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Written Statements

Volume 699: debated on Monday 19 July 2021

Written Statements

Monday 19 July 2021

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Companies House Corporate Targets 2021-22

My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Lord Callanan, has today made the following statement:

I have set Companies House the following corporate targets for the year 2021-22:

Complete and up to date data

Ninety seven per cent. of companies on the register will have an up-to-date confirmation statement.

Digital service availability

Digital services will be available for a minimum of 99.9% of the time.

New services

Develop a new online journey for submission of confirmation statements.

Develop a digital filing capability for insolvency transactions.

Customer satisfaction

Be in the top quartile of public service organisations for customer satisfaction.

Diversity

Increase the number of staff recruited to Companies House from under-represented groups by 10%.

Delivering value

Manage expenditure within budgetary limits.

Spending with small and medium businesses

Fifteen per cent. of spend will be spent directly with small and medium businesses.

[HCWS191]

Covid-19 Business Regulatory Easements

The challenges faced by the UK, and other countries across the world, since the pandemic began have been substantial and many businesses have experienced unprecedented disruption. In the face of the threat of the virus the Government acted rapidly to provide support to protect businesses, individuals and public services across the UK, and have adapted their economic response as the pandemic has evolved. Our plan for jobs has supported jobs and businesses with over £400 billion of economic support, from generous employment support schemes to tax cuts, deferrals, loan schemes and cash grants.

Alongside financial support, the Government took the extraordinary step of temporarily relaxing a wide range of rules and regulations to make it easier for businesses to continue working through the disruption caused by covid-19. These easements cover a variety of areas, including capacity market easements, competition, and the suspension of liability for wrongful trading, among others.

As we have successfully progressed through the stages of the road map we have reduced many of the restrictions that have been in place over the last 15 months. And the progress we have made on the road map means that many of the rules that were relaxed can be reinstated.

While the phenomenal vaccine roll-out has offered every adult some protection against the virus, and the crucial link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths is weakened, the global pandemic is not over yet, and cases are currently rising across the UK. This means that vigilance must be maintained and people will be asked to continue to act carefully to manage the risks to themselves and others. There will still be high levels of infection and illness and therefore disruption to lives, businesses and the economy.

We are therefore retaining or extending some of the regulatory easements. This is necessary where they continue to provide flexibility to businesses while they feel ongoing impacts from covid-19, including on workforce absences, and where relaxed rules will enable them to recover, helping to reinvigorate the high street and boost consumption.

We will be publishing the details on the easements that will expire or be retained on www.gov.uk shortly.

The relaxation of these rules will be reviewed again in autumn at which point the Government will consider the status of these measures for further extension, permanent retention or expiry.

Ministers will continue to review the measures at regular intervals as needed thereafter to provide certainty to business and ensure that the appropriate regulatory environment is in place as required. A separate process is being taken forward for the measures protecting businesses from eviction, insolvency and debt recovery, which has been outlined in an oral statement by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on June 16.

Better regulation framework impact assessments

The Government introduced a significant amount of emergency legislation responding to covid-19 and we recognise that there may be a risk that current better regulation framework requirements might lead to disproportionate administrative burdens on Government Departments, particularly on the retrospective validation of temporary emergency legislation that is extended to be in force for 12 months or more.

For emergency covid-19 legislation which is exempt from the business impact target (BIT) under the “civil emergencies” exemption we have decided to relax the administrative requirements set out in the better regulation framework for full impact assessments to be undertaken and scrutinised by the Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC). This relaxation of the policy requirement covers time-limited measures only. As a matter of policy under the framework, impact assessments are still expected for other emergency measures which are not temporary, even if they are non-qualifying measures under the “civil emergencies” exemption, and so not legally required to be supported by an impact assessment. Such impact assessments are to be submitted to the RPC in the normal way. The statutory requirement for measures exempted in this way from legal requirements for IAs to be verified as such by the RPC remains.

This adjustment of requirements will remain in place in advance of the wider reform of the better regulation framework completing.

[HCWS192]

Hospitality Strategy: Reopening, Recovery, Resilience

On Friday, I published a hospitality strategy to support this vital sector.

The hospitality sector contributes significantly to the economy and plays a leading role in supporting local communities, high streets and city centres across the country. However, it has been one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic.

The impact of the covid-19 pandemic on a sector that exists to bring people together was always going to be significant. That is why the Government’s £352 billion package of support included specific and targeted help for hospitality businesses. Despite this, over the course of the pandemic, hospitality businesses have largely been operating at a loss.

To support the sector’s bounce back, we have developed a forward-looking strategy that sets out the Government’s long-term vision to help businesses on their road to recovery and beyond. This will sit alongside and support other Government strategies and plans, including the build back better high streets strategy and tourism recovery plan.

We have worked closely with sector partners and businesses to develop an ambitious vision for the sector which reflects the aims of returning the sector to its pre-pandemic health, supporting wider economic recovery and creating thousands of resilient and dynamic businesses for years to come.

The strategy recognises the vital role that hospitality businesses will play in the UK’s economic recovery, to society and the levelling-up agenda.

[HCWS190]

Defence

Loss of Secret Documents: Update

On Friday 16 July 2021 my noble Friend the Minister of State, Baroness Goldie, made the following written ministerial statement in the House of Lords:

 On 28 June, the Minister for Defence Procurement noted that an investigation had been launched into the loss of MOD classified documents; and undertook to inform the House of its conclusions. That investigation has now concluded. The investigation has independently confirmed the circumstances of the loss, including the management of the papers within the Department, the location at which the papers were lost and the manner in which that occurred. These are consistent with the events self-reported by the individual. We are confident that we have recovered all the Secret papers. The investigation has found no evidence of espionage; and has concluded there has been no compromise of the papers by our adversaries. The individual concerned has been removed from sensitive work and has already had their security clearance suspended pending a full review. For security reasons, the Department will be making no further comment on the nature of the loss or on the identity of the individual. The Department takes protection of its information extremely seriously and will continue to take firm action in response to such incidents.

[HCWS194]

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Digital Identity and Attributes Consultation

I am pleased to inform the House that the Government are today publishing a public consultation on enabling legislation to strengthen digital identity use for the whole economy.

More and more people, in all walks of life, are using products and services online. People expect these transactions to be simple, quick, safe and personalised. However, people in the UK often still have to use a combination of paper documents issued by Government, local authorities and the private sector—and a mixture of offline and online routes—when opening a bank account, claiming benefits, starting a new job or applying for a school place. And these steps often need repeating for each new transaction.

Voluntary online authentication, identity and eligibility solutions can increase security, ease of use and accessibility. They are central to transforming the delivery and efficiency of public services and people’s ability to operate confidently in an increasingly digital economy.

The Government are committed to realising the benefits of digital identity technologies without creating ID cards. We have committed to put in place the necessary framework and tools so that digital identity solutions enhance privacy, transparency, confidence and inclusion, and that users are able to control their data, in line with the principles published in the 2019 call for evidence response.

In our response to the call for evidence, we committed to enabling businesses and individuals across the economy to use digital identities securely and with more confidence. This is only achievable by putting in place a legal framework and regulatory infrastructure.

The consultation DCMS is publishing today follows up on that commitment. It sits alongside the UK digital identity and attributes trust framework, which was published as a first draft in February 2021, opening the way for legislation. Digital identity legislation is needed to underpin a governance framework in law, to enable Government to allow checks by industry against data it holds, and to create confidence in the validity of digital identities. We have worked extensively with industry, civil society, and academia to get to this point.

The consultation sets out our plans to create a digital identity governance framework. Creating a governance system which can build trust in digital identities is vital. This trust will drive innovation and growth in the UK economy and good governance will ensure that the digital identity and attribute principles are upheld.

We are also consulting on our intention to create a permissive legal power for Government-held attributes to be checked safely and securely by non-public sector organisations for eligibility, identity, and validation purposes. This will allow digital identities in the UK to be built on a greater range of trusted datasets and ultimately provide people with a choice of how they use this data to prove their identity.

Finally, we are proposing to establish in law that digital identities and digital attributes can be as valid as physical forms of identification or traditional identity documents. This builds on our commitment to enable the use of digital identities in as many areas as possible and to build confidence in their validity.

Further details can be found in the consultation, available here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/digital-identity-and-attributes-consultation.

A copy of the consultation will also be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS197]

Education

School Rebuilding Programme

I am confirming details of the next 50 schools to benefit from the 10-year school rebuilding programme announced by the Prime Minister in June 2020. I am also confirming the launch of a public consultation on the approach to prioritising schools for future places on the programme.

The school rebuilding programme forms part of the Government’s plans to build back better, supporting teachers in England to deliver a high-quality education, so that pupils gain the knowledge, skills and qualifications they need to succeed.

It is also an important commitment to investing in construction sector jobs and skills, including apprenticeships and T-Level placements, helping drive growth as we recover from the covid-19 pandemic. The programme will have a continued focus on modern methods of construction and provide opportunities across the industry, including for small and medium-sized enterprises.

As with the first schools announced in February, this second group of schools have been prioritised based on the condition of their buildings. The projects include primary and secondary schools, as well as special and alternative provision schools. This also represents a substantial investment in schools in the midlands and north of England, with 32 out of 50 projects located in these regions.

The new school buildings will be energy efficient designs with high sustainability standards that will be net zero carbon in operation and mitigate the risks of climate change.

The 10-year programme will continue to target school buildings in the worst condition across England, and today we have published a consultation on the approach to prioritising schools for the long-term programme. Responses from this consultation will help to shape the way we identify the buildings most in need of replacement or significant refurbishment. The consultation will be open until 8 October 2021.

Alongside the rebuilding programme, the Government have committed £1.8 billion in financial year 2021-22 for maintaining and improving the condition of the school estate.

Further details, including lists of the school rebuilding projects have been published on www.gov.uk. Copies will be placed in the House Library.

[HCWS199]

Three-year School Funding Settlement

Today I am confirming provisional funding allocations for 2022-23 through the schools, high needs and central school services national funding formulae (NFF). The allocations distribute the final year of the three-year school funding settlement that the Secretary of State for Education announced to Parliament on 3 September 2019. Core school funding increased by £2.6 billion in 2020-21, and is increasing by £4.8 billion and £7.1 billion in 2021-22 and 2022-23 respectively, compared to 2019-20.

These allocations are part of the annual funding cycle. They are separate to the three major interventions we have made to support education recovery in response to the covid-19 pandemic—over £3 billion in total. All of that support for recovery will be provided on top of the funding allocations announced today for local authorities and schools.

Funding through the schools NFF is increasing by 3.2% overall in 2022-23, and by 2.8% per pupil. The NFF will distribute this funding based on schools’ and pupils’ needs and characteristics. The main features in 2022-23 are:

The core factors in the NFF (such as basic per-pupil funding, and funding for additional needs such as deprivation) will increase by 3%.

The funding floor will ensure that every school is allocated at least 2% more pupil-led funding per pupil compared to its 2021-22 NFF allocation.

The minimum per pupil funding levels will increase by 2%, compared to 2021-22. This will mean that, next year, every primary school will receive at least £4,265 per pupil, and every secondary school at least £5,525.

Support for small and remote schools (through the “sparsity” factor) will receive a further increase. In 2022-23 the additional funding that such schools can attract is rising to up to £55,000 for primary schools, and up to £80,000 for secondary schools—in both cases, a £10,000 increase from 2021-22. We are also moving to using road distances instead of straight line distances when measuring a school’s remoteness. This will significantly increase the number of schools attracting this funding. As a result, the funding allocated through the sparsity factor is increasing from £42 million in 2021-22 to £95 million in 2022-23.

High needs funding is increasing by £780 million, or 9.6%, in 2022-23—following the over £1.5 billion increase over the last two years. This brings the total high needs budget to £8.9 billion, an increase of over a third since 2019-20. The high needs NFF will ensure that every local authority receives at least an 8% increase per head of population, with some authorities seeing gains of up to 11%. This vital extra resource will continue to help local authorities manage their cost pressures in this area, while the Government remain focused on completing the cross-departmental review of the SEND system to ensure that it supports children and young people with SEND as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Central school services funding funds local authorities for the ongoing responsibilities they continue to have for all schools. The total funding for ongoing responsibilities is £284 million in 2022-23. In line with the process introduced for 2020-21 to withdraw funding over time based on the historic commitments local authorities entered into before 2013-14, funding for these historic commitments will decrease by 20%.

The provisional NFF allocations published today will be updated, based on the latest pupil data, to produce final allocations in December that local authorities will receive through the dedicated schools grant.

Local authorities will continue to use that funding to determine final allocations for all local mainstream schools. In parallel with the changes being implemented for 2022-23, the Government are in the process of consulting on how we complete our reforms to the schools NFF in the longer term—whereby funding allocations for individual schools are determined by one single national formula, rather than 150 separate, different, local authority formulae.

[HCWS200]

Health and Social Care

Covid-19 Vaccines

The independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has published its advice on the vaccination of children and young people. Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) has accepted this advice and all four parts of the UK expect to follow the JCVI’s advice and align their deployment in each nation.

JCVI’s advice is based on currently available data and is kept under review as new data emerges, the JCVI has advised that the Government:

Maintains the existing eligibility criteria for 16 to 17-year-olds;

Offers vaccination (for operational flexibility) to all 17-year-olds who are within three months of turning 18;

Offers vaccination to 12 to 15-year-olds with the underlying health conditions specified below:

 severe neuro-disabilities,

 Down’s syndrome,

 underlying conditions resulting in immunosuppression, and

 those with profound and multiple learning disabilities, severe learning disabilities or who are on the GP learning disability register.

Offer vaccination to 12 to 15-year-olds who are healthy but are household contacts of individuals (adults or children) who are immunosuppressed. The purpose of this is primarily to protect the household member who is immunosuppressed (16 to 17-year-old household contacts are already offered vaccination).

Through the covid-19 vaccines programme, we have administered over 80 million vaccine doses in the UK, with recent Public Health England data suggesting that this has prevented between 6.4 and 7.9 million infections and between 26,000 and 28,000 deaths in England alone. The vaccine is the most effective way of protecting the most vulnerable and minimising hospitalisations and deaths. An early estimate from PHE suggests that in adults under the age of 40 a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine is 61% effective against symptomatic disease, and 72% for a single dose of the Moderna vaccine.

For children and young people, the risk of serious outcomes from covid-19 is much lower than for older people and we recognise that decisions on vaccination for this group are therefore much more finely balanced than for adults. The JCVI has been clear that for those children and young people with specified health conditions the balance of evidence is that they will benefit from vaccination.

With the deployment to these new groups of children and young people those out, I am now updating the House on the liabilities HMG has taken on in relation to further vaccine supply via this statement and attached departmental minute containing a description of the liability undertaken. The agreement to provide indemnity with deployment of further doses to the population increases the statutory contingent liability of the covid-19 vaccination programme for the only vaccine currently authorised for use in those aged under 18, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

It has been and remains the Government’s strategy to manage covid-19 until effective vaccine/s have been deployed at scale. Willingness to accept the need for appropriate indemnities to be given to vaccine suppliers has helped to secure access to vaccines with the expected benefits to public health and the economy alike much sooner than may have been the case otherwise.

Given the exceptional circumstances we are in, and the terms on which developers have been willing to supply a covid-19 vaccine, we along with other nations have taken a broad approach to indemnification proportionate to the situation we are in.

Even though the covid-19 vaccines have been developed at pace, at no point and at no stage of development has safety been bypassed. The MHRA approval for use of the currently deployed vaccines clearly demonstrates that this vaccine has satisfied, in full, all the necessary requirements for safety, effectiveness, and quality. We are providing indemnities in the very unexpected event of any adverse reactions that could not have been foreseen through the robust checks and procedures that have been put in place.

I will update the House in a similar manner as and when other covid-19 vaccines or additional doses of vaccines already in use in the UK are deployed.

HM Treasury has approved the proposal.

[HCWS201]

International Trade

Developing Countries Trading Scheme: Consultation

This morning, the Department for International Trade will be launching a public consultation on its new Developing Countries Trading Scheme (DCTS). Post-Brexit Britain can now take a more ambitious, generous, and pro-growth approach to trading with developing nations. The proposed scheme aims to grow trade with lower-income nations, supporting jobs and growth across the globe and at home.

This consultation will make sure that the public, business, civil society, associations and other interested stakeholders can have their say on the Government’s approach to preferential market access for developing countries.

We intend this new scheme to be best in class, and have studied programs in Canada, the US, Japan and the EU, before designing a uniquely British offer which backs growth, enterprise and ambition.

This is a major opportunity to grow free and fair trade with developing nations, allowing them to diversify their exports and grow their economies, while British households and businesses benefit from lower prices and more choice. The new UK scheme will mean more opportunity and less bureaucracy for developing countries, for example by simplifying rules of origin requirements for the least developed nations.

The UK currently operates a similar scheme rolled over from the EU, but as an independent trading nation can now take a simpler, more generous, pro-growth approach to trading with developing countries. It would apply to 70 qualifying countries currently and include improvements such as lower tariffs and simpler rules of origin requirements for countries exporting to the UK.

For example, this could mean lowering tariffs on products including rice from Pakistan and trainers from Nigeria. Bangladesh and Vietnam demonstrated that increasing trade through schemes like this one have helped them grow their economy, improve living standards, and drive down poverty.

For instance, Vietnam’s exports to the UK more than tripled between 2009 and 2019 while poverty rates plummeted from more than 20% in 2010 to an estimated 5.9% in 2020. Today, it is a fully-fledged FTA partner. We want more developing countries to follow in their footsteps.

The online consultation opens today on www.gov.uk and will be live for eight weeks. It will be accompanied by an information note that sets out details of the existing UK preference arrangements. The new Developing Countries Trading Scheme will take effect in 2022.

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/designing-the-uk-trade-preferences-scheme-for-developing-nations.

[HCWS193]

Northern Ireland

Independent Reviewer of National Security Arrangements: 2020 Report

The role of the independent reviewer of national security arrangements in Northern Ireland is to monitor compliance with annex E of the St. Andrews agreement, reviewing the relationship between MI5 and PSNI in handling national security matters.

His Honour Brian Barker CBE QC, the independent reviewer of national security arrangements in Northern Ireland, has sent me his report for 2020. What follows is a summary of the main findings of the report covering the period from 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2020.

His Honour Brian Barker states:

2020 was a most difficult year, overtaken by, and then submerged under, the covid-19 pandemic. It opened with good news: a functioning Executive and Assembly re-emerged after a three-year gap, in parallel with the publication of “New Decade, New Approach”. It closed, still under the shadow of the virus, with the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

The dominant focus faced by the community throughout was to cope with the uncertainties of lockdowns, and the consequences of the unpredictable spread of the pandemic; a combination that led to considerable unforeseen pressures and understandable anxieties in all quarters.

The last visit to Northern Ireland that I was able to make was in February for a Northern Ireland Committee on Protection (NICOP) meeting. The subsequent lockdown, the medical and social emergency and no predictable future pathway made any subsequent planning and conducting of the usual types of personal briefings and interviews impossible. The alternative approach adopted was to receive regular briefings from members of MI5 and PSNI during virtual NICOP meetings.

Dissident republican activity during the year was somewhat reduced due to enforced life pattern changes and continuing pressure from the security forces, as their leadership took stock. The number of incidents fell slightly compared with 2019. The overall picture in this area, sadly, had changed little. The threat from both dissident republican groups and loyalist paramilitaries remained, and some areas of the community continued to be subject not only to terrorist activities but also to unacceptable criminal acts and attitudes at a level which has almost come to be regarded by many as normal.

Nevertheless, a number of operations were successfully concluded and were marked with high profile court appearances of senior participants and the imposition of significant sentences. A major success was the co-ordinated arrest in mid-August of 10 individuals who have since been charged with a variety of terrorist offences following a long running and carefully co-ordinated joint operation between MI5 and the PSNI. Incarceration of key individuals will be a serious blow to dissident republican operations with the resulting loss of leadership and planning capability.

My meetings with senior members of MI5 and PSNI were restricted to virtual contact through secure links in the latter part of the year. It was apparent that the many extra health and operative difficulties faced by MI5 since April, in order to continue to function at the expected level, had been overcome. Benefits gained from regular meetings at senior level with PSNI and the continuing strides made in overall co-operation with a variety of agencies had led to significantresulting successes in the field. The overall impression was of effective co-operation having gone up a level, as working partnerships were strengthened and respective responsibilities better understood.

The dire circumstances faced by the PSNI on the ground, coping externally with administering changing regulations and internally with infection and shielding, had required a change in posture; but adaptation had been impressive and results and control overall had been encouraging. The decrease in activity had led to a sharp decline in arrests under terrorism legislation, compared with the previous year, but there had been an increase in the recovery of ammunition and explosives. The traditional marching events, following leadership advice and public appeals, were severely curtailed.

I was pleased to note that the Policing Board were able to appoint a new chair and vice chair in April and I look forward to the opportunity of meeting them. In the course of the year the Board published their new corporate plan and the new stylised policing plan 2020-2025. Their human rights advisor was asked to examine the challenges and response of PSNI to community activity (including Black Lives Matter demonstrations). The conclusions were generally positive given the difficulties, although with some reservations.

The annual statistics published in November for 2019-20 show that the powers of stop and search under section 47a of the Terrorism Act 2000 were not exercised. There were 179 premises searched under warrant under section 37 Schedule 5 of the same Act. There were 128 (down from 146) persons detained under section 41 of the Terrorism Act and 125 (98%) were held for 48 hours or less. 17 persons were charged with a total of 39 offences including two charges of murder, one charge of attempted murder, 15 charges of firearms offences, eight charges of drug offences and six charges of explosive offences.

A total of 26 (down from 34) persons were disposed of by non-jury trial, 18 of whom were found guilty of at least one charge. A total of 13 (down from 17) non-jury trial certificates were issued by the DPP. There was a total of 14 (up from six) persons convicted in the Crown Court under the Terrorism Act 2000, the Terrorism Act 2006 or the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. There were 465 (down from 1515) examinations carried out by police officers under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, all of these were examinations of persons, 34 of which resulted in a detention. No compensation or agency payments were made under section 38 schedule 4 of the Justice and Security (NI) Act 2007 where property was broken, destroyed or damaged or other private property rights interfered with.

The extent of my investigations, regrettably, have had to be extensively curtailed. However, in coping with extraordinary difficulties, I have good reason to believe that both MI5 and PSNI have maintained high standards and motivation and have achieved commendable results. The two major dissident republican groups undoubtedly suffered severe setbacks in what was a very successful year for the security forces. The danger remained of some sort of reactive show of strength, which fortunately did not materialise; and the minor groups continued to maintain a low profile. Police and prison officers continued to be regarded as legitimate targets and still had to face unacceptable risks. In pockets of the community intimidation continued, and although the figures for paramilitary shootings and beatings dropped, it continued to be concerning.

My conclusions, restricted by the exceptional conditions, in relation to annex E of the St. Andrews agreement are as follows:

Further to reinforce this comprehensive set of safeguards, the Government confirm that they accept and will ensure that effect is given to the five key principles which the chief constable has identified as crucial to the effective operation of the new arrangement:

a: All Security Service intelligence, relating to terrorism in Northern Ireland will be visible to the PSNI.

Clear evidence of successful collaboration. There is compliance

b: PSNI will be informed of all Security Service counter terrorist activities relating to Northern Ireland.

Regular and effective top-level meetings.

There is compliance.

c: Security Service intelligence will be disseminated within PSNI according to the current PSNI dissemination policy, and using police procedures.

There is compliance

d: The great majority of national security CHIS in Northern Ireland will continue to be run by PSNI officers under existing handling protocols.

There is compliance

e: There will be no diminution of the PSNI’s responsibility to comply with the Human Rights Act or the Policing Board’s ability to monitor said compliance.

The new leadership of the Policing Board is now in place and the human rights advisor has been asked to investigate and provide reassurance to the Board. I look forward to a good working relationship with the new HR advisor.

[HCWS196]

Petition of Concern Mechanism: Third Report

I am laying before both Houses of Parliament the third report by the UK Government on the use of the petition of concern mechanism in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

As part of the New Decade, New Approach deal upon which devolved government was restored in Northern Ireland on 11 January 2020, the UK Government committed to undertaking such a report every six months.

This report covers the period from 12 January 2021 to 11 July 2021, during which no petition of concern has been lodged against any motion in the Assembly.

The fact that there have been no uses of the Petitions of Concern since the restoration of the political institutions is a positive reflection of the conduct of business within the Assembly. However, I want to take this opportunity to reinforce the importance of a stable, mature, functioning Executive and Assembly that is focused on addressing the issues that really matter to their daily lives.

The next UK Government report on the use of the Petition of Concern will cover the period from 12 July 2021 to 11 January 2022.

The UK Government are standing by their commitment to bring forward legislation that provides the necessary reforms to the petition of concern mechanism. The Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill has reached the Commons Report stage in its passage through Parliament. Once this legislation has completed its passage through Parliament and received Royal Assent, it is crucial that the Assembly reflects the detail of these reforms in its Standing Orders to ensure the full implementation of these aspects of the New Decade, New Approach deal.

[HCWS198]

Transport

Light Rail: Financial Support

Light rail is a lifeline for many communities across the UK. During the pandemic, the Government have provided significant levels of financial assistance to the light rail sector through the Light Rail Revenue Grant and the Light Rail Restart Revenue Grant, supporting six light rail operators and local transport authorities in England outside of London, with over £200 million in funding since March 2020.

To date, Light Rail Restart Revenue Grant has funded up to 100% of pre-covid service levels, ensuring key workers have continued to be able to travel easily and safely as well as ensuring the public could access necessary amenities. Critically, as restrictions are lifted and passengers return, the light rail sector is important in helping local economic recovery, thereby supporting the Government’s levelling-up agenda.

To encourage passengers back, light rail services should be as available as they were prior to the pandemic. Without support, however, it may not be possible for operators to maintain the services they have provided up until now.

I can therefore announce that a further £56 million in financial support in the form of recovery funding has been made available for the light rail sector. Funding operators and local authorities from 20 July until the end of this financial year, this will succeed the Light Rail Restart Revenue Grant which ends on 19 July. This funding will support operators in adapting their commercial offerings to ensure the longer-term viability and self-sustainability of the sector and is intended to be the final tranche of covid-related support.

[HCWS195]