Thursday 6 January 2022
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Departmental Contingent Liability Notification: Energy Supply Company Special Administration Regim
Today I will lay before Parliament a departmental minute describing a contingent liability arising from the issuance of a letter of credit for the energy administrators acting in the special administration regime for Bulb Energy Ltd (Bulb).
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 particulars of the liability created and explaining the circumstances.
I regret that, due to recess, I have not been able to follow the usual notification timelines to allow consideration of these issues in advance of issuing the letter of credit.
Bulb entered the energy supply company special administration regime on 24 November 2021. Energy administrators were appointed by court to achieve the statutory objective of continuing energy supplies at the lowest reasonable practicable cost until such time as it becomes unnecessary for the special administration to remain in force for that purpose.
My Department has agreed to provide a facility to the energy administrators, with a letter of credit issued, with my approval, to guarantee such contract, code, licence, or other document obligations of the company consistent with the special administration’s statutory objective. I will update the House if any letters of credit are drawn against.
The legal basis for a letter of credit is section 165 of the Energy Act 2004, as applied and modified by section 96 of the Energy Act 2011.
HM Treasury has approved the arrangements in principle.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Annual Fisheries Negotiations
The UK and EU have now reached an agreement on fishing opportunities for the 2022 fishing year. This is the second time the UK has entered into bilateral negotiations with the EU as an independent coastal state, following the signing of the trade and co-operation agreement (TCA) between the UK and EU in 2020.
In its second year negotiating as a coastal state, the UK has also successfully concluded the UK-EU-Norway trilateral negotiations and UK-Norway bilateral negotiations. Both agreements mark the start of new fisheries arrangements in the North sea and a strong willingness from all parties to collaborate closely in the future.
The UK Government have worked closely with Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive, and the outcomes secured by the UK will enable us to improve the sustainable management of our fish stocks in support of the whole of the UK fishing industry in the short and long term.
Collectively from the EU-UK bilateral, EU-UK-Norway trilateral, and coastal states negotiations, the UK has secured agreement on the total allowable catches—TACs—for 86 stocks.
The agreement we have reached with the EU covers 69 UK-EU TACs, resulting in a total value of fishing opportunities for the UK in 2022 of approximately 140,000 tonnes, worth around £313 million, based on historic landing prices.
Guided by best available scientific advice as part of sustainable fisheries management, the UK and EU agreed reductions across a number of TACs, meaning that overall the UK will have around 12,000 tonnes less quota compared with 2021 from these negotiations. However, even with this reduction, the UK has around 28,000 tonnes more quota from these negotiations than it would have received with its previous shares as an EU member state. This is estimated to be worth around £45 million based on historic landing prices.
As in previous years, the UK negotiated this year’s TACs taking account of sustainability principles. A full assessment of the number of individual TACs set consistent with International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) advice on catch opportunities will be published shortly and after the conclusion of all the UK’s annual fisheries negotiations and the setting of consultative TACs.
On exchanges of quota with the EU, the UK and EU agreed to the continuation of the interim exchange mechanism which has operated successfully since July 2021, enabling voluntary exchanges between the UK and member states. This will continue until the Specialised Committee on Fisheries (SCF) can agree a permanent mechanism, as required by the TCA. The UK and EU agreed to hold a final round of exchanges on 21 January 2022 to allow for the wrapping up of this year’s exchanges.
On non-quota stocks (NQS) the UK and EU resolved the outstanding provisional historic baseline tonnage figures, this includes the removal of catches from Crown dependency waters.
The revised baseline figures are 12,365 tonnes for UK vessels in EU waters, and 33,023 tonnes for EU vessels in UK waters. It was also agreed to hold further technical discussions from January 2022 to ensure that future data exchanges on NQS uptake are robust and accurate.
Exceptionally, the UK and EU agreed not to apply the NQS tonnage limits provided for in the TCA for 2022. We will closely monitor uptake data and in the event either party reaches 80% of their total a discussion will be held in the SCF to consider next steps.
The UK and EU also committed to work at pace to develop multi-year strategies for shared NQS as set out under the TCA, with the aim of developing the first of these by 31 July 2022. Both parties confirmed our shared priority to ensure the sustainable management of NQS stocks from 2023 onwards.
The UK and EU agreed to roll forward the previously agreed measures for seabass. In addition, it was agreed that further adjustments would be introduced in 2022. These include an increase in the annual limits for landings of bass from hook and lines and fixed gillnets, as well as an amendment to the commercial trawl/seine flexibility.
Finally, the UK and EU agreed to prioritise and handle NQS, seabass (including the ICES assessment tool), stock without ICES advice, inter-annual quota flexibility and other topics through the Specialised Committee on Fisheries.
UK-EU-Norway Trilateral Negotiations
The UK reached an agreement with Norway and the European Union on catch limits for 2022 for six jointly managed stocks in the North sea. The catch limits agreed for 2022 are worth over £184 million to the UK fishing industry.
The agreement demonstrates the parties’ continued commitment to the sustainable management and long-term viability of cod, haddock, plaice, whiting, herring, and saithe stocks in the North sea. Alongside the total allowable catches—TACs—for 2022, the agreement puts in place a process to review the distribution and management of shared stocks which are important for the whole UK catch sector.
UK-Norway Bilateral Negotiations
The agreement reached with Norway includes reciprocal access to each other’s waters. The UK will gain access to 30,000 tonnes of whitefish stocks such as cod, haddock and hake. There will also be access to fish pelagic stock: the UK industry will be able to fish its full quota of Atlanto-Scandian herring in Norwegian waters, and up to 17,000 tonnes should it swap in additional quota from the EU in 2022. In return, Norway will be able to fish up to 17,000 tonnes of North sea herring in UK waters. This is less than a third of the level of access for North sea herring enjoyed by Norway while the UK was a member of the European Union. We also agreed some quota exchange, estimated to be worth just over £5 million. This includes bringing in stocks such as North sea whiting, hake and anglerfish, and Arctic cod.
The agreement puts in place a process which ensures that the fishing arrangements do not have detrimental consequences for fish stocks and the wider marine environment. The mutual access will also allow respective fleets more flexibility to target the stocks in the best condition throughout the fishing year, supporting a more sustainable and economically viable fishing industry.
In parallel to the conclusion of these negotiations, Norway has allocated to the UK 6,550 tonnes of cod around Svalbard. This means the UK can fish over 7,000 tonnes of cod in the Arctic in 2022, estimated to be worth around £16 million, and 1,500 tonnes more than in 2021.
UK-Faroe Island Negotiations
Bilateral fisheries negotiations between the UK and Faroes are ongoing. Both parties are pursuing a pragmatic and well-balanced agreement. The UK’s overriding priority is to ensure that the deal is in the best interests of the UK industry and protects the marine environment, promoting sustainable stock management.
Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs)
The UK is a contracting party to five RFMOs and played a central role in negotiations in 2021 in securing a number of important new RFMO measures for 2022 and beyond. These include a new rebuilding plan for North Atlantic shortfin mako shark in the International Commission for the Conservation for Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), a new management measure for yellowfin tuna in the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), an interim measure for the Greenland salmon fishery in the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO), new “area closures” to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO), and a measure to protect juvenile haddock at the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC). The UK also confirmed its 2022 shares in the four ICCAT stocks negotiated with the EU under the TCA.
The UK will build on these successes in 2022 and beyond, working to achieve rapid progress on our priority objectives for RFMOs both in terms of fishing opportunities where appropriate, and furthering our marine conservation priorities.
Multilateral “Coastal State” Negotiations
On mackerel, blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring, the UK and other coastal states (the parties responsible for a stock’s management due to it being distributed in their waters) agreed to set the global TACs for 2022 in line with the advice provided by ICES.
We have also agreed to discuss sharing arrangements for each stock in 2022. The UK will chair discussions on mackerel and Atlanto-Scandian herring.
Outdoor Marriages and Civil Partnerships
On 20 December, the Government launched a public consultation on outdoor weddings and civil partnerships. This consultation sets out, and seeks views on, the Government’s proposals to continue to permit outdoor civil marriages and civil partnerships on approved premises, and to permit outdoor religious marriages in the grounds of places of worship.
Since 1 July 2021, couples have been able to have their civil marriage and civil partnership proceedings in the open air, in the grounds of buildings such as stately homes and hotels which are approved or became approved for these civil ceremonies. Previously, these proceedings could only take place indoors or otherwise within permanently immovable structures. These outdoor ceremonies were made possible because the Government laid a statutory instrument (SI) putting in place these flexibilities, in order to give couples more choice of setting, and to support the wedding and civil partnership sector. However, that SI has effect only until the end of 5 April 2022.
We are now proposing to lay a further SI so that these outdoor civil marriage and civil partnership proceedings can continue beyond 5 April 2022 indefinitely, and to extend the policy of permitting outdoor ceremonies to religious marriages using a separate legislative reform order. Together, these proposals would ensure that the provision for outdoor marriages and civil partnerships on approved premises continues indefinitely and would extend similar arrangements to religious weddings in the grounds of places of worship. The proposals would enable couples to have a greater choice in relation to the location of their ceremonies, and for approved premises and religious bodies to have more flexibility in the locations for ceremonies, should they choose to offer it. No religious group would be obliged to provide outdoor ceremonies, and existing protections to safeguard religious freedoms would remain in place.
The consultation can be found here: https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/outdoor-marriages-civil-partnerships
A copy of the consultation paper will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.
Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
Protecting the Integrity of our Elections
I am pleased to update Parliament today on amendments the Government will shortly be bringing forward to the Elections Bill which will help to ensure we fully deliver on our commitment to protecting our democracy.
The changes brought forward by the Bill are vital to ensure our democracy remains secure, fair, modern and transparent and I am therefore pleased to also update Parliament today with further information on their implementation. It is our expectation that all the measures will be in place within the lifetime of this Parliament and implementation will be staged over a sensible and pragmatic timetable; it is imperative that this is done properly and with sufficient time for the elections sector and voters to prepare for the new requirements.
Voter identification and the Voter Card
I am today publishing a policy statement, “Protecting the integrity of our elections: voter identification at polling stations and the new Voter Card”, which sets out more detail on the Government’s proposals for the voter identification policy.
The statement includes details of the rationale for the list of accepted photographic identifications in the Elections Bill and further information around our plans for the application process for voter cards.
A voter card will be available free of charge to ensure that all electors have access to an accepted form of identification. The Government are clear that the process for applying for this card must be accessible for all those who need it. There will therefore be a range of application routes, voter cards will be valid across all of Great Britain— not just in the issuing area—and the Government will shortly be tabling amendments to adjust some of the current drafting of the Bill to increase the accessibility and security of the voter card and ensure the voter card system works for all eligible voters.
Voters in Northern Ireland have been required to show identification when voting at polling stations since 1985, and the photographic voter identification system has been in place there for almost 20 years since it was brought in by the last Labour Government in 2003. Since its introduction, this requirement has successfully helped to tackle electoral fraud and has been operating with ease. In their 2021 public opinion tracker, the Electoral Commission recorded not a single Northern Ireland respondent reporting “I don’t have any identification/I would not be able to vote”.
It is our expectation that voter identification will be in place in Great Britain in time for polls taking place in spring 2023, with the voter card system in operation in good time ahead of this.
Absent Vote Applications
The Government will be introducing a further amendment to the Bill to require identity verification for absent vote applications, as is already the case for Northern Ireland. This will ensure that applications are legitimate, protecting the system from fraud.
A further amendment will provide for an online absent vote application service, making this process more efficient for both citizens and electoral administrators and placing both integrity and elector participation at the heart of our democracy. The new online application service, as well as existing paper applications, will require electors to have their identity verified as part of the process, ensuring that the system is as streamlined as possible for users. As we legislate to update our electoral system we are therefore also ensuring public confidence that our elections will remain secure well into the future.
In order to ensure efficiency of electoral administrative processes, it is our ambition to align the new online application process with other changes to absent vote arrangements and the delivery of overseas electors’ voting rights. Rollout of the online service will be conditional on the identity verification processes being in place and the timing of rollout in Northern Ireland will be dependent on meeting the particular safeguards required in Northern Ireland. This is in order to reduce any opportunity for individuals to exploit the processes and steal votes.
Technical amendments to the Elections Bill
The Bill will be amended to reflect that responsibility for elections has moved from the Cabinet Office to the new Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. In addition, an amendment will be made to provisions in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 regarding membership of the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, to allow for the most relevant Minister to be appointed by the Prime Minister to be able to deputise for the Secretary of State on the Committee as and when needed. These changes will not increase the Government’s allocated representation on the Committee.
Several amendments will also be made to the clauses in the Bill relating to the new digital imprints regime. These amendments include clarifying the enforcement responsibilities of the Electoral Commission and the police, and improving consistency between the clauses that relate to “paid material” and those that relate to “other electronic material” (or unpaid material). They will also clarify that the imprint rules will apply only to unpaid electronic material wholly or mainly related to referendums, when published during the referendum period. Further, these amendments will ensure that the regime covers all relevant elections, including all City of London elections. These amendments will help ensure transparency and empower voters to make informed decisions about the material they see online.
The associated document has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and amendments to the Elections Bill will be tabled in due course.
Investigatory Powers Commissioner: Annual Report
I have today laid before both Houses a copy of the annual report of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, the right hon. Sir Brian Leveson.
Overall, this report demonstrates that the security and intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies and other relevant public authorities’ use of investigatory powers shows 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 Investigatory Powers Act 2016 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) has identified problems, Departments and agencies have worked hard to address these.
This year the commissioner has decided not to include a confidential annex to the report, as allowed under section 234 of the 2016 Act, as all relevant issues have been covered in this report. This has been subject to consultation with relevant Government Departments and agencies, and I am content it is not prejudicial to national security.
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 among the strongest and most effective in the world. Despite the unique challenges which covid-19 created, the commissioner notes their oversight has been no less rigorous than in previous years and his report details the changes they made to their inspection practice to ensure this.
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 commissioner’s thanks to the agencies and Departments and civil society organisations which have helped with the establishment of the IPCO over the past few years. I join him in extending my particular thanks to all those who took on the responsibility of serving as temporary judicial commissioners under section 22 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 during the lockdown period, who ensured the work of the IPCO was able to continue uninterrupted.
I commend this report to the House.
Civil Aviation Authority 2021: Progress Report
During the passage of the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Act 2021 through Parliament, Ministers confirmed that the Civil Aviation Authority’s annual progress report on the airspace modernisation strategy would be published, and a copy placed in the Libraries of both Houses accompanied by a written ministerial statement.
The airspace modernisation strategy sets out, through 15 initiatives, ways and means of modernising airspace, initially focusing on the period until the end of 2024. The initiatives include airspace design, operational concepts and new technology.
Six of the 15 initiatives are assessed as on track, and five initiatives require further work. The delayed timescales of delivery against the original plans set out in the airspace modernisation strategy have predominantly shifted because of ongoing recovery of the aviation industry from the covid-19 pandemic.
Four initiatives will need further legislation on performance-based navigation and air traffic management—core elements of the airspace modernisation strategy. The Department for Transport will be taking legislation forward this year to ensure continued progress to the overall airspace modernisation strategy programme.
Key areas of progress have been noted within free route airspace (initiative 2), remobilisation of the future airspace strategy implementation south and north airspace change programmes made possible by Government funding (initiatives 4 and 5) and initiatives 9, 10 and 11 on aligning air traffic provision with international standards, review of airspace classification and electronic conspicuity respectively.
There has also been progress with the Airspace Change Organising Group submitting iteration 2 of their masterplan—which will set out where airspace changes need to be co-ordinated and developed—for assessment by the CAA.
Chapter 2 provides an update from the co-sponsors on policy and regulatory process, with a particular emphasis on stakeholder engagement activity undertaken as part of the airspace modernisation strategy refresh and the reintroduction of the airspace modernisation strategy support fund. Strategic risks have also been flagged within this chapter, predominantly concerning future delivery model, financing, and resourcing of the modernisation programme.
Chapter 3 provides updates related specifically to activities under the airspace modernisation strategy, undertaken within areas of particular interest from the general aviation and communities stakeholder groups.
I will place a copy of the “Airspace Modernisation - 2021 Progress Report” in the Libraries of both Houses.
Attachments can be viewed online at: