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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
05 November 2018
Volume 648

Written Statements

Monday 5 November 2018

Defence

Armed Forces: Commonwealth Recruitment

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Citizens from the Commonwealth have a long tradition of serving with distinction in the Armed Forces. In the light of changes to the size of our armed forces a five-year UK residency criterion for Commonwealth citizens wishing to join the armed forces was re-imposed in 2013. A limited waiver to this requirement was introduced in May 2016 to recruit up to 200 Commonwealth personnel per annum to fill skill shortage posts. We have now decided to remove the five-year UK residency criterion for Commonwealth citizens and increase recruitment to 1,350 across the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force. Applications will be accepted from all Commonwealth countries, although in order to mitigate the risks associated with unaccompanied minors travelling to the UK without the guarantee of a job, we will not be accepting applications from those under 18. Applicants from Commonwealth countries will need to meet all necessary recruitment criteria for the service and role they wish to join. Security standards will be assessed on a case by case basis, and may differ from the current UK security requirements. In 2009[1] a 15% limit on foreign and Commonwealth nationals in a number of areas of the Army (the Royal Logistic Corps (RLC), the Royal Army Dental Corps (RADC) and the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC) was established as a necessary and proportionate requirement to sustain operational effectiveness. As we now intend to increase the numbers of Commonwealth citizens joining across the full spread of Army roles, we have concluded that it is appropriate to both limit the overall numbers recruited, and to replicate the 15% limit across all cap badges. The requirement for individuals to have Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) or Indefinite Leave to Enter (ILE) to join the reserves has not been changed. This will not affect personnel from the Republic of Ireland, or those in the Brigade of Gurkhas. This policy will be kept under review.

[1]Written Ministerial Statement “Army Nationality Policy” dated 2 February 2009

[HCWS1062]

Defence Equipment Plan

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I am pleased to place in the Library of the House this year’s financial summary of the Defence Equipment Plan. This is the seventh consecutive annual publication of the equipment plan summary, and presents our plans to deliver the equipment needed by our armed forces to defend the country and keep our people safe. The Government are committed to meeting the NATO target to spend 2% of GDP on defence and at least 20% of that spending on equipment. This report sets out our plans to spend £186 billion on equipment in the 10 years from 2018-19.

We have substantially revised the content of this report to make it more transparent and accessible. For the first time, we have set out the strategic context for the equipment plan and presented in detail the Department’s assessment of the affordability of the plan. The NAO has assessed our plans and we are grateful to it for its report which is also published today.

In 2017-18 the Department achieved several notable milestones in procurement and support of equipment and successfully delivered the plan within budget. Looking ahead, there are significant financial pressures we must manage in the equipment plan. Our central estimate for the cost of the equipment plan at April 2018 exceeded the allocated budget by an average of 3.7% over the 10 years from 2018-19. The shortfall is greatest in the four years from 2018-19. This forecast will vary as risks and opportunities materialise and project plans mature or are changed through management action.

The Department secured £1 billion additional funding in the autumn Budget, which will help reduce the risk to affordability until 2020 and allow the Department to continue delivering existing plans for Joint Force 2025 and to modernise some key capability areas.

We are also taking steps to improve management of the plan and enable longer term affordability. The modernising defence programme was launched to further strengthen and modernise UK defence and the armed forces and put UK defence on to an enduringly affordable footing for the future. This work involves rigorously pursuing productivity and efficiency gains as well as prioritising capabilities to meet the changing threat environment. It will reshape the content of the equipment plan and improve the way in which it is managed. We will report on the implications for the equipment plan in subsequent financial summary reports.

[HCWS1064]

HMS Victorious: Refuel

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On 6 March 2014, the then Secretary of State for Defence announced the decision to refuel HMS Vanguard and, pending an assessment, to keep the option open to refuel for HMS Victorious in 2018. This was a prudent precaution following the discovery in 2012 of a microscopic breach in the cladding around one of the fuel cells in the prototype reactor plant at our shore test facility at Dounreay in Scotland. Having conducted an evidence-based assessment it has been determined that it is not necessary to refuel HMS Victorious.

The safety of the United Kingdom’s submarine force remains our highest priority. We continue to work closely with the independent regulators to ensure the safety of operations both alongside and at sea.

Our submarine-based deterrent has been safely operating for over 50 years and studies have demonstrated that no alternative system is as capable, resilient or cost effective as the current deterrent on continuous patrol.

[HCWS1065]

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Great Britain China Centre: Tailored Review

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I am announcing today the start of a tailored review of the Great Britain China Centre (GBCC). The GBCC is a non-departmental public body of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Its principal activity is to encourage mutual knowledge and understanding through the promotion of closer cultural, professional, economic, educational, legal, judicial and other contacts between Britain and China.

As a non-departmental public body (NDPB) sponsored by the FCO, the GBCC is required to undergo a tailored review at least once in every Parliament. The principle aims of tailored reviews are to ensure public bodies remain fit for purpose, are well governed and are properly accountable for what they do.

The review will provide a robust scrutiny of and assurance on the continuing need for the GBCC—both its function and its form. If the review finds the GBCC should be retained in its current form and status, the review will then consider GBCC’s capacity for delivering on its core mandate more effectively and efficiently. It will also assess the control and governance arrangements that are in place to ensure that GBCC and the FCO are complying with recognised principles of good corporate governance.

The review will follow guidance published in 2016 by the Cabinet Office: “Tailored Reviews: guidance on reviews of public bodies”. The terms of reference for the review can be found at: www.gov.uk.

In conducting the tailored review, officials will engage with a broad range of stakeholders across the UK and overseas, including staff, management and the board of the GBCC. These consultations will include participating and sponsor organisations of GBCC projects and events and partners from across UK Government, foreign Governments, academics and civil society.

Both Houses will be informed of the outcome of the review when it is completed and copies of the report of the review will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS1059]

Marshall Aid Commemorative Commission: Tailored Review

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I am announcing today the start of a tailored review of the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission (MACC). Established by an Act of Parliament in 1953, in commemoration of the assistance received by the United Kingdom from the United States under the Marshall Plan, the MACC administers the British Marshall scholarships.

As a non-departmental public body (NDPB) sponsored by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the MACC is required to undergo a tailored review at least once in every Parliament. The principal aims of tailored reviews are to ensure public bodies remain fit for purpose, are well governed and properly accountable for what they do.

The review will provide a robust scrutiny of, and assurance on, the continuing need for the MACC—both its function and its form. It will then assess the governance and control arrangements in place to ensure they are compliant with the recognised principles of good corporate governance and delivering good value for money. The review will look both at the current performance of the MACC and at how it is able to respond and adapt to those factors which are most likely to affect its position as a prestigious scholarship provider and effective public diplomacy tool for the UK.

A challenge group, comprising senior FCO and Cabinet Office officials, will have regular oversight of the interim findings, to ensure the review is robust and rigorous.

The review will follow guidance published in 2016 by the Cabinet Office: “Tailored Reviews: guidance on reviews of public bodies”, which can be viewed at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/tailored-reviews-of-public-bodies-guidance. The terms of reference for the review can be found at: www.gov.uk.

In conducting this tailored review, officials will engage with a broad range of stakeholders in the UK and US, including across UK Government, devolved Administrations, partner academic institutions, current scholars, alumni, the MACC’s volunteer commissioners and recruitment panels, and the Association of Commonwealth Universities, which provides administration for the programme.

I shall inform the House of the outcome of the review when it is completed and copies of the report of the review will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS1060]

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

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The UK is committed to preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. We believe the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) remains the best way of achieving that goal. It is a critical agreement that makes the world a safer place. The United Kingdom, and our European partners, continue to work with the remaining parties to the deal to maintain it. We expect Iran to meet its nuclear commitments as set out in the agreement in full.

In May of this year, President Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States of America from the JCPoA. In consequence, today US sanctions on Iran will be re-imposed, including on Iran’s oil and gas exporting capability. We have been clear with the US Administration about our determination to preserve the JCPoA, and the fact that this is driven by our national security interests.

As a party to the JCPoA, we remain committed to ensuring that Iran receives the sanctions relief to which it is entitled. This includes taking steps to enable firms wishing to engage in legitimate trade with Iran to do so. We are working with our partners France and Germany, fellow parties to the JCPoA, to develop a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to enable continued sanctions relief to reach Iran, and allow for European exporters and importers to trade in compliance with EU and UN sanctions.

In parallel to our work with partners to maintain the JCPoA, we continue to take steps with our partners against the IRGC’s destabilising behaviour across the region and to hold Iran to account on human rights, including its treatment of British-lranians detained in Iran.

[HCWS1061]

Health and Social Care

Government Vision on Prevention

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Today I am placing before the House the Government’s prevention vision, “Prevention is Better than Cure”.

This document sets out a cross-Government vision for stopping health problems from arising in the first place and, when they do, supporting people to manage them as effectively as possible. Our mission is to improve healthy life expectancy, so that, by 2035, we are enjoying at least five extra years of healthy, independent life, while closing the gap between the richest and poorest. When it comes to prevention, we all have a role to play: individuals, families, communities, employers, charities, the NHS, social care, and local and national Government. Only by working together can we make this vision a reality.

I am placing a copy of the prevention vision in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS1063]

Justice

Justice Update

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I have today laid before Parliament new legislation to implement a new, banded structure of fees for a grant of representation, commonly known as a grant of probate.

Fees are an essential element of funding an effective, modern courts and tribunals service, thereby ensuring and protecting access to justice. The Government are investing £1 billion to modernise and upgrade the courts system so that it works even better for everyone, including victims, witnesses, litigants, judges and legal professionals. This includes introducing changes to our probate service, which offers an important service to those who are bereaved. The reform of the service allows people to apply for a grant of probate online and to access assisted digital support for those who many not necessarily have the skills or access to engage digitally, and empowers individuals to make applications themselves instead of needing to instruct and pay for solicitors. This aims to reduce the burden on applicants, by providing a more efficient and simpler application process.

But such a courts system is simply not possible without proper funding. Since the previous Government set out their intentions to introduce a banded fee structure for grants of probate in February 2017, a number of concerns were raised. We have listened to these very carefully, and under today’s proposal we have revised fees so they will never be more than 0.5% of the value of the estate. Moreover, by raising the estate value threshold from £5,000 to £50,000, we will be lifting around 25,000 estates annually out of fees altogether. For those who do pay, around 80% of estates will pay £750 or less, and all income raised will be spent on running the courts and tribunal service.

It has long been the case that the users of our courts make a contribution to its costs, and we believe this remains both relevant and reasonable—minimising the burden on other taxpayers. Crucially, by asking those who use the courts to pay more, where they can afford to do so, we are able to fund areas where we charge no fees to vulnerable victims and users, including for example domestic violence and non-molestation orders, and for cases before the First-tier Tribunal concerning mental health.

This new banded fee model represents a fair and more progressive way to pay for probate services compared to the current flat fee and reflects our commitment to protecting access to justice by ensuring we have a properly funded and resourced courts system. We are also confident these fees will never be unaffordable. The cost of the fee is recoverable from the estate and executors have several options to fund it. Moreover, the Lord Chancellor retains a power to remit a fee if he considers there are exceptional circumstances.

We will also publish a guidance document before the statutory instrument comes into force, entitled “Guidance on Ways to Pay for Probate Fees”. This will benefit from external stakeholder input, and will help applicants to choose the option to pay which most suits their circumstances, providing reassurance at a difficult time.

[HCWS1066]