Thursday 30 October 2014
Financial Policy Committee (Housing Market Tools)
The Government have today published a consultation on granting the independent Financial Policy Committee new powers over the UK’s housing market.
In his Mansion House speech on 12 June 2014 the Chancellor committed to ensuring that the FPC has,
“all the weapons it needs to guard against risks in the housing market.”
He announced his intention to give the FPC,
“new powers over mortgages, including over the size of mortgage loans as a share of family incomes or the value of the house.”
He said that the Treasury would consult on the tools, and that they would be in place before the end of this Parliament.
In response to the Chancellor’s announcement, on 2 October 2014, the FPC recommended that it be granted the power to direct the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to require regulated lenders to place limits on owner-occupied and buy-to-let mortgage lending by reference to:
Loan-to-value (LTV) ratios; and
Debt-to-income (DTI) ratios, including interest coverage ratios (ICR) in respect of buy-to-let lending.
In response to this recommendation by the FPC, the Government are consulting on legislating to give the FPC powers of direction over LTV limits and DTI limits in respect of owner-occupied mortgages. Currently, the FPC can only make recommendations in relation to these tools. The Government intend to consult separately in 2015 on the FPC’s recommendations that it be granted powers of direction in respect of the buy-to-let mortgage market, with a view to building an in-depth evidence base on how the operation of the UK buy-to-let housing market may carry risks to financial stability.
The consultation that has been published today contains draft secondary legislation that will provide the Financial Policy Committee with the new powers of direction. The Treasury seeks responses to the consultation by 28 November 2014, in advance of laying the secondary legislation before Parliament in early 2015.
Copies of the consultation document The Financial Policy Committee’s housing market tools have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and published on the HM Treasury website.
Communities and Local Government
Better Care Fund
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I are today approving plans to join up health and care services across the country for the first time. This will improve care and provide more dignity for older and vulnerable people, as well as reducing accident and emergency admissions and lengths of stay in hospital.
People are happier and healthier when they have family and friends nearby. So investing in care services that are tailored to individual needs make sense. It means people can stay at home for longer, which is better for everyone involved.
They can also be helped back to health in high-quality community care centres or leave hospital more quickly when they do have to be admitted. This will not only improve services and reduce waste, it will give elderly people the dignity and independence they deserve in later life.
This has been made possible by the Government’s £5.3 billion better care fund, initially set at £3.8 billion but which has increased significantly following additional local investment. This will bring GPs, community nurses, and care workers together so they can provide the better care closer to home that keeps people independent and healthy for longer, preventing unnecessary stays in hospital and giving families more confidence over how their loved ones are looked after.
People will be able to get the right care when and where they need it, including at the weekend, thanks to a new national standard of seven-day health and social care. The local plans being approved today aim to prevent around 160,000 accident and emergency admissions, 2,000 care home admissions and result in over 100,000 fewer delayed discharges, meaning people get home from hospital more quickly when they do have to be admitted.
NHS England also estimates that, based on local plans, the fund will be supporting at least 18,000 individuals in roles delivering care out in the community. This will be a range of social workers, occupational therapists, care navigators, doctors and nurses, deployed based on local needs and delivering outside of the hospital.
Developed together by councils and local NHS organisations, these plans are the centrepiece of the Government’s commitment to joining up the health and care system. They will help to put the service user first and make this vision for joined-up care a reality across the country for the first time.
I would urge hon. Members to read their own local plan and support their health and wellbeing board in developing its plans to give the elderly more dignity in later life.
I am also grateful for support from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander), the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who has responsibility for care and support, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), who has responsibility for local government, NHS England and the Local Government Association.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Afghanistan (Progress Report)
I wish to inform the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, is today publishing the 41st progress report on developments in Afghanistan since November 2010.
After a protracted period of negotiation, Dr Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah Abduallah signed the agreement forming a National Unity Government at the presidential palace on 21 September. The agreement committed Dr Ghani and Dr Abdullah to creating a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) position by presidential decree straight after the inauguration and to holding a Loya Jirga within two years to consider amending the constitution to formalise the CEO role into that of an executive Prime Minister.
President Ghani’s inauguration took place on 29 September. The first democratic transfer of power from one elected President to another, marked a truly historic moment in the history of Afghanistan. The Ghani Government signed the bilateral security agreement and the NATO status of forces agreement on 30 September.
The NATO Wales summit discussed Afghanistan on 4 September. The meeting paid tribute to ISAF and Afghan sacrifices, recognised their achievements, and underlined continuing international commitment to supporting Afghanistan. A subsequent ISAF declaration outlined in particular the NATO-led support envisaged for Afghanistan after 2014.
Following the NATO summit, the Prime Minister told Parliament on 8 September, Official Report, column 655:
“We reaffirmed our long term commitment to supporting a peaceful, prosperous and stable Afghanistan, including through our development conference in London in November.”
This is now planned for 3 to 4 December.
The Secretary of State for Defence travelled to Kabul on 23 to 24 September for a visit timed to enable him to deliver the keynote speech at the ceremony marking the graduation of the first Kandak (battalion) from the UK-sponsored Afghan National Army Officer Academy (ANAOA). He was the first international Minister to meet with President Ghani and CEO Abdullah.
I am placing the report in the Library of the House. It will also be published on the gov.uk website: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/afghanistan-progress-reports.
Non-Departmental Public Bodies (Triennial Reviews)
I am today announcing the start of the triennial reviews of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the British Pharmacopoeia Commission (BPC), the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM), the Administration of Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee (ARSAC) and the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP).
All Government Departments are required to review their non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) at least once every three years. Due to the wide ranging reforms made by the Health and Social Care Act 2012, the Department was exempt from the first round of reviews in 2011-14. In order to ensure that the Department is an effective system steward and can be assured of all the bodies it is responsible for, we have extended the programme of reviews over the next three years to all of its arm’s length bodies and Executive agencies.
The reviews of the aforementioned bodies have been selected to commence during the first year of the programme (2014-15). The reviews will be conducted in two stages. The first stage will examine the continuing need for the function and whether the organisation’s form, including operating at arm’s length from government, remains appropriate. If the outcome of this stage is that delivery should continue, the second stage of the review will assess whether the bodies are operating efficiently and in line with the recognised principles of good corporate governance.
In December 2013, I commissioned an expert panel to look at the challenge of new psychoactive substances (NPS). In my written ministerial statement at that time, I made it clear that we are prepared to enhance our UK–wide legislative framework to ensure that our law enforcement agencies have the best available powers, sending out the clearest possible message that the trade in these substances is reckless and that these substances can be dangerous, even fatal. I also asked the expert panel to consider the education, prevention and treatment response to NPS and make recommendations.
Today I am pleased to publish the expert panel’s report and recommendations on this challenging issue alongside the Government’s response to those recommendations.
The expert panel is clear that new psychoactive substances—these so called “legal” highs—present a challenge that cannot be ignored. The UK has been quicker to respond to this challenge than most other countries, putting in place a forensic early warning system, banning more than 350 substances and leading the global response through the United Nations and G7. We have ensured that local authorities are aware of and use existing powers under drugs, medicines and consumer protection legislation to disrupt NPS supply. We have provided consistent and evidence-based messaging on the risks of NPS through guidance to schools, FRANK (the Government’s online drug awareness service) and targeted communications activity. We are also rapidly developing clinical responses to these substances via front-line services. However we recognise that there is more to do to tackle the issue of new psychoactive substances, which have claimed the lives of far too many young people.
The expert panel recognised that our current approach has real strengths that should be built on and not dismissed. In addition, they have made wide ranging recommendations across a number of areas including treatment and intervention, prevention, education and information sharing.
In response to these recommendations I am announcing today a range of actions. We will develop proposals for a blanket ban similar to that introduced in Ireland in 2010. This would give law enforcement greater powers to tackle the market in so called “legal” highs in general, instead of on a substance by substance basis. I have also commissioned the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to provide advice on a cutting edge way of basing legal controls for future synthetic drugs that mimic cannabis and on the effects these substances have on the brain rather than their chemical structure. The expert panel highlighted a number of factors that will need to be considered in taking these recommendations forward in the UK context. We therefore think it is important to take the time necessary to ensure that any legislation developed in response to the expert panel’s recommendations is carefully considered and will work in the UK.
In response to the expert panel’s wider recommendations, we will also implement a comprehensive action plan that includes strengthening training given to front-line NHS staff to deal with the effects of NPS use and the publication of new guidance by Public Health England for local authorities, including advice on integrating new psychoactive substances into local drugs education, prevention and treatment work.
In addition to the expert panel’s report and Government’s response we are publishing a wider Home Office evidence paper—“New Psychoactive Substances in England—A Review of the Evidence.” This paper builds on the evidence considered and set out in the expert panel’s report.
Alongside these publications, today we are also publishing the findings of the Government’s international study of drugs policies. The report, Drugs: International Comparators, describes a selection of policy and operational responses to drugs misuse in other countries. The approaches explored in the report were seen by Ministers and officials from the Home Office during international fact-finding activities that took place between May 2013 and March 2014. These included visits to, and discussions with: Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Uruguay. The report includes an assessment of the drugs situation in the UK and a description of the current and future challenges for policymakers.
The study has provided a sound base of evidence on approaches to drugs misuse and drug addiction in other countries. In many cases, the differences between the approach other countries have taken illustrate the complexity of the challenge, and demonstrate why we cannot simply adopt another country’s approach wholesale. The UK’s approach on drugs remains clear: we must prevent drug use in our communities, help dependent individuals through treatment and wider recovery support, while ensuring law enforcement protects society by stopping the supply and tackling the organised crime that is associated with the drugs trade. Based on what we have learned, the UK will continue to advocate a balanced, evidence-based approach to the misuse of drugs internationally.
All four of these publications can be found on the gov.uk website and copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
British-Irish Visa Scheme (Indian and Chinese Citizens)
I am today making a ministerial authorisation under schedule 3, part 4, paragraph 17 (4)(a) of the Equality Act 2010. This authorisation may be cited as the Equality (British-Irish Visa Scheme––Indian and Chinese Citizens) authorisation.
The authorisation will allow Chinese and Indian citizens to transit through the UK en route to the Republic of Ireland under the transit without visa concession (TWOV). To qualify, individuals must meet the criteria for the TWOV and hold an Irish short-stay visa or subsequent stamp conferring leave in Ireland endorsed with the BIVS. No additional requirements are being imposed on these individuals, other than those already required of them as visa nationals for the purposes of entry clearance to travel to the UK.
The UK and Irish Governments are working in close co-operation to protect the security of the external border of the common travel area. Joint work is under way to ensure our checks are effective at preventing individuals who intend either country harm from entering, while preserving the right of free movement for those who are lawfully present.
The UK will recognize certain Irish visas under the British-Irish visa scheme. It is therefore no longer necessary to impose a transit visa requirement on Chinese and Indian citizens who have been issued a visa under this scheme.
The British-Irish visa scheme is part of this joint UK-Ireland work, allowing eligible visitors to travel to the UK and the Republic of Ireland on a single visa. Subsequent roll-out of the scheme to other nationalities is envisaged but is subject to the outcome of an evaluation process of the first phase.
The authorisation will facilitate tourism to the Republic of Ireland and the UK by removing the requirement for Indian and Chinese citizens, eligible for the British-Irish visa scheme and subject to the enhanced Irish visa regime, to obtain transit visas to travel to the Republic of Ireland through the UK.
I therefore consider the ministerial authorisation to be reasonable, rational, proportionate and necessary for maintaining the integrity of the immigration system.
The authorisation shall come into operation on 13 October 2014 and remain in force until 1 December 2014.
I am placing a copy of the authorisation in the Library of the House.
Deaths of Service Personnel on Overseas Operations
My hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans and I present our latest joint statement reporting progress with coroner investigations into the deaths of UK service personnel on active service overseas. We wish as always to pay tribute to our armed forces for the constant courage and skill with which they serve our country. We particularly remember those service personnel who have given their lives. Our thoughts remain with their families.
This statement indicates the position at 23 October 2014 on open investigations and inquests which the senior coroners for Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Swindon and other coroner areas in England and Wales are conducting.
As supplementary information to this statement we have placed tables in the Libraries of both Houses. The tables include the status of all cases and show whether there has been or will be a service inquiry. In the earlier years covered, a service inquiry was known as a board of inquiry.
The Ministry of Defence’s defence inquests unit continues to work with coroners, including a cadre of coroners who have received special training in handling service personnel inquests. Together they make sure that everything possible is done to progress and complete investigations quickly and thoroughly. Should it be appropriate in future for an investigation to be held in Scotland instead of England and Wales, Section 12 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 provides for this.
Our thanks are due to coroners and their staff for their thoroughness and compassion in these vitally important investigations. We are grateful to the Chief Coroner for his essential contribution to improving processes, and once more we thank everyone who helps and informs bereaved families at every stage of the investigation.
Repatriations of service personnel who have died overseas have mainly taken place at RAF Lyneham in the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner area, and, currently, RAF Brize Norton in the Oxfordshire coroner area. To help the senior coroners for those two areas to take service personnel inquests forward without affecting the local caseload, since 2007 the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice have made joint additional funding available.
Current status of inquests
Since our last statement on 17 July there have been a further four inquests into the deaths of service personnel on operations. The total of inquests into the deaths of service personnel who have died on active service or who have died in the UK of injuries sustained on active service is 614. Three deaths led to no formal inquest. In one of these cases it was decided not to hold a fatal accident inquiry in Scotland after a serviceman who had made a partial recovery died there from his injuries. The other two deaths were taken into consideration at inquests into deaths which occurred in the same incidents.
Coroners' investigations which have been opened
Deaths in Afghanistan
As at 23 October, 17 coroner investigations are open into the deaths of service personnel on operations.
The senior coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon has retained six of the open investigations. The senior coroner for Oxfordshire has retained eight, and senior coroners for areas closer to the next-of-kin are conducting the other three open coroner investigations. Nine hearing dates have been listed.
Deaths of service personnel who returned home injured
No coroner investigations are open in relation to service personnel who returned home injured and have then died from their injuries.
We will continue to inform the House of progress.
Work and Pensions
Work Capability Assessments
The previous Government appointed Atos the sole provider for carrying out work capability assessments in 2008.
On 27 March, Official Report, column 56-58WS, the former Minister with responsibility for disabled people announced that following negotiations with Atos, the Government had reached a mutual agreement for Atos to exit the contract to deliver health-related assessments including work capability assessments before it is due to end in August 2015.
Following a rigorous procurement exercise, I am pleased to announce today that MAXIMUS Health and Human Services Ltd has been awarded the contract to deliver health-related assessments including the work capability assessments for DWP. The contract is to provide a national service for three years, with the option to extend twice by a further year. Operational service will commence on 1 March 2015.
The transfer of undertakings protection of employment regulations will apply and most of the Atos employees currently employed on this contract will transfer to MAXIMUS Health and Human Services Ltd, who will also use the existing Atos infrastructure and IT. The new provider will therefore be able to step into the contract without disrupting the service.
My absolute priority for MAXIMUS Health and Human Services Ltd will be to transition the service smoothly from the current provider and stabilise the operation to deliver the best service possible for claimants, increase the volume of assessments carried out and reduce waiting times without compromising quality.
MAXIMUS Health and Human Services Ltd runs health care programmes in Australia, Canada and the United States and is one of the largest occupational health providers in the UK. It employs large numbers of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals and brings years of experience conducting independent health assessments. MAXIMUS Health and Human Services Ltd is already a key Work programme provider and was recently awarded a contract to run the Department’s new Fit for Work service.
MAXIMUS Health and Human Services Ltd will bring both clinical expertise and a fresh approach that, over time, will significantly reduce waiting times and provide a better experience for claimants. A key focus of its plan is on recruiting and retaining the high-quality health care professionals the service needs. MAXIMUS Health and Human Services Ltd staff will spend more time engaging with and helping claimants earlier in the process, so that claimants know what to expect and can better prepare for the assessments. This should help reduce the number of people who currently do not attend assessments.
I am confident MAXIMUS Health and Human Services Ltd will bring about the changes required to improve claimants’ experience of the assessment process.
We already have in place an agreement with Atos covering the remaining term of its contract. This agreement is more robust, with an agreed performance regime that gives us confidence delivery goals will be achieved. My Department, Atos and MAXIMUS Health and Human Services Ltd will work together during the transition period to ensure a smooth handover.
Atos will continue to deliver health-related assessments including work capability assessments in Northern Ireland under a separate contract.