Written Ministerial Statements
Monday 21 May 2012
Business, Innovation and Skills
Student Loan (Repayment)
Today I have laid amending regulations which make provision for the repayment of student loans.
The new student loan repayment system is designed to be sustainable, affordable and progressive. Repayments will be income-contingent, ensuring that repayments match ability to pay. By raising the repayment threshold to £21,000 and introducing a progressive rate of interest, there will be a greater protection to the lowest-paid graduates. After 30 years outstanding balances will be written off.
The changes to the repayment system to be implemented by these amending regulations will apply to new students who commence their studies in September 2012 or later. Certain students transferring courses or taking higher-level courses starting after September 2012, but immediately after completing a previous higher education qualification, will remain under the existing arrangements.
The main changes are as follows:
Real and variable interest rates on student loans for students starting courses on or after 1 September 2012 are to be introduced. New students starting a higher education course from September 2012 onwards will be charged interest at RPI (retail prices index) + 3% while studying. This rate will apply until the borrower is liable to make repayments. Once a borrower has reached their repayment due date, the rate of interest charged will depend upon the borrower’s income. Borrowers earning £21,000 or less will be charged a rate equivalent to RPI. Interest will then be charged on a sliding scale up to £41,000 where the interest rate will be RPI + 3%.
The repayment threshold will be £21,000: Setting the contribution at £21,000 is a core part of making the system more progressive. It will mean that low-earning graduates are not required to make payments and those that earn above £21,000 will contribute less each month than borrowers would under the current system. Raising the threshold for new graduates is part of the overall package of reforms to make the system more progressive and protect those that do not go on to enjoy high earnings—while asking those that do to contribute more.
After April 2016, those earning above the threshold who are due to repay will repay 9% of their income above £21,000. Full-time students will be due to repay from the 6 April after they complete or leave their course. Part-time students will be due to start repaying on the 6 April which falls after the fourth anniversary of the start date of the course or the 6 April which falls after the student leaves their course—whichever is sooner.
Write-off of loan—The outstanding balance of a loan will be cancelled 30 years after the repayment due date. The loan will also be cancelled if the borrower dies or the borrower receives a disability-related benefit and, because of the disability, is permanently unfit for work.
Credit balance-Interest Rate—We will implement new interest rate provisions for both new and existing borrowers who have a student loan balance in credit due to over-repayment. This change will apply from 6 April 2016, and will mean that the Student Loans Company will not, after a period of 60 days notice to the borrower, apply interest to credit balances
Health and Social Care (Information Strategy)
Today I am publishing “The Power of Information: Putting all of us in control of the health and care information we need”. This information strategy for health and social care in England is our response to “Liberating the NHS: An Information Revolution— A consultation on proposals” which sought views on proposals to transform the way information is collected, analysed, controlled and used in NHS and social care across England and is underpinned by provisions in the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
I am grateful to the many people who provided valuable input into this consultation and to the NHS Future Forum for the excellent work it undertook throughout its listening exercise. Building on the wealth of experience, viewpoints and insights gained through the consultation and the NHS Future Forum’s work, this document sets out the overall ambition and early actions to transform our health and our care services to meet our needs and expectations, for now and the future.
For citizens, patients and users of care services, this strategy sets out how a new approach to information and IT across health and care can lead to more joined up, safer, better care for all. The strategy spans information for patients, service users, carers, clinicians and other care professionals, managers, commissioners, councillors, researchers, and many others.
Unlike previous information strategies, this new information strategy does not reinvent large-scale information systems or set down detailed mechanisms for delivery on a national template. Rather, it provides a 10-year framework and a route map to lead a transformation in the way information is collected and used. It starts from the purposes for which information is required, and the opportunities it offers for quality improvement. It aims to harness information and new technologies to achieve higher quality care and improve outcomes for patients and service users. It enables local leadership and innovation alongside national standards.
There are three key themes in the strategy:
modern, convenient information access—new online services such as booking general practitioner appointments, access to records online, a new integrated national website and 111 phone number;
modern information and technology for professionals—improving safety and quality. Standards ensuring systems can talk to each other, consistent use of the NHS “number”, work to allow new technologies in maternity services, piloting new barcode technology in care homes to improve medication safety and encouraging “clinical portals” for professionals to view records; and
patient and citizen rights—information support as a service, and potential changes to the NHS constitution around right to feedback online, access to records online and support for understanding information.
In summary, this strategy sets out the overall ambition and the early actions that will enable information to transform our health and our care services to meet our needs and expectations, for now and the future.
“The Power of Information: Putting all of us in control of the health and care information we need” 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.
Migrant Tuberculosis Screening
I wish to inform the House of the outcome of a review that has been conducted by the UK Border Agency with support from the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency (HPA) of our arrangements for screening migrants from high incidence countries for active pulmonary tuberculosis (TB), and of our intention to make changes to longstanding policy in this area both to better protect UK public health and use public resources more effectively.
TB is a global public health issue. While TB rates in this country are stable, HPA data indicate higher rates of infection concentrated in particular metropolitan areas, and overall the UK’s TB rate compares unfavourably with other developed nations. Much of the UK’s TB burden is attributable to international migration. Around three quarters of TB cases in the UK occur in those born outside of the UK, and screening of migrants from high incidence countries for active TB forms part of the range of measures to prevent and control TB in the UK. The existing policy is that people subject to immigration control arriving in the United Kingdom from high incidence TB countries and intending to stay for over six months are screened at Heathrow and Gatwick airports for the active disease. This screening entails an examination of arriving passengers through the use of X-rays.
The Government have decided that this policy should now be changed on medical and financial grounds. The weight of medical opinion is that screening for TB in this manner can no longer be considered to make any real contribution to the detection and management of the disease. X-rays alone cannot provide a definite diagnosis, which requires laboratory testing that cannot be performed in the airport environment. Current screening arrangements at our airports detect very few active cases. Changes in the travel industry over the past few decades now means that an increased number of people arrive at other UK ports where screening facilities are not available.
The UK Border Agency has been piloting the pre-migration screening of persons applying for long-term visas and entry clearance from high incidence TB countries on a model routinely employed by the USA, Australia and Canada. Screening overseas in advance of the visa application process enables the use of laboratory tests where X-rays or clinical judgment suggests the possible presence of TB. It also increases the possibility of detecting and intercepting drug and multi-drug resistant forms of the disease. Where individuals are found to have active pulmonary TB, they must successfully undergo treatment before their application to come to the UK can be considered. This approach is already sanctioned by existing powers in the immigration rules. The experience of our international partners is that pre-migration screening can assist in reducing the rate of imported infection.
The current UK pre-migration TB screening programme covers 15 countries considered high incidence for TB by the World Health Organisation, and has demonstrated clear potential to detect active TB and achieve savings for the NHS. We therefore intend to expand this programme to those visa applicants applying to stay in the UK for longer than six months from the over 80 countries with a high incidence of TB, beginning the roll-out this summer (list attached). On-entry X-ray checks at Heathrow and Gatwick airports will be phased out.
The complex nature of the disease means that TB screening of migrants as part of immigration clearance can only make a limited contribution to TB control in the UK. One third of the world’s population is estimated to have latent TB. A minority will develop the disease in its active form at some point in their lives, but it is currently impossible to establish through screening if this is likely to occur in any individual case. Most foreign-born TB patients only develop the disease in its active form years after arrival in the UK. We will therefore explore ways to improve the sharing of information between the UK Border Agency and the HPA about individuals coming to live in the UK for more than six months from high incidence countries. This will complement the systems that are already in place at a local level for connecting individuals with healthcare services.
Tuberculosis high incidence countries:
Central African Rep
China, Hong Kong SAR
Congo Dem Rep Zaire
Korea Dem People
Korea Rep of
Papua New Guinea
Sao Tome & Prince
Countries currently coveted by pre-screening pilot:
Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Ghana, Kenya, Laos, Niger, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo.
London Bombings (July 2005)
On 19 July 2011 the Government provided notification of the publication of their response to the recommendations contained in the coroner’s inquests report on the London bombings of 7 July 2005. In that document, the Government committed to review progress against the commitments they made by the end of March 2012.
This review of progress is now complete and is published today on the Home Office website. A copy of the report will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Historic Vehicles MOT
Today I am announcing the Government’s plan to exempt all vehicles of historic interest (vehicles manufactured prior to 1 January 1960) in Great Britain (GB) from statutory MOT test, as allowed under article 4(2) of the EU Directive 2009/40/EC. I am also publishing the outcome of the consultation (with Government response) on our proposal to exempt historic vehicles from the MOT test which closed on 26 January 2012.
The EU directive of the European Parliament and of the Council, chapter II, exceptions, article 4 states;
“Member states may, after consulting the Commission, exclude from the scope of this directive, or subject to special provisions, certain vehicles operated or used in exceptional conditions and vehicles which are never, or hardly ever, used on public highways, including vehicles of historic interest which were manufactured before 1 January I960 or which are temporarily withdrawn from circulation. Member states may, after consulting the Commission, set their own testing standards for vehicles considered to be of historic interest”.
While the pre-1960 manufactured vehicles made up 0.6% of the 35.2 million licensed vehicles in GB they were involved in just 0.03% of road casualties and accidents. Two-thirds of them are driven under 500 miles a year and their initial MOT test failure rate (10%) is only a third of that of post-1960 manufactured vehicles.
Following consultation, the Government have concluded that we should proceed with exempting all pre-1960 manufactured vehicles from the MOT test. The Government believe that the exemption will reduce regulatory burden on owners of historic vehicles, meet its reducing regulation agenda and the desire to remove unnecessary burdens. It will also bring the age of vehicles requiring the statutory MOT test in line with the Goods Vehicles (Plating and Testing) Regulations 1988, which already exempts unladen pre-1960 manufactured heavy goods vehicles from the roadworthiness test. Owners of pre-1960 manufactured vehicles will still retain the option to do voluntary MOT test on their vehicles.
The outcome of consultation with Government response can be found on the Department’s website.
An amendment will be made to regulation 6 of the Motor Vehicles (Tests) Regulations 1981 to enable the MOT exemption. It is my intention that the changes come into force by 18 November 2012.
National Assembly for Wales (Electoral Arrangements)
I wish to inform the House that I am today publishing a Green Paper on future electoral arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales.
The Government’s programme of political renewal impacts on all parts of the United Kingdom and, in Wales, has consequences for the Assembly. Currently the constituencies used to elect Assembly Members are the same as those used to elect Members of Parliament. But the move to a smaller House of Commons with more equally sized constituencies breaks that link, and will, subject to parliamentary approval, result in a reduction in the number of parliamentary constituencies in Wales from 40 to 30.
In the Green Paper we look at the effects of these changes on the National Assembly for Wales, and whether people would be better served by continuing to have 40 Assembly constituencies, but with modified boundaries to make them more equal in size, or to reinstate the link with parliamentary constituencies by changing to an Assembly of 30 constituencies. In each case the size of the 60-Member Assembly would not change, and so the number of regional Members would increase from 20 to 30 if the link with parliamentary constituencies is re-established.
Establishing five-year fixed-term Parliaments at Westminster also has implications for the Assembly, and in the Green Paper we seek views on whether the National Assembly for Wales should have four or five-year terms. We are also seeking views on removing the prohibition on standing as a candidate in an Assembly election in both a constituency and a region, and whether Assembly Members should be prohibited from sitting in Parliament.
The consultation closes on 13 August, and the Government will consider carefully the responses we receive before deciding how best to proceed.
The Green Paper will be laid today before both Houses, and is available on the Wales Office website at www.walesoffice.gov.uk.