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Written Statements

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Business, Innovation and Skills

Disabled Students' Allowances

The Minister for Universities and Science (Joseph Johnson): Today I am announcing the Government response to a consultation on better targeting of disabled students allowances (DSAs), which are available to higher education students from England.

Disabled students allowances are non-repayable grants that assist with the additional costs that a disabled student incurs in relation to their study in higher education. DSAs currently provide a range of support. This includes the purchase of specialist equipment, provision of support workers and assistance with additional travel costs. The support is not means-tested and is available for eligible full-time and part-time students studying at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

I am determined to ensure that disabled students should be able to make use of and develop their talents through higher education and that there should be no cap on their aspirations. Ensuring that disabled people can access higher education is an important part of cutting the disability employment gap. I am extremely pleased that we have seen a rise in disabled students accessing higher education.

In 2012-13 DSAs provided £145.8 million of additional support for 64,500 disabled higher education students, compared with £101.3 million awarded to 47,400 students in 2009-10, a rise of around 44%.

A review of the DSAs scheme has been long overdue, and the rationale for reform has been the subject of two previous statements. The DSAs system has been in its current form for nearly 25 years. The current arrangements do not recognise technological advances, increases in use of technology, or the introduction of the Equality Act 2010, which placed specific legal duties on higher education providers. The rise in the number of disabled students in higher education highlights the need for better provision of inclusive practices. My predecessors therefore announced a programme of reform of DSAs in April 2014 and September 2014.

There is widespread agreement that higher education providers should discharge their duties under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled students, as other organisations and businesses do. I believe HE providers share my ambition for the development of more inclusive learning environments. The increasing numbers of disabled students entering HE is to be celebrated, as is the increasing numbers of those declaring their disability. However, it is possible that the continued provision of DSAs may have removed the urgency of some HE providers to expand provision for all disabled students. Higher education providers should increasingly expect disabled students to study with them and strive to ensure that those students have equal access to their learning. In recognition of this and

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the great work that some HEPs have already done to meet this end, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People and I can announce that BIS is looking into how it can encourage a sector-led approach to the sharing of good practices in the lead up to the changes and as they bed in.

The Government’s intention is that DSAs will remain available to support those disabled students who require additional help, but should complement the support put in place by HE providers to help all disabled students. Some reforms have already been implemented, with changes made to the funding of computer equipment from the academic year 2015-16.

My predecessor Greg Clark heard views from across the higher education sector and received representations from hon. Members, and he and the previous Minister of State for Disabled People heard views and concerns from representatives of disabled students. Concern was expressed that some institutions were not able to meet their obligations in full by the beginning of the 2015-16 academic year, given their need to invest in additional support for their students. Accordingly changes to non-medical help and accommodation costs were deferred to the start of the 2016-17 academic year, to enable further consultation and additional time for institutions to prepare themselves.

I have undertaken a full public consultation which sought further information on the proposed reforms for 2016-17, and which set out the Government’s preferred options. I have considered the responses to the consultation, and have properly considered the equality analysis. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People and I can now announce that the original Government proposal will now be implemented from 2016-17, but further engagement with stakeholders will be undertaken to identify whether exceptions to the general rules for non-medical help (NMH) should be considered.

These changes will ensure that the limited public funding available for DSAs is targeted in the best way and to achieve value for money, while ensuring those disabled students most in need continue to get the help they require. They also aim to ensure that higher education providers all properly adhere to their Equalities Act 2010 duties, which is to the benefit of all disabled students.

The changes set out below seek to rebalance responsibilities between government funding and institutional support. We expect HE providers to play an increasing role in supporting all disabled students and are asking them to take primary responsibility in a number of areas. Disabled students will continue to be supported, but we believe that HE providers are better placed to consider how to respond in many cases, including giving greater consideration to the delivery of their courses and how to provide support. The need for some individual support may be removed through different ways of delivering courses and information. It is for HE providers to consider how they make both anticipatory reasonable adjustments and also reasonable adjustments at an individual level.

DSAs will continue to retain primary responsibility for certain types of support, and will continue to be available across the range of support, where an adjustment by the HE provider may not be considered a reasonable adjustment.

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The key changes, which will take effect from academic year 2016-17, are set out below:

DSAs will retain primary responsibility for funding sighted guides, for those students that need such support to enable them to get around campus effectively. HE providers will be expected to take primary responsibility for the remainder of the non-medical support roles that are classified as bands 1 or 2 in the Student Loans Company non-medical help (NMH) manual. We will seek further information from stakeholders, including from disabled students and their representatives, on whether specific exceptions to this general rule should apply. In addition, HE providers are expected to consider how they deliver information to students and whether strategies can be put in place to reduce the need for support workers and encourage greater independence and autonomy for their disabled students.

DSAs will retain primary responsibility for funding the most specialist non-medical help support, that are set out in the SLC NMH manual under bands 3 and 4, with the exception of specialist transcription services. HE providers will be expected to take primary responsibility for the provision of specialist transcription services, other than by exception.

DSAs will meet the additional costs of accommodation where that accommodation is not provided by the HE provider or its agent. DSAs funding will not be available where specialist accommodation is provided by the HE provider or their agent, other than by exception. HE providers should no longer pass any additional costs for accommodation onto the student.

Devices for printing and scanning will continue to be funded through DSAs. However, HE providers are expected to strive to meet the needs of their disabled students to reduce the need for the purchase of individual devices for printing and scanning. The assessment process will be more robust and individual devices will only be funded if the need cannot be met through other measures.

Standard computer peripherals and other accessories will now be funded by exception only. Laptop carry cases will continue to be provided as standard to help students protect their equipment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People and I are passionate about the importance of ensuring that disabled students can fully participate in higher education. Recognising that there is an implementation journey to undertake, an exceptional case process will be put in place to respond to cases where the individual circumstances mean that an institution does not provide the support that is expected, or the needs of the student are such that it may not be reasonable to expect the institution to provide the support in the individual case. The exceptional case process will be monitored to ensure that it remains timely, robust and fit for purpose.

In parallel a new quality assurance framework will be put in place to ensure financial and quality assurance of the provision of non-medical help. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People and I expect all disabled students to have access to good quality support and that public funding is managed effectively in the delivery of that support. Changes to the way equipment will be purchased in the future are also being explored, to ensure value for money is achieved in this area.

The changes in this statement will apply to all full-time, full-time distance learning, part-time and postgraduate students applying for DSAs for the first time in respect of an academic year beginning on or after 1 September 2016.

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Existing DSAs students and DSAs students for 2015-16 will remain on their existing system of support for 2016-17.

We are grateful to all those who have engaged for their assistance in informing these changes.


UK Justice Home Affairs: Least Developed Countries Services Waiver

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry): My noble Friend the Minister of State for Trade and Investment (Lord Maude of Horsham) has today made the following statement.

I wish to inform the House that on 16 November 2015 the Government opted in to the Council decision relating to the “LDC Services Waiver” at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The LDC Services Waiver is part of the Bali package of measures agreed at the 9th WTO ministerial conference in Bali in December 2013. The waiver allows WTO members to grant preferential treatment to the least developed countries (LDCs) for trade in services; it waives the usual non-discrimination rules of the WTO in order to benefit the poorest members. These preferences are unilateral, non-negotiable and not legally binding.

The Council decision has the effect of establishing the position to be taken on behalf of the European Union within the WTO to notify the preferential treatment that the EU will grant to services suppliers of LDCs. The content of the EU’s notification has been agreed with member states.

These preferences include the provision of services supplied by natural persons from third countries who are present temporarily in order to provide the service in the country where it is supplied, otherwise known as “Mode 4” trade in services. It is the presence of these Mode 4 commitments in the relevant instruments which triggers the UK justice and home affairs opt-in.


Energy and Climate Change

Energy Council

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Andrea Leadsom): I am writing to report discussions at the Energy Council held under the Luxembourg presidency which I attended in Brussels on 26 November 2015.

Speaking for the Commission Vice-President Sefcovic outlined the first annual report on the state of the energy union, arguing that 2016 would be the “year of delivery”, with legislation on gas security of supply, renewables, governance, energy efficiency and market design. On governance in particular the Commission urged member states to make early progress on their integrated climate and energy plans (National Plan), so that final plans could be agreed in 2018. I and a number of other member states highlighted the need for a flexible governance framework while another member state called on the Commission to introduce an EU-level instrument to address any anticipated shortfall against the 2030 renewable energy target. Another group of member states used the opportunity to call for further discussions on the proposed extension of the Nordstream gas pipeline (Nordstream II) and urged the Commission to conduct a rigorous cost benefit analysis of the project against the objectives of the energy union.

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The Council then agreed a general approach on the proposed energy labelling regulation which would establish a revised and improved legal framework for the energy efficiency labelling of energy-related products. The Commission thanked the Council for its efforts but retained its position that existing labels must be removed from the market sooner than the Council provided for; defeat devices must be dealt with by the regulation; and durability should be included in the definitions. Several member states voiced strong support for the approach agreed while others objected, arguing in particular that the proposed “product database” was too burdensome on economic operators.

The Council later discussed electricity market design focusing on the future role of distribution system operators (DSOs) and consumer empowerment. There was widespread agreement on the growing importance of the role of DSOs, the need for better co-ordination with transmission system operators and how they should act as neutral market players. However, there were differing views on whether a new EU regulatory framework setting out clear roles and responsibilities was required. Along with a number of other Ministers, the UK emphasised the need to avoid a “one size fits all” approach while others called for greater harmonisation.

There was a broad consensus on the need for consumers to play a more active role in the market. Some member states highlighted the important role of smart meters in facilitating this while others stressed the need for more affordable retail prices, calling for a rigorous cost benefit analysis to drive the introduction of smart meters. A small number of member states argued for the abolition of price regulation and greater scarcity pricing to incentivise investment while others, including the UK, argued that the EU should take a framework approach to market design, establishing the broad principles but allowing for different models of national implementation (e.g. on capacity mechanisms).

In the afternoon the Commission provided an update on external energy relations, noting the Russia/Ukraine gas agreement as the key achievement over the past six months, while acknowledging that further gas reforms were still needed in Ukraine. Finally, the Dutch delegation presented their work programme ahead of their forthcoming EU presidency, announcing that they would prioritise the internal energy market and regional co-operation. They set out the legislative agenda which will include the start of negotiations with the European Parliament on energy labelling and in the Council on the gas security of supply regulation and revised inter-Government agreements decision.


Home Department

Justice and Home Affairs: Pre-Council Statement

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): A meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council will be held on 3 and 4 December: 3 December will be justice day, and the Minister for Immigration, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) and my noble

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Friend Lord Faulks QC, Minister for Civil Justice, will attend; 4 December will be interior day, and I will attend on behalf of the UK.

The justice day will begin with the Luxembourg presidency seeking political agreement to the proposed regulation on promoting the free movement of citizens and businesses by simplifying the acceptance of certain public documents in the EU. This proposal covers the abolition of apostilles for eligible documents, production of multilingual translation aids for certain categories, rationalisation of certified copies and translations and administrative co-operation between member states through an online system. The proposal is generally supported by the UK as a means of reducing bureaucracy for citizens.

This will be followed by a state of play update by the presidency on the directive for the protection of the Union’s financial interests, reporting back to Ministers following October Council and subsequent working party meetings. The presidency proposes that the VAT issue needs to be explored further in order to take the file forward. An agreement in principle has been reached at official level to discuss VAT fraud at a joint justice/finance meeting.

There will then be a discussion on the proposed European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) where the presidency will likely seek to agree a partial general approach to the EPPO’s competence. The UK will not participate in any EPPO.

The presidency will also be seeking conclusion to the negotiation of the proposals on matrimonial property regimes and the property consequences of registered partnerships. The UK has not opted in to either proposal. Negotiations recently resumed following a period of reflection initiated by the Italian presidency at the end of last year. It is as yet unclear whether the differences between some member states, in particular regarding the status of same-sex relationships, will be capable of resolution. Given that these proposals must be agreed by unanimity it is possible that one or more member states might veto one or both of them.

There will then be a short update on the role of judicial co-operation, and particularly Eurojust, in addressing the current migration crisis. This issue was discussed at the October Council, and we do not expect a significant debate at this meeting.

There will then be a general discussion on the fight against online hate speech, which has been the focus of attention in the wake of recent terrorist attacks and the current refugee movements. We expect the discussion to focus on the value of EU-wide, cross-border collaboration; this includes the need for effective counter-narratives and for internet industry partners to take more responsibility for content hosted on their platforms.

This will be followed by a discussion on the challenges encountered by member states in obtaining and sharing electronic evidence in criminal investigations and proceedings. We will stress the importance of member states using the full range of investigative tools to investigate and use of this type of evidence.

Finally, there will be a discussion on data retention. The presidency wishes to have a detailed discussion following the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the case of Digital Rights Ireland (C-293/12) which invalidated the data retention directive.

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We will continue to argue that, given the importance of this issue, the consequences of any new legislation in this area must be thought through very carefully before any new proposal is considered.

The interior day will begin with a discussion on the passenger name records (PNR) directive. The Government support the call made by the 20 November extraordinary JHA Council for the directive to be agreed by the end of the year, and for it to include intra-European economic area flights within its scope. The presidency is likely to give a progress report and, if necessary, we will call for a greater focus on meeting the Council’s target.

The Council is then expected to confirm political agreement on the new draft regulation governing Europol, proposed by the Commission in 2013. The UK has not opted in to this proposal, so does not have a vote. The Government will consider whether to apply to opt in post-adoption.

The Council is also expected to confirm political agreement on the draft directive on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purpose of research, studies, pupil exchange, remunerated and unremunerated training, voluntary service and au pairing—the “Students and Researchers Directive”. The UK has not opted in to this directive so again does not have a vote.

The Council will discuss the proposal for a regulation establishing a crisis relocation mechanism and the accompanying amendment to the Dublin regulation. The Government’s position on relocation measures is clear: we think they are the wrong response and we will not opt in. The Government are also of the view that amending the Dublin regulation is unnecessary and risks undermining a vital tool in managing asylum claims within the EU. The fundamental principles underpinning the Dublin regulation remain sound and the upcoming review should be used as an opportunity to improve the operation of the regulation.

The presidency will look to progress negotiations on the draft directive establishing an EU list of safe third countries. Discussions will focus on which countries should be included in the list and next steps. The Government acknowledge the value of such lists and the UK has successfully operated its own national list for many years. We see no added value to the UK in being part of an EU-wide list.

The CT agenda item will commence with a presentation, based on a paper, by the counter-terrorism co-ordinator. The presentation reviews progress made against a European Council statement of 12 February 2015, on ensuring the security of citizens, preventing radicalisation and safeguarding values, and co-operating with our international partners. The presentation will be followed by a discussion. The UK will welcome agreement of the implementing regulation on firearms deactivation and push for a robust revised firearms directive including a prohibition on high-powered semi-automatic weapons. We will also

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seek to agree in principle burden-sharing commitments to improve aviation security standards in priority third countries and assert that a common approach for the second generation Schengen information system (SISII) should be prioritised in order to strengthen the external border of the EU. The UK will welcome support for Europol through the Europol regulation while reiterating that information-sharing should not encroach on member state competence in matters of national security. Post Paris there has been increased appetite for meaningful change to the security framework in Europe, as evidenced by ambitious Council conclusions agreed on 20 November. Against this backdrop we believe our asks will be well received.

The presidency will present their report on the implementation of the renewed internal security strategy (2015-19). The report sets out the progress made on the strategy under their presidency, which is being led and monitored by the Committee on Internal Security (COSI). This work will continue under the forthcoming Dutch presidency.

We then expect the discussion to move to the migration situation, where the presidency wishes to monitor the implementation of existing measures and discuss future action.

We expect this discussion to include an update on the development of hotspots and on the assistance that member states are providing to Frontex and European Asylum Support Office. It is also likely to build on the conclusions of the 20 November Council that there should be systematic checks at external Schengen borders on all persons including EU citizens. I will reiterate a key message from my interventions at the JHA Councils on 9 November and 20 November in relation to the strengthening of the EU external border, where I noted that the EU is seeing an unprecedented interaction between organised crime and migration. I also intend to call again for reciprocal access to key data between Schengen and non-Schengen countries, join others in pressing for the immediate implementation of effective hotspots, and reiterate my support for the long-established principle that asylum seekers should seek protection in the first safe country they reach—the keystone of the Dublin system.

Finally, there will be a discussion on the situation in the Schengen area, based on the latest information from the presidency. The UK does not participate in the border controls elements of Schengen. However, we will follow these discussions closely as there is, in our view, an intrinsic connection between the strength of the external border of the EU and security within the EU, as well as the need to improve the management of the external border given continuing migratory pressures. It is therefore imperative that the EU takes further urgent steps to strengthen the external border.