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Written Statements

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Communities and Local Government


The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Greg Clark): I am pleased to inform the House that the Government have reached devolution agreements with local authorities in the Liverpool city region and in the west midlands. These agreements are another significant step in the Government’s ambition for the northern powerhouse and midlands engine respectively.

Both agreements will give local leaders far-reaching new powers and enable voters in each region to directly elect Mayors in 2017, who will take on new powers over local transport budgets, adult skills funding, and strategic planning.

The deals also include local control over investment funds for the next 30 years, which will help realise the economic potential of each area.

As part of the agreement, the new, directly elected Mayors of the Liverpool city region and west midlands will act as chair of their respective combined authorities and will exercise the following powers and functions devolved from Ministers in central Government:

Responsibility for devolved and consolidated transport budgets, with multi-year settlements to be agreed at the spending review.

Responsibility for franchised bus services, which will support the combined authorities’ delivery of smart and integrated ticketing across the city regions.

Powers over strategic planning.

The Mayors will also have the option, on the basis of support from local business, to raise business rates. Further details will be set out following the spending review through a place-based settlement.

The Liverpool city region combined authority and west midlands combined authority will, working with their Mayors, receive the following powers:

Control of multi-million pound investment allocations over 30 years, to realise the economic potential of their local areas as well as maximise the opportunities from HS2.

Greater control over local skills provision including control over the 19+ adult skills funding from 2018-19.

Joint responsibility with Government to co-design employment support for the harder-to-help claimants.

More effective joint working with UKTI to boost trade and investment.

Develop and implement a devolved approach to the delivery of national business support programmes from 2017.

Liverpool city region’s deal will build on the success of international festival for business 2014 and international festival for business 2016, and Liverpool city region and the Government, and in particular UKTI and the GREAT Britain campaign, will continue engagement to establish international festival for business Liverpool as a vital feature of the international business calendar in 2018 and 2020.

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As part of the west midlands devolution deal, the Government will support the combined authority shadow board’s HS2 growth strategy, and will approve the business case for a significant extension of the enterprise zone at Curzon Street.

Local enterprise partnerships have played a key role in the negotiation of these agreements. The Government welcome and support co-operation between businesses and local government, and will work with both areas to ensure that devolution supports both the public and private sectors to deliver strong, sustainable local growth.

These agreements mark the next step in an ongoing process to devolve funding, responsibilities and powers from central Government to the Liverpool city region and west midlands. I look forward to both areas continuing to hold discussions with Government in the future, to build upon today’s agreements.

Copies of both agreements will be placed in the Library of the House.


Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Syria: Conflict, Stability and Security Fund

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Philip Hammond): It is the normal practice when a Government Department proposes to make a gift of a value exceeding £300,000, for the Department concerned to present to the House of Commons a minute giving particulars of the gift and explaining the circumstances, and to refrain from making the gift until 14 parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the minute, except in cases of special urgency.

There is an urgent strategic and operational need to provide the gift outlined in this statement at the earliest possible opportunity. It has therefore not been possible to conform to the normal notification period for this gift. As a result, the window for parliamentary objections to this gift has been reduced to 10 parliamentary sitting days.

The Government’s priority for Syria is to seek an end to the conflict through an inclusive political settlement by bolstering those who have a moderate and unified vision for the country and by putting pressure on the regime and its backers, and on ISIL, while alleviating human suffering through the provision of humanitarian aid. An important line of effort in achieving this strategy is the provision of non-lethal assistance to carefully vetted members of the Syrian moderate armed opposition.

This minute sets out the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) plans to deliver two packages of support to the Southern Front of the moderate armed opposition in Syria through our conflict, security and stability fund (CSSF): a medical and a border force project.

The Southern Front is a coalition of moderate armed opposition groups operating in the south of Syria. They have had recent successes on the ground and provide a real, moderate alternative to extremists. The provision of non-lethal aid to moderate groups can directly increase their effectiveness and resilience. Ensuring that moderate armed groups are logistically self-reliant and able to

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provide for the welfare of their constituents can directly increase their legitimacy and help to prevent extremist groups from poaching fighters. Accordingly, we plan to provide training and non-lethal equipment to vetted members of the Southern Front, in order to significantly improve their casualty evacuation capabilities, and their capacity to control and defend a defined section of the Syrian-Jordanian border.

As part of these two projects, the FCO plans to gift equipment to the Southern Front to the value of £2.05 million, funded by the CSSF. The proposed list of equipment includes medical supplies for a rear trauma facility and ambulance units, generators, 4x4 vehicles, communications equipment, observation cameras and binoculars, uniforms and other logistical equipment such as tents. There are some controlled items in this package, which have been assessed against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. These include radios designed to use encryption, observation cameras with thermal imaging technology, chargers and a low grade of protective vests. The total budget for these two projects has been set at £5 million, which also includes the costs of training.

Equipment will be procured through two carefully selected implementing partners, with whom HMG has worked previously. It will be delivered to vetted members of the Southern Front at a regional training site, after the completion of certain training modules, including training on human rights and the law of armed conflict. HMG closely monitors the situation on the ground in Syria, and has long-established links with members of the Southern Front. All recipients are carefully selected to ensure that they are not involved in extremist activity or human rights abuses. We will monitor these projects closely, halting support if we believe the equipment is being misused.

The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle and, given the urgency involved, has agreed to the proposal to reduce the period for parliamentary scrutiny. If, during the period of 10 parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which this minute was laid before the House of Commons, a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question or a motion relating to the minute, or by otherwise raising the matter in the House, final approval of the gift will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.


Home Department

Justice and Home Affairs Council

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): On 9 November, I attended the extraordinary meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council in Brussels. The meeting was convened by the Luxembourg presidency in response to the ongoing European migration crisis. The discussion focused on continuing efforts to manage migration pressures, including those at the external EU border, and efforts to improve the effectiveness of the migration “hotspots” in Italy and Greece. The Council also discussed the implementation of relocation measures, in which the UK is not participating.

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The presidency urged member states to deliver on the pledges made at previous JHA Councils to support those frontline member states experiencing the most pressure. The UK is contributing substantial practical assistance in this regard.

The Council conclusions agreed emphasised the need to implement the measures already approved, and the need to include tougher language on addressing non-compliance with asylum processes. I pressed for the conclusions to clearly state that genuine asylum seekers must claim asylum at the first point of entry and that illegal migrants not in need of protection must be swiftly returned. I welcomed tougher language on combating abuse, especially in light of the great expense faced by member states in processing those not in need of protection. And I made clear that member states need to use detention as necessary in order to prevent secondary movement by those refusing to comply with asylum processes at the external border.

I also made clear that the EU is seeing an unprecedented interaction between organised crime and migration—and that there will continue to be serious security implications as long as the EU’s external border controls fail to be properly enforced. I encouraged the Council to think about how information can be shared to ensure the UK can get access to the intelligence we need, and can take the decisions that keep us safe. I stressed the need for reciprocal access to key data between Schengen and non-Schengen countries and for better use of the information we have, not just for managing migration but also to ensure security.

I argued that the EU must also pay more attention to managing secondary movements. This should include recognising the significant impact of applications for family reunification and reducing the scope for abuse of free movement rights. It cannot be right that, following the Metock judgment, third country nationals illegally present in the EU could avoid return through EU law on free movement.

The presidency announced the activation of the integrated political crisis response (IPCR) mechanism, which will produce regular analysis of information provided by member states, facilitating a joint response to the current crisis. I confirmed that the UK would continue to respond quickly to requests under the EU’s civil protection mechanism, as well as working directly with non-governmental organisations and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR).

I made clear that the Government see resettlement as an essential element in a comprehensive response to the crisis. Taking those in need of protection directly from the region under national schemes should remain the preferred approach. The UK is making good progress towards our aim to resettle 20,000 people by the end of this Parliament and we have teams working with UNHCR to identify the most vulnerable genuine refugees for our national programme.

The Council remained split on whether to take forward the Commission’s proposal for a permanent crisis relocation mechanism. The Council conclusions undertake to examine pending legislative proposals on this matter. The Government do not support relocation as it is the wrong response to the migratory pressures the EU faces. It undermines the important principle that asylum should be claimed in the first safe country and does not address the causes of illegal migration.


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Hazardous and Noxious Substances (Opt-in Position)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): The Government have decided to opt-in to the proposed Council decision on the ratification and accession by member states, in the interest of the union, to the protocol of 2010 to the international convention on liability and compensation for damage in connection with the carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS) by sea, with regard to aspects related to judicial co-operation in civil matters.

The 1996 international convention on liability and compensation for damage in connection with the carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by sea (‘the 1996 HNS convention’) was agreed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to fill a gap in international law on the treatment of HNS at sea. A 2002 Council decision agreed that EU member states would take the necessary steps to ratify the 1996 HNS convention within a reasonable time and, if possible, before 30 June 2006. Despite this, due to the concerns that many EU member states, including the UK, had over the 1996 HNS convention, none of them ratified it and it has never been brought into force.

The 2010 HNS protocol consolidates the 1996 HNS convention and amends it to address concerns with the initial agreement. However, the 2010 HNS protocol

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created new concerns and made the implementation process complex. As a result, no state has yet ratified the 2010 HNS protocol, and although some would like to do so, in practice none are likely to until the outstanding concerns with the convention are resolved in the International Maritime Organization, and unless the convention comes into force in other countries simultaneously (it will not enter into force until it has been ratified by at least 12 countries with enough contributing cargo).

The Commission has proposed two Council decisions, one relating to matters of judicial co-operation in civil matters and one with the exception of matters related to judicial co-operation in civil matters. These decisions, when combined, lift any barriers within EU legislation that were preventing EU member states from ratifying the 2010 HNS protocol and so EU member states will now be able to ratify if they wish to do so.

The Government took the view in this instance that UK interests would be best served by opting-in to the proposed decision that deals with “aspects related to judicial co-operation in civil matters”, as this would retain the UK’s ability to fully ratify the HNS protocol, and the removal of any binding deadline from the proposal has the effect of maintaining the UK’s current flexibility to be able to ratify and accede to the HNS protocol if and when we are ready to do so.