Wednesday 24 April 2019
Bilateral Loan for Ireland
I would like to update Parliament on the loan to Ireland.
In December 2010, the UK agreed to provide a bilateral loan of £3.2 billion as part of a €67.5 billion international assistance package for Ireland. The loan was disbursed in eight tranches. The final tranche was drawn down on 26 September 2013. Ireland has made interest payments on the loan every six months since the first disbursement.
On 15 April, in line with the agreed repayment schedule, HM Treasury received a total payment of £407,843,097.02 from Ireland. This comprises the repayment of £403,370,000 in principal and £4,473,097.02 in accrued interest.
As required under the Loans to Ireland Act 2010, HM Treasury laid a statutory report to Parliament on 1 April covering the period from 1 October to 31 March 2019. The report set out details of future payments up to the final repayment on 26 March 2021. The Government continue to expect the loan to be repaid in full and on time.
The next statutory report will cover the period from 1 April to 30 September 2019. HM Treasury will report fully on all repayments received during this period in the report.
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Online Pornography: Age Verification
On 17 April 2019, my Department announced that age-verification for online pornography will begin on 15 July 2019. This means that commercial providers of online pornography will be required by law to carry out robust age-verification checks on users, to ensure that they are aged 18 or over.
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will be responsible for ensuring compliance with this new regulation. Websites that fail to implement age-verification technology face having payment services withdrawn or may be blocked for UK users.
Adult content is currently far too easy for children to access online. The introduction of mandatory age verification is a world-first, and we have taken the time to balance privacy concerns with the need to protect children from inappropriate content. We want the UK to be the safest place in the world to be online, and these new laws will help us achieve this.
We have also listened carefully to privacy concerns and take the issue of data privacy and security extremely seriously. We are clear that age-verification arrangements should only be concerned with verifying age, not identity. In addition to the requirement for all age-verification providers to comply with General Data Protection Regulation standards, the BBFC has created a voluntary certification scheme, the Age-verification Certificate (AVC), which will assess the data security standards of age-verification providers. We feel that consumers should be able to choose age-verification solutions that meet an even higher privacy standard than is offered by GDPR if they wish to.
The AVC has been developed in co-operation with industry and Government. Certified age-verification solutions which offer these robust data protection conditions will be certified following an independent assessment and will carry the BBFC’s new green ‘AV’ symbol. Details will also be published on the BBFC’s age-verification website, ageverificationregulator.com, so consumers can make an informed choice between age-verification providers.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Contingent Liability: Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
It is normal practice when a Government Department proposes to undertake a contingent liability in excess of £300,000 and outside the normal course of business, for the Minister concerned to lay a departmental Minute before Parliament giving particulars of the liability created and explaining the circumstances. The Department should refrain from incurring the liability until 14 parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the statement.
This Minute relates to the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), an Executive agency of DEFRA, entering into a commercial arrangement with the Kuwait environment public authority (an authority of the Government of Kuwait) who have asked CEFAS to contract with them to provide a marine environment monitoring information system for Kuwait. This is proposed to be a four-year contract of marine science services for which the Kuwaitis will cover all CEFAS’s costs of around £40 million.
The Kuwait Government wish to enhance their national environmental management capability to world leading standards and are pursuing a strategy of working with the best international government bodies from strategic partner countries. This Kuwaiti Government objective is being delivered under their Environment Monitoring Information System Kuwait (eMISK) programme which spans marine, waste, terrestrial, air and subsurface environments. The Kuwait environment public authority have asked CEFAS to tender for the marine programme and this is supported by both countries at ministerial level, as set out in the inter-government declarations of the joint steering group.
The benefits of this work to both Governments are the significant contributions it will make to the long-term health of the Gulf marine environment. It will also engage the next generation of Kuwaiti scientists in bilateral co-operation with the UK, maintain and develop CEFAS’s international capability, and position both Kuwait and the UK in a leading position in this area of science.
The contractual arrangements between the two parties follow standard Kuwaiti national commercial terms and conditions and include two contingent liabilities relating to a performance bond and liquidated damages claims. These liabilities are limited to a maximum of 20% of the £40 million contract value. Professional indemnity insurance will be purchased, using contract funds, to protect the Department against these risks leaving a residual excess value of no more than £250,000. Only uninsurable risks remain which would be due to late delivery or third-party claims.
CEFAS and DEFRA have considered the risks of this indemnity and they believe the likelihood of such indemnities being called upon is very low. Agency or departmental budgets are expected to fund any liability call. If such budgets are insufficient then any payment would be sought through the normal supply procedure.
The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle.
If, during the period of 14 parliamentary sitting days, beginning on the date on which this Minute was laid before Parliament, a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question or by otherwise raising the matter in Parliament, final approval to proceed with incurring the liability will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.
Exiting the European Union
Temporary Transitional Migration Arrangements: UK and Switzerland
The UK and Switzerland have reached an agreement on temporary transitional migration arrangements for workers in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. These would apply until December 2020.
This agreement is further to the Swiss Government’s announcement in February 2019 that in a no-deal scenario they would create a specific quota of 3,500 work permits for 2019 for UK workers. As part of the transitional migration agreement, Switzerland has also agreed that UK nationals would not need to meet rules regarding skill level, national preference and economic interest which normally apply to third country nationals during the period covered by the agreement. The agreement also includes protections for frontier workers not covered by the UK-Swiss citizens’ rights agreement which would allow them to continue cross-border work until 31 December 2020.
The UK has agreed to provide arrangements for Swiss nationals who wish to work in the UK which are at least as favourable as those offered to UK nationals in Switzerland. In the event of no deal, and following the ending of free movement, Swiss and EEA nationals arriving in the UK for the first time would be eligible for European temporary leave to remain. This would allow them to work in the UK for three years.
This agreement will be subject to ratification processes in both states, and will be signed and published in due course. The UK and Switzerland will continue to work closely together on implementing the agreement and will discuss the arrangements which will apply from the end of 2020 in due course.
Further information about the agreement can be found on gov.uk.
EU’s European Travel Information Authorisation System
The Government have decided to opt in to the aspect of the draft regulation that establishes the conditions for the access of the European travel information authorisation system (ETIAS) to the European criminal records information system (ECRIS-TCN), and has decided not to opt out of the aspect of the draft regulation that establishes the conditions for the access of ETIAS to the second Schengen information system (SIS II).
ETIAS is the EU’s travel authorisation system that visa-exempt visitors (third country nationals and stateless persons) will have to apply to prior to their entry in the Schengen area. The UK does not participate in ETIAS as it forms part of Schengen border legislation that the UK cannot participate in, but the UK fully supports the EU’s efforts to strengthen its external borders of which this forms part.
Under this proposal, an ETIAS central unit will access EU information technology systems to support their considerations, specifically ECRIS-TCN and SIS II. Once implemented, the regulation will allow the EU to revoke a grant of admission to a third country national if a relevant alert is identified from data the UK has uploaded to the ECRIS-TCN or SIS II databases. The European Commission has been working towards 2021 as the date from which ETIAS would become operational, but the date might be extended to 2023.
Whilst there are advantages to the EU from ETIAS having access to UK’s data, there are no obvious operational or public protection benefits for the UK given it involves the provision of data to a scheme that the UK does not participate in. However, a significant argument in favour of participating is to prevent the UK’s non-participation from giving rise to issues around UK access to SIS II or ECRIS-TCN in future.
Until the UK leaves the EU we remain a full member, and the Government will continue to consider the application of the UK’s opt-in to EU legislation on a case by case basis, with a view to maximising the UK’s efforts to collaborate with the EU on a security partnership once the UK leaves the EU, including on SIS II and ECRIS-TCN.
Women and Equalities
Period Poverty: Government Response
I wish to update the House on the activity that is taking place to end period poverty and ensure that every woman and girl in our society can access the menstrual products they need.
This is a complex issue and its causes are not restricted to poverty. Charities and businesses are leading impressive initiatives around the country to change old-fashioned, uninformed attitudes to menstruation and break down taboos. Many organisations and businesses are exhibiting a will to act to tackle this issue by promoting awareness and making products available to their staff and visitors. We have been consulting with these organisations and are also writing to all Members of this House to ask for their help in identifying good practice and further partners around the UK.
On 4 March this year I announced that the Government would establish a new joint taskforce on period poverty in the UK. This initiative recognises the importance of tackling period poverty for the dignity and empowerment of women and girls. Up to £250,000 has been committed in seed funding to support the work.
The taskforce will launch in June and will bring together a range of different organisations working on period poverty from across the public, private and third sectors. Details on the remit and membership of the taskforce will be announced in due course. Its objective will be to join up learning and ideas and develop a comprehensive, sustainable response. By linking different sectors, it will build on the range of diverse initiatives that already exist, promoting those which are delivering impact, and helping them to grow and become sustainable.
We need much better evidence and understanding of how period poverty affects different groups in our society. Therefore, improving the data in this area will be an issue the taskforce will tackle as a priority. Addressing stigma will be another main area of focus, given the shame and taboo that still exists around periods. The taskforce will consider the role of education, communications and role models in shifting social attitudes. The Government’s new relationships, sex and health education, published earlier this year, will ensure every pupil learns about leading healthy lives, including menstrual wellbeing, as part of a well-rounded education on mental and physical health.
By bringing together different parts of Government, the taskforce will promote a coherent, sustainable approach. In the spring statement of 13 March 2019, the Government announced that they will support a new scheme to provide free sanitary products in secondary schools and further education colleges. On 16 April, it was further announced that free period products will be offered to girls in all primary schools in England from early next year.
Extending the programme to all primary schools follows feedback from teachers, students and parents. The Department for Education is now working with key stakeholders in the public and private sector to roll out the programme in a cost-effective manner that supports girls and young women across the country.
In March 2019 the NHS in England announced that it will offer free period products to every hospital patient who needs them and today the Home Office has announced that it is set to change the law to ensure that all menstruating women, and others with personal health and hygiene needs, are treated with dignity whilst in custody. Police forces will provide menstrual products to female detainees if required, free of charge. The intended changes will be brought into effect when the revised Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) codes of practice have been laid in Parliament.
In recognition of the global nature of the issue, the Department for International Development is leading a new global campaign of action to end period poverty by 2030. Across low and middle-income countries it is estimated that over half of all women and girls are forced to use homemade products, rags, grass or paper to manage their periods. In many countries there is a lack of information and appropriate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. I announced on International Women’s Day that this campaign will kick-start with an allocation of up to £2 million for small and medium charities working on period poverty in DFID priority countries. We are building on existing UK aid programmes that are enabling women and girls around the world to access sanitary products, facilities and knowledge about their periods, including through the Girls’ Education Challenge, Amplify Change and DFID’s water and sanitation, reproductive health and research programmes.
I would like to pay tribute to all those working so tirelessly to tackle period poverty and shame both in the UK and around the world. We look forward to helping their good work scale and reach every woman and girl in need.