Thursday 19 July 2018
Today, the Cabinet Office published its evaluation and it shows that Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Watford and Woking delivered successful voter ID pilots. We know that because the evidence shows that the majority of voters who turned up to vote without ID returned later with ID without problem. When surveyed, polling station staff overwhelmingly judged that they had been able to successfully deliver the ID requirements in their polling stations, with 99% satisfaction rates among administrators in four of the five local authorities—Bromley, Swindon, Woking and Gosport—and 97% in the fifth, Watford.
Locally issued ID was made available free of charge whenever an elector was unsure they were able to produce the required ID. In one local authority, this was issued to 10 people who were homeless. They were also able to use the ID to register at the local jobcentre. The amount of voters who felt the security of elections improved increased consistently in the areas where electors had to show photographic ID. Confidence and satisfaction in the process of voting itself significantly increased post-election day where voters had to show photographic ID.
Overall, voters’ views of election day were largely positive across all of the pilots and the main reason for not voting was that people were too busy or had other commitments.
Alongside the Government’s evaluation, the Electoral Commission will publish their evaluation on the voter ID pilots today.
Peterborough, Slough and Tower Hamlets tested additional measures to improve the security and integrity of the postal vote process and ensured that additional guidance on preventing electoral fraud was given to every postal vote applicant. The local authorities found value in the pilot as an elector engagement exercise, given the positive feedback they received from electors in reaction to being contacted.
Electoral fraud is not a victimless crime. We owe it to voters to ensure they know their voices are being heard and their right to vote is being protected. We have worked with the Electoral Commission and Crimestoppers to support the “Your vote is yours alone” campaign that ran alongside the local elections to encourage the reporting of suspected electoral crime.
The improvement we will make to the security and integrity of our voting process in Great Britain will bring us in line with many other countries where voters provide confirmation of their identity and where there is a reasonable expectation that someone’s vote should be properly protected and that doing so guards democracy and confidence for everyone.
Indeed, within the United Kingdom, the experience of Northern Ireland, where paper ID has been required since 1985 and photo ID since 2003, illustrates that there should be no issue for voters—once the requirement has become established.
I am absolutely clear that requiring voter ID in polling stations is a timely and reasonable measure that will sustain confidence in our voting process and we are inviting expressions of interest from local authorities to run further pilots at the local government elections in May 2019.
We are committed to improving the security of everyone’s votes, strengthening our elections and ensuring that people have confidence in our democracy, while putting equality and inclusivity at the centre of our electoral system.
Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act 2012: Annual Report
The annual report to Parliament under the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act 2012 for the period 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018 has today been laid before Parliament.
The report is prepared in line with the requirements set out in the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act 2012 that the Government report annually to Parliament on the financial assistance given under the Act.
Copies are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
Securing the Tax Base
The Government are fully committed to doing what is necessary to protect the Exchequer and maintain fairness in the tax system. Therefore, the Government are announcing today that legislation will be brought forward later in the year which corrects a number of loopholes and omissions.
VAT offshore looping arrangement
The Government are announcing today that secondary legislation will be introduced later in the year to tackle VAT avoidance which takes advantage of a particular type of offshore looping arrangement, as well as examining further measures to tackle variations of this type of avoidance. By taking this action, the Government will maintain fairness in the tax system and will protect up to £100 million of future annual tax revenues. The Government are also considering additional measures to protect further tax from being lost on variations of these schemes, which could be adopted extensively across the VAT exempt sectors.
Offshore looping avoidance
Providers of financial services generally cannot reclaim the VAT they incur on their costs because their services are VAT exempt. An offshore loop is a cross-border structure that enables these VAT costs to be recovered by routing services primarily carried out in the UK via a body located in a non-VAT territory. Those services are then used to provide insurance and other financial services back into the UK market. This is contrary to the intention of the VAT system and distorts competition to the disadvantage of domestic UK suppliers.
This measure addresses a particular version of offshore looping which is currently found almost exclusively in the insurance sector and involves looping supplies via non-VAT territories. While this scheme is currently the subject of litigation, the Government have decided to legislate to put the issue beyond doubt and prevent any ongoing distortion of competition through use of this scheme.
The Government will amend UK law using secondary legislation later in the year. This will reduce the scope of the current VAT relief for exporters of financial services by excluding financial intermediation in supplies made ultimately to UK customers. This will mean that the UK providers of these financial services will no longer be able to gain a VAT advantage by acting as an agent for an overseas associate when the services are in fact being provided to their UK customers. The draft legislation and explanatory note will be published today and will be available on the gov.uk website.
The Government are also examining further legislative options for closing other versions of avoidance schemes involving such arrangements. This would ensure that revenue is protected in the future and that the system is fair for all and that those that seek to benefit from this type of arrangement do not get an unfair advantage.
Another variant of offshore looping, involving the provision of repair services to insurers, was addressed in 2016. Alongside that, the Government also considered further action, particularly in respect of the application of the VAT use and enjoyment provisions, but concluded that further change was not merited at that time. However, given the additional risks since identified, the scope of the options now under consideration will be much broader, including the use of measures outside of the UK VAT system altogether. Further details will be set out as part of the normal tax-making process.
Interest for late payment and repayment of taxes
Additionally, the Government are announcing today that they will introduce retrospective legislation in the Finance Bill 2018-19 to correct omissions from enactments that enable HMRC to charge interest for late payment of taxes and to pay interest on repayments to taxpayers. This legislation will also include interest charged as part of the diverted profits tax regime. By taking this action, the Government will guarantee the integrity of the tax base.
The legislation will apply retrospectively to cover all relevant interest charged or applied and will not change either the interest rate or amounts charged or repaid by HMRC to date. The legislation will apply to all taxpayers and any existing or future claim or appeal where these omissions have been identified.
The main taxes affected are corporation tax, stamp duty and stamp duty land tax. Further detail can be found in the accompanying draft clause and explanatory note.
Modernising Defence Programme
In January, together with the Prime Minister and Chancellor, I launched the Government’s modernising defence programme (MDP). The Ministry of Defence (MOD) is now able to share our headline conclusions. Throughout the MDP, the Department has worked with colleagues across Whitehall, with academics, subject matter experts, allies and partners and ran a public consultation exercise.
The MDP was launched after the national security capability review acknowledged the increasing security challenges we are facing. Its purpose was to deliver better military capability to meet the increasing threat environment and value for money in a sustainable and affordable way. Defence protects our people, projects our global influence, and promotes our prosperity. And, at this key moment as the UK leaves the European Union, defence and the armed forces will continue to deliver security in Europe and further afield, helping to make global Britain a reality.
Threats and risks to national security have diversified and become more complex since 2015. Although we anticipated many of the threats and risks we now face, we underestimated the pace at which they would intensify and combine to challenge UK national security at home and threaten the rules-based international order that has delivered peace, security and prosperity over many decades. And, we did not fully understand the ways in which they would interact with each other.
Alongside this, the character of warfare has changed since 2015. We are in a period of constant aggressive competition between states, often developing into undeclared confrontation and, in some cases, proxy conflicts. Technology, especially digital technology, is developing at a breath-taking pace, making pervasive many capabilities once only imagined in science fiction.
Our adversaries are working to take advantage of this contested environment by systematically identifying and exploiting our vulnerabilities and those of our allies and partners. Peer and near-peer states are investing heavily in both conventional and emerging technologies, and are increasingly adopting hybrid or asymmetric approaches to gain advantage. This has included attacking our digital networks and those of our allies, and operating in unconventional and legally questionable ways. Broader developments in the world including demographic change, increasing urbanisation, the risk of pandemics, resource and environmental pressures will all contribute to a global strategic context which will become more complex.
All this means that the challenges to our national security and prosperity—and to our allies’ and partners’ security and prosperity—are increasingly complex, ambiguous, destabilising and potentially catastrophic.
Work in the first phase of the MDP has reviewed this changing strategic context and how our armed forces need to be able to respond. We have reviewed our existing capability plans, and begun to shape new policy approaches and identify investment priorities, and through workstreams, we have developed a blueprint for a major programme of top-down transformative reform to defence. In all of this, we have been guided by the three key roles that our armed forces should be able to fulfil in the 21st century:
Contribute to strengthening global security through our leading role in NATO, and provide the structures and capabilities to defend the UK;
Meet the challenges of the wider threats to international security and stability, including through operations and activities alongside our global allies and partners. Defence must be engaged and outward looking, meeting the challenges of our age, from state-based competition and confrontation, violent extremism and terrorism, instability and crises in Africa and Asia, illegal and irregular migration, serious and organised crime, to climate change and environmental disasters.
Act independently, when appropriate, to protect UK interests and citizens overseas, leading multi-national operations and developing strong defence relationships with partners around the world.
1. Our armed forces need to be ready and able to match the pace at which our adversaries now move.
The pace at which our adversaries can act against us has grown quickly since SDSR 2015. Today, our adversaries disguise their actions by launching attacks that are hard to attribute, or by operating below the conventional threshold for a decisive, collective response. Whilst our armed forces already protect us against these challenges every hour of every day, we need to be able to respond to this new character of warfare, both in the traditional land, sea and air domains, as well as in the new domains of space and cyber. The MDP will make sure that the armed forces can continue to protect our prosperity and security, while reinforcing Britain’s place in the world.
To defend our national security, we should make the best possible use of the unique mix of hard and soft power that makes the UK a major global actor: from our economic levers to our wider diplomatic and cultural influence on the world’s stage. This integrated, collective approach to national security is captured in the Government’s fusion doctrine. Defence has a vital and increasing role in underwriting it, including through contributing to deterring and disrupting hostile state activity, delivering the CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy in the UK and overseas, or supporting wider security and prosperity objectives.
The armed forces have a unique network of alliances and friendships spanning every corner of every continent. We have made significant progress in making defence more “international by design”, and we will look at how we could do more. We have already strengthened relationships with key allies and partners, including through ambitious capability collaborations, and we will seek to go further still. We will consider our global defence network, to make sure we have the right military and civilian staff deployed around the world. We will seek to optimise our programme of world-class international education and training, which is so highly valued by our allies and partners, and gives the UK competitive advantage and strategic influence across the globe. And we will continue to lead multinational forces and deepen our relationships across the globe.
Most importantly, we need to make sure we can respond rapidly to future crises on our terms. Our elite and high-readiness forces are critical in this regard, enabled by collective training and our high-end exercise programme. We will consider how we can rebalance our training and equipment to mainland Europe, the far east and the middle east and review our overseas basing to improve our interoperability with allies and partners. NATO’s readiness initiative will also play an important role in this endeavour. Equally, our ability to respond rapidly will depend on an improved understanding and anticipation of the strategic confrontations that define this era: we will therefore build a strategic net assessment capability in the MOD. Strategic net assessment looks across all dimensions of competition—political, economic, military, resources—to assess how the choices of both friends and foes may play out over the short, medium and long term. Its conclusions can be used to develop more nuanced and better-informed strategy, so we can better anticipate our adversaries’ actions and counter them more effectively.
As outlined in SDSR 2015, protecting our security safeguards our prosperity, so our armed forces will continue to provide the assurance and reassurance for our global trade and development commitments, and support our ambitions for global Britain. As we continue our commitment to defence investment we will consider a much more agile approach to the development of future equipment, with a clear focus on the increasing flexibility required to maintain strategic advantage over our adversaries.
2. A fighting force fit for the challenges of the 21st century
We intend to modernise our force structure so that it is better able to meet the increasing threats we face. The key design principles of Joint Force 2025 are right: we want armed forces able to operate with agility and pace in the information age. Our armed forces need to be able to meet a full range of missions now and into the future. This includes, if necessary, warfighting operations under NATO article 5 and further afield.
We need to be able to meet future threats and face down our adversaries to continue to protect our prosperity and security. We may need to accelerate elements of the programme to meet the most acute threats sooner. Equally, we might want to introduce new capabilities or equipment that provide significant advantage in the immediate term. We intend, in each case, to look to the right balance of conventional and novel capabilities to meet the threats we face.
Alongside this, we will consider how to improve our resilience, so that our networks and systems across defence are protected against cyber-attack and infiltration, and our submarines can continue to avoid detection. We will also strengthen our equipment, training and facilities, like the investment we are making in a chemical weapons defence centre to counter chemical biological radiological and nuclear threats like we saw in Salisbury and Amesbury. Through advancing our resilience we will make sure our forces and bases are better protected.
A fighting force fit for the challenges of the 21st century also means our armed forces need to be able to operate in the space domain. So, to guide future investment in our satellites and wider space capabilities we will publish a space strategy.
To operate effectively in the information age, we need “information advantage”. Conflicts of the future will increasingly be won and lost based on who uses information technology most effectively: sensors, computing, communication, cyber and machine learning, artificial intelligence and autonomy. We will consider how to enhance our ability to collect, analyse, disseminate and act very rapidly on the vast quantities of data that characterise the contemporary operating environment. That will allow us to understand how our adversaries are thinking, how they may choose to act against us, and how we can deter or defeat them.
We are also looking at how to update the way we fight. For much of the last two decades, the UK has been conducting or contributing to significant overseas operations, in Afghanistan, Iraq and the wider middle east. Our adversaries have learned a lot about how we operate, and how they can disrupt our preferred methods. So, we are considering what a more active and dynamic approach to operations in all five domains—land, sea, air, space and cyberspace—should look like.
At the same time, we will consider how to modernise our approach to technology and innovation. By taking a more co-ordinated approach to technology and experimentation, with better central oversight, we may be able to pursue opportunities for modernisation more aggressively and accept higher levels of risk pursuing novel ideas. We intend to invest in a series of “Spearhead” initiatives on key new technologies and increase our spending on innovation, science and technology. Pursuing this approach will allow us to become quicker at turning advances in research and development into strategic advantage. In support of this, we will publish a “Defence Technology Framework”, setting out the Department’s technology priorities so that we can focus efforts and guide strategy, investment and plans across defence as a whole.
And we should also ensure that we use the combined talents of our whole force of regulars, reserves, civil servants and industry partners more effectively. The character of conflict and the world of work more generally are changing, so defence will need to up-skill our people, harness the advantages offered by reserves, and reflect the expectations of the modern workforce.
3. Transforming the business of defence to deliver a robust, credible, modern and affordable force
We are re-setting and re-energising the way MOD is led, organised and managed, with clearer responsibilities and accountabilities to deliver better value for money. We will embrace approaches, processes, technologies and best practice with a proven track record of success elsewhere. We will encourage a culture of experimentation, and change our acquisition and commercial processes to better support the rapid and incremental adoption of new and emerging technologies.
To help create financial headroom for the additional modernisation, we will consider how to deliver greater efficiency by adopting ambitious, digitally-enabled business modernisation. In parallel, we will consider removing existing areas of overlap and duplication within our force structure and burden-sharing more effectively with allies and partners.
We intend to adopt a more collaborative and demanding approach to our relationship with industry, centred around an agreed set of productivity, efficiency, skills and innovation challenges that we need to meet together. At the same time, in the next stages of our work we will consider what we might do to grow even further the already considerable contribution that Defence makes to UK prosperity. The important work conducted by my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) in his independent report can inform these considerations.
The first phase of the MDP has looked to set the direction we intend to take. It has clarified three key themes we should consider in the next phase: first, our armed forces need to be ready and able to match the pace at which our adversaries now move. Secondly, our armed forces need to be a fighting force fit for the challenges of the 21st century. And, finally, we need to transform the business of defence to deliver a robust, credible, modern and affordable force.
The Prime Minister, Chancellor and I will continue to work closely throughout the next phase of the MDP, and I will keep the House updated as decisions are made.
We will continue to meet our commitment to our partners and maintain a full spectrum of nuclear, conventional and cyber capabilities to match our global ambition. With one of the largest defence budgets in the world, and the highest in Europe, our defence budget is increasing in real terms by £1 billion a year during this Parliament. The stage is now set for the next phase of this programme of work to ensure UK defence and our armed forces can continue to keep our country safe, our people and interests around the world secure, and help ensure that the UK can continue to play a major role on the world stage.
On 12 March 2018, I announced that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) would be looking to mitigate the impact of income tax rises in Scotland affecting thousands of armed forces personnel in Scotland. New income tax bands and increased tax levels for tax year 2018-19, as compared to the rest of the UK, will result in the majority of military personnel living in Scotland, those earning more than £26,000 per annum, paying more tax this year by comparison to their counterparts living in the rest of the UK.
It has been decided that for this tax year the MOD will make a financial mitigation payment to all those regular service personnel negatively impacted by Scottish tax by £12 a year (or £1 a month) or higher. However, it has also been decided the amount of mitigation provided will be capped at £1,500. The financial mitigation payment will be paid retrospectively after the end of the tax year. It will be grossed up to ensure that when income tax and national insurance deductions are made the value of the payment closely matches the difference in tax experienced up to the £1,500 cap.
The MOD will continue to review the situation and decide each tax year whether the impact on UK armed forces warrants an offer of financial mitigation to support service personnel in Scotland.
It is estimated that these payments will be made to up to 8,000 regular service personnel and will cost the MOD in the region of £4 million in financial year 2019-20.
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
A minute has been laid before Parliament regarding the live broadcast of the England men’s team semi-final match at the 2018 football World cup in Hyde Park on 11 July, and specifically in relation to incurring a contingent liability.
The Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) directed the Royal Parks (TRP) to host an event which showed the live broadcast of the England men’s team semi-final match at the 2018 football World cup on large television screens in Hyde Park on 11 July. The Department provided an indemnity agreement to the TRP; in order to meet the short timescale to organise this event, it was necessary to give commitments in relation to such liabilities urgently.
DCMS agreed to indemnify TRP for net costs and there is an agreement regarding any such indemnity costs between DCMS and the Greater London Authority and the Football Association.
The Treasury approved the proposal in principle. Authority for any expenditure required under the liability will be sought through the normal Supply procedure. A full departmental minute has been laid providing more detail on this contingent liability as provided to TRP on 8 July.
Relationships and Sex Education
Children and young people today are growing up in an increasingly complex world and living their lives seamlessly on and offline. This presents many positive and exciting opportunities, but also challenges and risks. In this environment, children and young people need to know how to be safe and healthy, and how to manage their lives in a positive way. Ensuring children and young people have this knowledge contributes to Government’s effort to eradicate problems like sexual harassment and violence.
We have engaged thoroughly with a wide range of organisations, supported by experienced headteacher Ian Bauckham CBE. Between November 2017 and March 2018, Ian led a wide-ranging stakeholder engagement process with many experts. In addition, the Department launched a call for evidence to seek public views from adults and young people—over 23,000 people responded and the level of consensus has been encouraging. We are pleased today to be able to announce the key decisions and launch a consultation on the detail of the regulations and guidance.
For relationships education and RSE, the aim is to put in place the building blocks needed for positive and safe relationships of all kinds, starting with the family and friends, and moving out to other kinds of relationships, including online. It is essential that we ensure young people can keep themselves safe online, from the basics of who and what to trust and how personal information is used, through to how to ensure online relationships are healthy and safe.
A guiding principle is that teaching will start from the basis that children and young people, at age appropriate points, need to know the laws relating to relationships and sex that govern society to ensure they act appropriately and can be safe. This includes LGBT, which is a strong feature of the new subjects at age appropriate points. The draft guidance sets out core required content, but leaves flexibility for schools to design a curriculum that builds on this and is right for their pupils, bearing in mind their age and religious backgrounds. It enables schools with a religious character to deliver and expand on the core content by reflecting the teachings of their faith.
We are also proposing to introduce compulsory content on health education. This supports the findings from the call for evidence and engagement process, where giving children and young people the information they need to make good decisions about their own health and wellbeing—particularly their mental wellbeing—was a priority. This directly supports the Green Paper published jointly by the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care on children and young people’s mental health, as well as our manifesto commitment to ensure all young people are taught about mental wellbeing. The focus on physical health also supports the Government’s activity to tackle childhood obesity.
Financial education is already in the curriculum, in maths and citizenship, and careers education is an important part of our careers strategy. For these reasons, we do not consider that economic education should be made compulsory. We are committed, however, to improving provision of financial and careers education and will work with stakeholders to do so.
We know that many schools successfully cover this content in a broader PSHE programme. They should continue to do so, adapting their programme to the new requirements rather than starting from scratch. Schools are also free to develop alternative, innovative ways to ensure that pupils receive this education and we want good practice to be shared so that all schools can benefit.
We have previously committed to parents having a right to withdraw their children from sex education in RSE, but not relationships education in primary or secondary. A right for parents to withdraw their child up to 18 years of age is no longer compatible with English case law or the European convention on human rights. It is also clear that allowing parents to withdraw their child up to age 16 would not allow the child to opt in to sex education before the legal age of consent.
We therefore propose to give parents the right to request their child be withdrawn from sex education delivered as part of RSE. The draft guidance sets out that unless there are exceptional circumstances, the parents’ request should be granted until three terms before the pupil turns 16. At that point, if the child wishes to have sex education, the headteacher should ensure they receive it in one of those terms. This preserves the parental right in most cases, but also balances it with the child’s right to opt in to sex education when they are competent to do so.
This is a very important change to the curriculum that has to be delivered well, and while many schools will be able to quickly adapt their existing teaching it is essential that those schools that need more time to plan and prepare their staff get that time. It is our intention that as many schools as possible will start teaching the subjects from September 2019. We will be working with those schools, as well as with MATs, dioceses and education unions, to help them to do so. All schools will be required to teach the new subjects from September 2020. This is in line with the Department’s approach to any significant changes to the curriculum and will enable us to learn lessons from the early adopter schools and share good practice across the sector. We will be seeking views through the consultation to test the right focus for a school support package as we know that it is crucial for schools and teachers to be confident and well prepared.
We are keen to hear as many views as possible through the consultation, which will be open until early November, and the final regulations will be laid in both Houses, allowing for a full and considered debate. There was strong cross-party support for the introduction of these subjects we are confident that we can continue to work together on this important reform. We believe that our proposals are an historic step in education that will equip children and young people with the knowledge and support they need to form healthy relationships, lead healthy lives and be safe and happy in modern Britain.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
I represented the United Kingdom at the 24th Ministerial Council meeting of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) held in Vienna on 7 and 8 December 2017, hosted by Austrian chair-in-office, Sebastian Kurz. The Council is the top decision making body of the OSCE and was attended by Ministers from across its 57 participating states. A number of new commitments were agreed, including on combating trafficking in human beings, on small arms and light weapons, and on reducing the risk of conflict stemming from the use of information and communication technologies.
In my intervention at the Ministerial Council, I reaffirmed the United Kingdom’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders. I condemned Russia’s destabilising actions in eastern Ukraine and illegal annexation of Crimea, and we co-sponsored an event in the margins of the Ministerial Council for Crimean Tatar leaders. The United Kingdom is the second largest contributor of secondees to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM), which plays a crucial role in monitoring the ceasefire and events on the ground. I paid tribute during my intervention to SMM paramedic Joseph Stone, who tragically lost his life on patrol in April 2017. The United Kingdom continues to call on all parties to ensure the safety both of our monitors and of civilians in Eastern Ukraine.
The 2017 Ministerial Council discussed the continuation of the structured dialogue launched in 2016, aimed at reducing risk of military conflict. We welcome the dialogue as an opportunity to rebuild trust among all stakeholders of European security in the OSCE area. The process will take time, but we value the work done so far, including discussions on threat perceptions, challenges to the rules-based order, military-to-military contact, and trends in military force postures and exercises. At the Ministerial Council, the United Kingdom delivered a statement on behalf of 29 allies restating the importance of enhancing military transparency, and of full implementation and updating of relevant commitments.
The OSCE is a vital forum for addressing the “protracted conflicts” which remain a threat to European security, and during the Ministerial Council I reiterated our firm support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Government welcome progress on confidence-building measures relating to the conflict in Moldova agreed in the 5+2 format meetings in Vienna in 2017 and in Rome in 2018. We also continue to support the Minsk co-chairs in their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The Government remain committed to the security and stability of the Western Balkans. We provide over 5 million euros per annum to OSCE’s extensive field presence in the Western Balkans through assessed contributions and also give extra budgetary funding to support work on media freedom, electoral reform, safe storage of small arms and light weapons, strengthening the rule of law, and processing of war crimes cases. The office of the OSCE’s representative on freedom of the media chaired a discussion on media freedom at the Western Balkans summit in London on 9 and 10 July. The Government also support security and stability in Central Asia through our assessed contributions and through extra-budgetary funding to OSCE field missions, supporting work in areas such as judicial independence, rule of law, border controls, counter-terrorism, cyber-security, and freedom of religion or belief.
The United Kingdom is using its second year chairing the OSCE human dimension committee to support the 2017 Italian chairmanship and promote discussion of issues relevant to everyday lives across the OSCE area in the field of human rights, fundamental freedoms and democracy. 2018 meetings have covered issues such as human rights defenders, freedom of religion or belief, and Roma and Sinti girls’ education. The committee has also addressed cross-dimensional issues such as human trafficking and violence against women. The Prime Minister’s special envoy on post-holocaust issues, Lord Pickles, spoke at an OSCE chairmanship conference on anti-Semitism in Rome in January and a UK-led event on racism in Vienna in May. Throughout this period, the United Kingdom, with EU partners, has continued to raise human rights concerns at the OSCE. At the Ministerial Council, the UK joined a declaration by 44 states expressing concern at deteriorating respect for human rights and space for civil society in parts of the OSCE region.
OSCE work on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, along with counter-terrorism and cyber-security, plays an important role in pursuit of our security objectives. We continue to promote efforts in the OSCE to strengthen and modernise conventional arms control in Europe, based on principles such as respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, reciprocity, transparency, and host nation consent. We welcome the OSCE Ministerial Council decision to reinforce and expand efforts to reduce the threat posed by small arms and light weapons and stockpiles of conventional ammunition.
I was able to underline the UK’s commitment to European security, the OSCE and to multilateral co-operation when I met the new OSCE secretary-general, Thomas Greminger, during his visit to London in May.
Slovakia has begun preparations for its OSCE chairmanship, which starts in January 2019. We look forward to working with them to promote shared priorities, uphold shared principles and commitments and to increase security and co-operation in Europe.
Jordan: Policing Support
The United Kingdom is strongly committed to supporting Jordan’s security and stability. Through a Conflict Stability and Security Fund project worth £9 million over two years, the UK is helping the Jordanian Public Security Directorate (PSD) and gendarmerie to develop its community policing, critical incident response and investigative counter-terrorist policing capabilities. The support delivers against the objectives of Her Majesty’s Government, in particular our security objective, on building Jordanian capability to enhance both its own security and its ability to tackle internal and regional threats in a manner compliant with human rights.
In order to reach this objective, the British embassy in Amman is granting equipment totalling £742,853.24 for support to the PSD and gendarmerie. This includes infrastructure, vehicles, and IT equipment (hardware and software).
The provision of this assistance is fully in line with this Government’s security and stability objectives in the middle east. Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials carry out regular reviews of our programmes in Jordan to ensure that objectives are being met, and that value for money is being achieved.
British Council: Tailored Review
I am announcing today the start of a tailored review of the British Council, the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. Established by Royal Charter in 1940, the British Council builds relationships and understanding between the people of the UK and other countries.
As a non-department public body (NDPB) sponsored by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the British Council is required to undergo a tailored review at least once in every Parliament. The principal aims of tailored reviews are to ensure public bodies remain fit for purpose, are well governed and properly accountable for what they do.
The review will provide a robust scrutiny of, and assurance on, the continuing need for the British Council—both its function and its form. It will then assess the governance and control arrangements in place to ensure they are compliant with the recognised principles of good corporate governance and delivering good value for money. The structure, efficiency and effectiveness of the British Council will be considered throughout the review.
A challenge panel, chaired by a FCO non-executive director, will examine the findings of both stages of the review.
The review will follow guidance published in 2016 by the Cabinet Office: “Tailored Reviews: Guidance on Reviews of Public Bodies” https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/tailored-reviews-of-public-bodies-guidance. The terms of reference for the review can be found on gov.uk.
In conducting this tailored review, officials will engage with a broad range of stakeholders across the UK and overseas, including across UK Government, devolved Administrations, foreign Governments, business and civil society, as well as with the British Council’s own staff and management.
I shall inform the House of the outcome of the review when it is completed and copies of the report of the review will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Health and Social Care
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008: Remedial Order
We are today laying a revised non-urgent remedial order, which will enable a sole applicant to apply for a parental order, which transfers legal parenthood after a surrogacy arrangement.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) published its report about the initial draft remedial order on 2 March 2018. The Government have carefully considered the issues raised in the report and have accepted the recommendations made by JCHR. We have taken additional action so that the revised order ensures that a biological parent in a surrogacy arrangement is not blocked by their relationship status from obtaining legal parenthood.
Surrogacy has an increasingly important role to play in our society, helping to create much-wanted new families for a range of people. The UK Government recognise the value of this in the 21st century where family structures, attitudes and lifestyles are much more diverse.
The revised remedial order reflects an equal approach for a sole applicant or a couple in obtaining legal parenthood after a surrogacy arrangement. The order will allow a six-month period where an existing sole applicant can retrospectively apply for a parental order for a child born through surrogacy.
It will be for the Joint Committee on Human Rights to further scrutinise the revised order, take views from parliamentarians and stakeholders and advise the Government and Parliament on the appropriateness of the order. The Committee will have 60 days to undertake these considerations and then make recommendations to Parliament, before debates in both Houses.
Gangmasters Licensing Authority & Disclosure and Barring Service: Annual Reports
Today the annual reports and accounts for the Gangmasters Licensing Authority 2016-17 [HC 1402] and the Disclosure and Barring Service 2017-18 [HC 1367] are being laid before the House and will be published on www.gov.uk. Copies of both reports will also be available in the Vote Office.
The 2018-19 business plan for the disclosure and barring service is also being published today and a copy will be placed in the Library of the House and will be made available on www.gov.uk.
I am today publishing a consultation paper on the design of a compensation scheme that will help to right the wrongs suffered by those of the Windrush generation who have faced difficulties and suffered losses as a result of measures that are in place to tackle illegal immigration [Cm 9654].
I have been very clear both that the Government deeply regret what has happened to some of the Windrush generation and that we are determined to put it right. A series of measures are in place to help achieve this. We are supporting those affected directly to gain confirmation of their immigration status. The Windrush taskforce, established in April, has provided documentation to over 2,000 people to demonstrate their right to live in the UK. We are conducting a lessons learned review, with independent oversight and challenge, to look at what happened and what the Home Office can do to ensure that it acts differently in future. Today I am also fulfilling the commitment to publish the terms of reference and methodology for that review by the summer recess and a copy of each will be placed in the Library of the House. The review aims to complete its findings by the end of March 2019 and I can confirm that the findings from the review will be published.
We also committed to establish a compensation scheme for those who have suffered loss as a result of these difficulties. On 10 May I launched a call for evidence, to help us understand what went wrong, when and the effects it has had on people’s lives. That closed on 8 June and we received over 650 responses. I have been moved by the stories people have told. There has been genuine suffering, which should never have happened. I am also inspired by the way many of the respondents moved halfway round the world to help rebuild the UK, and established their homes and lives here. It is also clear from these stories that these are strong communities which support each other and contribute significantly to the life and prosperity of the UK.
I want to move quickly, but carefully, from this initial call for evidence to the next stage. Based on the call for evidence and the independent advice we are receiving from Martin Forde QC, we have designed a consultation exercise to help us build and set up a compensation scheme. We are suggesting the scheme should be open to anyone who would be eligible for assistance of any type under the existing Windrush scheme being operated by the taskforce, and we are consulting on the types of losses and impacts that we should compensate for.
We received representations to extend the initial call for evidence and therefore I am keen to ensure that the consultation exercise is thorough and allows sufficient opportunity for everyone who wants to respond to do so. The consultation will last 12 weeks, closing on 11 October 2018. We are encouraging responses from a wide range of people, but particularly the communities affected. I am working with the Caribbean high commissioners to ensure the consultation reaches the right people abroad. The consultation document will be accessible online and offline. My officials will promote the consultation using appropriate media channels including social media. Throughout the consultation period we will engage with key stakeholders and community organisations to encourage responses, providing copies of the document and guidance for it to be completed, along with the offer of dedicated events with Home Office staff within community groups to facilitate responses. The independent adviser to the scheme, Martin Forde QC, will be talking directly to individuals affected and their representatives, as well as community leaders.
Following the consultation my priority will be to establish a scheme which will pay appropriate compensation as soon as possible. In the meantime, we will continue to offer people direct support to establish their immigration status.
Independent Office for Police Conduct: Annual Report
I am today, along with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), publishing the 2017-18 annual report and accounts for the Independent Office for Police Conduct [HC 1331]. This will be laid before the House and published on www.gov.uk. The report will also be available in the Vote Office.
Housing, Communities and Local Government
Hon. Members will have been moved by the strength, courage and dignity demonstrated by those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire during the commemoration that took place last month marking one year on. I wanted to update the House before the summer recess on the critical work the Government are undertaking in response to the tragedy and broader building safety work.
First, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government continues to work closely with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to ensure the bereaved and survivors are given the support they need. This includes practical, long-term emotional, and, in some cases, mental health support to ensure all the bereaved and survivors are settled and comfortable in new permanent accommodation.
The latest position is that of 204 households from Grenfell Tower and Walk who need rehousing, 200 households (over 98%) have accepted an offer of either permanent or temporary accommodation, and 142 households have now moved in, of which 96 have moved into their permanent homes and 46 households are currently living in good-quality interim accommodation. The number of households in hotels has reduced to 40, with 19 in serviced apartments and three living with friends and family. My Department is working closely with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to ensure that the properties acquired for the survivors are safe and ready to move into and I have been assured by the council that the majority of that work is now complete. Twenty Four properties that have been accepted by residents are still being finalised and the vast majority of these are expected to be completed over the summer. I am also continuing to focus on the support that is available to those moving into their new homes through working with the Council to provide a strong package of resettlement support. This includes a range of elements, from helping to provide furniture, packing and removals, support to join community groups in a new local area, and drop-in counselling sessions.
Our support and commitment to the bereaved, victims and wider community remains steadfast.
Secondly, I wanted to update the House on the work we are doing to ensure residents of high-rise buildings are safe and feel safe, now and in the future. The Government are committed to learning lessons from the Grenfell fire and delivering far-reaching change to ensure similar devastation cannot happen again.
In the days following the tragedy, we set up a building safety programme as part of our response. Key initial actions to guide and support this work included:
establishing an expert panel, chaired by Sir Ken Knight, and an industry response group to advise on and support urgent safety and remediation work; and
commissioning an independent, forward-looking review of the building regulations and fire safety system, led by Dame Judith Hackitt.
The report by Dame Judith, “Building a Safer Future”, was published on 17 May. As I said in my statement to the House that day, its publication was a watershed moment for everyone who has a stake in ensuring the people living in buildings like Grenfell Tower are safe, and feel safe. Dame Judith called for major reform and a change of culture. The onus should clearly be on everyone involved to manage risk at every stage, and the Government should do more to set and enforce high standards. The Government agree with that assessment and support the principles behind the report’s recommendations for a more effective system.
As Dame Judith acknowledged, delivering fundamental system reform—including changes to the law—will take time and, as I said in May, I will set out our detailed implementation plan in the autumn. But we can, and must, start changing the culture and practice right now. We are therefore delivering key elements of the report.
First, I am pleased to announce that my Department is today publishing the clarified building regulations fire safety guidance (“Approved Document B”) for consultation. The revised guidance will be easier to use and reduce the risk of misinterpretation by those carrying out and inspecting building work. It is a vital first step on the road to reform. A link to the consultation is here:
I am also placing the documents in the Library of the House.
I am clear we will not hesitate to go further than the Hackitt recommendations where we deem it necessary. Not only have we launched a consultation on proposals to restrict or ban the use of so-called desktop studies (assessments in lieu of tests) for cladding materials, as recommended by Hackitt, but we have also launched a consultation on proposals to ban the use of combustible materials in the exterior wall construction of high-rise buildings. I have also listened to calls from a number of colleagues, experts and organisations that a wider review of “Approved Document B” is necessary to ensure the guidance reflects innovations in the construction sector and the latest understanding of fire behaviour and protection. With this in mind, I am today announcing the Government will carry out a wider technical review of the guidance on fire safety. We will publish a call for evidence in the autumn inviting views on the technical issues and further improvements that could be made in the approved document.
Reforming the regulatory system requires change across all its aspects. In relation to building safety, I can announce we will introduce a mandatory requirement on landlords in the private rented sector to ensure electrical installations in their property are inspected every five years. This will help drive up standards across the private rented sector and reduce deaths and injuries due to electric shocks and fires caused by electric faults.
We are committed to establishing a more effective regulatory regime for fire and building safety. We have started work with building control bodies, National Fire Chiefs Council, the Health and Safety Executive and others to consider options for a joint competent authority and stronger regime as per the recommendations in the report, and we will set out our implementation plan in the autumn.
The Hackitt review identified a lack of leadership within the construction and fire safety industries as a contributory failure on building safety. I want the construction industry to drive action on building safety now, leading from the front and changing practice and behaviour. We know there are many who are already doing the right thing, and I want to encourage more in the industry to do the same.
I am pleased we have already had support on this and today I can announce that Willmot Dixon, Kier, L&Q and Salix Homes have agreed to be the first of the early adopters on building safety. This is a commitment to prioritising building safety. These organisations will work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to trial ways of working in line with the Hackitt recommendations and assess benefits in the buildings they are constructing or managing. We would welcome others in industry coming forward to join them.
We also need to ensure residents are given a voice in the system. This is necessary to provide reassurance and recourse across all tenures by providing greater transparency of information on building safety; better involvement in decision-making through the support of resident associations and tenant panels; and a no-risk route of escalation and redress. This was echoed in feedback from tenant events held to inform the social housing Green Paper. We are considering options for addressing these concerns, including through the forthcoming Green Paper.
I can also announce today I intend to set up a residents’ reference panel for the life of the building safety programme. This indicates our commitment to residents, and ensures policy is grounded in the experiences of those who live in high-rise buildings.
The Hackitt review also called for the construction and fire safety industries to show more effective leadership in raising the competence of those working on high-rise buildings. I have been pleased to see both the construction and fire sectors come together quickly in the response to this challenge set by Dame Judith, under the stewardship of the Construction Industry Council. We remain in close contact with the industry to see the progress of their proposals on competence, and will stand ready to provide support as required.
I also welcome the work of the Home Office and National Fire Chiefs Council on setting up a new independent fire standards board to produce and own professional standards for fire and rescue services in England. This forms part of the Government’s fire reform programme which will make services more accountable, effective and professional. Work is under way to form the board by late summer, with work on the first standards beginning shortly thereafter.
To provide additional oversight of the industry’s work, I intend to set up an industry safety steering group. This group will hold industry to account for making cultural change happen, and I can announce today that this will be chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt.
Our focus on delivering the systemic reforms envisaged by the Hackitt review will not distract from the critical work of ensuring people are safe in their homes. Guided by advice from our expert panel, we continue to work closely with fire and rescue services, local authorities and landlords to identify high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding, ensure interim measures are in place to reduce risks, and give building owners clear advice about what they need to do to make buildings safe.
My written statement of 28 June provided an update on our work to identify, test and remediate unsafe cladding systems on high-rise buildings. I announced in that statement the further steps I would be taking to promote swifter action by building owners to remove potentially unsafe cladding on private sector high-rise residential buildings. I expect to chair the first meeting of the new private sector remediation taskforce which will oversee this activity before summer recess. Since 28 June two additional roundtables have been held with industry to work on solutions for individual building owners who cannot resolve building remediation themselves. This work with industry will continue over the summer.
We will also take further steps to ensure there is clarity for building owners about the circumstances in which buildings should be remediated. These steps will include the production of clear guidance about the circumstances in which decorative or small amounts of aluminium composite material cladding should be remediated. My Department has also written to all relevant building owners to remind them of their responsibilities and I am pleased to be able to report that the National House Building Council has accepted a warranty claim for the New Capital Quay development. I call on others to follow their lead.
Further to my update on building safety on 16 May, my Department is continuing to monitor and facilitate action taken by those who purchased Manse Masterdor fire doors. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is working with the Local Government Association and National Housing Federation to provide advice and support to building owners with these doors.
In my update of 16 May, I also reported that Synseal, the company that took over the Manse Masterdor business, was working with trading standards to ensure its products met relevant standards and had withdrawn its composite 30-minute fire door range. Following further testing of their fire doors, Synseal has informed my Department it has withdrawn its composite and timber fire door range from the market as it does not consistently meet the minimum standard. Based on advice sought from the expert panel, Synseal has written to all customers of Masterdor Ltd (a subsidiary of Synseal) asking building owners to review the fire risk assessment of their buildings to determine how quickly these doors should be replaced. The expert panel has advised me there is no change to the risk to public safety and the failure of Masterdor Ltd fire doors remains a product standards issue which is being overseen by trading standards. My Department is working closely with trading standards on this issue.
Local fire and rescue services continue to provide advice locally and the National Fire Chiefs Council, with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, are monitoring assessments and the action being taken by customers of Manse Masterdor and Masterdor Ltd.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will continue its investigation into the wider fire door market, where we are testing doors from at least 20 suppliers over the next six months.
Nothing is more important than ensuring that people are safe and feel safe in their homes. We have made progress but there is much left to do. I shall provide a further update to the House on this work in the autumn.
EU Trade Agreement Impact Analysis and Process
I am pleased to announce that my Department will today publish an impact assessment for the EU-Singapore free trade agreement (FTA). I have separately written to the scrutiny Committees in both Houses of Parliament such that they can consider this evidence as part of their important review of this agreement. A copy of this impact assessment will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Negotiations with Singapore concluded in October 2014. The European Commission has now presented the final negotiated texts to the Council of the European Union (Council). The Council will now decide whether to adopt the necessary Council decision authorising signature and conclusion, with a vote in October 2018.
The agreement is expected to promote bilateral trade and economic growth between the EU and Singapore by eliminating most tariffs and reducing non-tariff measures that businesses face when trading goods and services and when investing.
I will also today lay the European Union (Definition of Treaties) (Economic Partnership Agreements and Trade Agreement) (Eastern and Southern Africa States, Southern African Development Community States, Ghana and Ecuador) Order 2018 to designate the Ecuador-EU Andean accession and these economic partnership agreements as treaties in accordance with the European Communities Act 1972.
The EU, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru signed the protocol of accession of Ecuador to the EU-Andean free trade agreement (known as the EU-Andean FTA) on 11 November 2016. The protocol has been provisionally applied since 1 January 2017.
On 28 July 2016, the EU signed an economic partnership agreement (EPA) with Ghana. The EPA has been provisionally applied since 15 December 2016.
On 10 June 2016, the EU signed an economic partnership agreement (EPA) with six countries from the Southern African Development Community (SADC): Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland (now known as Eswatini) (the “SADC EPA states”). The EPA has been provisionally applied since 10 October 2016, except in the case of Mozambique, where it has been provisionally applied since 4 February 2018.
On 24 August 2009, the EU signed an economic partnership agreement (EPA) with the eastern and southern Africa countries: Madagascar, Mauritius, the Seychelles and Zimbabwe (the “ESA countries”). In July 2017, the Comoros signed the agreement, and they are currently in the process of ratification. The EPA has been provisionally applied since 14 May 2012, except in the case of the Comoros, where it will be applied pending ratification by the government of the Comoros. These agreements require ratification by the EU member states to come fully into effect.
I will lay this order concurrently with the laying of the text of the agreements as Command Papers under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act for scrutiny. This is in effect the start of the formal process of ratification of the agreements in the UK.
These agreements will boost the economies of the UK, the EU, and partner countries by promoting trade and economic growth. The European Union’s economic partnership agreements (EPAs) have a development focus that goes beyond trade, by including co-operation and assistance for partner countries. They aim to promote trade—and ultimately contribute, through increased trade and investment, to sustainable development and poverty reduction.
I will also lay before the House an explanatory memorandum to this order. This explains the background and rationale of the agreements and ratification. At the same time, we are publishing our economic impact assessments of these agreements. Copies of these documents are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Government remain committed to supporting the EU’s ambitious trade and development agendas including the EU free trade agreements they are putting in place. The UK ratification of these agreements while the UK is still an EU member state is a sound demonstration of this commitment.
The Government have been clear they will seek a seamless transition to replicate the effects of the agreements when we leave the EU in line with our policy.
WTO: UK Goods Schedule
I have previously informed the House that in order to fulfil our obligations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as we leave the European Union we will prepare UK-specific schedules of concessions and commitments. I have today sent to the secretariat of the WTO the UK schedule for goods and I will place a copy in the Library.
This schedule replicates, as far as possible, our current obligations. We see this as a technical exercise for which the WTO’s 1980 procedures provide the appropriate legal mechanism. That will be our first step.
Presenting our own UK schedules at the WTO is a necessary part of our leaving the EU. It does not in any way prejudge the outcome of the eventual UK-EU trading arrangements.
Legal Aid (Inquests)
The Secretary of State for Justice and I are today launching a call for evidence which seeks information on the experience of bereaved families at inquests.
An inquest is a distinct judicial process. It can be a traumatic ordeal for the bereaved, both in hearing how their loved ones died and through the frustration in the search for answers. That search for the truth, the answers to the unknown questions, is important in helping the bereaved to understand and make sense of tragedies such as this.
The inquest itself is meant to be an inquisitorial process, and as such most inquest hearings are conducted without the need for publicly funded representation. That must be right to ensure they are as accessible as possible to both the bereaved and the wider public. Of course, early legal advice may sometimes be needed and helpful. That is why we have protected early legal advice to support the bereaved in preparing inquests, ensuring that it remains within the scope of legal aid. It may also be that publicly funded representation at the inquest hearing itself is necessary in certain exceptional circumstances, and if that is the case it should be provided.
Recently, concerns have been levelled against this existing availability of legal aid for inquests. In the light of this, the Ministry of Justice is conducting a review of the current system. This call for evidence forms a key part of this work.
The central aim of this paper is to consider what is needed to ensure that bereaved people have access to the necessary levels of support they need to understand and properly participate at every stage of the proceedings.
The paper seeks to widen our existing evidence base. In particular, we are interested in finding out more about death in custody cases, and cases where there is state involvement in the process. It also seeks to better understand the circumstances in which families may require legal representation to allow for a fair inquest process, and whether changes need to be made to current eligibility criteria.
The paper also includes questions on what can be done beyond the provision of legal aid, to make inquests less adversarial and more sensitive to the needs of bereaved families. This includes looking at the number and actions of lawyers and the style of questioning adopted.
Responses will be used to help us consider whether changes need to be made to existing policies. Any prospective policy options will be presented in a public consultation.
The Government welcome responses from bereaved people, charities, arms-length bodies, the legal profession, experts, and professionals across the system who have experience or involvement in the inquest process.
The call for evidence exercise will run for eight weeks to 31 August 2018.
A copy of the consultation paper will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and will be available online at: www.gov.uk.