9 Jun 2014 : Column 21WS

Written Statements

Monday 9 June 2014

Business, Innovation and Skills

EU Competitiveness Council

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Michael Fallon): My noble Friend, the Minister for Trade and Investment, Lord Livingston of Parkhead, has made the following statement:

The Competitiveness Council took place in Brussels on 26 May. The UK was represented by Shan Morgan, the Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU. Internal market and industry was discussed during the morning session with research, innovation and space being discussed in the afternoon session.

The Council opened with a presentation by the Commission on the current state of play of the state aid modernisation programme. In the discussion that followed the UK expressed its support for strong state aid rules and added that further work should be undertaken by the Commission to streamline and accelerate the approval system.

Modernisation of trade defence instruments was then discussed as an any other business item. The discussion focused on the Commission’s decision to adopt the non-legislative guidelines before agreement of the legislative proposal. Several member states, including the UK, intervened stating that the initiative should have been presented as a package. However, the Commission rejected this noting that it has exclusive competence on matters relating to trade and that no undertaking had been made, committing the Commission to issuing the guidelines and legislation as a package.

Following this, the Commission presented a progress report on the package travel directive, which the Council noted.

The Council then considered three intellectual property issues. First, the Commission provided a progress report on the trade mark package (there was no substantive discussion). Secondly, the Council agreed a general approach on the trade secrets directive. During discussions, the UK, with support of other the member states, intervened to praise the presidency’s draft and confirm this was the only draft that could result in an agreement. Finally, the presidency presented an information point on the European patent and unitary patent court, during which it noted the positive outcome of a referendum in Denmark on the establishment of the unitary patent court. The UK, along with several other member states, intervened to note the importance of the court and to emphasise that implementation should not be rushed so as to ensure that systems are right.

Denmark and the Netherlands introduced an any other business item on the frontrunners initiative. The initiative is designed to further improve the single market through the sharing of best practice, peer review and ambitious approaches to the implementation of single market rules.

The UK is a participant in the frontrunners initiative and intervened to express its support for it. The initiative was welcomed by both the incoming presidency and the Commission.

The Council agreed a general approach on the regulation on the deployment of the eCall in-vehicle system. This is an automatic system which alerts the emergency services when a vehicle has been involved in an accident. The UK has long opposed this and intervened, opposing the general approach, maintaining that a voluntary approach would be best given the costs of the regulation outweigh the benefits.

9 Jun 2014 : Column 22WS

The Commission updated member states on the current state of play of key enabling technologies and raw materials, during which it announced the adoption of a new list of critical raw materials.

In the afternoon the research, innovation and space agenda opened with a discussion on the draft Council conclusions on improving relations between the EU and the European Space Agency (ESA), during which the importance of improving the relationship between these institutions was stressed, with a number of member states noting that the best way to achieve this was through revision of the existing framework agreement or the creation of a new EU pillar in the ESA.

The Council agreed with the conclusion on European research infrastructures. The UK intervened to explain why a declaration with eight other member states had been tabled. All of the signatories explained that they felt strongly that the Commission should spend no more than half of the moneys set aside for research infrastructures this year (€90 million) on the top three priority projects. The presidency outlined its paper which argued that there should be a public-public partnership (article 185 of the treaty) for Euro-Mediterranean co-operation. Eight member states gave their full support. The UK, along with four other member states were all supportive of the general ambition of the initiative, but asked for additional information about the likely added value and an impact assessment before taking a final stance. The Commission welcomed the progress made.

Finally, the Italian delegation gave a presentation on their presidency, noting that they will prioritise mainstreaming competitiveness, industrial competitiveness, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the review of the Europe 2020 strategy.

UK Coal Production Ltd

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Michael Fallon): I want to update the House on matters concerning UK Coal Production Ltd, further to the statement I provided to the House on 10 April 2014, Official Report, column 24WS.

As the House will recall, the Government’s intention in principle is to provide a commercial loan, alongside contributions from private sector parties, as part of a consortium created to avoid the immediate insolvency of UK Coal. Such participation remains conditional on both the negotiation of final terms that provide adequate protection to taxpayers, and the Government securing assurance that all parties are committed to successful delivery of the closure plan.

Significant progress has been made in this regard since April. However, a number of important matters need to be concluded before the final terms of the loan are agreed among all the parties and the funds can be made available to the company.

The company has performed well and production levels have been better than forecast. It is hoped that resolution and conclusion will be reached in the coming weeks. The exact amount of any Government loan is yet to be finalised and is still expected to be in the region of £10 million.

It is the Government’s intention that any party who wishes to come forward with investment to maintain the mines beyond autumn 2015, without Government support, will remain free to do so.

I should also like to again acknowledge the continuing support the company is receiving from its work force, customers, suppliers and creditors during this challenging period. I will continue to keep the House updated.

9 Jun 2014 : Column 23WS

Defence

Reserve Forces

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr Mark Francois): A new call-out order has been made under section 56(l)(a) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable reservists to be called into permanent service as part of the UK’s contribution to EUFOR operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina over the period July to December 2014.

We anticipate calling out only a small number of reservists with specialist skills and experience who will operate alongside their regular colleagues. This is fully in line with our policy of having more capable, usable, integrated and relevant reserve forces.

Currently, we plan on calling out only willing and available reservists, who have the support of their employer.

The order takes effect from 29 May 2014 and ceases to have effect on 31 December 2014.

Defence Infrastructure Organisation

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): Further to my statement of 10 March 2014, Official Report, column 2WS regarding the preferred bidder for the strategic business partner (SBP) to operate with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), I am able to announce that the contract has now been awarded to Capita in conjunction with URS and PA Consulting.

The introduction of a strategic business partner will enable the DIO to make a significant contribution to departmental savings as set out in the 2010 strategic defence and security review and will strengthen the service we provide across defence.

Following the establishment of the DIO in April 2011, a significant transformation programme was instigated and in early 2011 the Ministry of Defence board considered the outline case for the introduction of an SBP for DIO.

The case set out the potential financial benefits of adopting a different business model in DIO whereby an SBP would be engaged to drive the transformation of DIO further and deliver rationalisation and efficiency improvements. The key areas were:

a. access to market-competitive skills and a right-sized organisation through organisational optimisation work during the short-term transformation phase of the contract;

b. access to greater capacity for transformation and specialist skills through reach-back to the partner company;

c. access to private sector funding that might be brought into use for pump-priming estate rationalisation and for spend-to-save on efficiency improvements.

Capita in conjunction with URS and PA Consulting has been selected as the strategic business partner for a 10-year contract on a predominately incentive based gain-share arrangement. The DIO will now undertake further trade union consultation with the intention of creating a GovCo to manage defence infrastructure from 2016.

9 Jun 2014 : Column 24WS

Operation Althea (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr Andrew Murrison): The House will be aware that the UK is a long standing supporter of the EU mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), EUFOR, and its role to ensure a safe and secure environment in BiH.

I wish to inform the House of the UK’s plans to contribute additional military personnel to EUFOR Althea for a period of up to six months in the run up to the elections. This is in support of a request made by deputy supreme allied commander Europe to member states, following civil unrest in BiH in February this year. This unrest highlighted the need for additional capability in EUFOR, including situational awareness and operational planning.

The UK will be contributing two staff officers to support HQ planning activity and two reconnaissance platoons (around 90 personnel in total) for a period of six months, starting in July 2014. This will help to ensure EUFOR is fully prepared for any eventualities that occur during the election period.

Review Board for Government Contracts

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Dunne): I announced updated Government profit formula (GPF) allowances to the House on 15 April 2013, in line with recommendations made by the independent Review Board for Government Contracts. The review board is an independent non-departmental public body established in 1968 following an agreement between the Government and industry and its role is to recommend a fair and reasonable return for industry based on the principle of comparability in those situations where there is only one supplier of a particular good or service and, therefore, where there is no recourse to competition to establish prices.

Following the recommendations set out by Lord Currie of Marylebone in his 2011 report into the existing single source procurement system, the Government undertook a major reform programme aimed at delivering a more suitable and modern means of delivering on this key part of our procurement activities. This programme is making good progress and forms part 2 of the Defence Reform Act 2014 which received Royal Assent on 14 May 2014. This legislation will replace the review board with a more empowered public body, the Single Source Regulations Office (SSRO). In the meantime, we expect the review board to continue to produce recommendations for the current profit rate.

The review board has recently completed its 2014 General Review and has made its recommendations for the profit rate for the year beginning April 2014. The Government have accepted the board’s recommendations and the updated allowances will be implemented on new single source work undertaken in the financial year beginning 1 April 2014.

A copy of the review board’s 2014 general review report will be placed in the Library of the House.

9 Jun 2014 : Column 25WS

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Gifting of Search and Rescue Equipment (Syria)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): The situation in Syria remains dire. Innocent civilians have faced the brunt of the increasingly brutal war, with an estimated 140,000 people killed since the conflict began over three years ago. The Assad regime continues to use the most barbaric military methods and tactics available, including the use of indiscriminate artillery fire and barrel bombs. The UK is also concerned by recent reports that the regime continues to use chemical weapons against its own people. The UK remains committed to doing all it can to promote a political settlement to end the conflict, to alleviate the humanitarian suffering and to protect UK security.

On 23 January 2014, I laid a departmental minute before the House and issued a written ministerial statement—Official Report, column 10WS—setting out our plans to gift civil defence equipment to nine 25-man teams operating in opposition-controlled areas of Syria. No objections were raised to the gift and the UK distributed the equipment to civil defence teams alongside a comprehensive training package. The civil defence teams have saved lives by rescuing civilians trapped in damaged buildings and by providing emergency first aid. Our assistance has helped increase the legitimacy and capacity of moderate opposition, enabling them to save lives and deal with the aftermath of attacks.

The Government intend to expand the scale and scope of this programme by additionally training incident commanders, offering courses to a larger number of rapid response teams and by providing further specialist training on fire-fighting and medical emergency response. The departmental minute sets out in detail our plans to gift £1.6 million in equipment to Syrian beneficiaries delivering civil defence services. The proposed list of equipment includes cutting and rescue tools, personal protective gear including helmets and goggles, stretchers, medicines and medical supplies, and office and communications equipment. The programme will also raise awareness among local communities on how to prepare for, respond to and recover from regime attacks through community awareness training and the circulation of print and online material. Finally, the programme will increase co-ordination between the Syrian interim Government and civil defence teams. The programme is part of a range of support the UK is providing to help bolster the moderate Syrian opposition, including by enabling them to deliver essential services to the Syrian people inside opposition-held areas of the country. It is expected to cost up to £4 million and will be funded through the Government’s conflict pool.

The use of conflict pool funds to cover the costs of the gift has been approved by members of the conflict pool strategic programme board from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department for International Development and Ministry of Defence. The gift has been scrutinised to ensure that the provision of this equipment is consistent with export controls and complies with our international obligations. Recipients have been carefully selected to prevent equipment being given to those involved in extremist activities or human rights

9 Jun 2014 : Column 26WS

violations. All our assistance is carefully calibrated and legal, is aimed at alleviating human suffering and supporting moderate groups and is regularly monitored and evaluated.

The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle. If, during the period of 14 parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which the departmental minute was laid before the House of Commons, a member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question or a motion relating to the minute, or by otherwise raising the matter in the House, final approval of the gift will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.

Justice

Transforming Youth Custody

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling): On 17 January 2014, I informed the House of the Government’s plans to put education at the heart of detention and launch the first purpose-built secure college in the east midlands in 2017. The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which will create the statutory framework for secure colleges, is currently before this House.

A pathfinder secure college will open in April 2017, which will have a strong focus on the education and rehabilitation of young offenders, equipping them with the skills, qualifications and self-discipline they need to turn away from crime and fulfil their potential.

The Ministry of Justice has selected a preferred provider to design and build the pathfinder. A competition has taken place under the Ministry of Justice’s strategic alliance agreement framework and Wates has been selected. The Ministry of Justice will enter into a project partnering agreement with Wates and work with them to develop the design for the pathfinder.

A competition for an operator to run the pathfinder will commence in 2015.

Personal Injury Claims

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Shailesh Vara): My noble Friend, the Minister for civil justice and legal policy, Lord Faulks QC, has made the following written ministerial statement:

The Government intend to bring forward at the earliest opportunity legislative measures aimed at tackling unjustified personal injury claims.

First, we intend to introduce legislation to require the court to dismiss in its entirety any personal injury claim where it is satisfied that the claimant has been fundamentally dishonest, unless it would cause substantial injustice to the claimant to do so. These provisions are particularly relevant both to cases where the claimant has grossly exaggerated his or her own claim, and to cases where the claimant has colluded with another person in a fraudulent claim relating to the same incident (for example, a “phantom passenger” case where a claimant is genuinely injured in a car accident, but colludes with another person who dishonestly claims to have been in the vehicle and also injured).

Under the current law, the courts have discretion to dismiss a claim entirely for fraudulent behaviour, but will only do so in very exceptional cases, and will generally still award the claimant

9 Jun 2014 : Column 27WS

compensation in relation to the “genuine” element of the claim. We intend to strengthen the law so that dismissal of the claim in its entirety should become the norm in such cases.

Secondly, the Government intend to bring a statutory ban on the offer of inducements by lawyers in personal injury cases. Examples abound of solicitors offering money or gifts such as iPads to clients for pursuing a personal injury claim.

This encourages unnecessary claims, and suggests that lawyers are making too much money out of the process and seeking to offset the effect of the Government’s much needed ban on the payment and receipt of referral fees.

On 1 April 2013, the Ministry of Justice banned claims management companies from offering cash inducements to consumers to make claims, and we propose to introduce a similar prohibition to cover lawyers as soon as legislative time allows.

Transport

TransPennine Express and Northern Rail Franchises

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): Today I have published a consultation document on the future of the TransPennine Express and Northern rail franchises. I have also published the prospectuses for both the TransPennine Express and Northern franchises. These accompany the pre-qualification documents published on 6 June 2014 and an Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) notice submitted for publication on 5 June 2014. These steps mark the start of the formal competitions to find new operators to run passenger rail services in the two key rail franchises in the north of England.

There have been great improvements in the railways nationally and regionally since privatisation. We have seen record growth in passenger numbers, achieved much higher levels of passenger satisfaction and one of the best safety records in Europe. This growth has been particularly strong in the north of England with both franchises experiencing greater numbers of passengers than predicted when the franchises were last let. We want to continue to build on this and to deliver excellent railway services for passengers across the region, providing value for money for both passengers and taxpayers.

The public consultation invites views from the public and from stakeholders on the improvements to service levels and facilities that passengers may wish to see, in order to provide a railway that supports the growth in passenger numbers we expect to see and delivers the wider economic benefits it is capable of. This Government have committed to a major programme of investment in the rail infrastructure in the north of England. The projects currently under way, such as the £600 million “Northern Hub” schemes, will allow substantial increases in capacity, improved journey opportunities and cleaner and more efficient operation through route electrification.

9 Jun 2014 : Column 28WS

We will be seeking to deliver these benefits through the TransPennine Express and Northern franchises, while also securing significant efficiency improvements to ensure the taxpayer benefits, and we welcome views on the best way to achieve this.

We want to ensure that the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises we deliver best serve the needs of the people that will use them. To that end we are working closely with Rail North, a new body bringing together the local transport authorities across the whole of the north of England, in the development of them. This consultation is being carried out jointly with Rail North and aims to capture the views of the wide range of stakeholders in the region.

We are confident that our developing partnership with Rail North will help to bring a stronger local focus to the two franchises. Through this, and the skills, investment and innovation brought by the successful bidders, we can deliver a top-class railway for the north of England.

Northern Lighthouse Board and Trinity House (Triennial Review)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): On 12 December 2013, I announced the commencement of the triennial review of Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) and Trinity House (TH). Today, I am pleased to announce the conclusion of the review and the publication of the report.

The review was conducted in accordance with Cabinet Office guidance (Guidance on Reviews of Non-Departmental Public Bodies, June 2011).

NLB and TH were involved at key stages of the review, and the findings of the report have been discussed with both bodies. The key conclusion is that the primary function of the General Lighthouse Authorities (GLAs) (i.e. the provision of marine aids to navigation) is still necessary and that this is best delivered through the NLB and TH as non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs).

The review also identified a number of measures which, if implemented, should improve the bodies’ governance transparency and accountability. The Department for Transport will be taking these recommended measures forward in discussion with the GLAs over the coming months.

I would like to thank the GLAs for their assistance, and all those stakeholders who were involved during the course of the review.

The final report of this triennial review can be found on the gov.uk website: http://mrws.decc.gov.uk/ and I have made available copies in the Libraries of both Houses.