Written Ministerial Statements
Thursday 26 April 2012
Business, Innovation and Skills
Export Control Policy
I would like to inform the House of a change of policy on the licensing of exports of, and trade by British persons (trafficking and brokering) in, controlled goods and technology to military end-users in Argentina. Previous policy dating from 1998 required the refusal of licences for exports and trade which would enhance Argentine military capabilities but permitted licences for goods which maintained existing capability. In practice this has meant the authorisation of the export and trade of components for maintenance purposes.
The Government have reviewed this policy in the light of recent actions by the Argentine Government aimed at harming the economic interests of the Falkland Islanders. We are determined to ensure that no British licensable exports or trade have the potential to be used by Argentina to impose an economic blockade on the Falkland Islanders or inhibit their legitimate rights to develop their own economy.
New restrictions on the export and trade of licensable goods with the Argentine military will now be introduced with immediate effect. In future no licences shall be granted for any military or dual-use goods and technology being supplied to military end-users in Argentina, except in exceptional circumstances. We will review extant licences for military goods to the Argentine armed forces with a view to revoking any that are not consistent with the revised policy. This decision will not affect licences for items intended for end-users other than the Argentine military.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Rural Payments Agency Framework Document
An update to the Rural Payments Agency’s framework document is being published today. In line with the requirements for all Executive agencies, the document sets out the overarching framework for the governance and accountability arrangements between Government and the agency.
As well as changes to reflect current corporate requirements and practices, the update reflects the action taken since publication of the 2013 review of the RPA to strengthen governance arrangements both in DEFRA and the RPA, including:
The establishment of the RPA oversight board, which I personally chair, to oversee the agency’s operations and its preparations for implementation of the expected 2013 CAP reforms. Independent scrutiny is provided by the appointment of four non-executive directors;
Additional independent scrutiny and challenge of the RPA’s internal governance, with non-executive directors appointed to the chair of the agency management board and the RPA’s audit and risk committee;
The RPA framework document may be viewed on the RPA’s website: http://rpa.defra.gov.uk/rpa/index.nsf/home and I have arranged for copies to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Afghanistan Monthly Progress Report (March 2012)
I wish to inform the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, is today publishing the 16th progress report on developments in Afghanistan since November 2010.
March has been a sobering month for British forces operating in Afghanistan. Nine members of our armed forces made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country and more than 400 have died since operations began in 2001. Such moments of tragedy remind us of the high cost of the campaign, the difficulty of the mission and the bravery of our soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen.
As the campaign progresses we can expect to face further challenges. However, we must not allow these to cloud the real and tangible progress being made. Reported year-on-year violence levels are down, the Afghans are increasingly taking the lead on security operations and the insurgency remains under pressure.
We remain committed to Afghanistan both now and in the long term and we look forward to the international community further articulating its commitment at the forthcoming Chicago and Tokyo summits. The Prime Minister discussed progress in Afghanistan with President Obama during his visit to the US in March. They reaffirmed their commitment to the Lisbon timetable for transition of security to Afghan control. This process is on track, is realistic and is achievable.
In March’s operational honours list 90 members of our armed forces received honours and awards in recognition of service in Afghanistan between April and September 2011. These included nine military crosses which were awarded in recognition of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy.
UK aid continued to help the Afghan Government improve their own capacity to deliver better public services for their people, particularly at the local level. Latest figures suggest that with UK assistance the Afghan Government are better able to spend funding in line with their own development budgets, which ultimately means better and more comprehensive public services for Afghan people.
I am placing the report in the Library of the House. It will also be published on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website: www.fco.gov.uk.
I wish to inform the House of the Government’s intention to reopen the British embassy in Vientiane, Laos, and to establish a British Interests Office in Naypyitaw, Burma. This forms part of the shift in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s diplomatic network aimed at strengthening Britain’s influence and contribution globally. These are the eighth and ninth new posts I have announced since May 2010.
The United Kingdom last had an embassy in Laos in 1985. Today there is a need for one once again. Laos takes up the chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2016. It remains the only ASEAN country where the UK is not currently represented. Reopening the embassy will strengthen our bilateral relations with the Laotian Government as the country’s role and influence in the region continues to grow. Trade between our countries has more than doubled in the last year. An embassy will play a vital role in helping more British businesses access this emerging market. Laos’ popularity as a destination for British visitors is rising too. The embassy will offer vital assistance to British nationals in need.
In Burma, a British Interests Office in the administrative capital Naypyitaw would strengthen the work of our embassy in Rangoon and demonstrate our intention to step up engagement with the Burmese Government and people. The office would provide enhanced access to Government interlocutors who are based in Naypyitaw. This access would be vital for UK/Burmese relations, and for encouraging further democratic reform in the country.
These decisions reflect this Government’s commitment to extending the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s global reach and to boosting British influence. Forging stronger relations in Laos, Burma and across the ASEAN region is our response to the rapid change under way in South East Asia and firmly in the interests of the United Kingdom.
Since the mass protests against the conduct of the Belarusian presidential election on 19 December 2010, the Belarusian Government have tightened their authoritarian grip on the country. Hundreds of people have been punished for taking part in peaceful protests, with many human rights defenders, and opposition politicians and activists detained. As a result, the EU re-imposed sanctions against the Government of Belarus in January 2011, and expanded and extended the measures throughout 2011.
On 28 February 2012, the EU imposed further sanctions. On the same day, the Belarusian Government asked the Head of the EU delegation and the Polish ambassador in Minsk to return to their capitals for consultations. In response to this act, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary approved the recall of Her Majesty’s ambassador to Minsk as part of a co-ordinated withdrawal by EU ambassadors.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary chose to recall our ambassador to make it clear that Belarus’ treatment of the Polish ambassador and Head of the EU delegation was unacceptable. That point has now been made; both ambassadors were able to return to Belarus unhindered yesterday. Her Majesty’s Ambassador will therefore return to Minsk in short order, along with her colleagues from other EU member states. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have instructed her to continue to press the Belarusian Government for the immediate release of all political prisoners without condition.
Disclosure in Criminal Proceedings
I welcome Lord Justice Gross’s review of “Disclosure in Criminal Proceedings” of September 2011, which the Government have considered in detail.
I understand that the review took approximately a year to complete and that Lord Justice Gross consulted widely with policy experts and practitioners both in this country and abroad. His final report provides an authoritative insight into disclosure issues in cases involving large volumes of investigative material.
The report’s findings underline the complexity and difficulty of the issues raised. I note and understand Lord Justice Gross’s decision not to call for legislative intervention, and his advocacy of more effective application of the existing laws. I welcome his assistance in the work of rationalising and simplifying existing disclosure guidance, which has already commenced with the endorsement of the Law Officers.
The continuing policy objective in this important area is to safeguard fair trials by ensuring the legal framework requires appropriate disclosure to the accused.
At the same time, the resource burden which these arrangements impose on the criminal justice system cannot be ignored. The exponential growth in the volume of material generated by criminal investigations is a matter of increasing concern, particularly where computer, CCTV and internet material are concerned. In some cases, the amount of material generated is now so great that it is no longer humanly possible to review it by traditional means.
With these realities in mind, the coalition Government will work to establish if there are ways to mitigate the resource burden imposed by disclosure, but only in such a way that fair trials are preserved.
Proactive prosecution and judicial case management are both essential to sound disclosure practice, as are the appropriate sanctions for disclosure failures. I have therefore asked for a more detailed examination of the judiciary’s existing case management powers and sanctions for disclosure failures, and consideration of whether there are options for strengthening them that have not so far been identified. I am grateful to Lord Justice Gross and Mr Justice Treacy for agreeing to lead this work, and will report back to Parliament in due course.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House of Commons and I are today publishing a Green Paper including illustrative draft clauses, to begin a consultation on parliamentary privilege.
The Programme for Government announced our intention to
“prevent the possible misuse of parliamentary privilege by MPs accused of serious wrongdoing”.
I informed the House on 19 December 2011 that the Government intended to publish a Green Paper before the end of this parliamentary session, to consult on the desirability of certain changes that could be made to the operation of parliamentary privilege, and seek views on whether legislation is appropriate in this area.
In line with the commitment in the coalition agreement, the Government have considered whether there are potential obstacles that ought to be removed to the prosecution of Members of either House for ordinary criminal acts. This is notwithstanding the Supreme Court ruling in R v Chaytor and others, which established that parliamentary privilege could not form part of a defence in cases relating to claims for allowances, as these were not proceedings in Parliament under article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689, and did not fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the two Houses. The paper consults on whether the protection of privilege should be disapplied in cases of alleged criminality, to enable the use of proceedings in Parliament as evidence in criminal proceedings. The paper also contains draft clauses which illustrate how this change could be implemented.
The Green Paper also discusses, among other questions:
whether a legislative definition of proceedings in Parliament is needed;
whether legislation is desirable to establish that the principle of exclusive cognisance applies only to activities directly and closely related to proceedings in Parliament;
whether legislation is necessary or desirable to ensure that the powers of Select Committees can be satisfactorily enforced; and
whether there should be changes to the law on reporting of parliamentary proceedings in the media.
In producing the paper, the Government have been mindful of the views previously expressed by a number of Select Committees, including the 1998-99 Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, the Committee on Standards and Privileges, the 2009-10 Select Committee on the Issue of Privilege, the Joint Committees on Privacy and Injunctions and on the draft Corruption, Bribery and Defamation Bills, the Procedure Committee and the Justice Committee.
The Green Paper poses questions as to how each of the issues identified should be addressed. The Government have no wish to make any changes without thorough consultation, and the intention of this paper is to facilitate a wide-ranging and open debate on parliamentary privilege. We hope as many people as possible will contribute their thoughts and we look forward to considering the implications of further relevant work by the House of Commons Liaison and Culture, Media and Sport Committees.
Ultimately, these are Parliament’s privileges, and it is for Parliament to decide on their future. The Government therefore believe it would be appropriate for these issues to be scrutinised by a Joint Committee, and as previously indicated will be holding early discussions in both Houses about the establishment of and timetable for such a committee.