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Written Statements

Thursday 6 March 2014

Communities and Local Government

Local Planning

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Nick Boles): The coalition Government are committed to reforming the planning system to make it simpler, clearer and easier for people to use, allowing local communities to shape where development should and should not go. Planning should not be the exclusive preserve of lawyers, developers or town hall officials.

We are also committed to ensuring that countryside and environmental protections continue to be safeguarded, and devolving power down not just to local councils, but also down to neighbourhoods and local residents.

We have already taken a series of steps to cut unnecessary red tape, such as the streamlined national planning policy framework reducing 1,000 pages of planning guidance to less than 50, revoking the last Administration’s bureaucratic regional strategies and extending permitted development rights to make it easier to get empty and underused buildings back into public use. I would like to update the House on progress on this ongoing work.

An accessible planning system

In October 2012, we invited Lord Taylor of Goss Moor to lead a review into the reams of planning practice guidance that we have inherited from the last Administration.

My Department subsequently held a consultation on the group’s proposals and, in August 2013, we launched our proposed streamlined planning practice guidance in draft, consolidating 7,000 pages of complex and often repetitive documents. Today, we are launching the final version of that practice guidance through an accessible website.

We have carefully considered representations made on the draft practice guidance and feedback from hon. Members and noble peers in recent parliamentary debates.

I would particularly note that we are:

Issuing robust guidance on flood risk, making it crystal clear that councils need to consider the strict tests set out in national policy, and where these are not met, new development on flood risk sites should not be allowed.

Reaffirming green belt protection, noting that unmet housing need is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt and other harm to constitute very special circumstances justifying inappropriate development.

Making clear that local plans can pass the test of soundness where authorities have not been able to identify land for growth in years 11 to 15 of their local plan, which often can be the most challenging part for a local authority.

Making clear that windfalls can be counted over the whole local plan period.

Explaining how student housing, housing for older people and the reuse of empty homes can be included when assessing housing need.

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Ensuring that infrastructure is provided to support new development, and noting how infrastructure constraints should be considered when assessing suitability of sites.

Stressing the importance of bringing brownfield land into use and made clear that authorities do not have to allocate sites on the basis of providing the maximum possible return for landowners and developers.

Noting that councils should also be able to consider the delivery record—or lack of—of developers or landowners, including a history of unimplemented permissions. This will also serve to encourage developers to deliver on their planning permissions.

Incorporating the guidance on renewable energy—including heritage and amenity—published during last summer and making it clearer in relation to solar farms, that visual impact is a particular factor for consideration.

Allowing past over-supply of housing to be taken into account when assessing housing needs.

On the five-year supply of sites, confirming that assessments are not automatically outdated by new household projections.

Clarifying when councils can consider refusing permission on the grounds of prematurity in relation to draft plans.

Encouraging joint working between local authorities, but clarifying that the duty to co-operate is not a duty to accept. We have considered and rejected the proposals of Her Majesty’s Opposition to allow councils to undermine green belt protection and dump development on their neighbours’ doorstep.

We will today also cancel the previous planning practice guidance documents being replaced by the new guidance; a list has been placed in the Library of the House. The planning practice guidance will be updated as needed and users can sign up for email alerts on any changes, or view these revisions directly on the site. The online resource is at: http://planningguidance.planningportal. gov.uk/

Encouraging reuse of empty and underused buildings

In August 2013, my Department published a consultation paper on a further set of greater flexibilities for change of use. Further reforms will save time and money for applicants and councils, encourage the reuse of empty and underused buildings and further support brownfield regeneration while ensuring regard to potential flood risk.

New homes: retail to residential change of use

Outside key shopping areas, such as town centres, we want underused shops to be brought back into productive use to help breathe new life into areas that are declining due to changing shopping habits. This will not only provide more homes, but increase the resident population near town centres, thereby increasing footfall and supporting the main high street. Reforms will allow change of use from shops (Al) and financial and professional services (A2) to houses (C3). This change of use will not apply to land protected by article 1(5) of the general permitted development order—national parks, the broads, areas of outstanding natural beauty, conservations areas, world heritage sites.

We recognise the importance of retaining adequate provision of services that are essential to the local community such as post offices. Consideration will be given to the impact on local services when considering the potential loss of a particular shop. The onus will be on the local planning authority to establish that the proposal would have a detrimental impact on the sustainability of a key shopping area or on local services should they wish to refuse the conversion. When considering the effect on local services they will have to take into

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account whether there is reasonable prospect of the premises being occupied by another retailer. Local planning authorities will need to have robust evidence base to justify any decision not to permit change of use using these prior approval tests.

In addition, to increase access to retail banking and to encourage new entrants, shops (Al) will be able to change to banks, building societies, credit unions and friendly societies, within the A2 use class. This does not cover betting shops or payday loan shops.

New homes: agricultural to residential change of use

These reforms will make better use of redundant or underused agricultural buildings, increasing rural housing without building on the countryside. Up to 450 square metres of agricultural buildings on a farm will be able to change to provide a maximum of three houses.

We recognise the importance to the public of safeguarding environmentally protected areas, so this change of use will not apply in article 1(5) land, for example national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty. However, we expect national parks and other local planning authorities to take a positive and proactive approach to sustainable development, balancing the protection of the landscape with the social and economic well-being of the area. National parks and other protected areas are living communities whose young people and families need access to housing if their communities are to grow and prosper. I would note that a prior approval process will allow for flooding issues to be addressed.

Change of use: extending access to education

We also propose to extend the existing permitted development rights for change of use to state-funded schools to additionally cover registered nurseries. Agricultural buildings up to 500 square metres will also be able to change to state-funded schools and registered nurseries.

I believe that these are a practical and reasonable set of changes that will help facilitate locally led development, promote brownfield regeneration and promote badly needed new housing at no cost to the taxpayer. The reforms complement both the coalition Government’s decentralisation agenda and our long-term economic plan.


Routine Call-Out (Mali)

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr Mark Francois): With the expiry of the call-out order made on 11 March 2013, a new order has been made under section 56(l)(a) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable reservists to continue to be called out into service to support operations in Mali. While only a small number of reservists have been mobilised for service in Mali to date, they have made an important contribution. We wish to continue to be able to draw on the specialist skills and experience available within our reserve forces. We plan to call out only willing and available reservists, who have the support of their employer. The order takes effect from 10 March 2014 and ceases to have effect on 9 March 2015.

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Central African Republic

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr Mark Francois): On 9 December 2013, Official Report, column 1WS, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made a written statement to the House on the response to the developing situation in the Central African Republic.

UN Security Council Resolution 2134 was approved on 28 January 2014, and authorised an EU military operation in Central African Republic. The UK Government endorsed this EU mission to protect civilians and provide additional security and stability in Bangui. As part of the French contribution to this EU mission a UK staff officer, who is currently on exchange with the French military, will deploy to Bangui. This staff officer will be supporting the EU force headquarters and will not be deploying in a combat role. This UK support for French-led operations demonstrates the close relationship envisaged in the Lancaster House treaties of 2010.


Teacher Training Skills Tests

The Minister for Schools (Mr David Laws): I would like to set out for the House some actions we have taken to address weaknesses which have recently been identified in the marking of skills tests for prospective teachers.

The numeracy and literacy tests for prospective teachers were developed, in the current format, from 2009 onwards, under a contract let by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA). When the TDA was abolished, responsibility for administering the skills tests was transferred to the Teaching Agency from April 2012 and the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) from November 2013.

A review of the skills tests undertaken by the STA has identified some errors in the marking of some questions in the tests, which have led to some candidates being awarded or denied a small number of marks incorrectly. These problems were present during the TDA’s administration of the skills tests and date back at least as far as April 2010.

The errors causing the incorrect marking have been rectified by the STA, so the skills tests being taken now are not affected. However, the errors have meant that some candidates who sat the skills tests in the past received the incorrect results.

In the 2012-13 academic year, 721 candidates (less than 1% of the total) were incorrectly awarded a maximum of three marks and given a pass in error. Of these 721 candidates, 505 were awarded one extra mark, 189 were awarded two extra marks, and 27 were awarded three extra marks.

In addition, between October 2012 and now, 27 candidates (0.02% of the total) were incorrectly awarded a fail and have not subsequently gone on to pass at further attempts.

With respect to those candidates who were incorrectly awarded a pass, many will have subsequently gone on to undertake the other steps necessary to gain qualified

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teacher status, or be in the process of doing so, and will, through this, have had to demonstrate their competence to teach. Indeed, even had these candidates been properly failed at the point of taking the test, it is likely that many would have retaken the tests and been passed at subsequent attempts. Given these points we are satisfied that no further action in respect of these people is required, indeed it would be unjust to them to do so.

With respect to those candidates who were incorrectly awarded a fail and have not gone on to pass at further attempts, they will be awarded a pass retrospectively. The STA wrote to these candidates yesterday and has followed-up by email.

It would require extensive data analysis to determine how many candidates who took the tests prior to October 2012 were affected by the same errors. My officials estimate this work would cost £140,000 and take six months to complete. Given that any candidates incorrectly awarded a fail could, at that time, have re-sat the tests an unlimited number of times, and given that we do not propose to take action in respect of those candidates incorrectly awarded a pass, there would be little practical benefit arising from this analysis, beyond certainty over the number of candidates affected. I therefore do not believe it would be an effective use of taxpayers’ money to undertake this work.

As part of its review of the current tests, the STA has also taken the decision to re-design the punctuation section of the literacy test to allow for improved data analysis and quality assurance going forward. The punctuation section has been temporarily removed from the tests while refinements are made. The remaining sections of the literacy tests will be unaffected and we expect to reintroduce the punctuation element to the tests in the autumn of 2014.

The chief executive of the Standards and Testing Agency has looked closely at this matter and assured me that the tests which remain in operation are now reliable, accurate, and fit for purpose.

This Government’s decision to bring the TDA’s functions within the Department has brought greater scrutiny, increased accountability and helped unearth these errors. However, it is deeply regrettable that the tests inherited from the TDA contained flaws which have so directly affected outcomes for some prospective teachers. Action was taken as soon as errors were identified and we are determined to restore absolute confidence in the tests, under the management of the STA.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

National Pollinator Strategy

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): Following a commitment made in June 2013, I have today launched a consultation on a proposed national pollinator strategy to safeguard the future of pollinators and pollination services. Bees and other insect pollinators play an essential role in our food production and in the diversity of our environment. They face a wide range of environmental pressures, such as habitat loss, pests and diseases, invasive species, use of pesticides and climate change. There are growing concerns that these pressures are leading to declines in the number, diversity and geographical ranges of individual

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insect pollinator species. We know that the public and Members of this House care deeply about this issue. However there is a great deal of uncertainty about the status of pollinators and what may be causing changes to populations. This is in part due to a patchy evidence base and insufficient monitoring data.

My priority has been to understand what the evidence is telling us and ensure that we are taking the right action. Last summer, an independent expert advisory group, chaired by Professor Charles Godfray, was set up to advise on these matters. This group also provided guidance on the independent report “Status and value of pollinators and pollination services”, published today, which DEFRA commissioned in 2013 to help inform development of the strategy.

The strategy we are consulting on reflects the current evidence and also identifies where we need to know more. It sets out a collaborative plan of action for Government and external organisations to make sure pollinators thrive. This will help provide essential pollination services and benefits for crop production and the wider environment, in line with our commitments in “Biodiversity 2020”. It aims to cover all of the approximately 1,500 insect species that fulfil a pollination role in England.

As we strengthen the evidence base and our understanding of what action is needed increases, the national pollinator strategy will be flexible and adaptive. It will focus on three components:

Investment in research and monitoring to gain a firmer understanding of the nature of the problem and its drivers.

A total of 18 priority actions for Government and others to implement in the interim period, from 2014. These actions are comprehensive, covering management of farmland, towns, cities and public land. They respond to pest and disease risk. The actions also engage the public, sharing knowledge and improving our understanding of the status of pollinators and the service they provide.

A refreshment of our commitment in 2019, once new evidence is available, with a view to updating actions in line with new evidence if necessary.

Government cannot solve this problem alone. Therefore we will continue to work very closely with industry, NGOs, farmers, local government, land managers and others, including the devolved Administrations, to finalise the strategy for publication in summer 2014. Together we will produce an implementation plan, focusing on collaborative action, in the six months after the final strategy is published. I am placing a copy of the strategy and supporting documents in the Libraries of both Houses.

Winter Floods

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): Since the start of December we have experienced serious flooding from the sea, rivers, and from groundwater. It has officially been the wettest winter on record.

These extreme conditions have led to the flooding of about 7,000 properties across England. I want to express my deepest sympathy for all those who have been affected and thank everyone who has worked tirelessly to deal with the aftermath; they helped protect 1.3 million properties and over 2,500 square kilometres of farmland.

In a few areas of the country, especially in southern England, some flooding is likely to continue into the coming weeks. However, other parts of the country are

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now making the transition to recovery. It is therefore right that I update the House on further actions being taken to support recovery and prepare for similar events in future.

Help for Somerset

Six weeks ago I visited Somerset and saw for myself the exceptional impact on the county. Local leaders called for two things: first, immediate help to manage the impact; then, rapid action to dredge the rivers.

On immediate help. Government delivered fast. We saw one of the biggest mobilisations ever to protect people, their homes and their livelihoods from encroaching floodwater.

I also asked Somerset’s councils, IDBs and local leaders, working in partnership, to produce an action plan for the long-term management of the levels and moors. I visited Somerset again yesterday, and I am pleased that they have delivered that plan on time. I am placing a copy in the Libraries of both Houses. The plan includes some immediate actions, such as our commitment to dredge 8 km of the Rivers Parrett and Tone. That is the key thing local people asked for. The Environment Agency will start work as soon as it is safe and practical to do so.

Crucially, the plan also considers how to address flood risk over the longer term. Local partners will set up a new body to take more responsibility for water management on the levels, and will establish new ways of funding this. We will help them to do so.

Enhanced approaches to catchment sensitive farming will allow more water to be retained in the upper catchment. Ensuring new developments meet the highest standards for water and drainage will also help manage local flood risk. The plan also sets out other options for managing flood risk over the longer term, including investment in infrastructure.

DEFRA is providing an additional £10 million for Somerset for flood-related work, and I am pleased to confirm that the whole of Government will be contributing to the aims of the plan. The Department for Transport will provide a further £10 million and the Department for Communities and Local Government £0.5 million. This gives a strong base to take forward work. The challenge for the coming months will be to identify which of several longer-term priorities to take forward, and their specific funding streams. Detailed assessments and business cases will be produced for different investment choices, including how they compare to other projects across the country. The plan provides a framework to address these questions. DEFRA and its agencies will continue to support Somerset in doing so, helping secure a sustainable future for the levels and moors.

Help for fishermen

The Government have already established a range of schemes to support affected households, farmers, businesses and local communities. Today I am announcing further measures to support fishermen, who have been hit hard by recent events. I have decided that they should not bear the cost of Trinity lighthouse dues this year, a move that will benefit the industry by up to £140,000. We will also be making financial support available under the European fisheries fund to reimburse up to 60% of the cost of replacing lost or damaged gear, such as lobster and crab pots. We are working with our

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agencies and the Local Government Association to ensure all these schemes are easy to access, and are delivered quickly.

Electricity supplies

As the Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions, it is important that we learn the lessons from the recent flooding. That process has begun. For example, many people had their Christmas affected by the disruption we saw to electricity supplies.

The response of the network operators to that was strong, with 95.3% of disrupted customers restored within 24 hours. We are grateful to the staff of network operators who worked over the Christmas period to make that happen, often cancelling their own leave.

However, a review by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, also published today, highlights areas for improvement with a clear implementation timeline to ensure that, in future, customers experience as little inconvenience as possible.

Though this review has established 23 actions for industry, and two for DECC, there are two clear priorities:

Ensure that network operators have access to better customer contact details, allowing them to contact proactively those who are disrupted to provide accurate information.

The establishment of a single national number for customers to use to contact their network operator in the event of a disruption.

I am placing a copy of this review in the Libraries of both Houses.


The severe weather disrupted rail, road, air and sea travel over the winter period. Throughout, the vast majority of transport network owners and operators have done their very best to restore services as quickly as possible and keep the country moving.

This is exemplified by the Network Rail announcement on Tuesday that they will be able to reopen the line at Dawlish two weeks earlier than initially expected. The Government recognise the impact that the weather has had on transport infrastructure. To address these issues, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has also commissioned a review into the resilience of our transport networks in a future where we are likely to see more extreme weather events.

Many people were affected by the disruption to services at Gatwick on Christmas eve, when localised flooding caused a loss of power to critical systems at the airport. The subsequent review announced by Gatwick’s CEO has now reported, with 27 recommendations. We welcome this review.

It is now for Gatwick Airport to consider the recommendations and the steps necessary for increasing the resilience of the airport.

Central Government

The Government’s emergency committee COBR has taken effective action over the last three months to ensure that the risks are understood and that local responders have the resources they need. We have acted on every request for assistance received.

Over Christmas and the new year, Departments across Whitehall worked closely together to co-ordinate the Government’s response. However, it became apparent that some organisations—outside central Government—were not so actively engaged. In future, whenever there

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is a significant risk we will use the COBR system to ensure that all organisations, at both national and local level, are aware and fully prepared well in advance.

In order to further strengthen support and the organisation of Government recovery efforts, the Prime Minister has asked me personally to co-ordinate recovery in Somerset as part of a group of ministerial representatives for flood recovery. Those for other areas have also been confirmed today and I am placing a full list in the Libraries of both Houses.

Local government

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is also ensuring that we learn the lessons from how local authorities have responded to the recent flooding. There have been some excellent examples of local authorities who demonstrated good practice in their response. We will continue to work with local government to set out more clearly what council tax payers can reasonably expect from their councils in an emergency. For instance by providing support outside normal business hours, being a visible part of the local response and giving clear advice to residents and businesses on how to plan for emergencies.

We will continue to keep Parliament informed on the Government’s plans to learn other lessons and improve our resilience to flooding.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Diego Garcia: Lagoon Environment

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mark Simmonds): I wish to update the House on our work to protect the environment of the British Indian Ocean Territory and, in particular, the island of Diego Garcia which is home to a large UK-US military base.

This Government, and the Government of our most important ally, the United States, value the strategic location of the island of Diego Garcia, and we want to see our partnership there continue.

We also share a deep commitment to the pristine environment of BIOT, and take great steps to minimise the impact of the military presence on Diego Garcia on that environment. This ranges from the troops stationed there regularly taking part in beach clean-ups to remove Indian ocean flotsam that has washed ashore, through conservation efforts with NGOs like the RSPB to remove rats or invasive plants, to a US investment of over $30 million during 2014-15 to protect the shoreline from gradual erosion. Diego Garcia military base operates an environmental protection council which co-ordinates this activity, and the standards governing its behaviour are guided by our own scientific advisers and the most stringent relevant environmental legislation.

One area where we have been working recently with the US to ensure the highest standards of environmental stewardship is in the lagoon of Diego Garcia where we are on a path to recovery and protection of the coral that supports the island above the waves. In April last year it came to our attention that the US vessels moored

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in the lagoon had been discharging waste water into the lagoon since the establishment of the naval support station there in the early 1980s.

This waste water is treated sewage, and water left over from routine processes like cleaning and cooking. Though the amounts are small in proportion to the size of the lagoon itself, our policy has consistently been that any form of discharge of these substances into the lagoon is prohibited because of clear scientific advice that it would be damaging to coral in the long term. That advice has not changed, and nor has our policy.

I asked my officials to immediately establish the impact of these discharges, and in October 2013, UK scientists concluded that based on the available data, there were elevated levels of nutrients in the lagoon which could be damaging to coral.

Over the period since October, my officials have been working to agree a plan with the US to come into compliance with our no discharge policy, and I am pleased to say I have now agreed this. The plan will involve expenditure of several million dollars by the US over a period of three years to retrofit all of the vessels in the lagoon. The programme of work balances the requirement to maintain operational readiness in the region, meet international security commitments, and deal with the logistical and fiscal challenges such a large-scale programme brings with it. A comprehensive joint UK-US study is now also under way to assess and monitor the coral and marine health of the lagoon and ensure that the programme has the desired effect of reducing the levels of nutrients in the lagoon and protecting the coral.

Foreign Affairs Council

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I attended the extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council called to discuss Ukraine on 3 March in Brussels, chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland. Commissioners Füle (enlargement) was also in attendance.

A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at: http://www.consilium.europa. eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/141294.pdf


Ministers condemned Russia’s acts of aggression in Ukraine, stating that Russian actions were unacceptable. I underlined the need for concrete actions, to ensure EU credibility and deter further aggression, as well as indicating potential further actions if Russia did not de-escalate.

The Council agreed conclusions condemning Russia’s acts of aggression against Ukraine and stating that, in the absence of quick Russian de-escalation, there would be consequences for EU-Russia relations. Ministers reaffirmed their support for Ukraine, and agreed to work swiftly on the adoption of restrictive measures for the freezing and recovery of assets of persons identified as responsible for the misappropriation of state funds, and the freezing of assets of persons responsible for human rights violations.

An emergency European Council will discuss the situation in Ukraine on Thursday 6 March.

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Home Department

Invalid Travel Documents (New Powers)

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): Schedule 7 to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill provides for new powers to search for and seize invalid travel documents, including cancelled passports, for police officers, immigration officers and designated customs officials. Subject to parliamentary approval, the Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent shortly. The schedule 7 provisions will commence the day after Royal Assent.

These new powers will help to define clearly the statutory powers available at ports to prevent people from travelling to or from the United Kingdom on invalid documentation and provide an express statutory power to enforce the cancellation of a passport by a Secretary of State. Operation of these new powers will be restricted for the first two months to cases where the passport has been cancelled by the Secretary of State.

Violence Against Women and Girls

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): On Saturday 8 March, to coincide with international women’s day, the Government are publishing an updated violence against women and girls action plan. A copy will be placed in the House Library.

Last year around 1.2 million women suffered domestic abuse and around 330,000 were sexually assaulted. This is wholly unacceptable. We are determined, not just to reduce, but to end violence against women and girls.

In November 2010, we set out our strategy to end violence against women and girls. Our key themes of prevention, provision of good-quality services, improved partnership working, better justice outcomes and risk reduction remain as relevant today as when we first agreed our approach.

This third revision of the action plan updates the efforts underpinning that strategy, and sets out significant progress since the last report was published a year ago. We are also aware of emerging issues and new challenges and the updated plan includes a renewed focus on early intervention, supporting effective local approaches, driving a culture change and measuring outcomes.

We are proud of the progress this Government have made in protecting the lives of women and girls, but there is still much more to do. This action plan confirms our ongoing commitment to stop the violence and abuse which blights the lives of too many women and girls.

International Development

Violence against Women and Girls Overseas

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Lynne Featherstone): I am pleased to take this opportunity to update the House for a second time on my role as ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas. Since my previous written ministerial statement, I have continued to lead the UK’s work on ending the global pandemic of violence against women and girls.

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I am proud to say that the UK Government continue to show considerable leadership on this important issue. On 13 November, the UK co-hosted, with Sweden, the call to action on protecting girls and women in emergencies. This brought together Governments, UN Heads, international NGOs and civil society organisations to agree a new approach to protecting girls and women in emergency situations. The US has now taken on leadership of this initiative and we are working with them to ensure commitments translate to better support on the ground for girls and women.

In December, I hosted a learning event on preventing violence against women and girls for DFID staff and external partners. The seminar brought together members from the gender and development network, DFID staff and cross-Government colleagues to mark international human rights day, which concluded the 16 days of activism against gender violence. The overall objective for the event was to inform and inspire attendees to take action to prevent violence against women and girls.

At the event, I announced that the South African Medical Research Council will lead the main component of our flagship violence against women and girls research and innovation fund. This £25 million fund will pilot new approaches and strengthen the evidence base on what works, with a particular focus on prevention.

I have continued to champion the UK’s efforts to end female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). On international day of zero tolerance to FGM on 6 February, I joined with Ministers from across-Government to sign up to a declaration to end FGM/C in the UK and around the world. On 14 January I met with the Department of Education, the Home Office and representatives from national teachers’ associations and unions to discuss raising awareness of FGM/C.

I have also taken the opportunity to support DFID’s work in developing countries. I recently visited Burkina Faso to see work being funded through DFID’s flagship £35 million FGM/C programme. During my visit I met communities who have abandoned the practice to learn how this change came about and visited a school to hear students’ views about the practice and how young people can help with its eradication. I also met the First Lady, Chantal Compaoré, to find out how the UK can support African leadership on this issue.

Looking forward, 2014 is a critical year for pushing the elimination of violence against women and girls up the international development agenda. My priorities for 2014, which I circulated in my recent Valentine’s day letter to Members of Parliament, build on those I previously highlighted to the House. They are:

Securing and defending the rights of girls and women to live free from violence, through international negotiations such as the Commission on the Status of Women in March and the ongoing negotiations on the framework which will take us beyond the millennium development goals.

Eliminating FGM/C within a generation. The UK Government are working to end this harmful practice in 17 countries through our flagship programme. This programme works at community-level to support changes in social norms, and supports enabling policies and legislation. It also includes a campaign to galvanise a movement to end the practice at local, national and international level. This will complement work already going on in the UK to eliminate the practice here.

Sharing knowledge of what works to prevent violence against girls and women, by investing in research and working with others to ensure that what we do is based on strong evidence.

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Forging strategic partnerships in the international system to “lock in” prevention of violence against girls and women, making sure we get the best outcomes for girls and women by working closely with others over the long term.

Linking our international work with the domestic, particularly our work on FGM/C and early and forced marriage and through the UK’s national action plan on violence against women and girls.

In March 2014 I will be representing the UK, alongside the Secretary of State for International Development and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Women and Equalities, at the 58th Commission on the Status of Women in New York. I will attend both the event itself and a number of side-events focused on violence against women and girls. This global gathering will serve as an important step in our efforts to secure a strong post-2015 development framework that includes a stand-alone goal on gender equality and empowerment of women and girls and a target on preventing and eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, and mainstreams gender throughout all the goals.

We are working closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence colleagues to develop a new, more ambitious, national action plan on women, peace and security to launch in June at the “End Sexual Violence in Conflict: London 2014” summit. The aim of the new national action plan will be to ensure a more joined-up approach to our work on women, peace and security that makes best use of UK Government resources. It will set out how we will take forward the women, peace and security agenda, of which violence against women and girls will be a key component, internationally, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

I look forward to updating the House again on my work to achieve my priorities in the coming months.


Mesothelioma Claims

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Shailesh Vara): My noble Friend, the Minister for Justice, Lord Faulks, has made the following statement:

On 4 December 2013, Official Report, column 55WS, my hon. Friend, the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) who is responsible for courts and legal aid issued a written ministerial statement announcing the Government’s decisions following its “Reforming mesothelioma claims” consultation. I am today announcing the publication of the Government’s full response to that consultation which contains the report under section 48 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012.

The Government are keen to continue working constructively with stakeholders to identify reforms which might potentially improve the compensation claims process for mesothelioma.

Copies of the response have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The document is also available online at: http://www.justice.gov.uk.

Leader of the House

State Opening of Parliament

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): Her Majesty the Queen will open a new Session of this Parliament on Tuesday 3 June 2014.

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Northern Ireland

National Security Arrangements in Northern Ireland (Lord Carlile's Report)

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mrs Theresa Villiers): This is a summary of the main findings from the report by Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of national security arrangements in Northern Ireland, over the period from 1 December 2012 to 31 December 2013.

“Once again I am grateful to Ministers for their close interest in the matters discussed here; several meetings with Ministers have occurred.

I have met several stakeholders for the purposes of this report. They have included the Secretary of State and other Ministers for the time being including the Minister of Justice in the Northern Ireland Executive, Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and MI5 at senior levels, the relevant Commissioners dealing with National Security matters, the Northern Ireland Policing Board, the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland (PONI), and others. I have also engaged with HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) concerning activities relevant to this Report. I have made myself available to the Northern Ireland political parties if so required, an offer which was not taken up this year.

The liaison between Mr Ford and those responsible for national security issues is satisfactory.

The context in which national security activities are performed in Northern Ireland is changing and remains challenging. I have considered the current threat level, and what I have learned of events of a terrorist nature during the year. The level of terrorist activity appears broadly similar to the previous year. The overall picture is of a very dangerous, unpredictable terrorist threat, though one much smaller than in the days of PIRA terrorist activity.

There were 30 national security incidents during 2013, and several hoaxes. The authorities deserve the highest praise for the successful security operations surrounding the G8 Summit at Lough Erne on 17-18 June and the World Police and Fire Games on 1-10 August, both of which always had the potential to be a magnet for terrorism.

Ongoing investigations are at a high level. I was provided with information about such investigations, and of the considerable number of officers involved. Peace is in no small way the result of these efforts by PSNI and MI5 personnel.

Additional challenges continue to be posed by the many connections which terrorists appear to have with organised crime—not least because such crime helps fund their politically motivated activities. The opposition to drugs use by dissident republican groups is less than convincing. Their continued involvement in tobacco smuggling is clear.

As before, I asked specifically about loyalist terrorists. Basically these are people whose real interest is in making money from crime. Their groups have always suffered from fractiousness, and this has not changed. The authorities are well sighted against these organisations.

I have asked questions again this year about the relationship between MI5 and PSNI staff working alongside each other in security sensitive operations in Northern Ireland. That they work together well and in the national interest is beyond question. Generally they are well sighted together over potential terrorist operations, better than other similar arrangements I have observed elsewhere in the world. There is no evidence of the two services in any way undermining each other’s work—quite the opposite.

In concurrence with MI5 and national security work, the use of CHIS has been effective. I was very impressed by what I was told of the training and verification processes: they are methodical, detailed and subject to constant checking.

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The PSNI and MI5 respectively have their own in-house legal advisers. The PSNI also has an in-house Human Rights legal adviser. In addition, relations with the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland are excellent and founded on trust and mutual respect, and as a result the services can go to the Public Prosecution Service for advice if they feel that it would be helpful.

I am satisfied that there is undoubtedly solid scrutiny of interception, in an environment in which communications technology is developing quickly.

I have asked about the availability and use of technology for counter-terrorism operations. The amount of technically based work is on the increase, and the public are protected by investment in top quality and up to date technology.

I met the Policing Board during 2013, and attempted to address their understandable concern that they cannot make full judgments of relevant issues involving policing and national security on the basis of incomplete information. The nature of national security and the Northern Ireland context necessitates these arrangements, but the Board can feel reassured that the Human Rights Advisor is able to carry out that role with greater confidence. A stronger and coherent narrative is provided, and continuing capable judgment exercised as to what can and cannot be shared with the Board.

I consider that continuing discussion between the operational authorities and the PONI will help to define further the legitimate scope of any enquiries he may have in mind into national security issues and policy.

In relation to prosecutions, the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland is pursuing a policy consistent with that in GB, of prosecuting where the evidence reaches the required standards applicable to prosecution decisions generally. The threat of terrorism justifies the continuation of the non-jury system. There is no evidence of any disadvantage in terms of outcome to Defendants in the current system of non-jury trials.

Prisons remain a problem area on two grounds. First, short-term prisoners can emerge from gaol as more determined and better informed terrorists. Secondly, prison officers are a relatively easy target for terrorist attack.

I have measured performance in 2013 against the five key principles identified in relation to national security in Annex E to the St Andrews Agreement of October 2006.

My conclusions in relation to Annex E are as follows:

Text of Annex EConclusions

Further to reinforce this comprehensive set of safeguards, the Government confirms that it accepts and will ensure that effect is given to the five key principles which the Chief Constable has identified as crucial to the effective operation of the new arrangements, viz:

All Security Service intelligence relating to terrorism in Northern Ireland will be visible to the PSNI.

There is compliance. Arrangements are in place to deal with any suspected malfeasance by a PSNI or MI5 officer.

PSNI will be informed of all Security Service counter terrorist investigations and operations relating to Northern Ireland.

There is compliance.

Security Service intelligence will be disseminated within PSNI according to the current PSNI dissemination policy, and using police procedures.

There is compliance. Dissemination policy has developed since the new arrangements came into force.

The great majority of national security Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) in Northern Ireland will continue to be run by PSNI officers under existing police handling protocols.

The majority of CHIS are run by the PSNI. Protocols have not stood still A review of existing protocols and the development of up to date replacements should always be work in progress and clearly accountable.

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There will be no diminution of the PSNI’s responsibility to comply with the Human Rights Act or the Policing Board’s ability to monitor said compliance.

The PSNI must continue to comply. The Policing Board, with the advice of their Human Rights Advisor as a key component, will continue the role of monitoring compliance.


I regard 2013, as 2012, as a year of continuing but challenging broad success in a very difficult environment. We remain far from the demise of all Northern Ireland terrorism. The Haass process hopefully will have left a solid and evolving basis for further discussions which will make terrorism less and less relevant. We must remain vigilant as in the past 6 years at least. However, once again I have drawn comfort from the successful joint operations between MI5 and the PSNI, and their high level of co-operation with their counterparts in Ireland. The process from segregation to integration continues steadily.”

Prime Minister

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

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): The right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) 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 the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley). Lord Bowness will continue as a full member and also assume the role of leader to the delegation.

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Appointment)

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood) has been appointed as a substitute member of the United Kingdom delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in place of the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma). Lord Balfe has also been appointed as a substitute member in place of Baroness Buscombe.


Light Dues 2014-15

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): The three general lighthouse authorities (GLAs) for the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland provide an essential service for mariners through the deployment of coastal aids to navigation and inspection of harbour lights. The celebration of the 500th anniversary of Trinity House this year is helping to highlight the continuing vital role of these historic organisations. However this year and next will witness two significant changes affecting the GLAs.

In line with provisions in the Public Service Pensions Act 2013, the GLAs’ pension schemes will be closed and their members transferred to the principal civil service pension scheme, the rules of which the current

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schemes already follow by analogy. The reserves in the general lighthouse fund—above a minimum level required to maintain operational cash flow—will be used to fund this transfer, supplemented by a loan from the Department for Transport, which will be repaid through the fund over the next 10 years.

The transfer, which addresses the pension liabilities of the GLAs, will be of significant benefit to light dues payers. First it removes a source of volatility and risk for the general lighthouse fund from uncertainties arising in the way pension liabilities are valued. Secondly, it is a fundamental component of our actions to implement the agreement made in 2010 by the Irish and UK Governments that, from 2015-16, the work of the Commissioners of Irish Lights in the Republic of Ireland will be met fully from Irish sources.

In this way, the Government are laying the ground for a sustainable reduction in the call on the UK light dues payer, delivering on their commitment to creating the right conditions to support one of the UK’s most important industries.

On top of this, the GLAs have continued to improve the efficiency of their operations by working together, harnessing new technology, and a concerted programme of converting aids to navigation to use solar power. Therefore, I have decided to reduce the light dues rate by one penny to 40p per net registered tonne in 2014-15 and I intend to seek a further reduction in 2015-16, dependent on the final valuation of the liability and a decision on the appropriate minimum level of the general lighthouse fund. Following the freeze in light dues since 2010, this represents a 14% reduction in real terms under this Government.

Work and Pensions

Independent Living Fund

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mike Penning): On 18 December 2012, the Government announced that the independent living fund (ILF) would close on 31 March 2015 with funding transferred to local authorities in England and to the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales. This announcement followed an extensive consultation exercise on the future of the ILF.

The legality of this decision was challenged in the High Court through judicial review proceedings brought by five ILF users. At the High Court hearing, in March 2013, the Court found that the consultation had been carried out in a fair and proper manner and that “due regard” was paid to the public sector equality duty (PSED).

The High Court decision was subsequently appealed to the Court of Appeal and following an appeal hearing in October 2013 the Court delivered its judgment on 6 November 2013. The Court of Appeal did not make any findings on the merits of the decision to close the ILF and upheld the Department’s position on the consultation, finding that it had been carried out properly and fairly. However, the Court allowed the appeal on the PSED points, holding that more documentary evidence was required to demonstrate that Ministers were aware

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of the full extent of the potential impact of closure on ILF users, and to demonstrate that they had given due regard to all three parts of the public sector equality duty.

Following the Court’s decision, the Department took action to ensure that all activities being undertaken by the ILF to prepare for closure were stopped with immediate effect.

Since the judgment was given, I have taken time to reflect on the Court of Appeal’s decision. A new equality analysis has been undertaken and further advice provided to enable me to make a new decision on the future of the ILF.

I have considered the implications of closing the fund very carefully before reaching my decision on the way forward. This has included in-depth consideration of all of the various aspects of the PSED and the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.

It is clear to me, from considering all of the evidence, that there is considerable concern among ILF users, about the potential impact of closing the fund on their independence and on their ability to exercise choice and control over how their care and support is managed. I also recognise that many users believe that closing the ILF will affect their ability to continue to live independently in their own homes, to pursue educational and employment opportunities, and to participate in social activities.

However, I do not believe that continuing a separate system of support, operating through a discretionary trust and outside the statutory mainstream adult social care system, is the right approach. The key features that have contributed to the ILF’s success, in particular, the choice and control it has given disabled people over how their care and support is managed, are now provided, or are very soon to be provided, within the mainstream system. To continue with the present arrangements, which benefit a relatively small proportion of disabled people, would therefore fail to take account of the significant developments in adult social care and the changes which have been made in the past 20 years, in the way disabled people are supported to live independent lives.

I remain committed to maintaining awards to current users until the ILF closes. However, I do not think that the current tier 2 arrangements are justified and it is my intention to close the ILF on 30 June 2015. Following closure, local authorities in England will take direct responsibility for meeting the eligible care and support needs of current ILF users in line with their statutory responsibilities. The devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, will determine how ILF users in each of those parts of the UK, are supported within their distinct care and support systems. As previously announced, at the point of transfer local authorities and the devolved Administrations will be funded to enable them to meet their new responsibilities towards former ILF users.

Before receiving the Court of Appeal’s judgment, the ILF had been making excellent progress to deliver its transfer review programme—an ambitious and complex programme to enable both local authorities and ILF users to prepare for the transfer to the new arrangements. The suspension of closure activity, to allow time for the future of the ILF to be fully considered, means that asking the ILF to complete the transfer programme

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within the original time scales would involve an unacceptable degree of risk. For that reason, I will be asking the ILF to resume closure activity immediately, to deliver a re-planned programme that will achieve closure by 30 June 2015. This will allow additional time to ensure that adequate transfer arrangements have been made in respect of all ILF users.

The equality analysis “Closure of the Independent Living Fund”, undertaken by the Department for Work and Pensions, will be published on my Department’s website. I will place a copy of the equality analysis in the House Library. The equality analysis records all analysis carried out by the Department to enable a full and thorough consideration of the extent of the potential impact of closure on independent living fund users, and demonstrates full consideration of the requirements of the public sector equality duty (PSED) as set out in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.

Work Capability Assessment

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mike Penning): I am pleased to announce that Dr Paul Litchfield, who recently published the fourth independent review of the work capability assessment (WCA), will be continuing in his role as independent reviewer for the fifth and final statutory review of the work capability assessment as required by the Welfare Reform Act 2007.

This year’s review will continue the process of ensuring the assessment is as fair and accurate as possible in helping people back to work if they are able, while ensuring that financial support is provided to those who need it.

Dr Paul Litchfield is chief medical officer and director of health, safety and well-being for BT, a post he has held since 2001. An experienced senior occupational physician, 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.

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

Dr Litchfield will present his report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions before the end of 2014.

Mesothelioma Act 2014 (Scheme Payments)

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mike Penning): I am today announcing that the payments made under the Mesothelioma Act 2014 scheme will be increased ahead of the first payments being made later this year. Eligible individuals can now expect to receive an average payment of £123,000, less benefit recovery, an average of £8,000 more per person. As always, each successful applicant will also receive a further £7,000 on top of this as a contribution towards legal fees.

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I am happy to announce that this is possible because of savings made on the administration costs of the scheme. Over the course of the debates on the Mesothelioma Bill, much attention was given to the commercial process to select the scheme administrator, and who that scheme administrator would be. I can now announce that the open tender process has been concluded, and the contract has been awarded to Gallagher Basset International.

As the Bill progressed through Parliament, my noble friend Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform, and I were sympathetic with those Members who called for an increase in payments from 75% to 80% of average civil damages, but were bound by the need to keep the levy below the 3% of GWP threshold. The savings made through running a competitive open tender process have enabled us to raise the payment rate, while keeping below this threshold.

I hope that Members of both Houses will welcome this increase and will continue to give the scheme their support.

Work Programme

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Esther McVey): Having now helped 444,000 people into jobs and 208,000 into lasting work, the Work programme is succeeding—transforming the lives of those furthest from the labour market, who are the hardest to help into employment. The performance of providers since the Work programme’s first year of operation has significantly improved. As planned, these providers are being paid for getting people into work and keeping them there; a real change in the whole culture of how welfare-to-work schemes operate. Now, the positive signs are clear to see: there are fewer people on jobseeker’s allowance than when the Work programme started, and this quarter marked a sizeable fall of 45,000 in long-term unemployment.

Our aim from the start was always that the Work programme should allow for continuous improvement. By its very design, the Work programme was intended to create a competitive market. Providers are paid by results—transferring financial risk to providers and protecting the taxpayer, unlike previous schemes where vast amounts were paid out up front regardless of success. What is more, for the first time unlike other programmes, through levers such as market share shift and contract termination, we are able to actively manage this market place. Since August last year, the Department for Work and Pensions has been rewarding success by referring more claimants to the better performing providers. At the same time, the structure of the Work programme is intended to push out poorer performing providers.

It is now the right time to focus on those contracts which are not doing as well as their competitors. While all contracts are on track to hit their contractual JSA targets, there is significant variation in performance. Accepting only the best for claimants, I have reviewed the performance of the bottom 25% of contracts against a range of performance measures. As a result, the providers delivering these contracts have been put under an enhanced performance management regime, driving them to up their game further.

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Following this review, I have also decided to terminate one contract—the lowest performing when assessed against this range of measures. Today I have issued a notice of termination to Newcastle College Group in respect of their contract for the provision of Work programme services in north-east Yorkshire and the Humber. The notice of termination has been issued under the voluntary break clause in the contract and not for any breach of contract by Newcastle College Group.

Following the contract termination, no individual on the Work programme will be left without support. Not only do other providers operate as competitors in the area already, but Newcastle College Group are required to operate within the terms of their contract while the Department appoints a replacement provider within the next 12 months. To ensure continuity of service for those currently on the Work programme in the region,

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before making that appointment, we will rigorously assess bids to determine who can best deliver the quality of service and results we require. The Department will also support the provider’s supply chain during the transition of services to the replacement provider.

What we have initiated here is a continuous process of evaluation and improvement, with rewards for success and consequences for failure. To this end, other providers who deliver low levels of performance and fail to improve will be considered for further action including the termination of their contract. For the first time, a Government employment programme is harnessing the disciplines of the market place so that only those providers who succeed are retained to help claimants into work. In doing so, we can deliver on our goal to ensure claimants get the best possible service and achieve the best possible outcomes from the Work programme.