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Today's Written Statements Update

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Michael Fallon - Ministry of Defence

The Supplement to the 2016 Report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB) making recommendations on the pay of Service Medical and Dental Officers has been published today. I wish to express my thanks to the Chairman and members of the Review Body for their Report. The AFPRBs recommendations are to be accepted in full with implementation effective from 1 April 2016. Copies of the AFPRB Supplementary Report are available in the Vote Office.


Dominic Raab - Ministry of Justice

The Government has today published a consultation paper proposing new fees for proceedings in the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) and Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber).

In the Spending Review the government announced that we were investing 700 million in Her Majestys Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS). This will transform our courts and tribunals, reducing complexity in language, processes and systems; helping people reach the best resolution for them; minimising the steps that people need to go through to obtain justice; and improving access to justice. We will invest in better facilities and use technology to reduce paperwork, so that we create a courts and tribunals service fit for the modern age.

At the same time, we must reduce the burden on the taxpayer of running our courts and tribunals. In meeting our Spending Review settlement, all parts of the Ministry of Justice must contribute to the national effort to reduce the deficit and restore the governments finances to surplus. The courts and tribunals service cost 1.8 billion in 2014-15, but only 700 million was received in income. This leaves a net cost to the taxpayer of around 1.1bn in one year alone.

Our consultation proposes increasing fees in those immigration and asylum proceedings where a fee is payable so that the fee meets the costs of those proceedings in full. We have previously consulted on plans to raise fees for proceedings in the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) in order to recover around 25% of the 84 million annual costs of that Chamber. Having re-assessed the Ministry of Justices financial position following the Spending Review, we need to go much further.

In light of the challenging financial circumstances we face we have already had to take difficult decisions. We have implemented enhanced court fees, above the cost of the proceedings to which they relate, for money claims; possession claims; general applications within civil proceedings; and divorce petitions.

In these financial circumstances, we have concluded that it is no longer reasonable to expect the taxpayer to fund around 75% of the costs of immigration and asylum proceedings. We therefore propose increasing fees in the First-tier Tribunal from 80 to 490 for an application for a decision on the papers and from 140 to 800 for an application for an oral hearing. We also propose introducing a new fee of 455 for an application to the First-tier Tribunal for permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal.

We also believe that the same principles should apply to appeals to the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) so the consultation also seeks views on introducing fees, set at full cost recovery levels, for these proceedings. The consultation proposes a fee of 350 for an application to the Upper Tribunal for permission to appeal, where permission has been refused by the First-tier Tribunal, and a fee of 510 for an appeal hearing where permission is granted.

We are mindful of the fact that some applicants will face difficulties in paying these fees, so to make sure that the burden of funding the system is shared as fairly as possible we will continue to exempt from fees those in particularly vulnerable positions. This includes those who qualify for legal aid or asylum support; those who are appealing against a decision to deprive them of their citizenship; and those children bringing appeals to the tribunal who are being supported by a local authority. We will also extend our exemptions to protect children being housed by the local authority and the parents of children receiving local authority support. In addition, we are consulting on further extensions to the exemptions scheme in this consultation to make sure we continue to protect the most vulnerable.

Higher fees are never popular but they are necessary if we are, as a nation, to live within our means. These proposals would raise around an additional 37 million a year, which is a critical contribution to cutting the deficit and reducing the burden on the taxpayer of running the courts and tribunals.

Full details of the Governments proposals are set out in the consultation document which has been published on the gov.uk website


Mr Shailesh Vara - Ministry of Justice

On 18th February the Court of Appeal handed down judgment on an appeal in a judicial review challenge to the domestic violence evidence requirements under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). I would now like to inform the House of the steps the Government is taking to respond to the courts concerns.

Legal aid is a fundamental part of our justice system, but resources are not limitless. Our overriding approach to legal aid reform is to reduce the burden on the taxpayer of paying for legal aid, whilst ensuring that it is targeted at the highest priorities. In line with this approach, LASPO removed legal aid from most private family matters while making a clear exception for victims of domestic violence. In such cases, the applicant is required to supply specific evidence of domestic violence, which is set out in regulations.

In this judicial review, the Court of Appeal found that the regulations frustrated LASPOs purpose in two specific areas. First, in that they required evidence to have been obtained within a two-year period before the application for legal aid. Second, because they lacked provision for victims of financial abuse.

We continue to believe that victims of domestic violence in private family disputes should receive legal aid where evidence is provided, and the Court of Appeal has agreed that the Lord Chancellor has the power to make arrangements in regulations to allow this. But there are areas where we need further information-for example, the number of individuals who have evidence over two years old. We also need to more fully appreciate the issues in play in cases of financial abuse, on which there is only limited research available.

We have begun work with domestic violence support groups, legal representative bodies and colleagues across government to gather data and develop our understanding of these issues. Our findings will be used to inform an evidence-based solution to the courts concerns, with the aim of drawing up replacement regulations.

In the meantime we are taking immediate action, through interim regulations laid before Parliament today, to change our arrangements. We are more than doubling the original time limit for evidence increasing it from two to five years, and we are introducing a provision for the assessment of evidence concerning financial abuse. We are expediting implementation of these changes so they will come into effect on Monday 25th April in order to make sure that victims of domestic violence can receive the support they need as soon as possible, and to give certainty to those considering applications for legal aid. We believe that these arrangements address the courts concerns while work continues to find a sustainable longer-term solution.


Michael Fallon - Ministry of Defence

I am announcing the successful completion of a review of the Departments contract with one of its key suppliers, AWE Management Limited (AWEML), a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Inc., Jacobs Inc and Serco. The contract is for the Management and Operation of the AWE sites at Aldermaston, Burghfield and Blacknest.

As with all major commercial programmes, this contract is kept under regular review to ensure it continues to meet the Ministry of Defences requirements in terms of performance, affordability and value for money. As a result of the review, the contract with AWEML has been improved. It provides the opportunity for higher performance incentives, as well as reductions if targets are not met. The duration of the contract is unchanged, running through to 2025. It will also now be a Qualifying Defence Contract under the terms of the Defence Reform Act 2014 and Single Source Procurement Framework.

The core commitment in the AWE Management and Operation contract remains extant - to provide and maintain the nuclear warhead stockpile for the UKs nuclear deterrent, efficiently and effectively without compromising safety or security, for as long as the Government requires.

 


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