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Written Statements

Monday 22 April 2013

Armed Forces: Single Source Pricing Regulations

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My honourable friend the Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology (Philip Dunne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

My predecessor, the honourable Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff,) announced updated government profit formula (GPF) allowances to the House on 25 April 2012 (Official Report, col. 38WS) in line with recommendations made by the independent Review Board for Government Contracts. These rates are used by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) when pricing new single source contracts and amendments. The MoD has continued to consult industry on recommendations made in October 2011 by Lord Currie of Marylebone following his independent review of single source pricing and, pending the outcome, the review board has been asked to maintain the existing arrangements.

The work on new single source pricing regulations (SSPRs) and the replacement of the review board with a more empowered public body, the Single Source Regulations Office (SSRO) is proceeding well and we currently plan that these will be fully implemented in 2014-15. In the mean time the MoD will be seeking to negotiate new SSPR terms into selected high-value single source contracts during 2013-14.

One aspect of the existing regime that Lord Currie recommended should be retained is the methodology behind the government profit formula as far as the calculation of the baseline profit rate and capital servicing allowances is concerned. Accordingly, the review board has recently completed its 2013 general review and has recommended revised GPF allowances. The Government have accepted the board’s recommendations and the updated allowances have been agreed with industry, to be implemented on new single source work from 1 April 2013. A copy of the review board’s 2013 general review report is being placed in the Library of the House, along with a copy of their 2012 annual report detailing the running costs of the review board.

Council for Science and Technology

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Viscount Younger of Leckie): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Universities and Science (David Willetts) has today made the following Statement.

The coalition Government made a commitment to review public bodies, with the aim of increasing accountability for actions carried out on behalf of the

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state. The triennial review of the Council for Science and Technology is one of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) reviews of non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) scheduled to commence during the third year of the programme (2013-14). The review will commence in April 2013. This is not a review of the policy relating to science and technology, to which the Government remain committed.

The review will be conducted as set out in Cabinet Office guidance, in two stages.

The first stage will:

identify and examine the key functions of the Council for Science and Technology and assess the requirement for these to continue;if continuing, then assess delivery options and where the conclusion is that a particular function is still needed. Examine how this function might best be delivered, including a cost and benefits analysis where appropriate;if one of these options is continuing delivery through the Council for Science and Technology, then make an assessment against the Government’s “three tests”: technical function; political impartiality; need for independence from Ministers; andif the outcome of stage 1 is that delivery should continue through the Council for Science and Technology, then the second stage of the project will be to ensure that it is operating in line with the recognised principles of good corporate governance, using the Cabinet Office “comply or explain” standard approach.

When completed the report of the review will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Courts and Tribunals Services: Fees

Statement

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Helen Grant) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today publishing a consultation on the system of fee remissions for courts and tribunals. The proposals in this consultation paper (Cm 8608) will ensure that access to justice is maintained for those who cannot afford a court or tribunal fee. They will also provide a better targeted system of fee remissions so that those who can afford to pay a fee do so.

The proposals set out in this consultation paper represent a wide-ranging reform of the fee remissions system. A fee remission is a full or partial waiver of the fees that become payable when an individual uses certain court or tribunal services.

The remission system ensures that access to justice is maintained for those individuals on lower incomes who would otherwise have difficulty paying a fee by providing access to that service free of charge or at a reduced rate.

Our aim is to produce a remissions system which is better targeted, fairer, easy for users to understand and more coherent. To achieve this the consultation paper proposes three key changes:

the introduction of a unified system of remissions across courts and tribunals;

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the introduction of a disposable capital test to assess eligibility for a remission; andthe introduction of a simplified income test, with a greater level of contribution required from those who receive a partial remission.

Implementation of these proposals will mean that the taxpayer contribution towards fee remissions will be targeted towards those who need it most. The proposals also ensure that the system of remissions takes into account the introduction of universal credit which replaces several benefits that currently determine eligibility for a remission.

The consultation will be open for a period of four weeks. We plan to implement an amended remissions system for the start of October 2013, in time for the introduction of the universal credit.

The consultation will be available in the Vote Office, the Printed Paper Office and on the Ministry of Justice website.

Credit Unions

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My honourable friend the Minister for Pensions (Steve Webb) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government have previously announced that we will work with credit unions on ways in which the future progress of this sector can best be supported.

On 27 June 2012, it was announced that the Government will take forward the findings of the Department for Work and Pensions credit union expansion project feasibility study, and that the Department for Work and Pensions will make a further investment of up to £38 million in credit unions to March 2015. This investment will be conditional upon the credit union industry meeting a number of agreed milestones for collaboration, modernisation and expansion, and to deliver this expansion in a way that makes them financially sustainable.

We are now able to announce that following a procurement exercise, the contract has been awarded to the Association of British Credit Unions Limited (ABCUL).

The high-level objectives are to enable credit unions joining the project to: increase access to financial services to at least 500,000 more people on low incomes by March 2015 and a total of at least 1 million more people by March 2019; and to reduce their costs and become financially sustainable by March 2015, thus eliminating the need for further government funding of credit unions after that date. The project will provide access to affordable credit, bank and savings accounts, and save consumers up to £1 billion in loan interest repayments by March 2019.

The feasibility study also showed that at present even the biggest credit unions struggle to meet the operating costs of making small loans to people on lower incomes. Therefore, in addition to our investment in modernisation and expansion, HM Treasury has consulted on raising the cap on the interest rate that credit unions are permitted to charge on loans

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from 2% to 3% per month, supporting credit unions to achieve financial sustainability and reach a wider range of customers. The consultation period is now complete and HM Treasury is considering the responses received and plans to provide a Government response this summer with any changes on the rate cap coming into effect from April 2014.

Crime: Victims

Statement

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Helen Grant) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 29 March, the Government launched the Improving the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime consultation.

The Government want to do all they can to ensure the right services and support are in place to help victims through what is often a sensitive, worrying and emotional time. Last year we published our response to the Getting it Right for Victims and Witnesses consultation in which we made a commitment to revise the current code of practice for victims of crime (“Victims’ Code”).

The Victims’ Code sets out the services to be provided in England and Wales by criminal justice agencies to enable victims to receive the support they need. The current code is written with criminal justice agencies in mind, rather than victims. The revised code is set out in a more user-friendly style structured around the criminal justice process. This enhances victims’ understanding of the process, with victims’ entitlements clearly set out at each stage.

Every victim will be entitled to a minimum level of service under the revised code. We have also outlined an enhanced service in the revised code for three categories of victim most in need: victims of the most serious crime, the most persistently targeted and vulnerable or intimidated victims. This approach will help victims to get the right support at the right time. It also provides greater flexibility to allow agencies to tailor services according to individual need.

There is a new section of entitlements dedicated to victims under the age of 18 which is easy for children, young people, parents and guardians to understand. The code will also for the first time include:

the victim personal statement, which gives victims an opportunity to describe the wider effects of the crime upon them, and thus give them a louder voice in the criminal justice system;a separate section for businesses who will be able to submit an impact statement to explain how a crime has affected them;information on restorative justice for victims of adult offenders; and a clear and transparent complaints process to provide quick and thorough responses to victims.

A copy of the draft Victims’ Code will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Further information on the consultation can be found on the Ministry of Justice website at: www.justice.gov.uk.

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Cyclists: Safety

Statement

Earl Attlee: My right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker) has made the following ministerial Statement.

On 4 April 2013, I announced the 78 schemes to be offered support under the cycle safety fund. The total value of the schemes is £40 million of which the DfT will contribute approximately £20 million.

The funding from the Department for Transport comes from £15 million of capital funding announced in June 2012 and £5 million announced in November 2012. This forms part of the £107 million of additional cycling infrastructure investment announced by DfT in 2012. This is in addition to the £600 million being invested in the Local Sustainable Transport Fund. The majority of the 96 LSTF schemes include measures to make cycling easier and safer. Last year the department also launched a THINK! campaign to encourage cyclists and motorists to look out for each other on the road.

The money will be made available to improve the design and layout of roads at 78 locations across the country, with all schemes due for completion within the next 12 months. The schemes will target those routes and junctions where real improvements can be made to both cyclist safety and the perceptions of safety for cyclists, which can be a real barrier to travel choice.

The schemes are a mixture of improvements including the reallocation of road space, significant simplification of road layouts, changes in priority, changes in junction layouts, designs that lower vehicle speeds, changes to crossings and the provision of bypasses.

To help ensure that the best schemes are funded, the department has been supported by a panel of experts co-ordinated by the transport charity Sustrans, including representatives of CTC, British Cycling, Cycle Nation, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Transport for London.

All schemes will commence once co-funders have confirmed they wish to accept the DfT grant offer.

A complete list of schemes offered funding has been made available on the DfT website.

Data: Open Data

Statement

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Paymaster General (Francis Maude) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today I am publishing a statement of progress made by departments against their open data strategies and performance against the public data principles for the period quarter 3 2012-13, October 2012–December 2012.

This is the second statement of its kind and it aims to provide an ongoing narrative of departmental progress in the open data agenda and bring to light issues that are facing departments in releasing and enabling the

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release of open data. The report aims to highlight, through the release of datasets and work being carried out on the domestic and international fronts, that the Government are continuously expanding their ability both to release and update the most accessible open and reusable data, and their capacity and capability to produce datasets that will realise the most economic and social benefits.

The full report is available on data.gov.uk and has been placed in the Library of the House.

Department for Communities for Local Government

Statement

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) made the following Written Ministerial Statement on 15 April 2013.

I would like to update honourable Members on the main items of business undertaken by my department since the House of Commons rose on 26 March.

Abolishing regional planning

Planning and house building works best when it is locally led and people have more control in shaping and deciding on development in the places they live. The last Administration’s top-down approach of imposing regional strategies, based on artificial government regions, coincided with the lowest peacetime levels of house building since the 1920s.

The coalition Government announced their decision to revoke the final three regional strategies for the West Midlands, the north-west and the south-west through a Written Statement on 27 March (Official Report, House of Lords, col. WS109). This means we have now delivered the coalition agreement to abolish these unpopular and counterproductive regional strategies, giving every community more control over local planning.

We are determined to help put communities back into the driving seat of local development, and local plans agreed by communities and councils are now at the heart of determining where homes should go. Already, 500 communities across the country are backing neighbourhood plans for their area, showing that people welcome development when they are given the opportunity to be involved and shape it in the best way for the local area.

Tackling unauthorised development

We are determined to ensure fair play in the planning system and to tackle intentional unauthorised development. On 29 March, my department confirmed that restrictions will be lifted on the use of temporary stop notices, enabling councils to act immediately and safeguard their local area from caravans being placed on unauthorised sites. The associated secondary legislation has been laid before the House.

Individuals who have gone to the effort of buying land are quite capable of applying for planning permission, and it is only right that planning permission should be secured before development is undertaken. It is not

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fair that some people try to sidestep the planning system, which is why we have already given local councils stronger powers to deal with retrospective or vexatious applications. But we are going further and, subject to parliamentary ratification, are giving councils greater freedom to take swift and effective enforcement action against unauthorised caravans backed up with the potential for heavy fines.

Helping aspiring self-builders

On 28 March, my department announced a comprehensive range of measures designed to help people aspiring to build their own homes to get their projects off the ground. Currently, only those planning to use the new powers under the community right to build have access to a dedicated fund, to build up their development proposals and submit a community right to build order. To ensure that anyone has access to this financial support regardless of the route they take for planning permission, we are expanding the scheme to enable all community groups, including self-builders, the ability to access £14 million of available support funding to help them initiate their local projects, even if they do not plan to use the community right to build.

This is addition to the £30 million Custom Build Fund, over half of which has already been earmarked to support 15 different projects across England. My department has also confirmed that locality will work with the National Self Build Association, the UK Cohousing Network, the National Community Land Trust Network, Self-help Housing and the Confederation of Co-operative Housing to encourage more local projects.

On 15 April, we published a consultation paper on further reforms to the last Administration’s community infrastructure levy. The changes will make the levy fairer, faster, more certain and more transparent. The consultation includes a proposal for a new exemption for self-build homes. This will cover new homes built or commissioned by individuals, families or groups of individuals for their own use and that will be owner-occupied. This delivers on the commitment given by the Minister for Housing in May 2013 and will make an enormous difference to people looking to build their own home.

Safeguarding community assets

Localism is about giving power back to communities, as they know best what their local needs are. Communities and voluntary and charity groups are now taking action to use the new rights we have created through the new community right to bid in the Localism Act to help save local shops, pubs, libraries, and parks, and influence how planning decisions are made and how local public services run. I was delighted to see that the residents of Nunhead had successfully used the community right to bid to save their local pub the Ivy House from closure.

We want to see more communities using the community rights to save their treasured assets, and I would like to draw honourable Members’ attention to my department’s support for the Campaign for Real Ale’s Community Pubs Month, which launched on 1 April and is calling on people to list their local pub as an asset of community value.

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Boosting coastal communities

Following huge success last year, on 3 April, my department opened applications for a second round of coastal communities funding. The funds available have been increased by over £4.1 million to £27.8 million, so more communities can win awards to boost their economic development. The fund for the projects is raised from the Crown Estate’s marine assets and reinvested in coastal areas.

In 2012, 26 projects in England from Scarborough to Swanage, and from Torbay to Tyneside, received funding to develop their areas, helping to create and safeguard 5,000 jobs, 1,400 training places, 400 volunteering opportunities and support 250 new business start-ups. The money was also used for a variety of projects, including rejuvenating heritage areas and leisure facilities, as well as helping businesses embrace digital technology and promote innovation. The projects also attracted additional funding from public and private co-sponsors of over £16 million.

Clamping down on criminal landlords and housing fraud

We want to ensure fair play in taxpayer-funded social housing and to crack down on rogue landlords who cash in on renting out homes to illegal immigrants. On 27 March, my department gave a £790,000 funding boost to four London boroughs to further support ongoing efforts to tackle criminal landlords who trap vulnerable tenants in so-called beds in sheds.

So-called beds in sheds are often rented to immigrants, including some with no right to be in the UK, at extortionate rates. Over the past year, locally led efforts, backed with government cash, have led to councils working more closely with the police and Home Office Immigration Law Enforcement to flush out these rogue landlords, and to get a better sense of the scale of the problem.

On 3 April 2013, my department announced £9.5 million for 62 councils to help them to combat social housing fraud and to ensure that homes go to those who truly need them. Social housing fraud can cost the taxpayer £900 million a year and we are giving councils more powers to take action. Due to come into force this summer, the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013 will mean perpetrators could face a fine and a custodial sentence of up to two years, while councils will be able to recover the proceeds of sub-letting social homes.

Helping the disabled live independent lives

On 28 March, my department confirmed £180 million of Disabled Facilities Grant for 2013-14 to help councils fund the adaptations disabled people need to live independently in their own home. The grant can be used for adaptations that provide better freedom of movement into and around the home or to provide essential facilities helping people stay in their homes if their circumstances change, providing the support that disabled or vulnerable people need to live independently and comfortably, whether they are homeowners, social tenants or living in rented accommodation.

Tackling the digital divide

People who live in council and housing association homes currently make up over a quarter of people who do not use the internet. On 4 April my department,

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alongside the Department for Work and Pensions, announced £400,000 of funding for innovative programmes to provide low cost internet access and improve tenants’ motivation to go online. Successful bidding landlords will have to match government funding with their own money, pound for pound, therefore doubling the total pot to £800,000.

Providing a safety net for the homeless

This country has one of the strongest safety nets against homelessness in the world, backed with £470 million government funding. It is vital this continues to protect the most vulnerable in society. On 9 April, my department launched a £1.7 million Gold Standard scheme helping councils across the country to learn from each other to deliver the best possible service and ensuring that those facing the threat of losing their home get the support they need.

The peer-led scheme will provide a host of free training and support to enable councils to reach Gold Standard status, a benchmark of their achievements and work to support people and guard against homelessness. The first 10 councils to receive Gold Standard status will then offer advice and a critical eye to other councils looking to achieve the same.

Supporting fiscal decentralisation

At the beginning of April, the new system of local government finance began. The local funding settlement used to be the end game, but this year it is just the starting point. Councils can earn more of their keep through rate retention by bringing businesses and jobs in to their area. This could deliver an estimated extra £10 billion to the wider economy by 2020. The new homes bonus and the localisation of council tax benefit also provide strong incentives for councils to promote local economic growth and to support local firms and local jobs.

Freezing council tax

This Government are determined to back people who work hard by supporting residents through much needed cost of living assistance. Official statistics published on 27 March confirmed that the average band D council tax level for 2013-14 has changed by a mere 0.8%, which is equivalent to a real terms’ cut of 2.3%. Our three-year council tax freeze deal has been worth a 9.7% real-terms reduction in taxpayers’ cost of living. This is in stark contrast to under the last Administration when council tax bills more than doubled.

From this April, council tax payers can also now request to pay their 2013 bills over 12 months rather than 10, helping people balance their monthly budgets, and meaning that taxpayers’ money stays in their bank accounts for longer.

The Greater London Authority reduced its council tax precept across London by some 1.2% in 2013-14, entitling it to council tax freeze grant. The authority’s precept has fallen from £310 a year on band D bills in 2008-09 to £303 in 2013-14. This is a significant cut in real terms.

In its calculation of unadjusted relevant basic amount of council tax, there was a technical administrative error by the Greater London Authority. The circumstances are unique to the Greater London Authority and arise from the City of London having its own police force

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and not contributing to the cost of the Metropolitan Police Force. For a relatively small number of residents in the City of London, the increase in the unadjusted amount was not offset by a substantial reduction in the costs of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. The position in respect of council tax payments across Greater London remains as set out in council budgets, precepts and the bills dispatched to residents.

A technical direction has been issued today under Section 52ZR of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 to resolve this issue this year. This does not affect the overall level of council tax set by the Greater London Authority. Nor does it affect the validity of council tax bills or the collection of council tax by billing authorities in London. In issuing this direction, we also intend to amend the Greater London Authority Act to ensure that any such future recalculations would comply with the 1992 Act. Nevertheless, the Greater London Authority’s unadjusted council tax position for 2013-14 will be taken into account when proposing council tax excessiveness principles for 2014-15.

Abolishing taxpayer-funded pensions for councillors

In the Written Statement of 19 December 2012 (Official Report, col. WS 105) we announced proposals to abolish taxpayer-funded pensions for councillors. We stated that Ministers in this Government take a fundamentally different view from that of the last Administration. We do not believe that taxpayer-funded pensions are justified. Councillors are volunteers undertaking public service; they are not and should not be employees of the council dependent on the municipal payroll.

On 10 April, as required by statute, we published a formal consultation paper. A range of options are outlined for comment. The Government’s preferred option is the abolition of such taxpayer-funded pensions. Having reflected on feedback since the original announcement, this preferred option would include the abolition for councillors, elected mayors and the London Mayor and Assembly. This would avoid a two-tier system in local authorities.

Stopping propaganda on the rates

In March 2011, reflecting a coalition agreement pledge, we introduced an updated local government publicity code to tackle the growing practice of town hall Pravdas and similar dubious propaganda at public expense.

It has become clear that some councils are disregarding this code, intentionally seeking to undermine local newspapers and publishing political propaganda at taxpayers’ expense. On 8 April, my department published a consultation on proposals to legislate strengthening these council publicity rules. Localism and robust local democracy require a strong, vibrant and independent local press, which is essential in holding local councils to account. It also needs a level playing field to prevent an incumbent council abusing taxpayers’ money to suppress legitimate scrutiny.

Saving taxpayers money from shared services

On 4 April, we announced that we will be moving into shared central London headquarters at 2 Marsham Street alongside the Home Office. Marsham Street was previously the home of my department’s predecessor, the Department of the Environment.

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The current costs of running Eland House are £20 million per annum and the move will save my department £8 million a year. We believe in making sure taxpayers get value for money. By sharing services and streamlining our property portfolio, this move will allow us to continue the best practice that we have recommended to local government.

Flying the flag

As part of my ongoing programme of championing flag flying, during recess my department flew the NATO flag to mark the anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty. Last year, we amended national planning rules to make it easier to fly flags, including local and military flags. Previously, the NATO flag could not be easily flown without paying for a planning permit from the local council.

Following the sad announcement of the death of Baroness Thatcher, it was particularly apt that both the United Kingdom’s Union flag and the NATO flag flew side by side at half-mast. NATO has kept the peace in western Europe since World War II and protected us from oppressive totalitarianism. As championed by Margaret Thatcher, transatlantic co-operation and NATO’s nuclear shield continue to defend the liberties and freedoms that we take for granted today.

Copies of the associated documents and press releases have been placed in the Library of the House.

Department for Transport: Executive Agencies’ Business Plans

Statement

Earl Attlee: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond) has made the following ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce that all of the Department for Transport’s executive agencies published their annual business plans on the 3 April. The Highways Agency (HA), the Driving Standards Agency (DSA), the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA), the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) business plans are now available electronically on agency websites and copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The business plans set out the agencies’ budgets, key priorities, activities and performance measures for 2013-14. Service users and members of the public will be able to assess how the agencies have performed against the delivery of their business plans through their annual reports that will be published next year.

The department also published on the same day the first performance specification for the strategic road network which sets out five outcomes and underlying key performance deliverables for this network for the period 2013-15. This meets a key recommendation made by Alan Cook in his review of the strategic road network and outlines the Government’s commitment to improve the future efficiency and reliability of Highways Agency roads. This is about establishing a more transparent and robust system for monitoring the performance of the Highways Agency leading to a

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more effective strategic road network for all road users. The Highways Agency’s latest business plan sets out the activities which will contribute towards the delivering of this performance specification.

Education: Vocational Education

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Nash): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Department for Education (Michael Gove) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

We are introducing a new school and college performance table measure which recognises the highest level of technical training achieved by students aged 16-19. This will be known as the technical baccalaureate measure. It will recognise the achievement of students taking advanced (level 3) programmes which include a DfE-approved occupational qualification, core maths, and an extended project. This builds on the radical reforms of 16-19 vocational qualifications on which we are currently consulting.

Establishing a measure for excellence in technical provision will end the perception that vocational education in the UK is a poor second to academic study. Students will be well prepared to enter technician and higher apprenticeship roles in industry, or professional training or university.

It is part of a wide range of reforms that will help to repair the broken link between the qualifications students take, and the training that British industry needs. This will give employers and universities confidence that the vocational qualifications students achieve at 19 will be of a high standard and of real value to students with ambition and talent.

The policy statement provides further details on the technical baccalaureate measure, and will be published on the department’s website today.

Introduction of new technical baccalaureate measure for 16-19 year-olds.

Overview

The Government are introducing a new school and college performance table measure, which recognises the highest level of technical training achieved by students aged 16-19. This will be known as the technical baccalaureate measure. It will recognise the achievement of students taking advanced (level 3) programmes, which include a DfE approved occupational qualification, core maths, and an extended project. It will be introduced for courses beginning in September 2014, for reporting in the 16-19 performance tables from 2016.

Establishing a measure for excellence in technical provision will end the perception that vocational education in the UK is a poor second to academic study. By recognising excellence, it will incentivise the development of the highest value provision and encourage the most able students to study demanding technical study programmes.

Students who achieve the qualifications that are included in the technical baccalaureate measure will be equipped to apply for technician roles and higher

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apprenticeships in a wide range of industry sectors. Alternatively, they could enter professional training or university.

Who is it aimed at?

The technical baccalaureate measure will be aimed at ambitious, talented students who want to pursue a technical career. It will give young people the opportunity to be stretched and demonstrate their personal best.

The group most likely to opt for qualifications included in the technical baccalaureate measure are those who choose to study advanced vocational qualifications, having already achieved a grade C or above in GCSE maths. This means that over time, and as standards are raised, the proportion of students able to study at advanced level is likely to increase further.

The qualifications included in the technical baccalaureate measure will be most suited for young people interested in occupations that require significant theory and knowledge acquisition, such as:

STEM technicians (e.g. lab technicians, IT technicians, various engineering technician roles, construction professionals);service technicians (e.g. retail and hospitality management, personal services, junior accounting positions); andcreative technicians (e.g. digital media, other media, creative industries, sport industry, material/textiles, design).

What does it include?

The technical baccalaureate measure is made up of three components.

To achieve the measure, a student would need to successfully complete an advanced (level 3) programme of at least one DfE-approved occupational qualification, level 3 maths qualification(s), and an extended project.

Occupational qualifications

At the core of the new technical baccalaureate measure will be the study of qualifications that are recognised and valued by industry. In November 2013 the Government will publish details of the advanced level occupational and other qualifications for 16-19 year-olds that will count towards reformed performance tables and the technical baccalaureate measure.

The Government are currently consulting on a process for identifying vocational qualifications that are genuinely high value. Further information on this can be found at: http://www.education.gov.uk/childrenandyoung people/youngpeople/qandlearning/otherqualifications /a00222542/vocational-qualifications-16-19-year-olds.

As part of this process, the Government are asking professional and industry bodies to endorse occupational qualifications that prepare a young person for a specific job role, and are intended for students who have a clear idea about an occupation they want to pursue.

Some qualifications will prepare a student for a specific job role by confirming and in some cases certifying occupational competence. Others may provide a route into a specialist degree or a higher education course that qualifies entry to an occupation (many health and engineering professions, for example).

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Core maths

Many aspects of technical education require the understanding and ability to apply maths, and there is evidence that those with level 3 maths benefit from improved employment prospects and higher wages.

Therefore the technical baccalaureate measure includes the study of relevant core maths qualifications at level 3. This means students will need to have achieved a GCSE A*-C in English and maths before enrolling on a programme that meets the standard set by the new measure.

Further information about the core maths requirement for the technical baccalaureate measure will be published by the department in due course. From 2014, A-level, AS-level and the international baccalaureate maths qualifications are expected to be included alongside other more applied maths qualifications such as mathematics for engineering. A number of new maths qualifications are currently being developed by awarding organisations and may also be included.

The extended project

The extended project will develop and test students’ skills in extended writing, communication, research, self-discipline and self-motivation. Such skills are in high demand by industry and academia. The extended project also gives students the opportunity to undertake research projects with an industry focus relevant to their vocational programme, encouraging them to explore further aspects of the occupation to equip them with a breadth of knowledge and understanding to reinforce their employability.

Timescales

The consultation on 16-19 vocational qualifications will close on 10 May. Details of the approved occupational qualifications that will count towards the technical baccalaureate measure are expected to be published in November 2013. The technical baccalaureate measure will be introduced alongside the teaching of these qualifications from September 2014. The measure will first be reported in the 2016 performance tables, due to be published in January 2017.

The Government’s forthcoming 16-19 consultation will propose further detail on how the technical baccalaureate measure will operate alongside wider 16-19 accountability reforms.

Energy: Coal Mining

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Baroness Verma): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change (Michael Fallon) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I want to update the House on developments. On 11 March 2013, John Hayes, former Minister for Energy and Climate Change made a statement regarding UK Coal Operations Limited’s (UKCOL) announcement on the closure of its deep mine at Daw Mill in Warwickshire following the serious fire which broke out on 22 February 2013.

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Since the fire we have held meetings with the company, the union representatives of the workforce and other key stakeholders as well Members of Parliament. Officials have continued to be in daily contact with the company and have co-ordinated the cross-government response including the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), BIS West Midlands, Shareholder Executive, Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Coal Authority, Insolvency Service Redundancy Payments Service, HM Treasury and Job Centre Plus.

The fire below ground at Daw Mill appears to have subsided as a result of the mitigation measures agreed by UKCOL and HSE, but large areas of the mine remain polluted by toxic and flammable gases. UKCOL continues to review closure options in consultation with the Coal Authority and HSE. HSE also continue to assure me there is no danger to the general public.

Our priority has to be the employees of Daw Mill Colliery and the continuing viability of UKCOL’s business and its other employees. I understand from UKCOL that of the 570 employees at Daw Mill around 100 are being redeployed at their other sites and they continue to look at other redeployment opportunities. The remaining staff in redundancy consultation at Daw Mill have been supported by a fully co-ordinated locally led response from Jobcentre Plus, BIS West Midlands, North Warwickshire Borough Council and other local partners. This includes the full deployment of the Jobcentre Plus rapid response service.

A key part of this response was an employee-focused event held in Arley on 22 March 2013, which nearly 200 members of the Daw Mill workforce attended. This gave them access to a range of advice and information services on their entitlements and options as well as information about alternative employment opportunities. To follow up the event, employees will receive an information sheet providing details of support available at both local and national level. In addition an information sheet is being prepared for local businesses informing them of support available should they be impacted by the closure of Daw Mill. I would like to commend all the local partners for their joined-up approach in supporting the workforce and local community, and particularly in organising 22 March 2013 event which I know was welcomed by the mining unions and UKCOL. A similar event is being planned in Nottinghamshire in the coming weeks.

The continuing uncertainty in relation to redundancy payments due to 30 members of the Daw Mill workforce who took voluntary redundancy at the end of 2012 has been of concern to many Members. I am now able to confirm that we have ensured that this cohort will receive their full statutory redundancy entitlement from the Redundancy Payments Service.

Other government-related support includes: the Coal Authority has agreed flexibility on certain payments by UKCOL related to is subsidence security obligations; BIS West Midlands has been able to help the company secure a rebate on its business rates from North Warwickshire Borough Council and other measures are being taken to facilitate a way forward for the company following the loss of revenue from Daw Mill. I should also acknowledge the support that the company has received from its customers, suppliers and insurers through this challenging period.

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Through this co-ordinated approach I am determined to continue to do what we can to help the company to continue to operate within the legal framework and state aid rules, to help its employees, and to minimise the impact on the North Warwickshire economy.

EU: Agriculture and Fisheries Council

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Owen Paterson) has today made the following Statement.

The next Agriculture and Fisheries Council is on Monday 22 April in Luxembourg. I and my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Natural Environment, Water and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon) will be representing the UK. Richard Lochhead MSP and Alun Davies AM will also attend.

On agriculture, the presidency will report to the council on progress in the common agriculture policy (CAP) trilogue negotiations between the European Council, Parliament and Commission.

The fisheries items will follow with an orientation debate on the reform of the common fisheries policy, a presidency progress report on the negotiations relating to the Common Organisation of the Markets for Fisheries and Aquaculture products dossier and a Commission presentation on an action plan for reducing the incidental catches of seabirds in fishing gears. Spain has also requested an AOB item on the state of play of fishery protocols with Morocco and Mauritania.

EU: General Affairs, Foreign Affairs and Defence Foreign Affairs Council

Statement

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My right honourable friend the Minister for Europe (David Lidington) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) and I will attend the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 22 April. My right honourable friend the Minister for International Security Strategy will attend the Defence Foreign Affairs Council and the European Defence Agency Steering Board on 22 and 23 April. These meetings will be held in Luxembourg. The General Affairs Council will be chaired by the Irish presidency, and the Foreign Affairs Council and Defence Foreign Affairs Council will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland.

General Affairs Council

The GAC will focus on enlargement, preparation of the May European Council and EU fundamental values, specifically democracy and the rule of law. The Irish presidency will update the Council on the Multiannual Financial Framework: no discussion of this is expected.

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Enlargement reports for Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia

There will be discussion of Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia, on the basis of reports from the European External Action Service and European Commission, released ahead of the GAC, on those countries’ progress on the issues set out in the December GAC conclusions. On Serbia/Kosovo the focus will be on latest developments in the EU-facilitated dialogue between the Prime Ministers of Serbia and Kosovo: the UK welcomes the leadership of Baroness Ashton and is keen to see further improvement in the relations between the two sides. As for Macedonia, the focus will be on that country’s reform efforts, good neighbourly relations, and progress on resolving the name dispute with Greece. I expect any conclusions on the reports to be largely procedural, with more detailed discussion at the June GAC.

May European Council

The 22 May European Council will discuss the energy aspects of the single market; discuss tax policy focusing on improving tax collection and tackling tax evasion and fraud; will take stock of the deepening of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU); and will consider foreign policy issues. I will take this opportunity to highlight the importance of making further progress on the single market and the need to improve tax policy and transparency in support of the priorities for the G8 summit in June.

EU fundamental rights

Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland and Germany jointly sent a letter to President Barroso on 6 March 2013, emphasising the importance of the rule of law, human rights and democracy; the fundamental values of the Union. The letter called for an EU mechanism to protect these fundamental values, and suggested that the European Commission should play a greater role in this area. At the request of the signatories this issue will be discussed at the GAC. I will underline the importance of safeguarding the rule of law, human rights and democracy within the Union. I will also acknowledge the link between effective justice systems and economic growth, as identified in the letter. I will highlight the important role already played by the Council of Europe in relation to fundamental values and encourage the Council to bear this valuable contribution in mind. The letter did not go into detail on how any EU mechanism would work, therefore I will not be commenting on the specifics of any proposal at this stage. The UK remains keen to see that any future mechanism respects areas of member state competence.

Foreign Affairs Council

Energy

Ministers will discuss EU external relations on energy and the southern corridor pipeline. We welcome this discussion and support the development of a southern corridor, bringing Caspian gas to Europe via Turkey. The increasingly interconnected nature of the EU gas market means there will be indirect benefits to the UK of additional gas supplies to Europe, and a more stable and diverse European gas market.

Serbia/Kosovo

Baroness Ashton is likely to update Ministers on progress on the EU-facilitated Serbia/Kosovo dialogue. The UK welcomes the leadership of Baroness Ashton

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on this and is keen to see further improvement in the relations between the two sides. However we are clear that we must see progress on all of the Kosovo-related conditionality set out at the December GAC if we are to agree to open accession negotiations with Serbia at the June GAC.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Ministers may also consider progress made by Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BiH) leaders on agreeing changes to the constitution to bring it into line with the European Court of Human Rights judgment on Sejdic Finci. We will reaffirm our continued commitment to BiH’s EU perspective but are clear that existing conditionality must be met and that continued inaction will not go unnoticed. The onus is on BiH’s leaders to demonstrate their commitment and willingness to work together so as to make progress on the EU agenda in the interests of its citizens.

Iran E3+3

Baroness Ashton will update Ministers on the latest round of E3+3 nuclear talks with Iran, which took place in Almaty, Kazakhstan, 5 and 6 April. Iran showed some willingness to engage on the substance, but its current position falls far short of what is needed for a diplomatic breakthrough. As a result, the E3+3 did not immediately agree to a further meeting but returned to capitals to consider how to move forward.

Eastern Partnership

Ministers will have a discussion on the Eastern Partnership, looking ahead to November’s Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius. We expect the discussion to focus in particular on Ukraine and Belarus. The UK remains committed to a closer relationship between the EU and Ukraine, and we will continue to make clear that progress is dependent on Ukraine making necessary reforms. On Belarus, we welcome the news that Sweden can re-establish a diplomatic presence in Minsk. We will continue to make clear that development of the relationship with Belarus is conditional upon improvements in human rights, democracy and the rule of law, including the release and rehabilitation of political prisoners.

Southern Neighbourhood

On Syria, Ministers will discuss the deteriorating situation on the ground, including the humanitarian aspects and the EU response to it, and the need to provide support to the Syrian National Coalition. We will emphasise the need to consider amending the EU sanctions package.

On Lebanon, following the recent resignation of Prime Minister Mikati and the appointment of Mr Tamam Salam as Prime Minister designate, the discussion is likely to focus on the need to encourage the swift formation of a cabinet; for consensus over a new elections law; and for timely parliamentary elections. Ministers are also likely to discuss the effects of the conflict in Syria, with Lebanon now host to nearly 400,000 refugees, impacting on its security, stability and economy.

Baroness Ashton will report back from her recent visit to Egypt. The UK will voice backing for ongoing EU support of Egyptian political and economic reform, but emphasise also the importance of the “more for more” principle in EU engagement with Egypt.

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Mali

The discussion on Mali will focus on the need for further progress to be made on national dialogue and reconciliation, leading to elections scheduled for July. Ministers will take stock of developments in New York, following the UN Security Council’s negotiations on a resolution authorising a UN Operation in Mali. They will also consider the EU’s overall common security and defence policy (CSDP) response to Mali and the Sahel region, in the context of the EU’s strategy for security and development in the Sahel.

Burma

Ministers will discuss the situation in Burma in the context of reviewing EU restrictive measures, which are currently suspended apart from the arms embargo and restrictions on the supply of equipment which could be used for internal repression. We expect conclusions to welcome the significant reforms and highlight the challenges that remain, including the situation in Rakhine State and the plight of the Rohingya; the need to reach a ceasefire with the Kachin, and move towards political dialogue with all Burma’s ethnic groups; and to release remaining political prisoners. We will emphasise the importance of a more comprehensive approach to future EU engagement with Burma in the run-up to and beyond national elections in 2015.

European Defence Agency Steering Board

The European Defence Agency (EDA) Steering Board on 23 April will focus on preparations for the agency’s input to the December 2013 European Council on Defence, concentrating on increasing the effectiveness, visibility and impact of the common security and defence policy (CSDP); enhancing the development of defence capabilities; and strengthening Europe’s defence industry. The steering board will consider the EDA’s proposals to explore possibilities to expand pooling demand to cover the whole life cycle; to intensify its efforts to support battle groups and EU operations; and identify with member states co-operative projects to improve the pooling demand concept. To enhance the development of defence capabilities, the EDA will invite the steering board to endorse actions to increase co-operation between member states.

The EDA will invite the steering board to endorse proposals to launch pioneer projects in remote piloted aircraft systems, cyber defence and secure telecom by satellite. The board will note the progress made in the air-to-air refuelling project and will be invited to endorse the establishment of a category A programme on the military implementation of Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR). The UK is supportive of the EDA’s air to air refuelling project, and has offered unallocated UK Voyager flying hours to interested nations on a pool and charge basis. We will invite member states interested in clearing aircraft to declare their interest in the UK project with the EDA as soon as possible.

Defence Foreign Affairs Council

EU Training Mission Mali

Ministers will discuss current EU CSDP Operations, focusing on EU Training Mission (EUTM) Mali, over dinner on Monday 22 April. General Lecointre, Head of Mission EUTM Mali, will provide an update on

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progress on training the Malian Armed Forces. Discussion is likely to cover developments on the future of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali, AFISMA, the provision of equipment for the Malian Armed Forces, and a possible UN peacekeeping role. The chair of the EU Military Committee will provide an update on other military missions. We will reiterate ongoing UK support for the EU CSDP missions and operations.

December European Council

Ministers will discuss preparations for the December 2013 European Council on Defence. We will set out the UK aims which are to ensure that there is a focus on the comprehensive approach and complementarity with NATO; to improve cost-effectiveness and operational delivery; to enhance capabilities that benefit both NATO and the EU; and for this to be underpinned by a strengthened defence industrial base that will help boost longer-term competitiveness and economic growth.

Battlegroups

The UK will lead the EU battlegroup (EUBG) in the second half of 2013 with Lithuania, Latvia, Sweden and the Netherlands. Preparing for this role not only demonstrates our commitment to the concept but also provides training and transformational benefits, including for our partners. We will set out our view on the possible closer integration of the battlegroup into the EU’s wider tools and strategies, making it clear that we are not looking to alter the level of ambition, nor to reopen the battlegroup concept. We will continue to push for the battlegroup to be a more credible, usable and deployable entity, working closely with civilian actors, to make a positive contribution to international crisis management. Future UK offers to act as a framework nation for the EUBG will be kept under review.

EU: Insolvency

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Viscount Younger of Leckie): My honourable friend the Minister of State for Employment Relations and Consumers Affairs (Jo Swinson) has today made the following Statement.

The UK has opted in to the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Regulation (EC) No. 1346/2000 on insolvency proceedings (“the existing regulation”).

The proposal meets the criteria set out in the coalition agreement with regard to EU justice and home affairs measures. In particular, the Government consider that it is in the UK’s interest to opt into the proposal because it will be of general benefit to creditors and businesses in the UK and EU.

The decision to opt in was unanimously supported by stakeholders who responded to a call for evidence during February 2013. I intend to publish the responses received later today.

I believe the proposed amendments to the insolvency regulation will benefit UK businesses affected by insolvency in the EU. The proposals support business

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rescue by expanding the scope of the regulation to restructuring and pre-insolvency proceedings. Bankruptcy tourism will be tackled through new rules on determining jurisdiction and increased transparency for creditors. In addition, the proposals include new rules on publication of insolvency information via free online registers across the EU, in line with our digital by default strategy.

The Government will now participate fully in negotiations on the draft text of the amended regulation.

European Arrest Warrants

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Theresa May) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have been informed by the chair of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) that it has identified an error in the way in which the agency has captured and reported the number of outgoing (Part 3) European Arrest Warrants (EAW) that have been issued since 2009/10. The chair of SOCA has assured me that there is no evidence to suggest that this error in data capture has had any operational impact on the way in which EAWs have been processed by SOCA, or any other part of the criminal justice system, or therefore on public protection.

What it does mean, however, is that some answers to Parliamentary Questions, and other reports to Parliament, will have been inaccurate and I wanted to make this clear to this House at an early opportunity and, reflecting the seriousness with which I regard this matter, set out the steps I am taking to ensure that this does not happen in future.

This error in capturing data was identified as a result of processes undertaken by SOCA in moving to a new case management system. In order to ensure that any revised figures are completely accurate I have asked HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary (HMCIC), to undertake an audit not only of data for part 3 (outgoing) cases collected since 2009-10 but also that for part 1 (incoming) cases over the same time period, a process which SOCA has already set in train, so that I am in a position to correct quickly any misleading information which has been given to Parliament. I want also to test the assurance I have been given about operational impact and public protection.

I have also asked HMCIC to assure me that the new case information management system (CIMS) will provide accurate data so that this House can, in future, have confidence in the data it is given by my department in this area.

I have agreed with HMCIC that this work will be completed as soon as possible and by the middle of May at the latest. I will then update this House with the accurate figures and the necessary assurances about the CIMS system. This will include providing a list of Parliamentary Questions and other reports where the inaccurate information has been provided.

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Food: Horsemeat Fraud

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley): My honourable friend the Minister of State for Agriculture and Food (David Heath) has today made the following Statement.

I would like to update the House on developments since the Secretary of State’s Written Ministerial Statement on 26 March 2013 (Official Report, col. 90WS) on the latest results from the testing of beef products for the presence of horsemeat and on plans for reviewing lessons learnt.

On 9 April, the Food Standards Agency published further test results from the first two phases of the UK-wide authenticity survey of beef products on sale at a range of retail and catering outlets. These samples were collected by local authorities and were tested for both horse and pig DNA by public analysts. Results for four of the remaining five samples which had been in dispute have been confirmed. Two samples were found to contain horse DNA at the 1% reporting limit. Neither product was found to contain the veterinary drug phenylbutazone (known as bute) or pig DNA. The two other disputed samples, which did not contain horse DNA, were confirmed as being below 1% pig DNA and neither product was labelled as halal or kosher. This leaves results from one disputed sample still to be reported from the further independent analysis.

Therefore, from these latest results out of a total of 362 samples taken from the first two phases of the UK-wide local authority survey, 354 were clear of both horse and pig DNA at the 1% reporting limit. Four samples have been confirmed as testing positive for horse DNA over 1% and three samples contained pig DNA over the 1% reporting limit. All these products were withdrawn from sale following receipt of the first test results and named on the Food Standards Agency website.

These results are in addition to the results of 5,430 industry tests reported to the House on 4 March 2013 (Official Report, col. 54WS) which indicated that over 99% of processed beef products found no horse DNA at or above 1%. The findings of phases 1 and 2 of the local authority survey are consistent with those from the tests carried out by the food industry. The results confirm that adulteration of beef products with horse or pork meat has been limited to a relatively small number of products.

The food industry has agreed to continue to provide data on its ongoing tests for horse DNA in processed beef products, with identification of individual products testing positive above the 1% reporting limit. Future reports on industry testing in the UK will be published quarterly, and the Food Standards Agency will publish the next results in early June. It will continue to report individual products testing positive above the 1% reporting limit as soon as they are confirmed by the food industry.

On 9 April Asda reported to the Food Standards Agency a positive test for the presence of very low levels of bute in its 340g tins of smart price corned beef. This product was tested by Asda as part of the

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industry testing programme and found to be positive for horse DNA above 1% and was withdrawn from Asda’s shelves on 8 March 2013. As with all products that tested positive for horse DNA over 1% it was tested for bute, as required by the Food Standards Agency. Bute was present at a level of four parts per billion—4ppb. This level is close to the limits of laboratory detection so a very low level of bute has been found in this product. Since the horsemeat investigation began in January 2013, this is the only meat product that has tested positive for bute. Asda has recalled the product.

The Chief Medical Officer has previously stated that horsemeat containing phenylbutazone at very low levels presents a very low risk to human health. In the UK horse carcasses must have a negative bute test before they are allowed to enter the food chain. The Food Standards Agency is currently investigating this specific issue and will take action as necessary. It also notified the European Commission on 10 April about this positive test result for bute via the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed

On 10 April, the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) recalled 50,000 tonnes of meat sold as beef across Europe over a two-year period that may contain horsemeat. The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority said 370 different companies around Europe and 132 more in the Netherlands were affected by the recall because they bought meat from a Dutch trading company. The FSA has been informed by the Dutch authorities that a small number of UK businesses may have received products from the trading company that operates under the names of Willy Selten and Wiljo. As the NVWA was unable to say with certainty whether all of the customers had been identified the authority took the unusual step of publishing Selten and Wiljo’s names. The FSA is following up with these businesses as a matter of urgency.

At a European level, we are continuing to work closely with the Commission and other member states, sharing information via the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed. The Commission has recently drawn up a five-point action plan including specific measures on the following: fighting food fraud, testing programme, horse passports, official controls and origin labelling. A copy of this plan has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. This five-point plan was discussed at an EU Working Group meeting of experts on 10 April which was a useful exchange of views in advance of further discussions at official level later this week. We have submitted UK data on our own testing programmes to the Commission. We expect the Commission to publish a summary of tests conducted by all member states on 16 April.

At its open meeting on 17 April, the board of the Food Standards Agency will consider a recommendation that it commissions an external review of its response to incidents of the adulteration of processed beef products with horse and pig meat and DNA. Such a review would be expected to make recommendations to the June board meeting on the relevant capacity and capabilities of the FSA and any actions that should be taken to maintain or build them.

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With the Secretary of State for Health’s agreement, my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State will announce a strategic review of the incident and its implications for the food chain and regulatory framework on behalf of our departments shortly. This will be wide ranging, to restore and maintain consumer confidence in the food chain and consider the responsibilities of food businesses, and practice throughout the wider food chain, including: audit, testing, food authenticity, food safety and health issues. It will advise us of vulnerabilities within the food chain and its regulatory framework that might be exploited for other fraudulent activity. The review will also consider any wider implications of the Food Standards Agency review’s findings.

I reiterate that food fraud is completely unacceptable. Consumers must have confidence in the food they buy and have every right to expect that food is correctly described. UK investigations on this issue continue with the City of London Police acting as the co-ordinating police authority. It is also right that any weaknesses in our food system and the controls it is subject to are identified and dealt with. I will continue to keep the House informed.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Consular Services

Statement

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (William Hague) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have today launched a new consular strategy for 2013 to 2016 titled “Consular Excellence”. This strategy will deliver better service for British people over the next three years.

Millions of British people travel abroad every year. Most have a journey free from trouble and do not need consular services. However sometimes things go wrong and British nationals can be victims of serious crime, require hospitalisation or be caught up in a major crisis. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has staff in 146 cities around the world able and ready to provide assistance when necessary, often in tragic circumstances. The FCO is committed to doing its utmost to assist British nationals in serious difficulties abroad.

I am proud of the great work the FCO’s consular service does, but it can be better. Under this new strategy the FCO aims to have the best consular service in the world by 2016. The FCO will build on significant improvements made in the past six years, including greater investment in staff, better crisis response, building regional structures and the start of transferring passport work. By 2016, the FCO will have a modern, efficient service supporting British nationals overseas. We will do more to help those who need it most: those who are most at risk because of who they are, where they are or what has happened to them. We will deliver more services through expert partners, and where it is

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reasonable, ask people to help themselves. The FCO will also introduce a modern and streamlined notarial and documentary service. All these changes will help us respond better to changing needs and react faster to crisis situations.

The FCO is also responding to British nationals needs to be best informed about crisis and security situations when overseas. We are updating its systems to offer a wide array of ways to stay in touch on these issues, including e-mail updates of the FCO’s country-specific travel advice or by following FCO on social media. Around 125 of our overseas posts have Facebook pages and over 100 posts have Twitter accounts that are used to communicate changes to travel advice. Not only will the public be able to access FCO travel advice online at any time, but those who want to will be alerted when there are major updates. More specifically, the strategy will see:

improvements to our services, so that we achieve consistently excellent standards, with our efforts focused more on helping the people who need it the most, and doing less where we can deliver a service differently or it is reasonable to ask people to help themselves; improvements to the customer experience, giving British nationals greater choice in how they access our services and how they can reach us. As a result, four contact centres will be created, offering a streamlined route to consular services;digital transformation, with more services available online and more use of technology to help us deliver services;engagement with customers and partners, improving our processes for gathering feedback and for carrying out consultations with special interest groups and British nationals;support for our networks and development of our people, helping to maintain and build greater professionalism amongst our staff and ensure that we have resilient structures in place to enable proper service delivery;improvements to our crisis response, embedding the major changes to our processes since the Arab Spring, continuing regular exercising of our posts overseas and increasing engagement with other interested parties. In effect, the FCO is moving from a system where British nationals are encouraged to register when they travel in case there is a crisis, to one where we are using a number of channels to give British nationals the latest information and advice on what they should do if they need our help in a crisis. This faster and more practical system supersedes the Locate system, which had been used by less than 1% of British nationals overseas did not offer what FCO needs to help support British nationals in a crisis. Those who have already registered with the FCO on Locate will be contacted directly to make sure they are aware of how to stay informed and also how to communicate with FCO if they need help; andtransferring overseas passport production to the Identity and Passport Service in the UK, establishing a more consistent, secure, efficient and cost-effective service.

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I am committed to ensuring FCO has the best crisis IT system in the world. The FCO will also continue to encourage the British public to take sensible precautions, read FCO travel advice and take responsibility for their own safety first, particularly if they are travelling to or living in high-risk locations.

The new Consular Strategy is available on GOV.UK at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/consular-strategy in accordance with Government Digital by Default principles. I have placed a copy of the strategy in the Libraries of both Houses.

Housing: Private Rented Sector

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing (Mark Prisk) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement on 16 April 2013.

Helping the construction industry into a sustainable recovery is key to the overall economic recovery of the country. As part of an impressive large scale housing package, the Chancellor increased the Build to Rent Fund from £200 million to £1 billion in Budget 2013. This will provide much needed development finance to house builders and developers building new homes for market rent.

Today, I can announce to the House the first projects we will be taking forward. These 45 bids provide strong investment propositions, which will move forward for competitive clarification and due diligence. We expect these projects to receive a share of up to £700 million as they go under contract to deliver up to 10,000 new homes. A further bidding round for additional projects is expected to open later this year.

These projects represent a wide range of innovative models, including new delivery partnerships and building design, and will provide a good spread across England, with around one-quarter in London. We will be working with a range of developers and house builders of varying sizes. This includes well established organisations, as well as new players.

For many of the projects that we are not taking forward at this stage, advice will be offered by the newly created expert private rented sector task force, which will work with bidders to support them in refining proposals for future viable investment. The private rented sector expert task force is headed by Andrew Stanford, former head of Cluttons Residential. Further team members join the department this month and they include:

Julian D’Arcy of Kirkby Capital, a former regional chairman and proprietary partner at Knight Frank;Joanna Embling, a property consultant and chartered surveyor, specialising in urban redevelopment and a former equity partner at Cushman Wakefield;Tracey Hartley, a specialist asset manager for large scale residential landlord Grainger plc; andDominic Martin, senior analyst at EC Harris and a qualified surveyor.

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Work continues to get the housing guarantees up and running. Bidding has closed for delivery of the guarantees, and we will be announcing the arrangements later, in May. Further details are available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/improving-the-rented-housing-sector--2/supporting-pages/private-rented-sector.

Projects being taken forward to competitive clarification and due diligence stage:

Applicant

A2 Dominion Housing

Blackswan Property

Bouygues Development

Bovis Homes

Broomleigh Regeneration

Carillion-Igloo

Carpenter Investments

CCURV LLP

Chestnut Homes

Clearstorm

Climate Energy Homes

Countryside x 2

Crest Nicholson

CS Capital Partners

Derwentside Homes

Evenbrook Capital

Genesis Housing Association

Geronimo

Grainger

Greenwich Peninsula

Housing Solutions

Hurst Street

Inland Homes

Keepmoat

Kier Project Investment

YH Residential

Lendlease

Lovell Partnerships

LPC Living

Mill Group

Mount Anvil

Muse Developments

Network Housing Group

Notting Hill Housing

Orbit Homes 2020

Persimmon Homes

PlaceFirst x 2

Plus Dane

Quintain Estates

Regeneration

Relta

South Yorkshire Housing Association

Taylor Wimpey

Human Rights and Democracy

Statement

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (William Hague) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

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I have today laid before the House a copy of the 2012 Foreign and Commonwealth Office Report on Human Rights and Democracy (CM 8593).

The report comprehensively assesses the global human rights situation in 2012 and provides information about some important developments in early 2013. It sets out what the Government are doing through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to promote human rights and democratic values around the world in three principal areas: it documents how we are seeking to exert a positive influence in a range of countries where we have serious concerns about the human rights situation; it assesses progress on a number of thematic issues that cut across geographical boundaries; and it reports on areas where we believe we have seen positive developments over the past year.

We have made some changes to the format of the report itself this year, including the introduction of new chapters. As our topical theme for the 2012 report we have chosen “promoting and protecting human rights through the UN”. We believe that the UN’s Human Rights Council is coming of age and that its Universal Periodic Review process has already developed into a valuable mechanism for holding countries accountable for their human rights record. The theme is also timely as the UK is standing for re-election to the Human Rights Council later this year. We have also introduced a new chapter on our Human Rights and Democracy Programme and added a section on the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, which I launched last year.

For this year’s report, we decided to review the criteria we use for deciding which countries are of most human rights concern to the UK. We drew on feedback from the Foreign Affairs Committee and consulted with the Foreign Secretary’s Advisory Group on Human Rights in coming up with a revised list of criteria.

The primary criterion for inclusion as a country of concern is the gravity of the human rights situation in the country, including both the severity of particular abuses and the range of human rights affected. The other criteria then considered are: whether a deterioration or improvement in the human rights situation in the country would have a wider impact in the region; whether the human rights situation in the country has an impact on wider UK interests; and the level of UK activity and engagement in that country.

FCO geographical directors, drawing on input from our embassies and high commissions and taking account of evidence from other expert sources such as the UN and civil society, assessed all the countries in their regions against this newly revised set of criteria. Ministers then made the final decision on the list of countries of concern to be included in the report. As a result of this analysis, we retained 27 of the 28 countries highlighted in 2011, dropping only Chad.

I also decided that we should retain case studies, which we introduced last year as a way to report on countries that do not meet the overall threshold for a country of concern but whose human rights performance we judge to be on a changing trajectory. While many case studies focus on countries on a negative trajectory,

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in others we want to highlight a particular thematic issue. These countries remain subject to in-year monitoring and reporting.

These changes to our reporting system underline the Government’s determination to ensure that the report continues to remain relevant and timely. I hope that 2013 will conclude with our successful re-election to the Human Rights Council so the UK can continue to play a leading role in this important institution.

You can read the report at www.hrdreport.fco.gov.uk.

Intellectual Property Office

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Viscount Younger of Leckie): As an executive agency and trading fund of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, we set targets which are agreed by Ministers and laid before Parliament. During 2013-14 our targets are to:

finalise secondary legislation to implement Hargreaves’ recommendations regarding copyright exceptions;achieve at least 90% delivery of the provision of an accelerated two-month turnaround for patent search, publication, and examination when needed by the applicant;introduce a secure identification system to facilitate the electronic management of rights by our customers;ensure customer satisfaction is at least 80%;working with police and industry, establish a specialist police IP crime unit capable of tackling infringement and counterfeits on the internet;with partners, develop and deliver a campaign to build understanding of and respect for intellectual property among consumers and young people. In its first year, the campaign will secure media messaging which reaches at least 4 million people and drive a 5% increase in hits on campaign-related web pages;provide access to online training in IP issues for business advisors, at both a basic level free of charge, and an advanced level at a commercial rate, with the aim of reaching 500 advisers by 31 March 2014;support our people in developing their capability, such that 95% complete an agreed development objective by 31 March 2014;achieve a return on capital employed of at least 4%; anddeliver an efficiency gain of at least 3.5%.

Justice: Cautions

Statement

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Secretary of State for Justice, together with the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General, on 3 April launched 2013 a review of simple cautions. This will examine the way in which simple cautions are currently

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used, and consider the need for any changes to policy or practice to ensure that there is transparency, accountability and public confidence in the use of simple cautions as a disposal.

The review will include (but not necessarily be restricted to) the examination of:

existing guidance and practice relating to the use of simple cautions;

the question of whether there are some offence types for which the use of simple cautions is generally inappropriate—and if so, what procedures should be adopted;the multiple use of cautions;the need for increased scrutiny of, and accountability for, the use of a caution in any given case, or the general approach adopted in a police force area to the use of cautions as a disposal; andthe impact on individuals of accepting a caution—taking into account the recent case of T-v-Chief Constable of Greater Manchester and others.

While I do not intend to conduct a formal public consultation, officials will work widely and closely with the main criminal justice bodies, (police, prosecutors, the magistracy and judiciary), as well as the wider legal community and those voluntary and third sector organisations with an interest in the criminal justice system.

The review will report to criminal justice Ministers by the end of May 2013 and any government proposals stemming from consideration of this will be brought forward in due course.

Land Registry

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Viscount Younger of Leckie): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Business and Enterprise (Michael Fallon) has today made the following Statement.

I can announce that today I have appointed Ed Lester as the Land Registry chief executive. His appointment concludes a three month open and transparent competition, overseen by the Civil Service Commission.

From day one he will be on payroll and his salary will be £135,000. He will also be eligible for a performance-related award package of up to 20% of base salary. This would be awarded for excellent performance against a clear set of specific objectives aligned with delivering Land Registry’s strategy.

Ed Lester’s previous role was chief executive of the Student Loans Company where he led the organisation through a period of major transformation and where it become an early model of the Government’s digital by default programme.

This experience will be invaluable to the Land Registry as it moves into the implementation phase of its own transformation to become an exemplar of a highly efficient, digital and data-centric organisation. This includes digitising its core registration processes and developing a more strategic approach to data to support wider economic growth.

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Legal Aid

Statement

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 9 April I published the consultation paper Transforming Legal Aid: Delivering a More Credible and Efficient System, copies of which have been placed in the Library and are available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office.

We have already implemented a programme of reforms to legal aid comprising reductions in fees paid to criminal and civil legal aid service providers and changes to civil legal aid scope and eligibility. Those reforms should deliver savings of some £320 million per annum in 2014-15.

However, against a backdrop of continuing pressure on public finances, we need to continue to bear down on the cost of legal aid to ensure we are getting the best deal for the taxpayer and that the system commands the confidence of the public. These new proposals aim to do so in ways that ensure limited public resources are targeted at those cases which justify it and those people who need it, drive greater efficiency in the provider market and for the Legal Aid Agency, and support our wider efforts to transform the justice system.

While the earlier reforms have done much to ensure that taxpayer funding is targeted at those who most need it, there remain some anomalies which we believe undermine the credibility of the scheme and of the wider justice system. We do not, for example, believe it is right for the taxpayer to fund the Crown Court defence of those who can afford to pay, for civil cases that lack merit, for weak judicial review cases, or for matters which are not of sufficient priority to justify public money and which can be resolved through non-legal channels. We are also clear that someone should have a strong connection with the UK in order to benefit from civil legal aid.

The primary focus of our proposals is in relation to crime, where we are still spending over £1 billion a year. We are proposing to introduce a model of competitive tendering, initially in criminal legal aid work only and over a longer period in civil and family services. Our preferred approach is to introduce competition for the full range of litigation services (except very high costs cases (crime)) and magistrates’ court representation. For criminal advocacy, we propose to restructure the Crown Court advocacy fee scheme in ways that should help encourage efficient working and the prompt resolution of cases, consistent with our overall objectives for the criminal justice system, and to reduce the use of multiple counsel. We are also proposing to reduce fees paid in very high cost cases (crime), which are the small number of cases that attract a disproportionately high level of spend. The overall effect on advocates will be to rebalance the fee income so those at the top take the greatest reduction, while those earning the lowest fees may actually see a small increase. We also propose limited reform to civil

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legal aid and experts’ fees to ensure they are fair and consistent with those paid for similar work, represent better value for money and reflect efficiencies within the justice system.

We estimate that the proposals set out in this consultation would, if implemented, deliver savings of some £220 million per annum in 2018-19.

National Minimum Wage

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Viscount Younger of Leckie): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Dr Vince Cable) has today made the following Statement.

The Low Pay Commission’s 2013 report and recommendations to the Government are being published today, alongside the Government’s response.

The Low Pay Commissions 2013 report

The main recommendations put forward by the Low Pay Commission concern the rates of the national minimum wage. The Commission has recommended that the adult hourly rate of the national minimum wage should increase from £6.19 to £6.31. The Commission has recommended increasing the development rate, which covers workers aged 18-20 year-olds, from £4.98 to £5.03 and increasing the rate for 16-17 year-olds from £3.68 to £3.72. It recommends that the apprentice rate should remain at £2.65. It recommended that these changes take place in October 2013.

The Commission has also recommended that the accommodation offset increases from the current £4.82 to £4.91 in October 2013.

The Government accept the recommendations on the adult and youth rates, and on the accommodation offset, but has concluded that the apprentice rate should be increased by 3p to £2.68 from 1 October 2013.

Governments response to individual recommendations in the Low Pay Commissions 2013 report

National minimum wage rates

We recommend that the adult rate of the national minimum wage be increased by 1.9%, or 12 pence, to £6.31 an hour, from 1 October 2013.

We recommend an increase of 1.0% in the youth development rate to £5.03 an hour and in the 16-17 year-old rate to £3.72 an hour from 1 October 2013.

We recommend that the accommodation offset be increased by 1.9%, to £4.91 a day, from 1 October 2013.

Accept

We recommend that the apprentice rate should remain at £2.65 an hour from 1 October 2013.

Reject

The Government share the commission’s concern about non-compliance with the apprentice minimum wage and we are clear that employers must pay their staff at least the minimum wage. However, we believe that it is important to maintain the relative position of the apprentice rate compared to benefits and the youth rates to preserve the attractiveness of apprenticeships

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for young people. The Government have concluded therefore that a 1% increase in the apprentice rate would be appropriate. This is in line with the recommended increases in the youth rates; evidence in the commission’s report shows that the majority of apprentices paid on and just above the apprentice rate are young people. It is also the planned level of public sector pay and benefit increases. We consider that the modest level of this increase would not have significant adverse effects on employment or training for apprentices. In conjunction with this, we are putting in place a package of measures to improve compliance, including focused communications and targeted enforcement by HM Revenue and Customs.

Accommodation offset

We recommend that the accommodation offset should remain the only permitted benefit in kind that can count towards payment of the national minimum wage and there should be only one rate. It should apply irrespective of whether the worker has a choice over taking the accommodation.

Accept

Salaried-hours workers

We recommend that the regulations for salaried-hours workers continue to be required in all their essentials. In order to make it as simple and easy as possible to achieve national minimum wage compliance the Government should adapt their guidance to include examples and an online means of determining what payment is required.

Accept

Compliance

We recommend that the Government should combine a communications campaign and a targeted enforcement initiative to ensure that the apprentice rate is known to employers and apprentices, and that infringers are caught, punished, and wherever appropriate, named.

Accept

The Government believe that this recommendation should be viewed alongside the apprentice rate recommendation. The Government accept this recommendation and in fact go further than is proposed. There will be a multifaceted push on non-compliance in this area.

We recommend that contracts issued by public bodies which commission the provision of social care should contain a clause requiring at least the national minimum wage to be paid, just as they may require compliance with other aspects of the law, such as health and safety legislation. The Government should take responsibility for bringing this about.

Note

The Government fully agree with the commission’s aim of reducing non-compliance in this sector. However, we believe there are more effective ways to achieve this. The Department of Health and the Department for Communities and Local Government are working together to develop tougher measures to deter non-compliance as well as support to improve compliance.

The Low Pay Commission’s report has been presented to Parliament today (Command Paper 8565).

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North Korea

Statement

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (William Hague) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I would like to update the House on recent developments on the Korean peninsula and the action the Government are taking in response.

I am concerned by North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and missile technology, and more recently by its frenetic and bellicose rhetoric. I am also concerned by the danger of miscalculation by the North Korean regime. The international response to this must be clear, united and calm.

UN Security Council Resolution 2094, adopted on 7 March in response to the nuclear test on 12 February, was agreed by consensus. This is a strong signal of the international community’s unity and resolve. The measures in this resolution provide the international community with the enhanced means to tackle North Korea’s illicit proliferation. In addition, the resolution makes clear that the UN Security Council would take further significant measures in the event of another North Korean launch or nuclear test.

G8 Foreign Ministers also discussed the international response to North Korea at our meeting last week. This resulted in a clear joint statement that included condemnation in the strongest possible terms of North Korea’s continued development of its nuclear and ballistic programmes, and we urged North Korea to engage in credible and authentic multilateral talks on denuclearisation. Foreign Ministers all agreed that North Korea must address these and other issues and co-operate fully with all relevant UN mechanisms. We made clear our support to the UNSCR commitment to take further significant measures in the event of a further launch or nuclear test by North Korea.

The statement of the G8 Foreign Ministers also expressed concern over the systematic and widespread human rights violations in North Korea. This echoed the agreement in the UN Human Rights Council on 21 March to establish a Commission of Inquiry on human rights abuses in North Korea. The fact that this inquiry was agreed without a vote again demonstrates the strong international consensus that North Korea cannot and should not continue on its current course.

We are working to ensure all states fully implement the latest UN Security Council Resolution and have been speaking to international partners about the importance of this. The UK is not a member of the Six Party Talks, but we will remain in close touch with the US, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan on their approach towards North Korea. I have also spoken to the South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byun-se, where I welcomed South Korea’s measured approach to the situation and confirmed that the UK will continue to support our allies in the region.

In this call I stressed the importance of not responding to North Korean rhetoric. Our assessment remains that there has been no immediate increased risk or

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danger to those living in or travelling to either North or South Korea. We judge there is no immediate need to either change the level of our travel advice or draw down embassy staff, although we are keeping this under constant review and making regular factual updates to our travel advice.

The UK played a leading role in work to agree a co-ordinated and unified response by EU member states to the 10 April deadline set by North Korea for embassies to notify them of what assistance they would require should they wish to be evacuated from North Korea. We made sure that the EU took this opportunity to remind North Korea of its international obligations on proliferation. From our discussions with other Governments, we do not believe any foreign embassy in Pyongyang is currently planning to close.

Our message to North Korea is clear. It has a choice, between constructive engagement with the international community, or further international action and isolation. The choice it is taking now will lead it to be a broken country, isolated from the rest of the world.

Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre: Key Performance Targets

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): I am today announcing key performance targets have been agreed for the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre for the period 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014.

The agency’s principal financial target for 2013-14 is to achieve a minimum dividend payment to the Department for Communities and Local Government of £1.5 million as proposed in the business plan for the year.

The agency also has the following targets to achieve:

a minimum 52% occupancy of its rooms based on a theoretical full occupancy revenue of £9.7 million;an overall score for value for money satisfaction of greater than 90%;the number of complaints received to be less than two per 100 events; andan average response time when answering complaints of less than four working days.

Syria

Statement

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): I informed the House on 6 March 2013 (Official Report, col. 961) that I intended to provide additional non-lethal equipment to the Syrian opposition in order to help save lives. I have today laid a departmental minute containing details of that gift.

The gift includes:

five 4x4 vehicles with ballistic protection and 20 sets of body armour to the Syrian opposition National Coalition’s Assistance Co-ordination Unit;

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three 25-tonne trucks, one 20-tonne truck, four 12-tonne trucks, six 4x4 SUVs, five pick-ups, one recovery vehicle and four forklifts to ensure that the Assistance Co-ordination Unit has the means to deliver assistance in the quantities necessary to have an impact on the suffering in Syria; and three advanced civil resilience kits for regional hubs and 22 basic civil resilience kits for other local councils; 107 generators; 130 solar powered batteries; hundreds of radios, water purification kits and rubbish collection kits; as well as basic administrative equipment (laptops, VSATs and printers). This equipment will support local administrative councils, through the National Coalition, to extricate the injured from the rubble in the aftermath of a mortar attack and to provide clean water and refuse management equipment to prevent the spread of disease.

Making the gift was a matter of special urgency because of the appalling and deteriorating situation on the ground and the urgent need to help the Syrian opposition deliver support to civilians. Owing to the Easter Recess, this gift was notified to the Committee of Public Accounts to consider on Parliament’s behalf. I also wrote to the chairs of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Defence Committee and the Committee on Arms Export Controls to inform them of this process. As no objections were received, we have now proceeded with the arrangements to make these gifts.

UK Convergence Programme

Statement

The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Deighton): My right honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Greg Clark) has today issued the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993 requires the Government to report to Parliament, for its approval, an assessment of the UK’s medium-term economic and budgetary position. This assessment which has been prepared annually since 1994, currently comprises the Budget report and the Office for Budget Responsibility’s (OBR’s) economic and fiscal outlook.

This then forms the basis of the UK’s convergence programme, which is therefore based entirely on information already presented to Parliament. The UK is obliged to submit a convergence programme annually to the European Commission under Article 121 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Article 121, along with Article 126, is the legal basis for the stability and growth pact, which is the co-ordination mechanism for EU fiscal policies and requires member states to avoid excessive government deficits. Although the UK is bound by the stability and growth pact, by virtue of its protocol to the treaty opting out of the euro, it is only required to endeavour to avoid excessive deficits. Unlike the euro area member states, the UK is not subject to sanctions at any stage of the European semester process.

Subject to the progress of parliamentary business, debates will be held on 22 April for the House of Commons and 25 April for the House of Lords in

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order for both Houses to approve this assessment before the convergence programme is submitted to the Commission. While the convergence programme itself is not subject to parliamentary approval or amendment, I will deposit advanced copies of the document on 19 April that will be made available to Members through the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office.

The Budget report and the Office for Budget Responsibility’s economic and fiscal outlook were laid in Parliament on 20 March 2013. All the information the convergence programme will contain has therefore already been published and made available to Members.

The UK’s convergence programme will be published in late April and will be available electronically via HM Treasury’s website after publication. It will be submitted to the EU by 30 April as required by the European Commission.

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Urenco

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Viscount Younger of Leckie): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Business and Enterprise (Michael Fallon) has today made the following Statement.

I wish to inform the House that the Government have decided to work with our partners in the uranium enrichment company Urenco to move forward preparations for the sale of all or part of our one-third shareholding. It is government policy not to continue to hold shares in companies where the shareholding itself does not deliver any policy objective. Any sale of our Urenco shareholding remains contingent upon full protection of our security and non-proliferation interests, and upon achieving value for money for the UK taxpayer.