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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (William Hague) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I wish to inform the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, is today publishing the 12th progress report on developments in Afghanistan since November 2010.
The second tranche of areas to enter the security transition process was announced on 27 November. This demonstrates continuing progress in the development of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The announcement, which includes Nad-e-Ali in Helmand, means that Afghan forces will soon begin to take lead responsibility for the security of approximately half the country's population. While the security situation throughout Afghanistan remains challenging, progress is being made. The ANSF have demonstrated that they are able to lead on security effectively and competently in the areas that started the transition process earlier this year. They also demonstrated their growing capability at November's traditional Loya Jirga where, despite insurgent intent, there were no security breaches.
The IMF board has approved a new three-year programme of support for Afghanistan. This decision shows that the Afghan Government have reassured international donors and ordinary Afghans alike that they are serious about providing a safe economic and business environment. Now that a new IMF programme is in place, donors including the UK are able to resume support to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, which helps the Afghan Government deliver vital basic services and key reforms for the Afghan people. In the mean time, with UK support the Afghan Government continue to make good progress in raising their own funds: revenue collection reached record levels last quarter.
The International Conference on Afghanistan in Bonn on 5 December agreed a framework for the international community's long-term engagement with Afghanistan to 2014 and beyond and agreed to produce a clear plan for funding the ANSF in advance of the Chicago Conference to be held in May 2012.
I am placing the report in the Library of the House. It will also be published on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website (www.fco.gov.uk).
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State,
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The Government are committed to tackling the legacy of £3.8 billion in child maintenance arrears owed by non-resident parents. They are determined to pursue every penny which can be collected, and the Child Support Agency is pursuing a range of initiatives and deploying its enforcement powers more effectively to pursue those parents who refuse to pay.
We have, however, to be mindful of the fact that not all of the arrears that are owed can realistically be collected; and indeed, not all arrears are actually wanted by the relevant parents with care.
I am therefore today publishing a consultation document on commencing powers contained within the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 to write off arrears of child maintenance in certain, limited circumstances and to accept a part-payment of child maintenance in full and final satisfaction of the total amount due.
The power to accept a part-payment will enable a non-resident parent to pay a proportion of the total amount due, with the full liability being treated as met. A part-payment may be accepted only where the parent with care has given his or her express permission.
None of this undermines the Government's determination to pursue those parents who refuse to live up to their responsibilities. The Government believe that failure to pay child maintenance must never be considered as an option.
The consultation document and draft regulations will be available on the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) and Department for Work and Pensions websites later today. A link to the CMEC website is attached below.
Copies of the consultation document will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses: http://www.childmaintenance. org/en/publications/consultations.html
Section 14(1) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (the 2005 Act) requires the Secretary of State to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on the exercise of the control order powers during that period. Paragraph 5 of Schedule 8 to the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 (the 2011 Act) requires the Secretary of State to report to Parliament covering the period that begins immediately after the end of the last three-month period and ends immediately before commencement.
The 2011 Act commenced on 15 December 2011. A copy of the Act can be found on Parliament's website. The home page for the Act is: www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/23/contents/enacted
The 2005 Act has now been repealed but the control orders in force at the time of commencement of the 2011 Act will remain in effect for a 42-day transitional period concluding on 25 January 2012 unless revoked before then. This is to allow for an orderly, managed and-above all-safe transition to the new system.
As explained in previous quarterly statements, control order obligations are tailored to the individual concerned and are based on the terrorism-related risk that individual poses. Each control order is kept under regular review to ensure that the obligations remain necessary and proportionate. The Home Office continues to hold control order review groups (CORGs) every quarter, with representation from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, to keep the obligations in every control order under regular and formal review and to facilitate a review of appropriate exit strategies. During the reporting periods, two CORGs were held in relation to the control orders in force at the time. Other meetings were held on an ad hoc basis as specific issues arose.
During the period 11 September 2011 to 10 December 2011, no non-derogating control orders were made or served. Two control orders were revoked during this period and two control orders have been renewed in accordance with Section 2(6) of the 2005 Act. No non-derogating control orders were made, served, revoked or renewed during the period 11 December 2011 to 14 December 2011.
Two individuals were charged with breaching their control order obligations during this period. One further individual was acquitted of two counts of breaching a control order; the jury failed to return a verdict on the remaining 13 counts against the same individual.
During the period 11 September 2011 to 10 December 2011, 76 modifications of control order obligations were made. Nineteen requests to modify control order obligations were refused. No further modifications were made or requests refused during the period 11 December 2011 to 14 December 2011.
Section 10(1) of the 2005 Act provides a right of appeal against a decision by the Secretary of State to renew a non-derogating control order or to modify an obligation imposed by a non-derogating control order without consent. Two appeals have been lodged with the High Court during this reporting period under Section 10(1). A right of appeal is also provided by Section 10(3) of the 2005 Act against a decision by the Secretary of State to refuse a request by a controlled person to revoke their order or to modify any obligation under their order. During this reporting period one appeal was lodged with the High Court under Section 10(3), and then withdrawn.
On 3 October 2011, the High Court handed down a judgment in relation to five appeals brought by a controlled individual under Section 10(3) of the 2005 Act. In AM v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 2486 (Admin) the High Court upheld the Secretary of State's decisions.
Most open judgments are available at http://www.bailii.org/.
I am today announcing that, following an internal review of the use of rebated fuel or "red diesel" for community and charitable activities in rural areas, HMRC is launching a formal consultation exercise on extending the use of red diesel to allow tractors to grit roads in rural communities.
HMRC's review examined the scope for extending the use of red diesel by farmers to allow them to undertake a range of community-based activities, including allowing farmers to use their tractors to undertake gritting in rural communities. Following an informal consultation exercise, HMRC will now consult formally on permanent changes to the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties Act 1979 to allow farmers to use their tractors to grit roads in rural areas.
This change builds on HMRC's temporary relaxation of its enforcement procedures during the past two severe winters, and will provide much needed support to rural communities that are often too remote to benefit from municipal gritting activities and may find themselves cut off during periods of extreme weather. While the consultation is carried out, HMRC will continue to stand ready temporarily to relax enforcement procedures in the event of severe weather this winter.
For other community activities, the review concluded that it would not be possible to extend the use of red diesel to accommodate other community activities in a way that would be consistent with EU legislation (directive 2003/96-the energy products directive).
However, the Government are clear that HMRC should take a pragmatic approach when farmers undertake community activities. To reinforce this approach further, HMRC intends to issue revised guidance to remind its officers that a degree of common sense should be used when dealing with these types of cases. If there is sufficient evidence to suggest that someone has mistakenly breached the rules governing the use of red diesel, a warning should normally be given. The Government also recognise that the best way to minimise instances of mistaken use of red diesel is to increase awareness. To assist farming communities to comply with the law,
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries (Richard Benyon) has today made the following statement.
I am today publishing a report following the three flood insurance working groups established in 2010. The working groups were made up of representatives from Government, the insurance industry and community groups. Building on their conclusions, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury and I have agreed to sponsor further work to analyse the options for managing the future financial risks of flooding.
Government and the insurance industry remain committed to making sure flood insurance remains widely available. Together we are working towards an announcement in the spring of a new shared understanding which sets out more clearly what customers can expect from their insurer, and from Government.
The existing statement of principles currently enables insurers to price according to risk. Risk-based pricing has not been commonly applied in the past because of a range of factors including commercial decisions by individual insurers and historic limitations in the availability of flood risk information. However, the market is evolving with the development of more sophisticated tools for assessing a customer's flood risk with the reality being a continuing trend towards more risk-based pricing.
Taking steps to reduce flood risk, whether by Government, local communities or individuals, minimises damage occurring in the first place and thereby plays a vital role in bearing down on insurance costs. In accordance with this Government's determination to deliver solutions which offer taxpayers greatest value for money and which will endure over the long-term, the priority will continue to be to invest in reducing the risk of people and properties being flooded in the first place, rather than redirecting funds into subsidising insurance premiums, which would do nothing to protect against the wider, non-monetary, health and well-being impacts of flooding.
Over the next few months we will continue to work with insurance companies to consider what additional measures might help safeguard the affordability of flood insurance for households. As part of this ongoing work we will be considering the feasibility, value for money and deliverability of targeting funds to help those most in need, building on the analysis undertaken by the working groups established after last year's flood summit. This may include models where communities might work together to secure affordable insurance.
These options will be considered over the winter months in order to make further announcements in the spring. However, in the interests of keeping the Members and their constituents abreast of these ongoing discussions I wanted to give this interim update.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Eric Pickles) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Later today, I am introducing legislation which will take forward proposals designed to encourage local economic growth, reduce the financial deficit we have inherited from the previous Administration, promote welfare reform and drive decentralisation of control over local government finance.
The Local Government Finance Bill will take forward key proposals which were considered as part of the Local Government Resource Review and announced in the spending review 2010. The local government finance system that we inherited from the previous Administration is one of the most complex and centralised in the world. These reforms will address this and increase transparency over the local finance system.
The Local Government Finance Bill will take forward our commitment to introduce a local business rates retention scheme which will enable local authorities to retain a proportion of the business rates generated in their area.
Today, I have published the government response to the consultation on business rates retention which sought views over the summer on how a rate retention scheme would operate. The response puts forward a strong scheme that I believe will provide a strong financial incentive for local authorities to grow their local economies with the necessary safeguards to ensure authorities with high need and low tax bases are still able to meet the needs of their areas. These reforms will also provide local authorities with the framework to implement tax increment financing. Businesses will see no difference in the way they pay business rates or the way that they are set. Local charities, voluntary groups and small businesses will continue to be eligible for the same reliefs.
These reforms will boost local firms and local jobs as councils are given more autonomy over their own financial circumstances and rewarded for building stronger relationships with business to strengthen the local economy. They have the potential to increase the aggregate income from business rates, compared to the status quo, due to greater enterprise and economic growth.
The Bill will also enable local authorities in England to set up local schemes of support for council tax, replacing council tax benefit. This will give local authorities the flexibility to design schemes which reflect local priorities, giving them a greater financial stake in the economic future of their area and enabling them to deliver a saving of 10 per cent on the current council tax benefit expenditure bill. This saving is an important contribution to the Government's vital deficit reduction programme.
The new system will be a fairer one, where taxpayers can be more confident that the spiralling benefits bill is controlled and where work pays. Councils will be much better placed to attract new business and industry, better placed to help their residents get off welfare and reap the benefits of work instead. They will directly benefit from improving the prosperity of the local area that will in turn drive down the costs of offering support with council tax.
I have today published the Government's response to the recent consultation on localising support for council tax, setting out the Government's policy and how we plan to support local authorities in implementing schemes in their areas.
Local authorities will have much greater freedom to administer rebates in a way that best meets local needs and best supports local people while safeguards will be put in place to protect pensioners from any reduction in the support that is on offer as a result of the introduction of this reform.
Subject to consultation, the Bill will propose changes to council tax rules to provide further flexibility on the council tax local authorities can charge on empty properties, and other small changes aimed at modernising the system. By treating everyone equally and fairly and removing the special tax breaks for empty homes and second homes, councils have the potential to cut £20 a year off families' council tax bills.
I intend to continue to work closely with local authorities, representative groups and other key parties in the design of the framework to be set out in secondary legislation, and welcome the excellent contribution I know they will make to the ongoing development and implementation of these proposals.
These proposals on council tax stand alongside the Government's two-year council tax freeze, the cancellation of a council tax revaluation, the abolition of new bin taxes on family homes and new rights for local residents to veto excessive council tax rises.
These reforms also complement a wide package of financial measures that the Government are pursuing to support local authorities and local economies. These measures include over £430 million of funding under New Homes Bonus, up to £1 billion in Community Infrastructure Levy, access to the £2.4 billion Regional Growth Fund and £500 million Growing Places Fund through local enterprise partnerships.
Lord Carlile commends the engagement he received in producing this report which recognises that the context in which national security activities are performed in Northern Ireland is changing and challenging.
The report points out that there have been serious incidents during 2011, including the murder of PC Ronan Kerr in Omagh in April, and states that the overall picture is of a very dangerous, unpredictable terrorist threat. The situation is faced with additional challenges due to the many connections which terrorists appear to have with organised crime. Lord Carlile points out that organised crime is an area which helps fund their politically motivated activities.
Lord Carlile believes that, compared with last year, this year has seen more success in containing and stabilising the threat, and notes that there have been fewer incidents and fewer major attacks. He is also satisfied that there are no difficulties of any significance in the interoperability between the PSNI and the Security Service and identifies this is a sound working partnership and one that is to be commended.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons and I are today setting out the next steps in the Government's preparation of a draft Bill on parliamentary privilege.
The programme for government announced our intention to "prevent the possible misuse of Parliamentary privilege by MPs accused of serious wrongdoing". Following this, the Queen's Speech set out that we
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In the Green Paper, the Government will consult on the desirability of certain changes that could be made to the operation of parliamentary privilege. In that Green Paper, we intend to set out the Government's thinking on each of the principal areas where it has previously been suggested that reform is necessary or desirable. Where we believe there is a case to be made for legislative change, this thinking will be supported by clauses in the draft Bill.
In line with the commitment in the coalition agreement, the Government are considering whether there are potential obstacles that ought to be removed to the prosecution of Members of either House for ordinary criminal acts. This is notwithstanding the Supreme Court ruling in R v Chaytor and others, which established that the criminal courts did have jurisdiction over dishonest claims for allowances, as these were not proceedings in Parliament under Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689, and did not fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the two Houses.
The Government will not be proposing to constrain by legislation the ability of Members to name in proceedings in Parliament individuals who are the subject of anonymity injunctions made by the courts. It will be for each House to consider whether to make changes to their internal procedures to address this issue.
In setting out their views, the Government will be mindful of the views previously expressed by a number of Select Committees, including the 1998-99 Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, the Committee on Standards and Privileges, the 2009-10 Select Committee on the Issue of Privilege, the Joint Committees on the draft Corruption, Bribery and Defamation Bills, the House of Commons Procedure Committee, the Justice Committee and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. The Government also wish to take into account any proposals from the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions that impinge on parliamentary privilege.
Following correspondence earlier this year with the chairs of the Liaison Committees in both Houses, the Government believe it would be appropriate for the Green Paper to be considered, and for the draft Bill to be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, by a Joint Committee, and will be holding early discussions in both Houses about the establishment of and timetable for such a committee.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Over the past year the review of the national curriculum in England has been looking at curricula in the highest performing, and fastest improving, jurisdictions internationally. Today I am publishing a set of initial findings and recommendations.
The review team's work has uncovered a consistent theme: these high-performing jurisdictions set materially higher expectations in terms of what they believe children can and should master at different ages. This comes as no surprise. Over the past 10 years our education system as measured by performance in the OECD's PISA international league tables has deteriorated significantly. If our schools, and young people, are to become internationally competitive again we must learn from the best in the world.
It would, of course, be wrong to conclude that England should simply import systems used in other countries wholesale. But it is absolutely clear that these findings challenge fundamental tenets of our current system.
The expert panel also raises crucial questions about the complex interaction between curriculum and qualifications in secondary schools. Evidence shows that what is taught is determined as much if not more by examinations as by the national curriculum. This means we need to consider GCSE reform alongside the development of the new curriculum.
As the recent revelations in the Daily Telegraph have confirmed, far-reaching reform to our examinations system is vital-and must be considered in parallel with changes to the secondary curriculum. While immediate action is needed to deal with the improper practices that have been revealed, we need also to take the opportunity to ensure that deep-seated problems with how GCSEs have been developed and delivered can be addressed. We must ensure that qualifications support excellent teaching that develops in pupils a broad and deep understanding of the subject.
In light of the far-reaching and complex nature of the expert panel recommendations, and to allow for more radical reform of both curriculum and qualifications, I have decided to change the planned timetable for the introduction of the new national curriculum. Instead of new curricula for English, mathematics, science and PE being introduced from 2013, and the remainder in 2014, the new curriculum for all subjects will be introduced in 2014.
The longer timescale will allow for further debate with everyone interested in creating a genuinely world-class education system; teachers, governors, academics, business leaders and parents, as well as giving schools more time to prepare for a radically different and more rigorous approach.
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, Department for Education (Tim Loughton) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Young people matter. They are important to us now, and to our future, and we need them to flourish. Now more than ever we need to engage young people and support them to face economic challenges and tackle negative stereotypes.
Published today, Positive for Youth is a new approach to cross-government policy for young people aged 13-19 in England. It brings together a range of the Government's policies for this age group across the interests of at least nine departments. It has been produced with young people and youth professionals through extensive collaboration and consultation.
Positive for Youth sets out a shared vision for how all parts of society-including councils, schools, charities, businesses-can work together in partnership to support families and improve outcomes for young people, particularly those who are most disadvantaged or vulnerable. This means working towards a common goal of all young people having a strong sense of belonging, and the supportive relationships, strong ambitions, and good opportunities they need to realise their potential.
Parents and families have the primary responsibility for helping young people succeed. They need to be supported and any services to young people need to take them into account. Communities, including businesses, also need to take responsibility for helping young people belong and succeed.
Raising young people's aspirations and educational attainment is crucial to their success in life. The Government have already announced significant reforms and investment to improve education standards and increase young people's participation in learning and work. Young people's experiences outside the classroom at home and in their community are also crucial to helping them form and pursue their ambitions. Positive for Youth emphasises the importance of young people's personal and social development to educational, employment, and other long-term outcomes, and the role of services such as youth work in supporting this development. It promotes early intervention to address issues young people may face to prevent them escalating and causing harm.
Councils are accountable primarily to local people for how well young people do and how well their services support them. Young people must be in the driving seat to inform decisions, shape provision, and inspect quality.
The Government will publish annually national measures of young people's positive outcomes and an audit at the end of 2012 of overall progress towards creating a society which is more positive for youth.
Positive for Youth and an executive summary are available on the Department for Education website at www.education.gov.uk/positiveforyouth. Copies of Positive for Youth have also been placed in the House Libraries.
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