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Written Statements

Volume 541: debated on Wednesday 29 February 2012

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 29 February 2012

Business, Innovation and Skills

English for Speakers of Other Languages

Together with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), I would like to update the House following my statement I made on 18 July 2011, Official Report, columns 59-60WS, on the provision of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) training.

The written statement of 18 July 2011 stated that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills would work with the Department for Communities and Local Government to consider additional ESOL provision for learners with no, or extremely poor, levels of spoken English, who are not in or currently actively seeking employment, and are unable to afford course fees.

We are therefore pleased that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will make available up to £10 million in the 2011-12 academic year to support this additional English language training. Funding is now being offered to further education colleges and training providers in areas facing significant integration challenges to support the delivery of English language training.

As set out in “Creating the Conditions for Integration”, published on 21 February, we believe that being able to communicate in English is vital for an individual’s personal advancement, and central to creating strong and integrated communities.

Defence

Police and Guarding Agency

As part of the programme of work associated with defence reform within the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Defence Police and Guarding Agency (MDPGA) will cease to have the status of an Executive agency from 1 April 2012.

The Ministry of Defence police (MDP) has been an agency under the then Government’s “Next Steps” regime since 1996. The MDP were subsequently combined with the MGS to become the MDPGA in April 2004.

The separate elements of the MDP and the MGS will continue within MOD’s organisational structure, albeit collocated and under the command of Chief Constable MDP.

The change in operating status will have no impact on the MDPGA’s customers, and will contribute some £140,000 towards MOD and National Audit Office accounts and administration savings.

Deputy Prime Minister

Electoral Registration (Annual Canvass 2012)

Elections for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) and potentially for elected mayors in the larger English cities will take place on 15 November this year. These will fall in the period in which the annual canvass of electors normally takes place and, as such, raise a number of issues including concerns about the quality of the register available for the elections and the increased burden on electoral administrators of conducting a canvass at the same time as preparing for an election. The Government have worked closely with the Association of Electoral Administrators, the Electoral Commission and others to consider the options for addressing these concerns.

To better accommodate these elections, I am directing Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) to commence and conclude this year’s canvass earlier than would normally be the case in the areas where PCC elections are taking place (England and Wales excluding London). Following a positive recommendation from the Electoral Commission on 21 February under section 8(1) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, I am issuing a direction today to all relevant EROs pursuant to section 52(1) of the Representation of the People Act 1983.

This will be a one-off approach for this year and the canvass in Scotland and in London will be unaffected. This is the best option available to provide for consistency for the PCC elections and certainty for all involved.

The Government’s clear aim is to ensure well-run elections and a successful annual canvass. Requiring the canvass to start earlier will ensure that there is sufficient time for EROs to carry out the full range of canvassing activities, consistent with their statutory duty to take all necessary steps to maintain complete and accurate registers. The Electoral Commission has developed specific guidance for electoral administrators on the practical implementation of the direction to supplement its existing good practice guidance on the annual canvass process.

I am placing a copy of the direction in the Libraries of both Houses.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Hong Kong (Sino-British Declaration)

The latest report on the implementation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong has been laid before Parliament and will be published today. A copy of the report is also available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website (www.fco.gov.uk). The report covers the period from 1 July to 31 December 2011. I commend the report to the House.

Health

Winterbourne View

I promised to update the House about ongoing activity in relation to Winterbourne View private hospital and other services for people with learning disabilities.

The House will wish to note that 11 people employed at Winterbourne View appeared in Bristol Crown court on 9 February. Three people have pleaded guilty and have been referred for sentencing reports. A further eight people are due back in court on 16 March.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has now completed their focussed inspections of 150 services for people with learning disabilities. The reports from these inspections are being published in batches and a further 20 reports are being published today. They can be found at: www.cqc.org.uk/LDReports?latest.

67 inspection reports have been published so far. These reports have found poor practice in some of the units and some major concerns.

Where the CQC has identified concerns, the provider is required to inform CQC when its improvement actions have been completed. CQC will follow up to check that the improvements have been made, including further inspections where necessary.

We have written to NHS and local authority chief executives to ensure that they are continuing to take action required to address any concerns raised; and review their own commissioning, care planning and oversight arrangements to support improvements.

We will continue to look for ways to drive up standards across health and care for people with learning disabilities.

The results of the CQC inspections programme will feed into the wider departmental review of Winterbourne View, together with the reports from the serious case review and the NHS serious untoward incident review, and evidence from other investigations and reports.

The departmental review is continuing to engage with people with learning disabilities or autism and challenging behaviour and their families about how services can be improved. Ministers will report findings from the departmental review to Parliament and determine what further action is necessary.

I will continue to update the House as things develop.

Home Department

Immigration

In June last year, I published a consultation document on employment-related settlement, tier 5 of the points-based system and overseas domestic workers. That document set out proposals to break the automatic link between coming to the UK and settling here permanently, and to reform the other routes. Today, I am setting out our plans following the consultation.

Until now, settlement has been a virtually automatic consequence of five years’ residence in the UK as a skilled worker. Those who have settled have tended to be less well paid and lower-skilled than those who have not. And the volumes of migrant workers settling have reached record levels in recent years. In 1997, there were fewer than 10,000 migrant workers and their dependants were granted settlement, but by 2010 this had risen to 84,000. So in future, we will exercise control to ensure that only the brightest and best remain permanently.

Following advice commissioned from the independent Migration Advisory Committee, we will apply a minimum pay threshold to skilled workers in the tier 2 (General) and tier 2 (Sportsperson) routes who want to settle. The threshold will be £35,000 per annum. In order to settle, a worker must be paid at that threshold or at the appropriate rate for the job as specified in codes of practice published by the UK Border Agency, whichever is higher. The £35,000 figure reflects the median pay of UK workers in tier 2 level jobs.

To provide flexibility where there are skills shortages in the domestic labour market, we will waive the £35,000 threshold for migrants who are being sponsored to do jobs which are on the shortage occupation list, or have appeared on the shortage occupation list at a time while the migrant has been sponsored to do that job. Similarly, to help maintain the UK’s position as a hub for the world’s best scientists and researchers, we will not apply the threshold to those scientists and researchers, who are in specified “PhD level” jobs. However, as now, these settlement applicants will need to be paid the appropriate rate for their job, as set out in the UK Border Agency codes of practice.

We will apply the new settlement pay threshold to tier 2 migrants applying for settlement from April 2016. To provide certainty for migrants and employers, we will hold the threshold at £35,000 until April 2018. We will confirm the threshold for 2018-19 next year and review it annually thereafter.

Tier 2 is intended to provide a solution to temporary skills gaps in the domestic labour market. So in future, temporary leave as a skilled worker will be limited to a maximum stay of six years and tier 2 migrants who leave the UK will need to wait 12 months after the expiry of their leave before they may reapply to return under tier 2. At a time of high unemployment, we owe it to British workers to ensure that our migration system does not perpetuate reliance on migrant labour.

We intend to leave the settlement rules for tier 1 migrants unchanged. These arrangements, for investors, entrepreneurs and those of exceptional talent, were put in place as recently as 2011 and are consistent with welcoming the high value individuals the UK needs to drive economic growth.

The predominant message from the consultation was that employers wanted a settlement system that provided certainty, simplicity and flexibility. These measures will deliver that.

Turning to the overseas domestic worker (ODW) routes, we will introduce changes to align these categories with our wider migration policy. At a time when we are reserving settlement for the brightest and best and moving towards a more selective system in general, it is not right that domestic worker routes should lead to settlement in the UK. In 2011, 16,430 visas were issued to ODWs in private households, including dependants, and 1,280 grants of settlement were made to ODWs and their dependants. So we shall reform the rules as follows.

ODWs in private households will only be permitted to accompany and work for visitors. They must leave the UK with the visitor, after a maximum of six months. They may not extend their stay, switch employer, sponsor dependants or settle here. ODWs in diplomatic households will be able to remain for the diplomat’s duration of stay, up to a maximum of five years. They may not switch employer or settle but may be accompanied by their dependants.

We recognise that the ODW routes can at times result in the import of abusive employer/employee relationships to the UK. It is important that those who use these routes to bring their staff here understand what is and is not acceptable. So we will be strengthening pre-entry measures to ensure that domestic workers and their employers understand their respective rights and responsibilities. Key to this will be written terms and conditions of employment that are agreed by both employee and employer. But the biggest protection for these workers will be delivered by limiting access to the UK through these routes. We are restoring them to their original purpose—to allow visitors and diplomats to be accompanied by their domestic staff—not to provide permanent access to the UK for unskilled workers.

Tier 5 of the points-based system caters for people coming to the UK for temporary, primarily non-economic purposes. The consultation revealed that the routes in tier 5 are too diverse to adopt blanket rules, for example on length of leave, ability to sponsor dependants and skills requirements. However, there will be some tightening of the current provisions. Internships and work experience type schemes within the Government authorised exchange scheme sub-category will be restricted to one-off stays of a maximum of 12 months, as this is sufficient time to obtain the necessary experience. From the autumn, leave for contractual service suppliers and independent professionals using the international agreement sub-category will be restricted to six months in 12, in line with our commitments under the general agreement on trade in services (GATS) and other free trade agreements.

We shall also make some deregulatory changes. In response to feedback that sponsorship requirements in the PBS can be unduly onerous and inflexible in some circumstances, we intend to create a new route outside the points-based system for certain fee-paid activities. Visitors in this new category (“permitted paid engagements”) will be able to undertake specific fee paid activities for up to one month without the need for formal sponsorship by a UK-based employer. Those who will be able to benefit will include certain professionals, for example visiting lecturers and examiners, artists exhibiting works, authors undertaking book signings, entertainers giving one-off or a very short series of performances and sportspeople undertaking broadcasting work. They will have to demonstrate they intend to leave the UK after a month.

We have already overhauled much of the immigration system since May 2010. We have closed the old tier 1 general route that allowed migrants to come here without a job and replaced it with reformed routes for entrepreneurs and investors and a new route for those of exceptional talent—the people the UK really needs. We have limited the number of skilled workers who can enter through tier 2 to fill specific vacancies; tightened the skills and language requirements and introduced new rules on intra-company transfers. We have refocused the student visa system so that only high-quality, genuine students can come to the UK and we continue to tighten the rules. A statement of intent published on 13 February sets out how changes to the student rules, which were announced to the House last March and which are due to come into effect from April, will operate. We have a clear goal: to reduce net migration to sustainable levels and to build an immigration system that is smarter, more selective and more responsive.

The changes already made are starting to deliver results. The policies described in this statement represent the next phase in our programme of immigration reform. Taken together, they form a balanced package of measures that will contribute to reducing net migration and delivering a sustainable, selective immigration system. They will break the link between coming to work and settling permanently helping to ensure that we remain in control of who comes and who stays.

Today, I shall publish a statement of intent on the Home Office and UKBA websites setting out in more detail the measures that I have announced to the House today. Two further documents which I shall make available on the departmental websites are a summary of the responses to the public consultation and an analysis by the UK Border Agency of the salary and occupations of a sample of skilled workers who settled in 2011. Copies of these documents will be placed in the House Library.

We will lay the necessary changes to the immigration rules before Parliament in mid-March, to come into effect from 6 April. The exception is the changes to the tier 5 international agreement sub-category, where we shall bring forward rules changes in the autumn.

With the exception of the tier 2 settlement rules changes, the rules changes laid in mid-March will apply to those submitting applications on or after 6 April 2012. As previously notified, the new tier 2 settlement rules will affect those who entered the points-based system under the rules in force from 6 April 2011 and who will be eligible to apply for settlement from April 2016. Further details are provided in the statement of intent.