Monday 13 January 2014
Departmental Minute (Gift of Equipment)
It is the normal practice when a Government Department propose to make a gift of a value exceeding £300,000, for the Department concerned to present to the House of Commons a minute giving particulars of the gift and explaining the circumstances; and to refrain from making the gift until 14 parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the minute, except in cases of special urgency.
Subject to no objections being received, I intend to authorise a gift of equipment as part of the United Kingdom’s contribution to the international effort following United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118, which requires Syria to complete elimination of all chemical weapons material in the first half of 2014. I have today, in accordance with the usual parliamentary procedures, laid a departmental minute on the gift.
In support of the resolution, the United States has made a formal request for the United Kingdom to assist in the elimination of Syria’s chemical warfare stockpiles through provision of specialist equipment. The “gifting” in this case is therefore to the United States Government, who are taking the leading role in the international effort to support the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and making a substantial financial investment to this end. The US will use a field deployable hydrolysis system to render the chemical warfare agents unusable as weapons; the proposed UK equipment package will allow stored chemicals to be processed at a higher rate.
The UK contribution comprises a training package and specialist equipment to support the neutralisation of chemical warfare agents, as well as sufficient spare parts and consumable items. The total cost of the proposed UK contribution will depend on the level of consumables required but will be in the region of £2.5 million, which can be met within existing cross-Whitehall funds. This capability will be pivotal in providing the international community with the capacity to support the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in its mission to destroy the Syrian chemical warfare agents within UN dictated time scales. The UN schedule for destruction is necessarily ambitious and the UK system will enable the US field hydrolysis teams to maintain a higher throughput of materials into their system. The US approached the UK to support this primary activity from our domestic industry as they would not have been able to procure the device themselves within the time frames set by the UN/OPCW mission.
The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle. If, during the period of 14 parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which this minute was laid before the House of Commons, a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question or a motion relating to the minute, or by otherwise raising the matter in the House, final approval of the gift will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.
The coalition Government has decided to opt out of the European Commission’s proposals for a regulation and a directive on new psychoactive substances.
The proposals would, as drafted, fetter the UK’s discretion to control different new psychoactive substances, binding the UK to an EU system which would take insufficient account of our national circumstances. In addition, the Government agrees with the House of Commons’ and House of Lords’ reasoned opinions that the proposals infringe the key EU principle of subsidiarity.
We also strongly dispute the evidence base stated in the EU Commission’s impact assessment which estimates that 20% of new psychoactive substances have a legitimate use. While the proposed new psychoactive substances directive cites a title V legal base, the proposed new psychoactive substances regulation does not, as drafted, recognise the right of the UK to opt out. We will remain a full and active participant in the European Union negotiations to shape the proposal and defend our national interests.
New psychoactive substances pose a significant global challenge and the decision to opt out should not in any way be considered to diminish our commitment to tackle this issue. As I informed Parliament on 12 December, the coalition Government is conducting a review into new psychoactive substances, and alongside our programme of work, we are looking at a range of options including legislative ones to enable us to deal with the dangers many of these substances present even more speedily and effectively. The international comparators study begun by my predecessor has been useful in identifying different approaches adopted around the world and those approaches are being examined as part of this work.