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Written Statements

Volume 602: debated on Thursday 19 November 2015

Written Statements

Thursday 19 November 2015

Defence

Afghanistan: Locally Employed Civilians

Following our announcement of the start of the drawdown of British forces in Afghanistan on 19 December 2012, the Government established redundancy and intimidation schemes for their current and former Afghan local staff. The scheme recognises the vital role locally employed staff played in working with us to achieve a more secure, stable and prosperous country.

I want to update the House on two important changes I am making to our intimidation policy. These should enable us to investigate claims of intimidation better, and to reassure the House and the public that our investigations are conducted in an effective and professional manner.

First, in order to address the concerns of our armed forces, veterans and Government officials who have served in Afghanistan, the MOD is setting up a dedicated email address which will enable those who have worked with Afghan local staff to report concerns over the welfare of specific individuals.

Our dedicated investigative team in the country will look into each concern and, where possible, confirm the welfare of the former local staff member. If they raise a concern it will be investigated by our team in Kabul, who have already supported over 330 people in country, providing financial support to enable 30 to move to a safer location within Afghanistan. If the local staff member consents, we will aim to provide reassurance to those contacting us that their former colleague is safe.

This email address gives our people direct access to the investigative teams and should become the first step for all of those concerned about their former colleagues. More information on the email address can be found at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/supporting-uk-locally-employed-staff-in-afghanistan.

Second, to provide further assurance that the policy is being delivered acceptably I have decided that we will establish an assurance committee. This will reflect on the application of the policy in a cross-section of cases and make recommendations on how the policy could be improved. The committee will be made up of people with relevant expertise, including a former interpreter who is relocating to the UK under the redundancy scheme. He will provide a direct interpreter perspective on what the process is like for former local staff and the challenges they face in Afghanistan.

This is in addition to steps we have already taken to ensure the professionalism and independence of the policy: investigation of intimidation claims is undertaken by highly trained police officers either from the MOD police or seconded from Home Office constabularies: the legal adviser for decisions in Afghanistan is independent —the current post-holder is Danish; and, to provide further assurance, an independent barrister assessed the first 160 or so cases and will assess 20% of future case decisions to ensure the policy is being applied correctly.

The UK is committed to supporting our former local staff. We are taking reasonable steps to protect them when they are at risk because of their work for us. I am confident that the Government are meeting their responsibility through these comprehensive arrangements.

[HCWS318]

Queen Elizabeth Class Base-porting: BT Solent Cables

I have today laid before Parliament a Ministry of Defence Departmental Minute describing the contingent liability for the installation of British Telecom (BT) Solent cables in support of Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) base-porting.

It is necessary to conduct dredging works in the Solent and approaches to Portsmouth Harbour ahead of the arrival of the QEC aircraft carriers to ensure their safe transit to and from their home-port.

Two BT fibre-optic cables currently lie between the mainland and the Isle of Wight and must be removed prior to commencement of dredging works. BT have proposed that rather than burying the replacement cables they ’surface lay’ the cables to ensure they are relocated as soon as possible, minimising the impact to the capital dredging works which are scheduled to commence on 17 December.

Surface laying the new cable is not BT’s preferred solution as they consider the new cables will be more vulnerable to damage from fishing activity. BT requires the MOD to carry the liability for any repairs to the cables until they have naturally ‘self-buried’ into the seabed and forecast that the cables could be at risk to damage twice within the first five years and once in the following five.

If cable repairs are necessary, each one is estimated to cost £360,000. The maximum contingent liability against the MOD is therefore £1,080,000. The duration of the liability will be 10 years from the date the new BT cables are installed, with this activity scheduled to complete in early December. If the liability is called, provision for any payment will be managed through normal supply procedure. The Department will be noting this contingent liability in its accounts.

[HCWS315]

Ukraine: Ministry of Defence Support

I have today laid before Parliament a Ministry of Defence departmental minute concerning a further gifting package which the UK intends to make to the Government of Ukraine.

Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its destabilising activities in eastern Ukraine, including direct military support to the separatists, has demonstrated its disregard for international law. Since fighting began, nearly 8,000 people have been killed and approximately 18,000 injured. Around 1.4 million people have been displaced in Ukraine.

The latest ceasefire agreement, reached on 29 August, has seen a reduction in violence in the conflict zone. However, until there is a political settlement to the conflict the Ukrainian armed forces (UAF) have to remain deployed forward and continue to suffer fatalities and casualties. As a result of the prolonged engagement in this conflict, the UAF face a chronic shortage of basic equipment, and have requested help.

This Government are committed to supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. Our proposed gift of non-lethal equipment is designed to prevent further Ukrainian fatalities and casualties and to help improve resilience on the ground.

The gifting package consists of 170 large tents with ancillary equipment to mitigate winter conditions and 600 sets of cold weather clothing. Subject to completion of the departmental minute process, delivery is expected to be undertaken over the coming weeks. The total cost of this proposed package of equipment is approximately £971,000, including transportation costs and contingency.

[HCWS317]

Energy and Climate Change

Yorkshire and Humber CCS Cross Country Pipeline

I have been asked by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to make this written statement. This statement concerns the application made by National Grid Carbon Limited under the Planning Act 2008 on 18 June 2014 for a proposed development known as the Yorkshire and Humber carbon capture and storage (CCS) cross country pipeline.

The pipeline would transport CO2 from the proposed White Rose CCS generating station via a multi-junction at Camblesforth (North Yorkshire) to a coastal point near Barmston (East Riding of Yorkshire). The CO2 would then be transported by an offshore pipeline (which would require separate consenting) to a saline rock formation storage site under the North sea.

Under sub-section 107(1) of the Planning Act 2008, the Secretary of State must make her decision within three months of receipt of the examining authority’s report unless exercising the power under sub section 107(3) to extend the deadline and make a statement to the House of Parliament announcing the new deadline. The Secretary of State received the examining authority’s report on the Yorkshire and Humber CCS cross country pipeline on 19 August 2015 and the current deadline for her decision is 19 November 2015.

The deadline for the decision is to be extended to 19 May 2016 (an extension of six months). This extension is to enable a decision on the Yorkshire and Humber CCS cross country pipeline application for development consent to be made after the decision on the White Rose CCS generating station application for development consent is taken. This will allow the need for the Yorkshire and Humber CCS cross country pipeline to be fully assessed. The extension will also provide further opportunity for any outstanding issues to be considered.

The decision to set a new deadline is without prejudice to the decision on whether to give development consent for this project.

[HCWS313]

Home Department

Justice and Home Affairs Pre-Council Statement

An extraordinary meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council will be held on 20 November in Brussels. The meeting has been convened by the Luxembourg presidency of the Council of the European Union, in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris. I will attend on behalf of the UK.

I will of course reiterate our deepest condolences to France, and make clear that the UK stands ready to provide any additional support and assistance. In terms of the EU’s response, I will press the need for greater information sharing and action on information, including alerts via the second generation Schengen information system (SISII) which will allow appropriate action to be taken at external border crossing points. I will also highlight the need to reinforce border management. I will underline the urgency of adopting, with the European Parliament, a strong and effective passenger name records (PNR) directive, including intra-EU PNR. I will highlight the range of actions needed to tackle the threat posed by firearms, as well as sharing information on our approach. And I will encourage other member states to develop an early identification system for those at risk of radicalisation, offering to share our own training expertise in this area.

[HCWS314]

Surveillance Camera Commissioner: Annual Report

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is today laying a copy of the 2014-15 annual report of the surveillance camera commissioner before the House, as required by section 35 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. The report has also been published on the commissioner’s website.

The surveillance camera commissioner is an independent role appointed under section 34 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 to encourage compliance with the surveillance camera code of practice, review the operation of the code, and provide advice about the code—including changes to it or breaches of it.

The current commissioner is Tony Porter, whose three-year term of appointment commenced on 10 March 2014.

[HCWS316]