Tuesday 20 April 2021
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Contingencies Fund Advance: Covid-19 Support Packages
I hereby give notice of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy having drawn an advance from the Contingencies Fund totalling £1,579,925,000 to enable expenditure on covid-19 support packages for business to be spent ahead of the passage of the Supply and Appropriation Act in March 2021.
The funding is required for the local restrictions support grant (LRSG) (closed) addendum scheme, which provides grants of up to £3,000 per month to businesses which are legally required to close due to covid-19 restrictions.
Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £1,579,925,000 will be sought in a supplementary estimate for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £1,579,925,000 has been met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.
The cash advance will be repaid upon receiving Royal Assent on the Supply and Appropriation Act.
Contingency Liability Notification: Baglan Operations Limited and Baglan Group Companies
I am tabling this statement for the benefit of hon. and right hon. Members to bring their attention to the details of a contingent liability following the provision of an indemnity from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to the Official Receiver acting in the insolvency of Baglan Operations Limited (BOL) and the wider Baglan Group companies.
It is normal practice when a Government Department proposes to undertake a contingent liability of £300,000 and above, for which there is no specific statutory authority, for the Department concerned to present Parliament with a minute, giving details of the liability created and explaining the circumstances.
BOL entered liquidation on 24 March 2021 and owns a site hosting a gas generation plant—now closed—and operates a private wire which provides electricity to the Baglan Energy Park in Port Talbot. The energy park accommodates various businesses—primarily a paper product manufacturer, Intertissue—public sector buildings —local authority offices and a NHS medical centre—and a water pumping station.
The departmental minute I lay today is to notify Parliament retrospectively of the provision of an indemnity to the OR.
Departmental officials and I are aware of the presence of several chemical substances at the site that will require safe disposal. There is also a gas plant and 12 km of pipeline that will require decommissioning. BOL supplies the electricity through a private electricity wire, which is exempt from being licensed. As it is licence-exempt, BOL is not capable of being covered by the energy regulator Ofgem’s supplier of last resort arrangements or any energy special administration regime.
My Department has been monitoring this fast-moving situation since December 2020, working closely with the Welsh Government, Wales Office, the Insolvency Service, UK Government Investments (UKGI) and HM Treasury.
My Department has provided the OR with an indemnity in respect of:
carrying out the proper performance of the OR’s duties as liquidator of the Baglan Group companies;
seeking the appointment of, engaging and instructing the special managers in respect of the Baglan Group companies; and
maintaining, securing and funding the ongoing operation of the Baglan Group companies undertakings, and distributing the assets of the companies in the ordinary course of the OR’s duties as liquidator of the Baglan Group companies.
HM Treasury has approved the proposal and I will be laying a departmental minute today containing a description of the liability undertaken.
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Regulation of Football Index
I am announcing today that DCMS will appoint an independent expert to conduct a review of the regulation of the Football Index gambling product, up to the point where its operator’s licence was suspended in March, and to make recommendations to the Government and the regulators.
Football Index’s operator, BetIndex Ltd, was granted a licence to provide online betting by the Gambling Commission in September 2015. The Commission began a formal review of this licence in May 2020 and suspended it in March 2021. The company is currently in administration. At the time of suspension, the product allowed customers (called traders) to place bets (shares) on the future performance of footballers. These bets lasted for three years, with payments called dividends being made according to a player’s performance. The product evolved to let customers buy and sell bets with prices fluctuating according to demand.
The Government are taking the situation regarding Football Index and the concerns of those affected by it very seriously. It is reported that many thousands of customers are affected by the product’s collapse, with some having lost very large sums. This review will aim to establish both how this situation came about and what lessons we can learn from it.
A principal purpose of the review will be to take an objective look at the decisions and actions of the Gambling Commission and any other relevant regulators, to provide a clear account of how the company’s activities were regulated and identify if there are potential areas for improvement in how complex products are treated.
Its findings will form part of the evidence informing the Government’s review of the Gambling Act 2005, which was announced in December 2020. The review is considering whether changes are needed to the regulatory framework around gambling, including the Commission’s powers and resources and how it uses them. It is also looking at how novel and complex products should be licensed and regulated.
The Commission’s regulatory investigation into BetIndex Ltd is continuing. This independent review is separate to that investigation and will be carried out and report in a way which will not compromise it. It will also be without prejudice to the ongoing administration proceedings, which among other things are looking at assets and liabilities of the company and recompense to customers.
Further details of the independent reviewer and terms of reference will be announced in due course. It is intended that the review will report publicly in the summer and will inform the wider Gambling Act Review. The Government aim to produce a White Paper setting out their findings from the review of the Gambling Act 2005 by the end of the year.
Supporting the Deployment of 5G and Extending Mobile Coverage
Now, more than ever, people need access to dependable and consistent mobile coverage where they live, work and travel.
We have committed to extend mobile geographical coverage across the UK with uninterrupted mobile signal on all major roads, and to be a global leader in 5G. That is why the Government have agreed a £1 billion shared rural network deal with the UK’s mobile network operators to extend 4G mobile geographical coverage to 95% of the UK by 2025. The Government are also investing £200 million in a programme of 5G testbeds and trials to encourage investment in 5G so that communities and businesses can benefit from this new technology.
It is essential that the planning system can effectively support the delivery of the mobile infrastructure that we need. That is why in 2019 the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published an in-principle consultation on proposed reforms to the permitted development rights governing deployment of mobile network infrastructure. We concluded that the proposed reforms would have a positive impact on the Government’s ambitions for the deployment of 5G and extending mobile coverage, particularly in rural areas, where mobile coverage tends to lag behind more urban areas.
In July 2020 we announced that we would take forward the reforms, subject to a technical consultation on the detail of changes and including the appropriate environmental protections and other safeguards.
The Government have now published a technical consultation, https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/ changes-to-permitted-development-rights-for-electronic-communications-infrastructure-technical-consultation, seeking views on proposals to:
Enable the deployment of small radio equipment cabinets without the requirement for prior approval in article 2(3) land (which includes national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and conservation areas), and allow greater flexibility for installing equipment cabinets in compounds;
Allow for the strengthening of existing masts by permitting greater increases in the width and height of existing masts outside of article 2(3) land, and the width of existing masts in article 2(3) land, without prior approval; and further increases with prior approval;
Enable building-based masts to be deployed closer to the highway on unprotected land; and permit smaller masts and poles to be installed on buildings without prior approval outside of article 2(3) land; and,
Enable taller new ground-based masts to be deployed on all land subject to prior approval, with greater permitted heights outside of article 2(3) land; and permit the deployment of monopole masts up to a height of 15 metres without prior approval outside of article 2(3) land.
The proposed changes will not apply to land on or within sites of special scientific interest, to listed buildings and their curtilage, or sites that are or contain scheduled monuments.
The consultation will run for eight weeks, closing 14 June 2021.
These changes will support wider and enhanced coverage that will ensure all communities benefit, and will give greater certainty and speed over deployment of infra-structure, increasing investor confidence. They also aim to encourage the use of existing infrastructure and promote site sharing to reduce the impacts of new deployment.
We believe these proposals achieve an appropriate balance between supporting the Government’s ambitions for 5G and mobile coverage, and ensuring that the appropriate environmental protections and safeguards are in place, particularly for protected landscapes.
Alongside the technical consultation, we will work with industry representatives, Ofcom, local authorities and rural stakeholders to develop a new code of practice on mobile network development in England, to ensure the impact of new and upgraded mobile infrastructure is minimised and that appropriate engagement takes place with local communities.
As planning law is a devolved matter, any future legislative changes will apply to England only, but we will continue to work closely with the devolved Administrations to ensure that the planning regime continues to support the deployment of mobile infra-structure across the United Kingdom
As we build back better from the pandemic, we are announcing plans which build on the reforms set out in the skills for jobs White Paper, putting employers at the heart of plans to make sure people have the skills they need to get good jobs.
Today we are launching a consultation on flexi-job apprenticeships which will make it easier for employers from all sectors of the economy to benefit from the impact that apprenticeships can bring to their business. The consultation is available at:
Since 2015 we have transformed apprenticeships into a prestigious technical education programme that is launching people’s careers, upskilling and retraining workers, and helping employers develop the skills they need to thrive. Apprenticeships are at the heart of the Government’s plans to drive economic recovery, and we are already making £3,000 available to employers for each new apprentice they recruit until 31 September.
In September 2020 the Prime Minister set out his ambition to make apprenticeships more portable, reflecting the varied and flexible models of employment that we see in dynamic sectors such as the creative industries, digital and construction. The consultation we are launching today sets out our vision for flexi-job apprenticeships as a means to achieve this and to unlock the potential of apprenticeships in these sectors. We want to seek views on this vision, and on how flexi-job apprenticeships can meet the needs of employers and provide a high quality experience for apprentices.
At Budget on 3 March the Chancellor announced a new £7 million fund for flexi-job apprenticeship schemes. This consultation is an important step in preparing to launch this fund in July and ensuring that it delivers a vital skills boost to sectors which need it.
Skills accelerator launched
As part of the skills for jobs White Paper, we have launched the skills accelerator. This is central to the White Paper’s aim to give employers a central role working with colleges, other providers, and local stakeholders to shape technical skills provision so that it meets labour market needs. It will be piloted in 2021-22 to test how we can enable a shift towards the White Paper’s vision of a more collaborative post-16 system with employers at its heart. During the pilot:
Local plans will be developed by employer representative bodies in collaboration with colleges and other providers and through engagement with key local stakeholders. They will provide a framework to help colleges and other providers reshape their offer to tackle skills mismatches and ensure they are responding effectively to labour market needs. Employer representative bodies are invited to come forward to lead these plans and will have access to funding to help them to do so. Applications to pilot these plans close on 25 May and successful applicants will be announced thereafter.
£65 million will be made available to local areas as a one-year pilot, to facilitate changes to provision that have been endorsed by local employers. Providers and employers will work together to increase the level of skills in the workforce, stimulating demand for better jobs and leading to increased innovation and productivity. The fund will provide capital and revenue for collaborative projects that will build providers’ capacity to meet locally agreed skills priorities. Applications for pilot projects close on 25 May, with successful projects announced thereafter.
Health and Social Care
Covid-19 Antivirals Taskforce
I would like to update the House on the establishment of the Government’s new covid-19 antivirals taskforce.
Following the success of the vaccines and therapeutics taskforces, Her Majesty’s Government are seeking to remain at the forefront of the battle against covid-19 and further develop our standing as leaders in the life sciences sector. The new team will lead the search for novel oral antiviral treatments to provide additional protection for the UK population, particularly those currently deemed most vulnerable, and relieve pressure on the NHS.
The UK’s vaccine programme, whilst immensely successful and vital in pandemic recovery, will not protect everyone. Vaccine effectiveness is not established in all groups of the UK population, and there will be some groups for whom vaccines may not be effective protection, so antiviral treatments will provide an alternative form of protection.
The aim of the antivirals taskforce is to search for the most promising novel oral antiviral medicines and speed up the process of development, manufacture and deployment, with the goal of having at least two of these drugs ready to deploy by the autumn.
We are still at a relatively early stage of the vaccine deployment programme. Our understanding of the implications that mutations of the virus may have on vaccine efficacy is developing all the time. Antivirals can be used for two key purposes: first, to inhibit the virus at an early stage to stop mild disease becoming serious illness. By inhibiting the virus at this stage, the drugs also prevent replication—both within an individual and from person to person—limiting the impact of and spread of covid-19, relieving pressure on the NHS and supporting our ongoing return to normal life.
Secondly, antivirals may also be able to be used as post-exposure prophylactics, to minimise the spread of the disease where there has been contact with known, positive cases.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the UK has proven itself a world-leader in identifying and rolling out effective covid-19 treatments, including the world’s first treatment, dexamethasone, which has saved 22,000 lives in the UK so far and an estimated million worldwide. These treatments help the recovery of patients who have been hospitalised with covid-19. The aim of an oral antiviral treatment is that it will be readily available for use outside of these settings, for example, in a patient’s own home.
Building on the successful work of the therapeutics and vaccines taskforces, the antivirals taskforce is bringing together the brightest minds from medicine, industry experts and across Government and the life sciences to find a new, innovative treatment for patients to take at home. A short competition will be run to identify a suitable chair for the taskforce.
We are already engaging with industry to identify antiviral compound candidates which could be ready for deployment in the autumn, and will update the House with the taskforce’s progress in due course.
Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures
Section 19(1) of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIM) Act 2011 (the Act) requires the Secretary of State to report to Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of every relevant three-month period on the exercise of her TPIM powers under the Act during that period.
The level of information provided will always be subject to slight variations based on operational advice.
TPIM notices in force— as of 28 February 2021 3 Number of new TPIM notices served—during this period 0 TPIM notices in respect of British citizens—as of 28 February 2021 3 TPIM notices extended—during the reporting period 1 TPIM notices revoked—during the reporting period 0 TPIM notices revived—during the reporting period 0 Variations made to measures specified in TPIM notices—during the reporting period 2 Applications to vary measures specified in TPIM notices refused—during the reporting period 0 The number of subjects relocated under TPIM legislation—during this the reporting period 2
TPIM notices in force— as of 28 February 2021
Number of new TPIM notices served—during this period
TPIM notices in respect of British citizens—as of 28 February 2021
TPIM notices extended—during the reporting period
TPIM notices revoked—during the reporting period
TPIM notices revived—during the reporting period
Variations made to measures specified in TPIM notices—during the reporting period
Applications to vary measures specified in TPIM notices refused—during the reporting period
The number of subjects relocated under TPIM legislation—during this the reporting period
On 22 February 2021 TPIM subject LF was sentenced to two years and four months having pleaded guilty to six counts of breaching his TPIM notice.
In accordance with the Act, Section 9 reviews of the TPIMs against JM and LF were heard at the High Court between 30 October and 10 November 2020. In a judgment published on 10 February 2021, the Court upheld the necessity and proportionality of the TPIM notice and all of the measures specified within it against JM. LF only challenged the necessity and proportionality of two of the measures specified within the notice. In the judgment the court upheld the necessity and proportionality of both measures. This judgment can be found at:
The TPIM review group (TRG) keeps every TPIM notice under regular and formal review. First quarter TRG meetings will be held between 16 and 23 March 2021.
Machinery of Government Change: GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland Campaign
I am making this statement to bring to the House’s attention the following machinery of Government change.
Policy responsibility for the GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland campaign will transfer from the Department for International Trade to the Cabinet Office. This change will be effective immediately.
Highways England First Year Progress Report on Smart Motorways Stocktake
The House will know that this Government take the safety of our roads very seriously and has invested heavily in improvements to help prevent deaths and injuries. Great Britain has some of the safest roads in the world and, although per 100 million miles driven there are fewer deaths on smart motorways than conventional ones, we are determined to do all we can to help drivers feel safer and be safer on our roads—all our roads.
In March 2020,1 published a smart motorway safety evidence stocktake and action plan. The safety improvements in the 2020 action plan consisted of a package of 18 actions, costing £500 million, including the rollout of radar-based stopped vehicle detection (SVD) technology across the ALR motorway network and an additional £5 million on national and targeted communications campaigns to ensure drivers receive advice to help them keep safe. Furthermore, we have changed the law to enable automatic detection of vehicles driving in closed lanes, known as red x violations. Highways England is upgrading all enforcement cameras across the smart motorway network to enable automatic detection of red x violations which can then be enforced by the police.
One year on from the publication of the 2020 action plan, I commissioned a report from Highways England which sets out its progress on these 18 actions along with proposals about how those actions could be accelerated. Today Highways England has published its “Smart Motorways Stocktake First Year Progress Report 2021” which I will place in the Libraries of both Houses. The report contains the latest safety data, which updates analysis contained in the 2020 stocktake report.
The report demonstrates significant progress against the 18 actions, which when delivered in full, will raise the bar on motorway safety. Over the past 12 months Highways England has launched a major road safety campaign to give drivers clear advice about what to do in the event of breaking down; completed work to turn emergency areas orange so they are more visible to drivers and improved the signage letting drivers know how far they are from the next place to stop in an emergency; installed 10 more emergency areas on the M25 around London; held a public consultation on proposed changes to the highway code that will provide more information about motorway driving; continued to upgrade cameras so they can automatically detect red x violations; and introduced radar-based stopped vehicle detection technology on stretches of the M3 and the M20, with work under way on the M1.
Highways England is now accelerating a number of actions so that the completion dates set out in “Highway’s England Strategic Business Plan 2020-25” are brought forward.
Most significantly, radar-based stopped vehicle detection technology will now be installed on all operational ALR motorways by September 2022, six months earlier than planned. Highways England has also made a commitment that no all lane running motorways will open without radar technology to spot stopped vehicles, enable lanes to be closed where necessary, and get help to drivers quickly.
The data contained in the Highways England progress report continues to show that fatal casualties are less likely on all lane running motorways than on conventional ones, but we know drivers can feel less safe on roads without hard shoulders, which is why the progress report published today intends to accelerate a number of actions to provide reassurance to drivers. My statement of 24 March 2021 confirmed that the Office of Rail and Road is carrying out an independent review of the data to provide further analytical assurance and ensure that the conclusions arrived at are robust.
I would like to pay tribute to all those safety campaigners, in particular those who have lost loved ones, on their efforts to ensure that changes are made. The Government and Highways England will continue to work hard to improve road safety.
Attachments can be viewed online at: https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2021-04-20/hcws931