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Written Statements

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 19 June 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 19 June 2008

Treasury

EU Budget Review

The Treasury is today publishing “Global Europe: Vision for a 21st century budget”, the UK response to the European Commission’s consultation on the EU budget review. Copies will be available in the Vote Office and have been deposited in the Library of the House.

Communities and Local Government

Gypsy and Traveller Caravan Count

The Government have today published the “Count of Gypsy and Traveller Caravans on 21 January 2008”.

Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and can be accessed via the Communities and Local Government website at:

www.communities.gov.uk/housing/housingmanagementcare/gypsiesandtravellers/gypsyandtravellersitedataandstat/

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Environment Council

I represented the UK at the EU Environment Council in Luxembourg on 5 June 2008.

At this Council, member states set out their views so far on the 2020 climate and energy package. The UK intervened to stress the importance of reaching agreement on the package this year. With regard to the EU emissions trading system, the UK highlighted the need for a sufficiently robust central cap with a clear downwards emissions reduction trajectory as proposed by the European Commission, and supported the linking of emissions trading systems as a building block towards a global carbon market. The UK also emphasized our opposition to mandatory earmarking or hypothecation of auction revenues, and the reassignment of auctioning rights. Elsewhere, the UK stressed the importance of focusing on the objective of a 30 per cent. reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as part of an international agreement on climate change. The UK broadly welcomed the Commission’s legislative proposal on carbon capture and storage. Finally, the UK emphasised the importance of developing coherent sustainability criteria for biofuels based on the evidence available and taking into account not just the direct effects but also indirect effects such as indirect land-use change.

Member states also set out their positions on the Commission’s proposal for a regulation to reduce CO2 emissions from new cars. The UK welcomed the proposal, called for the addition of a challenging long term target for CO2 emissions reductions to 2020 in addition to the proposed 2012 target. The UK also stressed the need for provisions to protect independent niche and small-volume manufacturers.

Ministers discussed the way forward on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The UK intervened to strongly support the principles behind the current evidence-based, case by case decision-making process and the central role of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The UK supported examination of measures to speed the current process up but stressed that this must be done within the current regulatory framework, and must not compromise safety or conflict with World Trade Organisation (WTO) obligations.

Under ‘any other business’, the presidency provided information on the Euro VI regulation; the conference of the parties to the convention on biological diversity; the conference of the parties to the Cartagena protocol on biosafety; progress under the Bali road map; the outcome of the “Bridging the Gap” conference, and; the implementation of the action programme for the implementation of the territorial agenda of the EU. At the request of delegations, additional AOB items included proposals for sustainable consumption and production and sustainable industrial policy and information on the fourth meeting of the parties to the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context.

Government Decontamination Service (Annual Report and Accounts)

The 2007-08 annual report and accounts for the Government Decontamination Service will be laid before Parliament today.

Copies will be deposited in the Libraries of the House.

Health

Dementia Care

Today the Government is publishing “Transforming the Quality of Dementia Care: Consultation on a National Dementia Strategy”.

In August 2007 I announced a programme of work to develop the first national dementia strategy for England. This document is to stimulate debate on how we can develop the final strategy and ensure a better life in the future for people affected by dementia.

This consultation marks one of the most important stages in this programme, and invites people with dementia, their families and carers and those involved professionally in health and social care to tell us what they think we need to do to improve dementia care.

I would like to place on record my thanks to all of those who have worked so hard to bring the programme to this point in such a short space of time, in particular, Neil Hunt of the Alzheimer’s Society who chaired the external reference group of stakeholders, and Professor Sube Banerjee and Jenny Owen who led the project group.

The consultation will run until 11 September 2008 and the Department will publish a report that summarises the responses to this consultation alongside the final version of the national dementia strategy later in the year.

A copy of the document has been placed in the Library and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.

Home Department

Immigration

This year sees the biggest shake-up of our immigration system for 45 years. As part of these changes, I am today setting out reforms to the way the new UK Border Agency enforces the immigration law in communities up and down the UK.

The UK Border Agency leads Her Majesty’s Government’s work to ensure that newcomers to the UK—as well as businesses and others—play by the rules. The vast majority do, adding tremendous value to the UK. The UK Border Agency’s job is to take action when they do not. To achieve this objective we have fundamentally reorganised the UK Border Agency’s work:

Putting in place a cross-Government strategy.

Strengthening the law, with automatic deportation for those sentenced to 12 months or more and civil penalties against employers who employ illegal workers.

Increasing by ten-fold the resources dedicated to the removal or deportation of foreign nationals who have committed serious offences, and focusing over 1000 additional immigration staff on enforcement duties.

Exploiting new technology and introducing compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals, trials for which are now in place.

Strengthening new international alliances to help us secure returns, backed by a £40 million joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department For International Development and Home Office fund.

That fundamental shift in resources has delivered important results. In 2007-08 we:

removed over 4,200 foreign national prisoners from the UK, exceeding the Prime Minister’s target;

removed over 13,000 failed asylum seekers;

arrested over 5,000 suspected immigration offenders as a result of around 6,300 illegal working operations; and

delivered over 2,000 successful prosecutions and sanctions.

Today I am publishing the UK Border Agency’s business plan for enforcing the immigration laws over the next 12 months: “Enforcing the Deal: Our plans for enforcing the immigration laws in the United Kingdom’s communities”, a copy of which I have placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The document sets out three key advances which we intend to make in 2008-09:

We will expel more illegal immigrants than last year, enforcing the contract with newcomers by first removing those who have abused our hospitality and broken the law, and implementing the Prime Minister’s commitment to deport those who use guns or sell drugs, regardless of the length of their sentence.

We will begin the reorganisation of around 7,500 UK Border Agency staff into between 70 and 80 new Local Immigration Teams to serve every community in the UK, bringing our people closer to the communities we serve and backed by Immigration Crime Partnerships with the police, local authorities and other local partner agencies. We will back our new strategy by doubling the resources we spend on enforcement (2009-10 versus 2006-07).

We will publicly take action against more organised criminals, facilitators and employers who break the law, working in partnership with other business enforcement agencies, rigorously implementing the new civil penalty regime, for the first time publishing information about rogue employers, and introducing ID cards for foreign nationals to make it easier for employers to comply with the law.

Reforms set out in the business plan include:

From today, the UK Border Agency publishing information about employers who hire illegal immigrants.

From this summer, the most serious business offenders will be targeted jointly by UKBA and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in a new intelligence sharing and joint targeting partnership which will come into force from July.

Employers and colleges applying for carefully policed licences to hire migrants.

There will be a joint investment and business plan between UKBA and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).

Automatic deportation will be introduced for those sentenced to 12 months in prison or more, and deportation will be imposed for those who use guns or sell drugs regardless of their sentence.

Watch-lists of immigration offenders will be shared with DWP, HMRC and, subject to parliamentary approval, with the private sector fraud prevention agency CIFAS.

By January 2009:

UKBA will have increased the number of foreign national prisoners removed to over 5,000 during 2008;

Local Immigration Teams will be up and running in each region;

a UKBA Criminal Investigation Division will be in place;

90 per cent. of constabularies in England and Wales will have Immigration Crime Partnerships in place; and

five local authority partnerships will have been deployed and evaluated.

In addition, I am today laying an Order under section 20 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to provide a legislative gateway for the sharing of data by the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Transport—in relation to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency—and the British Transport Police with the UK Border Agency.

Marriage Visas

We are this year undertaking the biggest reform of Britain’s immigration and border security system for 45 years.

Alongside the introduction of a points system for migrants who want to work and study, we are modernising the visa system for short-term visits and marriage.

Today I am publishing the results of our consultation on reform to spouse visas published in December 2007: “Marriage to Partners from Overseas”, and “Marriage Visas: Pre-entry English requirement for spouses”. Copies are being placed in the Library of the House.

Our ambitions in preparing reform were twofold: first to strengthen our work to prevent forced marriage; and secondly to ensure that our policy supports our wider ambitions to aid newcomers to integrate rapidly and happily into British life.

A small majority of consultation responses were in favour of increasing the minimum age at which a person may sponsor or be sponsored as a spouse from 18 to 21. There was also support for the proposal that those intending to sponsor a spouse should declare their intention before leaving the UK; for a Code of Practice to provide consistency and a safeguard to protect the vulnerable; and for stronger measures to allow the UKBA to revoke indefinite leave to remain following abandonment of spouse or evidence of abuse of the marriage route to gain settlement. Respondents also suggested to us a range of signs that might signal a vulnerability to a forced marriage but highlighted the need to avoid discrimination.

Although a majority of consultation respondents did not favour a requirement for spouses to demonstrate English before they enter the UK, there was a strong appreciation of the need for newcomers to speak English. A key theme expressed by many was that English is best learnt in the UK where facilities are available and the spouse is immersed in the British way of life.

We are very grateful for the responses to the consultation. We will now consider carefully the recent report of the Home Affairs Select Committee, the summary we publish today, and the views of the Parliamentarians before setting out proposals for reform before the summer.