Tuesday 15 December 2015
The Government have today published their response to the consultation on creating a secondary annuity market (CM 9046, March 2015). The response confirms that from 6 April 2017 tax restrictions for people looking to sell their annuity will be removed, giving the 5 million people with an existing annuity, and anyone who purchases an annuity in the future, the freedom to sell their right to future income streams for an upfront cash sum. This will extend the pension freedoms already introduced in April 2015 for those reaching retirement with a pension pot. The consultation sets out further details around how the market will work, including the comprehensive consumer protection regime.
The document has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Environment Council: Agenda
I will attend the EU Environment Council in Brussels on 16 December.
Following adoption of the agenda, the list of “A” items will be approved.
There will next be legislative deliberations on the proposal for a directive on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants (the “National Emissions Ceiling Directive”).
Under non-legislative activities, draft Council conclusions on the mid-term review of the EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 are due to be adopted.
Over lunch Ministers will be invited to discuss the latest proposals on air quality and real driving emissions.
The following items are due to be discussed under Any Other Business:
Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH): challenges and options for improving legislation on chemical products;
Sustainable methods of producing and consuming medicine and managing the resulting waste;
19th ordinary meeting of the Contracting Parties (COP19) to the convention for the protection of the marine environment and the coastal region of the Mediterranean and its protocols (Barcelona convention, Athens, 9-12 February 2016);
Reducing pollution caused by consumption on the move: the case for a European deposit scheme;
Package of proposals aiming to promote the circular economy;
Report on the state of the energy union;
21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) and 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties (CMP11) to the Kyoto protocol (Paris, 30 November to 11 December 2015);
Work programme of the incoming presidency.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Law and Order Trust Fund Afghanistan
On 4 December 2015 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office fulfilled the promise given by the Prime Minister at the NATO Chicago summit in 2012 to contribute £70 million in 2015 towards the sustainment of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF). This forms part of our commitment, together with international partners, to provide financial support to meet the cost of the ANDSF for each of the calendar years 2015-17.
The UK’s 2015 contribution, funded from the conflict, stability and security fund (CSSF), has been channelled through the United Nations Development Programme run Law and Order Trust Fund Afghanistan (LOTFA) to support the payment of Afghan National Police (ANP) salaries.
The development of an effective, accountable and civilianised ANP and the development of stable, transparent and effective Afghan security ministries are essential to long term stability and security in Afghanistan. The police play a fundamental role in providing security and governance in Afghanistan, as well as in helping to build trust in the legitimacy of the state. Due to the challenging security environment international support for Afghan policing continues to be required.
The UK will continue to support the development of capable and effective civilian security institutions.
OSCE Ministerial Council
I represented the United Kingdom at the 22nd Ministerial Council meeting of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), held in Belgrade, Serbia on 3 and 4 December 2015 and hosted by Serbian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman-in-Office Ivica Dacic. The Council is the top decision-making body of the OSCE and was attended by Ministers from across its 57 participating states.
The Council took place in the final month of a year when the OSCE has continued to be at the centre of the international response to the Ukraine crisis. In my intervention in plenary on 3 December, I expressed deep concern at the ongoing situation in eastern Ukraine and Crimea and repeated our strong support for Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. I underlined the Russian Federation’s responsibility for the present situation and stressed that Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea would not be recognised. I called on Russia to implement its commitments under the Minsk protocols, by withdrawing military personnel, equipment and weapons and using its influence with the separatist leadership. I commended the work of the OSCE’s special monitoring mission in the face of considerable challenges to its security and emphasised the need for it to have free and unimpeded access to all areas of Ukraine.
While this subject dominated the Council, a number of other important issues were discussed. In my intervention, I also noted the importance of updating political-military confidence and security building measures, including the Vienna document and the need to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, which remain under challenge in a number of OSCE states.
I agreed the need to address other pressing issues, particularly terrorism and migration, while focusing on areas where the OSCE has a distinct role to play and can add value in co-ordination with other international actors.
Grave concern about Ukraine was expressed in plenary by many participating states including by US Secretary of State Kerry, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Klimkin and EU High Representative Mogherini among others. Deep divisions meant that even a limited declaration on the OSCE’s role in, and support to, Ukraine could not be agreed despite the vast majority of OSCE states’ desire to do so.
While negotiations before and during the Ministerial Council made progress in a number of areas, divergent approaches limited the scope to reach consensus on a number of proposed declarations. Decisions or declarations were however reached on terrorism, on countering violent extremism and radicalisation leading to terrorism, on drugs and youth and security, as well as a statement on the negotiations in the Transnistrian settlement process. It was disappointing that despite the best efforts of the UK and other states, attempts to make progress on confidence and security-building measures in the OSCE region failed primarily due to further Russian obstructionism.
I and others expressed our strong support for the work of the OSCE’s autonomous institutions and I met Michael Link, Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and Dunja Mijatovic, the Representative on Freedom of the Media, during my visit.
In parallel, Wolfgang Ischinger, Chair of the Panel of Eminent Persons, launched under the 2014 Swiss Chairmanship, presented their final report on “European Security as a Common Project” at a side-event during the Ministerial Council.
A copy of the UK intervention can be found online on the gov.uk website:
Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council
I chaired the fourth meeting of the Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council in London on 1 and 2 December. The Council was attended by elected leaders and representatives—Anguilla, Ascension Island, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Key themes of this year’s Council were building the prosperity and economic development of the territories and protecting the most vulnerable members of their populations, especially children. UK ministers and overseas territory leaders also discussed pensions, health, education, sports, child safeguarding and the role of the environment in delivering prosperity.
The Council agreed a communiqué which identified priorities and set out a number of important commitments and areas for joint work in the year ahead. On the high priority issue of company transparency, the territories agreed to hold company beneficial ownership information in central registers or similarly effective systems and to work with UK law enforcement authorities to develop timely, safe and secure information exchange processes for the purposes of law enforcement. We also agreed that all territories that have not already done so will undertake child safeguarding reviews by the end of 2016.
The communiqué reflects the commitment of the Governments of the overseas territories and the UK to continue to work in partnership to achieve the vision set out in the June 2012 White Paper: “The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability”.
In line with our commitment in the White Paper, we will continue to report to Parliament on progress in implementing the commitments in the communiqué by UK Government Departments.
A copy of the communiqué and a report on UK progress in meeting the commitments from the 2014 Joint Ministerial Council has been published on the gov.uk website:
Police Integrity Reform
The Government take policing integrity very seriously. It is at the heart of public confidence in the police and underpins the model of policing by consent. It is what gives rank and file officers the legitimacy to do their jobs effectively. The Home Office has responded to public confidence in police integrity by introducing a programme of measures to improve standards of conduct in the police. This follows various high-profile cases on police failures both current and historic, as well as numerous HMIC inspections and IPCC reports relating to corruption.
We are already expanding the IPCC to deal with all sensitive and serious cases involving the police. We have introduced legislation to prevent officers from escaping dismissal by retiring or resigning; we have introduced the holding of disciplinary hearings in public; and we are introducing legally qualified chairs in disciplinary hearings. The college has produced the code of ethics; laid in Parliament (July 2014) as a statutory code of practice.
In 2016 we will go further with an important programme of reform including primary legislation in the upcoming Bill. We will make the police complaints system more independent of the police through an expanded role for PCCs. We will change the definition of a complaint and simplify the system, making it easier for the public. We will introduce a system of super-complaints to enable systemic issues to be raised.
The “Improving police integrity” consultation, and the previous Government’s response to it in March 2015, set out several proposals to strengthen the IPCC. We will bring forward legislation to implement these proposals. They include the following measures: ending managed and supervised investigations; providing the IPCC with the power of initiative to instigate investigations; clarifying the ability of the IPCC to make determinations; giving the IPCC the power of remedy; and ensuring the IPCC can present its case at disciplinary hearings following an IPCC investigation.
The measures the Government have implemented and the further reforms announced will ensure that local communities continue to trust the police to uphold the highest standards of integrity—but that where they do not, the public are able to hold the police to account.
Northern Ireland Security Situation
This is the first written statement of this Parliament on the security situation in Northern Ireland. It covers the threat from domestic terrorism in Northern Ireland, rather than from international terrorism, which Members will be aware is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who updates the House separately.
In the nine months since my last update to the House, the same small groups of dissident republican terrorists have continued their attempts to undermine Northern Ireland’s democratic institutions through the use of violence. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and MI5 have worked tirelessly to limit the threat they are able to pose. Because of these efforts the vast majority of Northern Ireland’s population are able to go about their daily lives untroubled by terrorism.
Continued vigilance is essential. The threat level in Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland related terrorism remains SEVERE (an attack is highly likely) and continues to evolve while the threat to Great Britain is MODERATE (an attack is possible but not likely). There have been 16 national security attacks by violent dissident republicans this year in which they have sought to cause harm and death. The primary targets have been PSNI officers, but prison officers and members of the armed forces have also been targeted.
In May and July two radio-controlled explosive devices were deployed in Belfast and Lurgan in an attempt to target security force personnel and, in June, an under-vehicle improvised explosive device was deployed against two off-duty PSNI officers at their home address in County Londonderry. Fatalities or serious casualties were avoided in these attacks by narrow margins.
In August a device initiated inside a postal van while it was parked in Palace barracks in County Down. No one was injured but there was considerable damage caused by the fire that followed to the vehicle and others nearby. In October a viable improvised explosive device was recovered from the grounds of a Londonderry hotel due to host a PSNI recruitment event, and several days later an under-vehicle device was planted in Belfast. It is fortunate that both devices were discovered before they exploded. The following day a military hand grenade was thrown at PSNI officers responding to reports of anti-social behaviour in Belfast; the grenade landed by the officers’ feet but thankfully did not explode. In November two police officers in their patrol vehicle in Belfast were extremely fortunate to escape uninjured when they were targeted with an automatic rifle.
The callous and reckless nature of these attacks means that there remains a very real threat of harm to members of the public. Even where there is no injury to people or damage to property, it is often the case that members of the public suffer significant disruption. This can include being forced out of their homes overnight while police deal with security alerts, not knowing if the device is real or hoax and always having to assume the worst.
As part of their unsuccessful attempts to prove their relevance to a society that wants to move on, these violent dissident republicans continue to resort to brutal assaults on members of their own communities in an attempt to exert fear and control.
Our Strategic Response
The Government are clear that terrorism will not succeed in Northern Ireland; democracy and consent will always prevail. Tackling terrorism remains a tier one risk, the highest priority for this Government. This approach is demonstrated in the provision of £231 million of additional security funding to the PSNI from 2011-16.
As a result of the strategic approach to tackling the threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism pursued by this Government, the increase in terrorist activity that emerged in 2008 has been stemmed. There were 22 national security related attacks in 2014 compared with 40 in 2010. But the need for total vigilance in the face of the continuing threat remains.
The recent security and defence review confirmed we will continue to maintain our investment in capabilities to keep the people of Northern Ireland safe. Looking ahead, as the Chancellor confirmed in the spending review and autumn statement, the UK Government are making available £160 million in additional security funding to the PSNI over the next five years to assist their efforts to tackle terrorism. This is a significant package at a time of constrained spending and recognises the SEVERE threat from NIRT and the exceptional demands it places upon the police.
The PSNI and MI5 have continued to work incredibly hard in the period since my last update to the House, in many cases placing themselves at significant risk in order to keep people safe. The PSNI has made over 100 terrorism-related arrests of violent dissident republicans since the beginning of the year. In the Republic of Ireland, an intelligence-led operation by An Garda Siochana, the Republic of Ireland police force, resulted in a significant arrest and charge, as well as the seizure of a large quantity of bomb-making equipment. Joint working between PSNI, MI5 and the Garda remains crucial in the investigation and disruption of the violent dissident republican threat.
The Government welcome the enactment of the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 which was introduced by the Minister of Justice. Its provisions include measures to reform committal proceedings, reduce delay in criminal proceedings and enhance case management, which are important and necessary steps forward. The PSNI and MI5 go to tremendous effort to bring violent dissident republicans before the courts. It is vital, if the threat is to be tackled and people kept safe, that the criminal justice system as a whole is ready and equipped to deal with these cases. The Government welcome the commitment in the Fresh Start agreement by the Executive to further work to ensure cases can be processed through the courts more quickly.
I would like take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hard work of the Northern Ireland Prison Service who conduct themselves with exemplary dedication in what can be a very difficult environment.
Continuing Paramilitary Activity
On 20 October I published the assessment of structure, roles and purpose of paramilitary groups and made a statement to the House. The assessment stated that structures remain in place for both republican and loyalist groups. It is clear that individuals associated with paramilitary groups remain engaged in serious criminality. The continued existence and activities of these paramilitary groups, albeit much diminished from their peak, undermines the normalisation of our society. Paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland were not justified in the past and they are not justified today. During the recent political talks, the determination of the UK Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, and the Irish Government to achieve a Northern Ireland society free from the malign impact of paramilitarism was clear.
I welcome the commitments contained in the resulting Fresh Start agreement on this issue. These include an enhanced effort to tackle cross-jurisdictional organised crime, a new NI Executive strategy to disband paramilitary groups and the establishment of a monitoring and implementation body on progress towards ending paramilitarism. I look forward to continuing to work with all involved on this serious matter. Active support by members of the community and by political representatives is essential if we are to move towards a Northern Ireland where the legacy of paramilitary crime is no longer felt in our communities.
I applaud the efforts of all of those who worked together to ensure that the vast majority of parades across Northern Ireland were peaceful this year. While it is encouraging that we have not returned to the level of violence seen in 2013, it remains a matter of significant concern that disorder in Belfast over a three day period in July resulted in the injury of 25 police officers. This is completely unacceptable. In the same month, a rogue group of loyalists made a public statement to the media threatening PSNI officers and the Parades Commission. This too is unacceptable.
This Government will not tolerate acts or threats of violence by any part of the Northern Ireland community. The strain policing the parading season places on PSNI resources should not be ignored, with PSNI figures estimating the total cost to them of this year’s season at £6.7 million. There remains much to be done across the community to deal with instability caused by issues such as flags and parades.
The SEVERE level of threat we face from violent dissident republicans is likely to continue. It is likely that a number of the many attacks planned will continue to materialise but the police, working closely with the Garda, will exert every effort to disrupt this violent criminal activity and prosecute those responsible.
As the Government’s Northern Ireland manifesto made clear, there can be no greater responsibility than the safety and security of the people of Northern Ireland and of the whole of the United Kingdom. That is why will always give the fullest possible backing to the men and women of the PSNI who, working alongside other partners such as MI5 and An Garda Siochana, do such an outstanding job. I would like to thank them all for the work they do. Under this Government there will be no let-up in our efforts to ensure that terrorism never succeeds.
Rail Franchising: PQQ Passport Award
I am pleased to inform the House that today we notified the first transport companies who have been successful in their pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) passport application. The PQQ passport is a new approach to the Department’s rigorous prequalification process in rail franchising and represents genuine innovation in procurement practice in Government for the passenger and taxpayer.
The following 11 companies will be able to submit their expression of interest for all future franchise competitions—within the lifetime of the passport—as from today, 15 December 2015.
Abellio Transport Group Ltd
Arriva UK Trains Ltd
First Rail Holdings Ltd
Go-Ahead Holding Ltd
Keolis (UK) Ltd
MTR Corporation (UK) Ltd
National Express Trains Ltd
Stagecoach Group Plc
Virgin Holdings Ltd
The quality of the submissions evidenced that we had explicitly sought high standards, integrity and professionalism from the national and international market. During the assessment stages we scrutinised and scored technical ability, strict safety standards and exemplary management practices. Our approach has resulted in a diverse and competitive market bidders from the UK and overseas who now hold the passport.
This brings a number of clear and positive outcomes: the passport is valid for a period of up to four years and in that time, applicants will be able to express their interest in all future franchise competitions without the need to submit the same information each time. This supports the Department’s effort to drive innovative customer-focused thinking and delivery from operators. Putting the passenger first is at the heart of all our franchise tenders and I believe this passport will keep the market fresh and dynamic.
The Department is focused on delivering better value for taxpayers and this announcement supports that. We can now focus our efforts on managing and negotiating the life-cycle of future franchises, build the necessary long-term industry relationships and continue to encourage parties from the UK and overseas to participate in our marketplace. This announcement is a hugely positive step and I am looking forward to seeing great results from a healthy, competitive open market.
Work and Pensions
Automatic Enrolment Annual Thresholds Review
My noble Friend the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Altmann) has made the following written statement.
I am today announcing the proposed automatic enrolment thresholds for next year.
It is intended to lay an Order before Parliament in the new year which will include the following: £43,000 for the upper limit of the qualifying earnings band.
The automatic enrolment earnings trigger will be frozen at £10,000. The lower limit of the qualifying earnings band will also remain frozen at £5,824.
I will also be placing a copy of the analysis supporting the proposed revised thresholds in the Library of the House and a copy can be found online at: www.gov.uk
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 7 December 2015 in Brussels. Baroness Neville-Rolfe, Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, represented the UK.
The Council held a detailed discussion on the women on company boards directive but was unable to reach an agreement. The UK was part of the blocking group, with Baroness Neville-Rolfe setting out the significant success which had been achieved through the UK’s business led, voluntary approach.
The Council reached political agreement on a recommendation on the integration of the long-term unemployed into the labour market.
The European Commission presented the annual growth survey 2016 and a draft Council recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area, with views invited from member states. The UK intervened to welcome the package presented while raising concerns that issues relating to jobs and growth should continue to be discussed by all 28 member states, not just those in the eurozone.
The Commission presented measures to advance equal treatment of LGBTI people, with the UK highlighting actions it had taken at a national level such as equal marriage. There was an exchange of views on the strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-2019 and the Council took stock of progress on the equal treatment directive.
The Council adopted conclusions on equality between women and men in the area of decision making, the promotion of the social economy as a key driver of economic and social development in Europe and social governance for an inclusive Europe.
Under any other business, the presidency informed the Council about the successful negotiations with the European Parliament on both the EURES network and the platform against undeclared work.
The Commission set out the Accessibility Act proposal. The UK stated that the draft proposal must be in line with shared objectives on the single market and must have a firm evidence base with an impact assessment, but did welcome the lighter regime for small and micro businesses. The Commission gave a presentation on the youth employment pact which highlighted that the pact had created partnerships between educational organisations and businesses. Finally, the Luxembourg delegation drew attention to the various initiatives and conferences they had undertaken as part of their presidency.