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Written Statements

Volume 407: debated on Friday 20 June 2003

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Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 20 June 2003

Home Department

Working Holidaymaker Scheme

The Home Office White Paper, "Secure Borders, Safe Haven: Integration with Diversity in Modern Britain", contained a commitment to review the Working Holidaymaker Scheme. The main aims behind the review were to make the scheme more inclusive of the whole Commonwealth, to remove unnecessary employment restrictions and to reduce abuse of the scheme.Removing employment restrictions will enable less affluent applicants to prove more easily to entry clearance officers their ability to support themselves without recourse to public funds. This change would also help to alleviate acute recruitment difficulties in certain sectors of the UK economy. Many working holidaymakers are highly skilled and it is sensible to make maximum use of their skills to boost the productivity of the UK workforce. I therefore propose to remove all current employment restrictions on the scheme and allow working holidaymakers to take employment in any field.The Immigration Rules do not presently permit switching from the scheme into work permit employment. Permitting switching would benefit UK businesses, as they would be able to recruit skilled Commonwealth nationals quickly. It would also offer a legal route for working holidaymakers who want to stay in the UK at the end of their visa to extend their stay here, discouraging illegal working. It is not logical to force talented working holidaymakers to return home simply to apply for a work permit. I therefore propose to amend the Immigration Rules to allow working holidaymakers to switch into work permit employment. Working holidaymakers who want to switch will still have to meet the same work permit requirements as they would if they were applying for a work permit from abroad and, in addition, must have spent 12 months in the UK as a working holidaymaker.The current scheme is for Commonwealth citizens only and I propose that it continue as a Commonwealth-only scheme. Some responses during the consultation process called for a global scheme. By significantly increasing the numbers entering the UK, a global scheme would add to the economic benefits to the UK from the existing scheme. However, the increase in numbers on a global scheme might necessitate the imposition of a quota, which would adversely affect access to the scheme for Commonwealth citizens. In order to increase access to the scheme I propose that the maximum age criterion be increased from 27 to 30 years of age to permit those who have studied in tertiary education to apply.

The review also considered whether the existing duration of stay granted was appropriate for a youth exchange scheme. We have concluded that two years is a sufficient period of time for a working holiday in the UK and therefore do not propose to change the maximum length of stay of the current scheme, nor to allow individuals to obtain a second working holiday visa.

Additionally, the review considered issues relating specifically to gap year entrants, who enter the United Kingdom to take placements in schools during the year between the end of their secondary education and the start of tertiary education. Some of these entrants have been entering on a concessionary basis under the working holidaymaker provisions; others under the concession for voluntary workers. Concerns had been expressed that neither of these categories met the specific needs of that type of entrant. Under the amended provisions of the working holidaymaker scheme, Commonwealth nationals who wish to spend a gap year in the United Kingdom, and who meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules relating to working holidaymakers, will be able to spend a full year working in the United Kingdom in any form of employment and then return home. If they do so, however, they will not be able to spend a second year in the category, as the provisions permit only one entry in the category.

In the light of the cultural value of gap year placements in the United Kingdom, I have decided that it is desirable to create separate provision to enable gap year entrants of all nationalities to enter the United Kingdom for a period of one year and take paid employment in schools. Work will now begin on preparing the necessary changes to the Immigration Rules.

Those already in the UK as working holidaymakers will be allowed to benefit from the proposed changes to the scheme with immediate effect. The changes will become effective for all new applicants from 25 August 2003.

Commission For Racial Equality Annual Report

The Commission for Racial Equality's Annual Report 2002 is published today.Copies will be available in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies will also be sent to the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales.

Transport

Strategic Road Network (England)

The strategic road network managed by the Highways Agency is part of the backbone of this country, carrying about third of all road traffic in England, and two thirds of all freight traffic. Many people and businesses depend on it.This strategic road network is amongst the safest in Europe. But there is a need to strengthen the way those roads are managed, to maintain traffic flow and maximise use of the available road space, to deal with unplanned incidents such as vehicle accidents, breakdowns and spillages and to provide better information to motorists about traffic conditions.Under the present arrangements, this will place an increasing burden on the police. The Government do not believe that is sustainable. Network management is a core responsibility of the Highways Agency, but it is not a police function, and asking the police service to do more in this area can only detract from their core tasks of security, tackling crime and ensuring public safety and public orderFor that reason, the Government have charged the Highways Agency to develop its role as a network operator for the strategic road network. To support that, the Agency has undertaken, in partnership with the Association of Chief Police Officers, a review of both organisations' roles and responsibilities for management and operation of the strategic road network.I am today publishing the report of that review. I am arranging for copies to be placed in the Library of the House.The review concluded that responsibility for a number of tasks associated with the management of the strategic road network should be transferred from the police to the Highways Agency. These include a range of supporting and ancillary tasks associated with effective road management and keeping traffic flowing, such as abnormal load route planning, setting message signs and signals, answering emergency roadside telephones and dealing with the traffic consequences of an incident. The intention is to increase the total level of resources being applied, and to enable the Agency and the police to focus their efforts in support of their core roles.The Government have endorsed this report and have instructed the Highways Agency to increase the priority they give to network management and to develop measures to deliver progressive and demonstrable benefits over the next two years. The Association of Chief Police Officers has also strongly endorsed the report.The Government attach a high priority to seeing the conclusions of this review implemented quickly and effectively. A joint Agency and police implementation team has already been established and an implementation programme developed. The Agency will also work closely with key motorists' organisations such as the AA and RAC, and the freight haulage and vehicle recovery organisations. The Highways Agency will:

Establish a network of regional control centres, operated jointly by the Agency and the police, to monitor the motorway network and co-ordinate action when an incident occurs. These are currently being developed and the first, covering the motorways around Birmingham, is expected to come on-stream in Spring 2004. This will streamline and simplify current arrangements where each police force in England has its own control centre, with varying degrees of joint working with the Highways Agency and local authorities.
Recruit, train and deploy a uniformed motorway patrol service, operating round the clock, with powers to take action and a focus on taking whatever steps are necessary—as soon as possible—to get traffic flowing.
The Agency's traffic officers will work in close co-operation with the police, roadside assistance and recovery organisations, the Agency's maintenance contractors and other organisations to ensure that equipment to carry out essential repairs and remove damaged vehicles is summoned quickly, that local diversion routes are opened up quickly and that timely and accurate information is relayed to motorists about the situation. The police will remain in overall control of dealing with the management and investigation of accidents, and they will continue to be responsible for enforcement of road traffic offences.

The Agency estimates that it will be able in the first two years to reduce the delays caused by incidents on motorways by up to 5 per cent. This initiative represents an addition to the Highways Agency's Business Plan for 2003–04, which the Agency will fund from within agreed spending plans.

Although much of this work can be developed within the existing legislative framework, there is a need to provide the Agency with traffic management powers to enable them to fully develop their role. There is an existing model for this—the powers granted to the operator of the Dartford River crossing that have operated successfully for many years. I have instructed the Agency to prepare the necessary legislation, which I intend to introduce when Parliamentary time permits.

I believe that this initiative will improve the service provided to motorists and will make an important contribution alongside other initiatives to tackling congestion on the strategic road network.

Treasury

Finance Bill 2003

Two New Clauses to block potential tax avoidance, amending Schedule 29 of the Finance Act 2002 and section 102 Finance Act 1986 respectively, are to be introduced at Report Stage of the Finance Bill. The changes will have immediate effect.CORPORATION TAXThe amendments to be introduced counter tax avoidance schemes by companies attempting to exploit a perceived mismatch between the definition of a related party in the new intangibles rules, introduced in Schedule 29 of Finance Act 2002, and the definition of a group for capital gains tax purposes. These schemes aim to bring assets existing before 1 April 2002 into the new regime.INHERITANCE TAX (IHT)There are special IHT rules to prevent tax avoidance through gifts where the donor does not truly give up the gifted assets. The proposed changes tighten up these rules following the Court of Appeal's decision in the recent case of "Eversden", so that in future gifts into trust may be chargeable even though the trust initially gives an interest in possession to the donor's spouse. The new provisions will apply to gifts made on or after today.

Clauses to give effect to these proposals are being tabled today. Further details (including the text of the clauses and explanatory notes to them) are given in an Inland Revenue news release issued today.

Environment, Food And Rural Affairs

London Wholesale Markets

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

In its special report on the Covent Garden Market Authority of March 2001 the House of Commons Select Committee on Agriculture recommended that the Government, together with the Greater London Authority and the Corporation of London instigate an independent review to take a rapid, rational and strategic view of the provision of wholesale markets in London. In June last year, jointly with the Corporation of London, we commissioned Mr Nicholas Saphir to undertake this review and his report was published on 22 November. This statement puts on record the Government's response to the main recommendations of the report.THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE REPORTThe report concluded that markets perform an important but reduced function in the distribution of perishable foods. In order to meet the changing needs of the market, and especially of the catering supply trade, the existing markets should be consolidated to provide three composite markets each providing facilities for the sale of fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, so allowing catering customers to meet all their needs in one market. New Covent Garden Market at Nine Elms should provide a particular service to the central London catering trade and should develop its facilities accordingly. The other two consolidated markets should be New Spitalfields Market in East London and Western International Market, near Heathrow.There should be no central planning, management or liaison body for London markets but legislation which restrains trade and limits competition between markets should be removed. This would allow the markets to compete with each other and so generate an efficient response to the needs of the market.CONSULTATIONThe Government have undertaken a public consultation on these recommendations and have published a summary of the responses they received. We have considered these responses and taken forward discussions with a number of interested parties including the Greater London Authority and the London Borough of Wandsworth. Useful discussion has taken place with the Corporation of London before, during and following the preparation of the Saphir report. However, despite agreement on much of the analysis there is no consensus on a single way forward. The Corporation's proposal to develop a single composite market at New Spitalfields, serving central London, is a significant departure from the recommendations of the report.

THE GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE

We welcome and generally agree with the analysis offered by the report. We accept in particular the view that the London markets should be allowed to develop in competition with each other to provide services which are well adapted to the present and future needs of the Capital and especially of its catering trade. We recognise that some of the legislation which governs the markets may inhibit such development and are sympathetic to the view that such legislation should be amended or repealed as the opportunity arises. Within the existing framework of law we believe that markets should be given as much freedom as possible to meet the needs of their customers and to take initiatives to broaden their role as resources allow.

At the same time, we recognise the important role played by markets in the economies of the parts of London in which they are situated. This is also recognised in the Mayor of London's draft London plan. The existence of the markets and their impact on the local economy and environment will need to be taken into account in wider decisions on economic and town and country planning, traffic management and other issues.

FUTURE ACTION

In further discussions about the markets, DEFRA will be guided by the following considerations:

The London markets should be allowed to develop to meet the needs of their customers and tenants without undue intervention from Government. Together with the Corporation of London we have taken an important first step in setting out the way forward by commissioning the Saphir Report. Whilst we agree with the conclusion of the report that there is no need for central direction we greatly welcome the interest of the Greater London Authority in undertaking further studies on the options for the markets in London's future economic development and the impact of these on planning, transport and other issues. It is for the market owners to plan for the future of each market in consultation with the relevant local authorities, the Greater London Authority, the London Development Agency and other stakeholders. We are ready to play our part as consultees in this process.
It is for the owners of the markets to determine the scope for future investment and development in response to market stimuli. Market owners will need to make provision for such investment from the earnings of the markets or from other sources to which they have access.
In relation to New Covent Garden Market, in which DEFRA has a direct interest, it remains the Government's policy to disengage as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made. In so doing, however, we shall aim to secure arrangements which will maintain the Market as a going concern which can both accommodate the businesses which are established there and allow it to develop as a consolidated market as envisaged by the Saphir Report.
We see no need for DEFRA to exercise any direct control over the use of the market premises at Nine Elms. Where the legislation governing New Covent Garden Market requires the Secretary of State to grant permission for new forms of trading we propose normally to grant such permission, subject to consideration of the circumstances of each case.
To that end DEFRA Ministers have already indicated that they are minded to approve any application to allow trading in meat and fish at New Covent Garden Market subject to consideration of the circumstances of each case; we see no reason now that consultation on the Saphir Report has finished to further delay that decision. This is in the knowledge that the Corporation of London, or its tenants at other London Wholesale Markets, may seek to challenge the legal validity of such a decision (based on the medieval restriction of trade to six and two third miles from a chartered London market). This may therefore be a matter on which the Courts will be called upon to decide.
We have no proposals at present to amend the legislation governing markets generally or to promote amendments to the legislation governing specific London markets (which would need to come from the relevant market owners)
As far as New Covent Garden Market is concerned, we would need agreement in principle on the future ownership and management of the market as a basis for any legislation to remove or modify the present responsibilities of the Secretary of State and the Covent Garden Market Authority.
Centrally to the future of the market, we are ready to consider proposals from any source for the future development of New Covent Garden Market and its site, which provide for the continuation of market activity on the site. Proposals for the injection of private finance into the site have been and will be welcome.

This statement is without prejudice to the consideration of any planning application relating to the future development of any London wholesale market.

Defence

Nato Command Structures

At the NATO Ministerial meeting in Brussels on 12–13 June 2003, new command arrangements for the Alliance were agreed.The new NATO Command Structure will be leaner, more flexible, more efficient, and better able to conduct future military operations. At the strategic level, there will be one command with operational responsibilities, Allied Command Operations, and a new functional command, Allied Command Transformation, to take responsibility for promoting and overseeing the continuing transformation of Alliance forces and capabilities. Below the strategic level, the structure will be significantly streamlined, with a reduction in the number of headquarters, from over 20 to 14. A number of countries within the Alliance will be affected by the change.For the United Kingdom, the number of NATO headquarters will reduce. We will retain the major maritime Headquarters at Northwood, HQ Navnorth which will subsume the task of RHQ Eastlant (also currently in Northwood). The NATO element of Combined Air Operations Centre 9 (CAOC) at RAF High Wycombe will close.RHQ Eastlant in Northwood has 230 Service personnel of which 106 are UK nationals. There are 24 civilian personnel Decisions on any transitional arrangements, including what tasks might be subsumed into HQ Navnorth and the timing of any changes, are still under consideration.The NATO CAOC at RAF High Wycombe is manned by some 94 Service personnel of which 46 are UK nationals. There are no civilians. Decisions on the transitional arrangements and the timing have not yet been taken. It is anticipated that the multinational element of the CAOC would return to their home countries. The total number of personnel at High Wycombe is over 2100.These changes will help to achieve a more streamlined overall NATO Command Structure, thereby enabling the Alliance to operate more efficiently and effectively, and taken together with the work on the NATO Response Force, should provide the Alliance with a real improvement in future capability.

Prime Minister

Council Of Europe And Western European Union

My right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) has been appointed as a substitute member of the United Kingdom Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Assembly of Western European Union in place of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Ms. Cryer).