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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
12 July 2018
Volume 644

Written Statements

Thursday 12 July 2018

ECOFIN

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A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) will be held in Brussels on 13 July 2018. The Council will discuss the following:

Early morning session

The Eurogroup President will brief the Council on the outcomes of the 12 July meeting of the Eurogroup, and the European Commission will provide an update on the current economic situation in the EU.

VAT: generalised reverse charge mechanism and e-publications

The Council will hold an exchange of views on proposals to allow member states to temporarily apply a VAT generalised reverse charge mechanism, and proposals to allow member states to apply non-standard rates of VAT to e-publications.

Current financial services legislative proposals

The Austrian presidency will provide an update on current legislative proposals in the field of financial services.

Presidency work programme

The Austrian presidency will present its work programme on economic and financial matters for July to December 2018, followed by an exchange of views.

June European Council follow-up

The Council will hold an exchange of views on the follow-up to the European Council of 28 and 29 June 2018.

G20 meeting

The Council will be invited to approve the EU terms of reference for the G20 meeting of finance ministers in Buenos Aires on 21 and 22 July.

[HCWS855]

Pensions Cold Calling Ban

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I have today laid before Parliament a ministerial statement to set out Government progress on the ban on pensions cold calling, as required under the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018.

Pensions cold calling is an important and complex issue. Pensions scams can have devastating consequences and cold calling is the most common method used to initiate pensions scams, so the Government have taken the time to ensure the ban works for consumers. The Government will imminently publish a consultation seeking views on a set of draft regulations to ban pensions cold calling. Once we have considered all responses to the consultation, in the autumn we intend to lay regulations under the affirmative procedure and subject to parliamentary approval bring the regulations into force as soon as possible thereafter.

[HCWS854]

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Media Matters

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Having taken over as the Secretary of State with responsibility for media public interest cases, I have reviewed the process regarding the proposed merger between 21st Century Fox (21CF) and Sky Plc (Sky). I am content that DCMS and the relevant parties have ensured a scrupulously clear, fair and transparent process and I can now therefore inform the House of the final decisions made by my predecessor as Secretary of State. These decisions were made in a quasi-judicial capacity.

On 5 June, Official Report, column 194, the previous Secretary of State made a statement to the House in which he set out his decision in relation to the proposed merger.

He announced that, having considered the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) report, he agreed with their findings on the public interest grounds and their finding that undertakings to divest Sky News to The Walt Disney Company (Disney) or to an alternative suitable buyer could potentially remedy the public interest concerns identified.

Following the completion of discussions with the parties, on 19 June he published a consultation on the undertakings offered by 21 CF along with new undertakings offered by Disney for the divestment of Sky News to Disney and several associated documents.

We received five responses to the consultation, which closed on 4 July. These responses will be published today on the DCMS website, along with the Government’s response to the consultation.

Having considered the responses to the consultation, the previous Secretary of State agreed with the parties a clarificatory change to Disney’s undertakings and changes to the associated brand licensing agreement. In response to specific concerns raised by respondents, he also agreed that where appropriate the Secretary of State will consult with the CMA in relation to these undertakings and will publish the formal written advice given by the CMA. I am content to confirm this position.

The final version of the undertakings have been published along with the other relevant documents on the DCMS website.

The publication of the undertakings marks the final stage of the public interest consideration of this case. It is right that Ofcom, the CMA and my Department have taken such care in ensuring the bid is properly and effectively scrutinised. It is now a matter for the Sky shareholders to decide whether to accept 21 CF’s bid.

[HCWS852]

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

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The Agriculture and Fisheries Council will take place on 16 July in Brussels.

As the provisional agenda stands, the main agricultural item will be a presentation by the Commission on the common agricultural policy (CAP) post 2020, followed by an exchange of views. Council will discuss three regulations during this item: a regulation on CAP strategic plans; a regulation on financing, management and monitoring of the CAP; and a regulation on common market organisation of agricultural products.

There will also be a presentation by the presidency on its work programme.

[HCWS844]

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

British Council Annual Report

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Copies of the British Council’s annual report and accounts for the 2017-18 financial year have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities and it makes a significant contribution to projecting British values overseas. In doing so it makes a lasting difference to the UK’s security, prosperity and influence. It is the world’s leading cultural relations organisation, reaching over 758 million people in over 100 countries in 2017-18. This included 14 million face-to-face participants in British Council programmes, 42 million customers using British Council digital social media and learning products and 19 million visitors to British Council exhibitions. It is a significant driver of UK soft power.

The Council received £168 million grant-in-aid from the FCO in 2017-18. The FCO is committed to continuing its support of the British Council’s excellent work. The FCO has protected the British Council’s budget and has increased its overall grant over the current spending review period. It has also recently agreed to provide additional funding in this period specifically to support the British Council’s work in Europe and in the developed world.

The report can also be found at the British Council’s website www.britishcouncil.org.

[HCWS847]

Foreign Affairs Council

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The FAC will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HRVP), Federica Mogherini. The meeting will be held in Brussels. The FAC will discuss current affairs, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the Eastern Partnership and Libya. UK attendance is still to be confirmed.

DPRK

Ministers will discuss developments on the Korean peninsula, including the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore on 12 June. The UK continues to view economic and political pressure as the best leverage to keep Kim Jong Un engaged in negotiations with the US and to ultimately achieve the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. We will work with partners to ensure the EU remains united in its support for US diplomatic efforts and continues to maintain pressure on the DPRK until it takes concrete steps to denuclearise.

Libya

Libya will be on the agenda for the first time since January. Ministers will discuss the United Nations (UN)-led political process, and ongoing efforts to create the conditions for credible elections before the end of the year, in line with the UN action plan. We will continue to emphasise the need for Libyan leaders to agree on an appropriate package of political, economic and security measures in order to ensure that elections are credible and enjoy broad support. The discussions are also likely to cover recent events in the eastern “Oil Crescent” area of Libya, and the need to ensure that oil facilities remain under the control of the legitimate Libyan National Oil Corporation. We will underline the need for continued united international support for a political solution in Libya. The discussion may also focus on the need to tackle the shared challenge of migration, including how to protect the most vulnerable from exploitation.

Eastern Partnership

Ministers will discuss the Eastern Partnership ahead of the October ministerial. The FAC will assess progress against the “20 Deliverables for 2020” which were set out in 2016. The UK supports the objectives of the Eastern Partnership and will continue to do so after leaving the EU. The UK’s priorities within the “20 Deliverables for 2020” include security, good governance and economic development, underpinned by effective use of strategic communication. The UK will reiterate these priorities at the FAC and call for greater co-operation between member states in countering hybrid threats and disinformation.

Council conclusions

The FAC is expected to adopt conclusions on the International Criminal Court (ICC).

[HCWS845]

Home Department

Serious and Organised Crime: HMI of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services Report

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The National Crime Agency was established to lead the fight against serious and organised crime. It has the power to task other law enforcement partners and a capability, with local to international reach, to disrupt the impact of serious and organised crime on the UK.

This is the fourth HMIC inspection of the NCA. It examined the efficiency and effectiveness of the national tasking and co-ordination process and the related arrangements of the strategic governance groups.

This report has been published today and I will place a copy of the report in the Library of the House. I have asked HMIC to publish this report on my behalf and it is available online at www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk.

The report finds that the NCA has efficient and effective practices in place to support its role in the tasking, co-ordination and governance of serious and organised crime. Current arrangements are generally working well, although there are areas in which the NCA, alongside police and other law enforcement agencies need to improve as set out in the 11 recommendations they made.

It is for the director general to respond to these recommendations, in line with the requirements of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

[HCWS849]

Immigration

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Following a recent strike by university lecturers, a number of hon. Members have raised concerns about the position of migrant workers who engage in legal strike action and whether this affects their immigration status.

It is not the Government’s policy to prevent migrant workers from engaging in legal strike action and, to date, I am not aware of any case where a migrant worker has had their leave curtailed, or been removed, as a result of having engaged in legal industrial action. However, to put the matter beyond doubt, I will be making changes to the guidance and immigration rules for migrant workers (under the tier 2 and 5 immigration routes) and their sponsors.

The specific change will add legal strike action to the list of exceptions to the rule on absences from employment without pay for migrant workers. It will make it clear that there will be no immigration consequences for any migrant worker who takes part in legal strike action in the same way that a migrant worker is not disadvantaged if they take maternity or paternity leave.

This will ensure that non-EEA migrants can take part in legal industrial action along with their British and European colleagues.

The changes to the sponsor guidance will be made shortly and amendments to the immigration rules will be made at the next available opportunity in the autumn.

[HCWS848]

Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures: March-May 2018

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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 his 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 31 May 2018)

8

TPIM notices in respect of British citizens (as of 31 May 2018)

7

TPIM notices extended (during the reporting period)

0

TPIM notices revoked (during the reporting period)

0

TPIM notices revived (during the reporting period)

0

Variations made to measures specified in TPIM notices (during the reporting period)

10

Applications to vary measures specified in TPIM notices refused (during the reporting period)

7

The number of current subjects relocated under TPIM legislation (as of 31 May 2018)

8

The TPIM Review Group (TRG) keeps every TPIM notice under regular and formal review. The TRG meetings took place on 5, 7, 8, 12 and 14 March 2018. The next round of TRG meetings took place in June and July 2018.

One individual has been charged with breach of his TPIM notice. The criminal trial has yet to be heard.

[HCWS851]

Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures: December 2017-February 2018

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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 his 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 28 February 2018)

8

TPIM notices in respect of British citizens (as of 28 February 2018)

7

TPIM notices extended (during the reporting period)

1

TPIM notices revoked (during the reporting period)

0

TPIM notices revived (during the reporting period)

1

Variations made to measures specified in TPIM notices (during the reporting period)

6

Applications to vary measures specified in TPIM notices refused (during the reporting period)

1

The number of current subjects relocated under TPIM legislation (as of 28 February 2018)

8

The TPIM Review Group (TRG) keeps every TPIM notice under regular and formal review. TRG meetings took place on 4, 6, 11, 12 and 14 December 2017. The next round of TRGs took place during March 2018.

[HCWS850]

Justice

Justice Update

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I wish to inform the House that I have decided to lay an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 to bring immigration matters for unaccompanied and separated children into scope of legal aid.

Under current legislation, legal aid is available in all asylum cases—for all age groups—and immigration cases where someone is challenging a detention decision. Legal aid for other immigration matters is available via the exceptional case funding (ECF) scheme, which is intended to ensure legal aid is accessible in all cases where there is a risk of breach of human rights.

Following a judicial review brought by the Children’s Society, we have examined both the evidence presented as part of the case and our data on applications for funding. Based on the distinct nature of the cohort in question, and of our data regarding them, I have decided to bring these cases into the scope of legal aid to ensure access to justice.

The amendment will be laid in due course following discussion across Government and with external stakeholders.

[HCWS853]

Work and Pensions

Child Maintenance Compliance and Arrears Strategy

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Later today I intend to lay the draft Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendment) Regulations 2018 detailed in “The Child Maintenance Compliance and Arrears Strategy” consultation response, which will be published on gov.uk later today and the primary effect of which will be the introduction of new powers to:

Vary a child maintenance liability by calculating an assumed income from certain high-value assets.

Extend our existing ability to deduct maintenance and arrears directly from bank accounts, to include joint and business accounts.

Prevent a paying parent from holding or obtaining a passport where all other enforcement action has proved ineffective.

Provide clarity for families about the treatment of the historic arrears that built up on child support (CSA) cases, by:

Seeking representations from clients in cases with non-paying CSA debt about whether we should make a last attempt to collect the debt, where it is cost-effective to do so. Where no representations are received, or collection of the debt is not possible, the debt may be written off.

Writing off non-paying debt where a collection attempt is not cost-effective, and informing clients of this.

Writing off non-paying debt under £65 without notifying clients.

Enable debt subject to sequestration (Scottish insolvency) to be written off when the sequestration expires. This technical amendment will apply to both CSA and CMS cases, as sequestration causes this debt to become legally uncollectable.

These draft regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure and I look forward to discussing them with colleagues in due course.

[HCWS846]