The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Sarah McCarthy-Fry): Following the decision of the Supreme Court quashing the Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2006, and its indication that the Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2009 was vulnerable to being quashed on the same basis as the 2006 Order, Parliament passed the Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Act 2010 in February. The Act restores the validity in law of the UK's terrorist asset-freezing regime until 31 December 2010, providing a period for Parliament to consider and pass more permanent legislation without, in the meantime, incurring a gap in our terrorist asset-freezing regime that would have damaged national security.
The Government have set out their proposals for permanent terrorist asset-freezing legislation in the draft Terrorist Asset-Freezing Bill that was published on 5 February 2010. The structure of the draft Bill follows closely that of the Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2009 and contains a number of safeguards to protect human rights, for example the requirement that asset freezes can only be made where necessary for public protection and the requirement that asset freezes expire after 12 months unless the Treasury has reviewed the case and made a fresh decision to renew the asset freeze.
The Government are committed fully to ensuring that there is proper transparency and accountability to Parliament with respect to the operation of the terrorist asset-freezing regime. That is why since December 2006, the Treasury has reported quarterly to Parliament on the operation of the terrorist asset-freezing regime. The most recent report was laid on 8 March 2010.
The draft Terrorist Asset-Freezing Bill will further strengthen transparency and accountability to Parliament, by enshrining in law the requirement to report quarterly to Parliament on the operation of the terrorist asset-freezing regime, and by requiring an annual independent review of the asset-freezing regime, with a report following such a review to be laid before Parliament.
Consistent with our commitment to transparency, the Government have made it clear that they wish there to be full and proper scrutiny of our proposals for new terrorist asset-freezing legislation. These are important legislative proposals. It is right that members of the public and other interested parties should have the opportunity to consider the proposals and submit views and evidence. And it is right that Parliament's consideration of the legislation in due course should be informed by the views and evidence of the public and interested parties. This is why the Government proposed a sunset clause of 31 December 2010 in the temporary
legislation-to allow sufficient time for external views and evidence to be gathered and considered by Parliament when it scrutinises the new legislation.
The Government are today launching a public consultation exercise on the draft Terrorist Asset-Freezing Bill, which will close in three months' time on 18 June 2010. The consultation document, which would complement and aid any future scrutiny by Members of both Houses or a Select Committee, if that is the decision of Parliament, explains the background to terrorist asset-freezing: the terrorist threat and the role of finance in supporting terrorism; the international framework for terrorist asset-freezing; and the UK's current approach to terrorist asset-freezing. The consultation document also sets out how our current terrorist asset-freezing legislation works and explains the provisions in the proposed new terrorist asset-freezing legislation. The consultation particularly invites views on the following questions:
Does the draft Bill set out the most effective way of meeting our UN obligations and protecting national security while also ensuring sufficient safeguards in respect of human rights?
Do you have any views on the current operation of the UK's asset freezing regime under the Terrorism Orders?
Does the regulatory impact assessment reflect accurately the costs and benefits of the regime? Is there more that can be done to reduce the costs for the financial sector and others in implementing the regime while maintaining its effectiveness?
The Government hope that the consultation exercise will be useful in stimulating public debate on these important issues and that it will provide a valuable source of views and evidence that will assist Parliament in scrutinising the Terrorist Asset-Freezing Bill in due course.
The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ian Pearson): Today I have placed copies of the report on "The State of the Estate in 2009" in the Libraries of both Houses. This report, required by the Climate Change Act 2008, provides an assessment of the efficiency and sustainability of the Government's civil estate and records the good progress that Government are making as well the improvements that continue to be made. This is the second time that Government have reported in such a comprehensive way and this has allowed improvement trends to be analysed. The report is published on an annual basis.
I would like to inform the House that a direction modifying and partially revoking the Energy Act designating directions for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority's Capenhurst site has been laid before Parliament.
The direction removes two small plots of land from the area designated in 2005 and we are satisfied that NDA has discharged all its responsibilities in relation to decommissioning and clean up of this land. This area may be reused by Urenco in the future, and potentially provides for future investment at the site.
Any new developments will be subject to regulatory and other consenting processes.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Gillian Merron): We are laying today before Parliament the Government's response (Cm 7832) to the Health Select Committee report on Alcohol, which was published on 8 January 2010.
The range of the Health Select Committee's inquiry and their report recognises the scale and complexity of the challenge we face. Alcohol is a rapidly rising major public health challenge and the Government have been working hard to address it, but there is no single action we can take to change our culture overnight.
The Government's response welcomes the Health Select Committee's thorough and far-reaching report on alcohol. While we are working to deliver our current strategy, we believe their recommendations will make an important and lasting contribution to the ways in which Government and society regard this important issue.
The breadth of the Committee's inquiry and the nature of the report has required in-depth consultations across Government. In particular, the Department has liaised closely and extensively on this response with those other Departments called to give oral evidence to the Committee: the Treasury, the Home Office and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Each of those Departments has also wished to ensure that the Committee received the fullest response where their areas of responsibility and those of the Department of Health coincide.
to help people make informed decisions (for example, information and education campaigns and labelling). The Committee recognises that information and education policies do have a role as part of a comprehensive strategy;
to create a healthier environment (for example, through licensing and enforcement regimes). The Committee has welcomed the mandatory code on alcohol retailing and called for its early introduction;
to provide advice, support and treatment for people at risk (for example, providing "brief interventions" in primary care and treatment services for dependent drinkers). We welcome the Committee's view that early detection and intervention in alcohol-related ill health are both effective and cost-effective; and
to improve the underpinning delivery system to support those services. For example, from 2008 the Government created the first ever indicator for primary care trusts to tackle alcohol-related hospital admissions. Our alcohol improvement programme supports PCTs taking action in this area).
Current levels of alcohol-related hospital admissions, crime, and deaths are unacceptable. Much more can, and will, be done to turn around the drinking culture in this country. We are currently taking forward action on a mandatory code to tackle the irresponsible promotion of alcohol. New, and strengthened, campaigns, this year will raise public awareness further on the link between drinking too much and poor health, and on the harm that alcohol can do to children.
The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, Lord West of Spithead, has made today the following written ministerial statement:
The then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Jacqui Smith, announced in her statement on 14 November 2007, Official Report Vol. 467, c. 44WS, the outcome of my review on how best we protect crowded places from terrorist attack.
This review concluded that further improvements would be achieved by putting in place a number of initiatives. These included publishing, after further consultation, guidance on a new strategic national framework to encourage greater partnership working at the local level and doing more to protect buildings from terrorism from the design stage onwards.
We published for public consultation on 20 April 2009 two documents that set out the Government's approach to reducing the vulnerability of crowded places to terrorist attack. The consultation period ran for 12 weeks and concluded on 10 July 2009 and was supported by a series of stakeholder events in the English regions and in Scotland and Wales. We received 103 written responses, (mainly from private and public sector organisations). We have been very pleased with the level of engagement a wide range of partners have had with the consultation process. We are also pleased that most respondents thought that the Government's approach, with its emphasis on identifying and describing the potential contributions key stakeholders could make, was the right one.
In the light of the consultation exercise, the Government are publishing today a number of documents. "Working Together to Protect Crowded Place" relates to the United Kingdom as a whole and while reflecting the differing arrangements in the devolved Administrations, it aims to encourage greater partnership working at the local level between local authorities, other local partners and in particular businesses.
"Crowded Places: The Planning System and Counter-Terrorism" is jointly published by the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government and is sharply focused on guidance that is directly relevant to the role of planning officers. While this document applies only to England, it will be of interest to devolved Administrations in considering what guidance they might offer within the context of their own planning systems.
"Protecting Crowded Places: Design and Technical Issues'" is jointly published by the Home Office, the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) and the police National Counter-Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO). It contains design and technical counter-terrorism protective security guidance that will be of particular interest to architects and designers and their clients.
We are also publishing today on the Home Office website, an impact assessment and an accompanying equality impact assessment, including the Government's response to its recommendations.
We will keep our overall approach, contained in the published documents, under review to ensure that it delivers the proportionate reductions in the vulnerabilities of crowded places that we want to see.
Copies of the documents published today will be placed in the House Library.
I am making a change to the Immigration Rules, laid before the House today, to change marriage visa age policy so that the age requirement is lowered to 18 for serving members of the armed forces and their partners. This recognises the role of partners in supporting those on the frontline. I believe that it is important that we give the armed forces special consideration to reflect the unique circumstances in which they operate.
The points-based system continues to provide a flexible means to better identify and attract those migrants who have the most to contribute to the UK, while enforcing our effective border controls against those with less to offer. Tier 1 is for the most highly skilled workers, and tier 2 for other skilled workers who have a job offer from a UK employer licensed to sponsor migrants.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) provides the Government with independent, evidence-based advice on the economic case for managed migration. The MAC published its recommendations for tier 2 on 19 August 2009, and its recommendations for tier 1 on 4 December 2009. In arriving at them, it considered evidence from hundreds of organisations. The Government have also engaged with a wide-range of employers, trade unions and other organisations to ensure that the changes we make meet their needs and control migration in the best interests of the UK as a whole.
I can announce today that the Government are accepting all but two of the MAC's recommended changes to tier 1. The statement of changes to the Immigration Rules laid before the House today includes new points tables for both tiers, a simpler route for very highly skilled workers without master's degrees, greater flexibility for short-term transfers by multinational companies, and more protection against such transfers being used to nil long-term vacancies that should go to resident workers.
We have disagreed with the Committee in the awarding of points for professional qualifications held in addition to academic qualifications. We consider the approach would be complex, confusing for applicants and difficult to administer, and that operationally it would be very difficult to assess which combinations should attract particular points. So the Government have not accepted the recommendation at this time.
Further, the MAC recommended that the Government commissions detailed analysis of the economic returns to studying at particular institutions and for particular degree subjects. The Department for Business, Innovation
and Skills (BIS) has already commissioned research which will shed more light on international students' experience of the post-study work route, the jobs they take on and whether or not the availability of post-study leave to remain was decisive in them choosing to study in the UK. The Government have therefore decided that any further consideration of this recommendation should await the outcome of that research.
The UK Border Agency is also publishing a statement of policy for sponsors to ensure they have as much detail as possible about the Government's response to the MAC's recommendations, including those which do not require legislative action to implement.
Today's rules changes also make relatively minor changes to other parts of the points-based system. Under tier 4, we are making a number of changes that will support the introduction of the new highly trusted sponsor category from 6 April. We are also amending the rules to permit sponsored researchers, who are part-way through research projects at our higher education institutions, to make an application to extend their leave under the Government authorised exchange sub-category of tier 5.
We are also making some changes to the requirements concerning English language qualifications for migrants seeking indefinite leave to remain in the UK. It is important that immigrants seeking permanent residence in the UK have some understanding of one of the native languages of this country (English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic) and of life in the United Kingdom. This will help to ensure that they integrate more easily into the British way of life.
I have today laid changes to the Immigration Rules which will ensure that all applicants relying on qualifications in English for speakers of other languages will study at accredited colleges; ensuring the quality of provision and preventing the possibilities of abuse of the provisions and exploitation of migrants. I have also clarified the progression which migrants are required to demonstrate before applying for permanent residence. Additional technical changes bring the rules into line with current terminology for the relevant qualifications.
We are also making some relatively minor changes to the Immigration Rules on asylum in order to clarify existing practice and procedure in the UK. These changes will have the effect of preventing asylum applicants from claiming humanitarian protection where there are serious reasons for considering that they have engaged in undesirable behaviour as set out in the rules.
We have also clarified interview procedures for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and have removed an unnecessary requirement for an asylum seeker to be asked to sign the interview record after their asylum interview to verify its contents. We have done this because we are satisfied that there are other procedures in place to safeguard the process.
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