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Written Statements

Volume 586: debated on Tuesday 21 October 2014

Written Statements

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Treasury

United Kingdom and Macao (Tax Exchange)

A Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) with Macao was signed on 3 September 2014. The text of the TIEA has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and will be made available on the website: https://www.gov.uk. The text will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

Culture, Media and Sport

TV Licence Enforcement Review

On 9 September 2014 I announced my intention to begin a review into TV licence enforcement.

I am pleased today to announce the publication of the terms of reference for the review of television licence enforcement. The review will begin gathering evidence this autumn and will conclude by the end of June 2015. The review will be independently led on behalf of the Government by David Perry QC.

A copy of the terms of reference has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Defence

Middle East

Further to the update I provided to the House on 16 October on UK operations against ISIL, Official Report, column 35WS, I can confirm that Reaper remotely piloted aircraft are due to begin operations very shortly.

As well as their operations over Iraq, both Reapers and Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft will be authorised to fly surveillance missions over Syria to gather intelligence as part of our efforts to protect our national security from the terrorist threat emanating from there. Reapers are not authorised to use weapons in Syria; that would require further permission.

The legal basis for this authorisation is as set out to Parliament in the debate on 26 September.

I will continue to provide updates to the House on our military activity.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

State of Natural Capital

The Natural Capital Committee (NCC) published its second report on “The State of Natural Capital” on 11 March 2014. It set out the committee’s analysis of the challenges we face in England in ensuring the sustainable use of our natural capital assets and made three high-level recommendations, that:

The Government, as a matter of priority, take steps to improve our understanding of natural assets, focusing on those that are not being used sustainably and are important for our well-being.

The Government integrates the value of natural capital into decision making to enhance taxpayers’ value for money and generate net benefits for society.

The Government and interested parties endorse the Natural Capital Committee’s proposed 25-year plan to maintain and improve England’s natural capital within this generation.

The Government welcome the advice provided in the NCC’s second report. We recognised the value of natural capital to the country’s long-term economic growth and prosperity in the landmark “Natural Environment White Paper” published in 2011. A headline commitment in the White Paper was to establish the NCC to advise the Government on the sustainable use of natural capital. The White Paper also catalysed wider activity that is helping to address a number of the NCC’s recommendations, for example:

Programmes of research involving Government Departments and the research councils to improve understanding of natural capital, including: the £2.2 million national ecosystem assessment follow-on study which has developed tools to embed natural capital in local and national decision making; the Natural Environment Research Council’s £5 million work to establish ecosystem service thresholds; and the £5 million valuing nature network research programme on natural capital resilience.

Updating the Treasury’s Green Book guidance on policy appraisal and evaluation to set out more clearly how environmental impacts should be taken into account in public decision making.

Ambitious plans to protect and restore England’s natural capital such as the biodiversity strategy which aims to achieve no net loss of biodiversity by 2020.

These actions lay foundations that will help achieve the Government’s ambition that this will be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited. The Government remain committed to protecting the natural environment and building on the important work they have initiated. As a result of the NCC’s advice we will take further action to:

Explore combining data sets from various sources to provide composite species and environmental indices that provide a clearer picture of the status of England’s natural capital.

Work with the NCC and the research councils to co-ordinate research efforts on natural capital so they complement one another and have the greatest impact.

Use the review scheduled for early 2015 to examine the possibility of accelerating the work by the Office of National Statistics to incorporate natural capital into the national accounts and ensure it is focused on informing policy decisions.

Alongside these actions we will look forward to seeing further more detailed proposals from the NCC in relation to its other recommendations so that Government can determine how best to respond to them. In particular we would welcome development in relation to:

The relative importance of the risk factors threatening the sustainable use of our natural capital; how to prioritise work to address these; and where to focus investments in our natural capital assets so that resources are targeted where they can have greatest impact.

Whether information is available at a sufficiently detailed level to: allow the identification of nationally important natural capital assets, the key owners and influencers of these assets, and the routes to enabling direct investment in these; and to allow natural capital strategic priorities to be relevant to decision makers and support national policies and plans.

The integration of the evidence base on natural capital sustainability with that in other areas of economic appraisal so that decisions to address unsustainable use can be directed towards those that will deliver benefit to society relative to alternative actions.

We recognise that we have knowledge that can help answer these questions and will therefore work with NCC in the run up to its final report to consider how they can be addressed with an aim to find practical steps that can be taken to improve the state of England’s natural capital. We also wish to ensure that the NCC’s expertise is available to advise Government on the recommendations in its final report. For this reason the committee’s term is being extended for six months so, while the Government of the day may wish to consider which structures are needed to sustain our natural capital, under this extended remit it would conclude its work by end September 2015.

Home Department

Child Sexual Abuse

Further to my statement to the House on 7 July, Official Report, column 23, and my written ministerial statements of 9 July, Official Report, column 20WS, and 5 September 2014, Official Report, columns 28-29WS, I am pleased to announce that I have appointed the panel members to the independent inquiry panel of experts, which will consider whether public bodies—and other, non-state, institutions—have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse.

Sharon Evans, Ivor Frank, Dame Moira Gibb, Professor Jenny Pearce OBE, Dru Sharpling CBE and Professor Terence Stephenson will join Graham Wilmer MBE and Barbara Hearn OBE as panel members for the independent panel inquiry into child sexual abuse. Ben Emmerson QC is counsel to the inquiry, and Professor Alexis Jay OBE will serve as an expert adviser.

I am confident that this panel, under the chairmanship of Fiona Woolf CBE, will carry out a robust and thorough inquiry, and will challenge individuals and institutions without fear or favour, in order to consider this important issue, to learn the relevant lessons, and to prevent it happening again. The panel represents a diverse range of experience which includes social care, academia, law enforcement, health, media, the voluntary sector and those with experience of child sexual abuse.

The terms of reference have been drafted to ensure that this strong and balanced panel of independent experts can have full access to all the material it seeks, unless there is a statutory impediment to it doing so. The panel will consider matters from 1970 to the present, although this can be extended if evidence is provided that supports this, and will decide how and where to focus its efforts, in order to complete its work and make recommendations within a reasonable time frame. The terms of reference have been finalised and a copy will be placed in the Library of the House. The panel will provide an update to Parliament before May next year.

Each of the panel members has written to me setting out in full any issues which might be seen to cast doubt on their impartiality. Those letters are published in full on the inquiry’s website. I am confident that they will carry out their duties to the highest standards of impartiality and integrity.

Fiona Woolf has a long and distinguished career throughout which she has demonstrated the highest standards of integrity. I am confident that she will lead the work of the panel with authority, and that under her leadership the panel will get to the truth of these issues. They will do so on behalf of victims past and present to ensure that the sexual abuse of children is never again a hidden crime, and that past failings are acknowledged, and recommendations made for further improvements to current arrangements in the light of the panel’s findings. I wish the panel every success in its important work.

The inquiry’s website can be found at:

https://childsexualabuseinquiry.independent.gov.uk/

Justice

Education and Training (Women Prisoners)

One of my priorities is to see all women benefit from targeted education and training in prison which meets their needs. This will prepare them in the best way possible for eventual release and future employment opportunities. I have therefore set up a joint initiative between the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Ministry of Justice to introduce a tailored curriculum in women’s prisons. This will mean all women who are serving custodial sentences will have access to a curriculum which is designed around their needs.

Following an assessment of English and maths skills in the first week of their prison sentence, all female prisoners will have a tailored learning plan to meet their individual needs. They will be offered a mix of “life skills” and formal educational skills, which will build on established programmes already available in women’s prisons.

Alongside these changes, we will expand the accredited peer mentors programme, using it to build life skills. The expanded cohort of peer mentors will be able to enhance their employment opportunities through gaining in prison a formal qualification and experience that supports the rehabilitation of other female prisoners.

These broader learning opportunities are a key part of our fundamental reforms of prisons for women, which will allow us to reach those women who previously have been reluctant to engage in custody with education. The tailored curriculum will mean that female offenders will be better equipped when they leave prison, will have a greater chance of finding employment and, as a result, should be less likely to reoffend. We expect that the new Community Rehabilitation Companies will work with education partners to help women continue their education and training on release.

Northern Ireland

Kincora Boy’s Home (Historical Institutional Abuse)

I have been giving careful consideration to the best way to address the allegations, some of which involve security agencies, in connection with abuse at Kincora Boys’ Home in Belfast in the 1970s.

The sexual abuse of children, or any tolerance by people in positions of authority of such activity by others, is abhorrent. I urge anyone with information about these matters to come forward to the police.

A number of people have proposed that the independent inquiry panel into institutional failures––“the inquiry panel”––in respect of child sexual abuse to be chaired by Fiona Woolf CBE set up by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, is the most appropriate vehicle to establish the facts concerning Kincora. The remaining appointments to the panel and its terms of reference are being announced today.

There is already in place, however, the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry––“the inquiry”––appointed by the Northern Ireland Executive and chaired by Sir Anthony Hart. I believe that this inquiry is the better forum for the allegations concerning Kincora to be investigated, and we should not seek to take them out of its remit.

The protection of children is a devolved matter and legislation was enacted by the Northern Ireland Assembly to establish the inquiry.

The inquiry has already received a number of reports relating to allegations of abuse that took place at Kincora. It has wide powers of compulsion under section 9 of the Act to require persons and bodies to produce evidence, although, respecting the fact that it is a body established by the devolved authorities, those powers do not extend to the UK Government. The Home Office inquiry panel will have no such powers of compulsion, unless a decision is made to turn it into a statutory inquiry at some point in the future.

In addition, because the protection of children is a devolved matter, it would clearly be less appropriate for the inquiry panel to make recommendations for Northern Ireland concerning the running of the child protection system there.

Because the inquiry’s powers of compulsion do not extend to the UK Government, concern has been expressed as to whether they will be able to deal effectively with the allegations that have been made of misconduct and cover-up regarding the horrific events that occurred at Kincora.

I have discussed these issues with ministerial colleagues and can confirm that there will be the fullest possible degree of co-operation by all of HM Government and their agencies to determine the facts. All Government Departments and agencies which receive a request for information or documents from the inquiry will co-operate to the utmost of their ability in determining what material they hold might be relevant to it, on matters for which they have responsibility in accordance with the terms of reference of the inquiry.

My Department has already started this process by disclosing a list of files to the inquiry held by the NIO which relate to the Kincora Boys’ home. In parallel, the MOD has begun work to establish whether it holds any documents which are relevant to the inquiry and other UK Departments and agencies will do likewise.

It will be important for the inquiry to determine whether either the Security Service or the MOD have documents which are relevant to it. The detailed modalities for achieving this are being worked upon as a matter of urgency.

We will resolve as quickly as possible other issues Sir Anthony has raised as follows. We will ask officials from the relevant Departments who disclose documents to his inquiry to make a witness statement confirming that all the relevant documents and information sought by the inquiry have been produced to it, or, if no longer in existence, accounted for. We will address the question of how the necessary extra resources will be made available to his inquiry in consultation with the Executive. And we will discuss with the Attorney General for England and Wales whether undertakings in the usual form can be given, as appropriate, to give immunity from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act to any person who is requested to give evidence to the inquiry.

With my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I am determined that no stone should be left unturned to investigate such serious allegations of institutional failure. We currently believe that the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry is the best place to do that in respect of Kincora and I, and my officials, will work closely with Sir Anthony to help to achieve that.

We will monitor carefully the extent to which the inquiry is able to make progress in respect of material relevant to Kincora. We will look at the situation again if the inquiry tells us it is unable to determine the facts. In the event that this were to occur, there remains the possibility of seeking agreement to bring the Kincora allegations within the terms of reference of the inquiry panel, along with the option of converting it into a statutory inquiry.

Electoral Commission Committee

Individual Electoral Registration

(Representing the Speakers Committee on the Electoral Commission): The Electoral Commission has today published a report containing an analysis of the confirmation live run exercise that took place in England and Wales over the summer and which forms the first stage in the transition to individual electoral registration (IER). The report also summarises general progress with the implementation of IER to date. The commission will report separately in November on Scotland which, as a result of the independence referendum, only began the move to IER in September after the poll.

Confirmation is the process of matching existing electors’ details against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) database as well as against locally held data to identify which electors could be transferred automatically to the new IER registers, and which ones could not and therefore need to re-register. However, no existing elector will be removed from the registers ahead of the general election as a result of the change to IER. Overall, the results of the live run are encouraging. They are largely in line with the results from the test of the confirmation process in 2013 and the total number of electoral entries that could be matched and transferred onto the new IER registers is 36.9 million.

A total of 42.4 million electoral register entries were sent for confirmation against the DWP database and, of these, 33.7 million electoral register entries matched and could be directly transferred onto the new IER registers. Electoral registration officers (EROs) were also able to carry out further data matching using local data sources, to supplement the matching against the DWP database, and we know that 329 of the 348 EROs in England and Wales have done so to date. A further 3.2 million additional matches were made as a result of these checks. A total of 5.5 million electors could not be matched with the DWP database or through local data matching and could therefore not be automatically transferred onto the new IER registers. EROs will now focus their time and resources on targeting the 13% of existing electors who could not be matched, as well as those not currently on the registers at all. The report summarises why the 19 EROs who have not yet carried out local data matching during this phase of the transition reached that decision, and what alternative actions they are taking to maximise the number of electors registered individually in their areas.

Subsequent to the confirmation process, EROs have been writing out to all electors who could not be automatically transferred to the new IER registers and inviting them to re-register. The commission ran a public awareness campaign across England and Wales during July and early August to ensure that electors knew to expect a letter telling them how they were affected by the change and if they needed to take any action. This supported targeted engagement activity carried out locally by EROs.

The commission’s analysis of the test of the confirmation process in 2013 indicated that there are particular groups who are less likely to be matched with DWP data including students, young people and those renting from a private landlord. This is likely to be because they change address more frequently than the rest of the population and their details held by DWP are therefore less likely to be up to date. Encouragingly, the commission’s analysis of the live confirmation process suggests that local data matching helps to mitigate this problem to an extent with some of these people being able to be matched against local data sources such as council tax databases.

As part of the change to IER in Great Britain, for the first time, people have been able to register to vote online. The commission reports that the take up of online registration has been positive since it launched on 10 June in England and Wales. Cabinet Office figures show that, as of 9 October, approximately 1.8 million applications to register have so far been submitted through the online system.

The commission reports, however, that there have been some issues with the functionality of the electoral management software systems used by EROs, which have affected some—but not all—EROs, and in varying ways. While many EROs have had to revise their plans to take account of a delay to the start of the write-out process as a consequence of these issues, the commission does not believe that any of these issues have or will cause long-term problems for the successful delivery of IER.

The Electoral Commission will continue to monitor the transition to IER closely. The commission will next report on progress in England and Wales in February 2015, following the collection of data subsequent to the conclusion of the write-out and publication of the revised registers by 1 December 2014. The commission will report again on progress in Scotland in April 2015 following the publication of the revised registers by 2 March 2015. A further report on progress across Great Britain will be published in the summer of 2015, which will include the commission’s assessment of whether it would be appropriate to bring forward the end of the transition to IER from December 2016 to December 2015.

The Electoral Commission has also produced a data visualisation tool which is available on its website and will be e-mailed to all MPs. This allows Members of Parliament to see the confirmation rate for their constituency and for the electoral wards within it. It also includes data by local authority area. Copies of the commission’s report have been placed in the Library and it is also available on the commission’s website: www.electoralcommission.org.uk

Transport

British Transport Police Authority

My noble Friend, the Minister of State for Transport (Baroness Kramer), has made the following ministerial statement:

I am today publishing the Part 2 report of the Triennial Review of the British Transport Police Authority (BTPA).

The BTPA is the non-departmental public body (NDPB) responsible for ensuring an efficient and effective British Transport Police (BTP) force for rail operators, their staff and passengers.

The review has been progressed in two parts. Part 1 of the review, which was published on 14 July, considered the continuing need for the BTPA’s functions and the case for it to remain an NDPB, and that it is complying with recognised principles of good corporate governance. Part 2 of the review has considered a wider range of issues raised by the industry about the effectiveness of the BTPA in the discharge of its functions and the industry’s ability to influence outcomes.

I am pleased to announce the conclusion of the second part of the review and the publication of the Part 2 report. The Part 2 report explores concerns on the part of the industry in relating the costs incurred to the services delivered by the BTP; and what can be done to reduce costs and to create a more harmonious and productive relationship between the Force, the Authority and its stakeholders. The report reflects the generally positive view of the BTPA’s current leadership and an improving trend in its willingness to act collaboratively and to consult. It also makes a number of recommendations for a sensible way forward for the future, a number of which build on the good progress that the BTPA has already made.

I would like to thank Peter Murphy again for carrying out the wider review with the same thoroughness and competence with which he carried out the first part of the review. I would also like to thank the BTPA for its assistance as well as all the other stakeholders who were involved during the course of the review including those who were part of the Challenge group overseeing the review.

The report is available at: https://www.gov.uk and I have placed copies in Libraries of both Houses.