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Written Statements

Volume 718: debated on Friday 15 July 2022

Written Statements

Friday 15 July 2022

Cabinet Office

Government Transparency and Accountability

Since 2010, the Government have been at the forefront of opening up data to allow Parliament, the public and the media to hold public bodies to account.

Such online transparency is crucial to delivering value for money, cutting waste and inefficiency, and ensuring every pound of taxpayers’ money is spent in the best possible way.

The Government will continue to look at how the range of information published by the Government can be improved and made as useful as possible to the public, press and Parliament.

The following subject areas include documents and information on Government publications. Copies of associated documents can be found on gov.uk.

The Government have also undertaken a range of work in response to reports by the Committee on Standards in Public Life and Nigel Boardman, detailed below.

Ministerial transparency

Departments have published routine quarterly ministerial data on external meetings, gifts, hospitality and overseas travel.

Transparency on special advisers and senior officials

Special advisers are a critical part of the team supporting Ministers. They add a political dimension to the advice and assistance available to Ministers, while reinforcing the impartiality of the permanent civil service by distinguishing the source of political advice and support.

In line with legislation, each year the Cabinet Office lays in Parliament and publishes a list of special advisers and their costs. Today, the Cabinet Office will be laying in Parliament and publishing the list of special advisers in post as of 30 June, along with the annual cost of special advisers over the financial year 2021-22.

Departments have published quarterly data on gifts and hospitality received by special advisers, as well as information on special adviser meetings with senior media figures.

Routine quarterly data on hospitality, expenses and meetings of senior officials and on business appointment rules advice has also been published by Departments.

Ministerial guidance on commercial involvement

The Government commercial function will be publishing ministerial guidance on commercial involvement. A separate written ministerial statement on this will also be made. This sets out ministerial guidance through four stages of commercial activity, from before procurement starts to supplier and contract management post contract award. It also offers advice on how to maximise the value of ministerial involvement while maintaining the necessary safeguards.

Covid absence statistics

The Cabinet Office has been compiling cross-Government management information on absences due to covid-19 within the civil service since the start of the pandemic. The data includes sickness absences and special paid leave. In October 2021, we published the top level data on gov.uk. We have now completed the data collection and plan to add the final nine months of data to the existing publication. We will continue to collect sickness absence data related to covid-19 through our business as usual absence collection which we publish on an annual basis.

Government response to the Committee on Standards in Public Life and Nigel Boardman

The Government have been considering the “Standards Matter 2” report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, alongside Nigel Boardman's report on the use of supply chain finance in Government.

In relation to recommendations in both reports that the Government should improve their processes for ensuring compliance with conflicts of interest rules, on 24 June 2022 the Cabinet Office issued new guidance on the declaration and management of outside interests in the civil service.

Further work is underway to ensure senior officials within Government Departments are aware of their compliance responsibilities, and have access to relevant training and support on compliance issues.

The Government have also implemented Nigel Boardman’s recommendations on Government contracts and the use of supply chain finance in Government. The Government’s model services contact, reissued on 11 April 2022, includes new provisions covering suppliers’ potential conflicts of interest, while HM Treasury guidance on novel financing arrangements, issued on 18 March 2022, states that supply chain finance schemes require explicit approval and should rarely be used.

The “Statement of Government policy: Standards in public life”, published on 27 May 2022, detailed the Government’s reforms to the role and remit of the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests. In deciding on these reforms, the Government carefully considered the relevant recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

The Government are also taking action to improve the enforcement of the business appointment rules. Mechanisms are now in place for breaches of the rules to be taken into account in the award of honours. Agreement on a similar approach is being sought with the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission and the Government are now considering how to implement the same approach in relation to public appointments. Alongside this, the Government are considering consequences for prospective employers including through the procurement process.

Work on further reforms, including those proposed by the Committee on Standards in Public Life and Nigel Boardman, continues and will be informed by the new Prime Minister.

This statement responds to the motion passed by the House on 7 June 2022, Official Report, Vol. 715, col. 728, and Ministers will undertake to further update the House in due course.

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Guidance to Ministers: Participation in Government Commercial Activity

Representing around a third of public expenditure, contracts for goods and services with the external market are essential to the delivery of Government policy. The new Procurement Bill, introduced to Parliament on 12 May 2022, creates a simpler and more flexible commercial system that better meets our country’s needs while remaining compliant with our international obligations. Ministers have the opportunity to participate fully in this system with certain safeguards to protect them from the risk of legal challenge.

This guidance note stresses the benefits of ministerial involvement in commercial activity; early involvement in upcoming procurements so that Ministers can specify what they want, including choosing how opportunities are presented to the market, and shaping the market to optimise the response; engagement with bidders during the procurement process so that they can hear of ministerial priorities directly; and working with suppliers to ensure that they deliver to contract.

The guidance also covers:

how to interact safely with potential vendors, preserving the principle of equal treatment;

how to use declarations of interest to maintain necessary transparency; and

how Ministers can be involved with suppliers during the execution of contracts without prejudicing their Department’s contractual rights.

Experience during the covid-19 response showed the value of ministerial engagement in commercial activity but also some of the risks, with a number of legal challenges based on the alleged direct involvement of Ministers in selection decisions. Simple safeguards can reduce this risk while enabling Ministers to participate fully in commercial activity and maximise the value to Government of contracts and supplier relationships.

The note updates guidance circulated to Ministers by the former Minister for the Cabinet Office in 2014. This revised guidance has been shared for comment and approval with current and former Ministers, Sir Nigel Boardman (in the context of his reviews of covid-19 commercial activity), and a number of non-executive directors from across Government. It has also been signed off by the Cabinet Secretary and the propriety and ethics team. All were supportive of the need for clarity in this area, and the guidance has been through several iterations to ensure inclusion of cross-Government views and expertise.

The guidance will be published on gov.uk and complements measures contained in the new Procurement Bill, but sits outside the Bill and the ministerial code. I have requested that a copy of the guidance be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

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Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief: London 2022

My noble Friend the Minister for South and Central Asia, North Africa, United Nations and the Commonwealth (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon), has made the following written ministerial statement:

On 5 and 6 July 2022, my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and I hosted the fourth international ministerial conference on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in London.

The conference and its associated fringe brought together Government delegations, faith and belief group leaders and civil society from over 100 countries for rich discussions to address challenges to the right to FoRB.

The conference explored the many facets of FoRB through 17 themed panel sessions and gave a platform to those persecuted for their religion or belief. Forty seven Governments, international organisations and other entities made pledges to take action in support of FoRB. Some 34 countries joined the UK in signing up to one or more of a set of statements protecting and promoting FoRB. We hope more countries will join these statements over the coming weeks.

The opening plenary session received contributions from: His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales: the Prime Minister; Secretary General of the Muslim World League, His Excellency Sheikh Al-Issa; Head of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad; the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby; Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis; President of Humanists International, Mr Andrew Copson; Spiritual Leader and Chairman of Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jutha, Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh, and President of the Hindu Forum of Britain, Mrs Trupti Patel.

In her opening speech, the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) outlined FCDO progress in implementing recommendations from the Bishop of Truro’s 2019 report and noted the breadth of religion and belief groups that suffer from persecution.

I announced new UK funding for support for defenders of FoRB, including those persecuted because of their activism, as well as funding and expertise for countries prepared to make legislative changes to protect FoRB.

The conference was an important human rights milestone which galvanised international efforts to do more to protect and promote the right to FoRB. The challenge now is to turn words into action. We will do this through building coalitions of Government and civil society actors focussed on key themes from the conference, drawing on the convening power of the international religious freedom or belief alliance working alongside the special envoy, the FCDO will continue to work on this important human rights issue and build on momentum from the conference to champion global efforts on FoRB.

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Home Department

Firearms Safety Consultation

The Government have today published their response to the consultation held on firearms safety, which sought views on a number of measures responding to issues raised during the passage of the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 through Parliament. The consultation contained proposals for how to mitigate the risks to public safety raised by these issues. The consultation closed on 16 February 2021 and more than 12,000 responses were received.

Our firearms laws are some of the toughest in the world and ensuring public safety through effective firearms control is a priority for the Government. Having carefully considered the responses received to the consultation, we have decided to introduce a range of measures to strengthen the controls.

The Government will:

Strengthen security requirements to mitigate the risk of theft of high muzzle energy rifles by requiring enhanced security for the secure storage and transportation of these particularly powerful firearms. This measure will be implemented by means of an order made under section 53 of the Firearms Act 1968;

Help safeguard young people against the misuse of air weapons by legislating to clarify the offence of failing to take “reasonable precautions” to prevent minors from having air weapons so that whenever under-18s are on the premises, “reasonable precautions” must include locking the air weapon out of sight when not in use and storing the ammunition separately. This change will be implemented by means of an order under section 53 of the Firearms Act 1968. We will also work with the airgun industry to ensure that home security devices are supplied with all new air weapons, and that retailers explain the importance of secure handling and storage to purchasers of new air weapons at the point of sale;

Tighten the control of miniature rifle ranges by requiring operators to obtain a firearm certificate and limiting such ranges to the use of .22 rimfire weapons. Primary legislation to implement these changes will be brought forward when parliamentary time allows; and

Tackle the unlawful manufacture of ammunition by introducing a new offence of possessing component parts with intent to assemble unauthorised quantities of complete ammunition. Primary legislation to implement this new offence will be brought forward when parliamentary time allows.

The Government also gave very careful consideration to the views put forward in relation to the proposal to remove the exception that permits unsupervised possession of air weapons by under 18s on private land with the occupier’s consent. This proposal was opposed by a majority of respondents and, on balance, the Government have decided not to proceed with it at this time. However, we will keep the matter under careful review with the possibility that further action could be taken in future.

On 20 June 2022, a Firearms Bill was put forward in the House of Commons as a presentation Bill. It was ordered that the Bill should be drafted and ready for Second Reading in March 2023.

A copy of the Government’s response to the firearms safety consultation has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and is available on the Government’s website at gov.uk.

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Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Levelling-up Fund: Second Round of Applications

I am today opening applications for the next round of the levelling-up fund. This second round of the £4.8 billion fund will allocate further funding to communities across the United Kingdom, including investments in town centres and high streets, local transport upgrades and investing in cultural and heritage assets.

Prospective applicants have been developing their bids since the publication of the prospectus on 23 March 2022. In order to allow time for submission of bids via the online portal, applications will be accepted until midday on Tuesday 2 August.

It is important that the Government understand which bids enjoy the support of their local Members of Parliament, who represent their constituents. In order to reflect that some parliamentary constituencies cover more than one council area, every Member of Parliament in Great Britain will have the option to provide priority support to up to two bids.

I am determined to ensure that important levelling-up measures such as the levelling-up fund will be implemented at pace, and I encourage everybody to submit their bids for the fund now.

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