Friday 16 January 2015
Tax Information Exchange Agreement (Monaco)
A Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) with the Principality of Monaco was signed in London on 22 October 2014 and in Monaco on 23 December 2014. The text of the TIEA has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and will be made available on HM Revenue and Customs’ website. The text will be schedule to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.
It is also available online at: http://www.parliament.uk/writtenstatements.
Communities and Local Government
I would like to update hon. Members on two separate announcements relating to the issue of demolition.
Planning decision on Welsh Streets, Liverpool
Yesterday, as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, I issued decisions on a called-in planning application and a related compulsory purchase order in relation to an area known as the “Welsh Streets” in Toxteth, Liverpool. The proposal was for demolition of 439 small Victorian era terraced homes. After a public inquiry and careful consideration, the planning application is refused and the compulsory purchase order is not confirmed.
The decision letters fully explain the reasons for these decisions. Issues covered in the planning decision letter include: the heritage value of the Welsh Streets—including the effect on the appreciation of Liverpool’s Beatles heritage as the application site includes the birth place of Ringo Starr; the impact of the proposal on the setting of nearby listed buildings and a conservation area; design issues including local character, history and distinctiveness; and the extent to which the proposal is consistent with national planning policy on bringing back empty homes into residential use.
Revocation of outdated guidance
The Coalition Agreement outlined this Government’s commitment to introduce a range of measures to get empty homes back into use, reflecting the 2010 general election manifesto pledges of both Coalition parties. We want to increase housing supply, remove the blight that rundown vacant properties cause and help support local economic growth from refurbishment and improvements.
In the written ministerial statement of 10 May 2013, Official Report, Column 13WS, Ministers committed to revising outdated guidance issued by the former Office of the Deputy Prime Minister which encouraged demolition. I can today confirm that the following pieces of outdated guidance no longer reflect Government policy and so are now cancelled:
Neighbourhood Renewal Assessment and Renewal Areas (DETR, 1997);
Private Sector Renewal Strategies: A Good. Practice Guide (DETR, 1997);
Running and Sustaining Renewal Areas (DETR, 2000);
Addressing the Needs of Run Down Private Sector Housing (ODPM, 2002);
What Works? Reviewing the Evidence Base for Neighbourhood Renewal (ODPM, 2002);
Housing Renewal Guidance - ODPM Circular 05/2003;
Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future (ODPM, 2003);
Assessing the Impacts of Spatial Interventions: Regeneration, Renewal and Regional Development The 3Rs Guidance’ (ODPM, 2004); and
Neighbourhood Renewal Assessment guidance manual (ODPM, 2004).
Instead, this Government are championing a series of policies to get empty buildings back into use. We have:
Provided over £200 million to fund innovative schemes run by community groups, councils and housing associations up and down the country to create new homes from empty properties, both residential and commercial;
Rewarded councils for bringing 100,000 empty homes back into use through the New Homes Bonus;
Given councils new powers to remove council tax subsidies to empty homes, and use the funds to keep the overall rate of council tax down. HM Treasury have also changed tax rules to discourage the use of corporate envelopes to invest in high value housing which may be left empty or under-used to avoid paying tax;
Taken forward the best practice recommendations produced by our independent empty homes adviser, George Clarke—such as refurbishment and upgrading of existing homes should be the first and preferred option, and that demolition of existing homes should be the last option after all forms of market testing and options for refurbishment are exhausted; we have embedded these principles in our housing programme funding schemes;
Cancelled the last Administration’s Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder programme which imposed targets on councils to demolish homes;
Amended national planning policy through the National Planning Policy Framework to encourage councils to bring back empty properties back into use;
Reformed Community Infrastructure Levy rules to provide an increased incentive for brownfield development, and extended exemptions for empty buildings being brought back into use;
Lifted the burden of Section 106 tariffs on vacant buildings being returned to use;
Introduced a Right to Contest, building on the existing Community Right to Reclaim Land, which lets communities ask that under-used or unused land owned by public bodies is brought back into beneficial use;
Funded a new re-occupation business rate relief to help bring empty shops back into use; and
Reformed permitted development rights in a number of ways to free up the planning system and facilitate the conversion of redundant and under-used non-residential buildings into new homes.
This approach is working. The number of empty homes has fallen year-on-year since 2009, and is now at the lowest level since 2004. Similarly, the number of long-term vacant properties has fallen by around a third since 2009.1 hope our programmes will further reduce the number of empty buildings.
For the avoidance of doubt, the call-in decision is not connected to the cancellation of the outdated guidance. I am placing a copy of the decision letters, attached, in the Library of the House.
It is also available online at: http://www.parliament.uk/writtenstatements.
Design and Technology GCSE
We are reforming GCSEs and A levels to strengthen their academic rigour and to ensure young people are prepared for life in modern Britain. The reforms are extensive and represent a new qualifications standard, keeping pace with universities’ and employers’ needs.
Draft content for the new GCSE in design and technology was consulted on in Autumn 2014. The consultation showed many positive reactions to the creation of a single title for design and technology and the way in which the content had changed to reflect far better the processes of design. These changes will ensure that the subject prepares students well for further study in a rapidly changing world.
The reforms do, however, represent a significant change to the design and technology GCSE. To ensure all the component parts of the qualification work well together, it is my view that more time is needed to give students the best experience possible. First teaching of GCSE design and technology will, therefore, be delayed from 2016 to 2017 to enable the awarding organisations to complete their work and undertake further consultations and discussions with stakeholders.
Permanent Secretary’s Review
I am today publishing the results of a review by my Permanent Secretary into whether the Department for Education (or predecessor Departments) had received warnings relating to extremism in Birmingham schools, and how any such warnings had been dealt with. Copies of this report will be laid in the Libraries of both Houses.
This review was commissioned by my predecessor in June 2014. It was prompted by the receipt of the "Trojan Horse" letter in Birmingham in December 2013, and subsequent reviews by Peter Clarke, Ian Kershaw and Ofsted, which noted, amongst other things, that warning signs about potential extremism in Birmingham schools had been missed by local agencies over a long period of time. Media reports in May and June 2014 suggested that specific warnings had been given to the Department, in 2010, 2008/9 and 1994.
The review has looked at a 20-year period between 1994 and December 2013, focusing specifically on:
what, if any, warnings were received;
what the nature of those warnings was;
whether those warnings were dealt with appropriately; and
what follow-up actions were taken, and whether these were appropriate given the role of the Department at the time.
The review has found no instances where specific warnings were ignored by the Department and no cases where Departmental officials or Ministers acted inappropriately. It has, however, found that the Department has in the past lacked inquisitiveness on this issue, and that procedures could have been tighter than they were. It notes that the Department needs always to be vigilant and inquisitive, and have robust systems in place if it is to play its part in preventing and countering the issues identified in Peter Clarke’s report.
I endorse this view and all of the recommendations contained in the review. In light of the review’s findings and events in Birmingham, the Permanent Secretary is taking further measures within the Department:
strengthening the size of the Due Diligence and Counter Extremism Division (DDCEG) to 36 staff and establishing it as a standalone group with a director with sole responsibility for this area of work;
introducing a formal system for staff across the Department to refer concerns about extremism to DDCEG. This includes a clear process for staff recognising what might constitute such an issue and a requirement that any instances are reported to DDCEG;
introducing a formal case handling system within DDCEG for logging and managing warnings received from both DfE staff or from external sources;
widening the DDCEG’s remit to include a proactive role identifying potential future trouble spots
establishing a Counter Extremism Steering Group, which will be chaired by the director for DDCEG and will support delivery of the Department’s overall vision and aims by providing coherent strategic oversight of the activity which makes up the due diligence and counter extremism programme;
introducing a requirement for all Deputy Directors to receive briefing on extremism, the Department’s procedures and how it might affect DfE’s work, and to be clear about the arrangements needed within their divisions to deal with any issues arising; and
introducing a system for the DDCEG to report monthly to the Department’s Management
Committee on cases received and action taken.
The Department’s Internal Audit function will conduct a review of these actions after three months and will advise the Permanent Secretary and the Department’s Management Committee on implementation progress. There will be regular six-monthly checks by Internal Audit on implementation, with advice to the Management Committee.
The aims of these actions are threefold:
to ensure that the DDCEG has the right resources, systems and remit to deal with any future warnings;
to ensure that identifying and taking action on warnings is seen as a priority in all parts of the Department, not just in DDCEG; and
to ensure that the Department becomes and remains inquisitive on this issue.
These actions should apply equally to warnings of ‘extremism’ from whatever source.
Work is ongoing on the wider issues relating to Birmingham, and I will update the House in due course.
The current unit, established in 2010, has thus far reported to a director who also had other responsibilities.
It is also available online at: http://www.parliament.uk/writtenstatements
Ambulance Service: England
Today I am announcing that NHS England is to pilot a possible change to the way ambulance services respond to 999 calls, based on clinical advice that this will improve the chances of survival for patients, especially those with the most serious conditions.
In light of the unprecedented increase in demand for ambulance services in the last two months, I asked NHS England to consider whether there were any changes which could be brought forward quickly in order to help ambulance services maintain, and perhaps even improve, clinical outcomes for patients.
I have now received and considered NHS England’s advice. A copy of the letter from Professor Keith Willett, the National Director for Acute Care at NHS England, with his recommendations, is attached and has been placed in the Library of the House. I agree with his advice that there is significant evidence to suggest that giving call handlers extra assessment time to make the right decision for the patient could improve clinical outcomes and improve their chances of survival. At present, ambulance services are allowed only 60 seconds before the clock starts to decide what the right course of action is for that individual patient. This sometimes leads to ambulances being dispatched unnecessarily, so that fewer ambulances are available for patients who really do need emergency assistance.
In the interests of patient safety, I therefore agree that giving call handlers very limited extra assessment time would ensure that ambulances are better deployed to where they are most needed and would allow a faster response time for those patients who really need it.
I have agreed to two local pilots where call handlers will be allowed up to a maximum of an additional 120 seconds for assessment, before the clock starts, for all 999 calls. This will not include those calls which are immediately life threatening (categorised as Red 1 calls). The pilot will therefore allow for a maximum of 180 seconds to assess a call, in order to reach a more detailed diagnosis and send the most appropriate response.
In these pilot sites, a small number of potentially life threatening conditions, such as overdoses and certain types of gunshot wounds, will also be upgraded from the Red 2 category into the Red 1 category so they receive a faster response than is currently the case.
The two pilot sites will be South West Ambulance Service NHS Trust and the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust—one running the NHS Pathways triage system and one running the Advanced Medical Priority Dispatch System. The pilots will start in February and will jointly cover a patient population of around 13 million people.
During the pilot, ambulance targets for all other areas will not be changed. We will continue to publish national data as normal, and the pilot data will be published alongside this in the interests of transparency. Given the pilots will only be affecting two ambulance services for a very limited period of time at the end of the reporting year, we do not anticipate that this will have a significant impact on the overall national data.
The pilot will be subject to rigorous and independent external evaluation which will be published. I will not support any extension of this pilot more widely unless the following three tests are met:
There is clear clinical consensus that the proposed change will be beneficial to patient outcomes as a whole, and will act to reduce overall clinical risk in the system.
There is evidence from the analysis of existing data and piloting that the proposed change will have the intended benefits, and is safe for patients.
There is an associated increase in operational efficiency. The aim is to reduce the average number of vehicles allocated to each 999 call and the ambulance utilisation rate.
After the evaluation has been published, I will consider the outcomes of the three tests and the findings of this external evaluation before making any decisions to implement these changes throughout England.
The letter from Professor Keith Willet can be viewed online at:
Enhanced Court Fees
I am today publishing the Government response to part two of the consultation “Court Fees: proposals for reform.”
We are rightly proud of our system of justice. We have some of the best lawyers, and finest judges, in the world. That is why so many people and organisations choose to bring their disputes to this country.
The courts play a critical role in our society, providing access to justice for those who need it. It is vital that the principle of access to justice is preserved. I believe that the best way to do so is to ensure that the courts are properly funded.
We cannot have properly funded public services without a strong economy. This Government have therefore made economic recovery its top priority. Public spending must be brought under control, and the courts and justice system must bear their fair share.
I have already announced that we will be investing £375 million in the courts over the next five years to modernise services so that we can realise long-term financial savings worth over £100 million per annum by 2019/20. There is, however, only so much that can be achieved through cost efficiency measures alone. If we are to reduce the costs of the courts to the taxpayer, and protect access to justice, I am convinced that there is no alternative but to look to those who use the courts to contribute more, where they can afford to do so.
I have therefore decided to proceed with most of the proposals relating to enhanced fee charging set out in the consultation. Specifically, I have decided to introduce a fee to commence proceedings for the recovery of money of 5% of the value of the claim on claims for more than £10,000, subject to a maximum fee capped at £10,000. Setting the value of claims subject to fees at this level means that 90% of cases will not be affected by the introduction of this fee. A 10% discount will continue to be available for those issuing claims electronically. These measures will deliver an estimated £120 million in additional income, with every pound retained by the courts to invest in delivering a better service for those who use them.
Some respondents were concerned that this would affect legal services in this country, and impact on London’s position in the face of international competition. I do not accept these concerns, given that the increase in court fees proposed would have only a negligible impact on the overall cost of litigation. However, I have decided at this stage not to proceed with either of the options on which I sought views to charge higher fees for commercial proceedings.
Most respondents were particularly concerned about the proposal to raise the fee for a divorce, and having listened to those concerns, I have decided not to proceed with this proposal for the time being.
However, while I have decided not to proceed with a number of the consultation proposals, this has not changed the financial imperative to increase income to the Courts from fees. Therefore, the Government response also seek views on proposals for raising fee income from possession claims and general applications in civil proceedings. The deadline for responses to the consultation is 27 February 2015.
Increasing court fees will never be welcome. I believe, however, it is right that those who use the services should make a greater contribution towards their running costs, where they can afford to do so. I am also sure that those who choose to litigate in our courts will continue to recognise the outstanding qualities our legal services offer, and the excellent value for money they provide.
Patrick Finucane Review
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland appointed Sir Desmond de Silva QC in October 2011 to conduct an independent review into the question of state involvement in the murder of Patrick Finucane in 1989. His report was published on 12 December 2012.
On that day, I told the House that we would study Sir Desmond’s report in detail to see whether any further lessons could be learnt. I said that I would ask the Secretaries of State for Defence and Northern Ireland and the Cabinet Secretary to report back to me on all the issues that arise from this report and publish their responses. The responses take the form of a joint report by the Cabinet Secretary, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and it will be published on: http://gov.uk, today. Copies are also being placed in the Library of the House.
As Sir Desmond de Silva said in his report “a series of positive actions by employees of the State actively furthered and facilitated [Patrick Finucane’s] murder and that, in the aftermath of the murder, there was a relentless attempt to defeat the ends of justice”. The Government accept these findings unequivocally.
The joint report describes the action Government Departments have demonstrated in response to Sir Desmond de Silva’s report and the ways in which their internal processes have changed in the areas de Silva highlights. Significant changes have been made since the time of Patrick Finucane’s murder to improve the situation and today’s framework for operations bears little resemblance to that of 1989. Additionally, there is far more effective independent oversight and control than existed in 1989.
As the joint report concludes, the approach of the police and intelligence agencies to handling of covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) has been completely transformed in the years since the appalling events under consideration in the de Silva review. Compliance with human rights and other legal obligations has a fundamental place at the centre of activities by the police and intelligence services with the principles of necessity and proportionality now firmly embedded in the culture and systems they apply in their work.
It is also available online at: http://www.parliament.uk/writtenstatements.
HS2 (Phase 1 Property)
I am today announcing to the House the Government’s package of measures to provide assistance to owner occupiers along the line of route for Phase One of the High Speed 2 project (from London to the West Midlands). This is the final outcome of two consultations;
the Property Consultation 2013, on which the decision was announced on 9 April 2014; and
the Property Consultation 2014, which ran from 8 July to 30 September 2014 and on which the decision is announced today, (http://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/hs2-phase-one-property-consultation-2014).
I can announce today that the proposal for the alternative cash offer (now named the cash offer) and homeowner payment will be introduced. These schemes aim to help maintain the cohesion of communities along the route of Phase One of HS2 and provide an early share of the benefits.
I can also announce that from today HS2 Ltd will accept applications for voluntary purchase, the cash offer and the need to sell schemes. These schemes supplement those launched earlier this year, namely express purchase and rent back. The result is an exceptional package of measures for an exceptional project. Over 2500 dwellings are within the express purchase area, rural support zone (within which the voluntary purchase and cash offer schemes are available) and homeowner payment bands. In addition, the need to sell scheme will independently consider applications regardless of the distance from the railway.
Therefore, the full package available to people is as follows:
Express purchase—is for those people living closest to the line, in what is known as the “surface safeguarded” area. Under this scheme owner-occupiers may be able to sell their home to the Government, if they wish to do so at its full unblighted market value (as it would be if there were no plans for HS2), plus 10% (up to £49,000) and reasonable moving expenses, including stamp duty.
Voluntary purchase— for people in rural areas outside the safeguarding area and up to 120 metres away from the line (this is the area defined as the rural support zone). Owner-occupiers in this area will be able to sell their home to the Government for its full unblighted value at any time up until one year after Phase One first opens for public use.
The cash offer— (known as the alternative cash offer during the consultation). This gives rural owner-occupiers within the rural support zone two measures to choose from, if they wish: selling their property to the Government for its full unblighted market value under the voluntary purchase arrangements described above or remaining in their home and receiving 10% of that value. This payment is a minimum of £30,000 and is capped at £100,000. This scheme will be available until one year after Phase One first opens for public use.
The need to sell scheme—this scheme does not have a boundary and is available to owner-occupiers who have a compelling reason to sell their house (for example this might be as a result of job relocation or ill health) but are unable to do so because of HS2. The Government will pay the full, unblighted value for these properties. This scheme replaces the Phase One exceptional hardship scheme (EHS) and those EHS applications that have not been consider by the panel will automatically be transferred to the need to sell scheme. This scheme is available in both urban and rural areas.
The homeowner payment scheme— will give rural homeowners outside the voluntary purchase area but within 300 metres of the line the opportunity to share early in the benefits of HS2. These payments will be available following Royal Assent of the hybrid Bill for Phase One and will be tapered as follows: owner-occupiers between outside the rural support zone and within 180 metres of the centre line of the railway will receive £22,500, those beyond this and within 240 metres £15,000 and those beyond this and within 300 metres £7,500.
The express purchase, voluntary purchase and need to sell schemes are all accompanied by a voluntary rent back option: owner-occupiers who, having sold their property to government would prefer to carry on living there may be able to rent it back, subject to property suitability checks.
In addition, as part of the desire by HS2 Ltd to improve communication with residents and communities near to the route of the railway, it has been agreed that a residents’ charter will be introduced. This will help to ensure that residents are treated in a fair, clear, competent and reasonable manner. It will embrace a number of key principles:
Discretionary property packages will be communicated clearly, in the plainest, non-technical language possible.
Individuals will be offered a single named case officer.
Individuals will be offered the opportunity to meet in private with a property specialist from HS2 Ltd to explain the discretionary and statutory measures.
HS2 Ltd will commit to a reasonable response time for all property related enquiries.
Today I am pleased to announce that the charter goes live and that Deborah Fazan has been appointed as the Residents’ Commissioner to oversee the charter and ensure the above principles are adhered to.
This package of measures will be administered by HS2 Ltd under these guiding principles and will signal the beginning of a new relationship with the communities along the route of Phase One of HS2.
I will place copies of the related documents in the Libraries of both Houses.
It is also available online at: http://parliament.uk/writtenstatements.
Work and Pensions
Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (Triennial Review)
Triennial reviews of non-departmental public bodies are part of the Government’s commitment to ensuring accountability in public life. Today I am launching a review of the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC). On the grounds of proportionality I have combined this review with that required of IIAC as a scientific advisory committee. The review will examine the Council’s functions, efficiency and governance procedures. The review is due to be completed in March 2015 and I shall inform the House of its outcome.