Monday 5 September 2016
The Government are today publishing their responses to a number of reports published on the administration of the UK parliamentary general election and other polls on 7 May 2015. The response to the Electoral Commission’s statutory reports on the elections incorporates responses to recommendations made by the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) and the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB).
Recommendations made by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) have been addressed in a separate response.
We are grateful for the analysis and recommendations within the reports from all of these organisations. Their work helps the Government to monitor the effectiveness of existing electoral provisions, determine where improvements are needed and helps Government to set future direction for policy development. The Government will continue to work with electoral administrators and partners to remove burdens and ensure they are supported to carry out the effective running of elections.
We will also be considering any future change in light of the review of electoral fraud undertaken by the right hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles) and his report published last month. I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the work he has undertaken over the past year in producing this detailed and thorough report. It will be an important contribution to our fight against all types of fraud in the UK. We will look closely at the recommendations.
Copies of the Government responses will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www. parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2016-09-05/HCWS132.
Finance Bill 2016
I have today published a written submission outlining the Government’s analysis of how the English votes for English laws principle relates to all Government amendments tabled for Report stage of Finance Bill 2016.
The Department’s assessment is that the amendments do not change the territorial application of the Bill. The analysis reflects the position should all of the Government amendments be accepted. I have deposited a copy of the submission in the Libraries of the House.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Chemical Weapon Precursors: Libya
My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Defence, and I wish to make a joint statement about the significant contribution that Her Majesty’s Government have made to international efforts to ensure the safe destruction of precursor chemicals from Libya’s historic chemical weapons programme.
Libya’s chemical weapons stockpile was destroyed under international supervision and verification by 2014. However, a quantity of precursor chemicals remained in Libya. The international community was concerned about the risks that, in the current security situation, these chemicals might be acquired and misused by non-state actors. Earlier this year, the Libyan Government of National Accord asked for support from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the international community to remove the remaining chemicals from Libya and to destroy them in a safe and timely manner in a third country. The UK has played a major role in co-ordinating international efforts to assist Libya and the OPCW to achieve this, including in the UN Security Council and with practical steps.
On 22 July, I voted on behalf of the UK in the UN Security Council for authority to be given for the chemicals to be removed from Libya for destruction in another country. Subsequently, the Danish Government asked the UK to provide a naval escort to support Denmark’s operation to ship the chemicals out of Libya.
The Secretary of State for Defence agreed to provide support, in the same way as the Royal Navy supported Denmark and Norway in the operation to remove chemical weapons from Syria in 2014. During late August, RFA Mounts Bay escorted the Danish task group from Libya through the Mediterranean.
In order to enable the safe transport and destruction of the Libyan chemicals, and to provide verification assistance to the OPCW, experts at the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down were tasked to analyse samples of the chemicals. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has contributed some £500,000 to support both the analysis and destruction of the chemicals.
The UK’s contribution to this task is now almost complete. The chemicals are being taken to a specialist facility in a third country, where they will be safely destroyed.
In close co-operation with our international partners—notably Denmark, Germany and the US, who contributed significant funding to the overall destruction effort, as well as with the OPCW—the UK has taken practical and effective action to eliminate chemical weapon risks in Libya. This reinforces our collective commitment to the people and Government of Libya, and, ultimately, to all of us who want to live in a world free from chemical weapons.
This Government continue to believe that the best way to achieve stability in Yemen is through a political solution. The UK’s priority is to support the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, in facilitating a credible peace process in Yemen. I deeply regret the failure of the parties to reach an agreement at the UN-led peace talks in Kuwait, and I continue to urge them to find the compromises that will end the current conflict.
There has been a sustained international effort in support of the UN throughout and the UK continues to play an active role. In July I hosted a meeting in London to discuss Yemen with the Foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the US Secretary of State where we collectively reiterated our strong support for the role of the UN in mediating a lasting political solution to the crisis. We affirmed that a successful resolution should include arrangements that would require the withdrawal of armed groups from the capital and other areas, and a political agreement that would allow for the resumption of a peaceful, inclusive political transition. In August, Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, represented me in Saudi Arabia for talks with the US Secretary of State, GCC Foreign Ministers and the UN Special Envoy. The discussions focused on finding a way to end the political deadlock in Yemen, humanitarian assistance and ways to support Yemen’s precarious economy.
We will continue to support the peace process through our diplomatic efforts. The UK will host a discussion on Yemen at the UN General Assembly later this month with key international partners. In parallel, we continue to press for military restraint on all sides and call for a renewed commitment to a cessation of hostilities.
We are aware of reports of alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) by parties to the conflict and take these very seriously. We regularly raise the importance of compliance with IHL with the Saudi Arabian Government and other members of the Saudi-Arabian led military coalition. I raised the issue of IHL compliance with my Saudi counterpart, Foreign Minister Al Jubeir on 22 August. It is important that the Saudi Arabian-led coalition in the first instance conducts thorough and conclusive investigations into incidents where it is alleged that IHL has been violated. They have the best insight into their own military procedures and will be able to conduct the most thorough and conclusive investigations. It will also allow the coalition forces to understand what went wrong and apply the lessons learnt in the best possible way. This is the standard we set ourselves and our allies.
In this respect, Saudi Arabia announced more detail of how incidents of concern involving coalition forces are investigated on 31 January. The Saudi Arabian-led Coalition Joint Investigations Assessment Team publicly announced the outcome of eight investigations on 4 August.
The UK Government take their arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. All export licence applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, taking account of all relevant factors at the time of the application. The key test for our continued arms exports to Saudi Arabia in relation to IHL is whether there is a clear risk that those weapons might be used in a commission of a serious violation of IHL. Having regard to all the information available to us, we assess that this test has not been met.
Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry: Appointment of Chair
I wish to update the House on the change in Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) and today is my first opportunity to do so.
This inquiry was established in March 2015 to consider the extent to which state and non-state institutions have failed in their duty to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation, and to make recommendations to protect children from such abuse in future.
On 4 August 2016 the Chair Dame Lowell Goddard wrote to me to offer her resignation which I accepted. I am grateful for all of her work on the inquiry to date.
On 11 August I announced the appointment of Professor Alexis Jay as the new Chair of the Inquiry.
I am firmly of the view that the work of the inquiry needed to continue without delay. Victims and survivors deserve nothing less. After consultation, I decided that Professor Jay was the best person to provide stability and maintain momentum in the inquiry’s work.
Professor Jay’s experience, lifelong dedication to child protection and her outstanding leadership of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham demonstrate her suitability to lead the inquiry. I am delighted that she has agreed to do so.
I am pleased to inform the House that from today Southern Railway have reinstated 119 train services into the weekday timetable. This means over nine out of 10 trains on the network will be running in line with the original weekday timetable, and over a third of the 341 trains removed on 11 July as part of the temporary timetable, will be restored this week. This will benefit passengers on inner London services, almost all London Bridge peak trains and restores service to Southern’s West London Line. The remaining trains will be reinstated to the timetable incrementally in the coming weeks. This is an issue of vital importance to the Government.
The Government have invested more than £1.6 billion of taxpayers’ money in new, longer, and more spacious trains. These new trains are progressively being introduced on existing Thameslink rail services and other routes from May 2017. The new trains are fully equipped with the latest technology allowing drivers to safely operate the doors from the cab.
The introduction of these new trains will mean that conductors, who currently operate the train doors, are freed up to spend their time on the train helping passengers during their journeys. GTR has promised this new on board supervisor role will be open to all conductors and will not result in any job losses or pay reduction. These changes will clearly benefit passengers. Importantly the vast majority of trains that currently have an on-board conductor will keep that staff member in a new on-board passenger focused role.
The Secretary of State recently announced a targeted £20 million fund, to be spent by Network Rail under project board authority, and the appointment of one of Britain’s most experienced rail industry figures, Chris Gibb, to help get the service back running as it should. His post will be paid for by GTR and will involve heading a new project board, working with the train operator and Network Rail, to explore how to achieve a rapid improvement to services for the public. The board will oversee the £20 million fund and closer working between GTR and Network Rail to improve performance for Southern customers. A passenger representative will also be included on this review board to ensure commuters’ views are heard and improvements properly reflect passenger demands. The project board will present its plan in the autumn and actions will be implemented as soon as possible.