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Written Statements

Volume 649: debated on Thursday 22 November 2018

Written Statements

Thursday 22 November 2018

Education

Higher Education Student Finance

On 2 July 2018, I made a written ministerial statement confirming that that maximum tuition fees for the 2019-20 academic year in England will be maintained at the levels that apply in the 2018-19 academic year, the second year in succession that fees have been frozen. This means that the maximum level of tuition fees for a full-time course will remain at £9,250 for the next academic year (2019-20).

I can now announce further details of student finance arrangements for higher education students undertaking a course of study in the 2019-20 academic year.

Maximum undergraduate loans for living costs will be increased by forecast inflation (2.8%) in 2019-20. And the same increase will apply to maximum disabled students’ allowances for students with disabilities undertaking full-time and part-time undergraduate courses in 2019-20. Maximum grants for students with child or adult dependants who are attending full-time undergraduate courses in 2019-20 will also increase by forecast inflation in 2019-20.

We are also increasing support for students undertaking postgraduate courses in 2019-20. Maximum loans for students starting masters degree and doctoral degree courses from 1 August 2019 onwards will be increased by forecast inflation (2.8%) in 2019-20. And for postgraduate students with disabilities, we are increasing the maximum postgraduate disabled students' allowance to £20,000 in 2019-20 from its current level of £10,993, which will help the most disabled postgraduate students with high support needs.

The Government have created a new form of leave for children under section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 (the Dubs amendment). This will ensure that those children who do not qualify for refugee or humanitarian protection leave will still be able to remain in the UK long term. Those who qualify for this new form of leave will be able to study, work, access public funds and healthcare, and apply for settlement after five years, without paying a fee. In line with this change, I can announce today that “Dubs children” starting higher education courses from 1 August 2019 onwards will be subject to home fee status and will be able to apply for student support.

Further details of the student support package for 2019-20 are set out in the document available as an online attachment.

I expect to lay regulations implementing changes to student finance for undergraduates and postgraduates for 2019-20 early in 2019. These regulations will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

The attachment can be viewed online at:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2018-11-22/HCWS1103/.

[HCWS1103]

Home Department

Immigration

I am today publishing a review of applications by tier 1 (general) migrants refused under paragraph 322(5) of the immigration rules.

The review responds to claims that hundreds of highly skilled workers—who entered the UK under this now closed route—were facing removal due to making minor errors in their tax returns.

Our review has examined 1,697 applications refused since January 2015. The discrepancies between the earnings declared to the Home Office and those shown by their tax records were over £10,000 in 88% of cases (1,490). The pattern of behaviour in amending tax records, often close to making a further Home Office application, was sufficiently unusual for HM Revenue and Customs to draw it to the Home Office’s attention.

Applicants were given the opportunity to explain these discrepancies. In many cases, having taken all the evidence and applicants’ explanations into account, we were not satisfied that these were minor tax errors as claimed, but attempts to misrepresent self-employed earnings, most likely for the purposes of obtaining leave or settlement in the UK.

Where the explanation given was not, in our view, satisfactory, applications were refused under paragraph 322(5). There has been some criticism that the use of this rule has been disproportionate. I want to be clear that we are not claiming these applicants are a threat to national security. Refusal under this rule covers a wide range of character and conduct issues and its use is appropriate in these types of cases where the evidence supports it (a point that the courts and tribunals have acknowledged).

The review has looked at litigation outcomes in both statutory appeals and judicial reviews. The picture here is mixed. Some courts and tribunals have accepted applicants’ explanations for discrepancies that the Home Office had previously rejected. Others, faced with broadly similar arguments, often around the role of applicants’ accountants, have supported the Home Office’s position. We look forward to the Court of Appeal providing clarity on some of these issues in upcoming hearings early next year and will consider in the light of these further rulings.

Aside from cases which have been allowed by the courts and tribunals, the review has identified 12 decisions which we intend to overturn, and a further 19 cases where we will seek more information from applicants before reconsidering their cases. The Home Office will contact each of the 31 individuals concerned to resolve their cases by the end of December. Errors of this kind are always regrettable, and I do not seek to minimise the impact that the error may have had on the individuals concerned. I will also ensure that the findings in this small minority of cases are used to inform our future decision making, to ensure that similar errors are not repeated.

Skilled migrants make an important contribution to our economic wellbeing and our society. The Government recognise the need to attract and retain them, and our immigration system will continue to do so. However, it is important that people play by the rules to preserve the integrity of the immigration system.

I will arrange for a copy of the review and accompanying guidance to be placed in the Library of the House and for them to be made available on gov.uk.

[HCWS1102]

Prime Minister

Intelligence Oversight

The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) has today laid before Parliament two reports: its report into the terror attacks last year in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge, Finsbury Park and Parsons Green, titled “The 2017 Attacks: What Needs to Change?”; and its annual report 2017-18. I welcome both of these reports and thank the Committee for the work that has gone into them. The Government will consider both reports in full and respond formally in due course.

The 2017 post-attacks review

The five terror attacks in 2017 claimed the lives of 36 people. Many more were injured. Our thoughts remain with the victims and all those affected by the attacks.

I have spoken before of the severe threat posed by terrorism. The police and intelligence community face an unprecedented challenge and have to make difficult prioritisation decisions every day. Since the tragic attack in Westminster, 17 further plots have been disrupted including four extreme right-wing plots.

It is right that we look at what happened so that we have the best chance of preventing further attacks. In 2017, MI5 and the police led internal reviews of the handling of intelligence relating to the Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park attacks to identify enhancements to their operational practices. They also commissioned a broader operational improvements review, which is commended by the ISC in its report. Both reviews were independently overseen by Lord Anderson of Ipswich. A review of the Parsons Green attack has also led to improvements in the implementation of the Channel programme.

There has been significant effort to implement the recommendations of the operational improvement review. Lord Anderson is currently conducting an independent stocktake of the progress that has been made to deliver the recommendations, and will report his findings to the Home Secretary early next year. A public report on his findings will then be laid in the House.

This work is happening alongside Government’s wider efforts to tackle the threat from terrorism. On June 4, we published a strengthened version of the UK’s comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy, Contest. This reflects the findings of a fundamental review of all aspects of counter-terrorism, and builds on the lessons learned from last year’s attacks. Through the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill 2017-19, we are ensuring that the police, prosecutors and the judiciary are better equipped with the powers they need to tackle the threat posed by terrorism.

The ISC’s annual report 2017-18

The ISC’s 2017-18 annual report considers in some detail the case for the UK and allied response following the chemical weapons strike on Douma in April. The OPCW interim report on the Douma attack clearly indicated the presence of chlorine at the site and the UN Commission of Inquiry’s most recent report supported the Government’s conclusion that a chemical weapons attack was carried out on Douma on 7 April. The response was a limited, targeted and effective strike to degrade Syrian chemical weapons capability and deter their future use. As I said at the time, it is in our national interest to prevent the further use of chemical weapons in Syria and to uphold and defend the global consensus that these weapons should not be used.

[HCWS1101]

ISC Detainee Reports

On 28 June 2018, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) published its detainee mistreatment and rendition reports. Today, the Government are publishing their response.

The Government are grateful for the extensive investigation that the Committee has undertaken into detainee matters and have now considered the conclusions and recommendations set out in its reports.

The Committee found no evidence indicating that UK personnel directly carried out physical mistreatment of detainees. Nor did it find any evidence that any rendition flights transited the UK with a detainee on board. The Committee’s report does state that two detainees are known to have transited through the British overseas territory of Diego Garcia. This fact was originally reported to the House by the then Foreign Secretary in February 2008.

The Committee has said that it was unable to take evidence from some witnesses operating overseas at the time. The Government engaged as fully as possible with the ISC, within the terms of its memorandum of understanding. They spent many thousands of hours reviewing corporate records and disclosed all relevant documents amounting to thousands of pages, and Ministers and senior officials concerned gave many hours of oral evidence. Parliamentary Committees do not ordinarily seek evidence from junior officials and the Government believe they were right in asking only senior officials to speak to the events set out in the documentary record provided to the ISC.

In a specific case, the Committee found evidence suggesting that UK personnel were directly involved in detainee mistreatment administered by others and that this had not been fully investigated. The Ministry of Defence has asked the service police legacy investigations team to consider whether further investigation is required.

In the light of the ISC’s reports, the Government have asked Sir Adrian Fulford, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, to consider how the consolidated guidance could be improved, taking account of the Committee’s views and those of civil society. He has since conducted a public consultation and the Government look forward to receiving his proposals in due course.

The Government continue to give serious consideration to the examination of detainee issues and whether any more lessons can be learned, and, if so, how.

Copies of the response have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses (Cm 9724).

[HCWS1100]

Transport

Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy: Safety Review Call for Evidence

Cycling and walking are increasingly being understood not just as modes of transport but as crucial parts of an integrated approach to issues of health, obesity, air quality, and town and city planning.

In this context, I am today publishing a response to the cycling and walking investment strategy (CWIS): safety review call for evidence (call for evidence).

The CWIS, published in 2017, set out the Government’s ambition to make cycling and walking the natural choice for shorter journeys, or as part of a longer one, by 2040. When the Department for Transport published the call for evidence on 9 March this year, I restated the Government’s commitment to increasing cycling and walking and making the UK’s roads safer for vulnerable users, including cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders.

The call for evidence was very well received, with over 14,000 responses from members of the public of every age and description, as well as local authorities, cycling and walking organisations, police forces and more. People responded with vigour, sending the Department for Transport great ideas, evidence of what works, examples of good practice from other countries, innovative technologies, and imaginative solutions.

More recently on 18 October, the Department published a purely factual document summarising the call for evidence responses and setting out the main themes emerging from our analysis.

We continued to analyse the contributions to the call for evidence, as well as outputs from our regional workshops held in London, Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester. The Government response published today includes a range of safety measures that will bring cycling and walking closer together as part of the Government’s overall ambition to increase active travel. The response also sets out a vision and a two-year plan of action, with 21 packages of measures addressing the key themes and issues raised in the call for evidence.

Among the key measures are:

A review of guidance in The Highway Code to improve safety for vulnerable road users;

New investment to support the police to improve enforcement by developing a national back office function to handle footage provided through dash-cam evidence;

Enforcement against parking in mandatory cycle lanes;

The appointment of a new cycling and walking champion to raise the profile of active travel;

Encouragement for local authorities to increase investment in cycling and walking infrastructure to 15% of total transport infrastructure spending

Work with key cycling and walking organisations to develop a behaviour change campaign alongside the action plan.

All these measures are designed to support the continued growth of cycling and walking, with all the benefits they bring to our communities, economy, environment and society.

I recognise and value the tremendous amount of activity being undertaken nationally to keep vulnerable road users safe. The Department for Transport wants to provide effective leadership and support to the wide range of partners and other bodies who collectively work together with great commitment to make a real difference to cycling and walking safety. We look forward to continuing our close working with other Government Departments, devolved Administrations, motoring agencies, local councils, police, cycling and walking organisations, motoring groups, road safety campaigners and wider stakeholders to take forward this action plan.

The House may also be aware that we have recently carried out a separate consultation on new cycling offences, which closed on 5 November. It sought views on whether cyclists should face offences similar to those of causing death or serious injury when driving dangerously or carelessly. We are in the process of analysing responses and will publish our response in due course.

[HCWS1099]