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Written Statements

Volume 559: debated on Monday 4 March 2013

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 4 March 2013

Treasury

Community Amateur Sports Clubs

The Government are committed to delivering and maintaining a real sporting legacy after the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic success. An important part of securing this legacy is to encourage greater participation in sport at a community level, and local sports clubs have an important role to play in this.

The Community Amateur Sports Club (CASC) scheme provides a number of charity-type tax reliefs to support local sports clubs. In order to access these tax reliefs clubs must meet certain conditions and must register with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

However, some of the eligibility rules in the legislation are unclear and cause confusion. This makes it difficult for clubs and HMRC always to be sure about whether a club is entitled to relief. Clearer, more certain rules would help existing and prospective clubs to be confident about what they need to do to qualify, and would help ensure that the scheme fully achieves the Government’s aim of supporting and encouraging sport at a community level.

Some areas cannot be clarified without legislation. To provide certainty as quickly as possible, the Government will include provisions in the Finance Bill, to be published on 28 March, allowing clearer detailed rules to be set through secondary legislation. HMRC will then publish a consultation document after the Finance Bill is published setting out proposals for these rules. These proposals will cover a range of issues, including:

The maximum annual fee, to include the costs of participation, which a club can charge and still be considered a CASC. The consultation will seek views on a range of maximum fees up to £1,040 (£20 per week). Recognising that some sports have higher costs, CASCs will be able to charge more than the maximum annual fee if they have measures in place to allow people on low and modest incomes to participate fully at a cost of no more than the maximum fee.

The rules and limits for CASCs on generating income from social and non-sporting activities will be updated to provide clarity. The consultation will explore a number of possible limits. Where clubs generate income over the limits, the consultation will also explore how clubs can separate this activity into a wholly-owned subsidiary company.

The consultation will include proposals for more generous rules for travel expenses, and changes to allow clubs to make limited payments to players.

Following the consultation, the Government would expect regulations to be laid in the autumn, setting out detailed rules, subject to the usual parliamentary processes.

As well as providing certainty for existing CASCs, the Government hope that the changes will encourage more clubs to apply and qualify for CASC status. Depending on the outcome of the consultation, it is possible that some existing CASCs may need to make changes to the way they operate if they wish to continue claiming relief. For example, they may need to make allowances for those on low or modest incomes. However, while the consultation is ongoing, CASCs will not need to make any changes.

While HMRC has been reviewing the CASC regulations, a number of clubs that have applied to HMRC have had their applications put on hold. The Government are sorry for the delays they have experienced.

HMRC is writing today to each of those clubs whose application has been put on hold to draw their attention to this statement. HMRC will write again to each club when the consultation document is published explaining how the proposed new rules are likely to affect the club and its application.

One outcome of HMRC’s review of the current rules that does not require legislative change is that clubs can offer junior memberships without voting rights and still qualify as CASCs. We are pleased to announce that HMRC will be applying this rule with immediate effect.

This Government recognise the importance and value of CASCs, and we hope the sports sector will welcome the measures being announced today.

Double Taxation Agreement (UK and the People's Republic of China)

A protocol amending the double taxation agreement with the People’s Republic of China was signed on 27 February 2013. The text of the protocol has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and is available on 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.

Cabinet Office

House of Lords Appointments Commission (Triennial Review)

I am today announcing the start of the triennial review of the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC). Triennial reviews of non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) are part of the Government’s commitment to ensuring that NDPBs continue to have regular challenge on their remit and governance arrangements.

The review will be undertaken by the Cabinet Office.

In common with all such reviews the following will be undertaken:

to challenge the continuing need for this NDPB—both its functions and form; and

if it is agreed that it should remain as an NDPB, to review its control and governance arrangements to ensure that it is complying with recognised principles of good corporate governance.

The aim will be to complete the review in April.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

AHVLA Report

Following the events at Ramsgate port on12 September 2012, when a consignment of 540 sheep were unloaded at the port which resulted in three sheep drowning and more than 40 more having to be humanely killed, I asked the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) to review its operational procedures and the application of the EU rules on welfare during transport to livestock exporters to ensure that all was done to prevent such an incident happening again. The terms of reference of this report were to investigate the overall handling of the incident; the AHVLA’s procedures for managing inspections at Ramsgate and how they work alongside other bodies present at the port during inspections; and the contingency arrangements required by the transporter and any needed by AHVLA as the regulator.

As I informed the House on 13 December 2012, Official Report, columns 479-535, this report was withheld from publication at the request of Kent county council trading standards while they completed their investigations and any possible prosecution action to avoid the possibility of prejudicing the outcome of these proceedings.

I am pleased that following the completion of their investigations, KCC trading standards have agreed that publication of the report can now go ahead. I am placing a copy of the report (suitably redacted only to remove information which could be used to identify individuals) in the House of Commons Library. AHVLA identified a number of procedural enhancements to its existing operational practice which it believed will ensure that there is no repeat of the regrettable events that took place at Ramsgate port on 12 September. These procedural changes are:

Inspection of every consignment passing through Ramsgate;

Tougher enforcement of welfare procedures;

AHVLA implementing its own contingency plans in the event of an emergency if the transporter is unwilling or unable to implement their own plans within two hours;

Improved procedures to ensure an AHVLA vet is always within an hour of the port to assist AHVLA inspectors in the event of an emergency or welfare concern;

Working with the operator of the transport vessel to develop new contingency measures in the event of an emergency;

Restricting changes that the transporter can make to the journey log of the delivery prior to the export. This will help maintain clear records of the animals during the journey.

Kent county council have commenced criminal proceedings against a number of defendants; their first court appearance is scheduled for Tuesday 2 April 2013 at 10.30 hrs at Canterbury Magistrates Court. Offences under “The Welfare of Transport (England) Order 2006” of loading sheep which were unfit to travel and of transporting them in an inappropriate vehicle have been alleged contrary to articles 5 and 9 of the order. These offences are summary only and are punishable by six months’ imprisonment and/or a £5,000 fine.

Horsemeat Fraud

I would like to update the House on developments since my written ministerial statement on 25 February, 2013, Official Report, column 5WS, on the latest results from the food industry programme of tests of beef products for the presence of horsemeat.

The vast majority of results from food retailers, wholesalers, and caterers are now in. Including previous weeks’ testing, a total of 5,430 test results of the most vulnerable processed beef products had been reported to the Food Standards Agency by Friday 1 March. They continue to show that over 99% of processed beef products are what they say they are on the label.

Last Friday, 1 March, the Food Standards Agency published a third set of results from the programme of product testing being carried out by food businesses. These are included in the table alongside results reported to the House previously—25 February 2013, Official Report, column 5WS . This included a further 1,797 results since the 22 February report, in which a further four products were confirmed as containing horse DNA. These four products are covered by 10 test results that show horse DNA at or above the 1% threshold. All were named and withdrawn from sale.

Number of tests

Number of positive tests for horse DNA at 1% or above

Positive test results as percentage of number of tests

Number of products testing positive for horse DNA at 1% or above

Set 1—Results published on 15 February 2013

2,501

29

1.2%

7

Set 2—Results published on 22 February 2013

1,133

6

0.5%

6

Set 3—Results published on 1 March 2013

1,797

10

0.6%

4

Total for all published results (as of 1 March 2013

5,430*

44*

0.8%

17

*Cross-checking of data has identified one positive test reported previously that is a duplicate test on the same batch of the same product, and this test has been removed from the total number of positives.

As shown in the table, the industry programme of testing has now identified 17 products confirmed as containing over 1% horse DNA. A further two products had by Friday 1 March been identified as positive for horse DNA through other testing routes outside the formal testing programme, or through other testing and investigations by the Food Standards Agency or local authorities. All 19 products have been named and withdrawn.

The Food Standards Agency has reported to me over the weekend that a batch of product which has tested positive in another member state is likely also to have been imported into the UK for sale. The product type had already been withdrawn from sale here as a precaution, and will be reported by the Food Standards Agency on confirmation.

There have been no positive tests to date for the presence of bute in any of the UK food samples found to contain horse.

Food businesses will continue to test for the presence of horse DNA in their beef products, reporting to the Food Standards Agency. These results will now be published every three months. However, food businesses that identify any confirmed cases of contamination above 1% horse DNA will report these to the Food Standards Agency immediately and this information will be published on the agency’s website as soon as the information is received.

This week, the Food Standards Agency will publish the first set of data from the UK-wide authenticity survey being carried out by local authorities on behalf of the agency. This survey has three phases. The first phase involves sampling and testing minced beef products for the presence of horse and pig DNA. A second phase covers a wider range of beef products including ready meals. The third phase is the sampling under the EU co-ordinated control plan, the Europe-wide programme of testing to which I referred in my statement— 25 February 2013, Official Report, column 5WS. The Food Standards Agency will report the UK’s contribution to the Europe-wide programme to the EU by mid-April.

Both the food industry and Food Standards Agency deserve credit for having put this programme of tests in place very quickly, completing over 5,000 tests in a very short space of time. The unprecedented level of testing reported here, combined with the Food Standards Agency led local authority and EU programmes over the coming weeks, will give us a clear picture of the extent of the problem. Investigations into cases where horsemeat has, quite unacceptably, been discovered will continue, and anyone found guilty of criminal activity should expect to face the consequences.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Special Mission Immunity

I wish to inform the House of a new pilot process by which the Government will be informed of inward visits which may qualify for special mission immunity status.

A special mission is a temporary mission, representing a state, which is sent by one state to another with the consent of the latter, in order to carry out official engagements on behalf of the sending state.

In the case of Khurts Bat v. the Federal Court of Germany [2011]EWHC 2029 (Admin) the High Court recognised that, under customary international law, members of a special mission enjoy immunities, including immunity from criminal proceedings and inviolability of the person, and that these immunities have effect in the United Kingdom by virtue of the common law. However, the Court made it clear that not everyone representing a state on a visit of mutual interest is entitled to the immunities afforded to members of a special mission but only where a visit is consented to as a special mission. In the case of inward missions to the United Kingdom, the Court affirmed that it is a matter for Her Majesty’s Government to decide whether to recognise a mission as a special mission.

In order to avoid uncertainty as to the status of particular missions, the Government will put in place a new pilot process so that the Government’s consent to a special mission can be addressed expressly before the mission arrives in the UK. Embassies and High Commissions in London will be invited to inform the FCO of forthcoming visits in cases where they wish to seek the Government’s express consent as a special mission. The FCO will respond with Government’s consent or otherwise to the visit as a special mission. Any legal consequences would ultimately be a matter for the courts.

The Commonwealth Charter

We strongly welcome the new Commonwealth charter which has been agreed and adopted by all Commonwealth Heads of Government. The Government have today laid a copy of this charter before Parliament in the form of a Command Paper.

A copy of the charter will be presented to Her Majesty the Queen on Commonwealth day on 11 March. Events to launch the charter officially will take place across the Commonwealth during that week.

For the first time in its 64-year history, the Commonwealth has a single document setting out the core values of the organisation and the aspiration of its members. The Government played an important role in its development.

The charter is an overarching summary bringing together Commonwealth values and commitments that are set out in more detail in previous declarations and affirmations.

The Government hope that the charter will become an established, recognisable statement of all that the Commonwealth stands for, accessible to all Commonwealth citizens, and a means to protect and promote the Commonwealth’s core democratic values for years to come. The commitments in the charter should be upheld, adhered to and kept under review by member Governments, Parliaments and civil society organisations.

A strong Commonwealth will help promote democratic values and good governance and, in turn, the future prosperity of all member states. Strong, clear values are crucial to the future credibility and success of the Commonwealth.

Home Department

Biometrics Commissioner and Protection of Freedoms Act 2012

I am appointing Mr Alastair MacGregor QC as the new Commissioner for the Retention and Use of Biometric Material (“Biometrics Commissioner”). The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (“the Act”) introduces a new, fairer, regime for the destruction, retention and use of biometric material, such as DNA and fingerprints. This important new role is created by the Act to provide independent oversight to the operation of the new regime and is vital to ensure that decisions by the authorities to keep biometric material are made in accordance with the law, and that there is public confidence in the exercise of such powers.

The functions of the Biometrics Commissioner are set out in sections 20 and 21 of the Act. As Commissioner, Mr MacGregor will be the sole decision maker in reviewing decisions to retain material for national security purposes and in determining applications made for the retention of material relating to individuals arrested but not charged. He will make an annual report about the carrying out of all these functions, which will be laid before Parliament.

Mr MacGregor takes up post from today and we look forward to working closely with him.

We are also making significant progress in preparation for the commencement of part 1, chapter 1 of the Act in October 2013. To date 504,000 DNA profiles have been deleted from the national DNA database and 439,000 DNA samples destroyed.

Document Fraud (Specialist Printing Equipment)

My hon. Friend the Minister for Criminal Information, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, has today made the following written ministerial statement:

I am today launching a four-week public consultation on proposals to prevent the supply of highly specialist printing equipment to fraudsters who then use that equipment to produce false documents.

These proposals have been developed following a rising trend in illegal document factories which buy specialist printing equipment to produce counterfeits of credit cards and Government-issued documents, including passports and driving licences. This trend is contributing to the £2.7 billion cost of identity crime to the United Kingdom each year and helps criminals to enter the country illegally, to commit benefit fraud and to evade criminal records checks.

The proposals would make it a criminal offence to supply highly specialist printing equipment to fraudsters, whether deliberately or without carrying out reasonable checks. The Government have held discussions with the specialist printing industry and the police, both of which originally requested that we address this issue. We are now seeking wider views which will enable us to evaluate the evidence and the impact on the industry to help shape potential proposals for legislation.

The detailed consultation questions can be found on the Home Office website at: www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/printing-consultation/.