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Written Statements

Volume 558: debated on Tuesday 5 February 2013

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Cabinet Office

Committee on Standards in Public Life (Triennial Review)

I announced on 18 September 2012, Official Report, column 31WS that I had asked the right hon. Peter Riddell CBE to carry out a review of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. In the course of his review, the right hon. Peter Riddell CBE consulted with a wide range of interested stakeholders, many of whom sent substantive written responses to the Issues and Questions paper. I am very grateful to him for his detailed work on this review, and his informative report.

The review recognises the valuable role played by the Committee and the evolving nature of the issues it tackles. As such it concludes that the Committee on Standards in Public Life should remain as a non-departmental public body.

The report makes a number of recommendations, which the Government broadly accept. In particular, the report recommends the clarification of the Committee’s terms of reference in two respects. First, the Government agree that in future the Committee should not inquire into matters relating to the devolved legislatures and Governments except with the agreement of those bodies. Secondly, the Government understand the Committee’s remit to examine

“standards of conduct of all holders of public office”

as encompassing all those involved in the delivery of public services, not solely those appointed or elected to public office.

The Government note that the report also recommends that the appointment panel for the chair, and ordinary members, should include an MP but exclude members of the Public Administration Select Committee. The Government believe that the inclusion of the Chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee on the appointment panel for the Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life would add valuable expertise to the appointment panel and, provided he then recused himself from any pre-appointment hearing for the new chairman, it would not create any conflict of interest.

The report suggests that the Committee on Standards in Public Life should consult the Chairs of the Public Administration Select Committee and the Lords Constitution Committee when deciding on inquiries, with which the Government agree.

I am grateful for the work of Sir Christopher Kelly over the last five years in his role as Chairman of the Committee. His term in office comes to an end in March and the Cabinet Office will now begin the process of recruiting a new Chairman for the Committee on Standards in Public Life to take these recommendations forward.

Copies of the review report, “The Report of the Triennial Review of the Committee on Standards in Public Life”, have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Treasury

Equitable Life Payment Scheme

The Treasury can confirm that the Equitable Life payment scheme has made £535 million in payments and has paid nearly 80% of eligible individual policyholders. In addition, the scheme has today published a further progress report, which can be found at: http://equitablelifepaymentscheme. independent.gov.uk/.

In the coalition agreement published in May 2010, the Government pledged to

“implement the Parliamentary and Health Ombudsman’s recommendation to make fair and transparent payments to Equitable Life policy holders, through an independent payment scheme, for their relative loss as a consequence of regulatory failure.”

As of 31 January 2013 the scheme has paid nearly 80% of eligible individual policyholders with 370,867 policyholders receiving payments totalling £535 million. Payments to all the individual policyholders the scheme can trace are on track to be completed by April 2013 as planned.

Following receipt of payment, the scheme has continued to receive low levels of response from policyholders. The vast majority of policyholders continue to cash their warrants without further recourse to the scheme with 0.8% of eligible policyholders having complained to the scheme.

As stated in the last report, there are additional complexities in retrieving the contact details of those policyholders who bought their policy through a group (i.e. company) scheme which mean that payments to these policyholders are in a later phase of the scheme. The scheme has now written to the trustees of all 5,700 eligible company schemes and as a result of this payment to these policyholders will accelerate from April 2013.

The scheme has also confirmed that the estates of 5,760 deceased policyholders have been paid and the process of identifying, tracing and contacting the estates of deceased policyholders continues. As this is an understandably complex area with some cases going back many years, this verification work will continue over the coming months.

The Government are committed to drawing a line under the Equitable Life issue and the scheme remains on track to close as planned in 2014. As part of this closure process the scheme will publish more regular reports with the next one due to be published in early May 2013.

Public Service Pensions (Up-Rating 2013)

Legislation governing public service pensions requires them to be increased annually by the same percentage as additional pensions—state earnings related pension and state second pension. Public service pensions will therefore be increased from 8 April 2013 by 2.2%, in line with the annual increase in the consumer prices index up to September 2012, except for those public service pensions which have been in payment for less than a year, which will receive a pro-rata increase.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Government Wine Cellar

I have today placed a copy of the annual statement on the Government wine cellar for the financial year 2011-12 in the Libraries of both Houses.

Following the outcome of the review of the Government hospitality wine cellar announced by the then Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham)— 13 May 2011, Official Report, column 48WS—this first annual statement meets our commitment that there would be an annual statement to Parliament on the use of the wine cellar, covering consumption, stock purchases, costs, and value for money.

The report notes that:

The wine cellar has already moved to a self-funding regime, through the sale of some high-value stock;

Sales of stock amounted to £44,000;

Further funds from other Government Departments added £10,519 to the overall receipts;

Purchases amounted to £48,955;

Highest consumption level by volume was French wine, followed by English wines in second place.

Health

Mental Health (Registered Practitioners and Approved Clinicians)

In my oral statement on 29 October 2012, Official Report, column 32, I said that I had asked Dr Geoffrey Harris to conduct an independent review into the technical irregularities that had occurred within four strategic health authorities (SHAs)—North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, West Midlands and East Midlands—with regard to the functions of approving registered medical practitioners and approved clinicians under the Mental Health Act 1983. In addition, I asked Dr Harris to consider this matter in the context of the new NHS structures that come in to force from April this year in order to identify whether any lessons need to be learned.

Dr Harris has now submitted his report to me. “Independent review of the arrangements made by SHAs for the approval of registered medical practitioners and approved clinicians under the mental Health Act 1983” 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.

In summary, Dr Harris found that the SHAs involved did not overtly or wittingly delegate the functions concerned. However, he identified two key principles as to how the technically irregular delegation happened. First, the SHAs concerned should have been aware that, where a function has been conferred by statute on a public authority, the public authority may not further delegate the performance of the function to another body unless expressly permitted to do so.

Secondly, the SHAs considered that, because they remained accountable for the functions, the delegation of the operation of the approval arrangements to mental health trusts through contracts was not something that risked legal irregularity. The report sets out the factors that led to this situation in more detail.

In the second part of his review report, Dr Harris recommends that every organisation in the post-April 2013 NHS, including the Department of Health, should undertake a process of due diligence. To guide this process he sets out four key principles:

that there is a clear and secure location of responsibilities across the system and that all organisations taking on transferred functions, and receiving new ones, should have a full understanding of them;

that each organisation is assured that it has the authority to exercise its powers and duties. All of the bodies must be cognisant of the duties and powers conferred upon them by Parliament, or delegated to them by the Secretary of State, and recognise that this provides the essential authorisation for all decision making and action;

that each organisation ensures it has the appropriate capability and capacity to carry out its functions; and

that there should be a process of continuing audit, that is once the functions of the organisations are settled, understood and resourced, that there is periodic audit of their discharge;

Finally, Dr Harris recommends that all bodies should include material in their governance statements for 2012-13 and for all subsequent years, which confirms that any arrangements in place for the discharge of their current statutory functions have been checked for any irregularities, and that they are legally compliant.

I have accepted all of Dr Harris’ recommendations, and will ensure that the Department and the NHS now take these forward.

Justice

Judicial Pensions Reform

On 17 July 2012, my predecessor informed the House that he had written to the heads of jurisdiction setting out his proposals for reform of judicial pensions, Official Report, column 131WS.

The Government recognise that although there is a longstanding practice that the total remuneration package offered to the judiciary, including pension provision, should not be reduced for serving judges, this forms part of a broader constitutional principle that an independent judiciary must be safeguarded. However, in the particular context of difficult economic circumstances and changes to pension provision across the public sector, we do not consider that the proposed reforms infringe the broader constitutional principle of judicial independence.

Nonetheless we have listened to the concerns of the judges and we have modified our proposals.

The judicial pension scheme will be constituted under the same legislation as will apply to other public service pension schemes. But we now propose to proceed on the basis of a new, stand-alone judicial pension scheme for which the Lord Chancellor would be the responsible authority. The scheme regulations will be subject to affirmative resolution procedure. This approach will allow the judges to participate in the governance of their pension arrangements and to have a say in how their pension terms develop in future.

It is proposed that the new scheme will apply to all judges other than those within 10 years of pension age at 1 April 2012; this group (around 75% of judges at 1 April 2012) will continue in their current schemes. Other judges will move into the new scheme for service from 1 April 2015. Those appointed before 1 April 2012, and who were aged between 51½ and 55 at that date, will have the option to defer joining the new scheme until an age-related later date; this “tapering protection” is intended to avoid a cliff-edge in treatment for those who fall just outside the group with full protection. Previous service in any of the current judicial schemes will be fully protected, continuing to be pensioned under the rules of the current scheme but reflecting the individual’s salary on retirement.

In common with the approach applying to other public service pension schemes, the new scheme will be registered with HM Revenue and Customs for tax purposes. Particular concerns have been expressed about the impact on some judges of moving to a tax-registered pension scheme. We understand these concerns and propose to address them by allowing those likely to be most affected the option of a transitional protection allowance in lieu of pension accrual in the new scheme. Eligibility to apply for this allowance will be strictly limited to those serving judges who have had continuous membership of a judicial pension scheme, who have registered their prejudicial pensions for enhanced protection under the Finance Act 2004 or fixed protection under the Finance Act 2011 and who have made no contributions to a tax-registered pension after 5 April 2006 (for those with enhanced protection) or after 5 April 2012 (for those with fixed protection).

The Government will bring forward amendments to the Public Service Pensions Bill as necessary to deliver our amended proposals.

I have today written to the Lord Chief Justice, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and the Lord President and, via the judicial intranet, to all judges holding non-devolved office, to inform them of the Government’s revised proposals, including those in respect of transitional protection, and to provide them with further information.

The Government’s view is that the new pension arrangements will continue to provide a good way of saving for retirement and the new judicial pension scheme will remain among the most generous in the public sector.

Prime Minister

Communications Data (Intelligence and Security Agencies)

I am grateful to the Intelligence and Security Committee for its valuable work and its latest report, entitled “Access to communications data by the intelligence and security Agencies” (Cm 8514). Following consultation with the Committee over matters that could not be published without prejudicing the work of the intelligence and security agencies, I have today laid the report before the House.

Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Transport

Driving Test Language Support

The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) today launched a consultation on the language support available to candidates taking theory and practical driving tests. The consultation seeks views on whether foreign language voiceovers and interpreters should continue to be provided or whether the statutory driving tests should be conducted only in the national languages (English and, in Wales, English and Welsh).

The reasons for adopting these proposals would be to:

Improve road safety—there is concern about the ability of non-English or Welsh speakers to understand road signs and other advice to drivers.

Enhance social cohesion—to encourage integration in society by learning the national language.

Reduce fraud—to address the problem of an interpreter attending for test with a learner driver and communicating advice beyond a strict translation of the theory test questions or the instructions given by the examiner.

Reduce costs—there will be a small saving to DSA from not paying a fee to the theory test service provider for the annual update of voiceovers.

There are three options for change. These include the removal of all voiceovers and translation services in non-national languages, as well as the retention of some elements of support. Consideration is also given to the option of making no change.

The consultation will run from 5 February to 2 April. The consultation paper is available at the following web address:

www.gov.uk/government/consultations/driving-test-language-support.

Work and Pensions

Universal Credit

I am pleased to announce that later today the Government will publish the Command Paper: “Government’s response to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee’s third report of Session 2012-13—Universal Credit implementation: meeting the needs of vulnerable claimants”.

On 22 November 2012 the Work and Pension Select Committee published its third report of Session 2012-13, following its enquiry into the implementation of universal credit and plans for meeting the needs of vulnerable claimants.

The Government welcome the ongoing interest of the Work and Pensions Select Committee in this fundamental reform of welfare provision and delivery. Although the report was not received until after the principal universal credit regulations were near to being finalised, we have carefully monitored the progress of the inquiry and considered the evidence presented to the Committee alongside the policy development and service design for universal credit and will continue to do so.

By removing the barriers and disincentives to work that exist within the current system, universal credit will make sure work pays—especially for those on the lowest incomes, helping people to live independent lives. This will reduce worklessness, and encourage people to take personal responsibility. Work can transform individual lives and society for the better and should be encouraged. It is therefore important that we allow claimants to make the same sorts of decisions as those in work and support people to move towards greater independence.

The Government however recognise the Committee’s concerns about the impact changes to the existing welfare system may have on claimants with complex needs. From the very start of the development of the policy, we have been absolutely clear that we must and will protect the interests of those who are in vulnerable circumstances or will face challenges in dealing with the new system.

The Government’s response to the Select Committee’s report details how we will provide support for vulnerable claimants, including helping with access to the online system and offering alternative channels for those who need it; ensuring personal budgeting support is in place to enable claimants to take financial responsibility and having alternative payment arrangements for those who need them. We have also confirmed our commitment to continuing work with Government Departments and devolved Administrations on how they operate passported benefits both in the short and longer term.

A copy of the Government’s response will also be available later today on the Department for Work and Pensions website at:

www.dwp.gov.uk/publications/policy-publications/.