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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
14 February 2019
Volume 654

Written Statements

Thursday 14 February 2019

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Leaving the EU: Nuclear Energy Policy

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The Government continue to make progress in putting in place all the necessary measures to ensure that the UK can operate as an independent and responsible nuclear state upon the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom and the European Union.

The UK has now concluded all replacement international agreements required to ensure continuity for civil nuclear trade following exit day. These include new nuclear co-operation agreements (NCAs) with Australia, Canada and the US, and voluntary offer agreement and additional protocol safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). All of these have passed in Parliament on 19 December.

In addition to the new bilateral NCAs described above, the UK has an existing bilateral NCA with Japan which has been in place since 1998. This agreement will remain in force following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The UK and Japan are holding formal negotiations to put in place arrangements to reflect the UK’s future safeguards arrangements, with both sides confident that appropriate arrangements will be in place for March 2019 if required.

Significant progress has been made in the setting up of a domestic nuclear safeguards regime. Government’s new domestic safeguards regulations are now on track to commence on exit day, having been debated and passed by both Houses of Parliament as of 22 January 2019.

In addition, the state system of accounting for and control of nuclear material (SSAC) has commenced parallel running alongside Euratom, processing and checking reports received from industry through the safeguards information management and reporting system (SIMRS) IT system and producing the decorations required to enable the UK to meet its international obligations. This will provide the opportunity to identify and make any necessary adjustments before 29 March 2019.

Working closely with industry, Government have been putting in place measures to address the issues that may affect the civil nuclear sector in any exit scenario. This includes laying all the necessary statutory instruments (SIs) required for any exit scenario, to minimise civil nuclear business disruption and ensure health and safety standards remain robust. The SIs will also ensure that no inoperabilities are retained in domestic law following the UK’s departure from the Euratom treaty.

Today I will be depositing a report in the Libraries of both Houses that sets out further details on the overall progress on the Government’s implementation of their Euratom exit strategy, including EU negotiations, domestic operational readiness, legislation and international agreements. The report covers the three-month reporting period from 26 September to 26 December and is the second statutory report under section 3(4) of the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018. The next report on Euratom exit progress is due to be deposited after the start of May 2019.

[HCWS1333]

Exiting the European Union

General Affairs Council, February 2019

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Lord Callanan, Minister of State for Exiting the European Union, has made the following statement:

I will attend the General Affairs Council in Brussels on 19 February 2019 to represent the UK. Until we leave the European Union, we remain committed to fulfilling our rights and obligations as a full member.

The provisional agenda includes:

Multiannual financial framework 2021-27

Ministers and the Commission will discuss progress on the multiannual financial framework (MFF) negotiations with the presidency.

Preparation of the European Council 21-22 March 2019: Annotated draft agenda

The Council will discuss the draft agenda for the March European Council. It is expected to include: jobs, growth and competitiveness; climate change; and external relations.

Towards a sustainable Europe 2030

In January 2019 the Commission released a reflection paper as part of its 2019 work programme titled “Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030, on the follow-up to the UN sustainable development goals, including on the Paris agreement on climate change”. Ministers will discuss this paper ahead of the Sibiu summit in May, where issues relating to Europe’s future will be discussed.

Values of the Union—Hungary / article 7(1) TEU reasoned proposal

Ministers will discuss the article 7(1) procedure in relation to Hungary.

Rule of law in Poland / article 7(1) TEU reasoned proposal

The Commission will provide Ministers with an update on the rule of law in Poland.

[HCWS1330]

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council, February 2019

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My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 18 February. It will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HRVP), Federica Mogherini and will take place in Brussels.

Ukraine

Ministers will discuss the EU’s response to the Russian attack on Ukrainian vessels in the Black sea and look ahead to what is likely to be a challenging election year for Ukraine. Ministers will take stock of Ukraine’s reform efforts and consider how the EU can provide socioeconomic support to the sea of Azov region. The UK will welcome the EU’s readiness to provide economic and humanitarian support to those regions most affected by the ongoing conflict. It will also reiterate the need for a collective and high-profile response to Russia’s malign influence in Ukraine.

Syria

This discussion will focus on preparations for the upcoming Brussels III conference, ”Supporting the future of Syria and the region”, taking place on 13 and 14 March. The conference will aim to improve humanitarian access and the protection of civilians in Syria, as well as mobilise humanitarian assistance, including for refugee-hosting countries.

Horn of Africa

Ministers will discuss the political and security situation in the horn of Africa, including changing regional dynamics following reconciliation between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The UK supports the EU proposal to review future engagement. The Council will also discuss mutual concerns about the Sudanese Government’s use of violent tactics in response to protests, and the need for wider reforms; as well as the political situation in Somalia, where the EU is urging the Somali Government to translate their commitment to progress into tangible results.

Council conclusions

The Council is expected to adopt conclusions on Yemen, EU human rights guidelines on non-discrimination in external action, EU priorities in UN human rights forums in 2019, climate change diplomacy, and in response to the recent European Court of Auditors report on the implementation of the Facility for Refugees in Turkey (FRiT).

[HCWS1332]

Housing, Communities and Local Government

Building Safety

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Since the discovery that a glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) composite fire door from Grenfell Tower marketed as meeting a 30-minute standard failed a test after approximately 15 minutes, the Government have led a programme of work to investigate fire door performance across the market in the interest of public safety and reassurance. Today I am updating the House on actions taken.

Following consultation with representatives from the Metropolitan Police, the Government’s chief scientific advisors and the National Fire Chiefs’ Council, the Government’s independent expert panel advised that, while the overall risk to public safety was low, further investigations should be undertaken into other GRP composite fire door manufacturers.

During testing, a sample of GRP composite fire doors from nine manufacturers failed to meet the required fire performance standard. The sample of fire doors failed for a range of reasons including but not restricted to performance at the glazing unit, letter box and the door frame. There was some evidence of over reliance on written assessments being used in lieu of primary tests for significant changes in hardware and ironmongery, and for the reverse side of the door. These findings clearly indicated broader failings within the industry. The Government therefore took further urgent action.

My Department wrote to all building control bodies highlighting the need to check that existing building regulations guidance on new GRP composite fire door installations is followed. The guidance sets out the tests which should be performed— including testing on both sides of the door—to meet building regulation requirements.

My Department also notified Trading Standards of the test results and local Trading Standards are working with the individual companies concerned.

On 28 July I instructed major GRP composite fire door manufacturers to meet urgently to agree actions to tackle the failings which have been identified. As a result, the following actions have been taken:

In August 2018, the three companies providing GRP composite fire door blanks in the UK agreed to stop production and sale of any door blanks with immediate effect. This stopped any new GRP composite fire doors from entering the market.

In August the Association of Composite Door Manufactures (ACDM) further agreed that all GRP composite fire doors sold from their members would be removed from the market until they could demonstrate meeting the required standard. This stopped any fire doors from ACDM members already in production leaving factories.

In August the ACDM established a collaborative testing programme to facilitate manufacturers bringing quality product meeting the required standard back to market. The ACDM provided assurance that all products brought back to market will have the required furnace test report for both sides of the door before being sold.

The ACDM also agreed that all members of the ACDM will be required to sign up to a third-party accreditation scheme carrying out additional checks on their fire doors to drive up quality across the market.

All GRP composite manufacturers with a failed test are consulting their customers to establish an effective new building safety risk assessment. At least one manufacturer has gone beyond this providing a dedicated telephone helpline for their customers and offering meetings to help customers understand the situation.

The ACDM is working on an industry-led plan for repair and replacement of affected doors. The ACDM is working closely with my Department on its plan to ensure it can be published by industry as soon as possible.

As well as work to encourage industry action, my Department has liaised closely with social housing building owners to ensure that they have been kept up to date with the fire doors investigation. To facilitate this, it has established a mechanism for local authorities and housing associations confidentially to share test results from fire door testing to inform building risk assessments and support our investigation.

Manse Masterdor, the manufacturers of the door from Grenfell Tower, went into administration in November 2014 and is therefore not part of the wider industry action outlined above. My Department has been working closely with local authorities and housing associations with Manse Masterdor GRP composite fire doors in their buildings regarding replacement of these doors.

In parallel, the expert panel has issued guidance for building owners looking to fit or replace fire doors, which can be found on the building safety programme website. The summary results of the GRP composite tests to inform building risk assessment are also now available on the building safety programme website.

I can confirm that the expert panel advice remains unchanged and the risk to public safety remains low as even when not meeting full resistance standards fire doors will provide some protection from the spread of fire and are part of a layered fire protection systems within buildings.

The National Fire Chiefs Council continue to advise that, in the event of a fire, people should follow existing fire procedures for the building. Residents should also test their smoke alarms regularly to ensure they work and ensure that their flat front door is fitted with a working self-closing device. All doors provide some essential protection in a fire if they are properly closed.

I want to reassure hon. Members that my Department is doing all it can as quickly as possible to properly investigate these issues and to make sure that where needed appropriate action will be taken.

On the advice of the expert panel, investigations are ongoing into the timber fire door industry. Public safety is paramount and I will continue to keep the House updated.

[HCWS1334]

International Development

Ebola Response

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Six months on from its formal declaration, the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remains challenging to contain. I am updating the House on how the UK Government are continuing to support the response in DRC, and preparedness in neighbouring countries.

Since my hon. Friend the Minister for Africa’s statement on 20 November, Official Report, column 737, elections have taken place in the DRC and a new President inaugurated. Disruption over the election period hindered response activities; as a result, there has been an increase in the number of new Ebola cases reported this year.

As of 12 February, there were 823 confirmed and probable cases. Of these, 517 people have died and 280 recovered. The response, ably led by the DRC authorities with international support directed by the World Health Organisation, has continued to expand and adapt. Approximately 7,000 contacts are currently under surveillance. The experimental vaccine, developed with UK aid following the 2014 west Africa outbreak, has been administered to over 78,000 people in DRC, including 21,000 health and frontline workers and 16,000 children. Let me pay tribute to all the DRC health workers and international experts who are dealing with this outbreak in very challenging circumstances.

Geographical shifts in the outbreak are testing the capacity of the response. As more health zones are affected and cases move further south, there is an increased likelihood of an outbreak in Goma, the provincial capital on the border with Rwanda. Preparedness work has been under way in Goma, including setting up case surveillance, an Ebola treatment centre and a laboratory.

The DRC Government have just released their third strategic response plan, which sets out plans for the next six months. It is quite possible that it will take longer for this outbreak to be fully contained. The UK is supporting the response through both funding and expertise. At the request of the DRC Government I am not announcing specific funding figures, to avoid putting first-line responders at further risk of attack. But let me restate that it is in our national interest to find ways of building resilience to such deadly diseases, preventing their international spread and saving lives. The UK has supported the response since the very start and will continue to do so for as long as it takes to curb the outbreak.

The critical challenge now is to break the chain of transmission in DRC. That means redoubling contact tracing; training and supporting health workers in infection prevention control; continuing the vaccination effort; and working with local communities so they can spot symptoms, report them and seek treatment. WHO is doing a good job in difficult circumstances to lead the international response. It has over 500 people deployed to DRC and is working closely with other parts of the UN system and with international NGOs including MSF, ALIMA and Oxfam to help the people of DRC tackle this deadly disease. Key areas we would like to see strengthened in the international response include leadership, co-ordination and analysis.

This will require sustained support. To date, the UK is one of the largest bilateral donors to the Ebola response in DRC and for regional preparedness efforts in Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan. Others must now step up and I will be urging our international partners to do so.

In addition to funding, the UK has supported preparations for clinical trials of new therapeutic drugs which have started in Beni. The UK public health rapid support team has played a major part in making this work possible. Technical experts have been deployed to eastern DRC, including two senior epidemiologists, a data scientist and a clinical trials specialist.

UK aid has provided WHO with six armoured vehicles to facilitate response work in such insecure operating environments. We are also backing efforts to understand and address the social and cultural dimensions of the outbreak, which in turn supports key interventions such as ensuring that burials in affected areas are conducted in a safe and dignified way.

There remains a significant risk of transmission to neighbouring countries and measures are be taken to prepare. For example, in Uganda, closest to the current outbreak, the Government have already vaccinated over 3,500 health workers in high priority districts. Community sensitisation is also taking place.

In Rwanda, the UK is backing the Government’s preparedness plans, including the training of health care workers, vaccination planning and the screening of more than 24 million people at Rwanda’s borders.

In South Sudan, UK support has led to the installation of an Ebola screening facility at Juba international airport. So far, over 1 million people at land and air borders have been screened. We are also helping to procure ambulances and sanitation equipment for isolation facilities.

The risk of Ebola to the UK population remains very low. Public Health England continues to monitor the situation daily and review the risk assessment on a two-weekly basis.

The UK is fully committed to containing this outbreak and to our longer-term efforts to combat deadly diseases in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Justice

Contingencies Fund Advance

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The Ministry of Justice requires an advance to discharge its commitments which are set out in its supplementary estimate 2018-19, laid before Parliament on 11 February 2019.

The Ministry of Justice has sought a repayable cash advance from the Contingencies Fund of £840,000,000. Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £840,000,000 will be sought in a supplementary estimate for the Ministry of Justice. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £840,000,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.

The advance will be repaid upon Royal Assent of the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill.

[HCWS1336]

Justice and Home Affairs Post-Council Statement

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The first meeting of EU Interior and Justice Ministers during the Romanian presidency of the Council of the EU took place on 7 and 8 February 2019 in Bucharest. The Immigration Minister represented the UK on Interior day. I represented the UK on Justice day.

Interior day focused on counter-terrorism, policing co-operation, the Schengen area, and migration and asylum.

Interior day began with a discussion on the European Parliament’s report on the EU’s approach to counter-terrorism. The Immigration Minister welcomed the European Parliament’s report in general, and emphasised areas—such as counter-radicalisation, tackling terrorist content online, addressing issues relating to returning foreign terrorist fighters, and aviation security—where the UK considers that continued European co-operation is vital in the fight against terrorism. The Immigration Minister also welcomed the committee’s call for close co-operation with the UK after Brexit. A number of member states agreed, urging immediate Commission and member state action to prepare contingency plans in case of no deal, including a mechanism of continued information exchange. Some member states also noted that member states retained competence for national security, and noted concern about expanding the competence of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) at this time.

The policing discussion focused on mechanisms to share experience and expertise on gathering and analysing digital data. The Immigration Minister intervened to support proposals to explore developing means of identifying and sharing best practice on the recovery and analysis of digital information, during the course of the prevention and investigation of criminal activity. Most member states also supported this work, and were keen for Europol to have a central role.

Over lunch and in the afternoon session, Ministers discussed the functioning of the Schengen border free zone, in the context of some member states retaining internal borders, and wider migration and asylum issues. As the UK does not participate in the border free zone, the Immigration Minister did not intervene on the Schengen border discussion. There was discussion about the necessity of Schengen internal border controls. Ministers also discussed but did not agree on the possibility of a temporary redistribution mechanism pending reform of the Dublin asylum system.

Justice day began with a discussion on the future of civil judicial co-operation in the EU. The debate marked the twentieth anniversary of the Amsterdam treaty and of the adoption of the Tampere programme. Ministers reaffirmed the need to focus on the proper implementation of existing legislation before considering new measures. I emphasised the importance of a future relationship with the EU in this area.

There then followed a lunchtime discussion on gathering electronic evidence in criminal matters. Ministers discussed the mandates for negotiations to establish an agreement on access to electronic evidence (e-evidence) with the US, and with contracting parties to the Budapest convention. I updated Ministers on progress towards an UK-US agreement under the US CLOUD Act.

Justice day ended with a discussion on the future of judicial co-operation in criminal matters in the EU. Ministers again emphasised the importance of proper implementation of legislation, and ensuring the current acquis works effectively.

[HCWS1337]

Prime Minister

Intelligence Oversight

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On 22 November 2018, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament published two reports: its 2017-18 annual report; and its report into the terror attacks in 2017, titled “The 2017 Attacks: What needs to change?”. Our thoughts remain with the victims and all those affected by the 2017 attacks in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge, Finsbury Park and Parsons Green.

Today, the Government are publishing their response to each of these reports. I am separately providing to the ISC a closed response to the redacted recommendations in the 2017 attacks report. I remain grateful to the Intelligence and Security Committee for its continued independent oversight and scrutiny.

Copies of the Government responses have been laid before both Houses.

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