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Written Statements

Volume 525: debated on Wednesday 16 March 2011

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Cabinet Office

Public Bodies Reform Programme

The coalition Government are committed to reducing the number and cost of quangos and increasing accountability by transferring the responsibility for key decisions of public policy back to Ministers.

On 14 October 2010, I placed in the Libraries of both Houses a list of proposed reforms to take forward this commitment. The Public Bodies Bill has since been introduced to provide the legislative basis for reform. I have also placed in the Libraries an updated list of proposed reforms this morning.

Committees of both Houses have shown significant interest in the Government’s review. This statement accompanies our response to a report of the Public Administration Select Committee, “Smaller Government: Shrinking the Quango State”.

The Government welcome this opportunity to restate the aims and intentions of our reform programme for public bodies, and to correct some misunderstandings and inaccuracies apparent in that report.

With these reforms, we will increase accountability by putting into practice our clear presumption that functions carried out by the state should be accountable through democratically elected structures. We will ensure clear chains of democratic accountability through to Ministers, by transferring functions into a Department, or by creating a new executive agency. We will also increase accountability to local decision makers and will also support our big society, transferring functions from public bodies to local government, voluntary or charitable bodies or social enterprises.

A secondary, but important, purpose is to remove duplication and waste, save taxpayers’ money and to streamline a chaotic and confusing public bodies landscape.

PASC has criticised the Government for being unable to identify exact cost savings. We were always clear that savings would flow from this programme of rationalisation and reform. I can now announce that we estimate that cumulative administrative savings of £2.6 billion will flow from public bodies over the spending review period. When reductions in programme and capital spend are taken into account, we estimate that total spending through public bodies will be reduced by at least £11 billion per year by 2014-15, a cumulative amount of £30 billion over the spending review period. This does not include spending simply transferred elsewhere.

At the time of the October announcement, I indicated a number of reviews were still in progress, with bodies listed as “under consideration”. I publish with this statement an updated list of reform proposals, giving more certainty to the staff in those public bodies as to how the Government’s review programme will affect them.

Implementation is being taken forward by Departments, with the Cabinet Office operating as a source of support and guidance. I publish two key Cabinet Office documents today: a checklist of issues Departments need to consider in implementing public bodies reform; and a set of eight key requirements that must be followed in all cases (these requirements are annexed to the Government’s response to PASC).

The Government’s commitment to reform of public bodies does not end with the implementation of this first stage of reform proposals. I also publish today a summary of a new robust system of triennial reviews and underline our determination to take decisive action where future reviews highlight inefficiency and waste. The Government intend that the powers in the Public Bodies Bill will provide a proportionate mechanism to implement the conclusions of subsequent reviews.

Reducing the number and cost of public bodies is a coalition priority. It is important that we make progress and I make no excuse for the speed at which we have sought to realise our commitment. There is momentum and cross-party support for a radical programme of reform. We have already brought forward proposals on an unprecedented scale and with the Public Bodies Bill and our implementation plans we take those proposals to fruition. With our future process of review and reform, we will continue to ensure accountability in public life and identify and drive out inefficiency, duplication and waste.

Defence

Ex-service Personnel

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt) and I wish to make the following joint statement.

Further to the announcement on 15 September 2010, Official Report, column 40WS on the number of ex-service personnel in prison in England and Wales, we want today to announce the findings of the Defence Analytical Services and Advice (DASA) study into the number of former service personnel on probation in England and Wales. DASA estimates that 3.4% (or 5,860) of those supervised by probation trusts in England and Wales, as at 30 September 2009, had previously served as regulars in the UK armed forces. The figure has been adjusted upwards to take into account the incompleteness of DASA’s service leavers database which did not hold reliable records for those who had left the services prior to 1979 (Naval Service), 1973 (Army) and 1969 (RAF).

The analysis entailed matching the personal details of all 18-year-olds and over with a supervision record held by the 35 probation trusts in England and Wales (172,203 records as at 30 September 2009) against DASA’s service leavers database (1.3 million records). Of the matched records, 57% were for community orders; 25% for suspended sentences orders and 18% for post-release licences. DASA also found this group to be predominately male (99%), ex-Army (81%), other rank (99%), with 50% being 35 years of age or over. DASA calculated that for ex-service personnel on probation, the time between discharge from the armed forces and the start of their current supervision record varied from zero to 47 years, with 49% having received their supervision record within 10 years of leaving and only 6% within a year of leaving. Information on previous cases of supervision records for these individuals was not available. However, DASA also estimated that overall, a male member of the general population aged 18-54 was 12% more likely to have a probation supervision record than a former member of the armed forces. The proportion of the general population who had probation records for criminal damage was 74% higher than for a veteran. On the other hand, DASA determined that the proportion of ex-service personnel subject to probation supervision records for robbery was 37% higher than the proportion of the general population of similar age group.

DASA’s report is published in full on their website: www.dasa.mod.uk?pub=veterans_on_probation. A copy of the report will be placed in the Library of the House.

RAF Brize Norton

I wish to inform the House that repatriation ceremonies for those killed in operational theatres will move from RAF Lyneham to RAF Brize Norton by 1 September 2011.

The Ministry of Defence is committed to recognising the sacrifice made by service personnel on operations and part of that commitment is to ensure there is a formal repatriation ceremony, which is a solemn occasion to provide the appropriate level of dignity and respect when the body returns to the UK.

For the last three and a half years, repatriation ceremonies have taken place at RAF Lyneham. The Ministry of Defence announced in July 2003 that RAF Lyneham will be closing as part of defence estate rationalisation and therefore, following a detailed option study, it has been decided that the most appropriate air base for future repatriation ceremonies would be RAF Brize Norton. This move will take effect by 1 September 2011, before the cessation of flying operations at RAF Lyneham.

I would like to thank RAF Lyneham for its excellent work in supporting the important task of repatriation ceremonies. I am certain that RAF Brize Norton will maintain the standard of solemnity, dignity and respect to our service personnel killed on operations as shown by the personnel at RAF Lyneham. I would also like to record publicly my thanks to the people of Wootton Bassett who have chosen to pay their respects in a unique and special way. It is such spontaneous public support that captures the spirit of the British people.

I am very grateful for those who have participated; such gestures do not go unnoticed by those deployed on operations.

Home Department

National Identity Register and ID Card Cancellations

I am today placing in the Library certificates of destruction from contractors confirming compliance with section 3 of the Identity Documents Act 2010. These certificates are accompanied by a covering note that sets out the process and method of delivery of destruction of the national identity register.

I can also confirm that all ID cards ceased to be valid legal documents on 22 January 2011. Cardholders were notified by post to their registered address shortly after enactment of the 2010 Act and border agencies and other interested parties were informed of the cancellation of the scheme.

The cost of decommissioning ID card systems and securely destroying the personal data is, subject to final invoices, £375,000. The cost of terminating and amending National Identity Service contracts with suppliers was £2.253 million. I will also be placing in the Library a copy of a letter sent on 10 February 2011 to the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) that sets out the breakdown of these costs in more detail.

Immigration Rules

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is today laying before Parliament a statement of changes in the immigration rules that will reshape tier 1 of the points-based system (PBS) for migration, tighten the requirements of tier 2 of the PBS, and tighten criteria for indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom. The changes also include a route of entry for family reunion for those granted protection; reduce the re-entry ban for immigration offenders who leave promptly, and facilitate visits by diplomatic and special passport holders from Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The statement of changes will take effect from 6 April 2011.

This Government are committed to reducing net migration to the UK to the tens of thousands. We review all routes of entry to the UK and implement a range of measures spanning all aspects of the immigration system.

In July 2010 the Government implemented an interim limit on tier 1 general and tier 2 general of the points-based system. These measures were taken to prevent a surge in applications through these routes while the Government consulted on the design of a mechanism to operate a permanent limit on non-EU economic migrants.

The UK Border Agency consulted employers in all sectors and received around 3,200 responses. Those responses helped shape the new tier 1 and 2 policies that formed the basis of the Home Secretary’s statement on 23 November and were elaborated upon in our tier 2 statement of intent published on 16 February. I will today place a copy of our tier 1 statement of policy in the House Libraries along with the impact assessment for the tier 1, tier 2 and settlement changes. The policies detailed in the statements will be given effect by the immigration rules laid before Parliament today.

Tier 1

Tier 1 is being re-focused to provide a route for migrants that have real value to offer the UK.

In support of the principle that all non-EEA workers should be sponsored by their employer, we will close tier 1 general to new applicants from 6 April. We closed the route to new applicants out of country on 23 December. Transitional measures will be put in place to ensure that tier 1 general migrants already in the UK will be able to extend their stay so long as they meet the requirements in place at the point they entered.

Current tier 1 investor and entrepreneur categories will be reformed to fit the profile of the high-value migrants they are intended for and to ensure that unnecessary bureaucracy does not stand in the way of these important individuals.

Investors will continue to qualify for settlement after five years if they have invested £1 million in the UK. Additionally, those who have invested £10 million will be able to apply for settlement after the investment is in place for two years. Those investing £5 million will be able to apply after the investment is in place for three years. Allowable absences will be increased from 90 to 180 days, enabling international business people to better manage their affairs abroad.

A new prospective entrepreneur visa will be introduced to allow entrepreneurs to come to the UK to secure funding. Switching in to the tier 1 entrepreneur category will be allowed.

For the tier 1 entrepreneur category: the existing £200,000 funding threshold will be reduced to £50,000 where the funding was provided by a venture capitalist, a Government Department or a seed competition. Up to two business partners will be able to use the route if they have equal access to the funding. Finally, successful entrepreneurs who create 10 full-time jobs or have a turnover of £5 million will be able to apply for settlement after three years.

A new category for exceptionally talented migrants working in science or the arts will be introduced in tier 1. The scheme will be administered by competent bodies in the arts and science. We will announce the details of these organisations in due course. We will apply a limit of 1,000 places in the first year. That limit, and the success of the route, will be monitored throughout the first year.

Tier 2

The number of certificates of sponsorship available for out of country migrants in tier 2 general will be limited to 20,700 for the year from 6 April.

The route will be reserved for graduate level occupations only. On Monday we announced that we have accepted the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) recommendations on graduate level occupations on the current shortage occupation list. I have also asked the MAC to undertake a full review of the shortage occupation list.

In addition the minimum English language requirement for tier 2 general will be raised to B1 on the CEFR scale.

The limit will be operated on a monthly basis. A total of 4,200 places have been reserved for the first month and 1,500 places per month thereafter. When the limit is undersubscribed in a given month the places will be carried over to the next month. Where the limit is over subscribed we will prioritise according to scarcity of skills in the first instance and then according to salary. Scientists, academics and researchers will be afforded an additional premium. A points table will give effect to this prioritisation.

The tier 2 intra-company transfer route will be reshaped and focused on specialists and managers. Transferees will be able to come to the UK for up to five years if they are paid over £40,000, including allowances. Other transferees will be able to enter for up to 12 months if paid £24,000 or more. There will be a 12-month cooling off period at the end of the migrants’ stay to prevent individuals being perpetually sent to the UK for 12-month periods.

Transitional arrangements will ensure that the new requirements do not apply to those granted a tier 2 visa before 6 April.

Settlement

On settlement the rules change applies a new criminality threshold to settlement applications, requiring all applicants to be clear of unspent convictions and also extends the income criteria that applies to those on a temporary route, so that it also applies when they apply for settlement, and to require such applicants to pass the “Life in the UK” test prior to gaining settlement, subject to some transitional provisions.

Re-entry bans

I am also introducing an amendment to the immigration rules relating to the general grounds for refusal. The existing re-entry ban for those previously removed from the UK is being amended to make it clear that where migrants participate in an assisted voluntary return programme or leave otherwise voluntarily, we expect them to do so promptly after being told to leave the UK. Those who voluntarily leave the UK promptly at public expense will have their re-entry ban reduced from five years to two years. Those who continue to delay receive a five-year or 10-year re-entry ban. This addition seeks to bring cases to a conclusion earlier by providing a clear incentive for people to depart from the UK sooner and increase participation in assisted voluntary return programmes.

Asylum

There are also changes to the immigration rules in respect of certain family members of refugees and those granted humanitarian protection, where the family relationship arose after the sponsor in the United Kingdom left his or her home country.

Visit visas

I have also made provision to enable nationals of Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates who hold a diplomatic passport to be able to come to the United Kingdom for a visit without the need for a visa. This will facilitate travel and close working relations between these passport holders and the United Kingdom.

Justice

Prisoner Escort and Custody Services

I am today announcing that the Government have awarded four new contracts for the prisoner escort and custody services to Geo Amey PECS Ltd ( a joint venture between the Geo Group Ltd and Amey UK plc) and Serco Ltd.

This follows a competitive tender conducted in accordance with Public Sector Procurement Directive (2004/8/EC). Geo Amey PECS Ltd and Serco Ltd have offered the best overall bids in terms of quality of service and cost relative to the other bids received and will take over the service from 29 August 2011 for an initial period of seven years.

The award of contracts to Geo Amey PECS Ltd and Serco Ltd enable the MOJ to release significant cost savings, reducing current costs by 20% on current spend.

The scope of services being delivered by Geo Amey PECS Ltd and Serco Ltd include all inter-prison transfers, the movement of prisoners with mental health problems, extradition and cross-border moves. It excludes all category A movements. The final specification incorporates a number of business changes, including improvements to facilitate the operations of the courts.

Northern Ireland

Independent Monitoring Commission

I have today published and laid before Parliament my sixth annual report on the operation of the agreement between the British and Irish Governments which established the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC). This report covers the period 18 September 2008 to 17 September 2009.

In line with a commitment made by one of my predecessors, this report also contains the audited accounts of the IMC for the 12-month period ending 31 March 2009.

The report covers the 20th and 21st reports on paramilitary activity. It does not refer to the 22nd report on paramilitary activity as it fell outside the 12-month period under review.

The IMC performs an important role, supporting the transition to a peaceful society and stable and inclusive devolved government in Northern Ireland. I am very grateful to the Commissioners for their valuable contribution and the work they have undertaken over the past year.