Thursday 26 November 2015
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Agriculture and Fisheries Council
My hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), the Minister with responsibility for farming, food and the marine environment, represented the UK at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 16 November in Brussels. Rebecca Evans AM and Aileen McLeod MSP also attended.
The main agenda item was the simplification of the common agricultural policy (CAP). Commissioner Hogan reiterated his commitment to CAP simplification. He provided an update on the changes made so far which included:
preventative preliminary checks;
an extension to the existing provision for member states to reduce on-the-spot checks subject to meeting a number of criteria set out by the Commission;
a collective claims system under pillar 2 for agri-environment; and
allowing farmers to modify their declarations for greening parcels.
There have also been changes to voluntary coupled support, the young farmers scheme and market measures. Furthermore Commissioner Hogan has:
asked his services to simplify the penalty system;
planned a package of delegated and implementing Acts before summer 2016 for greening; and
appointed a high-level group on simplification of rural development.
The Commissioner acknowledged this work would likely reach the limits of what improvements could be made without opening the basic Acts. He indicated he was open to doing this if the Council so agreed.
For the second main agenda item, Commissioner Hogan set out his plans to progress the Commission’s international trade agenda which in 2016 includes plans to visit Colombia, Mexico, India, Japan, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. The focus of these trade visits will include: dairy, livestock, fruit and vegetables, wine and spirits, and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, World Trade Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organisation negotiations. Some member states, including the UK, France and Ireland, expressed support for trade access efforts. However, a number of others, including Austria, Greece, Belgium and Hungary, urged caution, warning of the possible danger to EU competitiveness.
Commissioner Hogan also provided an update on the dairy aid package. The aid schemes for cheese and skimmed milk powder were accepting applications from member states, and a pigmeat scheme would be implemented in January. The Agricultural Markets Taskforce will begin its work in early 2016, and report with policy recommendations by the end of 2016.
The following were AOB items on the agenda:
Belgium asked the Commission what action had been taken to lift the pork ban which Russia had imposed after the outbreak of African swine fever in the Baltic member states and Poland. They underlined that pork prices were continuing to fall. An urgent need for a solution was supported by 10 other member states. The UK was supported by Poland and Lithuania in recognising the need for a solution, but underlined this could not come at the cost of EU unity.
The Czech Republic provided a report from the conference they hosted on hunting and game management. They concluded that measures could positively help prevent crop damage and the spread of disease by wildlife. Commissioner Hogan noted the Commission was undertaking a fitness check of the EU Natura legislation, which will be published in spring 2016. He also noted game management did not fall within the Commission’s competence.
Italy pressed the Commission to form a high-level discussion group to continue to monitor the sugar sector in order to avoid a crisis when EU sugar quotas end in 2017. They were supported by Austria, Romania, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Greece. The UK highlighted the restructuring aid that had already been provided, and reminded the Council to keep in mind developing countries that export to the EU. Commissioner Hogan reminded the Council that extensive restructuring funds have already been given, and an expert group had already been set up at Italy’s request. He was not minded to take any further action.
The presidency updated the Council on the progress of the most recent trilogue for school schemes. The Parliament continues to be reluctant to engage, and no date has been set for the next trilogue. Many member states intervened to voice support for a well thought through deal, over a hasty compromise on the legal basis. The presidency and Commissioner Hogan were still optimistic that a deal could be reached.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Somalia Conflict, Security and Stability Fund
This written statement proposes the gifting of new equipment to the Somali national army (SNA).
It is normal practice, when a Government Department proposes 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.
The Government’s priority for Somalia is to reduce the threat posed to UK national interests by building a more stable, peaceful and prosperous country. This includes improving the operational capability of the SNA to conduct security and stabilisation operations in Somalia, and better enable them to counter al-Shabaab.
The Government plan to deliver £3.2 million of gifting support to the SNA through the conflict, security and stability fund (CSSF). We will provide: computers; printers; generators; training aids; office equipment; tents; specialist vehicles—water bowsers, fuel tankers, recovery vehicles; individual kit (e.g. belts and blankets) and vehicle tools. We also intend to provide infrastructure support to refurbish buildings for military use. Working with the UN and SNA, we will develop a basic repair and maintenance workshop for vehicles, increasing logistics and operational capacity.
The provision of equipment has been endorsed by the SNA and is in line with the UK’s commitment to support the Guulwade plan, a Somali-owned plan—endorsed by donors—which sets out the SNA’s capability requirements. The gifting of this equipment is consistent with export controls (no licence is required), complies with our international obligations, and will be procured through carefully selected implementing partners.
A memorandum of understanding between the Government and the Somali Government will attach conditions—e.g. SNA troops will be human rights trained; equipment will not be diverted or inappropriately used—to the supply of this equipment and support. An overseas security and justice assistance (OSJA) assessment has already been completed and will be kept under review. We will closely monitor the security situation and monitor and evaluate this programme, halting support if we believe the equipment or support is being misused.
The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle. If, during the period of 14 parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which the minute is 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.
Savile Investigations: NHS
I am today publishing an update on the Government’s response to the recommendations set out in Kate Lampard’s report on the themes and lessons learnt from NHS investigations into matters relating to Jimmy Savile. A copy of the update report can be found online.
On 26 February 2015, Official Report, columns 483-486, I advised the House that the Government accepted in principle 13 of the 14 recommendations in Kate Lampard’s excellent report, including on access, volunteering, safeguarding, complaints and governance. I also asked the chief executives of Monitor and the Trust Development Authority, now brought together in NHS Improvement, to ensure that all trusts review their current practice against the recommendations within three months, and then to write back to me with a summary of plans and progress.
The update report published today provides a summary of actions taken in response to the 13 recommendations for the NHS, Department of Health and wider Government. All NHS trusts and foundation trusts have responded and those responses have been collated by Monitor and TDA, now NHS Improvement.
In summary, progress has been made against all the accepted recommendations. The vast majority of trusts have already taken action in response to the recommendations or are in the process of doing so. For individual recommendations, at least 80% of providers planned to have implemented them by September 2015, with the remainder due to complete their action by the end of the year.
It is vital that trusts continue to be vigilant against the dangers of child sex abuse. NHS Improvement are currently reviewing CQC’s well-led framework and how it applies to trusts, setting out expectations of NHS provider boards and their oversight of the organisations they are responsible for. Well-run boards should be able to assure themselves that their organisations have processes in place to ensure effective safeguarding, training and recruitment practices. NHS Improvement will consider how best to reflect the recommendations in this framework in an appropriate fashion.
Attachments can be viewed online at:
Director General of the National Crime Agency
I have selected Chief Constable Lynne Owens to be the new director general of the National Crime Agency (NCA). She has more than 25 years’ experience in a variety of policing roles including key front-line experience and working on the most complex national investigations and operations. She has a strong track record of engaging teams and working in collaboration with partners, and most importantly she has demonstrated exceptional leadership skills. I am confident she is the right candidate to lead the NCA through the next phase of its development, leading and coordinating the national law enforcement response to serious and organised crime.
The director general leads and co-ordinates the whole of the UK law enforcement effort against serious and organised crime, a major national security threat. That threat costs the UK more than £24 billion a year and is varied, complex and changing rapidly. The NCA has a stronger mandate than any previous organisation, including the power to task UK police and other law enforcement agencies in order to align the UK’s response against the highest priority threats, vulnerabilities and organised crime groups.
The NCA is now at a vital stage of its development and the next director general must set the future direction of the NCA, building on the strong foundation of the work of the outgoing Director General Keith Bristow, who retires shortly. The NCA must continue to develop the capabilities and relationships necessary to combat the threat from serious and organised crime, working in partnership with local and international law enforcement bodies to maximise the NCA’s national and international reach.
Keith Bristow has been a dynamic first director general of the National Crime Agency and I am grateful for his hard work and commitment to making the UK a more hostile environment for serious and organised criminals to operate. He has not shied away from exposing the nature and scale of the threat we face, and he has materially changed how we collectively tackle the threat from serious and organised crime.
Lynne Owens will ensure that the NCA continues to be at the forefront of work to tackle the full range of serious and organised crime threats, including cybercrime; child sexual abuse; firearms; modern slavery; organised immigration crime; drugs trafficking; money laundering; fraud; and bribery and corruption.
Lynne Owens is currently chief constable of Surrey Police and I expect her to take up post early next year. If there is a short gap, in the interim, I intend to appoint David Armond, the current deputy director general, as acting director general.
Justice and Home Affairs Council
On 20 November, I attended the extraordinary meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels. The meeting was convened by the Luxembourg presidency in response to the appalling terrorist attacks which took place in Paris on 13 November 2015. Interior and Justice Ministers adopted strong Council conclusions on counter-terrorism which urge immediate action on passenger name records, firearms, strengthening controls of external borders, information sharing, terrorist financing, and the criminal justice response. Ministers also approved conclusions on the criminal justice response to radicalisation.
During the meeting I welcomed the agreement on the implementing regulation on deactivation standards and the Commission’s proposal for a directive amending Council directive 91/477/EEC on control of the acquisition and possession of weapons. I highlighted that the UK has strong legislation on firearms, which has contributed to a significant reduction in crimes involving firearms. I reiterated the importance of progress on the passenger name records directive, and that it remained of vital importance to gain rapid agreement and ensure intra-EU flights were covered. I supported actions to strengthen the external border and stated that proactive sharing of criminal records data could improve member states’ intelligence picture. Finally, I underlined that member states needed to have effective frameworks to tackle terrorist financing, and highlighted that new initiatives should not compromise existing regimes.
Prüm Business and Implementation Case
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has today laid before the House the “Prüm Business and Implementation Case”, (Cm 9149), which concludes that rejoining the Prüm decisions (EU Council decision 2008/615/JHA and its implementing decision, 2008/616/JHA, in conjunction with Council framework decision 2009/905/JHA) would be in the national interest as it would help us to identify foreign criminals and solve serious crimes. This is also the view of law enforcement throughout the United Kingdom, and is based on evidence from those countries already operating the Prüm decisions and a successful small-scale pilot. It also makes clear that stringent safeguards would be put in place in implementing the Prüm decisions, meaning that no fingerprint or DNA profiles relating to innocent British citizens would be used in implementing the measures and that higher UK scientific standards would be appl ied. An oversight board, including the biometrics and information commissioners, would oversee the domestic operation of the Prüm decisions.
Syria: Response to Foreign Affairs Committee
Ahead of my oral statement today, I have placed in the Libraries of both Houses, my response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s 2nd Report on “The extension of offensive British military operations to Syria”.
Attachments can be viewed online at http://www. parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2015-11-26/HCWS331/
Future of Rail
I wish to inform the House of the latest developments on rail investment and the recent publication of Sir Peter Hendy’s re-plan in resetting the rail upgrade programme, which can be found on the Network Rail website.
In June, I announced that important aspects of Network Rail’s investment programme were costing more and taking longer. I also announced the appointment of Sir Peter Hendy as the new chair of Network Rail, and asked him to develop proposals for how the rail upgrade programme could be put on a more realistic and sustainable footing.
Sir Peter Hendy has now provided me with his proposal for how to re-plan our rail upgrades, following his advice to un-pause works on TransPennine and Midland Main Line in September. I have accepted his recommendations, subject to a short period of consultation with relevant stakeholders. His report was published on 25 November as part of the spending review announcements. I placed a copy of his report in the Libraries of both Houses yesterday.
Firstly, I want to be absolutely clear that no infrastructure schemes have been cancelled. Flagship improvement works to build a Northern Powerhouse in the north and the midlands are under way, helping to rebalance our country’s economy by creating an engine for growth. Electrification of the TransPennine and Midland Main Line has already resumed and will completely transform the railways by improving city to city connectivity.
Radical schemes such as Crossrail, Thameslink and works on the Great Western will make journeys better, simpler, faster and more reliable throughout the south-east and south-west. Britain’s railways are truly on the road to recovery, despite years of underinvestment by successive Governments.
Sir Peter and I are both absolutely resolute in our drive to fix the problems in the planning process for rail enhancements. That is why I asked Dame Colette Bowe to look at lessons learned from the planning processes used for the 2014-19 enhancements programme, and to make recommendations for better investment planning in future. I published her report on 25 November, which I have laid as a Command Paper in the House and copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
I have accepted all of Dame Colette Bowe’s recommendations. My Department, together with Network Rail and the Office of Rail and Road, are taking urgent steps to develop and implement a number of actions following her recommendations. These will ensure that an improved approach to planning and delivering rail infrastructure enhancements are put in place. I have placed a copy of my response to the Bowe report in the Libraries of both Houses and on my Department’s website.
Building the infrastructure our country needs is incredibly challenging. It depends on hard work and good design and thousands of people working night after night, sometimes in very difficult conditions. Over Christmas and new year alone, over 20,000 members of Network Rail will be working to deliver the railway upgrade plan. This is a £150 million investment, which will provide new station facilities, longer platforms, extra tracks, new junctions and thousands of pieces of new, more reliable equipment to make journeys better.
We must continue to invest. Our railways matter, not just helping people get around, but helping them get on. It is absolutely crucial that our infrastructure is delivered efficiently and continues to represent the best value for money.
Work and Pensions
Personal Independence Payments
Later today, I will publish Command Paper Cm 9159, the Government’s second response to the independent review of the personal independence payment (PIP) assessment. The review was carried out by Paul Gray and published in December 2014.
This paper provides an update of the actions my Department has taken against the short-term recommendations identified in the first review and its response to the remaining medium and long-term recommendations.
My Department has accepted all the medium and long-term recommendations in full except the recommendation to put in place and announce a
“rigorous and qualitative evaluation strategy”,
which we have partially accepted. My Department already monitors all aspects of the PIP process through operational checks, performance monitoring, including the publication of quarterly statistics, and ad hoc analysis. At the right stage in the PIP programme, as the evidence base builds from phasing in full PIP roll-out, my Department will develop an appropriate evaluation plan.
Since the Government’s first response to this review in February 2015, we have continued to make significant improvements to the PIP process with the average new claimant now waiting five weeks for an assessment, compared to 10 weeks in February 2015. My Department has used evidence from previous phases of PIP roll-out together with lessons learnt from the first review to ensure we are continuously improving the way in which PIP is delivered. Furthermore we remain committed to working closely with claimants and disability organisations and will continue to do so.
As set out in legislation, there will be a second independent review of PIP which will report by April 2017.
This paper will be available on the gov.uk website once it has been published.
Social Security Uprating
My noble Friend the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Altmann) has made the following written statement.
I am pleased to announce the proposed social security benefits rates for 2016. I have attached the table of rates to this statement and I will place a copy of the proposed benefit and pension rates 2016-17 in the Library of the House. The annual uprating of benefits will take place for state pensions and most other benefits in the first full week of the tax year. In 2016, this will be the week beginning 11 April. A corresponding provision will be made in Northern Ireland.
Attachments can be viewed online at: