Thursday 11 February 2016
Business, Innovation and Skills
Student Loan Repayment Strategy
Today we are publishing a new strategy for the collection of student loan repayments. This joint repayment strategy sets out how the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Student Loans Company, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the devolved Administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will work together to ensure the operation of a fair, robust and efficient student loan repayment system.
The Government are committed to maintaining the UK’s world-class education system while living within its means. By lifting the cap on student numbers, we are enabling more people to benefit from higher education than ever before. As more loans are issued to new students each year, it is vital that the repayment process is robust, convenient for borrowers and working efficiently to ensure the sustainability of the student finance system and value for money for the taxpayer. Reviews of the student loan repayments system by the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee during 2013 and 2014 recommended that the Government take further action to improve the repayment process. This new strategy sets out what the Government have done to date to improve the collections process and our approach to improving the student loan repayment system yet further.
The three objectives underpinning the strategy are:
Strengthened capability to trace borrowers and pursue and recover outstanding student loan debt;
Enhanced performance management through forecasting of future repayment rates, monitoring and target setting;
Improved efficiency to drive operational costs down and repayment collection up, while providing a high-quality customer service to borrowers.
The vast majority of borrowers meet their repayment obligations. We will do more to support borrowers who seek to meet their loan repayment obligations, and, in the interests of fairness to both the taxpayer and to borrowers who meet their obligations, we will be tougher on those who do not. We will take stronger action to trace borrowers including those overseas, act to recover loan repayments where it is clear that borrowers are seeking to avoid repayment, consider the use of sanctions against borrowers who breach loan repayment terms and, if necessary, prosecute.
This approach is fair for borrowers and good for the effective management of public money, providing value for the taxpayer and helping to ensure that the student finance system remains on a sustainable footing.
We will keep the strategy under review to ensure that the repayment system continues to meet these objectives, and we will report annually on progress.
A copy of the strategy document will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Steel Industry Action
Ahead of Monday’s high-level stakeholder conference on energy intensive industries, which follows on from November’s EU extraordinary Competitiveness Council on steel, I wanted to update Parliament on the UK’s contribution to EU-level action on steel.
The main area in which the EU can make meaningful change is with regard to unfair trade practices. Given the global scale of the challenge facing the steel industry, the Government, working with UK Steel and other stakeholders, have made every effort to ensure a speedy and effective EU-level response.
The Government have pressed hard for EU action to tackle unfair trade practices, wherever they has seen them. For example, the Government in July and November last year voted in favour of antidumping measures on wire rod and separately on steel pipes. It was also the UK last year that lobbied successfully in support of calls from industry, for an EU investigation into cheap imports of reinforcing steel bar (“rebar”).
It was the UK that called for and secured an emergency meeting of the EU Competitiveness Council in November which agreed on the need for swifter action on steel dumping. And, in recognition of the immediate risks posed to EU and UK industry by a surge in imports, the Commission this year has acted swiftly to announce registration of imports on both rebar and cold-rolled steel. To assist industry in bringing forward complaints, we have also intensified our discussions with the steel industry, including at the international comparisons working group chaired by me, to provide help with ongoing and forthcoming individual unfair trade cases.
On 5 February, the UK also sent a joint letter with France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Belgium, and Luxembourg to the European Commission to call for further support for the UK and EU steel industry. This letter has subsequently been endorsed by Spain and Slovakia. It called for:
making full and timely use of all trade defence instruments to tackle unfair trade;
ensuring that the upcoming negotiations on the European emissions trading system focus on preventing carbon leakage and the relocation of production and jobs outside the EU; and
exploring other ways to avoid the downturn of the European steel industry and guarantee its long-term and sustainable development.
The Government are strongly in favour of effective trade defences to tackle unfair trade practices. We have asked the Commission to improve the speed by which anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations are conducted, and we have written to DG Trade suggesting areas where investigation timeframes might be shortened. This would enable quicker action where the evidence points to unfair trade practices by international competitors.
The UK has long been a proponent of modernising the EU’s trade defence instruments—the rules covering protection for the EU against dumping and subsidised imports and other unfair trade practices—to make them more efficient, effective and transparent. But modernisation must also balance user and producer interests. Certain proposals brought forward by the Commission in 2012, including the proposal to abolish the lesser duty rule, did not strike this balance.
The lesser duty rule sets the import tariff in anti-dumping cases to the lower of either the level of dumping or the level of actual injury caused. This rule means that the EU imposes duties that are sufficient to protect EU industry from injury or, where the dumping level is lower, to eliminate the dumping. This ensures duties are proportionate to the harm caused, and effectively redress the injury to the producing industry, without inflicting disproportionate costs on importers and consumers.
That said, the Government strongly believe that the tariffs set in individual trade investigations must reflect an accurate estimate of the harm caused. In January the Commission announced provisional anti-dumping duties—ranging from 9.2% to 13%—on reinforcing steel bar (“rebar”). Though welcoming the duties, we shared the concerns of UK industry that these duties were lower than needed to protect them fully from the harm caused by unfair trade, and the Secretary of State raised his concerns with EU Trade Commissioner Malmström. We will continue to work with industry to press its case over the next six months while the Commission carries out its investigation, before confirming the final level of duties by July.
Many of the problems facing the UK and EU steel industries are global ones which, to be addressed, require engagement with the world’s steel producing nations, in particular China. On 29 January, the EU Trade Commissioner wrote to the Chinese Minister of Commerce to urge China to curb overcapacity in its steel industry. While welcoming current plans to cut steel production, EU Commissioner Malmström said that these would need to be translated into concrete action. The UK welcomes this dialogue between the Commissioner and the Chinese and is keen to see it continue. We will also continue to raise these issues bilaterally with the Chinese.
In order to ensure a level playing field across the EU, the Government have asked the Commission to be extremely vigilant and respond quickly wherever there are suspicions of wrong-doing. On 20 January the European Commission opened a formal investigation into Italian Government support for steel producer Ilva, Europe’s largest steel plant. That same day, the European Commission also ordered Belgium to recover €211 million from several steel companies within the Duferco groups, after finding that this distorted competition in breach of state aid rules.
Finally, the Government look forward to Monday’s EU high-level stakeholders’ conference on energy intensive industries. This builds on the outcomes of the November 2015 extraordinary Competitiveness Council meeting on steel. The conference will bring together stakeholders from the steel industry, other energy intensive industries, trade unions, representatives from member state Governments and the EU Commission. The UK has worked closely with stakeholders and the Commission to ensure that discussions will focus on addressing the serious issues facing the steel industry. The UK Government, represented by me, will be speaking alongside European Ministers. We will use this opportunity to maintain the pressure on the Commission to make progress in the areas covered in our joint letter of 5 February.
Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Eighth Report: Government Response
I am today presenting to Parliament the Government’s response to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s Eighth Report of Session 2014-15: “What next on the redrawing of parliamentary constituency boundaries?”
The Government are grateful to the former Political and Constitutional Reform Committee for its work on this issue. It is essential that the Boundary Commissions have certainty about the rules that will apply for the redistribution of UK parliamentary constituencies for the next boundary review. The Government have no plans at this time to introduce legislation to make major changes to the boundary review framework which was set up in the last Parliament. This has necessarily informed the Government’s consideration of, and response to, the Committee’s recommendations.
A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held in Brussels on 12 February 2016. Ministers are due to discuss the following items:
Anti-tax avoidance package
The Commission will present proposals for tackling corporate tax avoidance, including implementing the UK Government’s country by country reporting template for multinationals. This will be followed by an exchange of views. The UK has led the way in the OECD and EU in negotiating and implementing tougher international tax rules and transparency measures.
Current legislative proposals
The presidency will update the Council on the state of play of financial services dossiers.
Implementation of the banking union
The Commission will provide a brief update on several dossiers linked to the banking union: the single resolution fund, the bank recovery and resolution directive and the deposit guarantee scheme directive.
Fight against the financing of terrorism
The Commission will present its action plan to reinforce the European framework in the fight against the financing of terrorism. Following an exchange of views, the Council will adopt conclusions on the new measures.
Preparation of the G20 meeting in Shanghai on 25-27 February 2016
The Council will adopt the EU’s terms of reference ahead of the G20 meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors in Shanghai.
Discharge to be given to the Commission in respect of the implementation of the budget for 2014
On the basis of a report from the Court of Auditors, the Council will vote on the discharge to be given to the Commission in respect of the implementation of the EU’s general budget for the financial year 2014.
Budget guidelines for 2017
Council conclusions will be adopted on the EU budget guidelines for 2017. These will inform the Commission of high-level priorities in preparation of the draft budget.
High-level group on own resources
Mario Monti, the chair of the high-level group on own resources, will provide a state of play update on the EU’s financing system.
I can today confirm that I have laid a Treasury minute informing the House of a reduction in HM Treasury’s contingent liabilities to NRAM plc (formerly Northern Rock (Asset Management) plc).
The Treasury minute concerns the guarantee arrangements announced on 8 December 2009 that put in place arrangements in relation to certain borrowings and derivative transactions of, and certain wholesale deposits held in accounts with, NRAM plc. At March 2015 the maximum contingent liability to HM Treasury on this guarantee arrangement was £6.5 billion.
The reduction is a result of the sale announcement on 13 November that UK Asset Resolution (UKAR), the holding company of NRAM (formerly Northern Rock Asset Management) had sold £13 billion of mortgages, consequently HM Treasury’s contingent liabilities have reduced as securities associated with the Granite securitisation vehicle have been extinguished. As a result of this the HM Treasury exposure under this guarantee arrangement has fallen to around £270 million.
I will update the House of any further changes to UKAR associated guarantee arrangements as necessary.
If the remaining liability is called, provision for any payment will be sought through the normal supply procedure.
Communities and Local Government
Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council
On 21 January 2016, I announced my intention, after careful consideration of the recommendation of the commissioner team to return certain functions to Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council. The original directions were issued on 26 February 2015, following the Casey report and advice note from Sir Michael Wilshaw, HM chief inspector of education, children’s services and skills. Although a number of challenges remain, there has been significant areas of progress nearly a year on, and I believe it is now appropriate to return some functions to the authority.
However it is important to stress that the returned functions do not include functions such as licensing; children’s social care—including all services relating to child sexual exploitation; adult social care; audit; and other functions which still remain high risk.
On 21 January 2016, I invited representations from the authority regarding my intention to return certain functions to them to exercise. I have now considered representations received from the authority, including from the leader and the chief executive, and I am satisfied that the council is now able to exercise the functions identified by the lead commissioner in compliance with the best value duty, and that the people of Rotherham can have confidence that this will be the case. Therefore, today I am exercising my powers under section 15 of the Local Government Act 1999 to return certain service areas, including all associated executive and non-executive functions, to the council to exercise. Handing back these functions will allow some democratic control to be returned and for the authority to take an important first step on the road to recovery.
The functions to be returned are:
Education and schools; education for 14-19 years in all settings; school admissions and appeal system; youth services
Leisure services; events in parks and green spaces
Customer and cultural services, libraries, arts, customer services and welfare programmes
Planning and transportation policy; highways maintenance
The council’s area assembly system and neighbourhood working; responsibilities under the Equalities Act
Building regulation, drainage, car parking; environmental health; business regulation and enforcement—not including taxi licensing; emergency planning
• ICT; legal and democratic services; corporate communications; corporate policy; procurement; financial services, including benefits and revenues, but not including audit
Budget control in these areas and budget planning
Policy arising from Sheffield city region.
Today, the Secretary of State for Education, my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and I have issued new directions that return the above identified service areas to the authority. With effect from 11 February, councillors will be responsible for decision making in these areas. The commissioners will provide oversight of the returned functions to ensure that they are exercised in accordance with the statutory best value duty and also retain powers in the remaining areas and other functions which still remain high risk. The directions and explanatory memorandum that accompany this statement can be viewed online at:
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Nash) has made the following written statement.
Today, I am announcing £1.4 billion of funding allocations to maintain and improve the condition of the education estate. Investing in our school buildings is a key part of the Government’s long-term economic plan to secure Britain’s future. It will help to ensure children across the country can learn in schools that are safe and in good condition.
For the financial year 2016-17, the Department for Education is allocating £200 million of devolved formula capital to schools and £1.2 billion to local authorities, voluntary aided partnerships, multi-academy trusts and academy sponsors, to invest in their own condition priorities. This includes funding for the repair and refurbishment of academies and sixth-form colleges through the condition improvement fund, the outcome of which we will announce later this year.
Good investment decisions require some certainty and stability of funding, which is why in February 2015 we announced three-year indicative allocations covering 2015-16 to 2017-18. The allocations we are announcing today, for 2016-17, update those allocations to reflect how the school system has changed, with schools opening and closing and more schools becoming academies. We have implemented these changes with minimal variation to the approach we set out last year. These updated allocations are also indicative of funding for 2017-18.
Details of today’s announcement will be published on the gov.uk website. Copies will be placed in the Library of the House.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Agriculture and Fisheries Council
The Agriculture and Fisheries Council will take place on 15 February in Brussels. My hon. friend, the Minister of State for farming, food and marine environment (George Eustice), will represent the UK.
As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed:
The primary focus will be a first reading proposal on the sustainable management of external fishing fleets.
There will be a presentation by the presidency on the work programme for the Dutch presidency, as well as a presentation by the Commission on international agricultural trade issues.
An exchange of views on animal welfare, as well as a long-term strategy for agricultural research will also take place.
There are currently four confirmed any other business items:
Conference on antimicrobial resistance (tabled by the presidency)
African swine fever (tabled by the Polish delegation)
Difficult situation in milk and pig sectors (tabled by the Polish delegation)
Market situation (tabled by the Spanish delegation).
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Foreign Affairs and General Affairs Councils
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on 15 February and I will attend the General Affairs Council on 16 February. The Foreign Affairs Council will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the General Affairs Council will be chaired by the Dutch presidency. The meetings will be held in Brussels.
Foreign Affairs Council
The expected agenda for the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) will include Bosnia, South Africa, Moldova, Belarus, Libya and climate diplomacy. The Lebanon Foreign Minister will attend lunch where there will be an opportunity to follow up on commitments made at the London Conference on Supporting Syria and the Region 2016 and look at wider regional issues.
HRVP Mogherini will include Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in her introductory remarks, signalling BiH’s intention to submit its EU membership application in the margins of the meeting. While the UK Government will wish to welcome BiH’s progress on its EU path, we will want to make clear what more needs to be done for the application to proceed—namely more meaningful implementation of the reform agenda, stabilisation and association agreement (SAA) adaptation to take into account Croatia’s accession to the EU; and agreement on a co-ordination mechanism to allow BiH to speak with one voice to the EU.
Ministers are expected to exchange views on HRVP Mogherini’s forthcoming visit to South Africa and the future direction of the EU’s strategic partnership with the country. The UK will seek to encourage increased engagement and note the importance of the EU’s broad and significant partnership with South Africa.
Ministers are expected to exchange views on recent developments in the Republic of Moldova.
The FAC will have a discussion on relations between the EU and Belarus. Improving the human rights situation in the country remains a key priority for the EU.
Ministers will be joined for lunch by Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. As host to over 1.1 million refugees from Syria, Lebanon is on the front line of the humanitarian response to the crisis. At the Supporting Syria and the Region 2016 Conference held in London on 4 February the UK and co-hosts signed an agreement with Lebanon that will see the international community providing long-term support to strengthen the Lebanese economy and create job opportunities for host communities and refugees. Ministers will discuss the implementation of this agreement, the urgent need for Lebanon to elect a President, and security in the region.
The FAC will focus on the latest developments in the UN-led political process. The UK, along with the UN and international partners continues to urge all parties to resolve the remaining issues quickly. The EU will play an important role in providing immediate support to a Government of National Accord, and we will encourage the EU to develop its options for support in co-ordination with the UN.
Ministers are expected to discuss the outcomes of the Paris climate change agreement and how best to support its implementation. They will exchange views on how the EU and member states should co-ordinate their efforts, including a draft climate diplomacy plan drawn up by the European External Action Service. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change said in her statement to the House on 14 December, this historic new global climate change agreement takes a significant step towards reducing, on a global scale, the emissions that cause climate change. The UK Government welcome the way the EU institutions and member states worked together to deliver the Paris agreement. The Government will continue to engage actively with EU partners and the institutions to support implementation of the agreement.
General Affairs Council
The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 16 February is expected to focus on European Council follow up, preparation of the February and March European Councils and the inter-institutional agreement on better regulation.
European Council follow up
The GAC will discuss the implementation of conclusions adopted at the December European Council, with a particular focus on the migration issue.
Preparation of the February European Council
The GAC will prepare the draft conclusions for the 18-19 February European Council, which the Prime Minister will attend. The February European Council agenda covers the UK’s EU renegotiation migration and economic issues.
Preparation of the March European Council
The GAC will prepare the agenda for the 17-18 March European Council, which the Prime Minister will attend. The March European Council agenda has not yet been released but we expect it to include migration.
Inter-institutional agreement on better regulation (IIA)
The GAC will receive a further update on the IIA negotiations from the presidency. The Council may also discuss implementation, depending on the progress made ahead of the Council.
EU Foreign Ministers (Informal Meeting)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the informal Foreign Ministers meeting on 5 and 6 February in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
The informal format of the Gymnich allows EU Foreign Ministers to engage in a free-ranging discussion on a number of issues. In contrast to the formal Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), Ministers do not agree written conclusions. The next FAC will be held on 15 February. The Gymnich was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. Discussion centred on the European global strategy, Iran, and migration. The Gymnich also featured a scenario-based exercise.
Elmar Brok MEP, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and Foreign Ministers from EU candidate countries joined EU Ministers for the session on migration. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence and Minister for Reserves (Julian Brazier) represented the UK in the session on the European global strategy.
European global strategy
EU Defence and Foreign Ministers met at a joint working lunch to discuss progress in the drafting of the strategy. Ms Mogherini stated her intention to produce a strategy that was broader than just security issues and covered the range of priorities for the EU. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Minister for Reserves highlighted the UK’s strategic defence and security review (SDSR) and commitment to spend 2% on defence and 0.7% on development. He said it was important that Europe should look first to NATO for its defence.
The next issue on the agenda was the EU’s relationship with Iran. Ms Mogherini said the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPoA) should be implemented and respected. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs added that the EU needed to take a cautious approach due to Iran’s ballistic missile programme and poor human rights.
At the joint initiative of Ms Mogherini and the Dutch Foreign Minister, Mr Bert Koenders, Ministers took part in a crisis simulation exercise, which involved a fictitious scenario followed by discussion of possible responses to an external threat.
The second day of the informal Gymnich meeting addressed migration with an extended session. EU Foreign Ministers were joined by Ministers from candidate countries and discussed the routes taken by migrants through the western Balkans and Turkey, the challenges ahead and possible solutions. Ms Mogherini intended to focus on implementing measures already in place, such as the Turkey action plan (AP) and work on contingency planning for the western Balkans routes.
The Foreign Secretary highlighted how the stream of legitimate refugees from Syria could worsen and stressed the need for a long-term strategy beyond the current crisis. This included addressing upstream push factors and supporting UN efforts and Syria’s neighbours.
Ballistic Missiles: North Korea
I would like to update the House on the most recent developments on the Korean peninsula and the action the Government are taking in response.
North Korea announced on 7 February that it had launched a satellite that morning. The launch took place at Dongchang-Ri on North Korea’s west coast. It was carried out by a satellite launch vehicle which used ballistic missile technology. As the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), made clear in his public statement on 7 February, this latest provocation by North Korea is a clear and deliberate violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions 1718, 1874, 2087 and 2094.
This provocation took place almost exactly a month after North Korea announced to the media that it had conducted its first hydrogen bomb test on 6 January. The Foreign Secretary updated the House on this issue on 13 January, Official Report, columns 21-22WS, and our assessment remains that the size of the seismic event caused by the nuclear test, while indicative of a nuclear explosion, was not indicative of the successful test of a thermonuclear weapon—also known as a hydrogen bomb.
We support the position outlined by the UN Security Council, as expressed in their press statement of 7 February, that this launch, as well as any other launch that uses ballistic missile technology, even if characterised as a satellite or space launch, contributes to North Korea’s development of nuclear weapon delivery systems and is a serious violation of Security Council resolutions. We are working with other UN Security Council members to adopt expeditiously a new Security Council resolution in response to these dangerous and serious violations.
I summoned the North Korean ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 8 February in order to make clear, in the strongest terms, the UK’s firm condemnation of this latest action. Our ambassador in Pyongyang has reiterated our condemnation of the nuclear test.
In addition to the Foreign Secretary speaking to the Japanese Foreign Minister on 8 February, we remain in close touch with the US, France, South Korea, China and other partners on our respective approaches towards North Korea.
We remain deeply concerned by North Korea’s continued development of nuclear weapons and missile technology in defiance of UN resolutions and international condemnation. Amid reports of widespread hardship and human rights violations, the priority must be the health and welfare of North Korean people.
Our message to North Korea is that this behaviour is unacceptable. Due to the regime’s continued flagrant violation of UN Security Council resolutions, it now faces an increasingly robust international response.
Ring-fenced Public Health Grants
I am today publishing the public health allocations to local authorities in England for 2016-17 along with indicative allocations for 2017-18.
Through the public health grant, we are investing £3.39 billion for public health in 2016-17 and £3.30 billion in 2017-18. I believe this is a fair settlement, which will ensure the long-term sustainability of public health services. We will be investing over £16 billion over the next five years for public health, in addition to what the NHS spends on preventive interventions such as immunisation and screening.
The indicative allocation for 2017-18 will help local authorities to develop and extend their planning, including initiatives better delivered across more than one year. During 2016 the Government plan to consult on options to fund local authorities’ public health spending from retained business rates receipts.
We are asking local authorities to adjust the way they report their spending from the grant on a number of subjects in 2016-17, and for the first time are including public mental health as a separate heading in spending returns.
Full details of the public health grants to local authorities can be found on gov.uk. This information will be communicated to local authorities in a local authority circular.
Attachments can be found online at: http://www.parliament. uk/writtenstatements
I am pleased to inform Parliament that Her Majesty the Queen has approved a one-year extension to the appointment of Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe QPM, Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis.
I recommended this extension to Her Majesty having had regard to a recommendation from the Mayor of London as occupant of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. My recommendation recognises the vital work the Commissioner has done in fighting crime and in reforming the Metropolitan Police Service. He has been at the forefront of the vital and important challenge of policing London at a time of heightened security.
This extension to 25 September 2017 provides continuity for the Metropolitan Police Service during a change of political leadership in London, and will give the new Mayor of London the opportunity to take an informed view about any recommendation they may wish to make about the longer-term leadership of the organisation, after they take office in May 2016.
The extension enables Sir Bernard to continue his programme of reform of the Metropolitan Police Service and the vital task of cutting crime and keeping London safe.
Contingencies Fund Advance
The Ministry of Justice requires an advance to discharge its commitments, some of which are set out in its supplementary estimate 2015-16, to be published in February 2016. This is a temporary cash advance due to the timing of Royal Assent for the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill 2015-16, which will not receive Royal Assent until late in March 2016.
Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £192,000,000 and additional cash of £268,000,000 will be sought in a supplementary estimate for the Ministry of Justice. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £460,000,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.
The advance will be repaid upon Royal Assent of the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill.
Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service
The Government are committed to modernising the way in which justice is accessed and delivered. We are investing over £700 million over the next four years to update the court and tribunal estate, installing modern IT systems and making the justice system more efficient and effective for modern users.
Working closely with the judiciary, we have begun installing wi-fi and digital systems in our criminal courts but much more needs to be done. We want to make the entire justice system more accessible to everyone—witnesses, victims, claimants, police and lawyers—by using modern technology including online plea, claims and evidence systems and video conferencing, reducing the need for people to travel to court.
As part of this modernisation, the court and tribunal estate has to be updated. Many of the current 460 court buildings are underused: last year 48% of all courts and tribunals were empty for at least half their available hearing time. These buildings are expensive to maintain yet unsuitable for modern technology.
Court closures are difficult decisions; local communities have strong allegiances to their local courts and I understand their concerns. But changes to the estate are vital if we are to modernise a system which everybody accepts is unwieldy, inefficient, slow, expensive to maintain and unduly bureaucratic.
On 16 July 2015 I therefore announced a consultation on proposals to close 91 courts and tribunals in England and Wales. Over 2,100 separate responses were received, along with 13 petitions containing over 10,000 signatures. I am grateful to all who took the time to provide their views. It is clear from the responses that the service our courts and tribunals provide continues to be highly valued.
Having considered carefully all responses to the consultation, we have decided to close 86 of the 91 courts and tribunals. A total of 64 sites will close as proposed in the consultation. A further 22 closures will take place but with changes to the original proposals. These changes, many suggested by respondents, include the identification of suitable alternative venues, such as local civic buildings; or different venues in the HMCTS estate to those originally proposed. I am very grateful to all those who engaged with the consultation to help us to reach the best solutions.
On average, the 86 courts we are closing are used for just over a third of their available hearing time. That is equivalent to less than two days a week. It will still be the case that after these closures, over 97% of citizens will be able to reach their required court within an hour by car. This represents a change of just 1 percentage points for both criminal and county courts. The proportion able to reach a tribunal within an hour by car will remain unchanged at 83%.
For each proposal in the consultation, we have considered access to justice; value for money; and efficiency. The consultation response, which is being published today, contains details of all the decisions and changes including an indicative timetable for closures, and will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Work and Pensions
The full universal credit service for new claims remains on track to be delivered nationally for all types of claimants from May 2016, completing in summer 2018.
Today, I can announce the jobcentres which will be go live with the full service from May through to the end of 2016. Details of the sites can be found in the table below and on the gov.uk website.
Newcastle Cathedral Square
This roll-out plan continues the successful delivery approach we have used to date, expanding steadily, safely and securely to ensure the system is resilient and we have the opportunity to learn as we go.
In agreeing this plan my Department has engaged with the local authorities. We will continue to work closely together to finalise and announce the plans for 2017 by July. Details for 2018 and the completion of the roll-out of the full service will be announced by September.
As each jobcentre rolls out all new claims will be on universal credit and it will no longer be possible, in that location, to make a new claim to income-based jobseekers allowance and employment and support allowance, income support, housing benefit or tax credits. By the middle of 2018 this transition will be complete and it will no longer be possible to make a claim for these legacy benefits or tax credits anywhere in Great Britain.
My Department will bring forward the relevant legislation for these sites in due course.
Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www. parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2016-02-11/HCWS525