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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
19 October 2017
Volume 629

Written Statements

Thursday 19 October 2017

Treasury

Banking Act 2009

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The Treasury has laid before the House of Commons a report required under section 231 of the Banking Act 2009 covering the period from 1 October 2016 to 31 March 2017. Copies of the document are available in the Vote Office.

[HCWS184]

Defence

Service Complaints Ombudsman Annual Report: MOD Response

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The Ministry of Defence (MOD) formal response to the service complaints ombudsman’s (SCO) annual report for 2016 on the fairness, effectiveness and efficiency of the service complaints system has today been placed in the Library of the House.

The ombudsman’s report commented on the operation of the new service complaints system which was implemented on 1 January 2016 and the work of her office in 2016. The response sets out how the MOD proposes to address each of the ombudsman’s new recommendations.

The MOD values the strong independent oversight that the ombudsman brings to the new service complaints process, and remains committed to having a system in which our personnel can have confidence.

[HCWS183]

Home Department

Antique Firearms

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I have today launched a Government consultation on proposals for implementing legislation to define antique firearms.

Antique firearms are exempt from most of the controls placed on firearms if they are held as a “curiosity or ornament”. There has previously been no statutory definition of an “antique firearm”— only non-statutory guidance. This has created legal uncertainty which has been exploited by criminals to obtain old but functioning firearms for use in crime. Since 2008, there have been four fatalities linked to antique firearms. The number of antique firearms recovered in criminal circumstances has increased from four in 2007 to 91 in 2016.

The Government have included in the Policing and Crime Act 2017 provisions to define an “antique firearm” in regulations. This consultation will inform the content of those regulations and provide a statutory definition which will ensure that old firearms that still pose a danger to the public are no longer exempt from control. It will also provide legal clarity on the definition of an antique firearm to help law enforcement tackle criminal use.

The consultation seeks views on the obsolete cartridges and propulsion systems used by old firearms that can be considered antique; a cut-off date of manufacture, after which a firearm will not be considered antique; and arrangements for the ongoing review of the regulations.

The Government welcome responses to this consultation from everyone involved with antique firearms, including the police, dealers, museums and individual collectors. We will take account of all views before deciding on the final shape of the regulations. The consultation will run for eight weeks. A copy of the consultation paper will be placed in the Library of the House and will be available on the Government’s website at www.gov.uk.

[HCWS182]

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Update

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As Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my overarching objective is a more secure, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland. Having a fully functioning and effective Executive, delivering for all the people of Northern Ireland is critical to meeting this objective.

Northern Ireland is currently in the midst of a period of political uncertainty. At this time there is no devolved government in place and there has not been one for 10 months. This is not what the people of Northern Ireland voted for last March. They want devolved government in place and expect their elected representatives to make decisions to deliver effective public services for all parts of the community. Moreover, they deserve to have a functioning Government and locally elected voices representing them on key issues, including Brexit.

Over the past weeks and months the Prime Minister and I have sought, working with the Irish Government in accordance with the three stranded approach, to bring the parties together to work towards an agreement.

The DUP and Sinn Féin are seeking to find agreement on the issues between them. Those remaining are small in number but highly difficult and sensitive—notably in relation to language and culture.

The outlook for an imminent resolution is not positive. Time is running out. And without an agreement, we are on a glide path to increasing intervention by the UK Government.

The Northern Ireland civil service has dealt with the lack of an Executive with the utmost professionalism to date—including in the face of Storm Ophelia. But by virtue of the legal spending limits imposed in the absence of formal budget, public services cannot be sustained without further legislation for much longer. Indeed the limits set out by the Northern Ireland Act 1998 are such that it is essential for budget legislation to be in place by no later than the end of November. Working from that deadline, the Northern Ireland civil service has assessed that it would still be possible, with political agreement among the parties in the Assembly, for an Executive formed in the week commencing 6 November to take forward its own budget.

Consequently, the last week I could introduce Executive formation legislation in Parliament for an Executive to take forward its own budget would be the week commencing 30 October.

I have made clear that I will only legislate in this way on the basis of a written agreement between the parties. If this is not forthcoming before 30 October, the only option remaining would be to legislate for a budget at Westminster. This is not a step I wish to take, nor one I would take lightly. My strong preference is for a restored Executive in Northern Ireland to take forward its own budget. Without an Executive, though, it would be grossly remiss for the UK Government not to step in and take action to ensure the continued funding of critical services in Northern Ireland.

I, the UK Government and the Irish Government want the parties to reach an agreement and restore devolved government in Northern Ireland. But my ultimate responsibility is to the people of Northern Ireland. The UK Government will do what is necessary to provide the stability required to ensure communities in Northern Ireland are not disadvantaged by the continued absence of devolved government.

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the Belfast agreement. It behoves us all to do what we can to ensure that that historic date is not marked by an increasingly hands-on UK Government, but instead by a functioning Northern Ireland Executive.

This remains my overriding priority.

[HCWS185]

Transport

High Speed Rail (Preparation Act 2013)

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The High Speed Rail (Preparation) Act annual expenditure report is published today under section 2 of the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Act 2013. The report covers the period from 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017.

A copy of the report 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/2017-10-19/HCWS179/

[HCWS179]

Roads

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I am today setting out further details of significant investment for our roads, including announcing the next two major local road schemes and 76 winners from the recent competition for national productivity investment funding on local roads. This funding from the Department for Transport totals £345.3 million.

This funding includes two new large local major road schemes receiving programme entry approval, at Carrington bridge in Worcester and at Middlewich in east Cheshire. The scheme in Worcester will alleviate congestion on the A4440 southern relief road and receive £54.5 million of funding towards a total cost of £62 million. The Middlewich eastern bypass will alleviate congestion in the town centre and facilitate the expansion of the Magnitude employment site. It will receive £46.8 million of funding towards a total cost of £56.9 million.

I am today announcing the winning 76 local projects which will receive funding of £244 million from the national productivity investment fund, during 2018-19 and 2019-20. The schemes will help to ease congestion, provide upgrades on important local routes, as well as facilitating the unlocking of economic and job creation opportunities. They will also support, in some areas, the potential delivery of new housing developments. Further information on today’s announcement is available on the Department for Transport’s website. These projects are an essential part of ensuring we have a country which works for everyone.

The Government announced the road investment strategy (RIS) in December 2014, an ambitious plan to increase much needed road capacity, boost economic development and improve road safety. It seeks to address many years of under-investment in England’s motorways and major trunk roads. Highways England has made good progress on delivery to date, completing 18 road schemes and starting work on 15 more.

Highways England has also undertaken longer-term planning work to ensure that the high level of road investment along key corridors of the network can be delivered in a way to minimise disruption and keep road users moving. These plans also help to mitigate delivery risks and achieve better value for money for the taxpayer. This planning work was referred to in recent ORR and NAO reports on the road investment strategy. I confirm that Government have agreed with Highways England’s plans to optimise delivery of the RIS. This re-profiling and optimisation of delivery is consistent with Highways England’s remit and does not involve any cancellation of schemes, so the regions of England can expect continued and similar levels of road investment.

Further details can be found on Highways England’s website and press releases.

[HCWS180]

Work and Pensions

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

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The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will take place on 23 October 2017 in Luxembourg. Margot James, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, will represent the UK.

The Council will be invited to agree a general approach on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending directive 96/71/EC concerning the posting of workers in the framework of the provision of services. The Council will also be invited to agree a partial general approach on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending regulation 883 on the co-ordination of social security systems and regulation 987 laying down the procedure for implementing regulation 883.

The Council will be invited to adopt the text and provide authorisation to sign on behalf of the Council the proposal for an interinstitutional proclamation on the European pillar of social rights.

The Council will be invited to endorse: (i) the key messages from the Employment Committee based on the annual employment performance report and the employment performance monitor; and (ii) the main messages from the Social Protection Committee based on the annual review of the social protection performance monitor.

Under any other business, the presidency and Commission will provide information on the tripartite social summit. The presidency will provide information on the Tallinn digital summit. The Commission will provide information on the new skills agenda for Europe. There will be a presentation by the European Institute for Gender Equality on the new edition of the gender equality index.

[HCWS181]