Thursday 30 June 2022
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Post Office: Compensation for Horizon scandal
As the House is aware, the Post Office Horizon scandal, which began over 20 years ago, has had a devastating impact on the lives of many postmasters. Starting in the late 1990s, the Post Office began installing Horizon accounting software, but faults in the software led to shortfalls in branches’ accounts. The Post Office demanded sub-postmasters cover the shortfalls, and in many cases wrongfully prosecuted them between 1999 and 2015 for false accounting or theft.
The High Court Group Litigation Order (GLO) case against the Post Office brought by 555 postmasters exposed the Horizon IT scandal which had seen many postmasters forced to “repay” to Post Office sums which they had never received. In March 2022, the Chancellor announced that further funding would be made available to ensure members of the GLO will receive similar levels of compensation to that which is available to their non-GLO peers.
Today, I am announcing that the Government intend to make an interim payment of compensation to eligible members of the GLO, who are not already covered by another scheme, totalling £19.5 million. Together with the share of the December 2019 settlement that we understand was distributed to the GLO postmasters, this brings the total of compensation to approximately £30 million. I hope this will go some way in helping many postmasters who have, and still are, facing hardships.
In parallel, we are working towards delivering the final compensation scheme for the GLO and will be appointing Freeths to access the data and methodology they developed in relation to the distribution of the 2019 settlement. Freeths represented the GLO claimants and have vital knowledge and expertise based on their involvement in the case. This will allow us to work at pace on the design of a scheme.
Furthermore, I can confirm that members of the GLO group will be able to claim reasonable legal fees as part of participating in the final compensation scheme. I hope that this will allay any concerns that they might have about meeting the costs of seeking legal advice and support when applying to the scheme.
Overturned historical convictions
I am pleased to report that interim payments for overturned historical convictions are progressing well. As of 29 June, there have been 75 overturned convictions, with the most recent convictions being overturned in recent weeks. The Post Office has received 74 applications for interim payments including several new applications in recent weeks. Sixty-seven offers have been accepted by and paid out to claimants, totalling nearly £7 million paid out in compensation so far.
For those postmasters who have already submitted quantified claims, we are working with Post Office to agree part payments of agreed elements of claims, such as loss of earnings, wherever possible, and will continue to do so with additional claims which are submitted. Taking this step should enable us to avoid undue delays in awarding partial compensation while outstanding matters are resolved.
I acknowledge that one area where it has been challenging to agree compensation is non-pecuniary damages, some of which reflect the wider impact on postmasters’ lives that these wrongful convictions have had. These include compensation for the loss of their liberty or impacts on their mental health. A number of the postmasters have agreed to refer this issue to the process of early neutral evaluation, to be conducted by former Supreme Court Judge, Lord Dyson. It is hoped that this evaluation will facilitate the resolution of these issues. Government stands ready to support the delivery of the early neutral evaluation process and is keen to ensure that the outcomes of this process enable swift compensation.
Historical shortfall scheme
As of 23 June, 65% of eligible claimants have now received an offer, meaning £29 million has now been offered and that 444 further postmasters have been offered compensation since my last update to the House. I have set the Post Office the ambition to make 100% of HSS offers by the end of the calendar year and the Government are working closely with Post Office to achieve this.
GB Warm Home Discount (Scotland) Scheme
My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Corporate Responsibility (Lord Callanan) has today made the following statement:
The Government have today laid draft affirmative regulations for a GB warm home discount scheme in Scotland to run from 2022-23 until 2025-26.
The scheme, with increased funding of around £13 million and totalling £49 million in 2022-2023, will provide energy bill rebates worth £150 to over 280,000 low income and vulnerable households during winter, when they need it most.
WHD provides direct energy bill support, in the form of a rebate on energy bills, for fuel poor, low income and vulnerable households. It is a key policy in the Government’s programme to tackle fuel poverty and reduce energy costs for low income households. Since its launch in April 2011, WHD has provided over £3.3 billion in direct support to households in Great Britain. Now more than ever, this rebate is needed to help low income and vulnerable households with their energy costs. The scheme complements the Government’s £37 billion worth of measures this year to support households with rising energy bills and the cost of living.
The WHD is set in legislation and requires energy suppliers above a certain size to participate. While the costs of the scheme are borne by energy suppliers and, ultimately, their customers, Government set the overall spending target. In the 2020 Energy White Paper, the Government committed to extending the warm home discount (WHD) to 2025-26 and increasing its value to £475 million (in 2020 prices) across Great Britain. Since then, we consulted on proposals for England and Wales, the details of which are set out in the Government response to consultation, published on 1 April and for which the regulations have been approved by both Houses. Similar proposals could not be replicated in Scotland, because the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) whose data we will use to identify homes which are high cost to heat, does not collect that data in Scotland. The Scottish Assessors (the Scottish equivalent of the Valuation Office Agency) do not collect the same data in Scotland.
Under the Scotland Act 2016, the Scottish Government have devolved powers to design and implement a WHD although the exercise of these powers requires the agreement of the Secretary of State, and some powers remain reserved, including determining the overall size of the obligation and the obligated parties. The Scottish Government requested that the UK Government make provision for a continuation of the WHD.
The WHD in Scotland will increase proportionately in line with the GB-wide increase to the scheme: from £350 million to £475 million in 2020 prices. Based on the apportionment methodology consulted on by the UK Government, the scheme in Scotland will be 9.4% or £44.65 million (in 2020 prices) of the overall scheme value. The proportion of funding going to Scotland will exceed its share of the GB population and its share of means-tested benefits recipients. The uplift means rebates are provided to an additional 50,000 families in Scotland each year on top of the 230,000 that already receive payments, and the rebate will also increase from £140 to £150.
We have also reduced the threshold for energy suppliers’ participation in the scheme, so more energy suppliers will participate. Suppliers with a small market share in Scotland who cannot meet their obligation through the provision of rebates to their customers will be able to provide other packages of help, including financial assistance, to other low income and vulnerable households.
Under the WHD in Scotland, around 90,000 low-income pensioners will continue to receive their rebates automatically through the core group element of the scheme. In addition, around 190,000 low income and vulnerable households, mainly working age, will receive the rebate by application to their energy supplier. Scottish households in or at risk of fuel poverty will also continue to benefit from support under industry initiatives funded under the WHD, which include benefit entitlement checks, energy debt and financial assistance, energy advice, and energy efficiency measures provided to low income and vulnerable households.
This expansion of the WHD scheme forms part of the wider support to help households with rising energy bills. In May, the Government announced over £15 billion of additional support, targeted particularly on those with the greatest need. This package builds on the £22 billion announced previously, with Government support for the cost of living now totalling over £37 billion this year. This includes: help to all domestic electricity customers in Great Britain to cope with the impact of higher energy bills, with £400 off their bills from October through the expansion of the energy bills support scheme (EBSS); a one-off cost of living payment of £650 to over 8 million households across the UK in receipt of means tested benefits; additional UK-wide support to help 6 million people who receive non-means tested disability benefits receiving a one-off disability cost of living payment of £150; over eight million pensioner households will receive an extra one-off £300 this year to help them cover the rising cost of energy this winter. For households that are not eligible for cost of living payments or for families that still need additional support; the Government are providing an extra £500 million of local support, via the household support fund. The fund will be extended from this October to March 2023, bringing total funding for the scheme to £1.5 billion. Millions of the most vulnerable households will receive at least £1,200 of one-off support in total this year to help with the cost of living.
Subject to Parliamentary processes, the UK Government will implement the scheme in Scotland as quickly as possible and support will be provided to Scottish households during the winter.
More information on the warm home discount scheme will be made available over the summer on gov.uk/the-warm-home-discount-scheme.
Support and Assistance to Partner Nations in Europe
A new order has been made under section 56(1B) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable reservists to be called into permanent service to prepare for, conduct, or contribute to operations by Her Majesty’s forces relating to the provision of military support and assistance to partner nations in Europe.
Her Majesty’s Government provide a range of military assistance and support measures to partner nations in Europe, including training, advice and equipment.
The Ministry of Defence is regularly tasked to support broader HMG objectives. As part of this support, reserve forces will be on standby, routinely as part of a whole force approach with regular services, to deliver a range of defence outputs, including support to partners across Government. Outputs will be enabled by reserve forces providing capabilities such as (but not limited to) formed sub-units, individual augmentees and specialist skills.
The order shall take effect from the day on which it is made and shall cease to have effect 12 months from the date on which it is made.
My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Baroness Barran) has made the following written ministerial statement:
The 2019 manifesto committed the Government to intervening in schools with entrenched underperformance. We believe that every child has the right to go to a school that is good or outstanding. While we have rightly focused our attention on inadequate schools in recent years, we now need to look at the minority of schools that are not making necessary improvements. We are especially concerned about schools that have received two or more consecutive Ofsted judgements of below good. There are currently around 900 state schools in England (around 4.3% of schools), with around 420,000 pupils, that meet this threshold.
The above numbers will obviously depend on the outcome of upcoming inspections as schools will fall into and out of scope. Following the pause in Ofsted inspections due to the covid-19 pandemic, Ofsted recommenced inspections in May 2021 and, as the Government announced in the recent White Paper, will inspect all schools against the current inspection framework by the end of the summer term 2025, to provide a quicker assessment of recovery from the pandemic.
By amending the definition of a school which is “coasting”, this statutory instrument will grant the Secretary of State for Education the discretionary power to intervene in schools that are currently judged as requires improvement by Ofsted and that have met the threshold of two or more consecutive Ofsted judgements below good. This power to intervene will apply equally to maintained schools and academies. It will also apply to maintained special schools, alternative provision academies and pupil referral units which have previously been excluded under the existing power to intervene in coasting schools.
We want to support pupils in schools that are in areas of the greatest entrenched underperformance. Therefore, initially the Department will prioritise interventions in schools that are in one of the 55 education investment areas (EIAs). The Department will also prioritise schools that are not currently part of a strong family of schools, especially where the Department does not believe the current leadership has the capacity to drive school improvement quickly enough.
Regional directors will assess each case on an individual basis, taking into account any representations made by the school’s governing body and other interested parties, inspection history (including whether inspection reports demonstrate an upward trajectory), evidence regarding the capacity of leadership and management to secure sustained improvement, performance and other quantitative data and evidence relating to the local context of the school.
The update to the schools causing concern guidance published alongside the response to the consultation on supporting schools not making necessary improvement sets out the process for intervention in schools that meet the new definition of “coasting”.
Customs Undervaluation Case
In March 2018, the European Commission launched infringement proceedings against the UK, alleging that between 2011 and 2017 the UK had failed to prevent undervaluation fraud involving importations of Chinese textiles and footwear, leading to approximately €2.7 billion of customs duty going uncollected. Since leaving the EU, the UK has continued to engage with these infringement proceedings as per the legal obligations set out in the withdrawal agreement. Throughout the case, the UK argued that we took appropriate steps to tackle the fraud in question and that the size and severity of the alleged fraud had been overstated. The UK has since taken proportionate and increased steps to combat this fraud without impacting legitimate trade, liquidating suspect traders through enforcement action, and substantially eliminating the illegitimate trade with significant investments in new inland customs infrastructure that opened in October 2017.
On 8 March 2022, the CJEU published its judgment, finding against the UK on most liability points. Importantly however, the Court found that the European Commission overstated the size of its losses, by expanding its claim for losses prior to 2014 beyond those originally claimed and by ignoring action taken by the UK in raising assessments for the period from 2015 onwards. The judgment did not endorse the €2.7 billion claim, instead limiting the Commission’s claim for imports from 2011 to 2014 to the amount of certain customs assessments issued and cancelled in error and, for imports in the period January 2015 to 11 October 2017, instructing the European Commission to recalculate the figure. We understand this exercise to be under way and we have not yet received the Commission’s revised estimate of the liability. These calculations are likely to be complex.
Following the judgment, the UK is liable for both outstanding customs duties and interest. This could potentially be 16% plus Bank of England base rate and accrues in the absence of any payment. With this in mind, and in order to protect UK taxpayers from significant continued interest accrual, the UK made a payment on 10 June 2022 to the European Commission of €678,372,885.63. This paid in full the amount due regarding cancelled customs assessments to the end of 2014 and, in respect of the subsequent period, represents the amount the UK considers due at this time, in light of the CJEU judgment, thereby stopping interest accruing on this amount. When the UK receives the Commission’s recalculation for the period 2015 to October 2017, we will examine their methodology closely and will not hesitate to reject any claim should we believe it to not be accurate or in line with the CJEU’s judgment, to ensure we protect UK taxpayers’ interests.
Health and Social Care
Gender Recognition: Disclosure of Information
Today, I have laid the Gender Recognition (Disclosure of Information) (England) Order 2022 in Parliament. This statutory instrument will make a minor change under the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004 in order to facilitate the invaluable research being undertaken as part of Dr Hilary Cass independent review of gender identity services for children and young people (the Cass review).
Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, it is an offence for a person acting in an official capacity to disclose information about the gender history of a person with a gender recognition certificate (GRC). The Act calls this “protected information”, with some existing exemptions, such as where disclosure is to prevent or investigate crime, or the subject of the information agrees to the disclosure.
The order I have laid today will add a further exemption to the GRA so that a closely defined class of people who facilitate, assist and carry out the research for the Cass review will be able to disclose protected information to each other during the course of their work. Without access to information currently protected under the Act, a significant portion of the available data on health outcomes would have to be removed from the study. This would subsequently prevent Dr Cass review from being able to provide robust recommendations rooted in the best available clinical evidence about how this care can best be provided.
This data will allow us to plan the provision of these services from a world-leading clinical evidence base, to promote better health outcomes for those who use these important services. I firmly believe that this will help enable further debate on these issues to be informed by the best available clinical evidence which will better serve everyone, not least children.
I remain committed to upholding the rights and privacy of transgender people, so this data will be carefully controlled. Only those working for a small number of organisations listed in the order and who are involved in the research will be able to access protected information and share it with each other. Furthermore, those within this closed circle will only be able to access and share the data if doing so is genuinely necessary in order to facilitate, assist or carry out research as part of the Cass review.
As an additional safeguard, the order will expire after a period of five years which is the maximum amount of time that we believe the project will take. The order does not allow patient identifiable information to be made public through the course of this research, and any research outputs subsequently published will be fully anonymised.
Financial Directions to the NHS: Variation 2022-23
I am varying the 2022-23 financial directions to NHS England made on 31 March 2022.
These are primarily technical changes required as a result of the Health and Care Act 2022. The main purpose of the Act is to establish a legislative framework that supports collaboration and partnership-working to integrate services for patients. Among a wide range of other measures, the Act also includes targeted changes to public health, social care and the oversight of quality and safety.
NHS England and NHS Improvement have now been formally brought together into a single legal organisation. Therefore, NHS Improvement’s resource and administration limits, as well as its capital budget, have now been incorporated into NHS England’s budget.
HM Treasury’s consolidated budgeting guidance will now apply to the whole of NHS spend including providers, requiring the addition of funding for annually managed expenditure and ringfenced funding for impairments for NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts.
Finally, funding is being provided from NHS England to Health Education England (HEE) for investment in workforce initiatives.
The Act now decouples the financial directions from the NHS mandate and requires the directions to be laid in Parliament. They will be published on gov.uk. The existing NHS mandate remains unchanged.
Criminal Legal Aid
In December the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid made clear the need for fee reform. Among a number of recommendations, the review called for an immediate pay increase of £135 million across the various criminal legal aid fee schemes. In response to these recommendations, in March, we consulted on proposals that would mark the most significant reform to criminal legal aid in more than a decade—and would include an additional investment of £135 million.
Our reforms are twofold. First, addressing the immediate fee increase as called for by the representative bodies, and second, focusing on longer term systemic change. We took this approach precisely because we recognise the urgent need for fee reform, and so we can act swiftly and decisively in the interests of our criminal legal profession. We have been working hard to analyse the responses of all stakeholders, so all our decisions are rooted in evidence. We will be publishing our formal response in due course, but I can confirm that we will be implementing a fee increase of 15% across the majority of fee schemes.
As set out in the consultation, there are a small number of schemes we are not uplifting at this stage. This includes the uplift to payment related to pages of prosecution evidence which the review found to encourage “perverse incentives”. We will be looking at how to address this as part of our longer term reforms and have set aside £20 million for those reforms initially. As well as reform to fee schemes we are considering wider issues, such as the potential roll-out of the successful “opt out” pilot for children, currently taking place at Brixton and Wembley police stations.
We want to make sure practitioners get paid properly for all the work they do. So, in addition to increasing fees, we are extending the scope of payment for pre-charge engagement work to cover work done ahead of an agreement, or where an agreement is not reached, in appropriate cases, in line with the Attorney General’s disclosure guidelines. We also intend to abolish fixed fees where individuals elect to have their case heard at the Crown court, and go on to plead guilty. We will lay a statutory instrument by 21 July, which will bring these changes into effect on 30 September this year. Considering the parliamentary process and operational changes required to do this, this is the quickest we are able to deliver this uplift. Solicitors and barristers will start to receive increased fees this year and our modelling suggests that over two thirds of the additional funding will have entered the system within the first year.
Our response to the longer term proposals, including details on the longer term funding and structural graduated fees schemes reform, will be published in the autumn, driven by the evidence in our consultation. Of course, we want to continue engaging with key stakeholders, including the Bar Council and Law Society as we develop our final policies. We are also considering the role of an advisory board as recommended by the review and plan to work closely with the Law Society and the Bar Council to design it with the intention of ensuring legal aid keeps pace with a modern justice system. Further details on the board including a terms of reference will be published in the autumn. If implemented, our longer term changes are good news for the criminal legal profession, helping us to build a sustainable sector that is fit for the future. Most importantly, they are good news for victims and everyone relying on the criminal justice system.
Report of the Independent Reviewer for National Security Arrangements 2021
The role of the Independent Reviewer of National Security Arrangements (IRNSA) in Northern Ireland is to monitor compliance with annex E of the St Andrews agreement, reviewing the relationship between MI5 and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (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 2021. Due to the classification of the report, I am unable to lay a copy in the Libraries of both Houses, but I am able to provide the House with a summary of its content.
The year commemorated the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland, the twentieth anniversary of the PSNI, and the appointment of the first Lady Chief Justice. More widely, this has been another entirely unpredictable twelve months. The coronavirus pandemic has continued to dominate life in Northern Ireland and across the rest of the United Kingdom, and developments and reactions had a significant impact on health and wellbeing, as well as on the economy and the administration of government in Northern Ireland.
Unionist parties’ continuing opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol has been a defining political theme throughout 2021. The Protocol has also constituted a significant part of the context for some paramilitary activity. The DUP contended that these unique arrangements would divide Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, and would also threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK. These post-Brexit trade arrangements appeared to magnify the sense of unionist disenfranchisement, partly by raising fears that Northern Ireland would be drawn closer to the orbit of the Republic, and would accelerate a move to eventual unification.
Unrest in unionist areas was apparent, and objection to the Protocol was said to be the predominant cause of sporadic violence and rioting, mainly in loyalist areas of Belfast and Londonderry in late March and early April—the worst for some years. Included were attacks on police officers and a bus, and in the result over 100 officers received injuries.
Violence resurfaced in November with the hijacking and torching of a Translink bus in Newtownards by masked men, and less than a week later another bus was boarded and burnt out in Newtownabbey. It was believed the arson was carried out by loyalists from a local faction of the Ulster Volunteer Force in an apparent protest against the Protocol, although the real effect was to harm local people and make life more difficult for local communities.
The pandemic and the strictures towards working from home continued to have a profound effect. By mid-summer the Chief Medical Officer was concerned that the health service was having to operate under severe pressure and the Northern Ireland Minister for Health called in military medical staff to assist. In early September Stormont was recalled to discuss the high level of COVID-related school absence. Many of the communities hardest hit by the pandemic were those where social-economic problems were at their greatest and often where paramilitary presence was at its strongest.
The dissident activity picture remained much as it was in 2020 and it is assessed covid restrictions limited operational activity. The threat level in Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland-related Terrorism (NIRT) remained at SEVERE, meaning an attack is highly likely.
The first attack ascribed to NIRA since the arrest of the alleged leadership during Operation Arbacia, in August 2020, took place in April. An improvised firebomb was left next to a police officer’s car outside her home in County Londonderry with the apparent intention of killing both the officer and her young daughter. Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill described the attack as “shocking and deplorable”. Arrests were made later in the year, and a number of Continuity IRA members were arrested and charged in June. Arrests were made in September in relation to the shooting of Lyra McKee.
The success of Operation Arbacia in 2020, coordinated jointly by PSNI and MI5, was widely welcomed and the resulting arrests had restricted the ability of NIRA to operate and attack at a sustained level. The reduced activity compared with previous years was apparent, although constant vigilance and pressure was still necessary. The smaller groups of identifiable dissident republicans had been involved in some activity, not touching national security, attempting to retain their public profile.
The more visible activity was in the name of loyalism, the flash point being the objection to the perceived effects of the protocol. Overall, the dial had been turned up and other issues of contention including the handling of legacy cases and the Irish language, remained just below the surface. On the positive side, the general threat picture was better, being confined to a small sector who were adept at preying on and deploying vulnerable youngsters.
The landscape continues to be complex, with participants ranging from those who use paramilitarism as a cloak for unadorned criminality to those who remain involved for political and identity reasons which reach back to the Troubles. The damage caused by paramilitary activities on communities and society as a whole is undiminished. The cross-Executive Tackling Paramilitary Activity, Criminality and Organised Crime Programme supports people and communities across Northern Ireland who are vulnerable to paramilitary influence and uses a public health approach to violence reduction. The Tackling Paramilitarism, Criminality and Organised Crime Programme Board, chaired by the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the Political Advisory Group chaired by the Justice Minister, welcomed the increasing emphasis on a “whole of Government” approach in tackling paramilitarism, the development of multi-agency hubs, and the impact of more joined-up, inter-agency approach.
The same observational difficulties that applied in 2020 continued in that it was not possible to conform to any sort of structured plan of visits or avenues of inquiry. It was evident that the various offices and organisations of interest were all under enormous pressure, coping not just with unforeseen unpredicted events but also with illness, self-isolation and working from home, resulting in most offices being pared down to critical staff.
In the event the approach to meetings and research that I adopted in 2020 of some virtual contact where possible, was continued for much of the year. Regular communication continued nevertheless, and I was fully informed of any significant developments. It was not until November, as infection rates subsided, that a suitable opportunity arose fora visit to Belfast, and some more useful face to face personal contact was re-established.
My major update with MI5 was conducted through the secure link from Whitehall in July. Again, although any briefing and discussion on particular investigations was not practical, I was given a clear insight of both the current direction, the prevailing budgetary conditions and the interaction with PSNI. I was able to have a better understanding of the additional problems created by working in a COVID-19 restricted environment and a better picture of how MI5 had adapted to the current conditions. Necessary absences and revised practices had been challenging, but not undermining, and the policy of wider collaboration and further community initiatives continued.
Of note was the continuing development of high-level regular meetings of agency representatives with obvious advantages in mutual understanding and identifying best practice and effective integrated planning and strategic approach to tackling NIRT. Work was also continuing with broader communication and improving protocols with partners in order to be more cooperative with releasing information while maintaining essential security.
I am confident, however, that MI5 continues to maintain the strategic approach to tackling NIRT and the sharing of intelligence at as high a level as is possible. I have been kept apprised of significant events personally, and the Northern Ireland Committee on Protection at its meetings receives an instructive update at each meeting.
I was able to visit PSNi HQ in November, where I was briefed by the Chief Constable Simon Byrne, and other senior officers as to the effective co-operation achieved. They underlined the difficulty of managing and deploying a public service in an environment that was unstable and unpredictable from both the health and political standpoints. A worrying development was the spread of public disorder in a number of areas in late March and early April leading to the need for strategic and tactical command structures in order to protect communities from harm and to keep people safe. There was considerable assistance and support from community leaders and youth workers in seeking to restore calm, but the widespread and unnecessary level of violence directed towards the police was a serious concern.
Maintaining public confidence within some sections of the community remained a problem, and accusations and perceptions of “two-tier” policing remained prominent. Directing a virus-struck, depleted service that had to interact with the public in changing conditions—with regulations that were difficult to explain and liable to change—resulted in situations which attracted criticism from many sides while pleasing few. There was also the necessity of maintaining vigilance and effectiveness in the drive against organised crime and terrorism, where resilience among the dissident republican groups remained, and about a third of the organised crime groups were loyalist paramilitary organisations or had paramilitary links.
With PSNI as the public face, the response to the worrying period of disorder witnessed in parts of the Protestant, unionist, loyalist community during April was led by the Executive.
Recorded crime level in the spring was below average although antisocial activity was consistent. The absence of disorder and relative stability over the summer was encouraging. The agreement with MI5 and the management of CHIS operatives continues to be carefully monitored particularly in the light of the new power under the Covert Human Intelligence Source (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021. This power has been robustly reviewed and in no circumstances would serious crime against another person be allowed. The regular inter-agency meetings at a very senior level continued and provided a positive contribution in providing a best practice and a complimentary approach to the threat and changing landscape of operating national security during a difficult year.
The key security situation statistics during the year show there were two security-related deaths, the same number as in 2020. There were fewer bombings, shootings and paramilitary-style attacks than in 2020. There were 5 bombing incidents, compared to 18 in 2020 and 25 shootings, compared to 41. There were 36 casualties of paramilitary style assaults, compared to 26 previously. AH casualties were aged over 18. There were 14 casualties of paramilitary style shootings, compared to 15 previously, all of whom were over 18. There were 134 persons arrested under section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000, compared with 76 of which 23 were subsequently charged, compared to 14 previously.
Overall, the continued development of regular meetings and exchanges at high level between the police and the security services is noticeable and commendable.
Although dissident republicans continue to pose the most significant threat to national security in Northern Ireland, successful investigations against them in 2020 lowered their operational capacity and activity into 2021. Concerted pressure directed towards them remained effective with positive results, and several plots were thwarted. Efforts by PSNI, MI5, An Garda Siochana, and the Ammunition Technical Officers meant that the overwhelming majority of the population were able to go about their daily lives untroubled by terrorism.
Despite fewer incidents, danger to serving police and prison officers doing a difficult job persists and regrettably the necessity for constant vigilance remains.
My conclusions, again restricted by difficult operational conditions, in relation to Annex E of the St Andrews are as follows:
Further to reinforce this comprehensive set of safeguards, the Government confirms that it accepts 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 arrangements a: All Security Service intelligence relating to terrorism in Northern Ireland will be visible to the PSNI Clear evidence of continued successful collaboration. There is compliance. b: PSNI will be informed of all Security Service counter-terrorist activities relating to Northern Ireland. Regular and effective high-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 Policing Board is under strong leadership and has an effective human rights advisor. PSNI continues to comply with the Human Rights Act.
Further to reinforce this comprehensive set of safeguards, the Government confirms that it accepts 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 arrangements
a: All Security Service intelligence relating to terrorism in Northern Ireland will be visible to the PSNI
Clear evidence of continued successful collaboration.
There is compliance.
b: PSNI will be informed of all Security Service counter-terrorist activities relating to Northern Ireland.
Regular and effective high-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 Policing Board is under strong leadership and has an effective human rights advisor. PSNI continues to comply with the Human Rights Act.
Aviation Industry: Government Support
The majority of UK flights continue to be on time and without disruption. However, some passengers have faced significant disruption, which has also occurred in the aviation sector across Europe and globally. The outcome for too many consumers has been unacceptable.
I have made it clear to the sector that they need to operate services properly and according to schedule or provide swift, appropriate compensation. I have already announced a one-off amnesty on airport slot rules, enabling airlines to plan ahead and avoid last-minute cancellations.
I expect airlines to use this one-off amnesty now to ensure they are giving consumers certainty by offering schedules they can deliver. By the end of the slot handback period, I expect airlines to be offering services they are confident of delivering, and I will continue to seek reassurances from them that this is the case.
We have been extensively engaging with industry at ministerial and official level since the beginning of the year. As part of this engagement the aviation Minister established a weekly strategic risk group. This brings together CEOs from airports, airlines and ground handlers to work through the issues ahead of the summer.
Today, I am setting out all of the 22 measures the Government are currently taking to support the aviation industry, including: to help recruit and train staff; ensure the delivery of a realistic summer schedule; minimise disruption; and support passengers when delays and cancellations are unavoidable. The Government recognise that these issues are primarily for industry to solve, but this series of targeted measures will support their efforts.
The measures are:
Ensure industry deliver a realistic summer schedule
1. We and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have set out five specific expectations to the industry to deliver a successful summer operation:
1. Summer schedules must be reviewed to make sure they are deliverable;
2. Everyone from ground handlers to air traffic control must collaborate on resilience planning;
3. Passengers must be promptly informed of their consumer rights when things go wrong and—if necessary—compensation in good time;
4. Disabled and less mobile passengers must be given assistance they require;
5. Safety and security must never be compromised.
2. We have introduced new regulations on airport slots give airlines the tools to ensure that schedules are manageable and reduce flight disruption over the summer peak.
3. We have strengthened industry-Government working, by establishing a new weekly strategic risk group, chaired by Ministers and attended by airline, airport and ground handler CEOs to ensure they are prepared for summer and can meet the schedules.
4. We have established a weekly summer resilience group with airline, airport and ground handler operational directors to help them work through their pinch-points in the aviation system as they emerge and work collaboratively on solutions.
5. We have established a joint Home Office and Department for Transport ministerial border group to identify and prepare for high levels of demand at the UK border.
6. We have worked with the major airlines and airports to get weekly updates and assurances to Government that they can run their schedule of summer flights.
7. We are working with international partners, neighbouring countries and EUROCONTROL, to ensure that disruption is minimised through co-ordinated planning and cooperation across airspace boundaries.
8. We are undertaking a review of the ground handling market to seek out opportunities to improve quality and consistency of service.
1. We will launch a new aviation passenger charter, a one-stop guide for passengers informing them of their rights, responsibilities and what they can reasonably expect of the aviation industry when flying.
2. We have worked with the CAA and industry to publish and promote guidance for passengers as part of a joint campaign of activity to communicate things they need to know and do when travelling by air this summer, helping to speed up processing time and reduce queues and delays.
3. We have written to airlines to remind them of their legal responsibilities in providing information, care and assistance, refunds, and compensation.
4. We are working with the CAA reviewing airlines current practices to ensure legal responsibilities in providing information, care and assistance, refunds, and compensation are being met and encouraging best practice.
5. We intend to strengthen consumer protection for air passengers such as additional enforcement powers for CAA, our proposals are set out in the aviation consumer consultation.
6. The CAA has written to airports to set out their plans for additional measures to improve provision of assistance to disabled and less mobile passengers and support the sector by providing guidance.
Supporting industry to recruit, retain and train staff
7. We changed the law so industry has more flexibility to train staff and allow them to deploy staff quickly and flexibly while maintaining security standards.
8. We are launching a Generation Aviation campaign, working with industry to promote awareness of aviation careers and increase the number of people applying for jobs in the sector.
9. We are working with the CAA to launch a £700,000 skills funding competition this autumn to support outreach across the sector and raise awareness of aviation careers to young people.
10. We have launched the aviation skills recruitment platform to support skills retention and recruitment in the sector.
11. We are building partnerships with colleges and universities to ensure students are attracted to and prepared for a career in aviation—and to support this we have launched the Talentview Aviation platform to connect students to aviation sector employers.
12. We are working with the Department for Work and Pensions to promote aviation roles and recruitment via job centres and training for jobs coaches.
13. We are delivering our Reach for the Sky outreach programme, supported by our aviation ambassadors to promote diversity, inclusion and accessibility in the sector.
14. We introduced the airport and ground operations support scheme (AGOSS) to support commercial airports and ground operators with fixed costs, through £161 million in grants.
There have been calls for a seasonal worker scheme to allow EU workers to fill vacant roles in our aviation sector. However, the Government are clear that more immigration is not an obvious solution. The aviation sector’s issues are not confined to the UK. Disruption is happening across the EU and in the USA due to staff shortages, and the Government are committed to building a robust and dependable domestic aviation industry, launching the aviation skills retention platform to help develop and hold onto UK workers. Similar schemes in other sectors experiencing shortages, such as the HGV sector, have not been widely used and have not significantly contributed towards a solution. Building a resilient, well-paid British workforce will prove a far more effective, sustainable and long-term solution.
The Government have taken action to support the industry, now the sector itself needs to take the appropriate steps to ensuring they deliver realistic summer schedules, work together as an ecosystem, and put the consumer first.