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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
14 September 2016
Volume 614

Written Statements

Wednesday 14 September 2016

Treasury

Contingencies Fund

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The Aire Valley Master Trust (AVMT) is a residential mortgage backed securitisation (RMBS) programme, which currently encumbers approximately £8.5 billion of mortgage assets and provides Bradford & Bingley (B&B) with just over £2.6 billion of funding. As at 30 July 2016 the balance of the outstanding AVMT notes was approximately £5.4 billion. B&B holds £2.8 billion of these notes, with the remaining £2.6 billion (the funding) held by market. B&B proposes to call the notes to unencumber the mortgages enabling them to be included in any future sales when market conditions allow. The transaction replaces expensive legacy B&B-issued debt with cheaper DMO-issued debt, with no change in balance sheet totals. The transaction is, therefore, neutral from both a public sector net debt and budgetary perspective.

B&B has a working capital facility loan agreement with HM Treasury, allowing it to borrow up to a maximum of £11.5 billion to cover everyday operations of the company. B&B proposes to draw down £2.975 billion from this facility to redeem the notes.

The cash for the loan will form part of HM Treasury’s supplementary estimate 2016-17, which will not receive Royal Assent in the associated Supply and Appropriation Bill until mid to late March 2017. HM Treasury will, therefore, be utilising the Contingencies Fund to make this urgent payment. While B&B’s capital facility draw down will be £2.975 billion to redeem the notes, £0.750 billion will be repaid from income. The additional amount, therefore, that HM Treasury requires—and will form part of their supplementary estimate request—is therefore £2.225 billion.

Parliamentary approval for additional cash of £2,225,000,000 for this expenditure will be sought in a supplementary estimate for HM Treasury. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £2,225,000,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.

[HCWS153]

Culture, Media and Sport

2019 World Road Cycling Championships (Contingent Liability)

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I wish to inform the House that on 14 September 2016, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport laid a minute recording the Government’s commitment to underwrite the 2019 world road cycling championships to be staged in Yorkshire. The departmental minute will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

As set out in the minute, I am pleased to inform the House that a formal bid to host the world championships was submitted to the international cycling federation by the deadline of 16 August 2016, through collaboration between Welcome to Yorkshire, UK Sport, Government and British Cycling. The Government will provide £9 million to support the delivery of the championships and an underwrite for the event. If the bid is successful, the Government will, in addition, provide £15 million towards developing cycling facilities in England, including closed road circuits, as a lasting legacy for the event. The Government underwrite, therefore, creates a contingent liability for the Department in relation to the championships in 2019.

Attachments can be viewed online at:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2016-09-14/HCWS149/

[HCWS149]

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Falklands Demining

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Under the anti-personnel mine ban convention, which sets out the worldwide approach to landmine removal, the UK is required to clear all mined areas under its jurisdiction or control. In the case of the Falkland Islands, I am pleased to announce that the Government have decided to provide a further £20 million to this process. As a result, thousands of landmines will be cleared in the next phase of work making safe dozens of areas which have been unusable since the mines were laid during the 1982 conflict.

This significantly increased funding will build on previous demining projects, which have so far cleared more than 30 minefields. The latest phase of work will be jointly funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence. It will see teams of expert contractors clear 46 minefields and carry out surveys to prepare for the clearance of another 27 over the next two years, as the UK continues to work towards fully clearing mines from its territories.

The UK is committed to meeting its international obligations under the anti-personnel mine ban convention and to doing its part to uphold the rules-based international system. This project is just one of many UK demining projects around the world.

[HCWS150]

North Korea Nuclear Test

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On 9 September North Korean state media claimed that the country had successfully conducted its fifth nuclear test at 00:30 GMT (09:00 Pyongyang). The Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty Organisation reported seismic signatures from a location close to where North Korea conducted its January nuclear test. We assess that the seismic event was caused by a nuclear test. The magnitude of this latest test was slightly larger than the one that occurred in January.

This nuclear test is a serious violation of UN Security Council resolutions 1718, 1874, 2087, 2094 and 2270. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes continue to pose a significant threat to international security and regional stability, and hinder the prospects for lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.

On 9 September the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), issued a statement strongly condemning the nuclear test as a grave violation of UN Security Council resolutions. The Foreign Secretary has spoken to his counterparts in Japan and Australia to discuss the nuclear test and the international response and we are in close touch with other partners, including the United States and the Republic of Korea.

The UK strongly supported the UN Security Council’s swift condemnation of this nuclear test in an emergency session on 9 September. The UN Security Council agreed that this test was a clear violation of existing Security Council resolutions, and that there should be a robust response including immediate work on further significant measures.

I summoned the North Korean ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 12 September in order to underline, in the strongest terms, the UK’s firm condemnation of this nuclear test and to make clear to North Korea that it must engage constructively with the international community or it will face an increasingly tough international response. Amid reports of widespread hardship and human rights violations, the priority must be the health and welfare of the North Korean people rather than continuation of the nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

We continue to urge the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to return to credible and authentic multilateral talks on its nuclear programme, to abide by its obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and to permit full access by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

[HCWS151]

Syria: Chemical Weapons

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I wish to make a statement about the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the steps Her Majesty’s Government are taking to respond to the situation.

This Government wholeheartedly condemn the use of chemical weapons, by anyone, anywhere. It is appalling that three years after the Ghouta attacks in 2013, where hundreds died from exposure to nerve agent, Syrian civilians continue to be the victims of chemical weapons.

In 2013, following concerted international pressure, Syria joined the chemical weapons convention (CWC), and declared a stockpile of 1,300 tonnes of chemical weapons and precursors. These have been destroyed by the international community. The UK contribution to this effort included the safe destruction, by incineration, of approximately 200 tonnes of chemical precursors. However, Syria has yet to satisfy the international community and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that the declaration it made of its chemical weapons programme is complete and accurate. The OPCW has stated that Syria’s declaration contains “gaps, inconsistencies and inaccuracies” which need to be answered. We continue to press for the Syrian regime to provide the required level of co-operation and transparency for the OPCW to be able to resolve these issues.

The UN Security Council has made clear repeatedly, in resolutions 2118 (2013), 2209 (2015), and 2235 (2015), that there would be consequences for those responsible for using chemical weapons in Syria. The Security Council thus sent a clear signal that all chemical weapons attacks in Syria must cease. Despite this there have been frequent allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, including in Aleppo earlier this month.

The UK has been at the forefront of international efforts to ensure that reports of attacks are properly investigated and those responsible identified. In August 2015 the UN Security Council established the UN/OPCW joint investigative mechanism (JIM) to

“identify to the greatest extent feasible individuals, entities, groups, or governments who were perpetrators, organisers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical, in the Syrian Arab Republic”.

The UK argued for the establishment of the JIM and has strongly supported its work, including providing £500,000 to help it become operational. This was in addition to our contribution in excess of £3.5 million to the OPCW, including £2 million to the OPCW’s Syria trust fund, for destruction and verification activities.

In its report of 24 August the JIM focused on nine incidents in Syria, between 2014 and 2015, which the OPCW had identified as involving chemical weapons. The report confirmed what the UK and others have strongly believed for a long time, that the Syrian regime is directly responsible for chemical weapons attacks. Specifically, the JIM concluded that attacks in Sarmin and in Talamenes were the responsibility of the Syrian regime. This is the first time either the UN or OPCW have publicly attributed use of chemical weapons to the Syrian regime.

The JIM concluded that one incident, involving sulphur mustard gas, was the responsibility of Daesh—an attack in Marea in August 2015. The use of chemical weapons by Daesh is completely unacceptable. The UK continues to play a leading role in efforts to defeat Daesh and prevent its further use of chemical weapons, including through the global coalition.

The UK is working with international partners, including other members of the Security Council, to ensure there are consequences for those responsible for using chemical weapons and to send a clear message that such attacks are completely unacceptable and must stop.

[HCWS152]

Northern Ireland

Independent Reporting Commission

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The Independent Reporting Commission is one of a series of measures set out in the 2015 “Fresh Start” agreement to tackle ongoing paramilitary activity connected with Northern Ireland.

Provision for the Independent Reporting Commission to be established by agreement (“the agreement”) between the UK Government and the Government of Ireland was included in the Northern Ireland (Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan) Act 2016. The agreement was signed on 13 September.

The agreement establishes the IRC as an independent, international body. It sets out the functions, duties and membership of the IRC, and provides for certain privileges and immunities to be conferred through legislation. It also requires the commission not to do anything in carrying out its functions which might put at risk the safety or life of any person, prejudice national security interests, have a prejudicial effect on any proceedings which have, or are likely to be, commenced in a court of law, or have a prejudicial effect on the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of crime.

Paramilitary activity continues to be a scourge on Northern Ireland society and to cause untold damage to individuals and their communities. It was never justified in the past in Northern Ireland and it has no place in society today. This new commission will therefore play an important role in assisting efforts to tackle paramilitary activity and associated criminality.

Specifically, the Independent Reporting Commission will report on progress towards ending continuing paramilitary activity connected with Northern Ireland. It will provide assessments of the implementation of the relevant measures of the UK Government, the Government of Ireland and the Northern Ireland Executive. These include oversight of the Northern Ireland Executive’s strategy to end paramilitarism.

The commission will consult a wide range of stakeholders, including law enforcement agencies, local councils, communities and civic society organisations and its reports will also inform the Executive’s programme for Government priorities through to 2021.

The commission will be independent of the UK and Irish Governments and will have a significant degree of discretion in fulfilling its functions. This independence will help to ensure the credibility of its reports and enable it to carry out its work effectively.

[HCWS148]