Monday 10 October 2016
I am pleased to publish the Government’s plans setting out how we will deliver on our manifesto pledge to remove the current 15 year time limit on British citizens who live abroad registering as overseas electors.
Our proposals will give all British citizens who have lived in the UK a lifelong right to vote in parliamentary elections. They will ensure that all eligible overseas electors are able to register to vote and renew their registration in a convenient and timely fashion while maintaining the integrity of the electoral register and guarding against fraud. The policy will allow British citizens previously resident in the UK but who were not previously registered to vote, or had registered more than 15 years ago, to register as an overseas elector.
The publication of the policy will allow the expatriate community and those with technical electoral expertise to comment. Our aim is to have implemented the policy ahead of the next scheduled parliamentary elections.
The costs of implementing the policy are well within my Department’s spending review bid and funding will in due course be available for local authorities in line with the Government’s new burdens doctrine.
This is one of a number of proposals to make sure our democracy works for everyone. The Government are also encouraging registration in under-registered areas, equalising constituencies, and looking at what can be done to improve access to anonymous registration for those escaping domestic violence.
I am placing a copy of the policy statement in the Libraries of both Houses.
CERT-UK: Transfer of Functions
Further to the Government’s statement of March 2016, the transfer of CERT-UK (the Computer Emergency Response Team, UK) functions and staff to the new National Cyber Security Centre has now completed. CERT-UK has ceased operating and will be closed. The new centre, which will open publicly over the coming months, is part of GCHQ and will be the UK’s authority on cyber security. More information on the National Cyber Security Centre will be set out in the Government’s National Cyber Security Strategy which will be published later this year.
Lloyds Banking Group: Government Shares
Further to the statement provided to the House on 4 December 2015, today I can inform the House that the trading plan to sell the Government’s shares in Lloyds Banking Group has been re-started. This is a further step in the Government’s plan to return Lloyds to the private sector.
I received advice from UK Financial Investments (UKFI) that selling shares through the trading plan represents good value for money for the taxpayer. This sales method has been very successful previously, achieving over £9 billion of sales between December 2014 and June 2016. In total, we have recovered over £16.9 billion for the taxpayer from Lloyds through sales and dividend payments.
The trading plan commenced on 7 October 2016 and will run for a year. Shares will not be sold below a floor price that HMT has determined delivers value for money for the taxpayer and ensures that the Government will get back all of the £20.3 billion that taxpayers injected into Lloyds during the financial crisis. The actual number of shares sold under the trading plan will depend on market conditions.
I can also announce the withdrawal of the Lloyds retail offer. At the current share price, the retail offer would be extremely unlikely to recoup all the money the taxpayers put into the bank. Our plan will get back all the cash taxpayers invested in Lloyds during the financial crisis and leave the bank in a better place to continue the crucial role it plays in supporting individuals, families and businesses up and down the UK.
I will update Parliament with further details at the end of the trading plan.
International Monetary Fund: Bilateral Loan
Today, the UK completed the signing of a new bilateral loan commitment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), valued at 9,178.2 million SDRs, equivalent to £10.278 million using exchange rates on 7 October 2016. This bilateral loan replaces one of the same value, which came into effect in February 2016 (HCWS542). UK lending to the IMF remains within the limit set by the International Monetary Fund (Limit on Lending) Order 2010, which came into force on 22 July 2010.
The new loan is part of a global initiative to ensure that the IMF is well-resourced. It is vital at this time that we have an IMF equipped to strengthen the resilience of the global economy against risks and uncertainty. The UK is one of the first countries to sign a new bilateral loan with the IMF, maintaining its leading role within international institutions and in the world economy.
The SDR is the unit of account used by the IMF. Its value is calculated daily as a weighted average of the US dollar, euro, renminbi, yen, and pound sterling.
Military Operations: European Convention on Human Rights Derogation
Over the past decade a series of court judgments have extended the reach of the European convention on human rights to combat zones. This extra-territorial jurisdiction was never envisaged by the convention’s authors.
While the courts have been seeking to reconcile the convention with the long established law of armed conflict (or international humanitarian law), our military personnel have been engaged in operations overseas in support of the international community. They have had to do so in the face of growing legal uncertainty and an unprecedented level of litigation, much of it fuelled by a small number of law firms. In addition to the millions of pounds this litigation has been costing the taxpayer, the resulting uncertainties have been distressing to many current personnel and veterans, and military advice is that there is a risk of seriously undermining the operational effectiveness of the armed forces.
It is for these reasons that the Government through a range of measures are implementing the manifesto commitment to ensure our armed forces overseas are not subject to persistent legal claims that undermine their ability to do their job.
I am today informing the House that before embarking on significant future military operations, this Government intend derogating from the European convention on human rights, where this is appropriate in the precise circumstances of the operation in question. Any derogation would need to be justified and could only be made from certain articles of the convention.
In the event of such a derogation, our armed forces will continue to operate to the highest standards and be subject to the rule of law. They remain at all times subject to UK Service Law, which incorporates the criminal law of England and Wales, and international humanitarian law (the law of armed conflict including the Geneva conventions) wherever in the world they are serving. Therefore any credible allegations of criminal wrongdoing by members of the armed forces will continue to be investigated, and prosecuted within the service justice system.
Meanwhile the Government will continue to work tirelessly to uphold international humanitarian law in armed conflicts and to ensure that the appropriate, time-honoured balance between military necessity and humanitarian concerns—as enshrined in the Geneva conventions—continues to govern armed conflicts throughout the world.
This announcement is an important part of our plan to deliver our manifesto pledge including limiting the length of time that claims can be brought against the Government; strengthening the penalties for firms who engage in vexatious practices; and to reducing the financial incentive for law firms to pursue spurious claims.
Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committees: Triennial Review
The Ministry of Defence is required to review their non-departmental public bodies at least once every three years to ensure that they have regular independent challenge.
I am today announcing the outcome of the Triennial review of the Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committees (VAPCs). The review examined whether there is a continuing need for the function provided by the VAPCs and concluded in two stages. The first stage examined the key functions of the VAPCs and the second stage ensured that the body is operating in line with the recognised principles of good corporate governance.
The review concluded that the VAPCs continue to provide valuable impartial advice to both myself and Veterans UK, part of Defence Business Services. In addition, the VAPCs continue to play an important role in furthering the interests and needs of veterans, not least of which is the result of the establishment of forums under the armed forces and community covenants, which continue to generate significant contribution from the public sector, local authorities and military units. Thus the VAPCs are able to sustain clear and relevant value for a range of stakeholders.
Exiting the European Union
General Affairs Council: 20 September 2016
The General Affairs Council on 20 September was chaired by the Slovak presidency and held in Brussels.
General Affairs Council
The General Affairs Council on 20 September discussed the October European Council; follow up to the June European Council; mid-term review of the multiannual financial framework; and the European Commission’s annual work programme 2017.
A provisional report of the meeting and the conclusions adopted can be found at:
Preparation of the European Council (20-21 October)
The Council was presented with the agenda for the October European Council. It is due to discuss migration, trade, and external relations with Russia. The Government made clear that while we remained a member state of the EU, the UK would continue to contribute fully in the preparation of the European Council and advance positions in line with our national interest.
Follow-up to the June European Council
The Council also discussed the conclusions of the June European Council, focusing on migration, jobs, growth and investment, and external relations. Member states called for more practical ways to implement European Council conclusions.
Mid-Term Review / Revision of the Multiannual Financial Framework
The Commission presented its proposal for the mid-term review of the multiannual financial framework 2014-20. The proposal is intended to increase flexibility in the EU budget, focusing on the economy, security and migration. The presidency confirmed this will be a standing item on the General Affairs Council agenda until agreement is reached.
Commission Annual Work Programme 2017
The Commission presented the 2017 letter of intent. During an exchange of views the UK stated that the Commission should prioritise the single market, the digital single market and migration. We also made clear any proposals on defence issues would need careful scrutiny and should not duplicate NATO. The presidency stated its intention to present the Commission with a letter outlining the overall views of member states for it to consider when finalising the 2017 Commission work programme.
Sir Julian King’s appointment
Sir Julian King has been appointed as European Commissioner for the Security Union. He secured the European Parliament’s endorsement when it voted in favour of his appointment on Thursday 15 September. The Council of the European Union gave its approval at the General Affairs Council on Tuesday 20 September. Sir Julian replaces Lord Hill following his resignation in July this year.
Contingencies Fund Advance
The Home Office requires an advance to start recruitment of the director general of the Office for Police Conduct. This advance is to cover recruitment costs only, as the successful candidate will take up their post following Royal Assent of the Policing and Crime Bill.
Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £15,000 for this new service will be sought in a supplementary estimate for the Home Office. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £15,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.
Work and Pensions
Employment and Support Allowance
I would like to update hon. Members on the main item of business undertaken by my Department since the House rose for conference recess.
When people claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and/or Universal Credit (UC) due to a health condition or disability they are required to take part in Work Capability Assessments (WCA) on an ongoing basis to confirm their eligibility. This includes people with the most severe health conditions or disabilities, even though we already know from their initial WCA, and from healthcare professionals, that, short of medical advances, their condition is unlikely to improve.
On 1 October, I announced that that we will stop reassessing people with the most severe health conditions and disabilities. This change will apply to people who have already been placed in the ESA support group or UC limited capability for work and work related activity categories following a WCA and who have the most severe health conditions and disabilities (defined as claimants with severe, lifelong, often progressive and incurable conditions, with minimally fluctuating care needs, who are unlikely to ever be able to move closer to the labour market and into work). The IT changes needed are expected to be completed by the end of 2017. In the meantime, we will be working to ensure these people are not reassessed unnecessarily.
Over the coming months we will work with key stakeholders, including disabled people, disability charities, our health assessment provider, the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments, medical professionals and others to develop a set of criteria, set out in guidance, to switch off reassessments for those that are eligible.