Written Ministerial Statements
Tuesday 7 July 2009
Double Taxation Convention (United Kingdom and Luxembourg)
A new protocol to the Double Taxation Convention with Luxembourg was signed on 2 July 2009. The text of the protocol has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs’ website. The text will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.
Service Complaints System
I am pleased to place before Parliament today the MOD’s formal response to the Service Complaints Commissioner’s (SCC) first annual report on the fairness, effectiveness and efficiency of the service complaints system.
The MOD accepts the SCC’s 17 recommendations and six objectives. I am clear that these will help us to continue improving on our current system and increasing confidence in it among our service personnel. The formal response sets out how MOD proposes to address the recommendations and what we will be doing in the coming months.
Defence Strategic Planning
The armed forces are an essential element of our national security. They provide the ultimate defence against direct threats to the UK and its overseas territories. They tackle threats to our national security overseas by helping to address conflict, instability and crises across the globe. I know there is strong support in this House for their achievements.
The Government’s current priority for the armed forces is to ensure they have the equipment and support they need for operations in Afghanistan. We have approved over £2.2 billion from the reserve for urgent operational requirements in Afghanistan. Overall spending from the reserve, above costs met from the MOD budget, was over £2.6 billion in the last financial year.
But, in parallel, we must ensure the armed forces are fit for the challenges of tomorrow.
The policy set out in the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) and subsequently adjusted in the SDR New Chapter and the 2003 Defence White Paper, delivering Security in a Changing World has stood the test of time. However, it is now more than 10 years since the SDR and the challenges facing defence have inevitably changed in that time.
I am therefore announcing that the Government is beginning a process that will enable a strategic defence review early in the next Parliament. That review, to be set in the context of the national security strategy, will be designed to ensure that we develop and maintain armed forces appropriate to the challenges we face and the aims we set ourselves as a nation.
As a first step, we will undertake an examination of a range of issues, including:
the strategic context for defence, including the lessons we have learned from recent operations and the changing character of conflict;
our experience working in partnership with other arms of Government;
the contribution defence can make to the projection of soft power—exerting influence to prevent conflicts;
technological changes in defence;
the scope for more effective processes in defence, including acquisition;
the modern day requirements on and aspirations of our armed forces personnel.
I intend to publish the results of this work in the form of a Green Paper in early 2010. I recognise there is a wide range of views on these important issues and hope the Green Paper will help build a consensus on these critical underlying issues for defence.
Identity and Passport Service
Together with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I am announcing that the Privy Council has been asked to approve changes to passport fees at their meeting tomorrow by amending the Consular Fees (No. 2) Order 2009, which gives authority for a change in passport fees. The change will take effect on 3 September 2009.
The fees for passport applications made in the UK are as follows; the fee for a standard adult 32 page passport will increase from £72 to £77.50 while the fee for an adult 48 page passport will increase from £85 to £90.50. The fee for a passport for a child will increase from £46 to £49.00. The fee for an adult using the guaranteed one week counter service for a standard 32 page passport will increase from £97 to £112.50, for a 48 page from £105 to £120.50 and for a child from £81 to £96.50. The fee for an adult using the guaranteed same day service for a standard 32 page passport will increase from £114 to £129.50, for a 48 page passport from £123 to £138.50 and for a child from £94 to £109.50. The standard adult passport will continue to be issued for free to applicants born on or before 2 September 1929.
The fees for overseas passport applications made to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are as follows; the fee for a standard adult 32 page passport will increase from £124 to £124.50. The fee for a passport for a child will increase from £79 to £79.50. The fee for an adult 48 page passport will increase from £150 to £150.50.
These fees have been set following a comprehensive review with HM Treasury of costs to ensure that the fee for each type of passport service fully reflects the production costs accrued by that service and bears its share of the cost of consular assistance services.
The rise will ensure the Identity and Passport Service and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is able to continue to deliver the service its customers have come to expect and to deliver security enhancements to passports.
Coroners and Justice Bill
I told the House on 5 May 2009, Official Report, column 19 that I had met representatives from the all party parliamentary group for genocide prevention, and they had made a very powerful case for the inclusion of genocide as an extraterritorial offence within our law. Since then I have consulted widely with colleagues about the best way to proceed.
Serious crimes of this nature are best dealt with in the country where the crimes took place. That is where the evidence will be most easily accessible, and where witnesses will be easier to contact. It is also the best solution because witnesses and survivors can see justice being done. Failing that, these crimes should be dealt with by international courts or tribunals where they exist. However, there may be circumstances where these options are not available. We have therefore decided that we should strengthen domestic law in this area.
We propose that, as far is permissible under the legal principles applicable to retrospection, we should seek to cover the categories of crime of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity from 1 January 1991. It is that date from which the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had jurisdiction to try offences under the tribunal’s statute adopted by the United Nations Security Council.
Making these changes will be quite complex. The offence of genocide, along with offences of war crimes and crimes against humanity, is contained in the International Criminal Court Act 2001. From 2001, we have jurisdiction to try those crimes in the UK if committed by a UK national or resident wherever they took place. The 2001 Act is based on the Rome statute of 1998 establishing the International Criminal Court. While international law existed in respect of all these areas earlier, the offences in the 2001 Act may be wider than those recognised before the Rome statute and any change will need to take account of this.
We propose no change to the categories of people covered by the legislation, which should remain UK nationals and residents (including those who commit crimes, and subsequently become resident). However we are exploring the possibility of providing more certainty as to who may (or may not) be considered to be a UK resident.
We intend to introduce these changes by bringing forward amendments to the Coroners and Justice Bill at report stage in the House of Lords in the autumn.
Merchant Shipping: Public Consultation on Watercraft
I am today publishing a consultation entitled “Merchant Shipping - Public Consultation on the Merchant Shipping (Watercraft) Order 200X” which sets out proposals to regulate the safe use of all watercraft by bringing them into the scope of the merchant shipping legislation. The proposals also aim to clarify the process for registering them on the UK ship register.
The changes are being considered following a Court of Appeal ruling in 2005 (R v Goodwin) where an accident between two jet skis resulted in serious injuries to one of the riders. The Court ruled that watercraft used simply for having fun on the water, such as jet skis (also referred to as personal watercraft), were not within the definition of ‘ship’ in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 (MSA). This meant that such watercraft and their users were not covered by the MSA and related legislation, including offences related to conduct endangering ships, structures or individuals.
The consultation paper has two elements:
Safe use of watercraft—At present there is no overarching power of enforcement to prosecute those who use certain watercraft neglectfully, causing accidents or endangering the safety of others.
We are committed to protecting all users of our waters so they can pursue their activities in safety. The proposal to bring all watercraft within relevant provisions of the MSA and related legislation would allow us to take action against the owners and users of watercraft who carry out reckless or dangerous activity on the water. These proposals would bring such craft within the scope of safety requirements, including alcohol and drug offences.
Clarifying the process for registering watercraft on the ship register—As a result of the Goodwin decision, there is also no power for owners of certain watercraft to register their craft on the UK ship register. We are proposing that those sections of the MSA which provide for registration and registration regulations apply to all watercraft so that owners can register them if they choose to.
The consultation will close on 29 September 2009.
Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Library of the House.