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Written Statements

Volume 627: debated on Monday 17 July 2017

Written Statements

Monday 17 July 2017

Cabinet Office

Electoral Commission Report on May 2016 Polls: Government Response

The Government are today publishing their responses to the Electoral Commission’s reports on the administration of the Mayor of London and London Assembly elections and the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections for 2016.

We have combined our response to the report on the London elections with the recommendations made in the reports of the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) and the Greater London Authority (GLA) where they are relevant to those polls.

Similarly, our response to the report on the PCC elections also incorporates relevant recommendations by the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the AEA. In addition, we have provided an annex of responses to additional AEA recommendations from their 2016 report that are not relevant to these polls.

Where recommendations by the Electoral Commission in its two reports are identical, they have been addressed in our response to the PCC election.

We are grateful for the recommendations produced by all these organisations and thank them for their work. These reports aid the Government in monitoring the effectiveness of electoral legislation; and help us to make improvements and identify future policy challenges and possible resolutions.

The Government will continue to work with these organisations, as well as electoral administrators and other partners, to improve our electoral system and ensure the effective running of elections. We will take these recommendations into account in implementing the recommendations of Sir Eric Pickles’ review of electoral fraud published last year.

Copies of these Government responses will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS50]

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Digital Economy Act Commencement

In April this year, Her Majesty the Queen gave Royal Assent to the Digital Economy Act 2017. The Act introduced measures to help consumers access broadband, build digital infrastructure, protect children from online pornography and enable better public services using digital technologies.

A number of important provisions in the Act have already come into force. These include powers on broadband USO, switching, automatic compensation and information powers to help consumers accessing electronic communications services, protection for citizens from nuisance calls and others.

I can today inform the House that the Government have made the first commencement regulations to bring into force a considerable number of other sections of the Act.

We have taken steps to implement the new age verification requirement for online pornography as part of our continuing work to make the internet safer. The new scheme is complex and will not be fully in place until April 2018, but today we are bringing into force powers to designate the regulator and powers to allow guidance to be issued.

We are also bringing into force measures to improve digital connectivity across the UK, starting the implementation of the new electronic communications code to assist operators to develop new infrastructure, putting in place planning reforms and giving powers to allow Ofcom to make better use of radio spectrum to improve mobile connectivity.

We have also started the process of implementing the measures in the Act that allow the Government to make better use of data. Powers to allow HMRC to share non-identifying information in the public interest will come into force and help deliver more effective and efficient public services. We will also bring into force the information sharing arrangement with the Employers’ Liability Tracing Office to help those who have suffered personal injury as a result of employment to trace liability insurance policies. New provisions to enable public authorities to share information with the UK Statistics Authority will also commence.

Finally, to help consumers better manage their bills, we will commence powers to require mobile operators to offer bill limits to all their customers. To allow operators time to adapt their systems and processes, I am today announcing that the requirement will come into force from October 2018.

Commencing these provisions marks another significant milestone towards implementing the Digital Economy Act 2017 and delivering our digital strategy.

[HCWS51]

Northern Ireland

National Security Arrangements: Northern Ireland

This is a summary of the main findings from the report by His Honour Brian Barker QC, the Independent Reviewer of National Security Arrangements in Northern Ireland, covering the period from June 2016 to 31 December 2016. His Honour Brian Barker concludes:

“I was appointed by the Secretary of State in May 2016. I have spent time obtaining an overview of institutions, personalities and problems. I have been fully briefed on the security situation. I received presentations from MI5 on the practical effect of co-operation and exchange of intelligence. My visits to various PSNI establishments and to MI5 left an impression of deep commitment and professionalism. Strong cross-border links continue with An Garda Siochana, resulting in effective co-operation and impressive disruption.

The aim of a more stable society, where the effect of local terrorism has a decreasing impact, seemed to have made some progress through 2016 despite a picture of continuing terrorist threat. It is clear, however, that police and prison officers face high risks both on and off duty. The context in which national security activities are performed have been described in the past as challenging, and continue to be so.

In preparing this report I have considered the current threat level, and what I have learned of events of a terrorist nature during the year. The number of shooting incidents related to the security situation for the 12 month period was 49, almost identical to that in 2015, while the number of bombing incidents, 27, was exactly half that recorded in 2015. There were six security/paramilitary related deaths in the period to December 31 2016. This was three times the number of the previous year.

The overall threat is real and enduring and broadly unchanged despite each recognisable group being somewhat disrupted and there being some relaxation of attitude in some communities. The exchange of intelligence and the evident co-operation between authorities continues to make inroads. As in recent years there have been successes and considerable effort devoted to containing and disrupting dissident groups. Nevertheless, planning and targeting continues and attacks occur. The threat from those released from custodial sentences and those given bail continue to present a challenge.

Dissident republican groupings remain interested and involved in criminality, organised crime, and money laundering. They express political purpose, either with conviction or because it is necessary so as to obscure criminality. Loyalist paramilitaries claim political allegiance, although the motivation of many is crime and control through intimidation and violence.

Throughout 2016 I met a range of stakeholders. Representatives of the Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB), the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) and the Committee on Administration of Justice (CAJ) raised concerns about the use, control and reporting of covert human intelligence sources (“CHIS”) and whether, for example, any CHIS were working without PSNI knowledge. This area that has been reviewed in the past and I will review it in the coming year in light of the new Investigatory Powers Act 2016.

My meeting with the NIPB’s Independent Human Rights Advisor, Alyson Kilpatrick, fortified my predecessor’s high regard for her, and the important role she plays.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory QC, briefed me on some operational problems inherent in the prosecution of alleged terrorists. The deficiencies in the administration of criminal justice and the limited progress in case management are all too obvious. Applications for disclosure in major terrorism trials and the need for appropriate balance, continue to present problems. Tightening the criminal justice system by streamlining criminal justice processes and faster committal proceedings would increase public confidence.

A topic raised by several politicians was the extent of the activities, as well as the remit, of the National Crime Agency (NCA). The NCA’s Head of Investigations informed me NCA officers in Northern Ireland can only exercise constabulary powers or undertake covert investigatory activity with the agreement of the Chief Constable. The PSNI are sighted on all operational activity. The NCA has no national security function, but is concerned with serious crime, for example child exploitation and drug smuggling, including crime carried out by paramilitary groups. In this regard it has a good working relationship with MI5.1 am satisfied these statutory provisions are adhered to.

Progress on “the past” is still at an early stage while expectations for the proper and balanced understanding of the history in relation to the legacy inquests remain high. Funding is a continuing issue.

The Assistant Chief Constable responsible for policing the marching season reported an overall sense of reduced tension compared to the previous year and the 12 July parades passed off without serious incident. I was encouraged by the dismantling in early October of the Twaddell Avenue protest camp, which had been established and ongoing since 2013.

I was impressed by the standards and commitment of senior members of MI5 and the PSNI who provided unstinting time and access. My thanks are also due to the NIO for its support.

I have measured performance in 2016 against the five key principles identified in relation to national security in Annex E to the St Andrews Agreement of October 2006. My conclusions in relation to Annex E can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statements/Commons/2017-07-17/HCWS54/.”

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Transport

HS2 Update

I would like to update the House on the progress of High Speed Two.

Phase One of the railway—from London to West Midlands—is progressing well. In February, Parliament granted powers to construct the route from London to Birmingham, including new stations at London Euston, Old Oak Common, Birmingham Curzon Street and Birmingham Interchange, near Solihull. As a result, enabling works on the route, contracts for which were awarded last November, have now started.

In March last year, the tender shortlist for Phase One of the main civil engineering works contracts, comprising bridges, tunnels, embankments and viaducts, was released. These are the biggest HS2 contracts to date. In a clear signal of how work is progressing, this morning I am pleased to announce the decision to award Stage 1 of these contracts, comprising design and construction preparation works, to the joint ventures set out below. Contracts are expected to be signed after completion of the mandatory standstill period. The joint ventures are as follows:

Area South

S1—Euston Tunnels and Approaches—SCS JV (Skanska Construction UK Limited, Costain Limited, STRABAG AG)

S2—Northolt Tunnels—SCS JV (Skanska Construction UK Limited, Costain Limited, STRABAG AG)

Area Central

C1—Chiltern Tunnels and Colne Valley Viaduct—Align JV (Bouygues Travaux Publics, VolkerFitzpatrick, Sir Robert McAlpine)

C2—North Portal Chiltern Tunnels to Brackley—CEK JV (Carillion Construction Limited, Eiffage Genie Civil SA, Kier Infrastructure and Overseas Limited)

C3—Brackley to South Portal of Long Itchington Wood Green Tunnel—CEK JV (Carillion Construction Limited, Eiffage Genie Civil SA, Kier Infrastructure and Overseas Limited)

Area North

N1—Long Itchington Wood Green Tunnel to Delta Junction and Birmingham Spur—BBV JV (Balfour Beatty Group Ltd, VINCI Construction Grands Projets, VINCI Construction UK Ltd, VINCI Construction Terrassement)

N2—Delta Junction to WCML Tie-In - BBV JV (Balfour Beatty Group Ltd, VINCI Construction Grands Projets, VINCI Construction UK Ltd, VINCI Construction Terrassement)

The expected total value of these contracts including both Stage 1 and Stage 2 (the full construction phase) is currently estimated to be worth around £6.6 billion. Stage 2 will commence in 2019 and, along with Stage 1, is expected to support 16,000 jobs across the country. In addition, they are expected to generate 7,000 contract opportunities in the supply chain, of which around 60% are expected to go to SMEs.

HS2 stations at Euston, Old Oak Common and in Birmingham will be central to HS2 and the work needed to develop designs is also well underway. Last week, both the Invitations to Tender (ITTs) for the station design services contracts for all four Phase 1 stations and the Invitation to Participate in Dialogue (ITPD) for a Euston master development partner were released to shortlisted bidders. These are significant milestones. They show how progress is continuing at pace in order to deliver stations that will be embraced by the local communities, drive economic growth and provide seamless journeys for passengers.

We are also making good progress on the rest of the route. Later today, I will be introducing a Bill to Parliament seeking the necessary powers to construct Phase 2a of HS2, from West Midlands to Crewe. Phase 2a will bring HS2 within reach of all the cities in the North that have existing rail connections to Crewe. I will also be updating the House on other developments along the Phase 2 route including decisions on the 2b route from Crewe to Manchester and West Midlands to Leeds.

The progress we are making with HS2 is clear evidence that the Government are delivering on their commitments and are getting on with building the infrastructure needed to build a stronger, fairer, more prosperous Britain.

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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs Council: 17 July 2017

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council on 17 July. The Foreign Affairs Council will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. The meeting will be held in Brussels.

Foreign Affairs Council

The agenda for the July Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) is expected to include the EU global strategy, Libya and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

EU global strategy

EU Foreign Ministers will discuss the second year priorities for the European global strategy. The UK remains committed to European security and will engage constructively in these discussions, including ensuring complementarity with NATO.

Libya

The appointment of a new UN Special Representative of the Security General (SRSG) makes it a timely moment for a stocktake on Libya. Discussion will focus on the latest developments in the Libya political process. The UK aims to build support for the Libyan political solution based on amending the Libyan political agreement to be more inclusive, and to create momentum around the appointment of the new SRSG Ghassan Salame.

DPRK

Discussions will cover the importance of a united international response to the launch of a inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) by the DPRK on 4 July. We expect this will focus on the need for the EU to use its collective weight to pressure China to exert further their unique influence on DPRK. The UK will use the discussion to make clear the EU has an important role to play on this issue through increased sanctions on the DPRK.

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Foreign Affairs Council: 19 June 2017

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 19 June. The Foreign Affairs Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. The meeting was held in Luxembourg.

Foreign Affairs Council

The meeting covered discussions on the EU global strategy, EU-NATO, counter-terrorism, migration, Iraq and the Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting.

EU global strategy

The Council had a discussion on the implementation on the EU global strategy. Foreign Ministers welcomed the report and highlighted the important work achieved over the year.

EU-NATO co-operation

Foreign Ministers discussed EU-NATO co-operation with NATO Deputy Secretary-General Rose Gottemoeller. The discussion was based on a joint progress report by the EU High Representative and the Secretary General of NATO. The Council adopted conclusions on the report, welcoming progress in the implementation of the common set of proposals and calling for further steps in the same direction. Foreign Ministers agreed to support more work, including on counter-terrorism, cyber security, hybrid threats and strategic communications.

Counter-terrorism

The discussion began with condolences for the recent attacks in London, Manchester and Mali. Foreign Ministers debated the external aspects of counter-terrorism, a timely discussion in view of the recent attacks in the EU and beyond. They underlined that counter-terrorism is the highest security priority for the EU. The Council adopted conclusions on counter-terrorism. The UK set out four areas to confront: risk of radicalisation in domestic communities; external conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Libya attracting foreign fighters; overseas financing of extremist groups; and online radicalisation.

Migration

Foreign Ministers discussed the external aspects of migration in preparation for the European Council of 22-23 June. They took stock of the progress made on the partnership framework. They discussed pressure on transit and origin countries, and the impact of EU efforts in the Mediterranean.

Iraq

The Council discussed Iraq, focusing on the latest developments, in particular in Mosul and Nineveh province, and on the future stabilisation of the country. The Council adopted conclusions.

Gulf crisis

Foreign Ministers discussed the current crisis in the Gulf region. They urged de-escalation of the crisis through dialogue and negotiation, and welcomed the mediation efforts of Kuwait. Ministers agreed on the importance of being seen to be impartial in the dispute. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs shared the UK’s analysis on the situation in the Gulf.

Eastern Partnership ministerial

Ministers discussed anti-corruption, strategic communication, rule of law, and human rights reform in Eastern Partnership countries. They welcomed the progress made on all of these issues and stressed their continued importance.

Ministers agreed a number of measures without discussion:

The Council adopted conclusions on climate change following the United States Administration’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement.

The Council adopted conclusions on a framework for a joint EU diplomatic response to malicious cyber activities (“cyber diplomacy toolbox”).

The Council adopted conclusions on a renewed impetus for the Africa-EU partnership.

The Council adopted conclusions on Mali and the Sahel.

The Council adopted conclusions on the EU strategy for Central Asia.

The Council adopted conclusions welcoming the Court of Auditors’ special report on “EU assistance to Tunisia”.

The Council adopted conclusions on EU engagement with civil society.

The Council extended the restrictive measures in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia until 23 June 2018.

The Council extended the restrictive measures on sanctions on Guinea-Bissau for a further 12 months.

Member states participating in the European Defence Agency (EDA) adopted a declaration reaffirming their commitment to strengthen European defence co-operation by improving security of supply.

The Council endorsed a Joint Declaration between the EU, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Spain, the UK and Vietnam on reinforced co-operation in the field of sustainable energy.

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