Thursday 10 December 2015
Business, Innovation and Skills
Foreign Affairs Council (Trade)
My noble Friend the Minister of State for Trade and Investment (Lord Maude of Horsham) has today made the following statement.
The EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) will meet in Nairobi during the 10th ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The Council will meet on the 15 December before the formal opening of the ministerial conference. I will represent the UK.
We expect the Council to meet again during the ministerial conference, at least once, possibly more, but the date of subsequent meetings of Council has not yet been set.
The only substantive item on the agenda for the Council in Nairobi is the 10th ministerial conference of the WTO.
The Nairobi ministerial will be the first WTO ministerial conference in Africa. WTO members meeting in Nairobi will reflect on the achievements of the WTO in the twenty years since its founding in 1995, will discuss potential outcomes on export competition in agriculture, on development and on transparency, and consider how the WTO organises its negotiations going forward. WTO members will also welcome the accessions of Afghanistan and Liberia.
The UK wants to see substantive outcomes on export competition, development and transparency to promote flexibility in the way the WTO organises its negotiations following Nairobi and will welcome the accessions of Afghanistan and Liberia.
Consultant Lobbyists Regulation
Part 1 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act provides for a statutory register of consultant lobbyists. The statutory register came into force on 1 April 2015 and has increased transparency by requiring those who lobby on behalf of a third party to publicly disclose the names of their clients.
Section 22 of the Transparency Act provides that the costs of the register may be recovered from registrants via a charge. Today I have laid the Registration of Consultant Lobbyists (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2015 which amend regulation 5 of the Registration of Consultant Lobbyists 2015 (SI 2015/379) to increase the annual charge per registered consultant lobbyist in connection with the maintenance of the register from £700 to £950.
Culture, Media and Sport
The Telecommunications Council will take place in Brussels on 11 December 2015. The UK’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, Shan Morgan, will represent the UK. Below are the agenda items and the positions we intend to adopt.
The first item is a progress report from the presidency on state of play on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the accessibility to public sector bodies’ websites (First reading—EM16006/11). We do not expect a debate on this item. However, if there is a debate, the intervention will outline the UK’s support for this directive in general, but state our concerns about the European Parliament’s and some member states’ desire to increase the scope of the directive beyond the Commission’s stated aims of creating a harmonised minimum EU standard.
The second item is a report from the presidency on the state of play on the negotiation in trilogues of the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning measures to ensure a high level of network and information security across the Union (this is sometimes referred to as the cyber security directive—First reading—EM6342/13). We do not expect a debate on this item.
These items will be followed by a debate on the review of the European electronic communications framework. The framework’s aim is to harmonise the regulation of electronic communications services across all EU member states. The UK’s intervention will say that the UK places high priority on access to high-quality fixed and mobile connectivity for consumers and business; and the framework must also continue to encourage competition as the main driver for private investment in infrastructure, but the limits of competition need to be understood.
We will also advocate a principled proportionate approach to ensuring consumers are protected from harm when using communications services. This is important to avoid stifling innovation and unnecessary regulatory burdens. We will also outline the UK priorities for the framework review, including investment and competition, innovation and consumer protection; and note that it is also important that we work together to conclude the review as soon as possible and ensure coherency with the other digital single market work strands.
This will be followed by two items under AOB led by the Commission, the first being information from the Commission on current internet governance issues and the second an update on the telecommunication and ICT aspects of the negotiation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). We do not intend to intervene on either of these items.
Finally, the Dutch delegation will inform the Council of their priorities for their forthcoming presidency before Council adjourns until the next meeting in May 2016.
Armed Forces Convenant
I am today laying before both Houses the 2015 Armed Forces Covenant annual report. The covenant is a promise by the nation to ensure that those who serve, or have served, and their families are treated fairly. They protect the nation with honour, courage and commitment, and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect.
The report sets out what the Government have done to uphold the principles of the covenant. The Armed Forces Act 2011 enshrined the covenant into law, setting out the requirement for the Defence Secretary to report progress annually to Parliament.
Last year we reported that every local authority in mainland Great Britain had signed the covenant, and I can confirm that over 750 employers have also now signed up.
This year particular emphasis has been given to supporting armed forces families. The Department of Health has embedded the principles of the covenant into the NHS constitution to ensure service families access healthcare where and when they need it. The schools admissions code has been amended to prioritise service children, and service families can now apply for, and be allocated a school place before they move to the area. Over 5,000 personnel have also been helped into homeownership through the forces help to buy scheme. We will aim to double this number to 10,000 by next year.
A further significant change is the inclusion of veterans from the merchant navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary as core members of the armed forces community.
The report has been compiled in consultation with other Government Departments, representatives from the devolved Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the external members of the Covenant Reference Group, which includes the three Service Families Federations, the Confederation of Service Charities, the Royal British Legion, the Soldiers Sailors Airman’s and Families Association, the War Widows Association and Professor Hugh Strachan.
Defence Infrastructure Organisation
On 9 June 2014, Official Report, column 23WS, the then Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), announced the intention to examine whether the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), currently part of the Ministry of Defence, should incorporate into a Government-owned company in 2016.
We have completed this assessment and concluded that, at the present time, the MOD’S business interests are best served by the DIO retaining its current status within the Department. We assess that this will achieve further transformation by delivering rationalisation and improvements to the way the DIO delivers infrastructure to support defence capability, without the risks and costs associated with incorporation. We shall, therefore, not be pursuing incorporation.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Victims of Terrorist Incidents Overseas
For just over 10 years the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has offered special assistance, on a case-by-case basis, to British nationals involved in a terrorist incident overseas. Since 2008, this type of assistance has been known as “Exceptional Assistance Measures” (EAM). It allows Ministers to activate special measures which go above our normal level of consular support which vary according to the circumstances of each situation. It is only activated in extremis and once other financial avenues have been exhausted.
In 2010, the policy was updated by the then Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to include those British nationals who had not taken out travel insurance prior to travelling. In line with standard consular policy, EAM has been applied in cases only when a British national has been directly affected, often injured or killed, in a terrorist incident. It has not been offered to British relatives of a foreign national directly involved in a terrorist incident overseas.
We have applied EAM in 2015 for a number of terrorist incidents, including the attack in Sousse in June in which 30 British nationals were killed, and most recently for the response to the attacks in Paris on 13 November. For the Sousse attack, EAM was used to repatriate the bodies of British nationals killed and to arrange medical evacuations for British nationals injured in the incident.
The FCO conducted a review of the EAM policy in 2015 involving interested parties and stakeholders. We concluded that, while there would be no changes to the overall policy, the FCO should improve the information we provide internally and externally on EAM. We will update FCO consular public advice on EAM accordingly through future publications.
Child Safeguarding: St Helena and Ascension Island
Last year the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs announced the establishment of an independent inquiry into alleged child abuse and associated cover up on the British Overseas Territory of St Helena and Ascension Island, Official Report, column 13-14WS, 20 November 2014, to be led by Sasha Wass QC. Today, the UK Government have published her report. I would like to thank Sasha Wass QC and her inquiry team for producing this detailed and comprehensive report.
I welcome this independent, comprehensive report and the inquiry’s finding that there is no evidence of corruption or cover up in the St Helena Police Service, the St Helena and Ascension Island Governments, the FCO or Department for International Development. The inquiry also found that there is no evidence that child abuse is either endemic or routine in St Helena or Ascension Island. These are the key issues that the inquiry was constituted to investigate and it is an important milestone for the people of St Helena and Ascension, and for those with whom the inquiry engaged that these serious allegations have been found to be without any basis.
But we cannot be complacent. The inquiry found evidence of systemic failings by social services and police in the past, although noted the significant progress in safeguarding in general, and social services provision in particular, since May 2014. The inquiry makes a number of recommendations in relation to child safeguarding institutions and procedures; the recruitment and induction of key staff; and the implementation of specialist advice on child safeguarding.
Protecting children from abuse is an absolute priority. We will continue to build on the progress that has been achieved in recent years. DFID has allocated an additional £1.2 million for safeguarding in 2015-16 on top of its contribution (£4.0 million) to the funding of the St Helena Government health and social care, leading to: the creation of a new safeguarding directorate; a reinvigorated child safeguarding board; more police officers, social workers, family centres for victims; and training for all St Helena Government employees who work with children.
The Government accept all the recommendations in this report. We intend to appoint a senior UK official, to be based in St Helena, specifically to oversee the implementation of the recommendations in the report. We will announce the details shortly, and expect the appointee to be on island in early 2016. We will update the House on implementation of these recommendations within six months.
More broadly, we are determined to build on the foundations already in place to address issues raised by the report, and to continue to meet the reasonable assistance needs of the population of the island.
I want to underscore the UK Government’s commitment to working in partnership with all territories to build vibrant and flourishing communities. I convened a joint ministerial Council last week of the elected leaders of the overseas territory Governments, where we reiterated our shared commitment to a zero-tolerance approach to child abuse in all its forms, and to ensuring a child-centred and co-ordinated approach to safeguarding based on multi-agency working, information sharing and robust risk assessment.
There are ongoing police investigations relating to issues addressed in the report. There is also the possibility of further police investigations into serious criminal offences in the future. In order to avoid prejudice to current and future investigations, the published version of the report has been redacted to remove much of the contents of Chapter 9 and associated references in the body of the report. The report will be re-published with the redactions related to Chapter 9 removed as soon as circumstances permit.
Justice and Home Affairs Council
A meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held on 3 and 4 December: 3 December was the justice day, and the Minister for Immigration, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) and my noble Friend Lord Faulks QC, Minister for Civil Justice, attended; 4 December was the interior day, and I attended on behalf of the UK.
The justice day began with the Council reaching political agreement on a regulation on promoting the free movement of citizens and businesses by simplifying the acceptance of certain public documents in the EU, a successful outcome for the UK. The regulation covers a number of civil status documents and will reduce the bureaucratic and financial burden on citizens who need to show such documents issued by one member state to the authorities of another member state. The Commission urged swift implementation and a future review to consider including business documents.
On the directive for the protection of the Union’s financial interests, the presidency updated Ministers on progress since the October JHA Council. Negotiations on this directive will now be taken up by the Dutch presidency, with the issue of VAT fraud remaining the main area of contention.
Ministers reached agreement in principle on articles of the proposed regulation to establish the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), covering the EPPO’s competence and related matters. The UK is clear that it will not participate in an EPPO.
During lunch, the presidency facilitated a discussion on the fight against online hate speech which was broadly welcomed by the UK, in particular the voluntary notice and take-down procedures. The UK maintained that the EU should consider this work stream within its broader extremism strategy to avoid separate discussions and duplication of work. The UK also spoke against moving towards common European standards on hate speech, and reminded others of the continuum between illegal and simply unpleasant behaviour. The UK suggested that the take-down procedure should be speeded up, and that the EU should provide support in maintaining pressure on the IT industry to continue to improve the process.
The Council discussed the proposed regulations on matrimonial property and the property consequences of registered partnerships. The UK has not opted in to either proposal. Two member states made it clear that they could not accept the latter proposal because, in their view, it would require indirect recognition of same-sex relationships that are not provided for under their national laws. Given that unanimity was required, and the desire for the proposals to be agreed as a package, the presidency concluded that agreement was not possible. Other members states expressed their profound disappointment at this negative outcome to such a long and difficult negotiation. A significant number of member states confirmed that they would be willing to pursue enhanced co-operation, work on which will be taken forward under the Dutch presidency.
The presidency put a number of questions to Ministers about the situation across member states on the collection and retention of communications data, in the wake of the invalidation of the data retention directive by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruling in the case of Digital Rights Ireland (C-293/12). The presidency noted that the picture was fragmented across the EU, with some member states maintaining their domestic legislation, some introducing new measures, and a few finding their frameworks struck down by their domestic courts. Ministers were asked several questions including whether an EU or member state response was the best approach, and whether the Commission should be invited to present new legislation. The Commission stated that it had no intention of coming forward with a new proposal.
The UK, supported by four member states, urged caution, noting that access to communications data was of utmost importance and we should not rush to implement a measure if this risked ultimately reducing our operational capabilities. A number of member states supported new EU legislation, but many stressed the need to at least await the outcome of cases pending before the CJEU before proceeding. The presidency concluded that member states agreed on the legality of bulk data retention itself and that while many supported an EU measure, there was also a desire among many to await the outcome of those cases currently before the CJEU.
The presidency presented a paper on the challenges of evidence in the digital age, an issue to which the Dutch presidency will return at the informal Justice and Home Affairs Council in January. The Commission reminded member states of the importance in this context of implementing the European investigation order in full and to time. The Commission expressed concern about direct approaches to internet service providers, arguing that it could be outside a legal framework and could violate EU rules and undermine the new data protection regime. There was consensus on the need to address the challenges posed by e-evidence. The UK intervened to support looking at alternatives to formal mutual legal assistance where appropriate, acknowledging the importance of safeguards and oversight.
The presidency presented a paper on the migration crisis: judicial co-operation and the fight against xenophobia, updating Ministers on actions discussed at the October JHA Council.
The presidency and Commission provided an update on current legislative proposals. The Commission highlighted in particular the importance of reaching agreement swiftly on the data protection regulation and directive, and its optimism that this was possible before the end of the year.
The presidency noted that the western Balkans conference on 7 and 8 December will focus on migratory flows, terrorism, trafficking, firearms and judicial co-operation.
Finally, the Netherlands presented their three justice priorities: criminal co-operation on cybercrime, victims’ rights and a European forensic science area. Regarding the legislative agenda, the focus of the Dutch presidency will be the consolidation and implementation of existing instruments.
The interior day began with a discussion on passenger name records where I urged member states to take the opportunity to conclude the proposed directive. The Council agreed the compromise text negotiated with the European Parliament. Over lunch, Ministers agreed a Council declaration that all member states would make use of the option to collect data on internal EU flights and allow collection from non-carrier economic operators such as travel agencies and tour operators, with the aim of sending a strong message about the necessity of processing PNR, in advance of a vote in the European Parliament, scheduled for 10 December.
The Council approved the compromise text agreed with the European Parliament on a draft regulation on Europol. Formal adoption of the regulation is expected in the coming months. The UK has not opted in to this regulation, but will consider opting in post adoption.
Denmark updated the Council on the outcome of their referendum on moving from a block opt out of all EU Justice and Home Affairs measures to the UK and Irish opt-in model. Denmark expressed regret at the “no” vote and noted that this would make it very difficult for Denmark to participate in important EU initiatives, in particular co-operation with Europol. Denmark explained that the referendum had been heavily influenced by the uncertainty created by the situation at the borders.
The presidency updated Council on the implementation of the internal security strategy.
The presidency reminded Ministers of the strong commitments made in the 20 November Council conclusions in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris and called for rapid implementation. I noted the positive progress made, citing the Syria strategic communications advisory team, Europol’s internet referral unit and stronger standards for deactivation of firearms, but stressed that further work was required on a number of fronts: first, to reduce terrorists’ access to weapons, particularly through improving our collective understanding of firearms trafficking through better exchange of information, including on ballistics. Secondly, it was necessary to make enhanced use of existing systems; in particular the Schengen information system, and to improve the interoperability of the various EU databases, including SISII and Eurodac . Thirdly, member states needed to step up co-operation with middle east and north African states to improve their capabilities, especially on aviation security. Finally, I stressed that all of this had to be underpinned by strong strategies to challenge extremist ideologies and prevent people from turning to terrorism in the first place.
Ministers were briefed on the EU-US dialogue which took place in Washington on 13 November.
The Council received an update on the migration situation, with the Commission calling for implementation of measures already agreed, and the EU agencies (EASO; Frontex: EU-Lisa) providing updates on their efforts regarding the external borders. Some progress was reported on hotspots but as there had been over 800,000 arrivals this year the situation remained critical.
There was broad support for the need to strengthen the external borders of the EU, with some member states advocating the development of a proposal for a European border guard.
I joined others in pressing for further, immediate progress on hotspots, reiterating the UK’s willingness to provide practical assistance. I stressed that it was critical for member states to tackle abuse of the asylum system by economic migrants, and that the principles underlying the Dublin regulation remained sound and should be retained. I set out that we are making good progress in our national resettlement scheme; but stressed that any further expansion of resettlement activity should be linked to actions by third countries to reduce illegal migration flows and avoid unintended “pull factors”.
The presidency provided an update on the negotiations on the permanent crisis relocation mechanism. Three meetings had taken place at technical level. However, several member states were against such a mechanism and wanted to wait to evaluate and draw lessons from the temporary mechanism. The Government do not support relocation as it is the wrong response to the migratory pressures the EU faces. It undermines the important principle that asylum should be claimed in the first safe country and does not address the causes of illegal migration.
The presidency said it would continue to progress proposals for a common EU list of safe countries of origin. Three areas for discussion were fundamental rights assessments, the interaction with national lists and the nature of implementing acts.
The Council reached political agreement on a directive on the admission of third country student and researchers, which is aimed at harmonising member states’ requirements governing the entry and stay of these groups. The United Kingdom has not opted in to the measure.
Under AOB, the presidency noted the outcomes from the Valletta conference and the EU-US ministerial meeting. The presidency also noted the upcoming EU-western Balkans forum meeting in Sarajevo on 13 December.
Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures
Section 19(1) of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 (the Act) requires the Secretary of State to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on the exercise of her TPIM powers under the Act during that period.
The level of information provided will always be subject to slight variations based on operational advice.
TPIM notices in force (as of 30 November 2015)
TPIM notices in respect of British citizens (as of 30 November 2015)
TPIM notices extended (during the reporting period)
TPIM notices revoked (during the reporting period)
TPIM notices revived (during the reporting period)
Variations made to measures specified in TPIM notices (during the reporting period)
Applications to vary measures specified in TPIM notices refused (during the reporting period)
The number of subjects relocated under TPIM legislation
The TPIM Review Group (TRG) keeps every TPIM notice under regular and formal review. The TRG met on 14 September 2015. The next TRG meetings will take place on 14 and 15 December 2015.
Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Overseas
My Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Baroness Verma) has today made the following statement:
I am pleased to take this opportunity to update the House on my plans following my appointment as Ministerial Champion for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Overseas.
It is an honour to be appointed to this position. I have been personally committed to tackling violence against women and girls for a long time and given my role as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department for International Development (DFID), I have identified some significant opportunities for pushing forwards this agenda.
I have chosen to issue this statement today because the 10 December marks the end of the formal 16 days of activism that the UN leads, to address the human rights abuse that is violence against women and girls. It also formally marks the beginning of an even more concerted effort from myself to lead work to tackle this issue.
Violence against women and girls is a systematic, widespread human rights violation, faced by one in three women worldwide in their lifetime. Tackling violence is essential: to women and girls, their families and communities. It is critical to sustained poverty reduction and the achievement of the new Global Goals. Furthermore, it is a top priority for the UK Government and DFID.
The 25 November marked the international day to eliminate violence against women and girls, followed by 16 days of activism that culminate today, on international human rights day. Ministers across the UK Government, myself included, have done a number of things to mark this period, including pushing for change through a number of events. On 25 November, I spoke at a Parliamentary panel discussion hosted by ActionAid UK, outlining the importance of empowering women’s organisations in order to tackle violence against women and girls. I was delighted to see such a large and engaged audience at this event, reflecting the huge strides we have taken in raising awareness of violence against women and girls. We heard first-hand accounts from women who have experienced and witnessed such violence. I was proud to share the important work that DFID and the UK have done to empower and protect women and girls in these situations.
I have been championing the White Ribbon Campaign within DFID during the 16 days of activism, an international campaign that mobilises men to stand up to violence against women and girls. I have spread the message in DFID and on social media, shown solidary for this by wearing a white ribbon, and encouraged pledging to never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women and girls. I encourage parliamentarians to do the same. You can do so here: http://www.whiteribboncampaign.co.uk/.
This period of focused activities provides a strong foundation from which to begin my role as Ministerial Champion and I have every intention to build on the momentum that we have created here in the UK and across the world.
Looking forward, I would like to take this opportunity to announce my new objectives for the Ministerial Champion role, which build on the work done by my predecessors. My objectives are:
1. Securing and defending the rights of women and girls to live free from violence, through international frameworks;
2. Further linking and ensuring policy coherence across the entire UK efforts to end violence against women and girls overseas;
3. Forging strategic partnerships and influencing the international system to increase financial, political and technical commitment for tackling all forms of violence against women and girls in all contexts;
4. Leading step change in galvanising the use of evidence of what we know works to prevent violence against women and girls;
5. Eliminating FGM and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) within a generation;
6. Driving forward a new and significant push on all forms of domestic and intimate partner violence as a policy and programme priority for the international community;
7. Stepping up global leadership on tackling violence and abuse against adolescent girls overseas.
I look forward to driving forward work on this agenda, and working with Ministers and parliamentarians to achieve our ambitious, but ultimately achievable goal of eradicating violence against women and girls for good.
Work and Pensions
Universal Credit: Local Authorities
The full universal credit service will be rolled out nationally for all types of claimants from May 2016, completing in June 2018. At this point we will start to move the people receiving legacy benefits to universal credit. This carefully managed process will finish by early 2021.
This means the need for local authorities to administer housing benefit for working age people will progressively reduce. Local authorities need to plan for the future and have sought clarity about implications for their staff currently administering housing benefit.
Today I can confirm that my Department does not propose to make any staff transfer arrangements for local authority staff who currently work on housing benefit for people of working age.
There has been extensive consideration of this issue and engagement with the local authority associations. As universal credit is a new benefit, delivered in a new and fundamentally different way, my Department has concluded that there will be no “relevant transfer” within the meaning of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (as amended). Any such transfer would anyway be exempt as a transfer of administrative functions between public administrative authorities. My Department has also considered the requirements of the Cabinet Office statement of practice (COSOP). My Department has concluded that COSOP does not apply where, as here, there is no “relevant transfer” for the purposes of TUPE; and that the new and fundamentally different delivery model for universal credit makes staff transfers inappropriate.
The phased nature of this process means that the impact on local authorities can be managed in a way which minimises the need for any redundancies. Where this does not prove possible, after the exercise of all reasonable efforts to redeploy people, the Department has given local authorities a commitment that we will meet their costs of any residual redundancies.
Later today I will be launching a consultation on how the use of aids and appliances is taken into account when determining eligibility for the daily living component of PIP.
This is in light of concerns that the current policy in this area may not be working as intended, as was highlighted by the first independent review of the PIP assessment undertaken by Paul Gray. Evidence suggests that significant numbers of people who are likely to have low or minimal additional costs are being awarded the daily living component of the benefit solely because they may benefit from aids and appliances across a number of the activities. There have also been a number of recent judicial decisions, based on the current legislation, that have broadened the scope of aids and appliances to include articles, such as beds and chairs, that are unlikely to be a reliable indicator of extra costs.
These developments are inconsistent with the original policy intent of awarding the benefit to claimants with the greatest need to help them meet the extra costs arising from their disability or long-term health condition.
The consultation will therefore seek views on whether we should make changes to the current policy on aids and appliances in relation to the daily living component and, if we do, what these should be. The consultation document outlines five broad options for making changes but also welcomes other suggestions.
The consultation is available at: https://www.gov.uk.