and public health and improving practice in this area, recognising this can only be done effectively if people are given a say in how information about them is used; and

better protection for information boards and other leadership groups will take responsibility for good information practices in their organisations, professionals will be consistent in the rules they apply and front-line staff will have improved training and education on information sharing and confidential information.

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In summary, this response sets out the overall ambition and the early actions that will enable better information sharing to support our health and our care services to meet our needs and expectations, for now and the future.

“Information: To share or not to share? The Information Governance Review” and “Information: To Share or not to share, Government Response to the Caldicott Review” have been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Jeremy Hunt): University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust (UHMBT) has been the subject of scrutiny for a number of years, following the high number of serious untoward incidents in its maternity and neonatal services. The families of those who were harmed or died under the care of the trust have persistently and courageously sought a full and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding these deaths. I am today announcing to the House the terms of reference for the independent investigation into the management, delivery and outcomes of care provided by the maternity and neonatal services of UHMBT from January 2004 to June 2013, under the chairmanship of Dr Bill Kirkup CBE. Dr Kirkup is a former associate medical director at the Department of Health, and served on the Hillsborough independent panel.

The investigation will primarily focus on the service provided by the trust, and the response of the trust to shortcomings previously identified. It will look at evidence relating to organisations external to the trust where this will help shed light on the tragic events that occurred, and assist in producing recommendations for preventing such incidences in the future. The principle concern of this investigation is getting the answers the families have requested. Answers are required about what went so desperately wrong with the care they received, and the steps the trust must take to ensure no other families suffer in the future.

This is not an investigation into the regulatory and supervisory systems of the NHS, as these issues have only recently been examined by the second Mid Staffordshire inquiry, and the Department of Health will publish its full response in due course. Nor is it a public inquiry as the requirements for public evidence sessions are not considered suitable for the privacy and tact with which this investigation must be undertaken. To ensure that the investigation will meet the requirements of openness and transparency, all of its sessions will be open to family members.

The investigation is expected to report to me by next summer and a copy of the full terms of reference has been placed in the Library of the House. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

Dr Kirkup plans to issue a method statement for the investigation in October 2013. I am grateful to him and the families for their significant contribution to the design of this investigation process. I sincerely hope that it will provide them with the answers that they seek.

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Home Department

Alcohol Licensing Consultation

The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr Jeremy Browne): A consultation on enabling targeted, local alternatives to personal licences to sell alcohol has been launched today.

The system of personal licences is intended to ensure that alcohol is sold responsibly. At present, all alcohol sales must be authorised by a personal licence holder. Personal licence holders must have completed training on the risks alcohol can present if handled irresponsibly. They must also notify licensing authorities if they commit any offence which suggests they may be unsuitable as a manager at licensed premises.

Extensive discussions with partners in the police, local government and the licensed trade during the recent alcohol strategy consultation suggested that this system may not always be the most targeted and proportionate way to ensure alcohol is sold responsibly. For example, all premises—from the riskiest to the quietest—must comply with the system regardless of whether it is locally appropriate or not. As a result, the consultation published today proposes enabling targeted, local alternatives to personal licences through locally applied conditions to premises licences. We have estimated that this proposal could save businesses, including small and medium enterprises, some £10 million a year if taken forward, while keeping a focus on measures to tackle crime and disorder at licensed premises.

This consultation is an opportunity for licensing authorities, the licensed trade, police officers and the general public to share their views on this proposal. In particular, the Government are seeking views on whether it would cut costs for businesses and maintain appropriate safeguards against crime and disorder at licensed premises.

A copy of this consultation will be placed in the Library of the House and it will also be available on the Home Office website.

UN Firearms Protocol

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Damian Green): The UK has opted into the draft Council decision to approve, on behalf of the EU, the UN firearms protocol against the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their parts and components and ammunition. The protocol supplements the United Nations convention against transnational organised crime.

The protocol creates a legal regime for the transnational movement of firearms and contains practical measures designed to assist law enforcement by enhancing international co-operation and promoting greater transparency in the legal transfer of firearms. The Commission was mandated by the EU to negotiate six of the articles in relation to: record keeping; marking of firearms; deactivation of firearms; general requirements for export, import and transit licensing or authorisation systems; effective security of imports and exports; and brokering activities.

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The Commission signed the protocol on behalf of the community in 2001 with the intention of concluding it once the articles they negotiated had been enshrined in European law. This has been primarily achieved through amendments to the existing weapons directive 91/477 on the acquisition and possession of weapons and the adoption of regulation 258/2012 to combat illicit arms trafficking through improved tracing and control of exports of civilian arms from the EU. These changes have already been transposed into UK legislation.

The Government consider that it is in the UK’s interest to opt into the proposal to conclude the protocol on behalf of the EU. The aims of the protocol are broadly welcome and are consistent with current EU policies on measures to counter transnational crimes, to strengthen the fight against the illicit trafficking of firearms and to reduce the spread and proliferation of small arms around the world.

Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme/Sector-based Scheme

The Minister for Immigration (Mr Mark Harper): The seasonal agricultural workers scheme (SAWS) allows fruit and vegetable growers to employ migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania as seasonal workers for up to six months at a time. It will close, as planned, at the end of 2013. The Government do not intend to open any new SAWS for workers from outside the European economic area (EEA) as our view is that, at a time of unemployment in the UK and the European Union there should be sufficient workers from within those labour markets to meet the needs of the horticultural industry. The agricultural technologies strategy will support innovation by agricultural businesses, which will also help to offset future impacts.

Currently, there is an annual quota of 21,250 SAWS participants. From 1 January 2014, when the transitional labour market controls on Bulgarian and Romanian (EU2) nationals are lifted, growers will have unrestricted access to EU2 workers. Since the controls on the EU8 (the member states that acceded to the European Union in 2004) workers were lifted, those workers have continued to form the core of the seasonal agricultural workforce. At present, UK growers recruit about one third of their seasonal workers from the EU2, and about one half from the EU8. Seasonal agricultural work can pay good wages and the sector should be able to attract and retain UK and EEA workers.

Our migration policy is to allow only highly skilled workers from outside the EEA, with an annual limit of 20,700 workers. Unskilled and low-skilled labour needs should be satisfied from within the expanded EEA labour market. The SAWS was previously open to non-EEA nationals but was restricted in 2007 to EU2 nationals, consistent with an intention to phase it out as the EEA labour market expanded. That remains the Government’s position. We do not think that the characteristics of the horticultural sector, such as its seasonality and dependence on readily available workers to be deployed at short notice, are so different from those in other employment sectors as to merit special treatment from a migration policy perspective.

The independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) reviewed the impact of the closure of the SAWS on the horticulture sector earlier this year. They concluded

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that there was unlikely to be an impact on labour supply in the short term, although this might change in the longer term. They noted, however, that there is a wide range of uncertainty around the effects on migration flows to the UK of ending restrictions on labour market access for EU2 nationals. The MAC was also clear that a replacement SAWS would amount to preferential treatment for horticulture.

The Government recognise that the SAWS has for many years provided an efficient supply of labour for the horticultural sector. The Department for Work and Pensions has been working with JobCentre Plus, Lantra (the sector skills council), the National Farmers’ Union and others, including growers and horticultural recruitment firms, to help unemployed UK residents into horticultural work through training and guaranteed interviews. A pilot scheme to encourage unemployed UK residents to apply for, train and secure jobs on arable farms has shown encouraging results with a high proportion of participants going on to secure employment in the sector. We want to build on this and other innovative approaches. The Government, including the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Communities and Local Government, look forward to working with the sector to monitor and address the issues, and will keep the situation under review.

The Government have also decided they will not replace the sector-based scheme which operates in the food processing sector when this closes at the end of the year. The scheme is not heavily used and the MAC concluded closure was unlikely to have any negative effects on the sector’s ability to meet its labour needs.

Terrorism Prevention and Investigation

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): Section 19(1) of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 (the Act) requires the Secretary of State to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on the exercise of her TPIM powers under the Act during that period.

The level of information provided will always be subject to slight variations based on operational advice.

TPIM notices in force (as of 31 August 2013)

9

TPIM notices in respect of British citizens (as of 31 August 2013)

8

TPIM notices extended (during the reporting period)

0

TPIM notices revoked (during the reporting period)

0

TPIM notices received (during the reporting period)

1

Variations made to measures specified in TPIM notices (during the reporting period)

6

Applications to vary measures specified in TPIM notices refused (during the reporting period)

1

During the reporting period one TPIM notice that had been revoked in a previous quarter was revived upon the subject’s release from prison.

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Two individuals were charged in relation to an offence under section 23 of the Act (contravening a measure specified in a TPIM notice without reasonable excuse) during the period.

Section 16 of the Act provides rights of appeal in relation to decisions taken by the Secretary of State under the Act. No appeals were lodged under section 16 during the reporting period. One judgment was handed down by the High Court in relation to an appeal under section 16 of the Act, lodged in a previous quarter. In Secretary of State for the Home Department v BF [2013] EWHC 843 (Admin), handed down on 30 July 2013, the High Court upheld the Secretary of State’s decision to extend BF’s TPIM notice and all the measures. This judgment is available at: http://www.bailii.org/.

The TPIM review group (TRG) keeps every TPIM notice under regular and formal review. The TRG has met twice during this reporting period.

Northern Ireland

Omagh Bomb (Inquiry)

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mrs Theresa Villiers): After consultation and careful consideration, I have decided not to instigate a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the bombing in Omagh on 15 August 1998.

This morning, I informed the Omagh Support and Self Help Group of my decision. This group represents a number of survivors and victims’ families and they had called for a full, cross-border public inquiry into this atrocity.

I considered this matter carefully. I consulted a range of people including survivors, families of those killed in the bomb and other interested parties. Some of them supported an inquiry, but many did not.

These views were weighed against other factors, including the significant number of inquiries that have been held already on the Omagh bomb and the investigation currently underway by the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

I do not believe there are sufficient grounds to justify a further review or inquiry above and beyond those that have already taken place or are ongoing. The current investigation by the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland is the best way to address any outstanding issues relating to the police investigation of the Omagh attack.

The Government do not believe that selecting a further series of cases for public inquiries is the best way to deal with the past in Northern Ireland.

I express my sincere sympathies to those who survived the Omagh attack and my condolences to the families of the 29 people who died. I hope that the ongoing police investigation will ultimately bring to justice those who committed this horrific crime.

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Transport

HS2

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon Burns): The Department for Transport is today beginning a period of public consultation on long-term property compensation measures for phase 1 of HS2.

HS2 is set to become a vital part of Britain’s infrastructure. This new high-speed line will open up opportunities for the UK that we have not seen in generations. Its scope to transform this country is enormous, bringing our cities closer together and re-shaping the economic geography of this country.

Although HS2 will benefit the whole country, the Government understand the impact that these proposals have on property owners affected by the route. We have had a discretionary scheme in place for phase 1 since 2010 to allow us to buy properties from people experiencing exceptional hardship and unable to sell because of our proposals; however, the Government have always been clear that they intend to go further than this in order to assist affected property owners. The proposals laid out today are designed to do just that.

We have consulted before on long-term property compensation for phase 1. However, some of the decision-making about the Government’s preferred schemes was challenged in a judicial review and in the light of the High Court’s judgment in March 2013, the Government immediately undertook to re-consult.

Today we have launched the new consultation, seeking the public’s views on a package of measures designed to assist individuals in a range of circumstances, whether their property is directly on the line of route or further away. Though similar to the package consulted on previously, we have taken a fresh look at the options available and introduced a number of new ideas.

Within the safeguarded area, we have proposed a streamlined system of purchasing owner-occupied properties to give greater certainty to the owner-occupiers closest to the line that we will buy their homes.

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The proposals also include a long-term hardship scheme for owner-occupiers who have strong personal reasons to move but cannot do so, other than at a significant loss, because of HS2. This scheme would have no defined geographical boundary.

In rural areas, we have outlined two potential options which would provide further assistance. One option is for the Government to issue property bonds, a transferable guarantee that the Government would act as the buyer of last resort for those living close to the phase 1 route. We are also seeking the public’s views on a voluntary purchase scheme for owner-occupied properties within 120 metres of the phase 1 route.

We are committed to fairly compensating those who are affected and we want to hear people’s views on the generous and comprehensive measures we have set out. By supplementing the measures that are already available through the compensation code, these proposals go significantly above and beyond what is required under statute. Owner-occupiers within the safeguarded areas who sell their homes to the Government would receive the payments laid down in the compensation code. Those further away would receive 100% of the un-blighted value of their properties—that is, its value if there were no proposals for HS2.

Also subject to consultation are two approaches to renting property back to its previous owner after purchase by the Government as a result of HS2.

The consultation will run for 12 weeks, closing on 4 December 2013. Following a period of careful consideration, the final schemes should come into operation by summer 2014.

I can also announce today that the Government will not consult further on proposals pertaining to properties above tunnels or the replacement of lost social housing relative to phase 1. In the coming weeks, we will publish details of the Government’s approach to these issues.

Whatever the outcome of the consultation, the Government are determined to build a fair and effective package of support for property owners.

Copies of the consultation document, “Property Compensation Consultation 2013” and other supporting documents will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.