Thursday 26 February 2015
Business, Innovation and Skills
Law Commission Report on Patents (Government Response)
My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Minister for Intellectual Property (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) will today make the following statement.
In 2012, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills together with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) asked the Law Commission to review the law relating to the making of groundless threats to bring proceedings for infringement of patents, trade marks and design rights.
The review was sought because of concerns that the threats provisions are overly complex and do not work as intended. In particular, there were questions over whether the provisions sit well with the expectation, under the civil procedure rules, that parties in disputes should try to negotiate a settlement before turning to litigation. There were also concerns about inconsistency between the different intellectual property rights.
The Law Commission’s report was published in April 2014, and the Government have now the opportunity to consider the report fully.
The Government are grateful to the Law Commission for a report which is exhaustive and careful in its treatment of this complex matter, and which makes very clear and detailed recommendations for reform. I was also grateful for the Law Commission’s willingness to have further discussions with IPO officials on a number of the detailed issues raised by the report.
The Government accept the Law Commission’s conclusion that the threats provisions should be retained but reformed. As well as accepting the overarching thrust of the recommendations, the Government welcome many of the detailed suggestions for reform. There are just a few recommendations where the Government’s acceptance is in some way qualified. We will want to reflect further on these points, and take discussions forward with the Law Commission, stakeholders and others.
Copies of the Government’s full response to the report’s recommendations will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Aside from the recommendations made, the report also discusses the possibility of removing the threats provisions entirely and introducing a new tort of making unfair allegations, either within UK law or as part of wider EU reforms. No recommendations are made in this respect, and the Law Commission suggests that it makes sense to progress first with what the report calls the more “evolutionary” changes to the threats regime. The Government agree that the idea of a wider, new tort may deserve more consideration in the longer term, but agree with the conclusion that the more evolutionary reforms should be focussed upon at this stage.
The Government are also grateful for the report’s careful treatment of issues concerning the interplay between the threats regime and the proposed Unitary Patent and Unified Patent Court. Although no specific recommendations are made, the report (and subsequent dialogue with the Law Commission) has been very helpful to Government in developing draft UK legislation with respect to threats provisions for Unitary Patents and the Unified Patent Court.
More widely, I know that the level of stakeholder interaction with the Law Commission during the groundless threats work has been excellent, particularly within the IP legal community. I recognise that there is wide support among that community for the proposed reforms.
The Government are therefore keen that this work should move forward, and intend to bring primary legislation to enact the necessary reforms in due course. The Government will want to look carefully at whether it might be possible to do this via the special parliamentary procedure which is available for Bills that implement uncontroversial Law Commission recommendations.
The Registration of Consultant Lobbyists Regulations 2015
Part 1 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 provides for a statutory register of consultant lobbyists, which the Government are committed to introducing before the general election. The statutory register of consultant lobbyists will increase transparency by requiring those who lobby on behalf of a third party to disclose the names of their clients on a publicly available register.
Today the Government are laying regulations made under sections 22 and 23 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 which will provide for certain practical aspects of the register and registration process to take effect.
The regulations make provision about: limitations on the duty to supply information to the registrar; charges; the supply of VAT-registration information to the registrar by HMRC; and the detail of the information that lobbyists will be required to submit in information returns.
The Cabinet Office is also publishing a response to the consultation, which we conducted on a draft of these regulations. I am placing copies of this response in the Libraries of both Houses and it will be available at: www.gov.uk
It is also available online at: http://www.parliament.uk/writtenstatements.
The Government are committed to tackling tax avoidance to ensure the Exchequer is protected and fairness is maintained for the taxpayer.
HMRC has become aware of a proposed transaction that seeks to take advantage of a perceived gap in the sale and leaseback rules for capital allowances. The claimed effect of the transaction is to create tens of millions of pounds of capital allowances in respect of assets where no real expenditure has been incurred. The Government do not accept that these arrangements would have this effect, but we will put this beyond doubt by taking action today.
I am today announcing that legislation will be introduced in the Finance Bill 2015 to ensure that where an asset is acquired without incurring expenditure, an entitlement to capital allowances cannot be created by a sale and leaseback or connected party transaction. The legislation will have effect from today and will protect significant amounts of revenue.
We have acted quickly to prevent any exploitation of these rules. This Government will not hesitate to eliminate opportunities for avoidance that create significant risk to the Exchequer.
Draft legislation and further details of this measure are being published on HMRC’s website today.
Communities and Local Government
Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council
I would like to update hon. Members on Rotherham council.
On 4 February, I informed the House that I was satisfied, having considered the report of the inspection by Louise Casey CB, that the council is failing to comply with its best value duty, and proposed to use my statutory powers of intervention to secure the council’s compliance with that duty.
As I told the House,
“The report...confirms a complete failure of political and officer leadership in Rotherham...Poor governance is deeply seated throughout the council. There is a pervading culture of bullying, sexism, suppression and misplaced political correctness that has cemented the Council’s failures. Both members and officers lack the confidence to tackle difficult issues for fear of being seen as racist or of upsetting community cohesion. The council is currently incapable of tackling its weakness without substantial intervention.”
I gave the council 14 days to make any representations it wished on the inspection report and my proposal for intervention. I have now carefully considered the representations that the council has made and, having considered afresh Louise Casey’s report, I remain satisfied that the council is failing to comply with its best value duty. It is encouraging that the council in its representations wholly accepts the conclusions in the report and welcomes the appointment of commissioners.
I have concluded that it is both necessary and expedient for me to exercise my intervention powers and, given the serious failures in the council, that, as I proposed, the intervention should initially be broad and wide ranging with commissioners exercising many of the authority’s functions until these can be confidently rolled back for the authority to exercise in compliance with its best value duty.
I therefore inform the House that today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and I have given the council the necessary directions under section 15(5) and 15(6) of the Local Government Act 1999 and section 497A(4B) of the Education Act 1996 to implement the proposed intervention measures to ensure Rotherham metropolitan borough council’s compliance with the best value duty and to secure that the authority’s children’s social care functions are performed to the required standard.
I am also minded shortly to make an order under the Local Government Act 2000, as I proposed, to move Rotherham council to holding all-out elections in 2016 and every fourth year thereafter. One of the political groups on the council has made representations to me that the 2015 local elections should be the first all-out elections. I have carefully considered this, but I am clear that making such a change only some two months before the elections is neither practicable nor desirable. The 2016 all-out elections, for which there will be adequate time for candidate selection and good planning, will provide a good foundation for the fresh start that Rotherham needs.
These intervention measures are centred on a team of commissioners who will both exercise functions of the authority and oversee a rigorous programme of improvement to bring about the essential changes in culture and ensure there is in future effective and accountable political and officer leadership.
Specific intervention measures include the following:
The commissioners exercising all the authority’s executive functions—i.e. the functions which are the responsibility of the authority’s cabinet—and certain other functions, in particular all licensing functions, including taxi licensing, and responsibility for appointing the authority’s three statutory officers, the chief executive, the chief finance officer and the monitoring officer.
The authority being required under the direction and oversight of commissioners to prepare and implement improvement and action plans in order to deliver rapid and sustainable improvements in governance, leadership, culture, the exercise of the overview and scrutiny functions and in the performance of services; every six months the authority must report progress to me and my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary.
An improvement panel or panels, as the commissioners agree, being put in place to hold the authority publicly to account for the progress it makes on securing future compliance with the best value duty and securing that its children’s social care functions are performed to the required standard.
The authority being required to cease to pay special responsibility allowances to members of its executive while they have no functions to exercise.
The commissioner team will comprise a lead commissioner; a commissioner with a full time “managing director” role, primarily to address the issues of ineffective officer leadership until a new chief executive is appointed; a children’s social care commissioner having particular responsibilities to secure improvement in the authority’s children’s social care functions; and two or more supporting commissioners.
I have nominated Sir Derek Myers to be the lead commissioner. Stella Manzie CBE will take the role of the managing director commissioner, and Malcolm Newsam will be nominated as children’s social care commissioner. Mary Ney and Julie Kenny CBE will be nominated as supporting commissioners.
The council will be required to comply with any instructions of the commissioners in relation to the exercise of those functions for which the commissioners are responsible, and to provide the commissioners at its expense with such services, amenities and administrative support as the commissioners may reasonably require, and with access to the council’s premises, documents, and to any employee or member as appears to the commissioners to be necessary.
The directions will remain in force until 31 March 2019 unless I consider it appropriate to amend or revoke them at an earlier date. I expect that there will be a phased roll back of powers to the authority as and when there can be confidence that the authority could exercise a function in compliance with the best value duty, and in the case of children’s social care, to the required standard. To this end the authority, under the direction of the commissioners, will be required every three months to review and report to me any functions which it is considered would be appropriate to be rolled back to the authority. If I agree I will then make the necessary amending direction.
It has also been suggested that the governance of the authority could be improved—made more transparent and accountable—if it were changed to the committee system. Before taking any steps to implement such a change, I will be inviting the commissioners views as to what they see would be the most effective and efficient form of governance for the authority. I am also open to representations from the public.
Though it is a difficult decision to undertake such a broad central intervention, I am clear that these exceptional circumstances, in which the people of Rotherham have been so profoundly let down by their authority, call for such action. I am confident that the measures which I and my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary are taking today will rejuvenate and improve local governance in Rotherham, restoring the faith local people can have in their council.
Louise Casey’s report also describes how a small youth project, Risky Business, developed a ground breaking approach to reaching out to victims of child sexual exploitation and to collecting evidence about perpetrators, until the misguided and inappropriate decisions of the council resulted in the closure of the Risky Business service. The report concludes that the critical work undertaken by Risky Business “is now missing from Rotherham”. This should not continue, and historical victims of child sexual exploitation should be given the help they need. So, accordingly, subject to being provided with an appropriate business case demonstrating value for money, I am prepared to make available £250,000 over the next two financial years for a Risky Business-style service to be established.
I am placing a copy of the documents associated with these announcements in the Library of the House and on my Department’s website.
Investigations into Allegations of Abuse in Children's Homes and Schools
This is a statement regarding investigations relating to Jimmy Savile and a number of children’s homes and schools in England.
On 27 March 2014 the then Education Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), informed the House about the transfer of information received by the Department for Education relating to Jimmy Savile and several children’s homes and schools in England, dating back to the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. This information was passed to the appropriate organisations for further investigation.
I can today inform the House that investigations have been completed by the relevant local authority, institution or legacy organisation and their individual reports are being published today.
None of the investigations have been able to reach firm conclusions about whether the alleged abuse took place or not. Although many of them say the informant was credible, the lack of corroborating evidence has prevented them from reaching a definitive conclusion. The investigating organisations are publishing a report of their findings today and links to their individual websites where the reports can be found are included at the end of this statement.
Lucy Scott-Moncrieff was appointed to provide independent oversight and quality assurance of the process and she has now produced a report covering a total of 14 investigations. The report “Independent oversight of investigations into matters relating to Jimmy Savile at schools and children’s homes” has been published today and is available at: http://www.gov.uk
Lucy Scott-Moncrieff concluded in her report that:
All the investigations reviewed into matters relating to Jimmy Savile have been conducted in an appropriate and robust fashion and that the resulting reports should be published.
All the investigations found that policy and practice has developed significantly in the schools and children’s homes since the time of alleged incidents. This is not as a result of Savile’s activities but because of the greater awareness of safeguarding risks that has developed over the last few decades.
The risk of a paedophile having unrestricted access to children, as Savile apparently had, is now substantially reduced.
I would like to thank Lucy Scott-Moncrieff for her assurance that the investigations were conducted in an appropriate and robust fashion.
Child abuse is an abhorrent crime whenever it occurs and whoever the perpetrator. All victims have a right to expect that allegations of abuse, no matter how much time has passed, will be investigated professionally and appropriately. I would like to put on record my sincere thanks to all the victims, survivors and witnesses for their invaluable assistance that has required them to relive distressing events in their life. These investigations would not have been possible without their co-operation.
Links to relevant websites for access to investigation reports:
Action for Children at: http://www.actionforchildren.org. uk/savilereport
Banardo’s at: http://www.barnardos.org.uk/ jsinvestigationfinalreport.pdf
Bournemouth Borough Council at: www.bournemouth. gov.uk/yewtree
Devon County Council at: http://www.devon.gov.uk/js-colleton-lodge-report.pdf http://www.devon.gov.uk/childrenfamilies
Gloucestershire County Council at: www.gloucestershire. gov.uk/saville-investigation-report
Henshaws Society for blind people at: http://henshaws. org.uk/resources/for-professionals/operation-yewtree
Hounslow Council at: http://www.hounslow.gov.uk/report-on-investigation
Leeds City Council at: http://www.leeds.gov.uk/ opendata/Pages/Savile-investigation.aspx
London Borough of Tower Hamlets at: http://www. childrenandfamiliestrust.co.uk/the-lscb
Manchester City Council at: www.manchester.gov.uk/savilereport
Nottinghamshire County Council at: http://www. nottinghamshire.gov.uk/caring/childrenstrust/pathwav-to-provision/mash
Nottingham City Council at: http://www.nottinghamcity. gov.uk/29395
Sevenoaks School at: http://www.sevenoaksschool.org/press-gallery
Southwark Council at: www.southwark.gov.uk/ holliesreport
Today, I will lay before both Houses a minute setting out the revised details of the contingent liability created by the provision of indemnities to local authorities where schools in private finance initiative (PFI) contracts become academies. Both Houses were previously notified of this indemnity by a parliamentary minute laid on 13 July 2010. The contingent liability has increased since 2010 due to the rapid expansion of the academies programme and a more streamlined PFI academy conversion process.
As a result of our plan for education we now have a million more pupils in good or outstanding schools than in 2010. The academies programme has been crucial to this, helping to transform thousands of historically poor schools across the country.
No expenditure has ever arisen under this indemnity, in respect of the 164 PFI academies to date. The likelihood of any of the indemnity being realised is very low and would only be realised in relation to an individual PFI contract. The overall PFI liability has not risen. The perceived increase is because of a redistribution of schools from local authorities to the Department as the academies programme grows in popularity.
The continuation of this contingent liability means that my Department will provide indemnities to local authorities when PFI schools become academies. Local authorities will not, therefore, be left with bills arising from the actions of an academy trust over which the authority has no control.
This will give more schools the opportunity to join the 164 PFI academies already open and enjoy the benefits that academy status brings.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Hong Kong (Sino-British Joint Declaration)
The latest six-monthly report on the implementation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong was published today. A copy of the report is also available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website at: www.gov.uk/government/ organisations/foreign-commonwealth-office. The report covers the period from 1 July to 31 December 2104. I commend the report to the House.
It is also available online at: http://parliament.uk/writtenstatements
The independently led review of choice in end-of-life care has published its advice to Government today. I commissioned this review in July 2014 to look into how quality and experience for people approaching the end of life can be improved by expanding choice. The review was chaired by Claire Henry MBE, chief executive of the National Council of Palliative Care.
This Government are committed to ensuring that people nearing the end of their lives get high quality, compassionate care which is focused on their individual needs and preferences.
I welcome the review’s advice, which proposes that a “national choice offer” for everyone in need of end-of-life care should be in place by 2020 and sets out the actions needed to deliver this. As the review rightly notes, many people in England already receive good end-of-life care, focused on their choices, and I want to pay tribute to everyone involved in this care, both staff and carers.
The review’s advice has outlined a series of actions to ensure that everyone receives good care at this important point in their lives. This advice covers:
Early identification of people who are approaching the end of life.
Greater use of:
advance care planning to record people’s choices and preferences; and
electronic systems which enable records to be shared among all those involved in the person’s care and allow people to access and update their own records.
24/7 care for people being cared for outside hospital.
A named senior clinician with overall responsibility for the delivery of good care for each person approaching the end of life.
Enabling family members and those important to the individual to be involved in discussions about care preferences and ensuring carers have support.
Training and work force numbers to ensure that staff are supported to deliver good care.
The steps that health and social care organisations can take to create the right conditions to improve choice, including guidance for commissioners, working with the voluntary sector—in particular hospices—and robust metrics to measure improvements.
The review advises how more people can be cared for in their own home, as this is a key choice for many people approaching the end of their lives. It sets out the savings that more out-of-hospital care can achieve in acute care, as well as the additional investment needed in community health and social care services.
The Government will work with organisations in the health and care system to consider this advice and enable a full response later this year.
In the meantime, I can say that we fully support the review’s vision that every person should receive care in line with their choices and preferences, and we urge local health and care organisations to work together to ensure that this is achieved for as many people as possible.
In particular, we recognise that interoperable electronic health records play a central role in ensuring that people’s preferences and choices are recorded and shared with all involved in their care. Examples from across the country have shown that where these systems exist they can deliver real benefits to people at the end of life and form an important part of the culture change needed to deliver choice and person-centred care.
To help this happen, the Government accept the review’s advice that each person approaching the end of life should have a fully interoperable electronic health record, and should be able to access and add to their own records. This is in line with the ambition set out for all patients in the “NHS Five Year Forward View”.
I would like to thank the chair and the review’s programme board for their hard work and commitment. Finally, I would also like to thank all the contributors to the review, and in particular the people who responded to the review’s public engagement exercise.
A copy of “What’s important to me: A Review of Choice in End-of-life care” is available in the Library. Copies are also available at:
Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www. parliament.uk/writtenstatements
R v. “Mouncher and Others' Trial” (Investigation)
I have decided to call for an independent, QC-led investigation into the collapse of the R v. “Mouncher and others” 2011 trial.
Stephen Miller, John and Ronald Actie, Yusef Abdullahi and Anthony Paris were wrongfully prosecuted and stood trial in 1990 for the murder of Lynette White in 1988. Stephen Miller, Yusef Abdullahi and Anthony Paris were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, while John and Ronald Actie were acquitted. Ronald Actie and Yusef Abdullahi are deceased. The three surviving victims of the miscarriage of justice, Stephen Miller, John Actie and Anthony Paris, are the claimants in this case.
The 2011 trial (R v. “Mouncher and others”) of police officers for offences connected with the 1990 trial, including conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and perjury, collapsed.
I have asked Richard Horwell QC to carry out this investigation and he has agreed. Mr Horwell is an excellent QC with experience of both prosecution and defence work. He is currently counsel for the Metropolitan Police Service in the Litvinenko inquiry.
He will be supported by a junior barrister, Patrick Hill, from the same chambers, to assist with the groundwork involved.
The investigation team has agreed the terms of reference with the three surviving victims of the miscarriage of justice and I will arrange for a copy to be placed in the Library of the House. The investigation will begin on 2 March 2015 and will aim to complete its findings by summer 2015. The team will report to me and I intend to publish the investigation’s report.
The purpose of the investigation is to understand how the collapse of the 2011 trial came about, covering all questions of resources, performance and conduct which were not addressed by the previous investigations. In particular, it will explore:
The reasons why leading counsel for the Crown lost confidence in the disclosure process and the prosecution was therefore abandoned.
Whether 227 boxes of documents were overlooked and the contents not considered for the purposes of disclosure in the prosecution.
The investigation team is calling for evidence to be submitted to the investigation for consideration alongside the significant amount of material to be made available by South Wales police. Evidence should be sent to email@example.com
I am grateful to the chief constable of South Wales police for the support he has offered to the investigation.
Fees under Licensing Act 2003
This Government strongly support the vital contribution that responsible businesses, including local pubs, hotels, restaurants and community premises make to our economy and to their communities.
We are committed to freeing up local communities to tackle alcohol-fuelled harms and took swift action in 2011 to overhaul the Licensing Act 2003 to make it easier for licensing authorities and the police to deal with problem premises.
Through public consultation, the Government have listened to the concerns of businesses and community groups and decided not to introduce locally set licensing fees at this time.
The consultation focused on the proposed regime for locally set fees under the 2003 Act. The proposals included the proposed caps on each fee and whether or not fee levels should vary for different kinds of premises or should be the same for all premises. There were 681 responses to the consultation. Around a quarter of the responses were from local government and almost all of the remainder were from fee payers, such as individuals and small businesses in the licensed trade and representatives of community and village halls. Fee payers were strongly opposed to locally set fees and concerned that fees would rise significantly without justification. Many were particularly critical of the evidence base.
Alongside the public consultation, the Government sought evidence from local government about licensing costs. The importance of this cost survey was emphasised by the Government in the ministerial foreword and at consultation events, which were well attended by representatives of licensing authorities. However, only 20 of the 350 licensing authorities responded to the request for information about their costs. This followed a similar, pre-consultation exercise to which only 17 authorities provided full responses. The evidence presents a limited and contradictory picture of the relationship between licensing authority costs and income. The insufficient evidence means that the Government are not in a position to determine the details of the proposed new fees regime or predict its consequences with confidence.
Therefore, having carefully considered the concerns of the licensed trade and the evidence provided by local government, the Government have decided not to proceed with the implementation of locally set fees. Instead, we will invite the Local Government Association to provide better evidence of licensing authorities’ costs.
As well as locally set fees, the consultation sought views on whether there should be a single payment date for annual fees, which are currently payable on the anniversary of the day the licence was granted. The majority of both fee payers and local government opposed this change. The Government have listened to their views and decided to consider further an alternative approach, proposed during the consultation events, under which licence holders can nominate their own payment date, if they wish, by notifying the relevant licensing authority, rather than introducing a universal date. This change will particularly benefit businesses that hold multiple licences, such as a chain of pubs, without imposing unnecessary change on small businesses and community premises.
Copies of the Government’s response to the consultation, including the details of 2003 Act, and a breakdown of consultation responses, will be placed in the Library of the House and published on the gov.uk website: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/locally-set-licensing-fees
Equality Act 2010
I have made an authorisation under paragraph 17(4)(a) of schedule 3 to the Equality Act 2010, the Equality (Consideration of Immigration Applications and Removal Directions) Authorisation 2015. This enables the Home Office to give greater scrutiny or priority to particular nationalities in carrying out entry clearance, border control, immigration casework in the country and removals functions.
The authorisation allows the Home Office to target its resources effectively in managing UK immigration controls. It uses statistical and intelligence-based evidence to identify the nationalities that pose the greatest risk to immigration controls and it permits Home Office staff to give greater scrutiny to those nationalities when making decisions.
This authorisation came into force today. It replaces the Equality (Transit Visa, Entry Clearance, Leave to Enter, Examination of Passengers and Removal Directions) Authorisation 2011, which has been revoked. The authorisation is made under the nationality exception for immigration functions contained in the Equality Act 2010. The nationalities covered by the authorisation will be reviewed each quarter by the Home Office and submitted for ministerial approval.
I have made an equivalent authorisation for Northern Ireland under section 20C of the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997. This authorisation also came into force today.
I am placing a copy of the authorisations in the Library of the House.
Home Office 2014-15 Funding
The Home Office is seeking an advance of £275 million in 2014-15 from the Contingencies Fund under category D of the supply estimates guidance manual to meet its cash funding obligations. The cash advance from the Contingencies Fund is the only mechanism through which the Home Office can meet its financial obligations in March ahead of the conclusion of the supplementary process.
The Home Office has come under significant and sustained cash funding pressure towards the end of the 2014-15 financial year. A number of core and policing pressures have contributed to this. The Department pays out a large proportion of its monthly cash requirement—predominantly police related—within the first week of the month. This leads to a funding shortfall at the start of March, until the additional funds secured through the supplementary become available towards the end of the month. Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £66,400,000 and additional cash of £208,600,000 is being sought within a supplementary estimate for the Home Office. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £275 million will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.
Immigration Act Commencement and Changes in Immigration Rules
Today is another significant milestone in bringing the reforms in the Immigration Act 2014 into force. We are finishing the task of sweeping away the remains of the excessive number of rights of appeal and implementing the new scheme to stop sham marriages being used to circumvent immigration controls.
On 24 November I announced our plans to implement from 2 March 2015 the main provisions in the Act that tackle sham marriage and civil partnership. Today’s commencement order, together with the secondary legislation we have already laid before Parliament, will bring the new scheme into force from that date. The Act will give us a much stronger platform for effective, systematic action to disrupt and deter sham marriages and civil partnerships and prevent them gaining an immigration advantage.
Last October we started the phased implementation of the new immigration appeals system. The old system was a costly and time-consuming way to correct simple case work errors which could be resolved by a request to the Home Office to review the decision. Instead of appeals, the new system provides a system of administrative review through which case work errors will be corrected within 28 days. By 6 April 2015 the new appeals system will be fully in place.
Also on 6 April 2015 new provisions will come into force that enable children of unmarried British fathers born before 2006 to register as British citizens, correcting a historical anomaly in our nationality law.
The Immigration Act continues to prove itself as a radical new tool to tackle immigration abuse. Over 300 foreign criminals have now been deported who before this legislation existed would have had rights of appeal delaying their removal. Over 5,000 driving licences have been revoked from migrants with no right to be in the United Kingdom. Banks are now checking the immigration status of prospective customers and landlord checks are being phased in, starting in the west midlands, since last December.
I am also making other changes to the immigration rules.
I am laying a new set of immigration rules for visitors. The new visitor rules will reduce the number of visitor routes from 15 to four, removing duplication and complexity in the system, and will make the immigration rules for visitors clearer and more accessible for applicants and decision-makers.
One of the main delays in removing and deporting persons with no right to be in the United Kingdom is the time taken to obtain a travel document from the relevant consular authorities. To address that I am making changes to require an original, valid passport, travel document or national identity card as a requirement in most cases for a valid application for leave to remain or indefinite leave to remain from a person in the UK without refugee status or humanitarian protection.
To ensure our processes are robust I am imposing a requirement on migrants, if requested to do so, to attend an interview or provide documentation, to show they still meet the requirements of the rules. I am also taking a power to enable us to require an applicant for entry clearance to provide a criminal record certificate from the country in which they have been living for the past 10 years. We plan to roll out this requirement on a phased basis.
I am also making a number of changes to the points-based system, including implementing changes to the shortage occupation list recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee and updating salary thresholds for tier 2 workers.
The rules include a number of other policy changes which are described in more detail in the explanatory memorandum published with the statement of changes.
Syrian Nationals (Immigration Concession)
I am today announcing a further renewal of concessions to the immigration rules for Syrian nationals lawfully in the UK.
In light of the ongoing violent conflict in Syria it has been decided that the Home Office should continue to operate some discretion to enable Syrians legally in the UK to extend their stay here.
Syrians in the UK with valid leave (or leave which has expired within the last 28 days) in specified visa categories will continue to be able to apply to extend their stay in that visa category, or switch into a different specified category from within the UK (with some restrictions) rather than being required to return home first. Those applying will still need to meet the requirements of the relevant visa category, pay the appropriate fee, and adhere to the normal conditions of that category—no access to public funds, for example. If a required document is not accessible due to the civil unrest in Syria the Home Office may apply its discretion and the requirement to provide that document may be waived where appropriate.
These concessions will remain in force until 28 February 2016. The Government continue to monitor the situation in Syria closely in order to ensure our response is appropriate and that any emerging risks are addressed.
I am placing a copy of the authorisation for this concession in the Library of the House.
Prison Service Pay Review Body (Appointment)
I am pleased to announce that the Prime Minister has appointed Nicholas Caton as a member of the Prison Service Pay Review Body for three years, commencing 26 November 2014. The appointment has been conducted in accordance with the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ code of practice on appointments to public bodies.
Part 2 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012
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 have made a priority of addressing the high costs of civil litigation in England and Wales. To that end, Part 2 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012 reforms the operation of no win no fee conditional fee agreements. Those reforms came into effect generally in April 2013, but were delayed until April 2015 in respect of insolvency proceedings (Official Report, 24 May 2012: column 94 WS). This delay was to give insolvency practitioners and other interested parties time to prepare for and adapt to the changes. However, the Government now agrees that more time is needed.
The Government will therefore delay commencing sections 44 and 46 of the LASPO Act 2012 for insolvency proceedings for the time being. Accordingly, no win no fee agreements in insolvency proceedings will continue for the time being to operate on a pre-LASPO Act basis with any conditional fee agreement success fees and after the event insurance premiums remaining recoverable from the losing party.
We will consider the appropriate way forward for insolvency proceedings and will set out further details later in the year.”
Northern Ireland Security Situation
This is the seventh statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland and the final regular statement of this Parliament. It covers the threat from domestic terrorism in Northern Ireland, rather than from international terrorism, which members will be aware is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who updates the House separately.
A number of small, disparate but dangerous groupings of dissident republican terrorists continue with their attempts to undermine Northern Ireland’s democratic institutions through the use of violence. However, because of the tireless efforts of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), working in conjunction with MI5, An Garda Siochana (AGS) and Army ammunition technical officers, the overwhelming majority of Northern Ireland’s population are able to go about their daily lives untroubled by terrorism. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the PSNI and all its security partners for their outstanding work.
Continued vigilance is, however, essential. The threat level in Northern Ireland and Great Britain from Northern Ireland related terrorism remains unchanged since my last statement to Parliament in October 2014. The threat to Northern Ireland is SEVERE (an attack is highly likely) while the threat to Great Britain is MODERATE (an attack is possible but not likely). All threat levels are kept under constant review.
There were twenty two national security attacks in 2014 and there has been one so far in 2015. PSNI and prison officers as well as members of the armed forces continue to be the principal targets for dissident republican terrorists and the threat to life persists. A number of these violent groupings continue to attack, or aspire to carry out attacks, including the so-called “new” IRA, Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) and factions of the continuity IRA (CIRA).
Since October 2014 when I last reported on the security situation in Northern Ireland, PSNI officers have been subject to violent attack on five separate occasions. In two particularly serious incidents violent dissidents set up booby trapped explosive devices in Strabane and Londonderry and then attempted to lure in PSNI officers by making bogus crime reports. Although the devices were intended to target responding PSNI officers, they could easily have been triggered by passers-by or even by children playing. Thankfully, both devices were made safe by Army ammunition technical officers before anyone was injured.
Two further attempts to murder PSNI officers undertaking their duties were made in Londonderry and Belfast in November. In Londonderry, terrorists detonated an improvised explosive device in a residential area of the city as a police patrol vehicle passed by, while in north Belfast an explosive device was fired at a stationary PSNI vehicle. Fortunately, the occupants of both vehicles escaped uninjured but both attacks could easily have resulted in fatalities or serious casualties. In a fifth incident an explosive device was sent to the Chief Constable at police headquarters in Belfast.
Dissident republicans continue to engage in brutal punishment shootings as a means to try to exert fear and control within local communities.
Hoax devices have been deployed without any regard for the impact they have on the welfare of the community, including elderly residents, children and workers. These shameful incidents can cause significant disruption to local people and to businesses.
Dissident republican prisoners in Maghaberry continue to threaten, and to try to intimidate, staff and contractors as they seek to carry out their work. This Government fully support the Department of Justice and the Northern Ireland Prison Service as they respond to this wholly unacceptable activity and I pay tribute to all prison officers for the difficult job that they carry out.
Although risks endure, it is important to highlight the excellent progress that has been made in disrupting terrorist activity and bringing dissident republicans to justice. In October 2014 a weapons hide was uncovered on a farm in County Fermanagh. It was found to contain five complete explosive devices, parts for further devices, a firearm and mortar components. In November, a potential shooting attack was averted when the PSNI arrested a man in possession of a sub-machine gun in Belfast. Also in November, a total of fifteen men were arrested following a long-running investigation into dissident republican activity in Newry, County Down. Of those arrested, ten were charged under the Terrorism Act 2000 and remanded in custody.
In the Republic of Ireland, An Garda Siochana (AGS) has also had success in combating the threat. A weapons cache discovered in Dublin was found to contain an assault rifle, automatic pistols, ammunition and a significant quantity of bomb-making equipment that could have been intended for use in attacks in Northern Ireland. Two men were arrested in December in possession of improvised incendiary devices probably destined for use in Northern Ireland.
The close working relationship between PSNI and AGS, and their joint efforts both north and south of the border, has led to considerable success in combating the threat from dissident republican terrorists over the last six months. I am confident that both police services will do all that they can to build on this through 2015 as they make progress with a number of ongoing investigations. This work is painstaking and lengthy but there is a steadfast commitment to bringing the terrorists to justice on both sides of the border.
In my last statement I commented on in-fighting within loyalist paramilitary organisations. This has persisted in recent months and understandably remains a cause for concern for the wider community. There is no place in Northern Ireland for individuals or organisations that seek to exert fear, control or intimidation. The PSNI have assured me that they are doing all that they can to apprehend those responsible for violent and criminal acts.
As in previous reporting periods, there are individuals associated with loyalist paramilitary groups that are involved in serious criminality. However, overall, we continue to assess that the collective leaderships of the principal loyalist paramilitary groups, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), remain committed to their ceasefires.
The Government’s Strategic Approach
The Government are clear that terrorism will not succeed in Northern Ireland; democracy and consent will always prevail. Tackling terrorism remains a tier one priority—the highest priority for Government. We will do all that we can to support the PSNI to counter the threat as part of broader efforts by this Government to tackle terrorism, wherever it originates or whatever form it takes.
This Government have already provided additional security funding to PSNI over a five-year period amounting to £231 million. This is despite the overall spending reductions needed to deal with the deficit and the competing resource needs resulting from international terrorism. In addition, the inclusion in the financial package of Stormont House agreement of an undertaking by the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that police funding is protected from significant reductions will help to ensure that the PSNI remains able to tackle the threat effectively.
Our strategic approach has also involved working closely with our colleagues in the devolved authorities and our partners in the Republic of Ireland on a range of issues. This co operation greatly strengthens efforts to combat terrorism in Northern Ireland.
We continue to build a united, complementary approach to security and politics that leaves no space for violent dissident republicans. We recognise the continuing link between political and security stability. Political progress has been made this year, for example with the Stormont House agreement, but challenges undoubtedly lie ahead.
Other strategic and political challenges, distinct from the threat from dissident republican groupings, require ongoing and concerted action to ensure Northern Ireland continues to thrive.
For instance public disorder is disruptive and distressing for the communities affected, damages Northern Ireland's reputation abroad, and can expose police officers to risk of attack from dissident republicans. Northern Ireland enjoyed the most peaceful parading season for a number of years in 2014. Those involved in parading or protests need to do all they can to ensure this continues.
Suppressing the threat from violent dissident republicans is a difficult and, in many cases, dangerous task. Despite a challenging working environment, there have been notable successes in recent months. This is the result of the considerable effort, expertise, co-operation and resolve. But continued vigilance is needed. It is clear that these violent groupings retain lethal intent and will seek whatever opportunity they can to target the police officers and others who help to keep families, businesses and communities across Northern Ireland safe. The support of the public and their assistance and patience in response to security alerts is both invaluable and admirable.
With every attack that is mounted and the many more that are foiled, the PSNI and its security partners become more knowledgeable, resilient and able to tackle the threat and bring perpetrators to justice. Our commitment to Northern Ireland and to securing a peaceful, stable and prosperous future will not waver. We remain focused on supporting the work that continues on a daily basis to combat terrorism and ensure that people can continue to go about their daily lives safe from attack.
Intelligence and Security Committee Report on the Murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby (Government Response)
The report of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament on the intelligence relating to the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby was published on 25 November 2014. The Government’s thoughts remain with the family and friends of Fusilier Lee Rigby. The Government wish to reiterate their thanks to the Committee for their comprehensive report. The Government have considered the Committee’s detailed conclusions and recommendations.
I have today laid the Government’s response to this report before the House and copies are available in the Vote Office.