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Written Statements

Volume 717: debated on Thursday 7 July 2022

Written Statements

Thursday 7 July 2022

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Energy Infrastructure Planning Projects

This Statement concerns an application for development consent made under the Planning Act 2008 by NNB Generation Company (SZC) Limited for the construction and operation of a nuclear power station near Leiston in Suffolk.

Under section 107(1) of the Planning Act 2008, the Secretary of State must make a decision on an application within three months of the receipt of the examining authority’s report unless exercising the power under section 107(3) of the Act to set a new deadline. Where a new deadline is set, the Secretary of State must make a statement to Parliament to announce it. The current statutory deadline for the decision on the Sizewell C nuclear power station application is 8 July 2022.

I have decided to set a new deadline of no later than 20 July 2022 for deciding this application. This is to ensure there is sufficient time to allow the Secretary of State to consider the proposal.

The decision to set the new deadline for this application is without prejudice to the decision on whether to grant or refuse development consent.

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Offshore Transmission Network: Holistic Network Design and Pathfinder Projects

Today marks a significant milestone for the offshore transmission network review and the British energy security strategy, with the publication of the first major deliverable—the holistic network design, developed by National Grid Electricity System Operator. The full holistic network design and supporting documents and maps can be found at: https://www.nationalgrideso.com/future-energy/the-pathway-2030-holistic-network-design.

The UK Government launched the OTNR in 2020 to improve the delivery of transmission connections for offshore wind. Considering the increasingly ambitious targets for offshore wind deployment, the current approach of delivering individual links for each wind farm is no longer fit for purpose and will not deliver the best outcomes for consumers, the environment or local communities.

More recently, the British energy security strategy set out bold plans to scale up and accelerate affordable, clean and secure energy made in Britain, for Britain, so we can enjoy greater energy self-sufficiency with cheaper bills. This included an ambition for 50GW of offshore wind by 2030.

Holistic network design

Developing the GB network in a timely way is vital. Without it we will waste a significant volume of cheap, green electricity. This will require more network infrastructure than today, both onshore and offshore, but through an upfront, strategic approach to network planning we will ensure that new network infrastructure is minimised, and where it cannot be avoided, it is brought forward in the most appropriate place.

The first step to this new innovative approach is the holistic network design, which has been published on 7 July by National Grid ESO. The HND represents a significant shift in how network infrastructure is planned. It is a first of a kind strategic network design for the upgraded and new onshore and offshore network infrastructure needed to connect 18 offshore wind farms. This will provide the network infrastructure needed to meet our ambition of delivering 50GW of offshore wind by 2030.

The holistic network design, for the first time balances economic factors with consideration of environmental and community impacts. It sets out the need for this infrastructure, not a detailed project plan. No decisions have yet been taken on the route for the network, or how best to do this. All projects that come forward as a result of the HND will be subject to the relevant democratic planning processes. These will ensure local stakeholders get their say on developments and impacts are mitigated as far as possible.

Pathfinder projects

Alongside improving strategic network planning for 2030 and beyond, we are also facilitating innovation for well-advanced projects connecting ahead of 2030. Today, four initial pathfinder projects are being announced—in Norfolk, Aberdeen and South Yorkshire. These projects have voluntarily opted in to utilise changes made under the OTNR to increase network co-ordination and maximise the benefits for consumers, communities, and the environment. NGESO will continue working with developers to progress these projects.

Five projects off the coast of East Anglia have today confirmed their commitment to exploring co-ordinated network designs, with a view to identifying future pathfinder projects. Further information on these announcements can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/offshore-transmission-network-review.

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Cabinet Office

Public Sector Fraud Authority

The Government have announced in the spring statement that they will create a Public Sector Fraud Authority (PSFA) to fight public sector fraud.

The PSFA will focus on performance and outcomes, building expert-led services to support Government Departments and public bodies to combat fraud. It will bring increased scrutiny across the system.

The Government had planned for the PSFA to be launched in July 2022, with a statement to the House. The planned statement will be made, but at a later date.

The PSFA will be part of wider spending by the government of over £750 million to combat fraud. Once launched, it will replace the existing centre of the counter fraud function.

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Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Online Safety Bill: Update for Report Stage

Today the Government are committing to a series of changes to strengthen the Online Safety Bill further, and deliver our manifesto commitment of making the UK the safest place in the world to be online. This ground-breaking legislation will make technology companies accountable to an independent regulator to keep their users safe, while enshrining safeguards for freedom of expression online.

The Government have tabled amendments to make a series of changes to the Bill.

This includes:

Temporary “must carry” requirements for platforms to carry recognised news publisher content until an appeal on removal or moderation has taken place.

Changes to the illegal safety duties, to include the risk that a service is used for the commission or facilitation of an offence, better to address concerns about cross-platform harms and breadcrumbing.

Providing further powers to enable Ofcom to require companies to take additional steps to tackle child sexual exploitation and abuse online.

Strengthening the harmful and false communications offences, by including a partial exemption for holders of certain licences to ensure licence holders are not able to undermine the offence or avoid prosecution for harmful behaviour.

Changes to make clearer that category one service providers can decide to allow harmful content on their service if they choose to.

In addition, many people are rightly concerned about the threat that state-sponsored disinformation poses to UK society and democracy. The Government have tabled an amendment that builds a bridge between the National Security Bill and the Online Safety Bill. This amendment to the National Security Bill will designate the offence of foreign interference as a priority offence in schedule 7 to the Online Safety Bill. This will capture the kind of state-sponsored disinformation that is of most concern: covert attempts by foreign state actors to manipulate our information environment in order to interfere in UK society and undermine our democratic, political and legal processes.

Following careful consideration and consultation with stakeholders and parliamentarians, the Government commits to implementing the following changes, bringing forward amendments in the Lords where necessary:

Small but high-risk services:

Emerging risky services list

The tech sector is fast-moving and companies can rapidly expand. The Government recognise concerns that this pace of change will make it more challenging for Ofcom to keep the register of high-risk, high-reach—category 1—services up to date. To address this, the Government will introduce a new duty on Ofcom to identify and publish a list of companies that are close to the category 1 thresholds. This will ensure that Ofcom proactively identifies emerging risky companies, and is ready to assess and add these companies to the category 1 register without delay.

This new requirement on Ofcom will be combined with Ofcom’s existing duties continually to assess regulated services and to add them to the register of categories if they meet the relevant threshold conditions. This will ensure the regime remains agile and able to adapt to emerging threats, as well as ensuring Ofcom can develop a detailed understanding of new risks.

Deferred power to apply the adult safety duties to small but high-risk services

We also recognise the concerns which have been raised around smaller platforms which allow or encourage suicide, antisemitic, incel and racist content on their services, and we will continue with cross-government work on such issues. These platforms will already be subject to the illegal safety duties, ensuring that they put in place effective measures to prevent the most harmful content being shared on their services.

The current provisions in the Bill relating to legal content that poses a risk of harm to adult users acknowledges that the reach of such content, as well as the functionality of the service, such as algorithmic promotion of harmful content, will affect the risk it poses to users.

Further research is necessary to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to expand the duties on small but risky platforms. We will therefore be conferring a deferred power on the Secretary of State to create a new category of small but high-risk services which will be subject to the duties relating to adults’ risk assessment and adult safety. This change will mean those smaller but high-risk services will be held to account for the transparent and consistent enforcement of their own terms and conditions. The services included in this new category would be identified through a similar process as for category 1 services in the Bill, but without a requirement relating to the number of users of the service. The Secretary of State will also be able to consider other relevant factors in addition to the risk of harm, to avoid inadvertently bringing small services into scope where this would not be proportionate to the risk presented.

To ensure the Secretary of State has the necessary evidence to inform the decision on whether to make this change, we will require Ofcom to produce a report with evidence of the prevalence of, and risk associated with, priority harmful content on non-category 1 services. The Secretary of State will be required to consider that report when taking the decision on whether to commence the power.

It is vital that the Online Safety Bill remains targeted and proportionate and does not impose any undue burdens on business. We will only apply the adult’s risk assessment and adult safety duties to services in this new category, rather than the full range of category 1 duties.

Definition of “recognised news publisher”:

We are committed to protecting media freedom and the invaluable role of a free press in our society and democracy. We are clear that online safety regulation must protect the vital role of the press in our society. This is why we have provided protections for recognised news publisher content and journalistic content. News publishers’ websites are not in scope of online safety regulation. The legislation also contains safeguards for news publisher content and wider journalistic content when it is shared on in-scope social media platforms, including a right of appeal for journalists when their content is removed. At report stage, we will strengthen protections, including to ensure that recognised news publishers’ content remains online while an appeal takes place. However, we are clear that sanctioned news outlets such as RT must not benefit from these protections. As such, we intend to amend the criteria for determining which entities qualify as recognised news publishers in the Lords explicitly to exclude entities that are subject to sanctions.

Epilepsy trolling:

Flashing images sent online deliberately to people with epilepsy can result in significant harm. The Government have listened to parliamentarians and stakeholders about the impact and consequences of this awful behaviour. We welcome the Law Commission’s recommended new criminal offence and can confirm that the Government will legislate for a new offence of epilepsy trolling through this Bill at the earliest possible stage. We had hoped to introduce a Government amendment at report stage, but it is essential to create an offence that is legally robust and enforceable so that those perpetrating this disgraceful behaviour will face the appropriate criminal sanctions. We therefore commit to tabling amendments to create this offence in the Lords.

Secretary of State’s power of direction on codes of practice:

We recognise the concerns raised that the Bill allows too great a degree of Executive control. These have focused in particular on the power for the Secretary of State to require Ofcom to modify a draft of a code of practice for reasons of public policy. We remain committed to ensuring that Ofcom maintains its regulatory independence, which is vital to the success of the framework. With this in mind, we have built a number of safeguards into the use of the Secretary of State’s powers, to ensure they are consistent with our intention of having an independent regulator and are only used in limited circumstances with appropriate scrutiny.

We will make two substantive changes to this power: firstly, we will make it clear that this power would only be used “in exceptional circumstances”; and secondly, we will replace the “public policy” wording with a more clearly defined list of reasons for which the Secretary of State could issue a direction. This list will comprise national security, public safety, public health, the UK’s international relations and obligations, economic policy and burden to business.

We are grateful for the continued engagement and scrutiny of the Bill as it moves through its parliamentary stages. These changes ensure that the Bill remains sustainable, workable, and proportionate, and will create a significant step-change in the experience people have online.

Publishing risk assessment summaries:

We recognise the need for companies to be as transparent as possible when it comes to the level of risk in the design and operation of their services. This needs to be balanced with ensuring confidential information is protected, whilst maintaining the Bill’s risk-based and proportionate approach. The Bill already requires in-scope services to carry out risk assessments, keep them up to date and update them before making a significant change to the design or operation of their service. Ofcom will also require major platforms to publish annual transparency reports. Summaries of risk assessments could be included in this; however, we recognise calls to ensure this is more robustly enforced.

We therefore intend to require the highest risk companies to publish a summary of their illegal and child safety risk assessments, with a further requirement that the same categories of company submit these risk assessments in full to Ofcom. This should ensure greater transparency from the highest risk companies, whilst making it easier for Ofcom to supervise compliance with the risk assessment duty.

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Online Safety Bill: Scope

The Online Safety Bill will deliver vital protections for children, ensure there are no safe spaces for criminals online and protect and promote free speech.

All services in scope of the Bill must tackle criminal activity online, and all services likely to be accessed by children will have duties to protect them from harmful content. The major platforms will have additional responsibilities to set out clearly what content harmful to adults they allow on their service, and to enforce their own policies consistently. Nothing in the Bill requires services to remove legal content from their platform and users will continue to be able to hold robust discussions of controversial issues, including those which might cause offence, online.

The Bill sets a threshold for harmful content, which brings into scope content of a kind which presents a material risk of significant harm to an appreciable number of children or adults in the UK. Disagreement online will not meet the threshold of harm in the Bill, including on issues of scientific debate.

A key feature of the online safety regulatory framework will be the designation of priority harmful content for children and adults. Services in scope of the Bill which are likely to be accessed by children will be required to prevent them from encountering “primary priority content that is harmful to children”, and to protect children in age groups at risk of harm from “priority content that is harmful to children”.

The largest and most high risk, category 1, services will also need to be clear in their terms of service how “priority content that is harmful to adults” is addressed by the service. Services will be able to set their own tolerance for legal content for adult users. Category 1 services will need to assess the risk of priority harmful content to adults, set out clearly in terms of service how such content is treated and enforce their terms of service consistently. This could include specifying that the content will be removed or deprioritised in news feeds, but could also include the platform stating that such content is allowed freely or that it will be recommended or promoted to other users. In addition, all services will need to have regard to freedom of expression when implementing their safety duties.

Final details of the types of content covered by the three categories—primary priority content for children, priority harmful content for children and priority harmful content for adults—will be designated in secondary legislation following consultation with Ofcom. This will ensure the types of designated content are based on the most recent evidence and emerging harms can be added quickly, future-proofing the legislation. However, the Government recognise the interest from parliamentarians and stakeholders in the identity of priority harmful content. To provide more detail on the harms that we intend to designate, the Government are publishing a proposed list of the types of content that it expects to be listed as primary priority and priority harmful content for children and priority harmful content for adults.

The Government consider that the types of content on the indicative list meet the threshold for priority harmful content set out in the Bill. This threshold is important to ensure that the online safety framework focuses on content and activity which poses the most significant risk of harm to UK users online. It is important for the framework to distinguish in this way between strongly felt debate on the one hand, and unacceptable acts of abuse, intimidation and violence on the other. British democracy has always been robust and oppositional. Free speech within the law can involve the expression of views that some may find offensive, but a line is crossed when disagreement mutates into abuse or harassment, which refuses to tolerate other opinions and seeks to deprive others from exercising their free speech and freedom of association.

This may not be an exhaustive list of the content which will be designated as priority harmful content under the Bill. We will continue to engage extensively with stakeholders, parliamentarians and Ofcom, including on some of the most harmful content online, ahead of designating the details of the three categories of priority harmful content in secondary legislation.

Indicative list of priority harmful content

Adults:

Priority content (category 1 services need to address in their terms and conditions):

Online abuse and harassment. Mere disagreement with another’s point of view would not reach the threshold of harmful content, and so would not be covered by this.

Circulation of real or manufactured intimate images without the subject's consent

Content promoting self-harm

Content promoting eating disorders

Legal suicide content

Harmful health content that is demonstrably false, such as urging people to drink bleach to cure cancer. It also includes some health and vaccine misinformation and disinformation, but is not intended to capture genuine debate.

Children:

Primary priority content (children must be prevented from encountering altogether):

Pornography

Content promoting self-harm (with some content which may be designated as priority content, e.g. content focused on recovery from self-harm)

Content promoting eating disorders (with some content which may be designated as priority content, e.g. content focused on recovery from an eating disorder)

Legal suicide content (with some content which may be designated as priority content, e.g. content focused on recovery)

Priority content (companies need to ensure content is age appropriate for their child users):

Online abuse, cyberbullying and harassment

Harmful health content (including health and vaccine misinformation and disinformation) Content depicting or encouraging violence

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Treasury

Fiscal Risks and Sustainability Report 2022

The Office for Budget Responsibility has published its Fiscal Risks and Sustainability report today. This report fulfils the OBR’s obligation to examine and report on the sustainability of, and the risks to, the public finances, in accordance with the Charter for Budget Responsibility. The UK continues to be a leading example in fiscal transparency and risk management.

The FRS has been laid before Parliament today and copies are available in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office. The Government will respond formally to the FRS 2022 at a subsequent fiscal event.

The UK has experienced several significant shocks over the last decade, including the challenges posed by the covid-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a spike in global energy prices.

The Government have taken a balanced approach, ensuring that it continues to support people and the economy in the face of global pressures and uncertainty with temporary, timely and targeted support, while reducing debt over the medium term. The Government support for cost of living has now totalled over £37 billion this year, with the OBR noting in today’s report that the Government spent as much

“as it did supporting the economy through the financial crisis”.

The Government are also committed to building a stronger economy for future generations, and the OBR today has revised up long-run productivity growth because of the Government plans to deliver over £600 billion in gross public sector investment over the next 5 years, reaching the highest sustained levels of public sector net investment as a proportion of GDP since the late 1970s.

In the long run, the OBR’s projections show that demographic change, other cost pressures and the transition to net zero will present significant challenges to the public finances. The OBR note the actions the Government have taken to strengthen the public finances and reduce debt levels over the medium term, but significant pressures remain. The report also highlights that the UK still faces threats in the near term. The public finances remain sensitive to inflation and interest rates, with the outlook for energy prices being uncertain and made more pronounced by heightened geopolitical tensions. The Government must therefore continue to bring down the level of debt and rebuild fiscal space, so we can safeguard the economy against future challenges and respond as future risks materialise.

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Health and Social Care

Care Costs Cap

The Government are implementing a comprehensive reform programme of adult social care with £5.4 billion investment over three years, building on measures in the Health and Care Act. This includes £3.6 billion to reform the social care charging system and enable all local authorities to move towards paying providers a fair cost of care.

Today the Department of Health and Social Care has published updated operational guidance on implementing the cap on care costs, alongside the Government response to the consultation on this draft guidance. This guidance seeks to support all local authorities in their preparations for implementing our reforms from October 2023.

These changes will end the lottery of unpredictable care costs through the introduction of a £86,000 cap on personal care costs, as well as a more generous means test, raising the upper capital limit from £23,350 to £100,000, and the lower capital limit from £14,250 to £20,000.

The Government’s consultation on the statutory guidance to implement charging reform ran from 4 March until 31 March 2022 and sought views on how a cap on care costs would operate in practice. The consultation received 161 responses, indicating broad support of the policy principles and the aims of our reforms. The feedback suggested that sections of the guidance needed further development to ensure they are clear and workable. We have therefore worked with local authorities and the wider adult social care sector to clarify and expand the guidance in line with this feedback.

The guidance updates the existing care and support statutory guidance (CASS) and covers the following areas:

Cap on care costs (including detail on: daily living costs; what counts towards the cap; the metering process; requesting that the local authority meets self-funders’ needs and cross-border issues);

Independent personal budgets (including detail on: the principles of establishing an independent personal budget; verification of the purchase of care; dispute resolution; and moving from an independent personal budget to a personal budget);

Care accounts (including detail on: what should be included in a care account; care account statements; retention of care accounts; and portability of care accounts).

We have also amended the guidance in response to feedback on the implementation of one specific aspect of our reforms, the extension of section 18(3) of the Care Act 2014.

As announced in building back better, from October 2023 we will extend the right for self-funding individuals to have their eligible care needs met by their local authority, such that they can access care at, generally lower, local authority rates. This is aimed at improving fairness and accessibility, as well as supporting the operation of the cap, which is based on how much local authorities pay for care. We will do this by extending the application of section 18(3) of the Care Act 2014.

The consultation sought views on how best to ensure smooth implementation of this change. Respondents pointed towards a need to mitigate the initial impacts of section 18(3) and a common theme in responses from local authorities was concern about the workability of full implementation from October 2023. They were also concerned about the potential impact on those awaiting care and support, should a large number of people with existing care arrangements already in place approach their local authority to arrange their care at this point in time.

The guidance published today therefore clarifies our intention to stage the extension of section 18(3) over 18 months, so that people entering residential care from October 2023 are initially eligible. Additionally, anybody already living in residential care will be eligible from April 2025 at the latest, and earlier if the market can sustain full rollout. This will be kept under regular review. Section 18(3) already applies to individuals who are receiving care outside of a residential care setting.

Section 18(3) does not affect an individual’s ability to use the cap on care costs; all care users will be able to meter towards the cap on care costs from October 2023. Rather, section 18(3) helps individuals ensure that they pay no more than the metering rate when meeting their eligible needs; the metering rate is based on the fees commissioned by local authorities, and these cannot always be secured by individuals arranging their own care. This means that individuals using section 18(3) from October 2023 onwards need not pay more than £86,000 on getting the personal care they need; their local authority will arrange their care and they will meter towards the cap based on the amount they spend. Everyone who funds their own care will be able to ask their local authority to meet their needs from April 2025 at the latest. People with assets of less than £100,000 do not need to use section 18(3); they will be able to ask their local authority to meet their needs from October 2023, as a result of the extended and more generous means test.

This staged approach to introduction will allow individuals funding their own care to benefit from local authorities’ expertise in commissioning as quickly as possible, while allowing local authorities and social care providers to plan for this change and avoid unnecessary disruption to service provision.

Today’s publication is a further milestone on the Government’s journey to reform adult social care, creating a system that is fit for the future and of which we can all be proud.

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