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Written Statements

Friday 13 September 2013


Aggregates Levy (Investigation)

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): On 1 August 2013 the UK Government received notification from the European Commission that it had decided to open a formal investigation in relation to certain exemptions, exclusions and tax reliefs from the aggregates levy.

The Commission has raised no objections to most of the exemptions, exclusions, and tax reliefs from the levy and has made it clear that the levy in its entirety is not in question. Businesses commercially exploiting aggregate in the UK therefore have a continuing legal obligation to pay any levy due on their activities.

The Commission has, however, decided to open a formal investigation procedure to give further consideration to certain aspects of the exemptions, exclusions and reliefs provided under sections 17(3)(e), 17(3)(f)(i) and (ii), 17(4)(a), 17(4)(c)(i) and (ii), 17(4)(f), 18(2)(b), 18(3), and 30(1 )(b) of the Finance Act 2001, as amended. A copy of the Commission’s decision is being published on the HM Treasury website www.gov.uk/government/publications/aggregates-levy-european-commission-formal-investigation.

The Commission has raised a number of questions and has asked the Government for further explanations and evidence in relation to the exemptions, exclusions, and tax reliefs that remain under investigation but it has not made a final decision on whether any of those exemptions, exclusions and tax reliefs give rise to state aid. The Government are strongly of the view that the exemptions, exclusions, and tax reliefs in question do not give rise to state aid, and will provide further information to the Commission to support that view as part of the formal investigation process.

The Government are therefore only taking steps to suspend the application of those elements of the levy that now form the subject matter of the formal investigation because they are obliged to do so under article 108(3) of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. A further announcement will be made as soon as reasonably practicable as to the details of the measures to be put in place to discharge the UK’s obligations under article 108(3).

Payroll Giving

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), with responsibility for civil society and I, are pleased to announce that following a consultation undertaken earlier this year, the Government are today publishing their response and outlining a package of measures to improve the operation and increase awareness

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of payroll giving. These measures demonstrate the Government’s continuing commitment to increasing the amount raised through payroll giving.

The Government have provided strong support to the charitable sector since 2010, having introduced a number of measures including the gift aid small donations scheme, the cultural gift scheme, measures to simplify the process for charity shops to claim gift aid on donated goods and introducing a reduced rate of inheritance tax for estates that leave a significant donation to charities.

As part of this continuing support, the Government ran a consultation between 24 January 2013 and 19 April 2013 on how to increase the amounts donated to charity through payroll giving. Payroll giving is a tax efficient means of donating and a valuable source of income for charities. The Government were delighted to receive over 100 responses, and thank everyone that responded.

Payroll giving provides an important platform to those who actively promote charitable giving in the workplace. Donors have already given well over £1 billion through payroll giving since it began in 1987 and the Government believe there is scope to see yearly donations increase further.

Having listened to respondents, and considered the options available, the Government will be taking forward a package of reforms targeted at four key areas. The Government have targeted the areas that can make the greatest difference, while avoiding placing additional burdens on those involved, or risk increasing the cost of payroll giving. These include improving the process for charities and payroll giving agencies, making it easier for employers and employees to use payroll giving, raising awareness of payroll giving among employers and incentivising employers with non-financial measures. Further details on these reforms can be found in the response document published today on: www.gov.uk.

Taken together this package of measures reflects the Government’s determination to unlock the potential payroll giving has to become an even more important source of support to charities and the fantastic work that they do.

The Government recognise that payroll giving works best when championed passionately from within an organisation and the Government will empower and encourage those who do this.

The Government will work closely with charities, payroll giving agencies and the payroll giving supporters in businesses up and down this country to implement these changes. With their help, payroll giving will continue to grow across workplaces, providing even greater support to the vital work done by charities.

Communities and Local Government

Contract Liabilities

The Minister for Housing (Mr Mark Prisk): I wish to inform the House of spending that the Government have been forced to undertake as a result of poor decisions made by the last Administration.

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The Department for Communities and Local Government has two service concession contracts with Landmark Information Group for the operation of the domestic and non-domestic energy performance certificate registers. These commenced in 2007 and 2008 respectively. The contracts, signed under the last Administration, were let on the basis that the revenue from the fees paid whenever an energy performance certificate or related document is entered onto the registers would cover the full cost of operating the registers.

As a result of low transaction volumes, due to the economic down turn under the last Administration following the financial turmoil in 2008 and 2009, and a number of enhancements to register services, the revenue from fees for entering documents onto the registers has not been sufficient to meet the full cost of operating the registers.

This has left the current Government with a contractual obligation to meet the cost of services that had been delivered through the register contracts but which had not been covered by revenue from fees for entering documents on to the registers. As a result, the Department has reluctantly agreed to make a payment of £5.7 million to cover these costs to April 2013. It is the view of Ministers that it is clearly unacceptable that contracts were drawn up and operated which outsourced a service to the private sector, but left taxpayers with unreasonable commercial risks.

Ministers in the Government have acted decisively to address this situation and safeguard the future operation of the registers for the benefit of consumers and industry. Fees were revised in April 2013 to cover the full cost of operating the energy performance certificate registers and will be reviewed annually to ensure that remains the case. The recent payment has ensured that these fees were not higher for property owners, and that current service users are not paying for services delivered in the past.

The contracts have now been extensively reviewed in order to deliver improved value for money. This has included a reduced margin for the contractor and enhanced scrutiny of any future proposals for changes to energy performance certificate register services to minimise future liabilities for the taxpayer.

This is not the first botched contract that the coalition Government has been forced to fix. As Ministers indicated in the answer of 19 July 2011, Official Report, column 829W, the last Administration’s poor drafting of the tenancy deposit protection scheme contract similarly resulted in a £13 million liability for taxpayers, again as a result of commercial risk from an outsourced service being left with taxpayers.

Hon. Members and the broader public will rightly wish to scrutinise the poor decisions of the last Administration. I will arrange for redacted copies of the old and the revised contracts to be placed in the Library of the House in due course.


Unsolicited Mail at Christmas

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr Andrew Robathan): I wish to inform the House about the annual campaign to discourage unsolicited mail that

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the Ministry of Defence (MOD) will be running in the lead up to Christmas (which is 103 days from 13 September 2013).

This Government are dedicated to the care and welfare of the men and women of our armed forces, particularly those deployed on operations, which is reflected in the comprehensive deployed welfare package. A key part of that package is ensuring the timely delivery of free personal mail from family and friends. In the past the general public has shown their support by sending unsolicited goodwill parcels. This has resulted in huge volumes of mail, which have overwhelmed the system and have prevented mail from families from getting through. British Forces Post Office (BFPO) estimates that, in the eight-week period between mid-October and mid-December, the volume of mail in the logistic system increases by 65%. The amount of unsolicited mail entering the BFPO system can impact on personal mail, causing severe delays, and can increase pressure on essential in-theatre resources.

It is for these reasons that the MOD will be repeating its campaign to discourage unsolicited mail. Its success in recent years has reduced the volume of unsolicited mail significantly. Key to the success of this campaign is encouraging the British public to show their support, in other ways, through one of the recognised MOD service charities. Service personnel on operations over Christmas will receive a seasonal gift box from the charity, “uk4u Thanks!”. This charity works closely with the MOD, using free space in the existing supply chain to deliver the boxes well before Christmas, without impacting on the normal mail system.

I recognise that it might seem counter-intuitive to ask the British public not to send parcels to troops at Christmas, but to avoid the impact of unsolicited mail and to help prioritise mail to service personnel from their families I ask for full support in directing the public towards MOD recognised charities.

Spectrum Release

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Dunne): Following my written ministerial statement on 17 December 2012, Official Report, column 71WS, I can confirm to the House that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) is preparing to release radio spectrum to the communications regulator, Ofcom, who will then conduct the process.

The MOD believes that this option provides the best route to release much needed spectrum to the commercial market. The spectrum will be able to provide additional capacity for fourth-generation mobile networks, help expand wireless access to broadband services and aid future innovations in mobile technology, all of which will make significant contributions to UK economic growth.

As previous stated the MOD’s plans are part of a Government commitment that at least 500 MHz of public spectrum will be released by 2020 for new mobile commercial uses.

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Medical Implications of Less Lethal Weapons

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr Mark Francois): I am today announcing the start of the triennial review of the Scientific Advisory Committee on the medical implications of less lethal weapons (SACMILL). Triennial reviews are part of the Government’s commitment to ensuring that non-departmental public bodies continue to have regular independent challenge.

Less lethal weapons are those whose design and intention is to control and then neutralise a threat without substantial risk of serious or permanent injury or death. Such devices include baton rounds and the taser. The review will examine whether there is a continuing need for SACMILL’s function and its form and whether it should continue to exist at arm’s length from Government. Should the review conclude there is a continuing need for the body, it will go on to examine whether the body’s control and governance arrangements continue to meet the recognised principles of good corporate governance. I will inform the House of the outcome of the review when it is completed.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Afghanistan (Monthly Progress 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 30th progress report on developments in Afghanistan since November 2010.

On 13 July, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) Structure and Duties Law was passed by Parliament and signed into law by President Karzai shortly afterwards, with the Electoral Law following on 15 July. The passage of these laws means that for the first time Afghanistan’s electoral system has a legal framework for the management of elections which had been debated by Parliament.

I visited Islamabad on 17 July and encouraged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to follow up his strongly-stated intention to establish better relations with his neighbours. Sartaj Aziz, de facto Foreign Minister, used the joint press conference to announce his visit to Afghanistan. This visit took place on 21 July, preparing the way for President Karzai’s visit to Islamabad on 26 and 27 August.

The Ministry of Counter Narcotics launched the revised national drug control strategy in July. The strategy continues the comprehensive approach of previous years across four strands covering; alternative livelihoods, law enforcement, drug demand reduction and information operations.

The first meeting of the Afghan Finance Minister and his new Pakistan counterpart took place in Islamabad on 25 August, ahead of President Karzai’s visit to Pakistan later that week, focusing on strengthening bilateral economic ties. The two Ministers also agreed to convene a meeting of the Joint Economic Commission, which last met in early 2012.

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Afghan reporting indicated a significant reduction in violence levels throughout July and the start of August compared to the same period in 2012. Just one high profile attack in Kabul has been reported since July, largely as a result of the ANSF launching several operations to disrupt planned attacks. Similarly, the surge in “insider attacks” during Ramadan in 2012 has not been replicated in 2013, with just one “insider attack” involving ISAF at Kandahar airfield on 10 July.

On 9 August, the military headquarters of the UK’s Task Force Helmand (TFH HQ) moved from Lashkar Gah to Camp Bastion. This marks a major milestone in the military draw down. The TFH HQ was established in the provincial capital in May 2006 and the military move symbolises the significantly changing UK military profile in central Helmand. This is a direct consequence of the continued transition of security responsibility to the Afghan Security Forces, who now have the lead role for Helmand’s population.

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).


Defamation and Privacy Claims (Costs Protection)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mrs Helen Grant): I am today announcing the publication of “Costs Protection in defamation and privacy claims: the Government’s proposals”.

Following the publication of Lord Justice Leveson’s report in November 2012, the Government accepted his recommendation—endorsing that of Lord Justice Jackson—that costs protection should be extended to defamation and privacy claims. Costs protection protects parties from the costs that they might have to pay to the other side in civil litigation. Costs protection was introduced in April 2013 for personal injury cases when the Government reformed the way in which no win, no fee agreements operate. Those reforms, contained in part 2 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012, were delayed for defamation and privacy cases as a result of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendation until a costs protection regime has been introduced.

The proposals in the consultation are designed to help people and organisations of modest means to be able to bring and defend defamation and privacy claims without the fear of having to pay unaffordable legal costs to the other side if they lose. The consultation also proposes that those of substantial means (whether individuals or organisations, such as national newspapers) would be excluded from the costs protection regime, while those of less modest means might have to pay something towards the legal costs of the other side if they lose.

The consultation runs until 8 November. The Government hope to introduce the new costs protection regime in April 2014, at the same time as implementing the relevant provisions in part 2 of LASPO Act for defamation and privacy cases. Taken together, these

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changes will result in access to justice at more proportionate cost: meritorious claims will be able to proceed, while those without merit will be deterred.

Copies of this Government consultation have been placed in the Vote Office, the Printed Paper Office and the Libraries of both Houses. The document is also available online at: http://www.justice.gov.uk.

Judicial Diversity Taskforce

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mrs Helen Grant): The judicial diversity taskforce has today published its third annual progress report, which details the progress the taskforce has made in addressing the 53 recommendations of the advisory panel on judicial diversity. The advisory panel had a vision that our judiciary would be more diverse by 2020 and I am confident that the work of the taskforce will go some way to achieving this vision.

Significant progress has been made by members of the taskforce over this past year. The Crime and Courts Act 2013 introduced changes to the selection panels for senior appointments to ensure that they are more diverse, introduced an equal merit provision into the appointments process and allowed part-time working in the senior courts, including the UK Supreme Court.

This progress is certainly encouraging; however, we do still have a number of important recommendations to implement before we start to see any significant changes in diversity. It is very important that the outstanding recommendations are completed swiftly so we do not lose the momentum we have built, and that we carry out robust evaluation of our actions to make sure the steps we are taking are the right ones; steps that will deliver tangible benefits and meaningful change in the diversity of our judiciary.

Only with renewed energy and commitment from all will we see real, visible change in the diversity of our judiciary in the future.

Copies of the taskforce’s progress report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The report is also available online at:


Parliamentary Written Answer (Correction)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Jeremy Wright): I regret to inform the House, because of an administrative error within my Department, the written answer given to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) on 10 September 2013, Official Report, column 690W, was incorrect. The revised answer is as follows:

Jeremy Wright: The Government have carefully considered the responses to the consultation “Transforming Legal Aid: Delivering a more credible and efficient system” and has published the response “Transforming Legal Aid: Next Steps” available at: https://consult. justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-legal-aid-next-steps. We remain of the view that taxpayers

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should not be expected to pay the legal bills for a significant number of weak judicial review cases which are not permitted by the court to proceed at the permission stage. This does not just cost the legal aid fund, it also means more costs for the courts in considering applications and for public authorities in defending proceedings.

However, the Government have listened to concerns raised by a number of respondents who argued that the original proposal not only targets weak judicial review cases but would also unfairly affect meritorious cases where permission is not granted simply because the case concludes prior to consideration by the court. The revised proposal seeks to address this concern.

We are therefore consulting on a further proposal in which providers would not be paid unless granted permission, subject to discretionary payment in certain cases which conclude prior to a permission decision without a costs order or agreement.

The further proposal is set out in a separate consultation paper on judicial review and is accompanied by an impact assessment available at: https://consult.justice. gov.uk/digital-communications/judicial-review

Hague Convention (Austria and Malta Accession)

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling): The Government have decided to opt in to the proposed Council decision authorising Austria and Malta to accede to the 1965 Hague convention on the service abroad of judicial and extra-judicial documents in civil or commercial matters.

The convention is designed to provide a simple, speedy and cost-effective process for the transmission of legal documents between the courts and individuals of contracting member states to the convention. It brings greater legal certainty, and improves protection for the interests of defendants involved in international civil or commercial litigation. While the accession of Austria and Malta will have no direct effect on the United Kingdom as service of documents within the EU is governed by an EU regulation, the Government welcome the accession of Austria and Malta to the convention and notes the benefits this will bring to the Crown dependencies and overseas territories who are also parties to this convention.

Although not anticipated in the proposal, the Government believe that the UK opt in under the protocol to title V of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union applies and it has therefore asserted its right to choose whether to opt in; they have decided it is in the UK’s best interests to do so. The Government have taken this decision notwithstanding the fact that they dispute the Commission’s claim to “exclusive” competence.

The Government believe that the wider significance of these proposals for external competence mean that it is in the UK’s interests to participate fully in future negotiations on this proposal, including having the ability to vote.