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Written Statements

Volume 506: debated on Thursday 4 March 2010

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 4 March 2010

Treasury

Equitable Life

I can today provide an update to the House on Sir John Chadwick’s work in advising the Government on the establishment of an ex gratia payment scheme for Equitable Life policyholders.

Sir John published his second interim report on 16 December 2009. He has since received a range of representations on the questions raised, and is today publishing his third and final interim report, which sets out:

Sir John’s provisional view on which life companies are suitable as a basis for a comparator in the assessment of relative loss resulting from accepted maladministration.

His provisional views as to what factors the Government may wish to take into account when considering those policyholders who have experienced disproportionate impact from the accepted maladministration; and

A comprehensive annex detailing initial quantitative advice from Sir John’s actuarial advisers, Towers Watson.

Sir John would welcome final representations and comments from all parties on the issues raised in his latest report by 9 April 2010.

The Government are committed to establishing a fair payment scheme as quickly as possible. Sir John expects to submit his final report in May 2010, and the Government have undertaken to provide a response, setting out details of a payment scheme, within 14 days of its publication.

Communities and Local Government

Town and Country Planning

One of the consequences of the 2010 non-domestic rate revaluation, which comes into effect on 1 April, is that certain thresholds linked to rateable value limits also have to be raised so that small businesses are not disadvantaged.

I am therefore announcing today that we intend to raise the annual rateable value limit below which the owners of small businesses can serve blight notices and claim other types of compulsory purchase compensation. The limit was previously raised to £29,200 at the time of the 2005 revaluation, and it will now be raised to £34,800 from 1 April 2010. This reflects the changes in rateable values between 2005 and 2010, so that businesses which are currently eligible to serve a blight notice will continue to be able to do so when the new rating lists come into effect.

The same threshold also applies for businesses claiming compensation for loss of value under part 1 of the Land Compensation Act 1973 when their premises are affected by physical factors such as noise, vibration, fumes and artificial lighting from new public works such as highways and aerodromes.

This threshold also applies under the 1973 Act to enable proprietors aged at least 60 to claim disturbance compensation on the basis of the total extinguishment of their business when they are subject to a compulsory purchase order. This allows claimants of that age to retire if they do not want to re-establish their business elsewhere.

The Town and Country Planning (Blight Provisions) (England) Order 2010 (SI No: 2010/498), which is the Statutory Instrument necessary to achieve the change to the rateable value limit, will be laid today in order for it to come into force on 1 April.

Health

GP Practices (Registration)

In a great NHS, everybody should be able to choose the best and most convenient service for themselves and their families. We believe people should have the freedom to choose their own GP practice, and not be faced by artificial restrictions, like practice boundaries, that limit choice.

Our overriding objective is to deliver the best possible service to patients. People want healthcare that is more personalised and convenient, so primary care services must respond to provide this.

The Department is commencing today a national consultation on the proposals to enable people to register with a GP practice of their choice. The proposals have been developed following a period of initial engagement with stakeholders from the NHS, professional groups, and patient representatives.

Most people are likely to want to continue to be registered with a local GP practice that can offer home visits when necessary and is well placed to co-ordinate care with other local agencies. The proposals in the consultation document are designed to build on these existing strengths of general practice and indeed give people a greater choice of local GP practices.

In a smaller number of cases, some people may want to choose a GP practice further away from home. for instance near their workplace, that enables them to have more convenient access to primary care and to have greater continuity of care than they have at present. The options in the consultation look in particular at the issues involved in arranging home visits, where needed, for people in this group, together with issues of access to urgent care, co-ordination of community-based services, access to hospital and specialist treatment and patient records.

The options identified in relation to home visiting arrangements are:

GP practices to continue to have responsibility for home visiting for local patients. PCTs will make arrangements to provide home visits, where necessary, for patients who register further away from home;

maintain the requirement for GP practices to provide or secure home visits for all patients on their list, regardless of where they live;

allow patients to register with two separate GP practices; or

remove all home visiting obligations from GP practices and make PCTs responsible for establishing home visiting arrangements.

The consultation document recommends the first of these options. It would allow people to register with any GP practice in England with an open list. There would be a simple set of principles to distinguish between the majority of patients who are registering locally (where the local GP practice would retain the duty to provide or secure home visits where necessary) and a small number of patients who are registering further away from home (for whom other home visiting arrangements would be needed).

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

Home Department

Immigration and Asylum (War Crimes)

The Race Relations (Immigration and Asylum) (War Crimes etc.) Authorisation 2007 enables the Secretary of State to subject certain applications to more rigorous scrutiny than he subjects like applications from persons of other nationalities to, for the purposes of determining whether the applicant has committed, or been complicit in the commission of, or otherwise been associated with the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.

The condition for subjecting these applications to more rigorous scrutiny is that the applicant is a national of a state specified on a list approved personally by the Minister for the purpose of the authorisation.

I have now reviewed and approved this list in accordance with our commitment to do so annually. I am satisfied that the conditions set out in the authorisation are met in respect of the countries on the list.

The authorisation will continue to be reviewed on an annual basis and will remain in force until revoked.

Justice

Arrest Warrants (Universal Jurisdiction)

The Government are concerned about the implications for the United Kingdom’s relations with other states of the risk that foreign visitors to this country might be arrested on the application of a private individual, on suspicion of the gravest of offences, on the basis of evidence that might well be insufficient to gain the Attorney-General’s consent (which is normally required for offences of this kind to be prosecuted), or to secure a conviction by a jury.

The problem is not hypothetical, as applications for an arrest warrant have been made, on at least two occasions successfully; and there is reason to believe that the risk of arrest may discourage prominent people, with whom HM Government would wish to engage, from visiting this country.

The problem arises as a result of four factors:

(1) The jurisdiction of the courts in England and Wales is basically territorial—with some exceptions they try only offences committed here. However, war crimes under the Geneva Conventions Act 1957, and a small number of other grave offences, are subject to “universal jurisdiction” which enables them to be prosecuted here even though they were committed outside the United Kingdom by someone who is not a British national.

(2) It is open to any private individual to initiate criminal proceedings, including for universal jurisdiction offences, by applying to a magistrate for a summons or an arrest warrant.

(3) The evidence required for the issue of a summons or warrant is far less onerous than that applied by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in determining whether a prosecution should go ahead. The court’s duty is to ascertain that it has jurisdiction; it then looks to see if there is some prima facie information that an offence known to the law has been committed by the person named. The court does not need to decide that there is a realistic prospect of conviction.

(4) For almost all universal jurisdiction offences there is a safeguard in that the consent of the Attorney-General is required in order for a prosecution to go ahead. But while a summons will not be issued until the necessary consent has been given for the prosecution to proceed, absence of consent does not prevent the issue of an arrest warrant.

The facility for seeking an arrest warrant in these circumstances without the prior consent of the prosecutor is unusual. It is paralleled in only a very few other jurisdictions of which we are aware. In most jurisdictions prosecutorial consent is required.

The Government have considered this matter very carefully. They have concluded that there is a case for restricting to the CPS the right to prosecute this narrow range of universal jurisdiction offences, in circumstances where the offence is alleged to have been committed outside the United Kingdom by a person who is not a British national. The effect of this change—which would require legislation—would be that in such cases it would no longer be possible for anyone other than the CPS (or the Law Officers) to obtain an arrest warrant. This would ensure that action is taken only where the expert and independent investigators and prosecutors in the police and CPS are confident that there is a realistic likelihood of a successful prosecution.

Our commitment to international justice is a strong one. This is why, by section 70 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, we recently amended the International Criminal Court Act 2001 to ensure that we could prosecute serious international crimes committed as far back as 1991 by UK nationals and residents, thus covering the horrific events in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. We remain absolutely committed to upholding the principles of universal jurisdiction, so that there can be no impunity for those suspected of such grave offences. What we propose is wholly consistent with those principles, and would bring us into line with the practice of a number of our European and North American partners.

The Government recognise that this is a controversial issue, involving as it does the long-standing right of private prosecution. Therefore, rather than legislating now, we are going to seek views on the proposals we are minded to make. In particular, I am writing to the Chairman of the Justice Select Committee to ask if his Committee would consider those proposals. We intend to conclude this process within a month, and to receive views by Tuesday 6 April. A copy of my letter to the Chairman will shortly be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.