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Written Statements

Volume 525: debated on Tuesday 22 March 2011

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Business, Innovation and Skills

Sunset Clauses (New Regulations)

I am publishing today the guidance prepared by the Better Regulation Executive to assist Departments in implementing the Government’s commitment to introduce sunset clauses in new regulations.

The policy that is set out in the guidance will contribute to the Government’s goal of transforming the role of regulation in our society. Where regulation is no longer needed, or where it results in disproportionate burdens, the use of review and sunset clauses will help ensure that it is removed. It will strengthen the current process of post-implementation review, and also promote greater transparency and scrutiny of Departments’ regulatory activities.

The initial focus for the policy will be new domestic regulation introduced by Whitehall Departments that results in a net burden on business and civil society organisations, and domestic legislation implementing new EU obligations. The Government’s intention is that all measures that are in scope will be subject to a statutory review obligation, with those domestic measures implemented through secondary legislation also subject to a sunset provision. For secondary legislation, implementation in each case will be subject to the vires under which the relevant regulations are made.

Ministers will be under an obligation to carry out and publish a review of the regulation within five years of it coming into force. The review will look at whether the regulation is effective in meeting its original objectives, whether it is still required, and whether it can be improved. Where there is a sunset clause Ministers may also, depending on the outcome of the review, need to renew the legislation in order for the regulation to remain in force. The renewal, amendment, or revocation of regulations resulting from the new policy will be carried out through existing legislative processes.

The guidance is being published on the BIS website at: http://www.bis.gov.uk/policies/better-regulation/better-regulation-executive/reducing-regulation-made-simple /reviewing-existing-regulations/pirs-and-sunset-reviews. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Defence

Defence Business Services

As part of the process of departmental reform, today we are announcing the commencement of consultation on a significant organisational change within the Ministry of Defence, with the proposed establishment of a defence business services organisation.

Defence business services will deliver corporate services —human resources, finance, information, commercial and vetting—from a single structure to all areas of the Department. This new single organisation will allow us to provide high-quality professional services more efficiently and with fewer civil servants. We are exploring options to strengthen our ability to manage this change, including the possibility of bringing in outside professional management expertise to lead and direct the new organisation.

By making these changes we expect to reduce the overall civilian work force by about 2,000 corporate services posts with a net saving of £73 million per annum by 2014. This will make a significant contribution to the civilian staff reductions set out last October in the strategic defence and security review.

These proposals are a development of the recommendations made in Gerry Grimstone’s independent review into the use of civilians in defence in 2010. Along with the creation of a new defence infrastructure organisation, which I announced to Parliament on 16 February 2011, the corporate services reforms are the first changes arising out of the work of the defence reform unit chaired by Lord Levene on restructuring the Department. There will be more such changes as we receive and consider further proposals.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Consular Services (Fees)

In addition to its assistance to British nationals in distress, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) provides a range of consular services to British nationals who live, work and conduct business overseas. On 16 March 2011 Her Majesty in Council approved the Consular Fees Order 2011. Part I of that order, which has been deposited in the Library of the House, sets what the FCO charges for these services (and for emergency passports, travel documents, and transferring money to those in distress overseas) from 6 April 2011. At the same time the FCO is also making broader changes to these services, most of which will affect very few British nationals.

From 6 April 2011 we will no longer provide as standard some niche administrative services. We will cease offering searches in foreign archives for personal documents, such as for foreign birth certificates. Modern communications allow customers to approach the relevant authority themselves, and where necessary we will offer guidance on how to do this. We will no longer automatically offer management of estates overseas for the deceased; instead, we will provide customers the details of local lawyers who are better placed to provide this service. And we will stop offering translation or interpretation on notarial services, instead putting customers in touch with expert local translators and interpreters.

These changes should contribute to reducing the time consular officers spend processing documents and increase the time they have to focus on the most vulnerable in most need of assistance. They will not diminish the FCO’s assistance to British nationals in distress nor its crisis response capability, including its ability to assist and evacuate British nationals from a country or region.

It is right that, as a general principle, those who benefit from consular services should meet the cost of them, rather than the general taxpayer. The increases to the fees in part I of the order will result in income from the fees increasing by 3.85%. Some fees are reduced, and some are increased by more than this amount. The new fees represent the full economic cost of what we do, and will ensure that British missions continue to provide a high standard of service to consular customers. They are also a sensible rationalisation of the structure of the fees charged.

Fees in part II for passport applications made in the United Kingdom and overseas remain at current levels.

Fees in part III for receiving applications for entry clearance to Commonwealth countries, British overseas territories and Crown dependencies continue to be charged in the order. These fees are “Home Office fees” and are approved by the Home Office Minister but are still contained within the Consular Fees Order.

Torture and Mistreatment Reporting Guidance

I wish to make the House aware that I have updated and reissued guidance on reporting torture and mistreatment to all FCO staff, including contractors, secondees and temporary staff and staff from other Government Departments. I have made this guidance available to the public by publishing it on the FCO website.

The UK Government’s policy is clear. We do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for any purpose. We have consistently made clear our absolute opposition to such behaviour and our determination to combat it wherever and whenever it occurs. We take all allegations and concerns about torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment very seriously.

We are determined to strengthen the FCO’s institutional capability on human rights at home and overseas. The updated guidance reiterates existing advice, setting out the process for FCO staff and other staff working in Her Majesty’s diplomatic missions and offices for reporting information about torture and mistreatment.

Timely, accurate, specific and full reporting is crucial in strengthening the Government’s work to eradicate torture and CIDT around the world. The FCO is committed to this work and staff already report cases, raise concerns and take action.

A copy of the guidance will be placed in the Library of the House by 22 March 2011.

Health

UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy

I am publishing today, for consultation, a new “UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy”. This cross-Government strategy updates the previous national framework, published in 2007, in the light of the experience from the H1N1 (2009) pandemic including the findings of the independent review chaired by Dame Deirdre Hine and the latest scientific evidence. The strategy has been developed jointly with the devolved Administrations.

It is vital that we remain prepared for a new pandemic, the threat of which remains undiminished. Given the uncertainty about the scale, severity and pattern of development of any future pandemic, three key principles underpin the new strategy. These are that the response to a new pandemic should be precautionary, proportionate and flexible. The draft strategy sets out our proposed strategic approach to apply these principles to pandemic preparedness.

The strategy is intended to inform the development of updated operational plans by local organisations and emergency planners. As a result of their experience in the H1N1 (2009) influenza pandemic, many other organisations and individuals have extensive experience of the challenges that can be posed by a pandemic and will have given these challenges much thought. The Government are keen to ensure that this experience is fully reflected. Therefore, we are inviting comments and views on the strategy set out in this document. The consultation runs until 17 June 2011. We intend to publish the finalised strategy later this year.

The strategy has been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office. The document is also available at www.consultations.dh.gov.uk

A plan for improving the response to seasonal influenza will be published shortly.

Home Department

EU Directive (Human Trafficking)

I am writing today to the Parliamentary Scrutiny Committees in both Houses, seeking their views on the Government’s intention to apply to opt in to the EU directive to combat human trafficking upon its adoption. The Government’s view remains subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

In June, the Government took the decision not to opt in at the outset to the proposal for a directive to combat human trafficking but undertook to review the position when there was a finalised text. We have now carefully considered the finalised text. The main risk associated with the text has now been overcome: by waiting to apply to opt in, we have a text that has been finalised and we have avoided being bound by measures that are against the UK’s interests.

The new text still does not contain any measures that would significantly change the way the UK fights trafficking. However, the UK has always been a world leader in fighting trafficking and has a strong international reputation in this field. Applying to opt in to the directive would continue to send a powerful message to traffickers that the UK is not a soft touch, and that we are supportive of international efforts to tackle this crime.

Equality and Human Rights Commission

I am today launching a public consultation on the Government’s plans to reform the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The coalition programme for government commits to “reduce the number and cost of quangos”. In order to deliver this, the Government carried out a major review of public bodies last year. Following that review, the decision was taken to retain the commission but substantially reform it to focus it on the areas where it alone can add value, and to increase its accountability to Government, Parliament and the public.

We want the Equality and Human Rights Commission to become a valued and respected national institution. To achieve this aim, we have today set out our proposals for legislative and non-legislative reform in three key areas:

Clarifying the EHRC’s remit—the Government will amend the legislation that established the EHRC, the Equality Act 2006, to clarify the commission’s core functions. This will allow the EHRC to focus on the work that really matters, where it alone can add value. At present, vagueness in the Equality Act, for example, the duty to “promote understanding of the importance of equality and diversity”, has led to the EHRC undertaking a wide range of activities that are not regulatory in nature, including running summer camps for young people.

Stopping non-core activities—one of the causes of the commission’s difficulties was the breadth of its remit, extending beyond its core role to, for example, operating a helpline and grants programme. The commission has struggled to do these things well in the past, so we have decided that we should not fund it to do them in the future. The evidence suggests that this work could be done better or more cost-effectively by others.

Improving transparency and value for money—problems with financial controls mean that each set of the EHRC’s accounts have been qualified since its creation, and it has struggled to deliver value for money. Today’s proposals include a legal requirement for the EHRC to publish an annual business plan in Parliament, and comply with the same rules as all other public bodies when spending money. Where the commission fails to show that it has spent taxpayers’ money wisely, financial penalties will apply.

Copies of the consultation document will be placed in the House Library and can also be found on the Government Equalities’ Office website at the following link www.equalities.gov.uk.

Northern Ireland

“Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 - Review of Temporary Recruitment Provisions”

I have today published the Government’s response to the public consultation on the “Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000—Review of Temporary Recruitment Provisions”. The response document has been placed in the Library of this House. The temporary provisions came into force in 2001 and the previous Administration renewed them by order on 29 March 2010 for a period of one year.

A total of 162 responses were received to the consultation. Of these 152 were in favour of letting the provisions lapse on 28 March 2011, six were against this proposal and three did not express a definite view. One respondent was in favour of letting the provisions lapse for PSNI officer recruitment, but called for the provisions to be retained for support staff.

The Government have considered the responses to the consultation. They have noted the considerable progress made towards securing a police service that is more fully reflective of the community in Northern Ireland. This follows the recommendation in the Patten report that in order to make a police service representative, community leaders should take steps to remove all discouragement and make it a priority to encourage members of their communities to apply to join the police service.

At the time of the Patten report only 8.3% of Royal Ulster Constabulary officers were from a Catholic community background. Today 29.76% of officers are from a Catholic community background, the top end of the critical mass identified by Patten.

Against this background and given that policing in Northern Ireland is now, rightly, devolved and under local control, the Government consider that the continued use of the temporary provisions can no longer be justified and they will therefore lapse on 28 March 2011. Patten himself said the use of special measures should be revisited after 10 years.

The Government believe that maintaining a police service which is reflective of the society it polices is as important as ever. This view is shared by the Department of Justice and the PSNI themselves and they will continue to work to this end in the years ahead. We want to see this progress continue and for Catholic representation in the PSNI to grow further over time. Patten’s vision of a fair, impartial and effective police service does not end with the provisions.

PSNI recruitment issues are regularly monitored by the policing board which will continue to hold the PSNI to account. The PSNI shared future strategy agreed by the board demonstrates the PSNI’s continuing commitment to promoting equality and diversity, achieving good relations and building trust with the community.