Thursday 16 October 2008
Armed Forces: Pensions
My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Senior President of Tribunals and I are today issuing the following joint Statement.
We are making this joint Statement in recognition of the concerns expressed by members of the Armed Forces community about the possible impact on the service which the Pensions Appeal Tribunal (PAT) (England and Wales) provides for them as a result of implementing the Act.
To reflect the special nature of a jurisdiction serving those who alone in this country contract with the state to lay down their lives in its service and in recognition of the special relationship between service personnel and the Government as characterised by Command Paper [CM 7424 –The Nation’s Commitment: Cross Government Support to our Armed Forces, their Families and Veterans] it has been decided to establish a war pensions and Armed Forces compensation chamber within the first-tier tribunal to ensure that service personnel can benefit from the advantages of being within the new tribunal structure, while ensuring that the unique nature of the jurisdiction is not compromised or diluted.
The implementation of the Act will bring benefits to this jurisdiction, including extended rights of appeal, a guarantee of continued judicial independence, the ability readily to draw upon suitably qualified judges and medical experts within the wider tribunal system if required, greater judicial support and influence, a more efficient administrative support, and access to the entire tribunals service’s hearing venue network. None of this will be at the expense of the level of service now provided by the Pensions Appeal Tribunal (England and Wales) PAT (E&W). Our aim in making this Statement is to ensure that the Armed Forces community is reassured that the valued features of the PAT are preserved and protected in the new system.
This joint Statement explains the basis on which the work of the PAT (E&W) will transfer into the first-tier tribunal under Section 30 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, if Parliament approves the draft Transfer of Tribunal Functions Order 2008.
That order transfers the functions of the PAT (E&W) into the first-tier tribunal. That tribunal enjoys a statutory guarantee of continued judicial independence under Section 3 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, as amended by Section 1 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. The present PATs do not have such a guarantee although in practice they are independent of Government. The transfer also makes it possible for there to be a further appeal on a question of law against assessment decisions by claimants in all parts of the United Kingdom, something which is not possible under the existing statutory framework.
The first-tier tribunal will be divided into a number of chambers by an order made under Section 7 of the 2007 Act. The First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal (Chambers) Order 2008 provides for the first-tier tribunal to be organised into chambers including a separate war pensions and Armed Forces compensation chamber. The order assigns all of the functions of the current PAT (E&W) to that chamber. The order has the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor and the Senior President and has been laid before Parliament.
Procedural rules specific to the war pensions and Armed Forces compensation chamber have been drafted and signed by the Tribunal Procedure Committee, following consultation with ex-service organisations, their advisers and the president of PAT (England and Wales) The rules have been submitted to the Lord Chancellor and have been laid before Parliament. In establishing rules that are specific to this chamber those who currently use PAT (E&W) will have the same level of procedural protection as users of the PATs in Scotland and Northern Ireland as rules will be made with the specific needs of this jurisdiction only in mind. Members of the Armed Forces community were concerned that this protection would not be provided if the chamber shared rules with other chambers in the first-tier tribunal.
In further recognition of the special relationship other measures have been taken to ensure that appeal panels must include those who understand the particular nature of service in the Armed Forces; and for the jurisprudence in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England and Wales to remain consistent.
The Senior President of Tribunals has produced a draft practice statement on composition of tribunals. The president and deputy president of the PAT have been consulted on the draft and are in agreement with it. The draft practice statement requires the continued use of service members on hearing panels within the war pensions and Armed Forces compensation chamber and maintains their present role without diminution or alteration. The Qualifications for Appointment of Members to the First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal Order as laid before Parliament requires that service members have considerable experience of service in Her Majesty’s naval, military or air forces.
A decision made at a hearing of an appeal in this chamber will normally be dealt with by a three-member panel of one judge, one service member and one medical member. Alternatively, but only where the chamber president considers it appropriate, a decision at a hearing may be dealt with by a four-member panel of one judge, one service member and two medical members. Panels are expected to strive to reach a unanimous decision.
Appeals from the war pensions and Armed Forces compensation chamber and from the PATs in Scotland will lie to the upper tribunal created by the 2007 Act, which will take over the jurisdiction of the Pension Appeal Commissioners. Assessment appeals from the PATs in Northern Ireland will also lie to the upper tribunal and entitlement appeals will continue to go to the Pension Appeal Commissioners in Northern Ireland who are themselves judges of the upper tribunal. We therefore expect that the jurisprudence will develop in a common and coherent way across the United Kingdom.
The Lord Chancellor will in addition establish within three months an advisory steering group for armed services work with an independent chair. Representatives of charities who represent appellants at appeal hearings and proposed by COBSEO will be invited to join this group, as will representatives of the judiciary and administration for the PATs in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The remit of the group will include consideration of the implementation of existing procedures, changes the Government or tribunal propose to make to the procedures, and the applicability of any such changes across the jurisdictions.
The Lord Chancellor will ensure that staff deployed on armed services’ work will be staff who understand armed services’ requirements and who will work in effective liaison with the organisations that represent users.
“Branding” will continue to be distinct so that users understand they are dealing with a specialist Armed Forces jurisdiction.
The aim of making this Statement is to set out how the valued features of the PAT are preserved and protected in the new system in recognition of the unique role of the Armed Forces community and in acknowledgement of the concerns that were raised in response to the consultation on implementation of Part 1 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act.
My right honourable friend the then Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform wrote to the Business and Enterprise Select Committee in September to inform members of EDF's takeover offer for British Energy. I am placing copies of his letter in the Libraries of the House.
EU: Energy Council
I represented the UK at the Energy Council in Luxembourg on 10 October.
The council reached political agreement on the Commission's third energy package on the functioning of the internal energy market. There were discussions of the climate and energy legislative package and energy security. The council agreed conclusions on energy efficiency.
Discussions on the internal energy market were based on compromise presidency texts and focused on a level playing field clause, put forward by a number of member states as a way of allowing Governments who have secured ownership unbundling in their domestic markets to control takeovers by vertically integrated companies. The final presidency compromise text met their concerns and political agreement was reached on this basis. This will allow the council to prepare a common position, which will form the basis of negotiation with the European Parliament.
There was a wide-ranging debate on the 2020 climate and energy package. The presidency argued that in the current financial crisis it was even more important for the EU to maintain political leadership on climate issues and urged member states not to lose momentum on progress. The Commission and presidency both considered that it was possible to reach agreement on the package by the end of the year.
In the debate, member states addressed a number of issues (interim targets, the inclusion of aviation, the transport target and sustainability, a review clause and renewable projects of European interest) set out in questions issued by the presidency to steer the debate. The presidency concluded that, despite concerns about the financial crisis, there was a common desire to move forward and discussion with the European Parliament should continue.
The council agreed conclusions on energy efficiency, relating to the implementation of the energy labelling and eco-design for energy-using products directive.
There were a number of information items, including a presidency report on the solar plan for the Mediterranean.
Discussion of energy security was taken over lunch in closed session.
EU: Transport Council
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Geoff Hoon) has made the following Ministerial Statement.
I attended the first Transport Council of the French presidency in Luxembourg on 9 October.
Following a debate on the draft conclusions presented by the presidency on the greening of transport, the council failed to achieve unanimity. It is likely that the council will return to this issue in December.
There was a policy debate on the proposal for a directive on cross-border enforcement in the field of road safety. A key issue in the debate was whether the proposal could be adopted under the first pillar, as currently intended by the presidency and supported by some member states, or whether it should be a third pillar (Justice and Home Affairs) issue. The UK expressed its view that the third pillar would be the correct legal base. Pointing out the UK’s strong record in this area, we recognised the concerns and underlying objectives of the proposal, but stressed that it was necessary to go forward with practical measures. The majority of member states supported a third pillar approach. Following this debate, work will continue in the working group and COREPER, and it is expected that the issue will return to the council in December.
The council agreed conclusions on third countries’ participation in the inclusion of aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, following agreement on the EC directive earlier in the year. The conclusions were acceptable to the UK.
The council adopted a decision authorising the Commission to open negotiations towards a Euro-Mediterranean aviation agreement with the Republic of Lebanon. The UK supports this negotiating mandate.
The council reached a general approach on an amendment to the regulation establishing a joint undertaking for the SESAR programme (technical implementation of the single European sky). The council also adopted a resolution launching the development phase of the programme. Both the amending regulation and the resolution are acceptable to the UK.
Under other business, the Commission gave a progress report on negotiations on the proposed EU/Canada air transport agreement. The UK supported the presidency's proposal that the Commission be asked to finalise negotiations on the emerging agreement and report back to the council on the outcome.
The council reached political agreement on proposals for directives on the responsibility of EU member states which are flag states and the insurance requirements of shipowners. These were substantially amended versions. Negotiations before and during the council led to further welcome amendments. The presidency and Commission also made clear that the European Parliament would only negotiate on the complete third maritime safety package with these two amended proposals included. Taking all of this into account, the UK supported the agreements on both of the significantly amended proposals.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
On 8 January 2008 I wrote to the Police Negotiating Board (PNB) asking it to consider a multi-year deal for police officers starting in September 2008. In my letter I made clear that, if the PNB agreed to this proposal, then the settlements that form part of such a deal could be implemented in full.
On 15 October 2008 the PNB recommended to me a multi-year pay deal for police officers starting in 2008. This deal is for an award of 2.65 per cent from 1 September 2008, 2.6 per cent from 1 September 2009, and 2.55 per cent from 1 September 2010. This means that by 2010 a police constable will be able to earn up to £36,500, 50 per cent more than in 1997. It includes a reopener clause that would be triggered by changes in the two criteria of economic and labour market conditions and recruitment and retention.
I am pleased that we have agreed a multi-year pay deal for the police that is one of the fairest pay deals in the public sector. All involved in the negotiations have worked hard, and in a spirit of co-operation. I have the highest regard for the police and the tireless work they do to protect and serve the public. This deal gives police officers and their families’ valuable financial certainty for the future and I hope that it will reach their pay packets in full in time for Christmas. This deal will also provide the benefits of stability to the police service, and demonstrates discipline in the face of temporarily high inflation and current economic conditions.
I have also agreed, for the period of this settlement, that the Home Secretary will be bound by a decision of the Police Arbitration Tribunal (PAT) as to whether the re-opening criteria have been met. I would of course carefully consider any recommendation made to me by the PNB or PAT about a subsequent substantive adjustment to the settlement arising from this process.
I confirm that as a result of this agreement I will end the current consultation process for a police pay review body and that the Government will not take any legislative steps to introduce a police pay review body during the lifetime of this Parliament.
I believe that this agreement signals a new stage in the relationship between the two sides of the Police Negotiating Board. I hope that we can now work together to improve policing for both the police service and the public.
My honourable friend the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration (Phil Woolas) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
This year sees the biggest changes to Britain’s immigration and border security system for 45 years. Our policy will deliver strong borders, a selective migration system and an expectation that newcomers earn the right to stay. Our ambition is that migration policy maximises benefits for Britain and manages local impacts.
This strategy underpins our Australian-style points system, reforms to spouse visas and requires us to modernise visit visas. Earlier this year, my predecessor published our strategy for comprehensively overhauling our visit visa system. Today we are publishing a further Statement on the first of these changes with the creation of a separate category for business, sport, entertainer and special visitors. Copies are being placed in the Library of the House.
In modernising this system, our ambition is twofold: to let legitimate visitors connect with the UK quickly, and to strengthen still further our border security.
The Statement sets out the key features of the arrangements for business, sport, entertainer and special visitors respectively.
In respect of business visitors we are bringing currently separate Immigration Rules and concessions together in one coherent visa; and making clear what business visitors can do here and what they cannot. We believe, after consulting stakeholders, that having a list of permissible activities is a good way of defining them.
We are introducing a new visa to provide for visiting sportspeople based on the current concessionary arrangement. Our purpose here is to ensure that the contribution of overseas visiting sportspeople to the UK’s sporting tradition continues as now, while making clear the circumstances in which sportspeople can come to the UK outside of the points-based system for participation in sport.
Similarly, we are introducing a new visa to provide for visiting entertainers and the circumstances in which they may come to the UK in that capacity, outside of the points-based system. In effect, we are retaining the current concessionary arrangement while removing two criteria relating to festivals which add little value to the current arrangements.
Lastly, there are a number of groups of visitors for whom specific Immigration Rules have been introduced as a need was identified or for which concessions existed outside the rules. The new special visitor visa brings these together although the specific criteria that currently apply to each of these categories would be retained.