Tuesday 13 September 2016
HMIC Report: Royal Navy Police
I wish to inform the House that the first report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) inspection of the Royal Navy Police (RNP) has been laid before the House today.
The Armed Forces Act 2011 places a duty on HMIC to inspect and report to the Ministry of Defence on the independence and effectiveness of investigations carried out by each service police force, and this is HMIC’s first statutory inspection report on the RNP.
I consider this report to be a positive endorsement of the RNP providing assurance from an independent civilian authority that the RNP is well led overall. Six recommendations have been made and one area for improvement has been identified. The Royal Navy accepts the report’s findings and work is already under way to address the recommendations and the area for improvement.
Copies of the report will be available in the Journal Office and Printed Paper Office.
Electoral Commission Committee
EU Referendum Report
(On Behalf of the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission): The Electoral Commission has today published its report on the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union (EU referendum), held on 23 June 2016. The report looks at the key issues that arose on the way to polling day, including the conduct of campaigners and the Electoral Commission’s regulation of them, and provides data on the views of voters and the experience they had throughout this period. The report also points to a number of recommendations that would improve the administration, regulation, and delivery of future referendums.
Recognising its direct involvement in the management of the poll, the commission has also enabled an independent report conducted by two academics which has been published today. The commission has also today published three related reports respectively evaluating its public awareness campaign, international observers’ scheme, and an independent report on the experience of registered campaigners. The commission will publish further reports relating to the referendum, including a report on the analysis of campaigners’ spending and donations at the referendum and a report detailing the costs of the administration of the referendum in full, in 2017.
The evidence gathered by the Electoral Commission to inform its report shows that the referendum was delivered without any major issues. Its public opinion research with voters finds that they had a positive view of the EU referendum process, with 77% being very or fairly confident that the referendum was well-run. People were also satisfied with the process of registering to vote (87% said they were generally satisfied). People remain highly satisfied with the procedures for voting in the referendum, whether in person at a polling station (97%), or by post (99%).
The Electoral Commission’s report acknowledges that this success was due to the over 100,000 members of staff who were working in around 41,000 polling stations across the UK and Gibraltar on polling day. It recognises the counting officers and their staff, as well as the 11 regional counting officers and the chief electoral officer for Northern Ireland whose professionalism and diligence were critical components of the organisation of the referendum. Electoral registration officers are singled out for praise in the report for processing 2.1 million additional applications to register to vote in the weeks before the referendum, as well as electoral services staff who coped with a record high electorate of 46,500,001 and 72.2% voter turnout.
The Electoral Commission had a leading role in the referendum. Under the framework of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) the commission had a number of specific statutory responsibilities and functions in relation to the delivery and regulation of the referendum. It designated the two lead campaigners and produced guidance for all campaigners, of which there was a total of 123 registered campaigners—63 indicating they supported “Remain” and 60 supporting the “Leave” side. The discharge of these duties was in addition to its responsibility to promote public awareness of the referendum, the question put to the electorate, and how to vote in it.
The work for the EU referendum undertaken by the electoral community, the Electoral Commission, and campaigners was done at a time when important elections were taking place, under high levels of public scrutiny, and with uncertainty about the date of the referendum until four months before the poll. The report notes that careful management of the potential risks associated with the timing and profile of the poll was needed to successfully deliver the poll. Nevertheless, the Electoral Commission once again reiterates its recommendation that referendum legislation should be clear at least six months before it is required to be implemented or complied with.
The report also calls for the important changes which have been applied to the legal framework for recent referendums to be incorporated into PPERA, which sets out the standard framework for referendums. This would ensure that they would apply for all future referendums, and would remove the need to draft completely new legislation on these aspects for each future poll. In addition, the commission recommends that a generic order for the conduct of referendums, which it has called for since 2004, should be introduced by the Government now. This would remove ambiguity over the detailed rules for the conduct of referendums each time one of these polls is called. To build on the successful approach taken in both the EU referendum and the 2014 referendum in Scotland, this legislation should also require the designation of lead campaigners shortly before the referendum period, rather than during the first six weeks of this period, as currently set out in the legislation.
The Electoral Commission also suggests that section 125 of PPERA should be significantly redrafted to clarify the nature and scope of the restriction on activities by Governments and other publicly funded bodies during the referendum period. It should be clear which activities are restricted, and whether there are any specific exemptions; it should be clear when the restrictions apply; and it should be clear who is responsible for enforcing the restrictions, and what the penalties would be for any breach of the restrictions. The commission is therefore calling on the UK Government to consult on options for redrafting section 125 of PPERA, with a view to introducing amending legislation as soon as practicable, sufficiently ahead of any specific legislation for a future referendum.
One thing the commission has not recommended, however, is any role for itself in regulating the “truth” or the content of what campaigners say. The report sets out why it does not believe this would be an appropriate role for the commission given the breadth of its other functions. Instead, it is for campaigners and the media to scrutinise each other’s contentions and right that information is widely available for voters to do the same, but it is not clear that an independent body could, or should, be required to regulate the “truth”, which is likely to be highly contested.
While the commission has been pleased that the UK Government have incorporated many of its recommendations at each recent referendum, and that overall the legislation worked well for this poll, it is not practical to use different pieces of legislation from previous referendums and PPERA in order to draft legislation for each new referendum. It is therefore the Electoral Commission’s view that Parliament must now establish a clear standard legal framework for the conduct and regulation of future referendums.
Copies of the commission’s report have been placed in the Library and it is also available on the commission’s website: www.electoralcommission.org.uk.
HS2: Phase 2a Consultations
HS2 will be the new backbone of our national rail network and help us build an economy that works for all. Good rail links bring our country closer together, making it easier for people to get on and driving economic growth. That is why the Government are heavily investing in transport infrastructure, such as HS2, across the country. HS2 presents huge opportunities for UK business, and has the potential to increase the amount of freight transported by rail meaning fewer lorries on the roads, cutting congestion and carbon. The sooner we build HS2, the sooner we will see these benefits.
The Government remain committed to completing the full phase 2 “Y” network from Birmingham to Manchester on the western leg, and to Leeds, via the east midlands and Sheffield on the eastern leg. The decision to accelerate construction of part of the phase 2 route between the west midlands and Crewe—known as phase 2a—was taken in November 2015. This will mean that this section of the route becomes operational in 2027, so that some of the benefits of HS2 will be delivered six years earlier than originally planned.
Therefore, as part of our plans to prepare the HS2 phase 2a (west midlands to Crewe) hybrid Bill for introduction to Parliament next year, we have today launched the following consultations:
The Working Draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report;
The Working Draft Equality Impact Assessment (EqIA) report; and
A Design Refinement consultation.
Alongside the launch of these consultations, we are also publishing the revised EIA and EqIA “Scope and Methodology Reports” (SMR), which set out how the assessments will be undertaken, and the associated consultation response analysis documents.
The launch of these consultations is an important step towards delivering phase 2, and reinforces our commitment to continually trying to improve and refine the scheme. Importantly, we want to give those affected the opportunity to make their views known and provide further evidence to inform my final route decision.
Working draft Environmental Impact Assessment and Equality Impact Assessment Reports
HS2 Ltd has developed working draft EIA and EqIA reports for the phase 2a scheme, on which there will be an eight-week consultation. This will enable interested parties to comment on the current proposed design of the scheme, current environmental baseline, likely impacts and effects (where identified) and proposed mitigation measures.
The responses to these consultations will be considered as the design and assessment are developed and will help in the development of the formal EIA and EQIA reports. The formal EIA report will set out the likely significant environment effects of the phase 2a scheme, and will be deposited alongside the phase 2a hybrid Bill so it can be taken into account by Parliament before it decides whether or not to grant the powers to build the railway. The formal EqIA report will help us fulfil our public sector equality duty and is expected to be published when the hybrid Bill is deposited. Further information on these consultations can be found at: www.gov.uk/hs2.
Design Refinement Consultation
We are also consulting separately on a number of refinements to the route developed since November 2015. This consultation will last eight weeks, and enable me to take into account the views of those potentially affected before taking a decision on the refinements. Further information on this consultation can be found at: www.gov.uk/hs2.
Work on the design is continuing alongside these consultations which may lead to further changes being identified and decision taken. The full route will then be published when we deposit the hybrid Bill in 2017, at which point those affected will have an opportunity to comment on the formal EIA report. People specially and directly affected by the scheme will also have the opportunity to petition Parliament as part of the hybrid Bill process.
HS2 Ltd has today written to people living near the proposed route changes to inform them of the consultation and invite them to attend consultation information events in their local areas.
HS2 is a once in a generation opportunity to transform Britain’s railways, and I look forward to our continuing engagement in order to make it a reality and ensure that we maximise every opportunity it has to offer.
I am today publishing the Government’s new rail freight strategy, which has been developed in collaboration with Network Rail, the rail freight industry and its customers.
Rail freight makes an important contribution to our economic and environmental wellbeing, with benefits estimated at around £1.6 billion to the national economy every year. It generates around £1 billion from improved productivity, while around £0.6 billion is the value of the reductions in road congestion, carbon emissions and air pollutants.
Rail freight currently carries one in four of the containers coming into our ports, and has the potential to carry an even higher proportion. Each freight train removes the equivalent of up to 76 lorry journeys from our roads. Transporting freight by rail reduces carbon emissions by around three quarters compared to road, and also provides significant benefits through reduced local air pollution, road damage, traffic noise and road traffic accidents.
Since rail privatisation in the 1990s, the rail freight industry’s market share of freight transport has risen from around 5% to around 12%. The industry has invested significantly on its own account, in rolling stock and terminals, in order to win new customers.
Government are also investing on a large scale in the rail network, including important enhancements worth nearly £240 million specifically identified by the rail freight industry as their priority.
This rail freight strategy sets out our vision for how rail freight can continue to grow, and how the broader logistics sector and rail industry can collaborate and innovate to help relieve pressure on the road network. It looks at challenges facing the rail freight industry—the way in which network capacity is used, the potential for innovation, the skills challenge and public perceptions of rail freight—and identifies ways in which the Government and the industry can work together to address them.
A copy of the strategy has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and is also available at: www.gov.uk, together with two supporting technical reports.
Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament. uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2016-09-13/HCWS144.
Wales Bill: English Votes for English Laws
I am pleased to announce the publication of analysis of English votes for English laws in relation to Government amendments to the Wales Bill at Commons Report.
The English votes for English laws process applies to public Bills in the House of Commons. To support the process, the Government have agreed that they will provide information to assist the Speaker in considering whether to certify that Bill or any of its provisions for the purposes of English votes for English laws.
The memorandum provides an assessment of tabled Government amendments to the Wales Bill at Commons Report, for the purposes of English votes for English laws. The Department’s assessment is the amendments do not change the territorial application of the Bill.
The memorandum can be found on the Bill documents page of the Parliament website at: http://www.parliament. uk/bills and I have deposited a copy in the Libraries of both Houses.
Work and Pensions
Cold Weather Payments Scheme
I am pleased to announce that today I intend to lay regulations to amend the cold weather payment scheme. The changes detailed in these regulations will come into force on 1 November this year, in time for the beginning of the winter period.
The scheme makes cold weather payments to help vulnerable groups during cold periods. Each year the Department reviews the scheme with expert advice from the Met Office and, where necessary, makes changes to regulations to ensure that postcodes are linked to the most appropriate weather station for the purposes of the cold weather payment.
For the 2016-17 season the Met Office has recommended the replacement of one primary weather station and the introduction of an additional new station.
The current station at Skye-Lusa will be closed and have equipment removed by spring 2017. The Met Office has therefore recommended changing to an alternative site at Achnagart to protect the 2016-17 service from any potential risk of earlier disruption to the station at Skye-Lusa.
South Devon, particularly the EX and TQ postcodes, would be better represented by the newly installed station at Exeter airport. The Met Office has recommended including this station as an additional site in the network taking some of the postcodes currently served by Dunkeswell and North Wyke. The Exeter airport site better represents the postcodes along and near the east facing coastline around east Devon, Exeter and parts of Torbay. The more inland and higher altitude sites at Dunkeswell and North Wyke will continue to serve the more inland communities.
The regulations also make other minor changes to the alternative weather stations. This will ensure that the weather station to postcode links are as representative as possible.
The changes to the postcode to weather station links resulted from the Department’s annual review of the cold weather payments scheme. The review drew on expert advice from the Met Office and took account of representations from benefit claimants and Members of Parliament.
I will be writing to each Member who made representations about the administration of the scheme last winter to make them aware of the advice from the Met Office.
Cold weather payments are separate from, and in addition to, winter fuel payments.
For winter 2016-17 the cold weather payment rate will continue to be £25 for each seven day period of very cold weather.
The regulations are being amended so that, in future, revisions can be made without the need for new legislation each time weather station to postcode links change. This will not materially impact on how the scheme operates in practice.
The regulations are also being amended to ensure that where a primary station is unable to provide temperature information or the Met Office is unable to produce a forecast at a primary station, there are adequate procedures for the necessary temperature information or forecast to be obtained from another weather station.