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Written Statements

Volume 621: debated on Monday 6 February 2017

Written Statements

Monday 6 February 2017

Education

Government Assets Sale

Today, the Government are starting the process required to sell part of the English student loan book under the Sale of Student Loans Act 2008. The sale covers loans issued under the previous (“pre-2012”) system, specifically those which entered repayment between 2002 and 2006.

The Government’s intention to launch this sale at this time, subject to market conditions, was set out in last year’s autumn statement. The decision to launch this process is consistent with the Government’s fiscal policy and approach to asset sales. The position of all graduates, including those whose loans are part of a sale, would also not change as a result of the sale.

This Government are committed to cutting the deficit, reducing debt, and living within our means as a country. The Government’s policy is to sell assets where it is value for money to do so and where there is no policy reason to continue to own them. Selling assets gives headroom for the Government to invest in other policies with greater economic or social returns and reduces fiscal pressures.

The Government’s policies towards student finance and higher education are not being altered by this sale. Under the current system of student support (the framework for which has been in place since 2012) we will continue to offer financial support so people who have the qualifications and want to pursue higher education are able to do so, with no limit on their numbers. This is part of making sure our economy works for everyone.

Students are protected by statute and completely unaffected. A sale would not alter the mechanisms and terms of repayment and sold loans would continue to be serviced by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Student Loans Company (SLC) on the same basis as equivalent unsold loans. These protections mean that purchasers would have no right to change any of the current loan arrangements or to directly contact borrowers.

The Government have launched the first sale process on the basis there is a good prospect of achieving value for money, but will only proceed with the sale subject to market conditions and a final value for money assessment. The assessment of value for money is in accordance with the HMT Green Book framework and includes a comparison of the value of retaining the student loan book and receiving payments over time (the retention value) and receiving cash now (the proceeds of the sale).

This sale will comprise the future repayments on the outstanding balances on a selection of loans, with a total face value of around £4 billion. The retention value to Government is lower and is calculated using standard Treasury Green Book methodology developed for asset sales, and also accounts for Government subsidy of the student loan system. The loans which are being sold have already been in repayment for over 10 years, and therefore much of the original value of the loans has already been paid back to Government.

The sale process is expected to take several months. Selling the loan book involves securitising the remaining future repayments on the loans and selling securities representing the rights to these to a range of purchasers. The House will be informed if and when a sale is completed.

[HCWS458]

Exiting the European Union

General Affairs Council: February 2017

The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 7 February will be held in Brussels under the Maltese presidency. The agenda will cover 1) follow up to the December European Council; 2) preparation for the March European Council; and 3) Commission communication on next steps for a sustainable European future.

Follow up to the December European Council

The presidency is likely to present an update on the implementation of the December 2016 European Council conclusions on migration, security (internal and external), economic and social development (youth), Cyprus and external relations (covering the EU/Ukraine association agreement and Syria).

Preparation for the March European Council

There will be a discussion on the agenda of the March European Council. The agenda includes: security; jobs and growth; external relations; and migration.

Commission communication on next steps for a sustainable European future

The Commission will present a communication on next steps for a sustainable European future and there will be an exchange of views. The communication sets out the EU’s commitment to deliver the 2030 agenda for sustainable development which was agreed at the 2015 UN General Assembly.

[HCWS461]

Health

National Health Service

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Lord O’Shaughnessy) has made the following written statement in the House of Lords:

This Government are committed to making sure that only those people who are living here and contributing to the country financially will get free National Health Service care. Following a two year programme of work to improve identification and cost recovery from chargeable patients in hospitals we consulted on extending the charging rules to areas of NHS care that are currently free to all. Proposals for this were set out in a public consultation entitled “Making a fair contribution—a consultation on the extension of charging overseas visitors and migrants using the NHS in England”, which ran from December 2015 to March 2016.

The proposals explored within the consultation aimed to support the principle of fairness by ensuring those not resident in the United Kingdom pay for NHS care. The proposals would not restrict access, but rather make sure that everyone makes a fair contribution towards the cost of the care they receive.

We are today publishing our response to that consultation. It summarises respondents’ views and sets out how the Government intend to extend charging and increase cost recovery from patients not eligible for free care, including:

Requiring NHS providers to obtain charges upfront and in full before a chargeable patient can access non-urgent treatment.

Including out-of-hospital secondary care services and NHS-funded services provided by non-NHS organisations within the services that chargeable patients will have to pay for.

Removing NHS assisted reproduction services from the range of services provided free of charge under immigration health surcharge arrangements.

The principle that the NHS is free at the point of delivery for people ordinarily resident in the UK will not be undermined by this work.

The most vulnerable people from overseas, including refugees, will remain exempt from charging. Furthermore, the NHS will not deny urgent and immediately necessary healthcare to those in need, regardless of payment. Exemptions from charging will also remain in place for the diagnosis and treatment of specified infectious diseases in order to protect the British public from wider health risks.

The potential income generated through the extension of charging will contribute towards the Department of Health’s aim of recovering up to £500 million per year from overseas migrants and visitors by the middle of this Parliament (2017-18). The recovery of up to £500 million per year will contribute to the £22 billion savings required to ensure the long-term sustainability of the NHS.

We are also publishing today on gov.uk the evaluation of the initial phase of the programme, the lessons from which we are factoring in to the future operation of the programme.

It is also available on line at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications.

[HCWS460]

Home Department

Proceeds of Crime Act 2002

I am pleased to lay before Parliament the 2015-16 annual report of the appointed person under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The appointed person is an independent person who scrutinises the use of the search and seizure powers that support the measures in the Act to seize and forfeit cash used for criminal purposes and to seize and sell property in settlement of confiscation orders.

The report gives the appointed person’s opinion as to the circumstances and manner in which the search and seizure powers conferred by the Act are being exercised. I am pleased that the appointed person, Mr Douglas Bain, has expressed satisfaction with the operation of the powers and has found that there is nothing to suggest that the procedures are not being followed in accordance with the Act. Mr Bain has made no recommendations this year.

From 1 April 2015 to the end of March 2016 over £67 million in cash was seized by law enforcement agencies in England and Wales under powers in the Act. The seizures are subject to further investigation, and the cash is subject to further judicially approved detention, before forfeiture in the magistrates court. These powers are a valuable tool in the fight against crime and the report shows that the way they are used has been, and will continue to be, monitored closely.

[HCWS459]