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Written Statements

Volume 666: debated on Monday 21 October 2019

Written Statements

Monday 21 October 2019

Home Department

UK Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Strategy

I am pleased to announce today that I am publishing the Government’s UK Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Strategy (“the strategy”).

In recent years unmanned aircraft including drones have evolved rapidly in capability, availability, and their uptake for commercial and leisure use. The development of unmanned aircraft technology presents significant opportunities. In coming years drones have the potential to revolutionise industries such as logistics and even personal transport.

We want to safeguard this potential in order to maximise the economic benefits drones can bring to the UK. This strategy aims to do that by setting out our approach to countering the threat the malicious or negligent use of drones can bring, as happened at Gatwick Airport in December 2018. It will provide the security the public and drone users require to continue to enjoy the benefits of leisure and commercial drone use, and facilitate the growth of the drone industry.

The Government have been working for some time to reduce the risks associated with illegal drone use. Since the Gatwick incident, we have made significant progress in our ability to respond to illegal drone activity. But given the challenge posed by rapid advances in drone technology, and the threat it has the potential to pose, the Strategy will provide overarching direction to our efforts.

The UK Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Strategy focuses on mitigating the highest-harm domestic risks resulting from malicious use of aerial drones. These include:

Facilitating terrorist attacks;

Facilitating crime, especially in our prisons; and

Disrupting critical national infrastructure (CNI)

The strategy is forward-looking, flexible and will evolve along with the underlying technology to keep ahead of the threat. It encompasses the roles of both Government and industry, and sits alongside CONTEST, the UK’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy, and the UK’s Serious and Organised Crime Strategy. It offers a single vision to ensure coherence, efficiency and value for money. It will also promote UK prosperity and inward investment, showing our intent to create a safe and collaborative environment for the incorporation of drones into business and society, as well as for the UK becoming a world leader in counter-drone technology.

The strategy is only concerned with countering the malicious, illegal use of aerial drones. A forthcoming aviation strategy will set out the Government’s strategy for the safe use of emerging aviation technology, including legal drone use.

Copies of the strategy are available in the Vote Office and to download from the website.


UK-US Access Agreement

During the passage of the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Act earlier this year, the Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend (Mr Wallace), the previous Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime, made a commitment to attempt to secure assurances related to the US use of the death penalty in relation to data acquired from a UK telecommunications operator pursuant to the UK/US agreement, and to formally update this House as to the outcome of those attempts.

The UK/US agreement was signed on 3 October 2019 and a Command Paper was laid before this House on 7 October. The agreement is a vital tool to facilitate law enforcement in the prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution of serious crime, and to protect the public. It will remove any legal prohibitions which would otherwise prevent communications service providers (CSPs) in each country from complying with lawful orders for the production of electronic communications from the other, avoiding a conflict of laws and greatly facilitating the investigation and prosecution of serious crime.

We have agreed a binding position with the US, enshrined in the body of the agreement, preventing them from using material obtained from a UK telecommunications operator under the agreement as prosecution evidence in a US case where the death penalty may be imposed, unless they obtain the prior permission of the UK to use that material as prosecution evidence.

This will allow Ministers to make a decision on a case-by-case basis, continuing the existing practice under mutual legal assistance. It is the policy of this Government to continue to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances.

The death penalty has been recognised as a UK essential interest on the face of the agreement, enshrined in article 8 section 4:

Where an issuing party has received data pursuant to legal process from a covered provider, and

The United Kingdom has declared that its essential interests may be implicated by the introduction of such data as evidence in the prosecution’s case in the United States for an offence for which the death penalty is sought;

Prior to use of the data in a manner that is or could be contrary to those essential interests, the issuing party shall via, the receiving party’s designated authority, obtain permission to do so. The receiving party’s designated authority may grant permission, subject to such conditions as it deems necessary, and if it does so, the issuing party may only introduce this data in compliance with those conditions. If the receiving party does not grant approval, the issuing party shall not use the data it has received pursuant to the legal process in that manner.


Northern Ireland

Executive Formation: Extension Period

The period for Executive formation under the terms of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 is due to expire at the end of today, Monday 21 October.

I take extremely seriously my obligations towards the good governance of Northern Ireland in the absence of locally-elected Executive Ministers. The expiration of this legal period without an Executive in place, and in the absence of other decision-making legislation, would leave Northern Ireland in an unacceptable position.

For that reason I am today laying before Parliament a statutory instrument to extend the period for Executive formation to 13 January 2020, the only such extension permitted by the current legislation. That has the effect, among other things, of ensuring that Northern Ireland Departments can continue to make decisions in accordance with the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 in the absence of Executive Ministers. The legal obligation on me to call an Assembly election would move too, to fall on that date. This does not prevent me from calling an Assembly election at any time.

I am disappointed that the political parties have been unable to reach an agreement to get Stormont back up and running before this legal deadline. But extending this legal deadline has no bearing on my continuing efforts to restore the Executive, which will continue in the days and weeks ahead.