Skip to main content

Written Statements

Volume 567: debated on Friday 6 September 2013

Written Statements

Friday 6 September 2013

Culture, Media and Sport

Public Sector Equality Duty Review

I am today publishing the outcome of the review of the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). This review was announced by the Home Secretary on 15 May 2012 following the red tape challenge spotlight on equalities.

The PSED, which was introduced through the Equality Act 2010, came into force across Great Britain on 5 April 2011 and comprises a general duty (s149 of the Act) and specific duties set out in regulations which vary across England, Scotland and Wales. It was introduced to ensure that public bodies take account of equality when carrying out their day-to-day work—in shaping policy, in delivering services and in relation to their own employees—and to address the bureaucracy associated with the previous duties on race, disability and gender. The review was established to examine whether the PSED is operating as intended.

The Government appointed an independent chair, Rob Hayward OBE, and steering group to oversee the review. Over the course of 2013, supported by officials in my Department, they have led an extensive programme of engagement and evidence-gathering, including a series of roundtables with experts, site visits to public bodies, an open call for evidence, and independent qualitative research.

The Government are grateful to the chair and steering group for their thorough work and welcome their report. The review has not considered repeal of the PSED. We agree with its conclusion that a full evaluation should be undertaken in 2016 when the duty will have been in force for five years. The review has however identified a number of issues associated with the implementation of the PSED and makes recommendations for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), for contractors, for public bodies and for Government. We would like to see these recommendations implemented fully by all relevant parties, in particular to reduce procurement gold-plating by the public sector.

In relation to the specific duties which apply in England (and non-devolved bodies in Scotland and Wales), we note there was not consensus from the steering group but nonetheless accept the chair’s recommendation to consider the operation and effectiveness of these duties. Public authorities must be transparent about their objectives and performance on equality, and it is vital that the specific duties support this aim. We will therefore keep these duties under review and work closely with the EHRC as it conducts its more detailed assessment of the specific duties.

We accept the recommendation to consider what complementary or alternative means, other than judicial reviews, there may be to enforce the PSED. Recognising that many of the concerns identified in the report are not unique to the PSED, we will take account of this recommendation in the wider work, led by the Justice Secretary, to ensure that disputes are resolved in the most proportionate way possible and in the most appropriate setting.

Finally, I will work closely with all my ministerial colleagues to reduce the impact of red tape on the public sector, and to ensure that their Departments, and the sectors for which they are responsible, respond urgently and positively to the review’s findings and recommendations.

A copy of the steering group’s report and supporting documentation will be available later today at: %5B%5D=government-equalities-office.

I am also arranging for this report to be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Water Bill (Flood Insurance Clauses)

The Water Bill was introduced on 27 June which, along with clauses on water sector reform, included a placeholder clause on flood insurance. The Government’s proposed approach to the future of flood insurance was also published and a six-week consultation launched.

Today, I am publishing the draft clauses on flood insurance to provide those interested with the opportunity to examine our proposed legislative approach. We had hoped to publish draft clauses during the formal consultation period that ran from 27 June to 8 August, but more time was needed to develop the detail of the proposed approach.

Along with the draft clauses and draft explanatory notes, I have provided a commentary on the policy intention for the clauses. This gives a fuller picture of what is intended and provides further insight into the Government’s proposals. This additional information should be read in conjunction with the material published in June. I have placed a copy of the draft clauses and commentary in the House Libraries.

I am grateful for the comments and evidence provided during the public consultation. We received a positive response and are considering the comments carefully. We will publish our response in parallel with drafting the clauses for inclusion in the Water Bill by Government amendment at Committee stage.

Home Department

Domestic Violence and Abuse (England and Wales)

Tackling domestic violence and abuse is one of my key priorities. I am determined to see continued reductions in domestic violence and abuse and the Government’s updated violence against women and girls (VAWG) action plan sets out our approach for achieving that.

The police play a key role in responding to, and protecting, victims of domestic violence and abuse. It is therefore essential that the police response is effective and has the confidence of victims.

I have written to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary to ask that he conducts a thematic review of the police response to domestic violence and abuse across England and Wales.

I have asked that the review focuses on:

the effectiveness of the police approach to domestic violence and abuse, focusing on the outcomes for victims;

whether risks to victims of domestic violence and abuse are adequately managed;

identifying lessons learnt from how the police approach domestic violence and abuse;

making any necessary recommendations in relation to these findings when considered alongside current practice.

I have asked that the inspection is completed and that the findings in respect of the above are published no later than April 2014.

A copy of the letter will be placed in the Library of the House.

Immigration Rules

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is today laying before the House a statement of changes in immigration rules as set out below.

I will expand the process of genuineness assessments and interviews to tier 1 (general), tier 2 (minister of religion), and tier 5 (temporary worker) applications for entry and leave to remain, and to tier 4 students applying for further leave to remain. I will also be replicating for tier 4 in-country extensions the existing power to refuse applications where the applicant cannot speak English. We will add Barbados to the list of countries whose nationals benefit from different documentary requirements and are exempt from the genuineness test when applying for a tier 4 visa.

I am making several small changes to economic routes to make them more attractive and more flexible for businesses. These changes include new provision in tier 1 for artists of exceptional promise, removing the English language requirement for intra-company transferees, making it easier for graduate entrepreneurs to switch into tier 2, and waiving share-ownership restrictions for senior staff earning £152,100 or more.

I will also be introducing flexibility for tourists and business visitors to undertake some study where it is incidental to the main purpose of their visit, as well as increasing the permissible activities a business visitor can undertake in the UK. I am retaining the student visitor route for those whose purpose in coming here is for short-term study. The prospective student route is being removed because it is little used and anomalous.

I am adding Hong Kong to the list of participating countries and territories on the UK’s youth mobility scheme, further strengthening business, trade and cultural ties between us.

I am introducing rules to give effect to the Secretary of State for Defence’s statement to this House of 4 June 2013, which provides for some locally engaged staff, who have been or will be made redundant as a result of our draw down, to relocate to the UK in recognition of the unique contribution they have provided to the UK’s efforts in Afghanistan. The new rules allow eligible applicants, their spouse/partner and their minor dependent children to be granted a period of five years’ leave to enter if their character and conduct is satisfactory.

In line with the statement of intent “Knowledge of language and life in the UK for settlement and naturalisation” published on 8 April, I am also making changes to the way in which applicants for indefinite leave to remain are required to demonstrate their knowledge of the English language and of life in the UK, together with necessary consequential amendments. These changes will come into effect on 28 October.

I am making changes to slow the path to settlement for refugees, and those granted humanitarian protection, who have committed crimes. Applications for settlement from refugees will be refused for 15 years from the date of their sentence if they have been sentenced to over 12 months’ imprisonment; for seven years if they have been sentenced to up to 12 months’ imprisonment; and for two years if they have been given a non-custodial sentence. Discretion to delay the route to settlement will apply in the case of repeat offenders.

I am creating new temporary immigration rules to facilitate the entry and stay of certain Commonwealth games participants and personnel during the 2014 Commonwealth games.

I am making minor changes and clarifications to the immigration rules, including those relating to family life.

I am making minor changes to repeal measures that are no longer required.

I am making a minor change to the curtailment rules. This change adds a power to curtail leave where a migrant’s offending is persistent or causes serious harm. The change supports the Home Office in its work to take tough action against those who commit offences while here.

I am making changes to the rules for dependants in the points-based system and other work routes, following the High Court judgment in R—(on the application of Zhang) v Secretary of State for the Home Department. The changes will allow dependants to apply from within the UK, providing they are not here illegally, as visitors, or on temporary admission or temporary release. They will still need to satisfy all other existing requirements.

I am making changes to the visit visa requirement for Kuwaiti nationals holding diplomatic and special passports issued by Kuwait. When travelling to the UK for the purpose of an official or general visit, they will no longer have to obtain a visit visa to travel to the UK.


Judicial Review

I will today lay and publish the paper “Judicial Review: further proposals for reform” (Cm 8703) which seeks views on potential areas for the reform of judicial review and related issues, including legal aid.

Reforming judicial review is an important part of the Government’s programme to tackle public burdens, promote growth and stimulate economic recovery. I am clear that judicial review is, and will remain, an important means to hold Government to account where it is acting unlawfully, but I remain concerned that too often it is being used either as a campaign tool or to delay or frustrate decisions that have been properly made. I am also concerned that legal aid resources should be targeted at those judicial review cases where they are needed most if the legal aid system is to command public confidence and credibility.

A number of reforms have already been made to the procedural aspects of judicial review, including removing the right to an oral renewal in a case certified by the judge as “totally without merit” and aligning the time limits for bringing a planning or procurement judicial review with the relevant statutory challenges. A new fee will soon be introduced for an oral renewal. While these reforms are a worthwhile first step, it is right that we test the potential for further substantive reform.

To that end, the paper makes proposals in a number of areas: the courts’ approach to cases which rely on minor procedural defects; rebalancing financial incentives; speeding up appeals to the Supreme Court in a small number of nationally significant cases, which would extend beyond judicial review; and planning challenges. I also think it makes sense to explore the potential for reforming the test as to who can bring a judicial review, as well as whether there are mechanisms other than judicial review for resolving disputes related to the public sector equality duty, following a recommendation by the Public Sector Equalities Steering Group.

Having listened to concerns raised in the Transforming Legal Aid consultation, which closed in June, this package also includes a proposal in relation to the payment of legal aid providers in judicial review cases. In addition to our original proposal that providers would only be guaranteed payment for their work on a judicial review where permission is granted by the Court, this consultation proposes that the Legal Aid Agency will have a discretion to pay providers in certain genuinely meritorious cases where the provider has been unable to secure a costs order or costs agreement as part of a settlement.

The proposals I am publishing today are intended to deliver a much needed rebalancing of judicial review so that it operates in a more proportionate manner without undermining how Government are held to account, allowing scarce taxpayer-funded resources to be focused where they should be. The consultation will close on 1 November, and all responses will be considered carefully before I respond.