Thursday 2 March 2017
Modern Languages/Biblical Hebrew
The Government are tomorrow publishing subject content for AS and A-levels in a range of languages with smaller cohorts. This fulfils the commitment made in 2015 to work with the exam boards to ensure the continuation of these qualifications.
The reformed GCSE content for modern foreign languages, published in 2014, is suitable for all the modern languages which have been redeveloped as part of the GCSE review process. These are: Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, modern Greek, modern Hebrew, Polish, Panjabi, Russian, Spanish and Urdu. The exam boards have either already developed specifications for these GCSEs, or are currently doing so.
At A-level, we have worked with the exam boards to develop specific content for modern languages with smaller cohorts. These languages are named in the content as follows: Arabic, Bengali, Gujarati, modern Greek, modern Hebrew, Japanese, Panjabi, Persian, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish and Urdu.
The content for modern languages with smaller cohorts is largely identical to the reformed A-level (and AS) content which applies to French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Italian and Russian. This was developed by the independent A-Level Content Advisory Board (ALCAB), appointed by the Russell Group to meet the expectations of higher education, and was published in 2015.
This content for modern languages with smaller cohorts addresses the risks associated with examinations for smaller numbers of candidates, including the challenges of recruiting specialist examiners. The requirement to demonstrate speaking skills is not included in the content, which is consistent with current AS and A-level qualifications in the relevant languages—with the single exception of Urdu (in which speaking skills are currently examined). We have, however, included a clarification that specifications should encourage the development of speaking skills, although those skills will not be formally examined. To secure a level of rigour which is comparable for all modern languages, the Government are introducing a new requirement for modern languages with smaller cohorts. The proposed content requires students to apply language skills (reading, writing and listening) in combination, by responding to spoken and written sources addressing common subject matter.
The A-level (and AS) content for modern languages with smaller cohorts will apply to courses beginning in September 2018. The current specifications for these languages will remain available for courses beginning in September 2017.
The Government are also publishing tomorrow revisions to the ancient languages subject content, at both GCSE and AS/A-level. This was first published in 2014, to apply to all ancient languages. For Biblical Hebrew, however, it has become evident that certain aspects of that content could not apply directly, or would be inappropriate at this level of study. To clarify how particular requirements will apply to Biblical Hebrew, and whether any requirements will not apply, we have worked with independent subject experts and others with a close interest in the subject. The revised content maintains the overall level of demand of the content while ensuring clarity as to how certain requirements should be met in Biblical Hebrew specifications.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Agriculture and Fisheries Council
The Agriculture and Fisheries Council will take place on 6 March in Brussels. I will represent the United Kingdom.
As the provisional agenda currently stands, the primary focus of the Council will be an exchange of views on a regulation establishing a multi-annual plan for small pelagic species in the Adriatic sea.
There will also be an exchange of views on the future of the common agricultural policy post-2020.
There are currently five items scheduled under “any other business”:
Our Ocean conference —An Ocean for Life (Malta, 5 and 6 October 2017) (tabled by the Commission).
G20 Agriculture Ministers’ conference (Berlin, 22 January 2017) (tabled by the German delegation).
European Solidarity Corps (tabled by the Commission).
Dual quality foodstuffs (tabled by the Slovakian delegation).
Update on the animal welfare platform (tabled by the Commission).
Until exit negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a full member of the European Union and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. The outcome of these negotiations will determine the future shape of a new UK-EU partnership.
Exiting the European Union
General Affairs Council
The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 7 March 2017 is expected to focus on: resolutions, decisions and opinions adopted by the European Parliament; preparation of the March European Council from 9 and 10 March 2017; European semester and; inter-institutional agreement on “better law-making”.
Resolutions, decisions and opinions adopted by the European Parliament
The presidency will outline the resolutions, decisions and opinions adopted by the European Parliament (EP) at its plenary sessions of 13-16 February 2017.
Preparation of the March European Council from 9 and 10 March 2017
The presidency will present its draft conclusions on the agenda for the March European Council. The agenda will include: jobs, growth and competitiveness; external security and defence; migration; and external relations, focusing on the western Balkans. There will also be two procedural items on the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) and the election of the President of the European Council.
The presentation on the European semester is expected to cover: the priorities for the 2017 semester; the implementation of reforms undertaken by member states in response to their country-specific recommendations; and the endorsement of recommendations on the economic policy of the euro area.
Inter-institutional agreement on “better law-making”
Information is expected on the “joint declaration on inter-institutional priorities” signed by the Presidents of the European Council, European Commission and European Parliament in December 2016. The presidency will also present an overview on legislative programming and the latest on Commission proposals regarding delegated and implementing Acts.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Foreign Affairs Council
My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Secretary of State for Defence will attend the Foreign Affairs Council (Foreign and Defence Ministers) on 6 March. The Foreign Affairs Council will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. The meeting will be held in Brussels.
Foreign Affairs Council
The morning will start with a joint session for Foreign and Defence Ministers on defence. The foreign policy agenda will feature western Balkans, migration, Egypt and the middle east peace process.
Ahead of the joint session, Defence Ministers will discuss the strategic outlook for the EU’s common security and defence policy (CSDP). EU Foreign and Defence Ministers will then review the implementation of the December European Council package on defence. The discussion and conclusions will cover: improving the functioning of non-executive military (training) missions through the establishment of a military planning and conduct capability (MPCC); permanent structured co-operation (PESCO) for better joint capability development; and the proposed co-ordinated annual review on defence (CARD).
Ahead of discussion on the western Balkans at the March European Council, HRVP Mogherini will brief Ministers on her forthcoming regional tour and update the Council on the EU-facilitated Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. In her 17 January speech, the Prime Minister identified the western Balkans as a region in which the UK has played and will continue to play an active role in promoting European security.
There may be a discussion on migration following the Valletta senior official meeting on 8-9 February which reviewed progress against the Valletta action plan. The UK used its chairmanship of the Khartoum process in 2016 to encourage implementation of the Valletta action plan to tackle unmanaged migration flows from the horn of Africa. The UK provided a total of £4 billion in aid for Africa in 2015-16, with an increasing focus on jobs and livelihoods.
Foreign Minister Shoukry will attend the lunch discussion where Ministers will discuss Egypt’s relationship with the EU and role in the region. Discussions are expected to cover Egypt’s political and human rights situation, including the growing restrictions on civil society. Ministers are also likely to discuss how the EU can best help strengthen Egypt’s internal security, co-operate on bringing stability to Libya, and work together on combating illegal migration in the region.
Middle east peace process
Ministers will discuss developments on the middle east peace process (MEPP) and are likely to discuss obstacles to peace, including incitement, terrorism, demolitions and recent settlement announcements.
I want to update the House on work by the police to improve transparency on how they use force and on their use of conductive energy devices, commonly known as Taser.
In October 2014, the former Home Secretary commissioned the then national policing lead for conflict management, Chief Constable David Shaw, to carry out an in-depth review of the data that should be recorded and published every time significant force is used by the police. This formed part of a range of work focused on improving the way the police interact with people, in particular vulnerable people, those with mental health issues, and black and minority ethnic groups. A key driver has been to ensure transparency and accountability on the police use of sensitive powers.
I am pleased to update the House on the significant progress made, supported by a diverse range of partners including Amnesty International and BMH UK. Chief Constable David Shaw’s review made a number of recommendations, which set out that the police should publish a range of key information in respect of every serious use of force, including the ethnicity, age, location and outcome. The information should report on the situations when physical restraint is used, as well as the type of equipment, such as handcuffs, batons, sprays and conductive energy devices.
The recommendations made by Chief Constable Shaw were agreed by the former Home Secretary, and work has since been undertaken to ensure all police forces are ready for a new data collection system beginning on 1 April 2017. All forces will publish the data recorded locally on a quarterly basis, with a subset of the key information collected provided to the Home Office as part of the annual data requirement for 2017-18.
This data collection will be a significant factor in improving public trust and confidence in the police use of force. Improved transparency will contribute to delivering a real commitment on behalf of the police to respond to the genuine concerns raised by the public.
For the first time, these data will allow meaningful comparison across the range of techniques and tactics used by the police, and this should in time directly influence and strengthen police training, and operational decisions around the most appropriate tactics and equipment available where needed. It will allow scrutiny of why force is being used, which will provide invaluable insight, particularly in respect of minority and vulnerable groups, and in locations of concern, such as hospitals, mental health institutions and custody cells.
The wide range of data collected will also include information on injuries suffered, by the subject and also by the officers concerned. Our police forces deal with volatile and potentially dangerous situations every day, and these data will allow us to better understand the need for appropriate, justifiable use of force, as well as providing evidence of the tactics and techniques that may be more or less likely to result in injury in different circumstances.
This work is a real step forward. I am particularly pleased with the progress made to ensure the police and the public have the information needed to rightly scrutinise how the use of force is deployed and I am proud that this level of reporting is unmatched anywhere in the world.
This is particularly fitting today as I would also like to inform the House of the Home Secretary’s decision to authorise a new conductive energy device (CED), Taser International’s Taser X2, for use by police forces in England and Wales. This decision is in response to the formal request from the national policing lead, DAC Neil Basu, on behalf of the police in England and Wales following the end of production of the existing authorised device, the Taser X26, and an open and transparent procurement exercise to identify a replacement.
This Government are committed to giving the police the tools they need to do their job effectively, and where modern specialist equipment like CEDs are used, to ensure our officers have access to the best and most appropriate technology. The decision to authorise the Taser X2 follows stringent consideration of strategic, ethical, operational and societal issues, including an assessment of environmental factors. As part of this process, a full technical evaluation of the Taser X2 has been carried out. The results of this evaluation, as well as user handling trials, and training and guidance materials, were submitted for independent medical assessment by the Scientific Advisory Committee on the medical implications of less-lethal weapons (SACMILL). The Committee has provided a medical statement on the Taser X2 and which confirms that when used by trained operators in accordance with UK policy and guidance, the medical implications of the Taser X2 are in line with those expected of a less lethal weapon of this type.
The decision to authorise the Taser X2 for use by the police also marks the award of a commercial contract with Taser International’s UK distributor, Axon Public Safety Ltd. A new national framework agreement will shortly be in place, subject to a 10-day standstill period.
A copy of the use of force data review can be found in the Library of the House, and I will ensure that SACMILL’s medical statement is placed there and on gov.uk.
Work and Pensions
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will take place on 3 March in Brussels. I will be representing the UK.
The Council will be invited to an orientation debate on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending regulation 883 on the co-ordination of social security systems and regulation 987 laying down the procedure for implementing regulation 883. The Council will also be invited to a policy debate on the European semester and the implementation of country-specific recommendations.
The Council will be invited to adopt draft Council conclusions on the 2017 annual growth survey and joint employment report, and to adopt the draft joint employment reports. As part of this, the Commission will also present the 2017 country reports, published 22 February. The Council will be invited to adopt the draft Council conclusions on enhancing the skills of women and men in the EU labour market.
There will be a joint presentation by the Commission and the presidency on the tripartite social summit.
Under any other business, there will be information from the Commission about the communication on modernisation of the EU occupational safety and health legislation and policy, and information in follow up to their recent communication on investing in Europe’s youth. There will be information from the presidency on the state of play of the legislative proposal on posting of workers. The Chairs of the Employment Committee (EMCO) and the Social Protection Committee (SPC) will provide information on their respective work programmes for 2017. There will be information from the European Institute for Gender Equality on the key findings of their study titled “Economic benefits of gender equality in the EU”. The Portuguese delegation will provide information on the upcoming UNECE international conference “A sustainable society for all ages: Realising the potential of living longer” (Lisbon, 21 and 22 September 2017).
National Employment Savings Trust
From 1 April 2017, changes to the National Employment Savings Trust Order 2010 and to the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST) rules will allow individual and bulk transfers into and out of the scheme in prescribed circumstances. These changes will help people who wish to consolidate their savings with NEST or with other pension providers, which is critical to reducing costs in pension schemes and avoiding large numbers of small scattered pots, often forgotten about by savers and hard to trace.
I can now confirm the charge structure that will relate to such transfers. Under the determination made by the previous Government, the trustee of NEST makes an annual charge on funds under management. This has been set by the trustee at 0.3%. In addition, to help cover the set up costs, the trustee makes a charge on contributions into the scheme from both employers and employees. This has been set by the trustee at 1.8%.
Introducing a new type of charge for transfers in would add complexity for members and be inconsistent with the Government’s policy on charges. Therefore the existing contribution charge and annual management charge will apply to funds transferred into NEST. The trustee will set the level of these charges as they apply to transferred funds.
Levying a 1.8% contribution charge in these circumstances would be punitive for members and would discourage pot consolidation. Charges on transfers in are the exception in modern pension schemes and our policy is to discourage such charges. Therefore, I expect the contribution charge that will apply to transfers to be less than 1.8% and place no lower bounds on its level, which is to be set by the trustee with due regard to the impact on members and scheme finances. The trustee will also be able to set a minimum transfer value.
In the case of bulk transfers, the trustee will also have the option of recovering the costs of administering the transfer from the employer.
The Government aim to achieve a balance between delivering good value to NEST’s members, managing impacts on the wider pensions industry and ensuring affordability for the taxpayer. I have been assured by the trustee that, in setting the level of the charges to apply to transfers, it will take into account its target market and public service obligations and am putting in place arrangements to enable me to keep this under review.