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Written Statements

Volume 672: debated on Thursday 5 March 2020

Written Statements

Thursday 5 March 2020

Defence

Defence and Security Industrial Strategy

I want to inform the House of our work to review the UK’s defence and security industrial sectors, which will inform the broader integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy.

The UK has built up a world-leading defence and security industrial base over many decades with a broad footprint across the UK, helping our armed forces and the broader national security community to deter or defeat any threat that presents itself. At the same time, these industries make a significant contribution to our prosperity through investment, exports, skills, and research and development. The defence and security industry employs hundreds of thousands of people—including thousands of apprentices—across the breadth of the Union, from building warships in Scotland and armoured vehicles in Wales, to manufacturing aircraft in England and satellites in Northern Ireland. Our industries are also at the forefront of technology development in creating new ways to prevent and defend against terrorism and serious organised crime. And on the international stage, UK defence and security companies play a crucial role in maintaining the UK’s global influence, underpinning our strategic partnerships with key allies.

Many of the UK’s defence and security companies are flourishing, but suppliers from large companies to small and medium-sized enterprises are also now facing a range of challenges for the future. They are impacted by the pace of technological change, the need for innovation and partnership, and increased competition from abroad, alongside the difficulty of sustaining necessary skills. We need to consider how to address these challenges and maximise potential opportunities.

The integrated review will define the long-term strategic aims for our national security and foreign policy and determine the capabilities and reforms needed to meet those aims. The review of the UK’s defence and security industrial sectors will support this work by considering how to ensure the UK continues to have competitive, innovative and world-class defence and security industries that drive investment and prosperity across the Union, and that underpin our national security now and in the future.

The Ministry of Defence will lead a cross-Government team to progress this work, engaging closely with industry, Parliament, and other stakeholders over the course of the review. The House will be kept informed as work progresses.

[HCWS145]

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Bovine TB

I am updating the House on today’s publication of the Government’s response to Professor Sir Charles Godfray’s independent review of our 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB (bTB) in England by 2038.

BTB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that England faces today. Around 30,000 cattle have to be slaughtered annually due to infection. Our cattle breeders suffer the loss of prize winning animals and valued herds and this loss creates considerable trauma in the farming industry.

BTB is a very difficult disease to eradicate for a number of reasons. It is a slow moving, insidious disease which is difficult to detect. The diagnostic tests that exist are not perfect; the disease can survive in the environment for several months. BTB is harboured in wildlife with badgers being a known vector. The BCG vaccine provides only limited protection and does not cure infected badgers. There is no example of a country that has successfully eradicated bTB without also addressing the presence of the disease in wildlife.

However, the United Kingdom has previously managed to turn the tide on bTB and we can do it again. In the 1930s around 40% of cattle herds suffered from bTB. A combination of cattle movement controls, testing and slaughter of infected cattle and wildlife controls through badger culling managed to bring the disease to near eradication by the early 1980s.

However, since the late 1980s, bTB has spread and the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak led to a suspension in testing and then widespread restocking of farms. This meant that in the first five years of this millennium, the disease once again spread rapidly and became our number one animal health challenge.

Our 25-year strategy to eradicate bTB published in 2014 is founded in science. It applies the lessons of our history in previous attempts to control the disease as well as evidence from other countries around the world and trial work conducted in the UK during the 1970s and, more recently, during the randomised badger culling trial conducted between 1998 and 2007.

The cornerstone of our strategy, as before, is a policy of regular testing and removal of infected cattle from herds. We have also incrementally introduced tougher restrictions on cattle movements from herds at risk of infection and more sensitive tests. We have introduced measures to encourage greater risk management and more information for the keepers of cattle. We have also deployed wildlife controls in areas where the disease is rife and we have deployed new biosecurity measures to try to break the cycle of infection between cattle and badgers.

Since the initial badger cull pilot in 2013, a policy of badger control has been rolled out in many parts of the high risk area (HRA) in the south-west and west of England. As of 2019, 57% of the HRA is now subject to a licensed cull of badgers. This policy, while difficult and inevitably contentious, is starting to yield results. The latest epidemiological analysis conducted by Downs and others has shown that the incidence of the disease in the first cull areas of Somerset and Gloucester has fallen substantially, by 37% and 66% respectively.

However, the badger is an iconic, protected species and no one wants to be culling badgers forever. An intensive badger cull was only ever envisaged as a phase of the strategy, not a perpetual state of affairs. Therefore, five years into the current strategy, it is appropriate to take stock and consider how the policy might be evolved. That is why the Government asked Sir Charles to conduct a review of the bTB strategy which concluded in October 2018.

The UK benefits from world-leading science and the Government believe we should deploy our expertise to accelerate the development of a deployable cattle vaccine against bTB. While the current BCG vaccine will never provide full protection, the Government will accelerate work to authorise a test that can differentiate between the disease and the vaccine, and will provide the funding necessary to initiate the research and trial work needed towards the aim of having a deployable vaccine in the next five years. Vaccination is manifestly easier to deliver to herds of cattle than to wildlife and could significantly reduce the spread of the disease both between cattle and between cattle herds and wildlife. BTB is a global challenge and not every country can afford to test and remove cattle. The UK can harness its world-leading science in developing solutions such as vaccination that would also be valuable to other countries trying to fight the disease.

The Government will also begin an exit strategy from the intensive culling of badgers, while ensuring that wildlife control remains a tool that can be deployed where the epidemiological evidence supports it. As soon as possible, we intend to pilot Government-funded badger vaccination in at least one area where the four-year cull cycle has concluded, with simultaneous surveillance of disease. Our aim is to identify an exit strategy from culling in those areas that have completed the four years of intensive culling by deploying vaccination to the remaining badger population.

While the Government must retain the ability to introduce new cull zones where the disease is rife, our aim will be to allow future badger culls only where the epidemiological evidence points to a significant reservoir of the disease in badgers. We envisage that any remaining areas would join the current cull programme in the next few years and that the badger cull phase of the strategy would then wind down by the mid to late 2020s, although we would need to retain the ability to cull in a targeted way where the epidemiological evidence requires it.

In the edge area, where some vaccination projects have been supported, our aim will be to ensure that badger culling is only authorised in areas where the epidemiological evidence points to a problem in badgers. We will continue to support badger vaccination projects in areas where the prevalence of disease is low. We will also investigate the potential for projects where adjacent vaccination and culling could complement each other in controlling disease. Changes to our guidance to Natural England on licensing badger control will be subject to consultation.

Finally, the Government will invest in the deployment of better, more frequent and more diverse cattle testing so that we are able to detect the presence of the disease earlier and remove it from cattle herds faster. As a first step, the frequency of mandatory surveillance testing in two counties which form part of the HRA—Shropshire and Staffordshire—will increase from annual to six-monthly from later this year. We expect this to be extended to all parts of the HRA from 2021. Improving the efficacy of our testing regime through better diagnostics is a key component of a successful strategy.

There is no single answer to tackling the scourge of bTB but by deploying a range of policy interventions, we can turn the tide on this terrible disease and achieve our long-term objective of eradicating it by 2038.

[HCWS148]

Justice

Victims Code of Practice

Today, I am launching the Government consultation on a draft revised code of practice for victims of crime (the code) and the response to last year’s consultation on proposed changes to the code.

The consultation builds on that undertaken last summer and is another major step towards meeting the commitment made in the cross-Government victims’ strategy to strengthen the victims’ code. It also fulfils our statutory obligations under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 to publish and consult on a draft version before amending the code.

We are grateful to victims, stakeholders and the public at large who took time to respond to the initial consultation. We have carefully considered their responses which wholeheartedly endorsed our proposed approach to change. Their views have helped us to create the draft revised version of the code and have played a significant part in helping us identify the key changes that we believe need to be made to ensure that victims’ rights are set out in a clearer, more coherent and meaningful way for victims.

It is vital that those who are caught up in the criminal justice system understand their rights and the minimum levels of service and information they should receive from criminal justice agencies.

We therefore propose to make a number of changes to the code, but I want to be clear that the minimum levels of service and information that victims are currently entitled to under the existing code will be maintained. Rather, the changes are designed to strengthen existing rights and deliver an improved service for victims, helping them to cope better when they may be experiencing trauma in the aftermath of a crime.

Building on the proposals made in the first consultation, key proposals include:

Amending the code’s structure and reducing its complexity, bringing together the current five chapters into one concise code. We have merged the large number of existing entitlements and set these out as 12 clear overarching rights;

While we have retained the existing eligibility categories for access to enhanced support and information, we have made clearer in the draft revised code that service providers have the discretion to offer enhanced rights to victims who fall outside the scope of the existing categories;

For the first time, victims of unrestricted mentally disordered patients in the victim contact scheme will be allocated national probation service victim liaison officers bringing greater parity in services for these victims, comparable to those received by victims of restricted patients;

Again, for the first time, the draft revised code specifically sets out the entitlements of victims of foreign national offenders; and

We have also included practical information about how victims can access services provided by the National Health Service (NHS) and sign-posted them to where they can get help and advice if they are approached by the media.

Alongside our work to refine the code, we are already looking into how to build victim awareness of the code and their rights, including creating a short, user friendly overview and an online summary for victims. We are also working with police and crime commissioners and local criminal justice partnerships to monitor and improve compliance with the code.

After we have published the revised code, we will turn to consulting on the detail of a victims law that will guarantee victims their rights and look to further strengthen enforcement of the w.

The consultation is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-improving-the-victims-code

[HCWS150]

Joseph McCann: Probation and Recall

On 6 December 2019 Joseph McCann was given 33 life sentences at the central criminal court for a series of violent sexual attacks which he committed between 21 April and 6 May that same year. His victims, ranging from an 11-year-old boy to a 71-year-old woman, each suffered a terrifying ordeal, and I pay tribute to them for the courage they showed in giving evidence to secure McCann’s conviction. Mr Justice Edis ordered that McCann serve a minimum of 30 years before being eligible for release on parole.

When he started these attacks, McCann was being supervised on licence by the national probation service, having been released automatically from prison on 15 February, after he had served half of a three-year determinate sentence for burglary and robbery offences, less time spent on remand. However, an initial management review and then a full serious further offence (SFO) review confirmed that the court imposed that sentence on 25 January 2018 on the understanding that it would run concurrent to a recall to prison in connection with an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment for public protection (IPP) which he had received in 2009 for aggravated burglary. However, staff in the national probation service (NPS) south-east and eastern division failed to recall McCann, both when he was remanded into custody on 21 August 2017 and when he received the new sentence on 25 January 2018. Had he been recalled, he would not have been released automatically on 15 February last year; rather, the parole board would have conducted a full risk assessment in order to determine whether it was safe re-release him on licence.

There was only a limited amount which could be shared publicly, whilst we awaited the outcome of McCann’s trial, but under ministerial direction officials re-launched the recall policy framework in early July, giving NPS divisional directors and chief executives of community rehabilitation companies personal responsibility for ensuring that their staff understood the purpose of recall and the threshold for recall. Then, in January this year, alongside the recall policy framework, new mandatory training on recall for all probation staff was launched together with fresh operational guidance, to support staff in the judgments they need to make when presented with evidence of an offender’s increased risk or an offender breaching licence conditions.

As a vital part of our service to victims, the NPS offers victims the opportunity to receive a copy of the SFO review, redacted only to fulfil our statutory obligations to protect the rights to privacy of third parties. After McCann had been sentenced on 6 December, NPS victim liaison officers contacted McCann’s victims and asked them whether they would like to meet an assistant chief of probation, in order to have the findings of the SFO review explained to them and to hear the action which has been taken to address the failings which the SFO review sets out. Meetings were then arranged, having regard to the victims’ preferences and availability, the first on 27 February and the final one on 5 March.

Our primary responsibility is towards the victims, which is why I have waited until they have received the full SFO review before announcing further measures.

In order to address the serious concerns which have arisen in this case and to provide wider public assurance, I have decided, exceptionally, to publish a version of the SFO review. This is not the full review, necessarily redacted, which has been shared with McCann’s victims, but it is a thorough and open account of what went wrong in this case and what has been done to put it right.

Further, so we can be absolutely sure that all the lessons of this terrible case have been learned and addressed, I have asked Her Majesty’s chief inspector of probation, Justin Russell, to conduct an independent review. Justin has decided that the review will be in two parts: the first by pursuing specific lines of enquiry in relation to the management of McCann in custody and in the community and by considering whether HMPPS has taken all the organisational action necessary to improve practice in the areas in which it was found wanting, the second to take a wider look on the culture and understanding of recall in the probation service. The chief inspector has placed the terms of reference for his review here: https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov. uk/hmiprobation/about-our-work/inquiriesandreviews.

When I receive the chief inspector’s reports, I will consider whether more needs to be done to strengthen probation practice. I am determined to do all that is necessary to protect the public from known offenders. They, and McCann’s victims in particular, deserve no less.

[HCWS151]

Prime Minister

Investigatory Powers Commissioner: Annual Report

I have today laid before both Houses a copy of the annual report of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. The report was submitted by the new commissioner, Sir Brian Leveson, but covers the year 2018 and was drafted by Sir Brian’s predecessor, Lord Justice Fulford.

Overall, this report demonstrates that the security and intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies and other relevant public authorities show extremely high levels of operational competence combined with respect for the law. The report also sets out the breadth and complexity of the powers covered by the 2016 Act and other legislation, and offers constructive criticism on the practical framework and individual instances of how these are used. Where the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO) have identified problems, Departments and agencies have worked vigorously to address these.

Further to section 234 of the 2016 Act, the commissioner has also submitted to me a confidential annex to the report, dealing with the work of the intelligence agencies. I concur with the commissioner that publication of this annex would be prejudicial to national security and not in the public interest. However, I can confirm that the annex does not raise substantive concerns or criticisms not covered in the main report.

I would like to add that this report demonstrates the high quality of the oversight of our intelligence and security agencies’ use of the most intrusive powers. I am satisfied that our arrangements are amongst the strongest and most effective in the world.

I would like to place on record my thanks to the current and previous commissioners and their staff for their work, as well as echoing the commissioners’ thanks to the agencies and departments and civil society organisations which have helped with the establishment of IPCO over the past few years.

I commend this report to the House.

[HCWS149]

Transport

Flybe

In the early hours of this morning, Flybe ceased trading.

We appreciate the impact this will have on Flybe passengers and employees. Our immediate priority is to ensure passengers are kept informed of alternative travel options and employees who have lost their jobs are assisted in accessing support and advice. We know this will be a worrying time for Flybe staff and our Jobcentre Plus rapid response service stands ready to help anyone whose job may be at risk.

Affected passengers have been advised not to turn up to the airport. For those passengers who did arrive at UK airports today, Her Majesty’s Government in-person support has been available to provide them with information. The majority of Flybe’s destinations are served by different transport options, and we have asked train and coach operators to accept Flybe tickets and other airlines to offer reduced rescue fares to ensure passengers can make their journeys as smoothly as possible. Following talks with Britain’s train operators, all Flybe staff and customers will be offered a free, alternative way home this week. To redeem the journey, present your employee ID or flight confirmation details. Government staff will continue to further assist at airports. A number of airlines have stepped forward to provide rescue fares for passengers.

For the small number of passengers who are abroad, there is sufficient capacity on other commercial airlines to return to the UK. Again, the Civil Aviation Authority is encouraging these airlines to offer rescue fares. The CAA website will also provide information on how people may be able to claim back money they have spent on tickets from travel insurance providers, travel agents or their credit card providers.

We are urgently working with industry to identify opportunities to re-establish key routes, and have spoken with airlines and airports today to emphasise this. We are pleased to see that airlines have already committed to operating a number of these routes in the near future.

I am conscious of the impact on all regions of the UK, particularly Northern Ireland, given the importance of air-based connectivity. The aviation Minister has spoken to counterparts in the devolved Administrations to ensure they are kept informed of the latest developments and are aware of the response plans put in place by my Department and the CAA.

Levelling up connectivity across our regions and nations is a top priority for this Government, which is why we are undertaking a review of regional connectivity to ensure the UK has the domestic transport connections local communities rely on—including regional airports. The Treasury is also reviewing air passenger duty (APD) to ensure regional connectivity is supported while meeting the UK’s climate change commitments to meet net zero by 2050.

These measures featured in conversations with Flybe back in January and, in turn, they agreed to continue operating.

Since then, we explored multiple options with Flybe’s shareholders to find a solution, but the directors decided it was not viable to keep Flybe operating. Unfortunately, in a competitive market companies do fail, but it is not the role of Government to prop them up.

Globally, aviation is facing challenges due to the impact of coronavirus. The Government are well prepared for this. As the wider economic picture becomes clearer, the Chancellor has said that he stands ready to announce further support where needed. I have today written to Airport Co-ordination Limited, the independent UK slot co-ordinator, asking them to explicitly take into account the implications of flying empty planes on the UK’s environmental commitments in reaching decisions on slot alleviation in relation to coronavirus.

[HCWS152]

Work and Pensions

State Pension Age: Universal Credit

I can today announce that we will amend regulations to smooth the transition from universal credit to pensioner benefits and remove any potential gap in support.

All those who reach state pension age while claiming universal credit will receive a run-on, meaning that they can receive a payment for the entire assessment period in which they reach state pension age. Entitlement to pensioner benefits and state pension is unaffected and continues as usual. This ensures there is no gap in benefit provision as people approach state pension age. This will benefit approximately 200,000 pensioners who will benefit by an average of £350 from this run-on at a cost of around £70 million over the next five years.

This process is already in operation on an extra statutory basis, ensuring that nobody loses out upon reaching state pension age, and legislation will be amended accordingly later this year.

[HCWS146]

Surplus Earnings

The surplus earnings policy was introduced to prevent people who are paid large amounts of earnings on an irregular basis from receiving a greater amount of benefit and earnings than claimants who for example earn the same annual salary but are paid over 12 regular salary payments.

This means that where a claimant receives a large payment of earnings within an assessment period which is sufficient to end their universal credit award, and then reclaims universal credit within six months of that award ending, earnings above the de minimis level will be taken into account as earnings for the new award.

I will sign a determination to extend the current £2,500 universal credit surplus earnings de minimis level from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021 and will place a copy in the Library. This will safeguard the efficient administration of universal credit by not reducing the de minimis to £300 as provided by the Universal Credit Regulations 2013.

This measure will cost £70 million in 2020-21 and will mean around 500,000 fewer people will see their universal credit award reduced by surplus earnings.

[HCWS147]