Written Ministerial Statements
Tuesday 12 March 2013
Business, Innovation and Skills
Contingencies Fund Advance
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills wishes to recruit five non-executive directors and three executive directors to the proposed Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) before Royal Assent has been received for the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which will create the CMA, a new non-ministerial department later this year.
The new board together with Lord Currie CMA chair designate and Alex Chisholm CEO designate will play a critical role in driving forward the creation of the CMA. To ensure a smooth transition process the board will need to take early decisions on key areas such as, operation structure and governance. When making these decisions, they will need to consider how the CMA will achieve greater coherence in competition practice, deliver a more streamlined approach to case handling and decision making, and create an effective, high-impact, competition regime, in order that the CMA fully delivers the benefits envisaged by Government.
Parliamentary approval for resource cover of £30,000 for this new service will be sought in an estimate for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £30,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.
Communities and Local Government
Translation into Foreign Languages
In February 2012, I published my Department’s approach to integration, “Creating the Conditions for Integration” and in December 2012, I published “50 ways to save: examples of sensible savings in local government”. The latter recommends:
“Stop translating documents into foreign languages: Only publish documents in English. Translation undermines community cohesion by encouraging segregation. Similarly, do not give community grants to organisations which promote segregation or division in society”.”
I would like to reaffirm my Department’s approach to the use of translation and interpretation services for foreign languages by local authorities.
Some local authorities translate a range of documents and other materials into languages spoken by their residents, and provide interpretation services. While there may be rare occasions in which this is entirely necessary—for instance in emergency situations—I am concerned that such services are in many cases being provided unnecessarily because of a misinterpretation of equality or human rights legislation. Such translation services have an unintentional, adverse impact on integration by reducing the incentive for some migrant communities to learn English and are wasteful where many members of these communities already speak or understand English.
They are also very expensive and a poor use of taxpayers’ money. Independent research has suggested that local authorities alone spend nearly £20 million a year translating a variety of documents. Across the wider public sector, it has been estimated that translation and interpretation costs reached over £100 million in 2006.
Of course, local authorities must comply with the duties set out in the Equalities Act 2010, including the duty not to discriminate and the public sector equality duty. But this is not a legal duty to translate documents into foreign languages. Even if publishing only in English could put some people at a particular disadvantage, such a policy may be justified if local authorities can demonstrate that the integration and cost concerns pursue a legitimate aim and outweigh any disadvantage. The equality duty does not require a particular outcome, merely that public authorities consider all the relevant factors.
Obviously, there are broader challenges with communication with groups who may have poor levels of literacy or learning difficulties. But this can be addressed by use of plain English, easy read versions of documents and using pictures instead of translation. My Department will be practising what we preach in the materials we are producing as part of our Fire Kills fire safety education campaign.
Stopping the automatic use of translation and interpretation services into foreign languages will provide further incentive for all migrant communities to learn English, which is the basis for an individual’s ability to progress in British society. It will promote cohesion and better community relations. And it will help councils make sensible savings, at a time when every bit of the public sector needs to do its bit to pay off the deficit left by the last Administration.
For the avoidance of doubt, this statement effectively replaces the Department’s “Guidance for Local Authorities on Translation of Publications” published under the last Administration in 2007.
Carriers' Liability Consultation
Border security is vital for the UK. While it is right that the Government are in the lead on this, carriers and the transport sector as a whole have an important role to play. We are therefore strengthening our partnership with this sector on a broad range of border security issues. We are today launching a consultation on a package of proposals around the liability of carriers for bringing undocumented passengers to the UK. This consultation is an important part of this partnership process.
The cost to the UK of undocumented passengers can be high as many go on to claim asylum. There can also be a security risk as individuals wishing to come here for organised crime or terrorism purposes may view this as a potential method of entry. The policy objective of the proposals is to reduce the number of passengers arriving in the UK without proper documentation, and to do this by working in partnership with carriers.
The consultation document includes two key proposals. The first is to increase the level of the carriers’ liability charge from £2,000 per undocumented passenger to £7,000. While this is a significant increase, the charge level has been at £2,000 for more than 20 years and no longer reflects the costs and risks involved. The second is to introduce a new approved route incentives scheme for carriers. This includes a number of charge waivers if the carrier is engaging effectively with us on border security issues, including document checking and data submission.
The consultation will last for four weeks and is targeted at airline and ferry companies, industry representative bodies and passenger groups. The consultation document is available on the Home Office website and we have also placed copies in the Library of the House.
HMIC Review (Jimmy Savile)
On 7 November 2012 I formally commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) to conduct a review to assess police knowledge of and response to the historical allegations made against Jimmy Savile and related individuals, and potentially into similar allegations against other individuals.
In particular, I asked that the review establish clearly which forces received reports or allegations in respect of Savile and related individuals prior to the launch of Operation Yewtree on 5 October 2012. For each of those forces, I asked HMIC to review the extent to which the allegations were robustly investigated and whether there were any police failings in doing so. HMIC has concluded its review and today published its report. A copy will be placed in the House Library.
HMIC conducted enquiries in all 43 police forces in England and Wales, and liaised with HMIC Scotland and the States of Jersey Police. Its review finds that, as far as police records disclose, five allegations of child sexual assault were made against Savile to the police between 1958 and 2009. In addition to these recorded allegations, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has traced two historical intelligence entries relating to Savile.
HMIC’s report makes it clear that failures by police forces, particularly in respect to the quality of investigations and the sharing of intelligence, enabled Savile to act with impunity for over five decades. It is also clear from the report that Savile could and should have been apprehended earlier and that there is more to do to ensure that the police have a fully effective and victim-centred approach to tackling child abuse. HMIC raises the possibility that such failures could be repeated. It calls for preventative action, and the report makes a number of specific recommendations which fall largely to police forces and the College of Policing.
I remain committed to taking forward the lessons learned from both this report and from the wider reviews which are ongoing in relation to historic child abuse. We need to ensure the law enforcement response to these terrible crimes is as good as it can be, to protect victims and deliver justice. As I have previously made clear in this House, the safeguarding of victims must be placed at the heart of our approach. If someone has been the victim of abuse and makes a report to the police, those in a position of authority and responsibility must not shirk in their duty to protect.
I am committed to ensuring that we also learn the lessons from this work to ensure that these mistakes could not be repeated today. HMIC will soon commence a further review into child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation which will focus on the adequacy of current processes and practices in police forces. The Director of Public Prosecutions has outlined further measures to overhaul the way our criminal justice system responds to victims of child sexual abuse. And I have asked my officials to conduct a thorough review of Home Office policies to ensure a robust and strengthened longer-term approach to delivering child protection within the Department and the police. This urgent work will ensure that the interests of victims are prioritised and the specific vulnerabilities of children are recognised and addressed.
National Assembly for Wales (Electoral Arrangements)
In May 2012, the Wales Office published “A Green Paper on future electoral arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales” (Cm 8357). It sought views on four issues: whether the link between parliamentary constituencies and constituencies for elections to the National Assembly for Wales, a link broken as a result of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011, should be reinstated; whether the length of an Assembly term should be moved from four to five years; whether the prohibition on a candidate at an Assembly election standing in both a constituency and a region should end; and whether Assembly Members should not also be able to sit in Parliament.
A three-month consultation on these proposals ended in August 2012, and the Wales Office published a summary of consultation responses in November. I am today announcing how the Government intend to proceed in light of the consultation response.
As a result of the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013, the four UK boundary commissions will now report in 2018 on their recommendations for new parliamentary constituencies. The boundaries of parliamentary and Assembly constituencies will remain the same until then, and there is no longer an immediate need to re-establish the link between the two sets of constituencies. The Government do not therefore intend to proceed with the changes to Assembly constituencies proposed in the Green Paper.
We do, however, intend to take forward the three other proposals in the Green Paper. First, we will move the Assembly from four to five-year fixed terms. The term of the current Assembly is, exceptionally, five years, but the Assembly is set to revert to four-year terms after the next Assembly elections in 2016. A permanent move to five-year terms would make a coincidence between parliamentary and Assembly elections in 2020 (and every 20 years thereafter) less likely.
Secondly, we will end the prohibition on candidates at Assembly elections standing in both a constituency and a region at the same time. The Government believe that, in principle, candidates should not be barred from standing in a constituency and a region, and the current prohibition impacts disproportionally on smaller parties.
Thirdly, we will prohibit Assembly Members from simultaneously sitting as Members of the House of Commons. The Government do not believe that one person can adequately serve two sets of constituents. This prohibition would not apply to Members of the House of Lords.
The Government will bring forward legislation to effect these changes at the earliest opportunity.
Work and Pensions
Housing Benefit Reform
I am pleased to announce that we intend to lay amending regulations to clarify the size criteria rules for two specific groups of housing benefit recipient, foster carers and armed forces personnel.
People who are approved foster carers will be allowed an additional room, whether or not a child has been placed with them or they are between placements, so long as they have fostered a child, or become an approved foster carer in the last 12 months.
Adult children who are in the armed forces but who continue to live with parents will be treated as continuing to live at home, even when deployed on operations. This means that the size criteria rules will not be applied to the room normally occupied by the member of the armed forces if they intend to return home. In addition housing benefit recipients will not be subject to a non-dependent deduction, that is, the amount that those who are working are expected to contribute to the household expenses, until an adult child returns home.
The intent of the policy was that by using discretionary housing payments, the estimated 5,000 foster carers and rather fewer armed forces personnel groups would be protected. We have agreed with local authority organisations improved arrangements through these regulations that puts these protections beyond doubt.
The changes will apply to tenants in both the social and private rented sectors.
I am also issuing guidance to local authorities emphasising that discretionary housing payments remain available for other priority groups including the needs of people whose homes have had significant disability adaptations and those with long-term medical conditions that create difficulties in sharing a bedroom.
Going forward I will continue to closely monitor and adjust the implementation of the policy, including an independent evaluation by Ipsos MORI, the Cambridge centre for housing and planning research and the Institute For Fiscal Studies to ensure that the needs of these groups are effectively addressed in the longer term.
This ensures this policy focuses on the key aim of bringing housing benefit expenditure under control. Under the previous Government, housing benefit almost doubled in 10 years to £20 billion, with households living in homes that are too big for them, while there are 2 million households in England on waiting lists, and 250,000 families living in overcrowded accommodation.
Reserves Call-Out Order
A new call-out order has been made under section 56(l)(a) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable reservists to be called out into service as part of the UK’s contribution to operations in support of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2085, the EU training mission and specific French requests for support in Mali.
We anticipate the call-out of a small number of reservists with very specialised skills. At the moment this will affect three reservists being mobilised to deploy to Mali and three reservists being mobilised for service within the United Kingdom. The mobilisation will allow them to have the protection provided by the Reserve Forces Act 1996.
The call-out order is effective until 10 March 2014.