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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (William Hague) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I wish to inform the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is today publishing the Enduring Strategic Partnership Document between the UK and Afghanistan which was signed by the Prime Minister and President Karzai on 28 January, 2012.
The Enduring Strategic Partnership signals our shared vision of a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan able to maintain its own security and prevent the country from again being used as a safe haven for international terrorists
Building on the strong message from the Bonn conference last year of the international community's commitment to Afghanistan post-2014, the Enduring Strategic Partnership demonstrates our long-term partnership with Afghanistan.
The document reaffirms both countries' commitment to continuing partnership and friendship. It makes clear that we will have a wide-ranging relationship with Afghanistan which will continue beyond transition and the drawdown of international combat troops.
I am placing the document in the Library of the House. It will also be published on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website (www.fco.gov.uk).
Today I am pleased to announce the Government's decisions on the proposals set out in last summer's consultation on the reform of the Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (ATOL) scheme which can be introduced through new regulations under existing powers.
ATOL is a longstanding and important scheme, which last year protected 18 million holidaymakers from travel company failure. ATOL is particularly relevant in today's uncertain times, allowing consumers to book with the confidence that if their holiday company fails, their money will be protected or they will be able to return home as planned if they are already away, without any extra cost.
It is essential that the scheme should apply in an effective way in the modern holiday market; so that consumers are clear about their rights and how to use them, and holiday companies know which of their products must be protected.
In addition the Air Travel Trust Fund, which provides for refunds and repatriations under the scheme, is operating at a deficit and is supported by a Government guarantee. The fund needs to return to a financially self-sustaining basis as soon as possible so that taxpayers' money is no longer exposed to risk.
The ATOL reform consultation received 82 responses. I am grateful to stakeholders for taking the time to reply. In light of the responses and further analysis, I am confirming today that new ATOL regulations will be made that will:bring into the ATOL scheme flight-plus holidays sold by tour operators and travel agents. These are holidays that look like packages but do not meet the legal definition, and so do not currently require protection under the scheme. Including these holidays will end a significant source of confusion for consumers, and we expect up to an additional 6 million holidays a year will be fully ATOL protected as a result. ensure that on paying for an ATOL protected flight-only, package holiday or flight-plus, consumers receive a certificate confirming that their trip is covered by the scheme. To give the travel trade sufficient time to prepare, this requirement will come fully into effect on 1 October 2012. Until then, consumers will receive clear confirmation that their holiday or flight is ATOL protected.
Taking account of consultation responses and further discussion with stakeholders, the new ATOL regulations will include a number of changes to the draft regulations consulted on. These include changes to the definition of a flight-plus holiday and a revised approach to the exemption for flight-only sales where tickets are provided immediately on payment. Further details on these changes are included in the summary of responses and the Government's decisions published today on the department's website.
In addition to bringing greater clarity to consumers about ATOL protection for holidays and flights, we expect that these reforms should allow the ATOL scheme's financial deficit to be repaid within three years. This will pave the way for possible future changes to improve how the ATOL scheme is funded and managed. The Civil Aviation Authority plans initial discussions with stakeholders on options for this later in the year, building on responses to the question posed in the consultation on this subject.
These regulations complement the clause in the Civil Aviation Bill introduced on 19 January 2012 that would allow the ATOL scheme to cover holidays sold by airlines and those organised on an agent for the consumer basis. Subject to parliamentary process, the Government's intention is that such a step would only be taken following full consultation with stakeholders including an impact assessment.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Philip Hammond) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Changes to the Armed Force Compensation Scheme introduced in May 2011, and Armed Forces redundancies as a result of the Strategic Defence and Security Review, have increased the resource annually managed expenditure (AME) and net cash requirements for the Armed Forces retired pay, pensions etc estimate in a manner which could not have been foreseen at the time of the main estimate in April. Parliamentary approval for additional resource AME of £1,340,000,000 has been sought in the Supplementary Estimate for Armed Forces retired pay, pensions etc laid before the House today.
However, the rate of spend under this vote has also been faster than anticipated at the start of the year, for example, because payment of the retrospective additional compensation payments as part of the implementation of Lord Boyce's recommendations for reform of the AFCS, has proceeded more quickly than expected. The department therefore needs to make arrangements to ensure the financial obligations of the Armed Forces Pension Scheme can continue to be met up until the Supplementary Estimate is approved. Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £1,340,000,000 is sought in the Supplementary Estimate for the Armed Forces retired pay, pensions etc. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £340,000,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Eric Pickles) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am today announcing the launch of the Government's Coastal Communities Fund which will allow seaside towns to seize the opportunity to boost economic growth along our coast. This fund was first announced by the Chief Secretary for the Treasury in July 2011 and I am now publishing the prospectus which sets out the delivery arrangements for the fund and the criteria that will be used to assess bids.
The fund will be equal to 50 per cent of the revenues generated by the Crown Estate's marine assets. The fund is UK-wide, with allocations to the devolved Administrations on the basis of revenue generated by the Crown Estate's marine assets. The devolved Administrations will have country-specific boards which will work with the Big Lottery Fund to deliver this fund on the ground. In 2012, the fund will be worth £23.7 million, and the allocations will be:England-£18.2 million;Scotland-£3.9million (Highlands and Islands - £1.85 million, Rest of Scotland-£2.05 million);Wales-£1.15 million; andNorthern Ireland-£0.45 million.
Coastal towns often missed out on the economic growth of the past decade that centred on London. Smaller seaside towns are also more reliant on the tourist trade and retirement and lack the more diverse economic base of many larger towns.
Seaside towns have shown they can build stronger, more diverse economies when given the chance. This fund will give them the chance to transform economic growth along our coast and unleash their potential to create businesses and jobs. The fund underlines our commitment to supporting coastal towns so they can benefit from the growth in marine revenues generated by the Crown Estate as it develops its coastal and offshore resources.
We have worked with the Big Lottery "Big Fund" to establish how the fund will work and the timetable for its introduction. The deadline for applications in 2012 will be September, with winners announced in December. In England and Wales there will also be a fast-track process with a deadline in May 2012 and allocations in July.
I want to encourage quality bids from the many different types of organisations that support economic development including charities, social enterprises, voluntary organisations, local businesses as well as local authorities and local enterprise partnerships. The Big Lottery's "Big Fund" will deliver the Coastal Communities Fund and will be issuing more detailed guidance shortly.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Philip Hammond) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The next roulement of UK forces in Afghanistan is due to take place in April 2012. The UK's current framework Brigade in Helmand, 20th Armoured Brigade, will be replaced by 12th Mechanised Brigade. The forces deploying include:
Volunteer and ex-Regular members of the Reserve Forces will continue to deploy to Afghanistan as part of this integrated force package, and we expect to issue around 300 call-out notices. On completion of their mobilisation procedures, the reservists will undertake a period of training and, where applicable, integration with their respective receiving units. The majority will serve on operations for around six months. As part of this commitment, we expect up to six members of the Sponsored Reserves to be in theatre at any one time.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has today made the following Statement.
Having considered consultation responses and the report of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I am today laying before Parliament the waste water national policy statement as an un-numbered Command Paper. At the same time, I am also laying, pursuant to Section 5(9)(b) of the Planning Act 2008, the Government's response to the Select Committee.
A written response to the consultation and an updated version of the impact assessment is also being published on the department's website at http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/water/sewage/.
National policy statements are critical to the new planning system, which will help developers bring forward waste water projects of national significance without facing unnecessary delays, while ensuring local people have an opportunity to have a say about how their communities develop, and that decisions are made in an accountable way by elected Ministers.
The waste water national policy statement sets out our need for waste water infrastructure to protect public health and ensure the health of our water environment with the consequent benefits for our water supply and biodiversity. Despite measures which will slow the growth in demand for new waste water infrastructure in England, for example the use of sustainable drainage systems, we will continue to need investment in new waste water infrastructure in order to modernise outdated infrastructure, meet future demands from a growing population and the effects of climate change, and to fulfil our EU obligations.
It has been agreed with the House that the same procedure as set out in the Localism Act, when it comes into effect, will be followed for national policy statements already in development. I intend to designate the national policy statement after a period of 21 sitting days has elapsed, or following a debate in the House of Commons if the House wishes one, and approves the national policy statement, within that period.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My right honourable friend the Minister for Decentralisation and Cities (Greg Clark) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Following parliamentary approval, I have now made orders under Section 9N of the Local Government Act 2000, which come into force today, and which require mayoral referendums to be held on 3 May 2012 in Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield.
In its coalition agreement, the Government committed to creating directly elected mayors in the 12 largest English cities outside London, subject to confirmatory referendums and full scrutiny by elected councillors.
We are clear from experience both internationally and here in this country that elected executive mayors can significantly enhance the leadership of our major cities, delivering greater economic growth and prosperity. Led by a mayor, our cities will have the potential to perform even more strongly economically, socially and environmentally, making the contribution that they should to the growth and success of the country's economy.
Leicester elected its city mayor in May 2011. On 7 February 2012, Liverpool City Council resolved that their city will have a directly elected mayor and plan to hold the first election for a Liverpool mayor on 3 May 2012.
The orders I have made are the next major step towards creating mayors in the remaining 10 cities. Local people in each of these cities will now have the opportunity to say whether they want their city to have an elected mayor. Where the people decide in the referendum that their city should have an elected mayor, they will elect their first mayor on 15 November 2012.
I have also now made, following parliamentary approval, the Local Authorities (Conduct of Referendums) (England) Regulations 2012 which make provision for the conduct of referendums about local governance changes, including, the conduct of the referendums required by the orders.
As we made clear in the parliamentary debates on the draft orders, it was open to any of the city councils, before their order was made, to resolve to move to an elected mayor. Liverpool has done so, and hence I have not made an order for Liverpool.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My honourable friend the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform (Mark Harper) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am announcing today the publication of the Government response to the pre-legislative scrutiny and public consultation on individual electoral registration (IER) and changes to electoral administration.
As we said then, the electoral register is a key building block of our democracy. We see both registering to vote and voting as civic duties and we strongly
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The research we funded the Electoral Commission to undertake has underlined the case for reform of the way people carry out their civic duty of registering to vote. We commissioned a literature review of research in this area from Dr Stuart Wilks-Heeg, a respected academic, which is published alongside this paper and adds further to the evidence base which informs our decisions.
We have paid attention to the lessons learnt from experience of Northern Ireland including the importance of carrying forward electors who have not registered in the first canvass under the new system, and their excellent work in registering new voters including working in partnership with schools to encourage young people to register.
The principle of introducing IER was widely supported by the PCRC and those who responded to the White Paper. We have listened to the feedback expressed about elements of the Government's proposals and are proposing a number of key changes to the proposals included in the White Paper. In particular we want to ensure there are more safeguards in place to ensure as many eligible people as possible stay on the electoral register during the transition and that we can focus on those people eligible to vote but missing from the register. The major changes to the policy position are as follows:
Over the past year, we have carried out a series of data-matching pilots, comparing electoral registers in 22 areas with a range of data from public authorities. While the final evaluation is still being concluded, the evidence so far suggests that comparing entries on an electoral register with information held by the DWP allows us to confirm as accurate a significant majority (an average of two thirds for that data set alone in the pilot areas) of entries on the registers concerned.
Subject to the results of the full evaluation, and further testing this year with stakeholders, we are therefore minded to build on this to simplify the transition to IER for the majority of electors. It is now our intention that the name and address of all individuals on an electoral register when IER is introduced will be matched against the data held by public bodies such as the DWP and local authorities themselves. If an elector's information can be matched, the individual will be automatically placed on to the new IER register and would not need to take any further action to be registered under IER. Only those people who cannot be confirmed automatically will be invited to provide
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It remains our firm belief that registering to vote is a civic duty; we have taken into account the concerns raised by the PCRC and those who responded to the consultation about the possible impact that an up-front opt-out could have on registration levels. As we made clear last year, we are minded to amend this provision and intend either to retain the opt-out but require a person wishing to do so to complete a separate application, or to entirely remove this option altogether.
There has also been widespread discussion of whether it should be an offence for an individual not to register to vote when invited to do so. Despite the strong feelings expressed in the consultation on this issue, our view is that the evidence is not conclusive that introducing a new criminal offence will make any significant difference to registration levels, nor do we feel it is appropriate that we use the threat of a criminal offence to promote greater engagement in the electoral process. However, there are arguments for and against introducing a civil penalty for non-response to an invitation to register, and some important practical implications to resolve on how such a system could work.
We will explore these issues, including with our key stakeholders, and in light of this decide on the approach to take on both a civil penalty and the opt-out. We will set out our decision on this in the legislation when introduced.
We have listened to concerns that the gap between the last old-style household canvass and the amended canvass in 2014 is too long. Therefore to ensure that a more accurate and up-to-date register is used as the basis of the new register we are planning to delay the annual canvass in 2013 to the early part of 2014.
We believe that these changes, along with the others outlined in the Government's response, will significantly strengthen these proposals. The full response to the PCRC's report and the views expressed during the public consultation on our White Paper and draft legislation are set out in the Command Paper, but they are not our final word on the subject.
As we continue to refine our proposals ahead of introduction of legislation later this year, we will continue to work closely with stakeholders to further inform our thinking and develop our proposals. We have listened and learned, and we shall continue to do so.
Copies of this Command Paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. We will also be shortly publishing on the Cabinet Office website only a literature review on electoral registration, written by Dr Stuart Wilks-Heeg, and a high-level implementation timeline for individual electoral registration.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): The Informal EU Competitiveness Council took place in Copenhagen on 2 and 3 February 2012. I represented the UK on both days of the council. A summary of those discussions follows.
The research session of the council on 2 February was preceded by a conference on 1 February, attended by BIS officials, discussing informally the structure of the Horizon 2020 programme. This included three plenary sessions on excellent science, industrial leadership, and societal challenges.
The research council then began on 2 February, hosted by Danish Minister for Research, Innovation and Higher Education, Morten Østergaard. There were presentations from EU Commissioners Geoghegan-Quinn and Hahn on Commission proposals on Horizon 2020, followed by three plenary sessions centring on three of the key challenges Horizon 2020 must address. These are; improving complementariness with other EU programmes (principally structural and cohesion funds); simplifying rules of participation; and bridging the valley of death between basic science and commercialisation.
I attended the third session regarding the gap between basic science and commercialisation. I intervened to press for a stronger focus on the successful exploitation of research, and for support for innovation to be embedded throughout Horizon 2020. I also pressed the Commission to come forward with more detailed proposals for pan-European venture capital support and a version of the small business research initiative. Among the other workshops, member states pressed for more clarity on the link between Horizon 2020 and structural and cohesion funds, and for more ambitious plans for simplification.
The industry and internal market council followed on 3 February. This was hosted by the Danish Minister for Business and Growth, Ole Sohn, and was focused on the digital single market. Minister Sohn opened the council with a speech setting out six current and upcoming dossiers which should help the digital single market reach its full potential; e-payments, e-invoicing, e-procurement, common IT standards, the e-signatures package and the alternative dispute resolution. This was followed by speeches from Michel Barnier and Neelie Kroes, acting in their capacities as Commissioners for Internal Market and Services, and the Digital Agenda respectively.
Two workshops were then held focusing on both supply and demand in the digital single market. The main conclusion from the supply workshop was that it is imperative to boost the trust of consumers when ordering online. From the demand workshop, it emerged that the mutual recognition of e-signatures is crucial to improving e-invoicing, and that e-billing systems should be accessible across EU borders.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Employment (Chris Grayling) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will be held on 17 February 2012 in Brussels. My honourable friend, Norman Lamb, Minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills will represent the United Kingdom.
There will be three roundtable discussions at this meeting. The first will be a policy debate on women on company boards. My honourable friend, Norman Lamb will stress that the UK is committed to seeing more women on company boards. He will further highlight the merits of industry-led measures that achieve real culture change as opposed to the setting of legally binding quotas.
The second discussion is scheduled to be an initial exchange of views on new European Commission proposals related to the posting of workers. The proposals are yet to be published. When responding to these proposals, my honourable friend Norman Lamb will make clear that in considering the proposals the UK will take account of their likely impact on growth, competitiveness and jobs.
The third discussion will be a policy debate on the implementation of the Europe 2020 Strategy in the field of employment and social policy. The debate will centre on a set of council conclusions on the Joint Employment Report priorities for action. My honourable friend Norman Lamb will stress the need for deeper structural reforms to get European economies moving and people back into work. He will acknowledge that the conclusions fully reflect the mandate given to council by heads of state and Government in December 2010 and at last month's informal European Council for EU Employment Ministers to exchange views on the effective functioning of labour markets.
Under any other business, the Commission will provide information on transitional arrangements on the free movement of workers from Bulgaria and Romania. The presidency will provide information on the preparation of the tripartite social summit. The Commission and presidency will provide information on preparation for the G20 meeting of Labour and Employment Ministers; and on the Euro-Mediterranean Employment and Labour High Level Working Group. Finally, the Employment Committee and Social Protection Committee chairs will provide information on their work programmes for 2012.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State
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Members will recall that in July 1997 the Government announced their policy on preventing British companies from manufacturing, selling or procuring equipment designed primarily for torture. Reference was made to the UK taking the necessary measures to prevent the export from or transhipment through the UK of portable devices designed or modified for riot control purposes or self-protection that administer an electric-shock. This included electric discharge shock guns, of which Taser is a brand.
The Government are committed to maintaining this policy given their commitment to preventing British companies from manufacturing, selling or procuring equipment designed primarily for torture and to continuing to press for a global ban on such equipment.
We therefore propose to maintain this prohibition on the export, transhipment, and trade in such equipment to all destinations, except in certain very limited and specific circumstances with regard to Tasers in specific cases relating to approved use by UK police.
The need to allow the limited export of Tasers has arisen because of operational difficulties for UK police services, police services of the Crown Dependencies and some British Overseas Territories who seek to use Tasers, consistent with their use by UK police forces, as a measured alternative to the use of lethal force.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries (Richard Benyon) has today made the following Statement.
I am today, in conjunction with the Environment Agency, announcing details of flood and coastal erosion risk management schemes going ahead in the next financial year. In additional to the continuing construction of over 80 schemes, a total of 60 new schemes will begin construction in the coming year. When complete these new schemes will give over 25,000 homes a better level of protection from the devastating effects of flooding and coastal erosion.
This Government will spend £2.17 billion on managing the risk of flooding and coastal erosion over this spending period (April 2011-March 2015). We have prioritised areas of severe flood and coastal erosion risk, and households in deprived communities. Of the 145,000 homes that will be better protected by 2015, around half will be in areas of significant flood risk and almost 15,000 homes will be both at significant flood risk and in the most deprived parts of the country.
New estimates show that the risk management authorities are on track to exceed the goal of better protecting 145,000 homes by March 2015. This is in part due to the new partnership approach to funding that has helped secure £72 million of external contributions for projects over the next three years. Regional Flood and Coastal Committees, which include local authority representatives, have worked with local communities to attract flood defence funding from external sources such as businesses, private investors and local authorities. For example, in South Derbyshire, Nestlé has contributed £1.7 million to a £7 million scheme to protect 1,600 homes and further financial contributions have been made from industry, the community and local landowners. A scheme in Water End, York, which was turned down for funding last year, is going ahead after the Environment Agency worked with York City Council to agree a package of cost reductions and partnership contributions.
Other schemes that will go ahead next year include Warrington in Cheshire, protecting over 2,000 households, Salmons Brook in North London, protecting over 1,300 households, and Godmanchester in Cambridgeshire, protecting over 300 households. The Environment Agency has also committed to increasing the number of households receiving free flood warnings to over 1.1 million.
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): On 8 December 2011, I made a Written Statement to the House notifying Members that the Administration and Works Committee had agreed to a three-month trial of new vehicle access arrangements in the Peers' car park. These new arrangements were put in place on 3 January 2012. Following feedback from Members, on 16 January I made an oral Statement to the House, informing Members that I had asked Black Rod to produce an interim report on the trial for the Administration and Works Committee to consider at its next meeting.
On 7 February, the Administration and Works Committee considered this report and unanimously concluded that there were compelling security grounds for continuing with the trial arrangements. A number of small changes have already been introduced which have significantly reduced delays and inconvenience. In the longer term, it will be possible to remedy most of the other difficulties with the new arrangements and improve the safety of pedestrians by altering the layout of the car park and steel barriers. In particular, the Committee agreed that further work should be taken forwards with a view to:creating a specially designated lay-by for taxis, which would allow taxis to drop off and pick up passengers without impeding pedestrian access and without causing congestion for other vehicles;locating this lay-by directly opposite Peers' Entrance, to shorten the distance between the taxi drop-off point and Peers' Entrance;altering the access arrangements for leaving Peers' car park to speed up exit times; andrearranging the street furniture to remove the short section of contra-flow traffic and provide a clearly delineated walkway for pedestrians.
These significant improvements cannot be made immediately. In the mean time, Black Rod is willing to attend party and group meetings to brief Members orally on the proposed improvements. Members of the Administration and Works Committee are also willing to discuss this at their own party meetings. The Administration and Works Committee will continue to monitor the new arrangements in Peers' car park, and will seek to make further improvements where necessary.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Housing and Local Government (Grant Shapps) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am today announcing £20 million funding for local housing authorities for preventing repossessions. £19 million is allocated for a Preventing Repossessions Fund and £1 million will contribute to housing court possessions duty desks.
The £19 million Preventing Repossessions Fund provides additional options for local housing authorities to tackle repossessions in their area as part of their duties to prevent homelessness. This will be achieved by offering small interest-free loans, or grants, to households at risk of repossession. Small loans can address immediate, short-term financial difficulties, allow breathing space, and avoid households becoming homeless due to mortgage possession. This funding has been allocated to local authorities using weighted criteria which reflect demand and which reward homelessness preventions. All local housing authorities will receive funding.
£1 million is allocated to local housing authorities to fund housing court possession duty desks within the 54 county courts in England that are not already funded by other sources, such as the Legal Services Commission. Court desks offer households free legal advice and representation on the day of a possession court hearing, regardless of an individual's financial circumstances. This funding ensures universal access so that all households at risk of possession or eviction can access free legal advice when attending court.
A range of government support is already in place to help homeowners at risk of repossession including support for mortgage interest, a Department for Work and Pensions benefit to help out-of-work households to meet their monthly interest payments (£386 million is forecast to be spent in 2011-12). The Government have invested £221 million over the next two years for the mortgage rescue scheme, aimed at vulnerable homeowners at risk of repossession. This scheme has been improved to deliver better value for money for the taxpayer. The Government have also asked the Money Advice Service to establish a strategy for delivering free debt advice to empower consumers to take charge of their finances.
In addition, the Government's ongoing efforts to tackle the record deficit will help avoid rapid increases in interest rates, which would put further pressure on already stretched family budgets. Interest payments for mortgages are currently the lowest as a proportion of total income since records began.
I am announcing proposals to change the fees for immigration and nationality applications made to the UK Border Agency. The Government review these fees on a regular basis and make appropriate changes as necessary. I am today laying regulations for fees that are set at levels above the estimated administrative costs of the service. We have continued with our strategic approach to charging; setting certain fees above cost on the basis of the value of the service.
Given the ongoing need to reduce public spending, we believe it is right that we continue to seek to reduce the burden on UK taxpayers of delivering the border and immigration system by asking migrants to make a greater contribution to the funding of the UK Border Agency. The UK Border Agency has given careful consideration to its fee levels, to ensure it can maintain good service levels to customers and secure the border for the general public.
Some fees are set above the administrative cost of providing the service to generate the revenue which is used to help fund the UK immigration system and
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Details of all the proposed increases are set out in the table attached (new fees are shown in italics). The table includes indicative unit costs for each application for financial year 2012-13. The unit cost is the estimated average cost to the UK Border Agency of processing each application. Although these unit costs are not fixed over the course of the financial year, the unit costs are published so it is clear which fees we set over cost and by how much.
In developing these proposals, the UK Border Agency has sought to limit most increases to approximately 2 per cent. In addition, the fees paid by dependants, for applications made within the UK, are being maintained at the current level of 50 per cent of a main applicant's fee. In future the UK Border Agency will look to charge the same fee in the UK for dependants and main applicants, as currently already happens for visa applications made overseas.
Full details on how to apply for all of these services will be provided on the UK Border Agency's website: www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk.
|Out of Country|
|Visas-non PBS (New products are shown in italics)||Unit Costs April 2012||Previous Fees April 2011||New Fees April 2012|
|Visa - PBS||Unit Costs April 2012||Previous Fees April 2011||New Fees April 2012|
|Nationality||Unit Costs April 2012||Previous Fees April 2011||New Fees April 2012|
|In UK - Non PBS||Unit Costs April 2012||Previous Fees April 2011||New Fees April 2012|
|In UK - PBS (New products are shown in italics)||Unit Costs April 2012||Previous Fees April 2011||New Fees April 2012|
|PBS Sponsorship (New products are shown in italics)||Unit Costs April 2012||Previous Fees April 2011||New Fees April 2012|
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Jonathan Djanogly) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am today announcing the publication of the Government's response to the civil justice consultation on Solving disputes in the county courts, which included proposals to modernise the civil justice system and make it simpler, quicker, cheaper and more effective.
Based on the broad support many of the Government's proposals received, we plan to increase the small claims limit to £10,000 initially, with a possible further increase to £15,000 in the future after evaluation. We do not recommend an increase to the fast track limit at this time.
All small claims will be automatically referred to mediation, on the basis that this is not compulsory mediation, but rather a requirement to engage with a small claims mediator. Mandatory information sessions for higher value claims will not be introduced.
After liaising further with stakeholders we will be extending to £25,000 the existing RTA PI scheme to provide a speedier, more transparent system for dealing with low value personal injury claims arising out of accidents. This will assist in deterring spurious claims, while ensuring compensation is available more quickly where it is merited.
The Government will proceed with streamlining procedures and commencement of certain provisions of Part 4 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, which have already been approved by Parliament.
A single county court for England and Wales will be established and provisions introduced to enable cases and judges to be allocated more efficiently and effectively. Specialist claims will be placed under the exclusive jurisdiction of the High Court.
The document is available online at: http://www.justice.gov.uk.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Bob Neill) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Following constructive discussions with the firefighters' trades unions, on 8 December I wrote to all of the firefighters' trades unions to issue the cost ceiling for the Firefighters' Pension Scheme. This included a generous accrual rate, and provided protection for all those within 10 years of their current scheme's normal pension
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The Government pay tribute to the importance of the work undertaken by our fire and rescue service and the bravery, dedication and professionalism of the men and women who work within it. The Government are committed to providing public service pensions that are sustainable, fair and effective.
Building on the proposals brought forward by Lord Hutton, these proposals aim to strike a balanced deal between public service workers and the taxpayer. They will ensure that public service workers continue to have access to good pensions, while taxpayers benefit from greater control over their costs.
I am pleased to report that the heads of agreement for the design of a new pension scheme for firefighters in England has now been established. Each trades union with firefighter members will now consider the main design elements of a new scheme to be available for their members from 2015. Further work will take place over the coming weeks to establish the final details and executives can consult members as appropriate.
I am particularly grateful for the manner in which firefighters' trades unions have maintained a constructive dialogue over the emerging detailed elements of the new scheme. Further discussion will now take place through the scheme's Pension Reform Group.
average member contributions of 13.2 per cent from April 2015, with some protection for new entrants. However, the Government will review the impact of the proposed 2012-13 contribution changes, including the effect of membership opt-outs, before taking final decisions on how future increases will be delivered in 2013-14 and 2014-15, and in the new scheme;
the normal pension age will be subject to regular review. These reviews will consider the increasing state pension age and any changes to it, alongside evidence from interested parties, including unions and employers. It will consider if the normal pension age of 60 remains relevant, taking account of the economical, efficient and effective management of the fire service, the changing profile of the workforce and the occupational demands of, and fitness standards for, firefighting roles;
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