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Written Statements

Thursday 13 March 2014

Business, Innovation and Skills

Higher Education (Student Support)

The Minister for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts): I am today confirming the student support package for higher education students undertaking a course of study in the academic year beginning September 2015.

Tuition charges and loans

For all new full-time students and eligible continuing full-time students who started their courses on or after 1 September 2012, maximum tuition charges and maximum tuition loans will be maintained in 2015-16 at the £6,000 and £9,000 levels which apply in 2014-15.

For continuing full-time students who started their courses before September 2012, maximum tuition charges and maximum tuition loans will be maintained in 2015-16 at the £3,465 level which applies in 2014-15.

For all new part-time students in 2015-16, and eligible continuing part-time students who started their courses on or after 1 September 2012, maximum tuition charges and maximum tuition loans will also be maintained at the £4,500 and £6,750 levels which apply in 2014-15.

Maintenance Grant

The Government announced in the 2013 spending review in June 2013 that the maximum maintenance grant for students attending full-time courses in 2015-16 would be maintained at the same levels which apply in 2014-15. This means for new students and eligible continuing students who started their courses on or after 1 September 2012, the maximum grant in 2015-16 will remain at £3,387. For continuing students who started their courses before 1 September 2012, the maximum grant in 2015-16 will remain at £3,110.

Loans for living costs

Eligible students attending full-time courses will be entitled to more overall support for their living costs in 2015-16 than in 2014-15. Maximum loans for living costs for new and continuing full-time students will be increased by forecast inflation for 2015-16, 3.34%.

For new students and eligible continuing students who started attending their courses on or after 1 September 2012, who are living away from home and studying outside London, the maximum loan for living costs will be increased to £5,740. I can confirm that the equivalent loan rates for students living away from home and studying in London will be £8,009; for those living in the parental home during their studies, £4,565; and for those studying overseas as part of their UK course, £6,820.

For eligible full-time students who started attending their courses before 1 September 2012 and are living away from home while studying outside London, the maximum loan for living costs will be increased to £5,167. The equivalent loan rates for students living

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away from home and studying in London will be £7,230; for those living in the parental home during their studies, £4,005; and for those studying overseas as part of their UK course, £6,151.

Dependants’ grants

The Government are committed to supporting students with caring responsibilities. I am therefore announcing today that means-tested dependants’ grants for full-time students attending their courses will be increased by forecast inflation for 2015-16.

The maximum adult dependants’ grant will be increased by 3.34% to £2,757 in 2015-16.

The maximum childcare grant payable in 2015-16, which covers 85% of actual childcare costs, will be increased by 3.34% in 2015-16 to £155.24 per week for one child only and to £266.15 per week for two or more children.

The maximum parents’ learning allowance payable in 2015-16 will be increased by 3.34% to £1,573.

Part-time grants and loans

For those students who started part-time and full-time distance learning courses before 1 September 2012 and who are continuing their courses in 2015-16, maximum fee and course grants will be maintained at the levels that apply for 2014-15. Maximum fee grants will be maintained at £1,285, depending on the intensity of study of the course. Maximum course grants will be maintained at £280.

Income thresholds

Household income thresholds for grants for tuition and living costs, and loans for living costs, will be maintained at 2014-15 levels for 2015-16.

Disabled Students Allowances

Lastly today, I can confirm that maximum grants for full-time, part-time and postgraduate students with disabilities will be maintained at 2014-15 levels in 2015-16.

Regulations

I expect to lay regulations implementing changes to student support for 2015-16 later this year. More details of the 2015-16 student support package will be published by my Department in due course.

Cabinet Office

City Deal

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (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.

I can today inform the House that the Government, local businesses, universities and civic leaders from Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire have reached agreement on a city deal.

The Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire city deal is built around a flagship proposal for the UK’s first at-scale, low-carbon, heat network system. This will support Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire’s world famous

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advanced manufacturing and applied materials sectors and the emerging energy and renewable growth sector.

The city deal will also provide local and incoming businesses with support to develop the next generation of products and materials; bring employers and education providers together to ensure residents have the skills and training they and local businesses need to drive the economy forward; and prioritise local sites for new and existing business to expand into, along with strengthened local planning and development policies.

Business and civic leaders in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire estimate that the city deal will generate 45 GWh of heat energy and achieve energy efficiency savings of 49,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum; make available over 100 hectares of employment land each with its own enabling energy project; deliver 3,900 additional apprenticeships and 1,100 traineeships for young people aged 16 to 23; provide support and advice to 1,300 businesses. Local authorities and businesses believe that these measures can help create up to 23,000 jobs over the next decade.

Treasury

Public Service Pensions

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): The UK faces a substantial long-term challenge to ensure the public finances remain sustainable and the Government have therefore taken much needed action to address the pressures from an ageing population. This includes a package of reforms to public service pensions including a move to “career average” schemes, and changes to the normal pension age for public service workers. Reforms to public service pension schemes are forecast to save £430 billion by 2061-62, while also ensuring that the pensions offered to public service workers remain among the very best available.

The next stage in this programme of reform is to ensure that the costs of the public service schemes are properly measured and remain sustainable in the long term. To achieve this, the Treasury has this week made directions and laid regulations on valuations of public service pension schemes and the employer cost cap, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Service Pensions Act 2013.

These directions formalise the basis of the full actuarial valuations of the schemes that are currently being carried out to measure scheme costs. This is the first time valuations have been carried out for a number of years and the first time that schemes have been valued simultaneously and according to the same rigorous, principled and transparent approach.

The final results for the NHS, teachers and civil service schemes will be published later in the spring. But it is already clear that these will show the level of contributions paid by employers have not been sufficient to meet the full long-term costs of these schemes. If current rates were allowed to continue the shortfall would be nearly £1 billion a year across the teachers, civil service and NHS schemes.

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The Government are therefore taking corrective action, and will introduce new higher employer contribution rates for these schemes from 2015. This will ensure that the contributions paid by public service employers reflect the full costs of the schemes, including the costs of the deficits that have arisen since previous valuations.

This will not have any impact on existing pensioners, on member benefits, or on the contributions paid by employees in those schemes. Instead it will ensure that pension costs are properly met by employers and do not fall as an additional cost to the taxpayer.

Actuarial reports published by these three schemes and the police pension scheme (E&W) will confirm the final contribution rates to be paid by each scheme. The remaining public service schemes are expected to complete their valuations later in the year.

Alongside this action to ensure that pension costs are properly accounted for in the short term, the Government are also determined to ensure that costs are controlled in the long term, and that there is a fair balance of risks between scheme members and the taxpayer. Accordingly, as required by the Public Service Pensions Act 2013, the Government will establish employer cost caps in the new public service pension schemes. This will provide backstop protection for the taxpayer, and ensure that the risks associated with pension provision are shared with scheme members. The Treasury directions and regulations provide the framework for the operation of the cost-cap mechanism.

The Treasury has published additional documentation on the valuations and the operation of the employer cost cap to provide additional guidance on the Government’s policy. It has also published the outcomes of consultation with the Government actuary. These are available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/public-service-pensions-actuarial-valuations-and-the-employer-cost-cap-mechanism and I will arrange for copies to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

I am also today publishing directions which set out the requirements for the provision of benefit information statements in the new public service pension schemes. Under the Public Service Pensions Act all new schemes will be required to issue annual benefit statements to members setting out the pension rights they have accrued. The attached directions set the requirements for these statements. These short directions largely mirror requirements set by DWP for wider pension schemes.

Communities and Local Government

Building Regulations

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Stephen Williams): New homes need to be high quality, accessible and sustainable. To achieve this, the Government are today setting out a road map delivering a radically simplified system for setting standards in the design and construction of new homes by the end of this Parliament. This represents the outcome of a significant and ambitious drive to reduce the regulatory burden on the housing industry, and will save money and time for industry and

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authorities. The road map will involve consolidating essential requirements in to a national framework centred on the building regulations, reducing substantially the number of technical standards applying to the construction of new homes.

These changes will hugely improve the situation for all involved in this sector, by rationalising and simplifying the many overlapping and confusing standards currently in operation. We are also able to do this while improving quality, safeguarding environmental protections, and protections for disabled people. We consulted on the housing standards review proposals in the second half of last year, which set out proposals to rationalise the proliferation of housing related standards, guidance and codes above those required by building regulations. The Government are today also publishing the summary analysis of the responses to the 2013 housing standards review consultation.

Taking account of the responses to the consultation, an outcome of the housing and construction red tape challenge, the Government have decided that the most sensible way forward is for any necessary technical standards as far as possible to be consolidated into the building regulations and the accompanying approved documents, and to make significant progress on this over the rest of this Parliament. A note is being placed in the Library of the House, setting out how the Government intend to proceed with each of the standards examined in the consultation

The Government recognise that it is not always possible or desirable to require a single national standard for all new development, and that local discretion is in some circumstances sensible. To facilitate this, the consultation proposed the introduction of new powers in the Building Act which would enable different levels of performance where these were necessary to meet certain local circumstances. These requirements would be triggered by conditions set in a local plan, subject to the normal plan-making process of evidencing need and testing viability. So today I can announce we are introducing measures to ensure that the system includes new flexibility to respond to local circumstances where needed.

There are significant benefits to this arrangement. Building regulations apply nationally across England and provide a clear and consistent set of requirements for home builders to meet, and for building control bodies to apply. Checking compliance will in the future be undertaken through building control, removing the current maze of compliance regimes and systems and reducing costs not only to developers but to local authorities. The Government will work with local authority building control bodies and approved inspectors on putting this approach into practice.

Setting requirements solely in building regulations will help to provide the certainty needed to ensure that home builders know what they need to do, and can deliver high quality new homes which meet local community’s needs. Implementing this approach will reduce over 100 standards to fewer than 10, and will provide significant cost savings for industry.

The Government will press ahead with the work to consolidate necessary standards into the regulations during this Parliament. Draft regulations and technical standards will be published in the summer, with necessary statutory regulations and supporting approved documents coming into force at the turn of the year. The Government

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have also today tabled amendments to the Deregulation Bill currently before the House, to make necessary changes to existing legislation to enable this approach.

The consultation made clear the Government’s intention that planning authorities should only use the standards emerging from the review process. The Government will issue a statement later this year when the new standards are published, which will explain how this policy will be implemented.

This means that many of the requirements of the code for sustainable homes will be consolidated into building regulations, which would require substantial changes to the content of the current code, as well as a reconsideration of its role. In the light of this, the Government think that the current code will need to be wound down to coincide with the changes incorporating the new standards coming into force. The Government will make further announcements on the transitional arrangements, and the handling of legacy developments being built out to current code requirements. The Government are also interested in hearing from industry as to the value of elements of the code being taken forward on a voluntary basis.

Defence

Armed Forces Pay Review Body

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): The 2014 report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB) has now been published. I wish to express my thanks to the chairman and members of the review body for their report.

In line with the Government’s 2011 autumn statement, which announced that public sector pay awards will average 1% for each of the two years following the public sector pay freeze, the AFPRB has recommended an increase of 1% to base armed forces salaries for 2014-15. In addition, the AFPRB has recommended a 1% increase to compensatory allowances and recruitment and retention payment categories, except for mountain leaders, parachute jumping instructor, aeromedical and escort duty where there is no increase, and the lowest rate for nursing, which is frozen this year prior to being phased out by April 2016. The AFPRB has also recommended an increase to food and accommodation charges, together with a number of targeted measures, including two additional levels of longer separation allowance.

The AFPRB’s recommendations are to be accepted in full and will become effective from 1 April 2014, except where the AFPRB report indicates otherwise.

Copies of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body report are available in the Vote Office.

Service Complaints System

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): A fair, effective and efficient system for handling complaints is an important part of our delivery of the armed forces covenant, and it has rightly been the focus of considerable

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public debate. I am grateful to the Defence Select Committee for the close attention which they have given to this subject, and their constructive recommendations. I am particularly indebted to Dr Susan Atkins, the Service Complaints Commissioner (SCC), not only for her work in the context of the current system, but also for her advice and engagement on how we can do better. Many service complaints are dealt with promptly and successfully. However, it is generally recognised that the current system can only operate effectively across the armed forces by devoting a level of resources which is not sustainable in the longer term.

The then Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), informed the Select Committee last year that my Department was engaged in discussions with Dr Atkins on alternative models for handling complaints, and on the reform of the role of the commissioner. I am pleased to tell the House that this work has produced the outline of a new model for the service complaints system which we believe offers important advantages over the system introduced by the Armed Forces Act 2006.

The central feature of the new model is that the Service Complaints Commissioner would, in the future, have the power to consider whether a service complaint has been handled properly, once it has completed its normal internal stages. This is in contrast to the current arrangements under which the SCC cannot become involved in the handling of an individual complaint, other than to monitor its progress through the system. In the new model, where the commissioner finds no evidence of maladministration, a complaint would remain closed. However, if the commissioner considers that there has been maladministration in the handling of a complaint, he or she would make recommendations, formally to the Defence Council, for the complaint to be reopened and reconsidered. The Defence Council would remain responsible for the decisions taken in response to the SCC’s recommendations, thus maintaining the authority of the chain of command, but the SCC would be informed of those decisions and the reasons for them.

This aspect of the new model should lead to a higher proportion of complaints being decided more quickly. Complainants will gain a new right to apply to the independent commissioner, if they believe that the handling of their complaint has been subject to maladministration, instead of having the right to pursue further appeals within the internal complaints process. The commissioner will, in turn, be able to concentrate his or her attention on the cases of potential maladministration, including those which may have systemic implications.

The commissioner would also have a new role at an earlier stage of the complaints procedure. Where a decision is made not to allow a complaint to be considered within the service complaints system, because is it out of time or excluded on other grounds, a service person could ask the SCC to determine whether that decision was correct. At the same time, the commissioner will maintain the vital role which Dr Atkins performs today, of offering an alternative route for a service man or women, who does not wish to approach the chain of command directly, to have their concerns fed into the system. This remains an important safeguard, especially where allegations of bullying or harassment are involved.

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Finally, the requirement for an annual report to be laid before Parliament would continue, taking account of the new functions of the SCC.

The proposals I have outlined above represent a significant change to the way that service complaints are handled, and in particular to the role of the commissioner. As a result, I have decided that this new role would be better reflected in a change in the title of the commissioner’s post to the “service complaints ombudsman”.

Changes of this nature will require amendment to the Armed Forces Act, and an early opportunity will be sought to introduce the necessary legislation once detailed work, in which the commissioner will again be engaged, is complete.

In today’s armed forces, there is a strong commitment to ensuring that complaints from service personnel are taken seriously and handled fairly. No service man or woman should lack confidence in seeking redress through the current system. However we can do better, and, in particular, I believe we can resolve complaints more quickly. I believe that the approach I have outlined will strengthen the chain of command, support the interests of complainants, and enhance the contribution of the future service complaints ombudsman.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

European Environment Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Owen Paterson): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and I represented the UK at the European Environment Council meeting in Brussels on 3 March. Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Environment and Climate Change in the Scottish Government, and Alun Davies, Minister for Natural Resources and Food in the Welsh Government, also attended.

After adopting the agenda for the meeting, Environment Ministers discussed the framework for climate and energy in the period 2020 to 2030. The UK was joined by numerous member states, including Germany and France, in supporting a call for an agreement at the European Council in March. The majority of member states endorsed a greenhouse gas target of at least 40% with the UK and Sweden calling for a prospective target of 50% in the context of an ambitious agreement. The Secretary of State clarified that the UK could support a binding EU renewables target of 27% providing it could never become binding on member states nor be translated into national targets via EU-level action. Several member states welcomed the Commission’s proposal for reform of the emissions trading system, with the UK and Denmark calling for reform to be preceded by cancellation of allowances. Some Ministers called for more information and discussion on burden sharing.

Outside of Council, the Secretary of State joined the green growth group in co-signing a letter along with 12 other Ministers from the group, including those from France, Germany, Italy and Spain. The statement called for the European Council in March: to agree on the core elements of a climate and energy framework for

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2030; to agree a domestic greenhouse gas target of at least 40%; an EU-level renewable energy target of at least 27% (which should not be translated into binding national targets); and asked the Council to consider the use of high-quality international carbon credits in the context of increasing climate ambition.

The Council considered a presidency compromise text on the proposal to allow member states to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs in all or part of their territory. Most member states, including the UK, supported reopening discussions on the basis of the presidency’s compromise although several noted they would like to see further technical revisions before possible agreement. I stressed that the EU was falling behind the rest of the world in terms of utilising GMOs. I recognised the difficulty for other member states and wanted to ensure there was legally-sound flexibility for countries or regions to opt-out of cultivating GM crops if they so wished. The presidency confirmed that a technical discussion of its compromise proposal would now be taken forward.

There was an exchange of views on greening the European semester. The UK, supported by Lithuania, favoured fostering greater green jobs and resource efficiency but underlined sensitivities around discussing taxation policy in Environment Council. The UK was clear that any decisions on tax should be taken by Finance Ministers in ECOFIN. Most member states supported greening the semester including a shift to “green taxation” and strengthening the role of Environment Ministers. Some advocated greater focus on resource efficiency and the need for indicators and targets. France underlined the costs of inaction while others pointed to the lack of access to finance as a barrier to the uptake of green technology which also had a disproportionate impact on innovative SMEs.

Under other business, the Commission emphasised the urgency of agreeing the ratification of the Kyoto protocol’s second commitment period before the 2015 conference of the parties. The Secretary of State highlighted that agreeing the amendment to the monitoring mechanism regulation under the European Parliament’s mandate risked making mistakes due to the lack of consideration.

The Commission presented its air quality package and noted that poor air quality was the main cause of early mortality in Europe’s urban areas and the economic damage caused through lost workdays and healthcare costs.

The Commission also introduced a communication on tackling illegal wildlife trafficking noting that the trade was a multi-billion euro business and the EU remained a transit point for wildlife products. The UK provided an update on the recent London conference including the launch of the elephant protection initiative. On shale gas, the Commission explained their aim to ensure extraction and exploitation would command support and confidence in all stakeholders. The UK, Poland and Romania stressed the current legislative framework was adequate and questioned the implication that the Commission would bring forward legislation in 18-months’ time. The Commission said the review clause allowed the Commission to take action if member states failed to fulfil their promises. A number of member states supported the establishment of a sub-group to

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deal with key problems in the review of the large combustion plant best available techniques reference document.

Over lunch, Ministers discussed the soil framework directive. The UK and a majority of member states supported the withdrawal of the current text preferring non-binding measures.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council/General Affairs Council

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on 17 March, and I will attend the General Affairs Council on 18 March. The Foreign Affairs Council will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, and the General Affairs Council will be chaired by the Greek presidency. The meetings will be held in Brussels.

Foreign Affairs Council (FAC)

Introduction—Iran

Baroness Ashton is expected to provide a short update in her introduction to the FAC on the Iran nuclear talks and on her visit to Tehran on 8-10 March. The first round of negotiations between the E3+3 and Iran on the comprehensive solution was on 18-20 February in Vienna, chaired by Baroness Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. The E3+3 and Iran will meet again on 18-20 March.

Ukraine

Ministers will discuss the latest developments in Ukraine. We expect the discussion to focus on the next steps to be taken following the Heads of State and Government meeting held on 6 March. The Prime Minister set out the UK’s position in his statement to the House of Commons on Monday 10 March 2014, Official Report, column 25.

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Ministers will discuss the latest developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), focusing on the EU’s response to the recent protests. Ministers will consider how the EU can encourage Bosnian leaders to address the socio-economic grievances of their population, and how best to offer support to BiH to implement the wide range of reforms needed to progress on its EU path. The UK will emphasise the right to peaceful protest, and the importance of BiH’s leadership responding rapidly and comprehensively to the population’s legitimate demands for change. The UK will underline that we remain committed to working in partnership with BiH’s leaders to deliver substantial reform.

Middle East Peace Process

Ministers will discuss the latest developments in the middle east peace process, and the prospects for the special privileged partnership as set out in the FAC conclusions in December 2013. The UK will encourage EU partners, in particular Baroness Ashton, to emphasise publicly the benefits that could be obtained from the

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special privileged partnership, supplying more detail on the proposed content of the package, and setting out a positive vision of a shared future with deep cultural, political and economic links.

Syria

The discussion at the Foreign Affairs Council will take place two days after the third anniversary of the uprising. The discussion will focus on the latest developments, including the agreement of the UN Security Council Resolution 2139 on humanitarian access. The UK will focus on the need to reinvigorate the political process, to implement the resolution, and to increase pressure on the Syrian regime, Russia and Iran to behave constructively.

EU-Africa Summit

Ministers will discuss preparations for the EU-Africa summit in Brussels on 2-3 April, in particular progress on proposed summit outcomes. The UK will reiterate our commitment to Africa, and underline the increasing importance of the EU-Africa relationship and welcome the opportunity that the summit presents to reinforce this.

Energy Diplomacy

Ministers are expected to discuss greater integration of energy security considerations in foreign policy objectives. The UK will note how events in Ukraine highlight the significance of energy issues and the need for an international approach to energy security. The discussion will explore areas in which the European External Action Service (EEAS) might support and complement action by member states and international energy organisations.

General Affairs Council (GAC)

The General Affairs Council on 18 March will focus on: the preparation of the 20 and 21 March European Council; and the European semester. A further possible agenda item is the presentation of a Commission communication on the rule of law mechanism.

The Preparation of the 20 and 21 March European Council

The GAC will prepare the 20 and 21 March European Council, which the Prime Minister will attend. The March European Council agenda is expected to include: the European semester; industrial policy; the energy and climate 2030 package; and EU-Africa relations including the preparations for the EU-Africa summit to be held on 2 and 3 April.

Following on from the 6 March Emergency European Council, there may also be further discussion of the EU’s response to events in Ukraine.

UK priorities for the European Council are likely to be: securing substantive conclusions on the climate and energy 2030 package; and agreeing firm actions to boost industrial growth, as highlighted in the Prime Minister’s speech in Davos.

The European Semester

The GAC will consider the synthesis report on the 2014 semester exercise. This is a policy discussion and there are no anticipated outputs at this stage. We welcome the focus of the annual growth survey on jobs and growth and emphasise that the semester should not be diluted by the inclusion of other agendas.

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Sri Lanka: UN Human Rights Council

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): During the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting held in Sri Lanka last year, the Prime Minister called on the Sri Lankan Government to launch a credible domestic process to ensure accountability for alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian and human rights law on both sides during the conflict. The Prime Minister said that if the Sri Lankan Government did not take this step, we would use our position on the UN Human Rights Council to seek an internal investigation.

In the intervening months, we have pressed the Sri Lankan Government to set up a domestic process to investigate these allegations and ensure accountability. However, no credible domestic accountability processes have been set up to date in Sri Lanka. As a result, the time has now come for international action on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.

The UK is therefore working in support of a strong resolution which calls for an international investigation, which will be voted on by the end of this month at the UN Human Rights Council.

A draft resolution was jointly tabled at the UN HRC by the UK, US, Mauritius, Macedonia and Montenegro, on Monday 3 March. The draft resolution calls for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to lead the international investigation, and to report back by March 2015. Further discussions on the text will take place this month.

The adoption of the resolution is not a foregone conclusion. Ahead of the vote, the Prime Minister and I, and other Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers, have been in contact with a wide range of UN HRC member states to encourage them to support a strong resolution that calls for an international investigation. In doing so, we have drawn attention to the assessment of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who points to the need for this investigation, as progress on accountability in Sri Lanka has been, in her words, “limited and piecemeal”. The Commissioner has also highlighted concerns on other human rights issues, including the undermining of independent institutions such as the judiciary in Sri Lanka, a “significant” surge in attacks on religious minorities and impunity for those committing serious human rights abuses. In the remaining days before the vote we will continue to urge UN HRC members to support this action, and maintain our close contact with NGOs and civil society.

We welcome the offer of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to assist in an international investigation, which would be a significant step forward in ensuring that the Sri Lankan people will know the truth behind events during the conflict. We are confident that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, together with special procedures, can provide a full and comprehensive investigation.

It is important to recognise that, as a country and a people, Sri Lanka has enormous potential, with the opportunity to become a strong and prosperous nation, if the Sri Lankan Government addresses these vital issues. The UK has previously welcomed progress in Sri Lanka in areas including demining (on which the

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Prime Minister last year announced a further £2.1 million of UK funding), reconstruction of former conflict affected areas and the reintegration of child soldiers. Such progress should not be overlooked.

But it is also important that this progress is matched by substantive progress on reconciliation, human rights and accountability. It is clear that Sri Lanka still has a long way to go in this respect, in order to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation. Accountability plays an important part in the reconciliation process, and must not be ignored. This is intended to be a resolution which will help to address the legitimate concerns of all communities.

Health

Pay Review Bodies

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Jeremy Hunt): I am responding on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the 28th report of the NHS Pay Review Body (NHSPRB) and to the 42nd report of the Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration (DDRB). The reports have been laid before Parliament today (Cm 8831 and Cm 8832). Copies of the reports are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.

NHS Pay Review Body

We thank the NHS Pay Review Body for its 28th report and note its recommendations and observations.

We are clear that in the wake of the public inquiry into Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, our first priority must be to ensure that the NHS can afford to employ the right number of frontline staff needed to ensure the safe, effective and compassionate care that patients have a right to expect.

The NHSPRB’s recommendations for a 1% consolidated rise for all staff, on top of automatic increments, are unaffordable and would risk the quality of patient care. Without a pay rise, incremental pay increases already commit nearly £1 billion every year for all NHS employees and add 2% each year to the NHS pay bill for Agenda for Change staff. The PRB proposals suggest a pay rise that would risk reductions in front-line staff that could lead to unsafe patient care. It is not possible to maintain appropriate numbers of front-line staff, give a general pay rise of 1 % and pay for incremental progression.

The Government are therefore adopting an approach by which all staff will receive at least an additional 1% of their basic pay next year. All staff who are not eligible to receive incremental pay will be given a 1% non-consolidated payment in 2014-15. Other staff will receive an increase of at least 1% through incremental progression.

It is our intention that in 2015-16 the same approach will apply and staff who are not eligible to receive incremental pay will receive a non-consolidated payment of 2% of pay, while other staff receive incremental progression. As this will be a two-year pay award, the NHSPRB will not be asked to make recommendations on a pay award for Agenda for Change staff in the 2015 pay round.

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NHS staff are dedicated and hard working and the Government would prefer all NHS staff to receive a consolidated 1% increase. This would be affordable if incremental progression was frozen for one year in 2015-16. If the NHS trade unions were prepared to agree to this then the Government would be prepared to reconsider the position and make a consolidated award as other public sector work forces are receiving.

The Government agree with NHSPRB’s observation that a thorough review is required of the Agenda for Change pay structure, including the operation of incremental scales, so that it might better support the challenges facing the NHS in terms of both patient care and affordability.

We note its offer to look into this, given an appropriate remit and evidence and we will consider whether to ask them to look at contract reform issues in next year’s report.

Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration

We thank the Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration for its 42nd report, note its recommendations and observations, and:

in respect of general medical practitioners (GMPs), we accept its recommendation for an increase of 1% to general medical practitioners’ income after allowing for movement in their expenses, equating to an uplift of 0.28% to the overall value of general medical services contract payments for 2014-15; and

in respect of general dental practitioners (GDPs), we accept its recommendation for an increase of 1% to general dental practitioners’ income after allowing for movement in their expenses, but abate the increase in the general dental service contract for GDP staff costs from the recommended 2.5% to 1%. This results in an overall uplift of 1.6% to be applied to gross earnings for independent dental contractors for 2014-15.

In respect of employed doctors and dentists, we are clear that in the wake of the public inquiry into Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, our first priority must be to ensure that the NHS can afford to employ the right number of front-line staff needed to ensure the safe, effective and compassionate care that patients have a right to expect.

The DDRB’s recommendations for a 1% consolidated rise for all staff, on top of automatic increments, are unaffordable and would risk the quality of patient care. Without a pay rise, incremental pay increases already commit nearly £1 billion every year for all NHS employees and add 2% each year to the NHS pay bill for employed doctors and dentists. The DDRB proposals suggest a pay rise that would risk reductions in front-line staff that could lead to unsafe patient care. It is not possible to maintain appropriate numbers of front-line staff, give a general pay rise of 1% and pay for incremental progression.

The Government are therefore adopting an approach by which all staff will receive at least an additional 1% of their basic pay next year. All staff who are not eligible to receive incremental pay will be given a 1% non-consolidated payment in 2014-15. Other staff will receive an increase of at least 1% through incremental progression.

It is our intention that in 2015-16 the same approach will apply and staff who are not eligible to receive incremental pay will receive a non-consolidated payment of 2% of pay, while other staff receive incremental progression. As this will be a two-year pay award, the

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DDRB will not be asked to make recommendations on a pay award for employed doctors and dentists in the 2015 pay round.

NHS staff are dedicated and hard working and the Government would prefer all NHS staff to receive a consolidated 1% increase. This would be affordable if incremental progression was frozen for one year in 2015-16. If the NHS trade unions were prepared to agree to this then the Government would be prepared to reconsider the position and make a consolidated award as other public sector work forces are receiving.

We note that the DDRB would welcome a proactive and systematic approach to considering contractual issues at an appropriate stage of the consultant and doctors in training negotiations and we will consider whether to make this part of their remit for the 2015 pay round.

Home Department

Passport Fees

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): Her Majesty’s Passport Office is committed to delivering better value for money for our customers.

In keeping with this commitment, I am pleased to announce that from 7 April the passport fee for customers applying for a UK passport overseas will be reduced by £45 for adults and £28.50 for children. The new fees are as follows:

Adult 32 page passport £83.00.

Child 32 page passport £53.00.

Jumbo 48 page passport £91.00 (child and adult).

This reduction comes as a result of efficiency savings made over the last three years by bringing back the processing and issuing of overseas passports to the UK, while maintaining the highest levels of security and customer service.

This reduction follows the 2012 decrease in fee by £5 for all UK citizens applying within the UK.

FIFA World Cup 2014 (Licensing Hours)

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): Today I am publishing a consultation on whether to make a national order to relax licensing hours during the FIFA World cup in June and July 2014 or whether to leave this as a local decision using the existing temporary event notice system. Any relaxation of licensing hours nationally during the FIFA World cup would relate to the sale of alcohol for consumption on the premises and the provision of late night refreshment in licensed premises at specified dates and times only.

Section 172 of the Licensing Act 2003 allows the Secretary of State to make an order relaxing opening hours for licensed premises to mark occasions of,

“exceptional international, national or local significance”.

A “licensing hours order” can be used to relax licensing hours in licensed premises—any premises authorised by a premises licence or club premises certificate to carry

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on licensable activities—during a period of up to four days. An order may apply to all licensed premises in England and Wales, or only to premises in one or more specified areas. It is also possible to set different licensing hours on different days during the relaxation period.

The Government are mindful of the need to strike a balance between the risks that late night drinking can lead to increased crime and disorder and public nuisance and reducing the burden on those wishing to celebrate the FIFA World cup. The consultation is therefore considering a number of issues, including the principle of relaxing licensing hours nationally during the World cup, the dates and geographical extent that any licensing hours order might cover.

A copy of the consultation document will be placed in the Library of the House.

Immigration Rules

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is today laying before the House a statement of changes in immigration rules as set out below.

The Government are making a package of changes to points-based system work routes to improve flexibility for applicants and help to boost economic growth.

This includes expanding the tier 1 (exceptional talent) category to include leading talent in the digital technology sector, who are endorsed by Tech City UK, as well as making it easier for applicants in this category to apply from overseas, and to count time spent in other immigration categories towards qualifying for settlement.

I am responding to feedback from higher education institutions (HEIs) participating in the tier 1 (graduate entrepreneur) scheme by removing the ring-fencing of places for MBA graduates and the current restrictions on participants’ graduation dates. This will make the scheme more flexible and simpler to operate.

In tier 2, the main work route for those with a skilled job offer, I am improving flexibility for employers and migrants by allowing applications to be granted for up to five years at a time, rather than a maximum of three years at a time as at present. I am also today laying amending regulations which will ensure that changes to tier 2 requirements are also applied to Croatian nationals.

I am adding Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates to the list of countries whose nationals benefit from different documentary requirements and ending the exemption from the genuineness test that applies to nationals on this list when applying for a tier 4 visa.

I am also making scheduled updates to salary and maintenance fund requirements, as well as a number of other minor changes to points-based system categories. The maintenance fund changes will take effect for applications made from 1 July.

I am creating a new category for overseas Government-sponsored language teachers under the tier 5 Government authorised exchange route. This will enable Government sponsored teachers to share knowledge and awareness of foreign languages and cultures in the UK. The first of these schemes will support a Mandarin teaching scheme designed to foster good cultural relations between the UK and China.

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I am making changes to the curtailment provisions in part 9 of the immigration rules (general grounds for refusal) to support the Home Office in its work to take robust action against those who attempt to abuse the immigration system and ensure that migrants do not retain leave to which they are no longer entitled. In particular, I will:

incorporate the grounds in section 10(l)(b) and (c) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 in preparation for the changes made by the Immigration Bill;

enable leave to be curtailed where a points-based system sponsor notifies the Home Office that a migrant’s period of study or work is due to end earlier than had been originally planned when leave to enter or remain was granted;

make further minor changes to ensure that the wording and the intentions of the rules are clear and consistent.

I am making changes to the visit visa requirement for Bahraini nationals. Bahraini nationals who hold diplomatic and special passports issued by Bahrain when travelling to the UK for the purpose of a general visit will no longer have to obtain a visit visa to travel to the UK.

The Government keep visa regimes under constant review to ensure that the UK has the right visa requirements set in the right places, aligned to risk. Today, I am laying changes to the immigration rules to require all Venezuelan nationals to obtain a visa before visiting the UK. UK visas and immigration continues to be focused on delivering an excellent customer service and ensuring that the UK maintains a competitive visa system that can innovate in order to ensure that Britain succeeds in the global race.

In order to comply with the Supreme Court’s judgment in Munir, we are incorporating into the immigration rules discretionary policies for civilian employees of NATO and the Australian Department of Defence, and employees of firms under contract to NATO.

I am making minor changes and clarifications to the immigration rules relating to family life. These mainly reflect feedback from caseworkers and legal practitioners on the operation of the rules.

I am also clarifying the knowledge of language and life provisions which apply for settlement applications by partners and children of members of HM Forces.

Justice

Prison Service Pay Review Body

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Jeremy Wright): The 13th report of the Prison Service Pay Review Body (PSPRB) (Cm 8825) has been laid before Parliament today. The report makes recommendations on the pay for governing governors and other operational managers, prison officers and related support grades in England and Wales in 2014-5. Copies are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

I am grateful to the chair and members of the PSPRB for their hard work in producing these recommendations.

The recommendations for 2014-15 will be implemented in full. The cost of the award will be met from within the delegated budget allocation for the National Offender Management Service and will progress important pay reforms previously endorsed by HM Treasury and the PSPRB.

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Prime Minister

Senior Salaries Review Body

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): The 36th report of the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) is being published today. This makes recommendations about the pay of the senior civil service (SCS), senior military officers, the judiciary, very senior NHS managers and police and crime commissioners. Copies have been laid in the Vote Office, the Printed Paper Office and the Libraries of both Houses. I am grateful to the chairman and members of the review body for their work on this year’s report.

While we are mindful of the need to ensure that we are able to recruit, retain and motivate staff with the right skills and experience, it is important that senior public servants continue to show leadership in the exercise of pay restraint.

Senior Civil Service

The Government have accepted the PRB’s recommendations to introduce a new reward principle and to take a more mandatory approach towards exit interviews which will provide valuable information to inform reward and wider work force strategy. The Government have also accepted the recommendations on raising minimum salaries for SCS pay bands 1, 2 and 3 which will reduce overlaps between delegated grades and SCSI and across SCS pay bands.

The Government have not accepted the recommendation to give SCS a uniform pay increase to all staff (except the bottom 10% of performers) and the recommendation to restore the previous caps on the size of individual non-consolidated performance awards. These recommendations do not give Departments the flexibility they require to tailor reward arrangements that meet their own business needs.

This package of proposals for 2014-15 strikes the right balance between necessary pay restraint and the need to recruit and retain people of the right calibre. It gives Departments flexibility to target pay increases within the 1% average award, enable them to reward outstanding performance and help them to recruit and retain people in business critical roles.

Ministers will consider the PRB’s recommendations for raising the minima of the permanent secretary pay tiers taking account of the views of the Permanent Secretary Remuneration Committee as part of its consideration of the 2014-15 pay award for permanent secretaries.

Senior Military Officers

The Government have accepted the recommendation of a 1% increase to base military salaries for all 2, 3 and 4 star officers with effect from 1 April 2014.

The Government have accepted the recommendation that there is no change to current pay arrangements for medical and dental officers.

The Government have accepted the recommendation that for future pay rounds the MOD further develops its database on Army officers with the potential to serve in the senior ranks and expands it to cover each of the services.

Judiciary

The Government have accepted the review body’s recommendation that the salaries of the judiciary should be increased by 1%.

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Due to the continuing fiscal challenge and broader public sector pay policy it has not been appropriate to respond to the SSRB’s latest recommendations about the major review. The Government note the proposals and while they will not be able to respond at this time, the proposals will be considered in partnership with the judiciary as we develop a broader judicial strategy.

Very Senior NHS Managers

The SSRB has recommended that the pay of very senior managers be increased by 1%. The Government are not able to accept this recommendation. We believe that as system leaders, very senior managers must set an example of pay restraint and also that their pay should be subject to greater restraint than that of staff delivering front-line NHS services. In the view of the Government, this can be achieved only by a zero pay award in 2014-15.

I am also grateful to the SSRB for their other observations on the pay system for very senior managers and in particular welcome their support for the review of the VSM pay framework the Department of Health will undertake in 2014 in partnership with its arm’s-length bodies.

Police and Crime Commissioners

The Government have accepted the recommendation that the rates of pay for police and crime commissioners (PCCs) should remain unchanged for 2014-15.

The Government have not accepted the recommendation that the Home Office should review the rules and guidance relating to PCC expenses. However, we will continue to work with the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners to ensure PCC expense arrangements are clear.

Other Review Body Reports for 2013-14

Separate statements from the Secretaries of State for Justice, Health and Defence will also be laid today on the reports of the Prison Service Pay Review Body, the Doctors’ and Dentists’ Review Body, the NHS Pay Review Body and the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body in respect of pay for the relevant work forces for 2014-15. The Government’s response to those reports are consistent with the need for senior public servants to show leadership in the exercise of pay restraint.

Transport

EU Transport Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I will attend the first Transport Council under the Greek presidency (the presidency) taking place in Brussels on Friday 14 March.

The presidency is aiming for a general approach on a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Union Agency for Railways and repealing regulation (EC) No. 881/2004—part of the fourth railway package. This is an important piece of legislation that will serve to further enhance the operation of the single European rail area. The UK’s position on the recast regulation is to ensure that it reflects the agreements reached in the general approach texts on the recast railway interoperability and railway

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safety directives. The European Railway Agency must have the necessary powers to ensure that the framework created by these proposals can operate effectively. All UK interests and objectives are maintained by the presidency’s text. I therefore fully support this proposal and the adoption of a general approach by the Council.

I anticipate that the Council will adopt its position on a proposal for a Council regulation establishing the Shift2Rail joint undertaking. The UK welcomes the Shift2Rail proposal as we share the vision of reducing costs and increasing capacity and reliability through research and innovation. We fully support the close involvement of the rail industry in this new joint undertaking and the increased emphasis on the needs of passengers and freight customers.

There will be a policy debate on the Commission communication entitled “Together towards a competitive and resource-efficient urban mobility”. This communication provides a helpful framework to support and promote competitive and resource-efficient urban mobility at a national and regional level. The key issue is to retain flexibility in this matter, not prescription. Most of the aims and measures are already being delivered in the UK through devolved local measures and national initiatives. It is important, therefore, that this communication is limited to a non-regulatory framework.

Under any other business, the presidency will provide information on several legislative proposals. Firstly, a proposal for a regulation on the establishment of rules and procedures with regard to the introduction of noise-related operating restrictions at Union airports. Secondly, a proposal for a regulation on community fleet capacity policy to promote inland waterway transport. Finally, a proposal for a directive on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure—clean power. The French delegation will provide information on the modernised aviation navigation system based on a combined use of GPS and Galileo. The Commission will provide information on the outcome of the EU-ASEAN aviation summit held in Singapore on 11-12 February and the Estonian delegation will provide information on state aid provisions for air carriers.

Vehicle Registration and Licensing (Northern Ireland)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): Motorists in Northern Ireland have not had access to the same range and level of vehicle registration and licensing services as their counterparts in the rest of the UK. In previous statements we have announced the Department’s intention to address this issue. This led to a consultation on the future of vehicle registration and licensing services in Northern Ireland being carried out between July and September 2013.

I am today announcing that following a review of the responses to the consultation, I have decided in consultation with my ministerial colleagues that the full range of vehicle registration and licensing services will be available to motorists in Northern Ireland from July 2014. This will entail the centralisation of transactions at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in Swansea. The changes will for the first time allow motorists in Northern Ireland to take advantage of automated vehicle licensing,

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either online or by telephone. Northern Ireland motorists will also have access to additional face-to-face services at around 175 Post Office branches. The changes will also ensure that Northern Ireland motorists can immediately access new services, including direct debits for vehicle excise duty and enhanced online services, which will be introduced later this year. As well as improving services to Northern Ireland motorists, the changes will save £12 million every year.

These changes mean that the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) will no longer deliver vehicle registration and licensing services to Northern Ireland motorists. We recognise the potential impact of this change. We have considered carefully the responses we received as a result of consultation and this proposal includes additional support both for customers and for staff. The DVA’s local offices will now remain open to support vehicle registration and licensing services until the end of 2014 while the new services bed in. The DVA’s office in Coleraine will provide a similar service. While I recognise that the Department of the Environment in Northern

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Ireland has said that it will try to avoid redundancies and where these are unavoidable, to aim to minimise the amount of compulsory redundancies as a result of this decision, my Department will work with officials there to support any staff who need to learn new skills to secure alternative employment.

I am publishing a package of documents to accompany this statement which assess the impacts of the changes being made and summarise the responses to the consultation. These documents provide more detail of the future services that will be available to Northern Ireland motorists and will be published on gov.uk and in the Libraries of both Houses.

I am committed to improving the services motorists in Northern Ireland receive, and supporting customers and staff through these changes. The DVLA will work with customers, stakeholders and staff to support the transition to the new service channels. Finally, I would like to place on record my thanks to DVA staff for their hard work in delivering vehicle registration and licensing services to Northern Ireland motorists over the years.