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Written Statements

Volume 662: debated on Thursday 4 July 2019

Written Statements

Thursday 4 July 2019

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Radioactive Waste: Geological Disposal

For over 60 years our country has benefited from nuclear technology. It provides clean energy to our homes and businesses and will continue to play an important role as we transition to a low carbon economy. We also have a long history of using radioactive materials to treat and diagnose serious illnesses, to deliver research and development and to help deliver industrial processes. Radioactive waste is created from a variety of sources including electricity generation, defence and healthcare. Most of this waste is low in radioactivity and is disposed of safely every day by skilled nuclear engineers across the country. However, some materials remain radioactive for thousands of years and require more specialised disposal facilities. Currently this waste is held safely in stores above ground. But this is only an interim measure, a permanent solution is needed. Geological disposal is internationally recognised as the safest and most secure means of permanently managing this type of waste.

A geological disposal facility will contribute to the Government’s industrial strategy, which identified the key role the nuclear sector has in increasing productivity and driving clean growth. It is a multi-billion pound infrastructure investment and will provide skilled jobs and benefits to the community that hosts it for more than 100 years. It is likely to involve major investments in local transport facilities and other infrastructure.

I am today laying before Parliament the revised national policy statement for geological disposal infrastructure for the relevant period ending—21 sitting days post lay date—pursuant to section 9 (8) of the Planning Act 2008. At the same time, I am also laying, pursuant to section 9 (5) of the Planning Act 2008, the Government’s response to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and publishing the Government response to the public consultation on the draft national policy statement.

The national policy statement for geological disposal infrastructure sets out the need for such disposal infrastructure to safely and securely manage the UK’s inventory of higher activity radioactive wastes. It provides an appropriate and effective framework for the Planning Inspectorate and the Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to examine and make decisions on development consent applications for geological disposal infrastructure in England. The statement is based on existing Government policy for managing higher activity radioactive waste. This national policy statement sits alongside the “Working with Communities” policy document that was published in December 2018 and sets out the framework for managing this type of waste through geological disposal and the process for how we will work with communities to find a location for this facility. That process is now under way.

A public consultation on the draft national policy statement was undertaken from 25 January 2018 to 19 April 2018 and the statement was also scrutinised by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which considered written evidence as well as information from oral evidence sessions. I would like to thank the Committee for its very helpful report and recommendations, and also those who contributed to the subsequent debate on this issue in the House of Lords in September 2018.

The Government have considered the consultation responses and the report of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee in producing this revised version of the national policy statement.

Copies of the national policy statement for geological disposal infrastructure and Government’s response to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee will be laid before Parliament. I am also publishing these documents on the Department’s website, with the Government’s response to the public consultation on the draft national policy statement and the equality analysis for the national policy statement.

[HCWS1688]

Consumer Contracts Regulation

Today, I am publishing the statutory report on the Objectives of Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellations and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. This report sets out the conclusions of the review of these regulations.

A key foundation of our modern industrial strategy is delivering a strong, transparent and attractive business environment in the UK. The strength of the UK’s business environment is founded on our fair and open regulatory frameworks. For our regulatory frameworks to remain fair and open, they must meet the ever-changing needs of the modern consumer, the modern business and the modern world.

There is often an imbalance of power between businesses and consumers; these regulations were intended to empower consumers and create a fairer balance between the two. This was to be achieved by increasing transparency surrounding contracts they are entering into and give them the time to understand the product and consider its price before deciding to enter the contract, building consumer confidence and willingness to trade remotely in the process.

The regulations also implement the EU consumer rights directive, an obligation we are committed to meeting under the single market. But the UK has a strong history of protecting consumer rights, which is achieved not by the creation of new legislation and its enforcement but always seeking to understand whether, and how well, we achieve our underlying objectives. This report will set out objectives intended to be achieved by the regulations, assess the extent to which those objectives have been achieved, assess whether those objectives remain appropriate, and, if so, the extent to which they could be achieved in a way that imposes less regulation.

As part of the review, we made the call for evidence, which ran from 7 March to 1 May 2019. We are acutely aware of some of the issues highlighted by the response, such as the challenge of consistent enforcement. The Government’s consumer White Paper will set out our proposals for the next phase of action to strengthen the consumer regime and will be the vehicle through which the Government consider this, and a range of other issues not addressed within this report. The Government’s consumer White Paper is due to be published later this year.

Overall, it was the expressed view that the regulations continue to meet the objectives for which they were established and that these remain appropriate five years on from them coming into force. Following comments we will, however, be reviewing the existing guidance to ensure that it is sufficiently clear to support the regulations.

I will be placing a copy of the statutory report on the Objectives of Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellations and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS1691]

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Response to Opposition Day Debate: Over-75s Licence Fee Concession

On 8 May 2019, the House debated a motion calling on the Government to guarantee the maintenance of free TV licences for over-75s beyond 2020.

The concession which was debated by the House, was introduced in 2000, and allows every person over the age of 75 in the United Kingdom access to a free TV licence. The concession was funded by the Department for Work and Pensions in full between 2000 and 2017.

In the 2015 funding settlement, the Government agreed with the BBC that Government funding for the concession would be phased out between 2018 and 2020, with control of the concession passing to the BBC from June 2020. The Government and the BBC agreed this was a fair deal for the BBC; in return, the Government committed to close the iPlayer loophole and committed to increase the licence fee in line with inflation, among other measures. The Government are clear that the future of the concession from June 2020 is the responsibility of the BBC.

Parliament made this decision and legislated to put it into effect. Transferring responsibility for the concession was debated extensively during the passage of the Digital Economy Act 2017, which was agreed by Parliament.

The BBC announced on 10 June 2019 that from June 2020 only those who are over 75 and in receipt of pension credit would continue to receive a free TV licence.

The Government are disappointed that the BBC will not protect free television licences for all viewers aged 75 and over. We recognise that television is a vital link to people of all ages, but particularly so for older people who value television as a way to stay connected with the world. That is why we have guaranteed the over-75 concession until June 2020 and that is why we believe that the BBC can do more to support older people, and why we have asked them to do so.

The debate was an opportunity to acknowledge the importance of the BBC to every licence fee payer in the UK. The BBC is one of the UK’s most treasured institutions and is part of the social and economic fabric of the country. It is a world-class broadcaster and a cultural institution producing some of the best television and radio in the world.

[HCWS1692]

Home Department

Windrush Generation: Compensation Scheme

The Government deeply regret what has happened to some members of the Windrush generation and when I became Home Secretary I made clear that responding to this was a priority. The compensation scheme I launched in April is a key part of this response.

The compensation scheme has been open to receive claims since April 2019 and the Home Office is now in a position to start making payments.

Specific legislation to give direct financial authority for payments made under the scheme will be brought forward to Parliament when parliamentary time allows. In the meantime, it is lawful for the Home Office to make payments for compensation scheme claims, without specific legislative authority for this new expenditure. As Home Secretary I am able to consider other factors, including the sound policy objectives behind the scheme and the importance of righting the wrongs suffered by the Windrush generation.

I have therefore written to the permanent secretary today formally directing him, as accounting officer for the Home Office, to implement the compensation scheme for the Windrush generation and to ensure that compensation payments can be made pending the passage of the legislation. The exchange of letters relating to this direction can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/correspondence-on-the-work-of-the-home-office-windrush. This direction has been issued on the basis of regularity.

I am committed to providing members of the Windrush generation with assurance that they will be appropriately and promptly compensated where it is shown that they have been disadvantaged by historical Government policy. A direction to proceed is therefore optimal to ensure the Government are acting in the best interests of affected members of the Windrush generation.

[HCWS1693]

Work and Pensions

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will take place on 8 July 2019 in Brussels. The deputy permanent representative to the European Union, Katrina Williams, will represent the UK.

This extraordinary meeting of the Council is held to deal with the traditional “spring package” of items relating to the EU semester, which exceptionally were not available in time for its meeting on 13 June. The Council is to approve non-binding country specific recommendations (CSRs) to member states, and it will receive a joint opinion of the Employment and Social Protection Committees assessing the 2019 CSRs and the implementation of those from 2018. The Council will also adopt guidelines for the employment policies of the member states 2019, the substance of which is rolled-forward from last year’s guidelines.

Additionally, there will be policy debates on the “economy of wellbeing” and on “employment aspects of the strategic long-term vision for a climate neutral economy”.

Under other business, the Commission will provide information on international developments in the area of social and employment policy.

[HCWS1689]

Survivor Pension Benefits

I would like to make the following statement on behalf of myself and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss).

Supreme Court judgment in Walker v. Innospec and others

The case concerned a challenge in the Supreme Court to paragraph 18 of schedule 9 to the Equality Act 2010, which allows defined-benefit occupational pension schemes to restrict access to survivors’ benefits for survivors of a civil partnership or same-sex marriage to benefits based on accruals from December 2005 onwards. The Secretary of State was joined as an interested party. The challenge was made under EU directive 2000/78/EC (Directive establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation).

The judgment was issued on 12 July, with Mr Walker winning his appeal. The Supreme Court decided that the exception in schedule 9 should be dis-applied and that Mr Walker’s husband is entitled on Mr Walker’s death to a spouse’s pension for the whole of Mr Walker’s service, provided they remain married (Mr Walker had accrued a pension from 1980 until 2003).

The Government respect the decision of the Supreme Court. It is now clear that same-sex civil partners or spouses are entitled to survivor benefits in the same way as opposite-sex spouses.

Impact of the judgment on public service pension schemes

Following the Court ruling, the Government have decided that in public service schemes, surviving male same-sex and female same-sex spouses and civil partners of public service pension scheme members will, in the majority of cases, receive benefits equivalent to those received by widows of opposite-sex marriages. The exception to this may be in specific schemes where, in the past, improvements in female members’ survivor benefits have led to increased contributions. Departments will consult on and take forward changes as soon as possible. Schemes will notify their members of changes and any actions they need to take.

All same-sex survivors of a public service pension scheme member will benefit from this change. How much they benefit by will be determined by a combination of factors, including when the deceased was employed, their pensionable earnings, the length of any pensionable service and the specific benefits of the scheme to which the deceased belonged.

Impact of the judgment on private pension schemes

While the Government are responsible for public service pension schemes, private sector schemes are individually responsible for ensuring that they are compliant with the judgment.

It is therefore not for the Government to direct private sector schemes in this instance, and any action taken by the Government in respect of public service pension schemes should not be interpreted as the minimum requirement for private pension schemes in considering how they respond to this judgment. These schemes will need to take their own advice to ensure that they are legally compliant with the judgment going forward.

The Government’s response to the review of survivor benefits in occupational pension schemes

During passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 the Government committed to undertake a review of differences in survivor benefits in occupational pension schemes. A duty to conduct this review was duly enacted in section 16 of the Act.

The review was conducted jointly by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and HM Treasury (HMT), which are the Departments with policy responsibility for private and public service pension schemes respectively, and was published on 26 June 2014.

The review considered the differences in survivor benefits in occupational pension schemes between different categories of member and the costs and other effects of eliminating those differences by the equalisation of survivor benefits. The review investigated the differences between:

same-sex survivor benefits and opposite-sex survivor benefits provided to widows;

same sex-survivor benefits and opposite-sex survivor benefits provided to widowers; and

opposite-sex survivor benefits provided to widows and opposite-sex survivor benefits provided to widowers.

The review considered the extent to which same-sex survivor benefits are provided in reliance on paragraph 18 of schedule 9 to the Equality Act 2010 and the extent to which same sex survivor benefits and opposite sex survivor benefits are calculated by reference to different periods of pensionable service.

The review further considered survivor benefits provided to same-sex civil partners and those provided to same-sex married couples. The law treats same-sex civil partners equally to same-sex married couples for the purposes of survivor benefits in pension schemes because these relationships provide comparable rights and responsibilities. There is no significant difference between them. As such, any differences in the benefits provided to survivors of same-sex civil partners when compared to same-sex spouses would be difficult to justify. The review therefore gave no further consideration to differences between these two groups.

The review demonstrated that there are a variety of differences in treatment in survivor benefits in occupational schemes in respect of rights built up in the past. These differences reflect the change in social attitudes over the last 60 years and the subsequent introduction of new forms of legal relationships. As new groups have been brought into survivor benefit provision, changes have generally been applied prospectively to benefits built up from the point of that change.

The Government support equal treatment of survivors of all legal relationships, and Parliament provided that survivor benefits must be built up equally for all these groups on accruals from 5 December 2005 (when the Civil Partnership Act 2005 came into force).

The Walker judgment has clearly changed the legal position relating to survivor benefits in respect of same-sex unions, and the Government have acted; public service pension schemes will now implement changes to provide that survivors of registered same-sex civil partnerships or same-sex marriage will be provided with benefits that replicate those provided to widows of opposite-sex marriages, with the exception of specific schemes where survivor benefits depend on making the correct contributions. As was made clear earlier in this statement, private pension schemes must take advice and act accordingly in complying with the judgment.

Following careful consideration of the review’s findings, the Government have concluded that, aside from those changes brought about by the Supreme Court judgment, they will not make any further retrospective changes to the existing provisions in respect of occupational pension schemes to equalise survivor benefits. While this means that the differences in survivor benefits for accruals in past periods will remain for some, these will work their way out of the system in time.

[HCWS1690]