Written Ministerial Statements
Tuesday 20 November 2012
Serious Fraud Office
I am today publishing a report carried out by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service into the quality of case management at the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
Tackling economic crime and complex fraud must be a priority and I wanted to ensure from the outset that the work of the SFO should be subject to independent inspection and that processes and practices are continually improved. I am grateful to the former director, Richard Alderman, for inviting the inspectorate into the department and for the current director, David Green CB QC, for taking the majority of the review work forward.
The report identifies a number of areas for improvement, and makes some very useful recommendations as to how casework can be handled more effectively to avoid problems that have been encountered in the past.
I am pleased that the director has accepted all of the recommendations and that the inspectorate will be returning to assess progress on implementing changes in early 2014.
However, I am also encouraged that the inspection team found that the SFO does many things well and that the direction in which the SFO is now headed is the right one. I agree with the chief inspector’s conclusions that with the new director’s focus on skills, quality assurance and mending stakeholder relations,
“the ground has been laid for the SFO to improve significantly the quality of its casework in the next two years.”
A copy of the report has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and can also be found on the HMCPSI website at: http://www.hmcpsi.gov.uk.
The Economic and Financial Affairs Council—Budget, was reconvened in Brussels on 13 November, following the suspension of talks on 9 November.
In the Council’s Session, Member states were asked to agree to fund Draft Amending Budget 5, an application to the EU solidarity fund to provide €670 million in post-earthquake assistance to Italy, with fresh payments from member states. For the UK, I made clear that the bill should not be met by increasing contributions from member states, but by finding redeployments in the budget. However, the Draft Amending Budget 5 was formally approved with a qualified majority, despite the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands voting against.
At the Conciliation Committee, the European Parliament refused to enter into further negotiations with the Council on Draft Amending Budget 6 or the 2013 budget. The European Parliament walked away from the negotiation arguing that the Council had not made enough progress on Draft Amending Budget 6.
The 21-day conciliation period for agreeing the budget has now expired and the scope for negotiations on the basis of the current Commission proposal on the 2013 Budget has ended. The next step is for the Commission to come forward with a new proposal for the 2013 annual budget.
In the Council, the UK has made it very clear that the Commission and the European Parliament should not be asking taxpayers for extra funds when spending in member states is being reduced. We will continue to work with like-minded countries to press for budget discipline and fairness for taxpayers in the UK and Europe.
Financial Restrictions (Iran) Order
My noble Friend the Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon) has today made the following written ministerial statement:
The Government have today laid before Parliament an order under the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 containing a direction requiring UK credit and financial institutions to cease all business with banks incorporated in Iran and their branches and subsidiaries, wherever located, including the Central Bank of Iran.
The direction is in the same terms as that given by the Treasury on 21 November 2011, which ceases to have effect after one year. UK credit and financial institutions continue to be prohibited from entering into transactions or business relationships with banks incorporated in Iran and their branches and subsidiaries unless they are licensed to do so by the Treasury.
The Treasury is satisfied, as required by the Act, that activity in Iran that facilitates the development or production of nuclear weapons poses a significant risk to the national interests of the United Kingdom.
Reports by the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (the UN body charged with monitoring Iran’s activities and ensuring that no nuclear material is being diverted to non-civilian applications) highlight the reasons for the Government’s serious and ongoing concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities.
The IAEA report of 30 August 2012 sets out the agency’s concerns about,
“the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organisations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”
In particular, the information available to the agency indicates that Iran has carried out activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. The Government view these developments with the utmost concern.
The case for action is underlined by the recent calls from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for countries to apply effective counter-measures to protect their financial sectors from money laundering and financing of terrorism risks emanating from Iran. The FATF (the global standard-setting body for anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism) reaffirmed these calls on 19 October 2012 and stated that it remained,
“particularly and exceptionally concerned about Iran’s failure to address the risk of terrorist financing and the serious threat this poses to the integrity of the international financial system.”
In light of these risks to the UK’s national interests, I consider it a proportionate response to require the UK financial sector to cease all business relationships and transactions with Iranian banks and their branches and subsidiaries, including the Central Bank of Iran.
Iranian banks play a crucial role in providing financial services to individuals and entities within Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes as companies carrying out proliferation activities will typically require banking services. Any Iranian bank is exposed to the risk of being used by proliferators in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. Experience under existing UN and EU financial sanctions against Iran demonstrates that targeting individual Iranian banks is not sufficient. Once one bank is targeted, a new one can step into its place.
As they relate to an important global financial centre, UK restrictions have an impact on the options available to Iranian banks. This will continue to make it difficult for Iranian banks to utilise the international financial system in support of proliferation-sensitive activities. It will protect the UK financial sector from the risk of unwittingly being used to facilitate activities which support Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. UK action of this nature signals to Iran and the international community that we consider this risk to be significant.
Private Security Industry Regulation (Consultation)
My hon. Friend the Minister of State for criminal information, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, has today made the following written ministerial statement:
I am today launching a consultation inviting views on the Government’s preferred option for reforming how the private security industry is regulated—a transition to a business regulation regime.
The current arrangements for the regulation of the private security industry in the United Kingdom are set out in the Private Security Industry Act 2001. Responsibility for delivering regulation lies with the Security Industry Authority (SIA), a non-departmental public body accountable to the Home Secretary. Following the public bodies review in 2010, the Government concluded that the SIA’s functions should be reformed. The consultation provides a detailed proposal for a new regulatory regime for the private security industry.
We would welcome a wide response to the consultation to help ensure that we have identified all the relevant issues, so that the proposed reforms are implemented in an effective and efficient way. We particularly seek the views of those across the UK who work within the industry, those who buy, supply and rely on the provision of private security, as well as law enforcement partners.
A copy of the consultation document has been placed in the House Library and is available on the Home Office website at:
Work and Pensions
Work Capability Assessment
I am pleased to announce that today Professor Malcolm Harrington’s third independent review of the work capability assessment (WCA) will be published. This is the third of five independent reviews as required by the Welfare Reform Act 2007.
As part of the Government’s ambitious welfare reform programme, we are keen to ensure the WCA is as fair and accurate as possible. Those who are assessed by the WCA and found fit for work or with the potential to return to work will be given support to help them do so; those who are unable to work will continue to receive full support.
With this in mind, Professor Harrington has made a further set of recommendations to enhance the experience of those that undertake the WCA.
Professor Harrington made 48 recommendations across his first and second independent reviews and the Government have accepted all of them. In his third year review, Professor Harrington has made a further six recommendations. The Government’s response to Professor Harrington’s review will also be published later today, and we have accepted or accepted in principle all of his recommendations this year.
We welcome Professor Harrington’s assessment that the WCA has improved further over the last year. However, we also recognise that there is more to do and we are committed to improving the system.
This is Professor Harrington’s third and final independent review of the WCA. I would like to thank him for all the work he has done to improve the assessment. Professor Harrington’s successor will be appointed shortly.