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Written Statements

Tuesday 3 November 2015

Treasury

Equitable Life Payment Scheme

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Harriett Baldwin): As at 30 September 2015, the Equitable Life Payment Scheme has now issued payments of nearly £1.08 billion to 915,453 policyholders. This means the scheme has now paid 88% of eligible policyholders, and 92.9% of the money due. The scheme will today be publishing a further progress report, which can be found at: www.gov.uk/equitable-life-payment-scheme.

The scheme has made major efforts to trace policyholders, including extensive electronic tracing methods, writing to policyholders’ last known addresses, a national advertising campaign, working with other Government Departments and liaising with group scheme trustees. As announced at the summer Budget, a final attempt to trace policyholders has been made through the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by the DWP sending letters to all untraced policyholders due £50 or more for whom the scheme holds a national insurance number and other data such as their name. These letters have now been sent. Despite this there remain approximately 125,000 policyholders whom the scheme has been unable to pay.

As the Chancellor announced in the summer Budget on 8 July, the scheme will be closing to new claims on 31 December 2015. Any policyholders who still believe themselves to be eligible are encouraged to call the scheme on 0300 0200 150 before 31 December 2015. The scheme can verify the identity of most policyholders on the telephone, which means any payment due can usually be received within two weeks. This will not affect the yearly payments made by the scheme to with-profits annuitants, which will continue for the duration of those annuities. The scheme has written to all with-profits annuitants to make them aware of this.

In the summer Budget, the Chancellor also announced that payments to non-with profit annuitant policyholders who receive pension credit will be doubled. Any policyholders who have made a claim from the scheme by the time it closes on 31 December and are receiving pension credit on that date will receive this second payment without having to take any action.

Policyholders can check their eligibility for pension credit using the Government’s pension credit calculator at: www.gov.uk/pension-credit-calculator.

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Education

GCSE and A-Level Content Consultation

The Minister for Schools (Mr Nick Gibb): Today, 3 November 2015, I am launching a public consultation on revised subject content for AS and A-Levels in geology and politics, and GCSE short course in physical education. The new content will be taught from 2017.

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We are reforming GCSEs and A-Levels to be rigorous and more knowledge-based and to match the qualifications used in the best education systems in the world. This consultation is a continuation of our drive to raise standards and ensure all young people reach their potential.

The reforms aim to ensure that GCSEs are more academically demanding and will be qualifications that command the confidence of students, employers, and further and higher education institutions. At A-Level, our reforms aim to ensure that they prepare students for undergraduate study and the world of work.

A priority in the development process has therefore been to secure the views of subject experts, particularly university academics in the relevant subjects, so young people gain high quality qualifications that are respected and valued.

The new subject content documents being published today set high expectations which all awarding organisations’ specifications must meet. Awarding organisations have drafted content, working with the Department for Education and Ofqual.

This consultation is an opportunity for teachers, parents, students, further and higher education, employers and all those with an interest in these subjects to provide their views, which will be taken into account when redrafting the content for final publication.

Summary of changes to subjects

The reformed geology AS and A-Level content ensures a greater level of detail and provides parity with other natural science subjects. It requires students to take a more quantitative and mathematical approach to the study of geology, and new content includes geochemistry and engineering geology. The content also ensures that students develop a range of practical skills and techniques relevant to higher education, and requires students to undertake four days of fieldwork at A-Level and two at AS.

The revised subject content for politics AS and A-Level contains significantly greater detail, and aims to enable students to develop an understanding of the structures of British politics and its underpinning ideas and institutions. There are options to study US and global politics. For the first time, at A-Level, all students will study the core political theories of conservatism, liberalism and socialism and the ideas of their key thinkers. Students will also study key historic political events and movements.

The new physical education (PE) GCSE short course content represents half the content of the revised PE GCSE that was consulted on and published by the Department in January 2015. Like the full course GCSE, demand has been increased. Students will be assessed in one team and one individual sport/activity.

The consultation is available at: www.gov.uk/ government/publications?departments%5B%5D= department-for-education&publication_filter_ option=consultations

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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Elizabeth Truss): My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Farming, Food and Marine

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Environment (George Eustice), represented the UK at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 22 October in Luxembourg.

Two fisheries items were discussed. On Baltic sea fishing opportunities in 2016, unanimous political agreement was reached after a long discussion. The other item involved an exchange of views between member states and the Commission on the annual fisheries consultations with Norway, where Commissioner Vella noted the points made by member states and agreed to take them into account.

As part of the fisheries items, the Commission also agreed to increase quota banking rates including for the UK priority stocks—mainly mackerel—in the light of the ongoing Russian import restrictions.

The main agenda item for agriculture was on climate-smart agriculture. A presentation was given by academics from Belgium and Luxembourg on how to mitigate the climate change impacts of agriculture. The Commission highlighted the role that greening in the CAP has in reducing agricultural emissions. All member states intervened to highlight the importance of mitigating climate change through agriculture. The UK set out its ongoing support for this initiative through significant investments in agri-tech, precision farming and gathering and using data on farm.

The following were AOB items on the agenda:

The Netherlands proposed establishing a temporary working group on sustainable plant protection products. This would be to develop an action plan for the delivery of integrated pest management and to improve regulations for low-risk products. It was supported by 13 member states including the UK. Additionally, the UK argued that the group should focus on better procedures and incentives, and pushed the need for a review of pesticide legislation.

France, supported by Ireland, urged the Commission to publish the reports on milk products for infants and sports people, which are late coming from the Commission. The Commission promised to publish these in the near future.

Germany highlighted the discussion on anti-microbial resistance at the G7, as well as its national law on reducing the use of antibiotics. Commissioner Andriukaitis acknowledged this is a priority and agreed the EU needed to share its best practice globally.

The Slovenians presented a paper which focused on how to maintain a GMO-free Europe, which led to a number of interventions. The UK, which was supported by Spain, argued for a rigorous science-based approach. Commissioner Andriukaitis intervened, highlighting the policy incoherence of 19 member states with a GM cultivation ban but opposing the legal basis in the GM food and feed proposal. He argued that a switch to non-GMO feed was unrealistic and would lead to a 10% increase in costs. Following this, Germany asked the Commission whether new breeding techniques fell within the GMO definition. The UK agreed that there was a lack of legal clarity which was having a negative impact on industry, but also cautioned the Commission not to rush to regulate.

The Czech Republic reported on a recent Visegrad 4—Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia—meeting which also included Austria, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Romania on land and soil management, dairy prices and food chain fraud.

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Environment Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart): I attended the EU Environment Council in Luxembourg on 26 October.

After adopting the agenda, Ministers set out preliminary positions on the reform of the EU emissions trading system for the period 2021-30 signalling the range of issues to be resolved. The UK set out its preference for a “tiered” approach to using free allocation of allowances to mitigate the risk of carbon leakage in energy intensive industries. This was supported by France, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Ministers debated the phasing out of environmentally harmful subsidies and the implementation of environmental policies and legislation. Most member states recognised the importance of addressing environmentally harmful subsidies. The UK highlighted the importance of tackling fossil fuel subsidies and pointed to the recent reforms of the common agricultural policy and common fisheries policy as important steps. All member states recognised that better implementation of existing legislation was vital to reducing costs and improving environmental outcomes. The UK stressed that the European semester needs to remain focused on jobs and growth. The presidency will summarise the discussion into a report for the next General Affairs Council with a view to preparing the European Council in March 2016.

The Council exchanged views on putting into practice the recently adopted United Nations 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Member states generally agreed that implementation would require existing EU policies to be harnessed and adapted to align with the 2030 goals, rather than new policies or structures. The UK called for the EU to focus on those areas where it can add the most value.

Under the AOB items, the presidency and commission summarised progress made at recent key climate change meetings. The Netherlands presented the Make it Work initiative for better regulation, led jointly with the UK and Germany. This initiative aims to improve the quality of legislation across the environmental acquis.

Under a final AOB item, member states discussed developments concerning the car sector and real driving emissions. Ministers emphasised the need to act quickly and effectively to resolve the issue of manipulation of emission testing, because of the effect on air pollution and the need to restore public confidence. The Commission stated its determination to play an active part in resolving the problem.

Over lunch, Ministers for both environment and development exchanged views on common challenges and integrated approaches towards the implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

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Prime Minister

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): This written ministerial statement confirms that the United Kingdom delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is as follows:

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Sir Roger Gale MP (Leader)

Full MembersSubstitute Members

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh MP

Lord Balfe

Lord Anderson

Lord Blencathra

Guto Bebb MP

Liam Byrne MP

David Crausby MP

David T C Davies MP

Geraint Davies MP

Baroness Eaton

Jeffrey Donaldson MP

Suella Fernandes MP

Earl of Dundee

Lord Foulkes

Baroness Eccles of Moulton

Khalid Mahmood MP

Nigel Evans MP

Baroness Massey of Darwen

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John Howell MP

Huw Merriman MP

Ian Liddell-Grainger MP

Baroness O’Loan

Sir Alan Meale MP

Mary Robinson MP

Kate Osamor MP

Paul Scully MP

Lord Prescott

Virendra Sharma MP

Mark Pritchard MP

Paula Sheriff MP

Christina Rees MP

Kelly Tolhurst MP

Alex Salmond MP

Phil Wilson MP

 

Mike Wood MP

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