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Written Statements

Volume 576: debated on Friday 28 February 2014

Written Statements

Friday 28 February 2014

Cabinet Office

UK Statistics Authority (Contingencies Fund Advance)

The Cabinet Office wishes to report that a cash advance from the Contingencies Fund has been sought for the UK Statistics Authority (referred to as the Statistics Board in the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007). The advance is required to meet an urgent cash requirement on services pending parliamentary approval of the 2013-14 supplementary estimate. The supplementary estimate seeks an increase on net cash requirement in order to settle material liabilities arising from a reserve claim. Parliamentary approval for additional resources of seven million, seven hundred thousand pounds (£7,700,000) and additional capital of seven million three hundred thousand pounds (£7,300,000) has been sought in the supplementary estimate for the UK Statistics Authority. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at five million pounds (£5,000,000) will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.

The advance will be repaid upon Royal Assent of the Supply and Appropriation Bill.

Treasury

Finance Bill 2014

The Finance Bill will be published on Thursday 27 March.

Explanatory notes on the Bill will be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office and placed in the Libraries of both Houses on that day. Copies of the explanatory notes will be available on HM Treasury’s website.

Energy and Climate Change

EU Energy Council

In advance of the forthcoming Energy Council in Brussels on 4 March, I am writing to outline the agenda items to be discussed.

There will be two policy debates at the Council. The first will be on the Commission’s communication on energy prices and costs in Europe, which analyses the impact of the decarbonisation of the energy sector on energy prices for households and industry. The communication charts rises in electricity and gas prices and costs and the price differential between the EU and its competitors. It also examines the potential risks to energy intensive industries. The communication argues for actions to reduce energy costs including completion of the internal market, action to improve competition in the retail markets, and improving energy efficiency. The importance of cost-effective climate and energy policies is reinforced.

The UK will argue that the EU needs to do more to tackle high-energy costs through more efficient and competitive markets, early agreement and a cost-effective approach to the 2030 climate and energy framework, support for industrial energy efficiency, and diversification of energy supplies.

The second debate will be on the Commission’s communication setting out a climate and energy policy framework for 2030. The proposed framework is based on an overarching binding domestic greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2030 of 40% and an EU-level renewable energy target of 27%. The renewable energy target would not include binding national targets, in contrast to the 2020 framework.

The communication also proposes a new governance process, based on national plans. The plans would set out how each member state intends to meet its 2030 greenhouse gas reduction target, including, in particular, planned levels of renewables and energy efficiency.

The UK will emphasise the need for early political agreement on the 2030 framework. The UK considers the 40% GHG target proposed by the Commission a good start, but will argue that the EU needs to go further—up to 50%—in the event of an ambitious global climate deal.

The UK particularly welcomes the Commission’s recognition of our argument that countries must be allowed to decarbonise in the cheapest way possible. However, the UK remains concerned to ensure that a renewables target binding at an individual member state is fully ruled out and is seeking greater clarity on this.

The UK also has questions about how an EU-wide renewables target and the proposed governance process would work in practice. We will work closely with European partners to discuss the details, but will continue to argue that member states should retain full flexibility over their choice of energy mix to deliver their GHG targets.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Afghanistan (Monthly Progress Report)

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 34th progress report on developments in Afghanistan since November 2010.

On 11 January the Ministry of Interior (MoI) published its preliminary elections security risk assessment in advance of the presidential and provincial council elections on 5 April. Of the 6,845 polling centres around the country, the MoI expected that 94% would be able to open without significant security issues. Some 414 centres were described as being at risk and unlikely to open on election day. Security preparations will continue.

On 16 January special representatives for Afghanistan and Pakistan met in Delhi to discuss progress in Afghanistan. They discussed elections, election security, regional co-operation, economic opportunities and women’s rights. From Afghanistan, the meeting was attended by Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmadi and Afghan Interior Minister Daudzai.

From 28 to 29 January, Minister of Counter Narcotics, Din Mohammad Mubarez Rashedi, hosted a conference to discuss regional co-operation on counter narcotics with Afghanistan’s neighbours.

On 29 January the Government of Afghanistan and the international community held a joint co-ordination and monitoring board meeting in Kabul to take stock of progress against the Tokyo mutual accountability framework (TMAF) and identify priorities for further reform.

On 13 January the UK agreed to extend its strategic support to the Ministry of Interior project by £2.7 million, raising the total commitment to £9.9 million until March 2015. This project will provide essential capacity building support over the Afghan elections and during the transition period.

High-profile attacks are on the rise. An attack on the Lebanese restaurant in Kabul on 17 January, in which two British civilians were killed, was followed by five separate vehicle-borne IED attacks on 30 January. This brought the total number of suicide attacks in January to 15.

January marked the end of the first-term of training at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy (ANAOA). Selection for the 2nd Kandak of cadets has been completed and of the 900 that applied, 270 have been selected to start training when the next-term commences on 16 February.

I am placing the report in the Library of the House. It will also be published on the gov.uk website (www.gov.uk/government/publications/afghanistan-progress-reports).

Overseas Security and Justice Assistance Guidance

I would like to inform the House that I have today published revised Overseas Security and Justice Assistance (OSJA) Guidance.

Demand for UK security and justice assistance continues to grow. Our expertise is highly valued across the world and improves the standards and capabilities of law enforcement and security agencies operating in the most challenging environments. Through this work we aim to improve security and increase respect for the rule of law. However, it is important that we ensure that the skills and expertise we impart are not used to cause harm. The OSJA Guidance is HMG’s tool for assessing the human rights risks of our overseas security and justice assistance work and identifying measures to mitigate such risks.

On 15 December 2011, I announced the introduction of the guidance and our intention to review it the following year. Following this review, we have made some minor amendments to the guidance to clarify key points, including defining more clearly the circumstances in which the guidance should be applied and highlighting the additional assessments against the EU and national consolidated criteria that need to be undertaken if the assistance involves the provision of equipment which is controlled under export control legislation.

Today’s publication of the revised guidance reflects our continued determination to ensure that when we provide overseas security and justice assistance, we do so in a manner that promotes human rights and democracy.

I have placed a copy of the revised guidance in the Libraries of both Houses. The guidance is also available online at: www.gov.uk.

Northern Ireland

On-the-Runs Scheme

On Tuesday 25 February I laid before the House a statement relating to the High Court judgment in the case of John Downey. I would now like to update the House on the administrative scheme set up by the previous Government to deal with so-called “on-the-runs” (OTRs).

On coming to office in May 2010 the Government were made aware of a list of names submitted by Sinn Fein to the previous Government under an agreement they had reached to clarify the status of OTRs.

These were people living outside the United Kingdom who believed that if they returned they would be wanted by the police for questioning in connection with terrorist offences committed before the Belfast agreement.

Under the scheme the police, and in some cases the Public Prosecution Service, checked whether sufficient evidence existed in each case at that time for these individuals to be questioned, arrested or prosecuted if they returned to Northern Ireland or any other part of the United Kingdom.

If it was found that they were not wanted by the police and that there was no prospect of any prosecution based on the evidence then available, the individuals were informed of that fact by letter from a Northern Ireland Office official.

The letters did not amount to immunity, exemption or amnesty from arrest. The letters made this clear. That remains the case. No recipient of such a letter should be in any doubt that if evidence emerges after the date the letter was issued in connection with terrorist offences committed before the Belfast agreement they will be liable for arrest and prosecution.

It was on this basis that the current Government in May 2010 agreed that the list of names submitted by Sinn Fein to the previous Administration could continue to be checked.

If at any time we had been presented with a scheme that amounted to immunity, exemption or amnesty, we would have stopped that scheme—consistent with the opposition of both coalition parties to the previous Government’s Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill in 2005.

We believe in the application of the rule of law and due process, regardless of whether a person is in possession of a letter or would be eligible for early release under the terms of the Belfast agreement.

We will take whatever steps are necessary to make clear to all recipients of letters arising from the administrative scheme, in a manner that will satisfy the courts and the public, that any letters issued cannot be relied upon to avoid questioning or prosecution for offences where information or evidence becomes available now or later.

In the light of the error identified in the case of John Downey, the Prime Minister announced on Thursday 27 February that he would appoint a judge to provide an independent review of the administrative scheme.

The aim of the review will be to produce a full public account of the operation and extent of the administrative scheme for OTRs; to determine whether any letters sent through the scheme contained errors; and to make recommendations as necessary on this or related matters that are drawn to the attention of the inquiry.

The person conducting the review will have full access to all Government papers about the operation of the scheme. They will be free to interview key individuals in the civil service and the police and any others where those individuals are willing.

The report should be provided to me by the end of May 2014 for the purpose of its full publication.