Thursday 15 January 2015
Business, Innovation and Skills
I have today published our current plans for the implementation of parts 7 (Companies: Transparency) and 8 (Company filing requirements) of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill.
These timings are obviously subject to the will of Parliament. However, we want to make sure those affected by reform have as much notice as possible. In summary, we intend to implement proposals in three main stages—two months after Royal Assent, October 2015 and April 2016. Companies will be required to keep a register of people with significant control from January 2016. They will need to file this information at Companies House from April 2016.
These are significant changes and we are thinking carefully about the secondary legislation, systems changes, guidance and communication requirements we will need to give effect to them.
In October 2014 I published a discussion paper on core elements of the PSC register policy, seeking views on the statutory and non-statutory guidance needed to support understanding of the new requirements; the way that a person’s control over a company is recorded on the PSC register; and the process by which people at serious risk of harm can apply to have their information protected from public disclosure on the PSC register.
The paper closed on 9 December and I am grateful to all those who responded. I look forward to continued dialogue and engagement as we develop the draft regulations.
The responses confirmed the need for clear guidance to support implementation of the PSC register. I therefore intend to create a working group with a broad membership, including business representative bodies and civil society groups, to oversee the development of the general guidance required by companies and others. I have asked Peter Swabey of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA) to chair this working group, given ICSA’s experience in developing company law guidance. I have today published the draft terms of reference for that group.
I also intend to ask a select group of experts, composed of company law specialists, to form an “expert working panel” to draft the statutory guidance required to set out what is meant by “significant influence or control” in the context of the PSC register.
On the question of recording control on the PSC register, there was strong support for further Government regulation. I intend to adopt a business-friendly approach, requiring people to state which one or more of the “specified conditions” for being a person with significant control they meet. This will ensure consistency in terms of the information on the register and provide clarity for companies and others.
The process by which individuals may apply to have their information suppressed from public disclosure in exceptional circumstances is a key factor of the secondary legislation implementing the PSC register. The discussion paper sought views on a number of elements of the regime and we received a wide range of views. We will continue to develop this complex and important area over the coming months.
I am minded to limit those able to apply for protection to individuals at serious risk of violence or intimidation as a result of a company’s activities. We are continuing to consider this point. However, we do not anticipate extending the regime to cover purely economic risks.
I agree with the majority of respondents who felt that applications should be able to be made by third parties on behalf of people with significant control—such as the person’s legal representative. We also agree there is merit in allowing people to apply in advance of becoming a PSC, so that they can ensure the protection will apply from day one.
In August 2014 I announced a call for evidence in order to review the way in which debt relief orders have performed since they were introduced in 2009, including looking at the eligibility limits for applying for a debt relief order. This call for evidence also asked for views on the creditor petition limit for bankruptcy, which was set at £750 in 1986. We asked whether this figure should be increased and, if so, to what level. We also undertook a survey of debtors who had applied for debt relief orders.
The responses to both the call for evidence and the survey of users showed that debt relief orders are thought to be working well and have provided an important additional route for debt relief for vulnerable people, with benefits for mental health and family relationships as well as allowing a fresh financial start.
Following the call for evidence, it was apparent that it was widely believed that some of the limits on debt relief orders needed to be increased. Bankruptcy is considerably more expensive than applying for a debt relief order and I was made aware that there may be people who are unable to apply for bankruptcy but have very low assets and income and creditors would therefore not be likely to receive any payment.
The Government have therefore decided to increase the debt relief order eligibility criteria, the maximum debt level increasing from £15,000 to £20,000 and asset limit from £300 to £1,000. This will allow more people to access debt relief. No change will be made to the maximum level of surplus income allowed.
With regards to the creditor petition limit for bankruptcy, there was also a strong body of views that this should be considerably increased. Bankruptcy is the strongest of insolvency tools and I believe that someone should only be put into bankruptcy by a creditor for a significant level of debt, especially taking into account that various other debt collection methods, such as county court judgements, are available. Having taken account of all the responses, the Government have decided that the creditor petition level should be raised from £750 to £5,000.
I am today laying statutory instruments to give effect to these changes from 1 October 2015.
We also received a number of helpful suggestions relating to the how the debt relief order process works. We will ensure that those at risk of violence are sufficiently protected when applying for a debt relief order. We will also undertake some monitoring to ensure consistency on process between competent authorities who assist debtors in their applications. We will provide more options of how payments can be made when applying for a debt relief order. We are also contributing to work to ensure common guidance across all financial organisations with regards to how surplus income is calculated for different debt relief purposes, ensuring fairness and transparency.
It is important to me to ensure that those who require debt relief have access to it, while taking account of creditors’ interests, and that creditors’ powers to collect debts are set appropriately. These policy changes will ensure that this is the case and this will continue to be monitored and a review will be carried out after two years of operation.
I sent yesterday evening to the Governor of the Bank of England a letter setting out the updated remit for the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).
I have reconfirmed the inflation target as 2% as measured by the 12-month increase in the consumer prices index (CPI).
I have also confirmed that the economic policy objective of the Government is to achieve strong, sustainable and balanced growth that is more evenly shared across the country and between industries.
In the event of CPI inflation moving away from the target by more than 1 percentage point in either direction, the updated remit ensures that the inflation open letter will be sent alongside the first routine publication of the MPC after the meeting that follows the publication of CPI inflation.
In conjunction with the Treasury’s responsibilities under the Bank of England Act, copies of the updated remit for the Monetary Policy Committee have been laid before Parliament.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Foreign Affairs Council
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on 19 January. The Foreign Affairs Council will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. The meeting will be held in Brussels.
This discussion will focus on the EU’s relationship with Russia, which has deteriorated rapidly following Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine. The UK will argue that the EU must continue to lead the way in holding Russia to account for its actions. There must be full implementation of the Minsk agreements before any reduction of sanctions measures against Russia. Any new relationship with Russia must recognise that Russia can no longer be considered a strategic partner to the EU and that business must be conducted with full implementation of national and EU law.
The high representative will update Ministers on the UN climate negotiations. Ministers will discuss the aims for co-ordinated EU climate diplomacy activity in 2015 ahead of negotiations to agree a global deal on climate change at the conference of the parties to the UN framework convention on climate change in December. The UK will stress that climate change, with the risks it presents to international prosperity and security, must remain a foreign policy priority for the EU and that the EU needs to demonstrate leadership in the pursuit of an ambitious global climate deal in 2015.
Discussions on Libya will focus on the deteriorating security situation. The Secretary-General of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, may join Ministers for part of this discussion. The UK remains deeply concerned by increasing violence and political polarisation in Libya and its impact on the wider region. The UK’s priority will be to ensure the continued support of member states for the efforts of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Libya, Bernardino Leon, to resolve the political crisis and pave the way for peaceful political dialogue.
Code of Practice: Mental Health Act 1983
Following a public consultation, the Government have today laid a revised Code of Practice: Mental Health Act 1983 before Parliament. We intend that the revised code becomes effective from 1 April 2015.
The code, which applies in England, is important because it underpins the Mental Health Act 1983 which affects the lives and liberty of many people with a mental disorder, impacting upon them and their families, friends and carers. In 2013-14, there were more than 53,000 detentions in hospital in England under the Act. The revised code does not include any changes to primary legislation.
The code routinely informs the practice of health and social care professionals: it helps to safeguard patients’ rights and ensures compliance with the law. The code can help make sure that anyone experiencing mental disorder and being treated under the Act gets the right care, treatment and support, knows what their rights are, what they can expect in certain situations and what to do if things are not done correctly.
Since the code was last published in 2008, there have been substantial changes and updates in legislation, policy, case law, and professional practice. The revised code now reflects and embeds developments since 2008 in areas including the use of restrictive interventions; use of police powers to detain people in places of safety; and the use of community treatment orders.
When we published “Transforming care: A national response to Winterbourne View Hospital and Closing the Gap: Priorities for Essential Change in Mental Health”, we committed to improving mental health services. “Closing the Gap” set out 25 priority actions to improve the provision of mental health care, promote recovery and the experience of patients, their families and carers. “Transforming Care” also committed the Department to review and consult on a revised code to address the need to improve the quality of care received by patients detained under the Act.
We remain committed to ensuring that high quality care is always provided for all patients treated under the Act. Care should always be a means to promote recovery, be of the shortest duration, be as least restrictive as possible and keep the patient and other people safe.
The revised is available in the Library of the House. It can also be found on the gov.uk website at: https://www. gov.uk/government/publications/code-of-practice-mental-health-act-1983
Advisory Committee on Clinical Excellence Awards
I am today announcing the start of the triennial review of the Advisory Committee on Clinical Excellence Awards (ACCEA).
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 its arm’s length bodies and Executive agencies.
The review of the ACCEA has been selected to commence during the first year of the programme (2014-15). The review will consider the committee’s functions and corporate form, as well as performance and capability, governance and opportunities for greater efficiencies. The Department will be working with a wide range of stakeholders throughout the review.
Disclosure and Barring Service
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) has today made the following written ministerial statement:
The 2013-14 Annual Report and Accounts for the Disclosure and Barring Service is being laid before the House today and published on www.gov.uk. Copies will be available in the Vote Office.
Property Boundary Disputes
My noble friend the Minister of State for Civil Justice and Legal Policy (Lord Faulks QC) has made the following written ministerial statement.
The Government are today publishing an initial scoping study on property boundary disputes. This fulfils a commitment given by the Ministry of Justice in response to a written parliamentary question from Charlie Elphicke MP on 14 February 2013 (Commons Hansard, 14 February 2013, Column 874W).
The scoping study was undertaken because of concern that such disputes are all too often disproportionately bitter, protracted and expensive. The study took the form of interviews with a small number of key stakeholders and the distribution of a questionnaire to 30 organisations with an interest in land law issues including boundary disputes. Input was also received during the period of the study from a number of individuals involved in boundary disputes.
The study reflects the views expressed in the responses received on the nature, frequency and causes of boundary disputes, the effectiveness of current resolution methods, and the problems that currently arise and what could be done to address them. It discusses a number of options for legal or procedural change, and concludes that the Ministry of Justice should carry out further work to assess the feasibility of improvements in a number of areas, including in particular the use of mediation and expert determination, the spreading of best practice and the provision of better information with a view to reaching more definite conclusions in 2015, but that more radical reform is not currently justified.
Copies of the scoping study are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
It is also available online at: http://www.parliament.uk/writtenstatements.
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe: UK Delegation
The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Charles Kennedy) has been appointed as a full member of the United Kingdom delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in place of the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Mike Hancock). The hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Jeremy Browne) has been appointed as a substitute Member.