Thursday 11 April 2019
Public Appointments Order in Council
Today I wish to inform the House that the Privy Council has made a revised Order in Council that makes provision for an independent commissioner to monitor the procedures adopted by appointing authorities when making appointments to public bodies. This revokes the Order made in November 2017 and provides an amended schedule of bodies and offices to be regulated by the commissioner. Regulation by the commissioner in accordance with the governance code on public appointments is an important part of ensuring that those appointments made by Government Ministers which are subject to regulation are made in an open, fair and transparent manner.
The revised Order in Council has been gazetted in the Edinburgh, London and Belfast gazettes and published on the website of the Privy Council Office. Changes to the schedule reflect where public bodies have been created, renamed, dissolved or subject to machinery of Government changes since November 2017. A copy of the Order in Council has been placed in the Libraries of both houses.
We have only added bodies to the schedule where they legally exist as of the date of the Order being made. This means that two bodies previously announced by the Government have not been included in this revised order: the Holocaust Memorial Centre Ltd and the Trade Remedies Authority (TRA). The former is soon to be established as an arm’s length body of Government. At that point, it can be treated as a regulated body by notification to the commissioner under section 2 (3) of the Order in Council. The TRA has already been notified to the commissioner under this section who has confirmed that it will be treated as a regulated body as soon as it exists. In the meantime, interim appointments to the TRA have been made in line with the governance code and principles on public appointments. The TRA will be the only arm’s length body of the Department for International Trade and will appear as such on the schedule of the Order in Council when it is next updated.
We will conduct a comprehensive review of the Order in Council later this year to ensure consistency in the schedule and the types of bodies included. This will provide a further opportunity to add the two bodies above and any other newly created bodies to the schedule as appropriate, and the subsequent Order in Council will be published. Thereafter, we intend to undertake an annual refresh of the Order.
The attachment can be viewed online at: http://www. parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2019-04-11/HCWS1510/.
Ministerial Equivalence and Exemption Directions in Financial Services: EU and EEA
The Equivalence Determinations for Financial Services and Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment etc) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I. 2019/541), includes a power for Ministers, for up to twelve months after exit day, to make equivalence directions and exemption directions for the European Union and EEA member states.
I have today laid before Parliament ministerial directions which exercise the power in four specific areas, to help ensure that the UK will have a functioning regulatory regime for financial services in all scenarios.
The first direction determines that the EU-adopted international financial reporting standards are equivalent to UK accounting standards and can continue to be used, for example, to prepare financial statements for requirements under the transparency directive, and to prepare a prospectus under the prospectus directive. This delivers on a commitment made by the Government in November 2018.
HM Treasury, the European Union and the EEA European Free Trade Association countries have decided to provide exemptions for central banks and certain public bodies under certain prudential regulations in the area of financial services in the event that the United Kingdom leaves the European Union without an agreement. Therefore, directions have been made exempting these EU and EEA bodies from certain requirements under UK law in force after exit.
These measures are important for avoiding disruption to the financial services sector, and the businesses and individuals relying on it, in the event that the United Kingdom withdraws from the European Union without an agreement.
Copies of the directions are available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office and will be published alongside the Equivalence Determinations for Financial Services and Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment etc) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 on Legislation.gov.uk.
Counter-Terrorism Asset Freezing Regime: 1 October to 31 December 2018
Under the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Act 2010 (TAFA 2010), the Treasury is required to prepare a quarterly report regarding its exercise of the powers conferred on it by part 1 of TAFA 2010. This written statement satisfies that requirement for the period 1 October 2018 to 31 December 2018,
This report also covers the UK’s implementation of the UN’s ISIL (Daesh) and al-Qaeda asset-freezing regime (ISIL-AQ), and the operation of the EU’s asset-freezing regime under EU regulation (EC) 2580/2001 concerning external terrorist threats to the EU (also referred to as the CP 931 regime).
Under the ISIL-AQ asset-freezing regime, the UN has responsibility for designations and the Treasury, through the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI), has responsibility for licensing and compliance with the regime in the UK under the ISIL (Daesh) and Al-Qaida (Asset-Freezing) Regulations 2011.
Under EU regulation 2580/2001, the EU has responsibility for designations and OFSI has responsibility for licensing and compliance with the regime in the UK under part 1 of TAFA 2010.
A new EU asset-freezing regime under EU regulation (2016/1686) was implemented on 22 September 2016. This permits the EU to make autonomous al-Qaeda and ISIL (Daesh) listings. One new designation under the regime was made during this quarter, and is recorded in the fifth column of the annexed table entitled “New Designations in this Quarter”.
The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 will help ensure that UK counter-terrorist sanctions powers remain a useful tool for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to consider utilising, while also meeting the UK’s international obligations.
Under the Act, a designation could be made where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the person or group is or has been involved in a defined terrorist activity and that designation is appropriate. This approach is in line with the UK’s current approach under UN and EU sanctions and would be balanced by procedural protections such as the ability of designated persons to challenge the Government in court.
The annexed tables set out the key asset-freezing activity in the UK during the quarter.
Attachments can be viewed online at:
Service Complaints Ombudsman: Annual Report 2018
I am pleased to lay before Parliament today the service complaints ombudsman’s annual report for 2018 on the fairness, effectiveness and efficiency of the service complaints system.
This report is published by Nicola Williams and covers the third year of operation of the reformed service complaints system and the work of her office in 2018.
The findings of the report and the new recommendations made will now be fully considered by the Ministry of Defence, and a formal response to the ombudsman will follow once that work is complete.
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
The Times/Sunday Times
On 10 January 2019, News UK submitted an application to vary certain conditions put in place in 1981 by the then Secretary of State for Trade. The changes proposed by News UK would allow The Times and The Sunday Times to share journalistic resources, subject to the agreement of each newspaper’s editor. The application proposed no other changes to the 1981 conditions. As set out in the invitation to comment which my department published on 18 January 2019, this was treated as an application by News UK to replace the 1981 conditions with new undertakings in accordance with schedule 18 to the Communications Act 2003.
I have considered this application in my quasi-judicial role regarding media merger cases. Having considered News UK’s application and the representations made to the invitation to comment, I have concluded that there has been a material change in circumstances since 1981 that warrants me considering the application. I have also concluded that the change of circumstances justifies the variation, as the effect of News UK’s proposed changes would not, in my view, materially impact on the public interest considerations contained in section 58 of the Enterprise Act 2002.
I am, therefore, minded to accept News UK’s application. However, in considering the proposed new undertakings as a whole, I have noted that the existing governance arrangements—agreed in 1981—lack clarity and certainty over roles and responsibilities. Before agreeing the application I am therefore of the view that these arrangements need to be suitably updated and enhanced to better reflect current corporate best practice.
I have asked DCMS officials to discuss these issues with News UK and to consider new proposals from News UK to update the proposed undertakings to address my concerns. I will update the House in due course on these discussions. Should News UK be able to offer revised undertakings which meet my concerns, I will, as required in legislation, consult on the final form of the undertakings before deciding whether or not to accept them.
Teacher Training Skills Test
I would like to set out for the House some actions my Department is taking to resolve an error we have identified in the marking scheme of one of the professional skills tests for prospective teachers.
The skills tests assess the core skills that teachers need to fulfil their professional role in schools. This is to ensure all teachers are competent in numeracy and literacy, regardless of their specialism.
All current and prospective trainee teachers must pass the skills tests in numeracy and literacy before they can be recommended for the award of qualified teacher status (QTS). Trainee teachers must pass the skills tests before they start their course of initial teacher training.
Since February 2018, candidates have been able to take unlimited test attempts, with the first three attempts offered free of charge.
The design of the skills tests is the responsibility of the Standards and Testing Agency (STA). The agency recently reviewed all marking schemes in operation for the skills tests and discovered an error in one test. This test was immediately taken out of use and the STA have confirmed that there are no errors in the remaining marking schemes that are in operation.
The error applies to a marking scheme for one of the literacy skills tests and has resulted in a small number of candidates failing their literacy test when they should have passed. The incorrect marking scheme for this test has been in operation for at least 10 years. We know that just over 200 candidates were affected by the error between September 2017 and November 2018, approximately 150 of whom went on to pass their literacy test.
We will offer a payment to compensate candidates affected for any expenses they may have incurred in having to retake the test. My Department will make best endeavours to contact candidates affected by the marking scheme error. Any candidates who think they may have been affected can also contact the skills test helpline by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is regrettable that this error has prevented some candidates from progressing their applications to teacher training. My Department is taking swift action to make sure that those affected are supported to progress their applications.
The chief executive of the STA has assured me that there are no remaining marking scheme errors and that the schemes will be quality assured on a regular basis to prevent further errors.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Agriculture and Fisheries Council
The Agriculture and Fisheries Council takes place in Luxembourg on 15 April.
As the provisional agenda stands, the primary focus for agriculture will be on the post-2020 common agricultural policy (CAP) reform package. Ministers will exchange views on the green architecture elements in the regulation on CAP strategic plans.
Council will also exchange views on the agricultural aspects of the Commission’s strategic long-term vision for a climate neutral economy, the market situation, and the taskforce in rural Africa, an expert group set up by the European Commission.
There are currently four items scheduled for discussion under “any other business”:
information from the presidency on research and agriculture.
information from the Commission on the declaration on smart and sustainable digital future for European agriculture and rural areas.
information from the Slovakian delegation on the renewable energy directive post-2020.
information from the Netherlands delegation on the EU Action against deforestation and forest degradation.
EU Settlement Scheme: Emails
The EU settlement scheme is an integral part of protecting the rights of EU citizens who have made their homes here in the UK, giving them an easy way of demonstrating their status in this country so that in years to come we do not find ourselves in a position where people have issues making clear the rights that they have. The scheme, which is free of charge, is performing well and over 400,000 EU citizens have already applied, with over 50,000 applications received on the opening weekend.
The Home Office receives a large number of inquiries in relation to the scheme. When responding to generic enquiries, responses are sent in batches. The process for this is such that recipients would not normally be able to see the other email addresses. Regrettably, it has come to my attention that on Sunday 7 April three emails were sent that did not follow the appropriate procedure and 240 email addresses were made visible to other recipients. No other personal data was included in the communication.
We have written to all individuals who received this email to apologise. The departmental data protection officer has been informed and the Department has voluntarily notified the Information Commissioner’s Office of the incident. An internal review is also underway to determine the details of what happened and the lessons that need to be learned.
The Home Office takes its data protection responsibilities very seriously and is committed to the continued improvement of its performance against the UK’s high data protection standards. As a Department we have been taking steps to ensure we have the culture, processes and systems in place to treat the public’s personal data appropriately.
As a further immediate step we have put in place strict controls on the use of bulk emails when communicating with members of the public to ensure this does not happen again as lessons are learned. An independent review of the Department’s compliance with its data protection obligations has also been commissioned which will be led by non-executive director Sue Langley and will report in due course.