Thursday 27 May 2021
Empowering British Citizens Overseas to Participate in our Democracy
As we move to the new chapter in our nation’s history and embrace the global opportunities it presents, we must ensure that the voices of our citizens across the world are heard. As committed to in the Government’s 2019 manifesto, we will be bringing forward measures in the upcoming Elections Bill to scrap the arbitrary 15-year limit on the voting rights of British expatriates and make it easier for more British citizens living overseas to vote in UK parliamentary elections.
Delivering votes for life
In an increasingly global and connected world, modern technology and accessible air travel have strengthened the ability of our expatriates to retain deep ties to the United Kingdom. Many still have family here, a lifetime of hard work in the UK behind them and some will have even fought for our country. What is more, decisions made in the UK Parliament on foreign policy, defence, immigration, pensions and trade deals directly affect British citizens who live overseas. It is therefore right that they have a say in general elections and are well supported to do so.
Currently, to register as an overseas elector, British citizens need to have been registered to vote in UK parliamentary elections in the UK within the last 15 years. This arbitrary and anachronistic time limit will be removed in changes to be brought forward in the Elections Bill, enabling British citizens who were previously registered or resident in the UK to vote in UK parliamentary elections, no matter how long ago they left.
Being previously registered to vote or having previous residence in the UK denotes a strong degree of connection to the UK and so this extension of voting rights sets a sensible boundary for the overseas franchise while maintaining consistency with the existing system.
Improving participation for British citizens living overseas
The registration period for overseas electors will be extended from one year to up to three years and changes will be made to enable electors to reapply or refresh their absent vote arrangements (as appropriate) at the same time as renewing their registration. This will make it easier for them to remain on the register with an absent vote arrangement in place ahead of elections.
Improvements will also be made to the registration process. Changes to the current identity verification processes for overseas electors will bring this part of the registration process in line with the process for domestic electors and make it easier for overseas electors to have their identity verified. We will also put in place clear rules regarding the address under which an overseas elector may register, ensuring that the individual continues to have a demonstrable connection to a UK address. This will also have the advantage of maximising continuity with the existing registration system, which electors and administrators are familiar with.
Together, these changes will help to ensure that overseas electors are able to participate in our democracy and provide extra assurance for them to have an appropriate absent vote arrangement in place ahead of elections.
Ensuring British citizens can have their say
The Government’s Elections Bill will place British citizens’ participation at the heart of our democracy, and its broad range of measures give voters the confidence to have their say in a truly global Britain—no matter how, or where, they choose to cast their votes.
In addition to opening our democracy to British citizens living overseas, the Elections Bill will also: improve access to voting for electors with disabilities; tackle electoral fraud by post, proxy, in polling stations or through intimidation and undue influence; prevent foreign interference by hostile actors; and increase transparency and accountability within our elections.
Service Complaints Ombudsman 2020 Annual Report on Service Complaints System
I am pleased to lay before Parliament today the service complaints ombudsman’s annual report for 2020 on the fairness, effectiveness and efficiency of the service complaints system.
This report is published by Mariette Hughes—her first as Ombudsman—and covers the fifth year of operation of the reformed service complaints system and the work of her office in 2020.
The findings of the report will now be considered fully by the Ministry of Defence, and a formal response to the ombudsman will follow once that work is complete.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
I am updating the House on today’s publication of the Government’s response to a consultation and call for views on a range of proposals to help eradicate bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in England by 2038. This is a step towards some of the key priorities that this Government set out in response to Charles Godfrey’s independent review of our bTB eradication strategy in March 2020.
BTB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that England faces today. In the last year, over 27,000 cattle in England were compulsorily slaughtered to tackle the disease. This causes devastation and distress for hard-working farmers and rural communities and is damaging our reputation as world leaders in high standards of animal health and welfare. Tackling bTB in England is costing taxpayers over £100 million each year.
The bTB eradication strategy, published in 2014, is making progress, with sustained reductions in the number of new cases and proportion of cattle affected by the disease in the highest incidence areas. However, to achieve bTB-free status for England by 2038, we need to build on this momentum.
The consultation focused on proposals to transition away from the current badger control policy and improve diagnostic testing to root out bTB more effectively. Badger culling is one of the most contentious and divisive policies within our bTB eradication strategy and our latest consultation has continued to attract scrutiny.
We should continue to proceed with the transition to non-lethal wildlife controls as set out in the consultation and striking a timely balance for this transition will be crucial. Current policy enables four years of intensive culling in defined areas, with scope for a further five years of supplementary culling. I intend to stop issuing intensive cull licences for new areas post 2022 and enable any new licences issued from 2021 to be cut short if the chief veterinary officer considers this acceptable based on the evidence available at the time. Supplementary cull licences will be limited to two years and no further such licences will be issued in any areas in which supplementary culling has previously been licensed. We will develop a monitoring system to track the badger population and disease in badgers in former culling areas to monitor any trends. This data will be published, thus supporting any future decision making.
The consultation also put forward proposals for targeted changes to our cattle testing policy to ensure we root out the disease in herds with sustained problems, while further helping to protect low risk bTB areas. I am committed to introducing these policy changes as soon as is practicable. The parallel call for views included longer term options for further changes and improvements to bTB testing, supporting responsible cattle movements and rewarding low-risk cattle purchasing behaviour. It also discussed ways we can continue to adapt how we pay compensation or indeed, reward farmers for “best practice”. We are considering the evidence submitted through consultation responses to determine next steps.
I am committed to accelerating work to deliver a deployable cattle vaccine by 2025. This will be a powerful additional tool in the fight against bTB and will support the staged transition away from culling in ways which will help to protect gains made and ensure incremental progress continues to be made towards disease eradication. Field trials are expected to commence in June.
There is no single solution to the scourge of bTB and we must continue to deploy a range of policy interventions. New industry initiatives, such as the CHECS TB entry- level membership, have launched. The successor to the TB advisory service will also provide the practical help many herd owners need.
Working together, I have full confidence that we can continue to turn the tide on this terrible disease and achieve our long-term objective of eradicating it in England by 2038.
Draft Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships) (Amendment) Regulations 2021
I have today published as a draft the Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 and an accompanying draft explanatory memorandum. The draft regulations amend the Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/2924) to implement international air pollution standards—agreed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO)—for the control of pollutant air emissions from ships.
The draft regulations implement several air quality measures to control sulphur and nitrogen oxide (SOx and NOx) emissions from ships. These are contained in annex VI of the international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships (MARPOL). The measures are already in force for shipping internationally, but the measures must also be incorporated into our domestic legislation to enable them to be enforced effectively. Most notably, to discourage non-compliance by foreign flagged vessels in UK waters, which would be detrimental to public health and the environment in UK coastal areas.
The draft regulations apply the global 0.5% sulphur limit on marine fuel used by UK flagged ships operating outside European waters and prohibit ships from carrying high sulphur fuel in their fuel tanks to help compliance in international waters. They also apply the stricter NOx tier III limit on new ships operating in
“the North Sea Emission Control Area”
(including the English channel) which came into force internationally this year. The draft regulations also enable certain revisions to MARPOL annex VI to be implemented more rapidly using the ambulatory reference power in section 306A of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.
The draft regulations are being published 28 days before they are due to be laid for approval by each House of Parliament. This is required under paragraph 14 of schedule 8 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 because part of the text in the 2008 regulations which the draft regulations amend includes amendments previously made under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. The amendments to the 2008 regulations which were introduced under the European Communities Act were made by the Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships) (Amendment) Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/895) and the Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships) and Motor Fuel (Composition and Content) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (SI 2014/3076). Further details are contained in the annex to the draft explanatory memorandum.
The draft regulations complement the Government’s ambition to tackle all sources of air pollution, making our air healthier to breathe, protecting nature and boosting the economy as set out in the clean air strategy 2019. In July 2019, the Government published the “Clean Maritime Plan” to address both air quality pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions from shipping. The plan sets out an ambitious path to the transition to zero emission shipping supporting the achievement of the legislative target for the UK to reach net zero emissions across the economy by 2050. The plan outlines the Government’s ambitions that by 2025 all new vessels for use in UK waters are being designed with zero emissions capabilities, and that by 2035 zero emission marine fuel infrastructure (bunkering) is widely available across the UK.
The draft regulations, the accompanying draft explanatory memorandum and the impact assessment can be found on gov.uk.