Written Ministerial Statements
Tuesday 12 June 2012
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) are today publishing a consultation setting out detailed proposals for the introduction of a general anti-abuse rule (GAAR).
This follows the Government’s announcement at the Budget that they intend to introduce a general anti-abuse rule targeted at artificial and abusive tax avoidance schemes. This announcement was in response to the Aaronson Study Group report, published in November 2011.
The consultation asks for views from interested parties on the proposals and their expected impact by 14 September 2012.
The consultation document is available on HMRC’s website and copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Tax Information Exchange Agreement (UK and Marshall Islands)
A tax information exchange agreement (TIEA) with the Republic of the Marshall Islands was signed on 20 March 2012. The text of the TIEA has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and will be made available on the HM Revenue and Customs’ website. The text will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.
Communities and Local Government
Reports from Research Commissioned by the Previous Administration
Today the Government are publishing the 11th group of reports presenting the findings from research projects commissioned by the previous Administration.
There is a significant backlog of unpublished reports that were produced by the previous Government which we will be publishing in groups themed on a particular topic.
The reports and findings are of general policy interest, but do not relate to forthcoming policy announcements. We are publishing these documents in the interests of transparency and as part of our freedom of information commitment to publish the results of all commissioned research.
The 20 reports published below represent the findings from 17 research projects at a total cost to taxpayers of £1,042,850. These findings cover the topic of fire.
(i) Review of the adequacy and impact of integrated risk management planning in the fire and rescue service—This report, commissioned in 2008, evaluated the adequacy and overall impact of integrated risk management planning on the efficiency of the fire and rescue service and on national fire-related outcomes.
(ii) Asset management in fire and rescue authorities—This report evaluated the extent to which fire and rescue authorities manage their property assets to ensure effective service provision and achieve value for money, and to make recommendations for improvement.
(iii) A review of current processes for operational training and development in the fire and rescue service—The review was set up to provide part of the evidence base needed to inform the debate about fire and rescue service operational training and development. The project was also to identify good practice for wider dissemination and look for opportunities to improve and strength training for the future.
(iv) Effectiveness of operational intervention—Gap analysis paper—This report by Qinetiq Ltd identified gaps in the evidence base that may need to be filled in order to develop a computer model to simulate firefighting operations. The report makes suggestions for how these gaps could be filled.
(v) Effectiveness of operational intervention—Model development paper—This paper documented the development of a trial computer model to investigate the effectiveness of operational intervention at fire fighting incidents.
(vi) Effectiveness of sprinklers in housing, commercial, public and other buildings—This research was commissioned in response to concerns and pressure from the sector that the provision of sprinklers represents the most cost-effective way to maintain the downward pressure on fire deaths and associated economic losses.
(vii) Impact of the firefighter awareness campaign—The fire and rescue service has struggled to recruit women for operational firefighter roles. At the time of the study women made up less than 3% of the fire and rescue service’s operational workforce. Research has shown that one of the key reasons why women are not becoming firefighters is the service’s image and the lack of awareness of firefighting as a career for women.
(viii) The development of a centrally held line-by-line fire and rescue service human resource data—This study was an exploration of the possibility of using a different method for collecting various items of data from the fire and rescue service.
(ix) Lower cost domestic sprinkler (LCDS) systems—Evaluation of small-scale pilot trials in fire and rescue services (incorporating version 10 of the draft DCLG Design Guide)—The aim of this report was to record the progress made by fire and rescue services in installing lower cost domestic sprinkler (LCDS) systems as described in version 10 of the draft DCLG Design Guide.
(x) The shape, form and function of operational guidance for the fire and rescue service—This report by Greenstreet Berman presented the findings of work carried out to determine the shape, form and function of future operational guidance. A human factors approach was applied to ensure that future operational guidance is: fit for purpose; presented in a style appropriate for the target audience and the context; appropriately organised; and easily accessible.
(xi) Fire investigation reports workshop: Workshop summary report—Fire and rescue services undertake fire investigations and complete reports. Many of these reports contain valuable information which could be used nationally to inform practice and fire safety. This is a report of a workshop sponsored by DCLG and Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) to discuss how information from fire investigations could be better used and shared.
(xii) The competencies and skills for incident command: An initial exploration—This report by the Health and Safety Laboratory was the first stage of a larger project to look at incident command in the fire and rescue service. The findings of this first stage provide an examination of the different psychological components of successful incident command as well as the identification of the competencies, skills and personal qualities and attributes required of an incident commander.
(xiii) Comparison of European fire statistics—This report by Greenstreet Berman Ltd examined the statistics collected by European countries regarding the consequence and incidence of fire. Technical experts in 24 European states responded to an online questionnaire explaining how their country collects fire data. The contractors then contrast different approaches to fire data collection and make suggestions for which countries’ data could be directly compared.
(xiv) Developing a model to estimate the economic cost of Special Service Incidents in England—This report by Entec UK Ltd investigated the possibility of assessing the costs associated with special service incidents in England, with the primary focus being the costs to the fire and rescue service.
(xv) A review of the Fire Kills Fire Safety Education Programme—This report by Greenstreet Berman Ltd contains the results of a project to measure the level of awareness (among community fire safety staff) and use of the Fire Kills fire safety education programme packs within the fire and rescue service. The report contains case studies providing information on the fire safety education carried out by six fire and rescue services and is based on surveys from 2007.
(xvi) Collation and analysis of Fire and Rescue Service expenditure data—This report by Spikes Cavell and Co provided an overview of the results of a project carried out to provide a better understanding of the size, structure and opportunities within the fire market. The report identified opportunities for collaboration and procurement efficiencies.
Children and young people strategy
(xvii) Informing the development of the fire and rescue service strategy for working with children and young people: consulting with the youth sector—This report by the National Youth Agency provided the findings of a consultation with the youth sector about the draft children and young people strategy 2010-13. The report is based on the findings from an online survey, a series of semi-structured interviews and a focus group with young people.
(xviii) Evaluation of the children and young people Strategy: 2006-10—This report by GfK NOP social research provided an understanding of the awareness and use of the 2006-10 children and young people strategy, as well as suggestions of how the strategy could be improved in the future.
Impact of modernisation on the fire and rescue service
(xix) The impact of modernisation on fire and rescue services—This report by Actica Consulting Ltd assessed the impact of the portfolio of change projects initiated by DCLG on fire and rescue services in England. Senior members of staff were interviewed and provided key documents on which the findings and recommendations were based.
(xx) Project planning for fire and resilience directorate projects that impact fire and rescue services—This report by Actica Consulting Ltd follows on from the previous report assessing the impact of modernisation on the fire and rescue service. It contains the findings and recommendations of a short study to identify options to co-ordinate demands on fire and rescue service demands.
These reports and findings are of general policy interest, but do not relate to forthcoming policy announcements and are not a reflection of the current Government’s policies and priorities. DCLG is publishing these reports in the interests of transparency.
Copies of these reports are available on the Department for Communities and Local Government website. Copies have been placed in the Library of House.
Culture, Media and Sport
Treasure Valuation Committee (Triennial Review)
On 15 December 2011, I made a written statement to Parliament about the triennial review of the Treasure Valuation Committee, Official Report, column 114WS, volume 537. I am pleased today to announce the completion of the review.
The Treasure Valuation Committee provides the important advisory role of recommending to the Secretary of State valuations for the treasure items brought before it and providing advice on the apportionment of any reward for the treasure item.
The review concludes that there is a continuing role for the Treasure Valuation Committee as an advisory non-departmental body with secretariat support provided by the British Museum. It finds that the committee has good standards of corporate governance and it makes a number of recommendations aimed at strengthening transparency and openness.
The review of the Treasure Valuation Committee was conducted by my Department with the support of a review group made up of key stakeholders with a direct interest in the treasure valuation process. The review were publicised on my Department’s website and stakeholders were invited to contribute views.
I am grateful to everyone who contributed to the review. I have arranged for copies to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Defence Rotary Wing Capability Study
The Defence Rotary Wing Capability Study was commissioned to ensure that the Department has the right plans in place to meet the demands on helicopter capability in the future. I am pleased to say that the study is now complete and, given the interest taken in the study by Parliament, I wanted to take the opportunity to announce its key findings. As the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), who has responsibility for defence equipment, support and technology, stated in his response on 30 April 2012, Official Report, column 1142W, I should reiterate that the findings include no major changes to our previously announced plans.
The study reviewed the full rotary wing requirement for the land, sea and air environments. This encompassed all helicopter roles: attack, lift, reconnaissance and search and rescue. The study was broken down into six work strands covering future force structure, training and simulation, support, specialist roles, basing, and search and rescue.
The aim was to look across all areas of the Department to ensure that we are working as efficiently as possible to deliver the plans for rotary wing capability outlined in the strategic defence and security review. The study confirmed the following plans:
to move the MOD’s rotary wing capability to four core fleets, the Chinook, Wildcat, Merlin and Apache helicopters;
to complete the Puma life extension programme, which extends the out of service date for Puma Mk2 to 2025; this offers resilience to the Department’s lift capability as it transitions to the four core fleets; and
to transfer the Merlin Mk 3/3a to the Royal Navy’s commando helicopter force.
As a result of this review, the Department has:
identified opportunities in training and support as the most promising areas to achieve rationalisation and efficiencies. Broadly this includes making better use of simulated training and adopting a simpler approach to procurement and alternative models for support;
considered alternative ways of organising our helicopters and concluded that Joint Helicopter Command should continue to command land-based (battlefield) helicopters and Navy Command should continue to command maritime helicopters;
confirmed the end of MOD provision of Rotary Wing Search and Rescue at the remaining eight military bases upon withdrawal of the Sea King in April 2016. This will then be performed by a contractor through the Department for Transport, as the Secretary of State for Transport announced to Parliament on 28 November 2011, Official Report, columns 52-53WS.
The MOD and other interested parties will now consider the recommendations and these findings will now be taken forward as part of routine departmental business.
Today I am launching a consultation on proposals to reform radically the child protection system. We are seeking to move away from a culture of compliance to one which places trust in front-line professionals and allows them to carry out their vital work, without being hampered by unnecessary rules and targets. The three draft documents published today will help create such a culture by replacing overly prescriptive manuals with short, precise guidance and checklists clearly setting out roles and responsibilities.
Professor Munro’s final report, “A child-centred system”, concluded that over the years the child protection system has become overly focused on compliance and dependency on central prescription and guidance. This consultation on “Working Together to Safeguard Children; Managing individual cases: the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families” and “Guidance on Learning and Improvement” proposes to replace over 700 pages of detailed instructions with concise, clear guidance. It places trust in health professionals, teachers, early years professionals, youth workers, police and social workers and gives them the space to exercise their judgment.
This revised guidance proposes to give local areas more freedom to organise their services in a way that suits local needs and will allow more face-to-face time with children and families. It provides a clear framework within which professionals must operate.
The revised “Working Together to Safeguard Children” guidance sets out the “must dos” and makes the statutory requirements clear for all organisations.
The revised guidance “Managing individual cases: the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families” sets out a framework for managing individual cases when there are concerns about a child’s safety. Informed by evidence from eight local authorities which have been trialing more flexible approaches to assessing the needs of children, this guidance proposes to replace nationally prescribed time scales for assessment with locally agreed frameworks. The guidance puts the child’s needs, rather than compliance with inflexible time scales and recording processes, at the centre of assessment.
This Government are clear that serious case reviews (SCRs) need to be much more strongly focused on learning, rather than process, and that SCR reports should be published. Our proposed “Statutory Guidance on Learning and Improvement” proposes changes so that SCRs get to the heart of what happened in a particular case and why, and what improvements need to be made to help reduce the risk of similar tragedies in the future.
In parallel with this consultation, I am also publishing the new “Children’s Safeguarding Performance Information Framework” along with the Government response to the full public consultation. This framework is intended to move the focus of the child protection system from processes and indicators towards performance measures that improve professional understanding and drive improvements.
Today’s consultation forms part of our wider programme of reforms. These include Ofsted’s new inspection framework which began in May 2012 with a stronger focus on the quality of practice and the effectiveness of help provided to children, including early help to provide support to children and families as soon as a problem emerges in their lives.
We are also continuing to work with children’s services, police and the NHS to shift the focus on to earlier intervention, recognising that the earlier that help is given to vulnerable children and families, the more chance there is of turning lives around and protecting children from harm.
In addition, in 2011-12 we invested £80 million in a national programme of social work reform, to improve skill levels for social workers and tackle high vacancy rates in child protection. We are improving the social work degree and developing further the skills of existing social workers in critical areas such as child protection. We are well on the way with recruiting the first chief social worker for England, who will work with the new College of Social Work and the newly designated Principal Child and Family Social Workers in local authorities to drive improvement and raise standards.
Together these reforms will shift the child protection system from a culture of compliance to one where children and families are at the centre.
Copies of the consultation documents “Working Together to Safeguard Children, Managing individual cases: the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families” and “Statutory Guidance on Learning and Improvement” have been placed in the House Libraries.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Executive Agencies (Key Performance Measures)
The business plans for the following agencies and their key performance measures have been published today. Business plans are available on line at the agencies websites.
Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, http://cefas.defra.gov.uk/.
Veterinary Medicines Directorate, http://www.vmd.defra.gov.uk/.
Rural Payments Agency, http://rpa.defra.gov.uk/rpa/index.nsf/home.
Animal Health Veterinary Laboratory Agency, http://www.defra. gov.uk/ahvla/.
Food and Environment Research Agency, http://fera.defra.gov. uk/.
I have placed copies of the key performance measures in the Libraries of both Houses.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Tackling Sexual Violence in Conflict
I wish to inform the House of a new Government initiative on tackling sexual violence in conflict and post conflict situations.
Rape and other forms of sexual violence have been used as weapons against women, men and children in conflicts throughout the world. The scale of sexual violence in situations of conflict and repression is appalling; however, the perpetrators of the worst sexual crimes generally go unpunished. Too many victims are denied justice. And where there is no justice, the seeds of future conflict are sown and development is held back.
The Government believe that tackling sexual violence is an issue which is central to conflict prevention and to peace building, and are committed to tackling such violence, building on vital work that has been done in recent years through the UN and its agencies including landmark Security Council Resolutions, by many NGOs and charities, and by some of the countries themselves which have been most affected by sexual violence.
We want to see a significant increase in the number of successful prosecutions for crimes of sexual violence in conflict with the aim of ending a culture of impunity and establishing a culture of deterrence in its place.
To help rally sustained international action and push this issue up the global agenda, the Government will establish a new UK team of experts devoted to combating and preventing sexual violence in conflict. The team will be able to be deployed overseas at short notice to gather evidence and testimony that can be used to support investigations and prosecutions. It will draw on the skills of doctors, lawyers, police, psychologists, forensic specialists and experts in the care and protection of victims and witnesses. It will significantly strengthen the specialist capabilities that the United Kingdom is able to bring to bear on these issues.
The UK team will also be available to support UN and other international missions, and to provide training and mentoring to national authorities to help them develop the right laws and capabilities. It will also be able to work on the front line with grassroots organisations, local peace builders and human rights activists. Individual deployed teams will be configured to deal with specific instances of sexual violence, and in the light of where the UK can make the best contribution to existing international and national efforts.
The Government intend to use the Foreign Ministers’ track of the United Kingdom’s presidency of the G8 as part of a year-long diplomatic campaign in 2013 for stronger international action to deter and prevent sexual violence in conflict. The Government are already initiating discussions with G8 colleagues about this initiative and will also develop, with United Nations, international and civil society partners, specific action for 2013 and beyond.
I will keep the House informed of progress on this work.
The Turks and Caicos Islands
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and I wish to update the House on progress on the restoration of good governance and plans to hold elections in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), a British overseas territory.
Three years ago Sir Robin Auld’s Commission of Inquiry identified a high probability of systemic corruption in Government and the legislature and among public officers in TCI. This led us to suspend ministerial Government and set eight milestones for elections and a return to democratic Government. I am pleased to inform the House that the interim Government in TCI, led by the Governor and supported by TCI and UK public servants and specialist advisers, has made significant progress with an ambitious reform programme. We now judge there has been sufficient progress, on the milestones and on putting in place robust financial controls, to set 9 November as the date for elections.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development assess progress against the milestones as follows:
Implementation of a new Turks and Caicos Islands Constitution Order, in support of recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry, which underpins good governance and sound public financial management
A new Constitution Order was laid before Parliament in July 2011. Once it is brought into force by the Governor, elections must take place within 30 days. The new constitution includes a wide range of provisions to safeguard good governance and sound financial management.
Introduction of a number of new ordinances, including those making provision for: (i) the electoral process and regulation of political parties: (ii) integrity and accountability in public life: (Hi) public financial management
A revised elections ordinance provides for clear and robust voting procedures and arrangements for conducting the ballot for the new “all island” candidates. The Conduct of Political Parties Ordinance regulates funding of political parties and campaigns, campaign methods and accounting practices. The Integrity Commission Ordinance increases the number of those required to give personal and financial data about their interests to the Integrity Commission. The Public Financial Management (PFM) Ordinance and the National Audit Office Ordinance improve oversight and accountability and create a strengthened independent audit and investigation function over public finances. The Chief Finance Officer (CFO) ordinance enables the UK Government to retain sufficient control over public finances and so protect the interests of the UK as loan guarantor and so is in line with the written ministerial statement of 9 December 2010, Official Report, columns 40-41WS.
Establishment of robust and transparent public financial management processes to provide a stable economic environment and a strengthening of the Turks and Caicos Islands Government’s capacity to manage their public finances
The new Public Finance Management Ordinance introduced a wide ranging set of verifiable accounting and compliance requirements. It sets out a clear mechanism for budget control and specifies the delegation of financial responsibilities within ministries.
Implementation of budget measures to put the Turks and Caicos Islands Government on track to achieve a fiscal surplus in the financial year ending March 2013
This milestone has not yet been met as it is too early in the financial year to determine whether TCIG is on track to achieve a fiscal surplus. Significant progress has however been made in helping to put the TCI Government on track. While the US$26 million deficit in 2011-12 was considerably worse than the US$3 million originally budgeted, nevertheless this still represented a significant turnaround from a deficit in excess of US$70 million in 2010-11. The Governor has now enacted a budget for 2012-13 that projects a surplus of US$20 million. Not only does this contain both prudent estimates of revenue and provision for contingencies, but these figures are the result of careful risk analysis led by the CFO and Permanent Secretary of Finance.
Achieving the surplus will be challenging. The UK Government’s continued control over public finances means that we can, through the CFO, take steps during the year to correct the budget trajectory if it starts to go off course. This greatly adds to our confidence that the surplus can be achieved. We intend to keep progress on this milestone under close scrutiny.
Implementation of a transparent and fair process for acquisition of belongership
A territory-wide consultation reported strong support for a process for the acquisition of belongership (the status of Turks and Caicos Islander) based only on birth, descent and marriage to a belonger for 10 years. A revised Citizenship Ordinance will implement this policy. The TCI Government will have no discretionary power to grant belongership.
Significant progress with the civil and criminal processes recommended by the Commission of Inquiry, and implementation of measures to enable these to continue unimpeded.
Thirteen people, including four former Ministers, have been charged with corruption and money laundering offences. An international arrest warrant has been issued for former Premier Michael Misick. It is now for the courts to decide whether the persons charged are guilty. The investigations and prosecutions will proceed independently of a future elected Government.
A civil recovery team was appointed to recover property and redress losses arising from corruption. The team has made significant progress including over 40 separate recoveries of money and/or land. Over US$12 million has been recovered, including payments already made, judgments obtained and still to be collected, and agreements to pay. More than 900 acres of land have been returned to the Crown—valued in the tens of millions of US dollars. The team expects to recover significant further amounts of cash, land or other assets.
Implementation of a new Crown land policy
The misappropriation of Crown land through questionable land allocations, under-reporting of land values and the avoidance of stamp duty were at the heart of the corrupt practices described in the Commission of Inquiry report. The new Crown Land Ordinance which came into effect in March sets out clear criteria for the allocation of Crown Land. To ensure the new arrangements for Crown Land are implemented successfully, the management of Crown Land has moved to the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
Substantial progress in the reform of the public service
Public sector reform continues to make good progress. The public service was reorganised into five new ministries (reduced from nine) each headed by a new permanent secretary, recruited through open competition. The public service has been reduced by 400 people (some 16%) through a voluntary severance scheme.
This is an impressive list of achievements. We judge seven of the eight milestones have been clearly met. The fiscal milestone has not yet been met but the PFM and CFO ordinances increase our confidence that the budgeted surplus will be achieved. Over the next few months, in the run up to elections, the interim Government will continue with the implementation and consolidation of reforms, in particular to strengthen the public sector and public finances, develop the economy, modernise legislation and make practical preparations to enable the elections to take place.
The UK believes that democracy, whether in an independent country or in an overseas territory, provides a solid foundation on which to build an accountable and responsive state. This belief underpins our work to advance democracy worldwide. We will support TCI to develop its democracy in line with our responsibility for security and good governance and our positive vision for our overseas territories.
I want to make clear this Government’s determination to ensure that there is no repeat of the maladministration that led to the suspension of democratic Government in TCI, either there or in any other British overseas territory.
Equality Act 2010 (Banning Age Discrimination in Services and Public Functions)
Equality of opportunity is a core coalition objective. It is fundamental to building a strong economy and a strong society. We want to make sure that everyone can realise their potential—part of this means ensuring people are treated fairly regardless of their age.
So I am pleased to inform the House that the Government are today announcing their intention to ban age discrimination in the provision of public and private services. We intend to do this, subject to parliamentary approval, from 1 October 2012.
We are taking a proportionate approach. The new law will only prohibit harmful or unjustifiable treatment that results in genuinely unfair discrimination and harassment because of, or related to, age. It will not affect the many entirely justifiable instances of different treatment that do not cause any harm. To ensure this, we consulted widely on specific exemptions to the ban. The Government’s response to that consultation is published today, and a draft order will be laid before both Houses shortly.
I have placed copies of the Government response in the Libraries of both Houses and it has been published on the Home Office website at: www.homeoffice.gov.uk.
Justice and Security Bill
My right hon. and noble friend the Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness) made the following written ministerial statement:
Today (Tuesday 29 May 2012) my right hon. and learned friend, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice is laying before Parliament the Government’s response to the consultation on justice and security which was published on 19 October, as well as a response to the report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the same issue. I have also introduced the Justice and Security Bill which aims to deal with three main problems which have arisen with judicial and parliamentary scrutiny of the security and intelligence agencies.
First, a number of civil cases are not being heard in our courts because they hinge on national security sensitive evidence which the courts recognise cannot be disclosed openly. At present the Government’s only option is to try to settle these cases—often for large sums of money—even where the case has no merit.
Secondly, a damaging form of legal tourism has developed which allows someone fighting a case outside the UK to apply to a court in London to force disclosure of intelligence information held by the British, sometimes provided by our allies. This is seriously undermining confidence among our key allies, including the US.
Thirdly, parliamentary oversight of the intelligence community has been criticised as having too limited a remit.
There were 90 responses to our consultation, and the Government are grateful for the wide-ranging views we received. Many respondents recognised the underlying problems that they are trying to address. However, there was considerable concern that plans on closed material procedures (CMPs) were drawn up in a way that was excessively broad in scope and risked undermining this country’s proud tradition of civil liberties.
The Government’s position has always been that protecting the public should not come at the expense of our freedom. So, we have listened carefully to the views of those responding, including the work of the JCHR. We have extensively revised the measures in order to put beyond doubt that they are proportionate, targeted and include strong safeguards. On our central proposal to introduce CMPs we have now ensured that the judge has a more central role, and will be able to grant a CMP only in relation to civil cases involving national security evidence—not crime or international relations. Inquests have been excluded, and we were never intending to make CMPs available in the criminal courts. The Bill ensures that no evidence currently heard in open court will be heard in secret in future, but that claims such as mistreatment or complicity in torture brought against the intelligence and security services which cannot currently be heard, can be heard.
Closed Material Procedures
The Government are strongly committed to open and transparent justice. However, courts have long accepted that highly sensitive intelligence material—for example, the names of security agents or information about the techniques used by the intelligence agencies—cannot be disclosed in open court. Under current rules, the only way of protecting this sort of material is to remove it from the courtroom entirely by applying for public interest immunity (PII). A problem arises in a tiny number of cases which hinge on secret intelligence material, where—if a PII application is successful—all, or most, of the material central to the case is excluded from consideration. The result is that these cases are not heard in court at all, meaning that cases have to be settled with no independent judgment on very serious allegations.
The settlement of the civil damages claims brought by former Guantanamo Bay detainees is an example of the inadequacies of the PII system. The evidence the Government needed to rely on in order to defend themselves was highly secret intelligence material, which could not be released in open court. The only option would have been to claim PII for the material. This process could have taken up to three years to complete, but there would still have been no judgment on the claims made: if a PII claim was successful the very material the Government needed to rely upon to defend their actions would have been excluded. The Government’s only practical option was therefore to settle the claims, for significant sums, without admitting liability.
The Government are therefore bringing forward proposals to allow this material to be heard in court in what is known as a “Closed Material Procedure” (CMP) which provides the safeguards needed to ensure that sensitive material can be taken into account by the court, while ensuring that the damage to national security that would arise if it were openly disclosed can be prevented. CMPs are already available in a number of other areas of the civil law, in these cases the CMP would work as follows:
the Minister must first consider whether to make a claim for public interest immunity or whether to advise another to do so;
the Minister would then apply to a judge who will determine whether the CMP can go ahead on the grounds that there was some material relevant to the case, the disclosure of which would damage national security;
even where a CMP is granted, all evidence currently heard in open court would continue to be heard in open court, including all allegations against the state;
only the particular pieces of national security evidence would be heard in closed court, and in relation to these pieces of material the judge will decide whether a summary of the evidence must be made available to the other party for the proceedings to be fair. And, in all cases, a special advocate will have access to material on behalf of the claimant that would currently be precluded. The overall effect for the claimant will be that they receive at least as much information as they would following a PII exercise;
as recommended by the JCHR, judicial reviews of naturalisation and exclusion cases will be heard by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC).
Many respondents to the consultation on these proposals made the point that closed material procedures are a departure from the tried and tested fundamentals of open justice. I entirely agree with them in principle—no Government propose measures in this area lightly. But CMPs are already available in a number of areas of law for the good reason that where the courts have recognised that the best option of hearing evidence in open is not available, they provide a fairer outcome than the alternative which is no justice at all. This is recognised by both the domestic and international courts. Lord Woolf finding for example that,
“it is possible.. .to.. .achieve justice” in a CMP (M v SSHD).
The Bill also aims to ensure the protection of our intelligence sharing relationships and our domestically generated intelligence through reform of what is known as the “Norwich Pharmacal” jurisdiction—which has recently been used to allow someone fighting a case outside the UK to apply to a court in London for access to intelligence information held by the British, sometimes provided by our allies.
The aim of a Norwich Pharmacal application is to force a third party to disclose information which the claimant feels may be relevant to a case they are bringing elsewhere. Although developed in the intellectual property sphere, in the last three years there have been no fewer than nine attempts to use this jurisdiction in relation to secret intelligence which either belongs to the UK Government, or which our allies have shared with us. No other country in the world has such a jurisdiction. Indeed, there is not even a parallel jurisdiction in Scotland.
As the purpose of the proceedings is solely to gain disclosure of material, the Government do not have the option to withdraw from or settle these proceedings. If disclosure is ordered, and the Government do not succeed in an application for PII, the Government must release secret intelligence into the public domain.
We expect our allies to protect intelligence material we share with them from disclosure, and they expect the same from us. The inadequacies in our current ability to properly protect classified information provided by foreign Governments has already seriously undermined confidence among our key allies, including the US. Robust legislative measures are essential to restore confidence among our allies, which is vital to our national security.
Therefore the Government intend to make the following changes to the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction:
For agency held material—The Government intend to legislate to exempt material held by or originating from one of the agencies from disclosure under a Norwich Pharmacal application.
For national security or international relations material—The Government also intend to legislate to allow a Minister to sign a certificate in Norwich Pharmacal cases to protect non-agency material which would cause damage to national security or international relations if disclosed. That certificate can be reviewed on judicial review principles. If upheld, the information could not be disclosed.
These measures have no impact on claims that the Government, or the security and intelligence agencies, have been directly involved in wrongdoing, nor do they prevent someone enforcing their convention rights.
Finally, and very importantly, the Bill will improve parliamentary oversight of the security and intelligence agencies, most notably giving the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) the power to oversee the agencies’ operations, not just their administration, expenditure and policies—as is the case now. The ISC will be given a wider remit, and will in future report to Parliament as well as the Prime Minister. Parliament will be given the power to vote to reject the ISC’s membership. The power to withhold information from the ISC moves from the heads of the intelligence and security agencies to the Secretary of State responsible for that agency.
The Bill deals with issues of profound importance which go to the heart of our democratic values. The proposals it brings forward aim to improve executive accountability, equip our civil court system to handle sensitive intelligence material, and improve parliamentary scrutiny of the security and intelligence community.
Emergency Towing Vessels
The Scotland Office has been leading efforts to secure a long-term replacement for the emergency towing vessels (ETV) service in waters surrounding Scotland. The Government have listened carefully to all representations and reviewed the arguments put forward.
I am pleased to announce that the Government will continue funding of an emergency towing vessel for the duration of the spending review period. This commitment sits alongside our ongoing efforts to secure an additional vessel under a commercial call-out arrangement. The procurement process for the publicly funded vessel will be launched today and, if needed, further funding will be provided towards a temporary contract for a vessel until the longer-term arrangement is put in place. To ensure sufficient coverage across a wider spread of waters, the vessel will not be used habitually for passive escorts through the Minch, but could be tasked by HM Coastguard to undertake specific escort duties should they consider it necessary. Options for optimal stationing of the vessel will be sought from the market, however decisions on operational positioning and tasking will rest with HM Coastguard. This model is intended to ensure the best possible coverage across locations while accommodating practical considerations, in particular the distances involved, sea conditions and traffic density.
Combined with the host of significant technological advances and operational measures adopted by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to enhance safety of shipping since publication of the 1994 Report by Lord Donaldson1, the Government are satisfied that this model will deliver a proportionate solution, balancing risk, operational considerations and value-for-money, including costs of an incident. I welcome the active participation of local authorities, including local harbour masters, who have assisted in this process, and we will continue to consult them on the detailed options available.
I remain very grateful to the companies who have participated actively in pursuit of a commercial call-out arrangement using oil industry vessels. This shows their commitment to corporate social responsibility, and I pay tribute to the efforts of Oil and Gas UK who facilitated this work. It is encouraging that considerable work has gone into preparation of suitable operational procedures, led by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and discussions remain underway with industry on the commercial framework.
11994: “Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas”: Report of Lord Donaldson’s Inquiry into the Prevention of Pollution by Merchant Shipping (Command Paper CM 2560).
Work and Pensions
Mandatory Work Activity
Today, the Department for Work and Pensions is publishing the next set of official statistics on mandatory work activity, accompanied by an impact assessment, which forms the first part of the evaluation of the policy. Later today I will place a copy of the impact assessment in the House Library.
I am also pleased to announce the Government have decided to expand the mandatory work activity scheme.
The expansion will enable Jobcentre Plus to make between 60,000 and 70,000 referrals to mandatory work activity each year, based on the current experience of the scheme, at a cost of an additional £5 million per annum. This decision has been taken as the result of careful consideration of the positive impacts demonstrated within the impact assessment.
The extra places will help ensure Department for Work and Pensions advisers can provide those jobseekers that require it the opportunities to gain experience of work and help focus their minds on their search for work.
In addition, the Department is currently evaluating the impact of a trial scheme carried out in London, Wales and the west midlands where most jobseekers who incurred a second sanction were specifically considered for a referral to mandatory work activity.
We will make a further announcement about this trial and our future plans later in the year.