Friday 11 March 2016
Commissioner for Public Appointments
I announced on 2 July 2015 that the Government had asked Sir Gerry Grimstone to lead a review of the public appointments system. I am now pleased to announce the completion of the review.
The role of Commissioner for Public Appointments was established in 1995 following a recommendation made by Lord Nolan and his Committee on Standards in Public Life. Lord Nolan also recommended seven principles of public life, which have been adopted throughout public life, including in public appointments.
The Government agree with the emphasis Sir Gerry places on the original conclusions reached by Lord Nolan in 1995 that Ministers should be at the heart of the public appointments system and that ultimate choice, responsibility and accountability for making appointments should rest with Ministers. Lord Nolan’s principles have stood the test of time and are as applicable today as they were 20 years ago. This is reflected in Sir Gerry’s updated principles for public appointments which will be known as the public appointments principles.
The Government welcome the review and thank Sir Gerry for his work. The Government also published today their response. This response, along with the full report “Better Public Appointments” can be found on gov.uk and copies have been placed in the Library of both Houses.
Attachments can be viewed online at http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2016-03-11/HCWS609/.
Finance Bill 2016
Finance Bill 2016 will be published on Thursday 24 March.
Explanatory notes on the Bill will be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office and placed in the Libraries of both Houses on that day. Copies of the explanatory notes will be available on gov.uk.
NHS (Charges and Payments) Regulations 2016
Regulations have today been laid before Parliament to increase certain national health service charges and voucher values in England from 1 April 2016.
In the 2015 spending review, the Government committed to support the five-year forward view with £10 billion investment in real terms by 2020-21 to fund front-line NHS services. Alongside this, the Government expect the NHS to deliver £22 billion of efficiency savings because we must make the best use of NHS resources.
We have increased the prescription charge by 20p from £8.20 to £8.40 for each medicine or appliance dispensed. 90% of prescription items are dispensed free, and this will remain the case. To ensure that those with the greatest need, and who are not already exempt from the charge, are protected we have frozen the cost of the prescription prepayment certificates (PPC) for another year. The three-month PPC remains at £29.10 and the cost of the annual PPC will stay at £104. Taken together, this means prescription charge income is expected to rise broadly in line with inflation.
Charges for wigs and fabric supports will also be increased by an overall 1.7%.
The range of NHS optical vouchers available to children, people on low incomes and individuals with complex sight problems are also being increased in value. In order to continue to provide help with the cost of spectacles and contact lenses, optical voucher values will rise by an overall 1%.
Attachments can be viewed online at http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2016-03-11/HCWS607/
NHS (Dental Charges) (Amendment) Regulations 2016
Regulations have today been laid before Parliament to uplift dental charges in England from 1 April 2016.
In the 2015 spending review, the Government committed to support the five-year forward view with £10 billion investment in real terms by 2020-21 to fund front-line NHS services. Alongside this, the Government expect the national health service to deliver £22 billion of efficiency savings because we must make the best use of NHS resources.
We have taken the decision to uplift dental charges for those who can afford it, through a 5% increase this year and next.
This means that the dental charge payable for a band 1 course of treatment will rise by 80p in 2016-17, from £18.90 to £19.70, and by 90p in 2017-18, from £19.70 to £20.60. The dental charge for a band 2 course of treatment will increase by £2.60 in 2016-17, from £51.30 to £53.90, and by £2.40 in 2017-18, from £53.90 to £56.30. The charge for a band 3 course of treatment will increase by £11.20 in 2016-17, from £222.50 to £233.70, and by £10.60 in 2017-18, from £233.70 to £244.30.
Dental charges remain an important contribution to the overall cost of dental services, first introduced in 1951, but we will keep protecting the most vulnerable within society. NHS dental treatment will remain free for those under the age of 18, those under the age of 19 and receiving full-time education, pregnant women or those who have had a baby in the previous 12 months, and those on qualifying low-income benefits. If someone does not qualify for these exemptions, full or partial help may be available through the NHS low-income scheme.
Attachments can be viewed online at:
Biometrics Commissioner (Annual Report)
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) has today made the following written statement:
“I am pleased to announce that today my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is publishing the second annual report of the Biometrics Commissioner.
The Biometrics Commissioner, Alastair MacGregor QC, is appointed under Section 20 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. His responsibilities are:
To decide applications by the police for extended retention of DNA profiles and fingerprints from persons arrested for serious offences but not charged or convicted;
To keep under review national security determinations made by Chief Officers under which DNA profiles and fingerprints may be retained for national security purposes;
To exercise general oversight of police use of DNA samples, DNA profiles and fingerprints.
His report is a statutory requirement of section 21 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.”
I am grateful to Mr MacGregor for this report. No redactions to it have been made on the grounds of national security. The Government will consider it and produce a full response shortly.
Copies of the report will be available from the Vote Office.
Home Office 2015-16 Funding
The Home Office is seeking an advance of £195,000,000 (one hundred and ninety five million pounds) in 2015-16 from the Contingencies Fund under Category D of the Supply Estimates Guidance Manual to meet its cash funding obligations. Contingency funds are used as standard across government to cover cash flow pressures and in this case will be repaid to HM Treasury before the end of the financial year.
The Home Office has come under significant cash funding pressure towards the end of the 2015- 16 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 Estimates become available towards the end of the month. Parliamentary approval for additional net cash requirement of £1,328,197,000 (one billion, three hundred and twenty eight million, one hundred and ninety seven thousand pounds) has been sought in a Supplementary Estimate for the Home Office. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £195,000,000 (one hundred and ninety five million pounds) will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.
I am pleased to announce that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is today laying before the “House the Forensic Science Strategy - a national approach to forensic science delivery” (Cm 9217), copies of which are available from the Vote Office.
This strategy articulates the Government’s vision for a clearer system of governance to ensure quality standards and proper ethical oversight, and a cost effective service that delivers robust relevant forensic evidence across the criminal justice system, strengthening public and judicial trust in forensic science.
Through consultation with our key partners including the police, Forensic Science Regulator, Crown Prosecution Service and forensic service providers, the strategy sets out how forensic science will keep pace with the changing world to deal with significant threats and challenges—for example, child sexual exploitation and the proliferation of digital forensic material generated by this crime. It also addresses what can be best delivered at national and local levels, setting out the Government’s expectations in the following areas:
consistent quality management across policing, including a clearer statutory role for the Forensic Regulator,
enhanced governance for the forensics system, including a wider role for the ethics group,
a review by policing of the case for moving current fragmented provision into a Joint Forensic and Biometric Service,
ongoing oversight of the health of the supply chain, including contingency plans developed by policing to cope with disruption to the market
use of the Police Innovation Fund to encourage innovative new approaches to the application of forensic science,
working closely with research councils to identify new opportunities and influences for forensic science cost effectively,
working with the College of Policing to understand the capabilities required within the forensic science workforce, and:
nurturing a stronger partnership with industry and education to ensure that learning programmes are future proofed and aligned to the business requirements.
Changes in Immigration Rules
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is today laying before the House a Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules.
A new rule is being added to the general grounds for refusal rules (with consequential changes to armed forces, family and private life, and visitor provisions), to provide a new discretionary power to refuse applications on the basis of litigation debt. Each year, the Home Office is awarded considerable litigation costs by the immigration and asylum chamber of the tribunal and the courts. A number of applicants do not pay these costs. At present such litigation debts are not taken into account when considering applications to be granted entry clearance, leave to enter or leave to remain. The new rule provides a power to refuse such applications if the applicant has not paid a litigation debt, in order to encourage payment of such debts. It is right that people who are ordered to pay costs to the Home Office should do so.
The threshold is also being reduced from £1,000 to £500 at which foreign nationals who incur NHS debt can be refused entry clearance or further leave to enter or remain in the UK. These changes are aimed at preventing the abuse of our valuable public services.
There are a number of changes to visitor rules, which will:
allow Kuwaiti citizens to benefit from the electronic visa waiver and for holders of Indonesian diplomatic passports to travel visa free to the UK as a visitor
update the permit free festival list (which allows visitors to perform at listed festivals and receive payment) for 2016-17
remove the mandatory entry clearance refusal for holders of 'non-national' documents, which do not establish a nationality, owing to the holder’s status, but which the UK is otherwise prepared to accept as they are recognised as valid for travel in all other respects
simplify the journey for those non-EU citizens who usually do not require a visa for the UK, but whose passport has been lost or stolen and are therefore returning home on an emergency travel document.
Updates are made to the definition of ‘public funds', to include payments made by local authorities and devolved Administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland which replace the discretionary social fund.
The changes insert appendix SN into the immigration rules. This specifies how notices that applications are invalid or void and the outcomes of administrative review applications will be served. The new rules set out unified provisions for service of the notice types that it covers.
The statement also makes changes to the immigration rules on skilled and highly skilled work routes, students, family and private life, and administrative review, and the changes to the rules concerning overseas domestic workers set out in my statement of 7 March 2016.
Law Officers' Department
State Opening of Parliament
As I informed the House yesterday, Her Majesty the Queen will open a new session of this Parliament on Wednesday 18 May 2016.
Work and Pensions
Personal Independence Payment
Later today I will be publishing Command Paper Cm. 9194: “The Government response to the consultation on aids and appliances and the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment”.
PIP was introduced with the intent of supporting claimants with the greatest need to help them meet the extra costs arising from their disability or long-term health condition. In line with this, it was expected that these extra costs would be significant and ongoing. In December last year, the Department for Work and Pensions launched a consultation on aids and appliances and the daily living component of personal independence payment because of concerns that the policy on aids and appliances might not be not working to achieve this.
This was in light of concerns highlighted by the first independent review of the PIP assessment undertaken by Paul Gray, and evidence that suggested that significant numbers of people who are likely to have low or minimal ongoing extra costs are being awarded the daily living component of the benefit solely because they may benefit from the use of aids and appliances for certain activities. These aids and appliances are often provided free of charge by the NHS and local authorities or can be purchased for a low one-off cost. The number receiving the daily living component of PIP solely as a result of needing aids or appliances had also tripled in the space of 18 months for claims assessed under normal rules. In addition to this, there had been a number of judicial decisions, based on the current legislation, that had broadened the scope of aids and appliances to include articles, such as beds and chairs, which are unlikely to be a reliable indicator of extra costs.
The consultation ran from 10 December 2015 to 29 January 2016 and invited views on how support can best be provided to help meet the costs of people who rely on aids and appliances. The Department was keen that as many people and groups as possible had the opportunity to contribute their views, and held a number of meetings and events with key stakeholders to ensure this.
Having carefully reviewed the evidence, I have decided to proceed with halving the number of points awarded from two to one for the use of aids and appliances in relation to the fifth and sixth daily living activities. The considered view of the Department is that the need for an aid or appliance when completing activities five and six is a less reliable indicator of extra costs than for other activities, and that halving the points for these activities will allow us to continue to deliver PIP in line with our initial policy intent. Points will continue to be awarded for the use of aids and appliances, including on activities 5 and 6, and the points awarded for all other descriptors remain unchanged.
My intention is that these changes will take effect in January 2017, following review by the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC), in line with normal procedure. Additionally, as PIP is due to be devolved in Scotland, I will be discussing these changes with the Scottish Government following the Scottish Parliament elections to ensure implementation is in line with the recommendations of the Smith Commission. The Government continually monitor the effectiveness of PIP to ensure it is delivering its original policy intent and that improvements are implemented where they are identified. A second independent review of PIP is due to be delivered by April 2017.
In addition to delivering these changes, I remain committed to ensuring that we offer the most appropriate and effective support and best possible claimant experience for disabled people. In my meetings with disabled people and stakeholder organisations I am often told about the need for better co-ordination across health and disability support services and the potential to improve outcomes for those with a long-term disability or health condition through closer working between services. That is why I am announcing that the Government will be considering the case for long-term reform of disability benefits and services that is fair for the taxpayer and for those with disabilities or health conditions. Work will be taken forward over the coming months across Government and in consultation with those who provide relevant health and disability services. The findings will be reported to the Prime Minister later in this Parliament.