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Written Statements

Volume 723: debated on Tuesday 29 November 2022

Written Statements

Tuesday 29 November 2022

Attorney General

Serious Fraud Office's Handling of the Unaoil Case: Independent Review

Following the Court of Appeal’s judgment in the Unaoil case, R v. Akle & Anor, in December 2021, the then Attorney General, the right hon. and learned Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), commissioned Sir David Calvert-Smith to conduct an independent review into the Serious Fraud Office’s handling of the case.

On 21 July 2022, in a written ministerial statement, the then Attorney General provided Parliament with the findings of Sir David’s review and a response to his recommendations. This also included a commitment to update Parliament on progress in delivering these recommendations in both November 2022 and February 2023. This WMS provides the first of these updates.

Sir David’s review made 11 recommendations, which were accepted. These cover a range of matters, including record keeping and case assurance, compliance with policies, and resourcing. While many of the changes recommended by Sir David can be—and have been—made quickly, it will necessarily take longer to fully embed his recommendations and assess the effectiveness of changes made.

Within this context, I am pleased to report that significant progress has been made in delivering Sir David’s recommendations. For nine of the 11 recommendations, the SFO has already implemented specific measures or steps to ensure their effective delivery. For the two remaining recommendations, work has commenced to make changes in response to Sir David’s proposals.

A detailed update on progress will be published on today and copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

I would also like to take this opportunity to notify Parliament of a change to the timing of the second update on Sir David’s recommendations. This was originally planned for February 2023 but will now be provided by no later than May 2023. This is to allow the findings of an inspection of the SFO by His Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate to be considered as part of the update. The inspection, a report of which will be published in April 2023, is examining case progression in the SFO with reference to relevant findings in Sir David’s review.


Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Energy Security

It will not be news to hon. Members that in the past year, Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine has sent energy prices soaring.

Without this Government’s support, it would have sent thermostats sinking this winter, too. We have taken decisive action to keep homes, businesses, hospitals, and schools warm this winter. But if we are to avoid foisting this crisis on to future generations, we must think about the years to come, too.

This Government are investing now in a long-term plan, deploying transformative technologies to secure a cheaper, cleaner, reliable supply of energy for Britain and laying firm foundations for growth.

We are one of the biggest economies in the world, but for far too long our energy dependency has threatened to make us vulnerable, when the price of our energy is dictated by the whims of international energy markets.

To put a stop to this situation, we are securing our energy sovereignty.

We are building an energy system fit for the future, by delivering low-carbon energy and greater energy efficiency. We will continue working with our allies, whilst reducing the impact of international energy markets on our energy system.

By developing our world-leading renewables and investing in new nuclear, we will generate home-grown British energy for British families and businesses, boosting British jobs and British growth even as we transition to net zero.

Energy sovereignty is within our grasp. Clean, affordable energy for households and businesses is not a pipe dream, but a project we have now embarked on. Today I am setting out the steps we are taking on our path to energy freedom, delivering opportunity, security, and prosperity for all.

Investing in nuclear power

Nuclear power will be at the core of our threefold mission: to secure our energy supply; to supercharge growth; and to cut our carbon emissions. Today, it was announced that we have delivered on our commitments in the autumn statement, and that the Government will progress Sizewell C.

Our investment, the first made directly by a Government in nuclear power for 30 years, will drive forward the project’s development, and confirm the Government as a project shareholder. Next year, the Government, EDF, and the project company will work together to raise private capital under our new regulated asset base funding model for nuclear.

This is a truly significant moment, and our biggest step so far towards increasing our energy independence. Sizewell C will create 10,000 highly skilled jobs for the area and provide cleaner, cheaper, low-carbon electricity for the equivalent of 6 million homes for over 50 years.

Great British Nuclear

We remain committed to developing a pipeline of new nuclear projects beyond Sizewell C, where these offer clear value for money for taxpayers and consumers. We have been working at pace on the scoping and set up of Great British Nuclear, with the support of industry, and we will make an announcement on the set up of GBN early in the new year.

GBN will be tasked with helping projects through every stage of the development process and developing a resilient pipeline of new builds. We will back it with funding to support projects to get investment ready and through the construction phase, while recognising the challenging fiscal environment outlined by the Chancellor at the autumn statement.

GBN will enable the delivery of clean, safe electricity over the decades to come, protecting future generations from the high prices of global fossil fuel markets.

Boosting energy efficiency

We must do all we can to boost energy generation, but we can also make sure that none of us uses more than we need.

The days of wasting energy are over. Boosting energy efficiency with warmer homes and buildings is key to bringing down bills and boosting jobs along the way with green growth.

We are aiming high, with a target to reduce the UK’s final energy consumption from buildings and industry by 15% by 2030. We are also providing the money to get there, with a new £6 billion investment from 2025 to 2028 that comes on top of the £6.6 billion we are already spending over this Parliament.

Installing insulation in hundreds of thousands of homes across the country will save consumers around £310 a year through our ECO+ scheme, making our energy system more resilient and secure by slashing energy demand.

We recently launched a consultation so that we can make sure that the right support gets to the right people in the right way.

The Government have stepped in with an unprecedented package of support for households this winter, but there is more that households can do to help meet our energy demand reduction target and save money on their bills.

The Government are expanding their public awareness campaign to help reduce bills for all households and protect the most vulnerable over this winter and beyond.

Backed by £18 million, this campaign will complement existing Government support schemes. It will use public messaging to help consumers understand how they can reduce their own household usage and bills through making their homes more energy efficient for this winter and next. Moreover, it will provide vulnerable groups with the information they need to reduce energy usage without harming their health.

This information will also be available on the existing Help for Households website.

Legislating to drive investment and to secure our energy future

We have put the legislative vehicle to power up this long-term plan, the Energy Security Bill, back on track; it will be taken forward this Parliament.

The Bill will liberate private investment, driving jobs and growth in every corner of the country. Importantly, it will help to transform our energy industry by firing up the nascent CCUS and hydrogen industries, in which we already have a head start with pioneering projects from the Humber to the Mersey.

The Bill will encourage competition in the energy sector, enabling the economy to grow and flourish by creating opportunity, prosperity, and security with clean jobs, new skills, and cheaper bills.



Defence Equipment Plan

I am pleased to place in the Library of the House a copy of the 2022 defence equipment plan report, which details the Department’s spending plans in equipment procurement and support projects over a period of 10 years.

This year’s equipment plan report comes at a pivotal point in time as the Ministry of Defence has become increasingly in the spotlight over the last year in the wake of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The uplift received from the 2020 spending review meant we were able to rectify an existing deficit and produce an affordable equipment plan. We have retained this affordable position for the 2022 plan and continue to hold a contingency to mitigate against emerging financial pressures.

Since the publication of the last report the Department has made significant improvements in the process and production of the equipment plan. We have revised guidance to improve realism judgments, strengthened our assessment of affordability and ensured closer engagement between top-level budget holders and head office to mitigate finance and capability risks.

The recent autumn statement has recognised the need to increase defence spending, and we look forward to the outcomes of this once the integrated review is refreshed. For now, however, we are assured that the spending decisions we have set out remain in line with departmental priorities.

The plan is not immune to risk, we have set ambitious savings targets and made hard decisions in spending priorities across the commands. The defence landscape has shifted, and we must and will remain agile to those emerging threats. We are entering a new age of warfare and will face pressure from the rising levels of inflation; the Department however remains confident in the resilience of our spending decisions despite now living in a more volatile environment.


Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Online Safety Bill

The Online Safety Bill is a vital, world-leading piece of legislation, designed to ensure that tech companies take more responsibility for the safety of their users, particularly children. It is also vital that people can continue to express themselves freely and engage in pluralistic debate online. For that reason, I am today committing to make a number of changes to the Online Safety Bill to strengthen its provisions relating to children, and to ensure the Bill’s protections for adults strike the right balance with its protections for free speech.

Since taking up the role of Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport I have engaged extensively with colleagues to hear views on this legislation. We have heard concerns from many parliamentarians, stakeholders and members of the public on a number of issues, including a desire to go further on child protections, wanting better protections for legal speech and a concern that too much power over what we see and engage with online rests with tech giants themselves. Making progress on these important concerns did not, in my view, need to come at the expense of one another. I therefore set out a clear approach with three main aims:

Strengthen the protections for children in the Bill

Ensure that adults’ right to legal free speech is protected

Create a genuine system of transparency, accountability and control to give the British public more choice and power over their own accounts and experience.

We can say with confidence that all three aims have been achieved with the amendments the Government are putting forward. We will go further to strengthen the elements of the Bill that specifically protect children online. At the same time, we will remove the clauses pertaining to “legal but harmful” content for adults and replace them with a “triple shield” that empowers users and ensures that control over the online experience rests with individuals rather than anonymous committees in Silicon Valley.

Protections for Children

The Bill’s key objective, above everything else, is the safety of young people online. Not only will we preserve the existing protections, I will table a number of amendments that go further to strengthen the existing protections for children in the Bill to:

make clearer the existing expectations of platforms in understanding the age of their users and, where platforms specify a minimum age for users, require them to clearly explain in their terms of service the measures they use to enforce this and if they fail to adhere to these measures, Ofcom will be able to act. I will table these amendments in the Commons;

require the largest platforms to publish summaries of their risk assessments for illegal content and material that is harmful to children, to allow users and empower parents to clearly understand the risks presented by these services and the approach platforms are taking to children’s safety

name the children’s commissioner as a statutory consultee for Ofcom in its development of the codes of practice to ensure that the measures relating to children are robust and reflect the concerns of parents.

The Government will table the remaining amendments in the Lords.

Legal Free Speech

A large number of colleagues, stakeholders and members of the public have been particularly concerned about provisions that would result in the over-removal of legitimate legal content by creating a new category of “legal but harmful” speech. However admirable the goal, I do not believe that it is morally right to censor speech online that is legal to say in person.

I will therefore table a number of amendments in the Commons to remove “legal but harmful” from the Bill in relation to adults, and replace it with a fairer, simpler and we believe more effective mechanism called the triple shield, which will focus on user choice, consumer rights and accountability while protecting freedom of expression. We are taking the same approach when assessing the proposed new harmful communications offence, which when applied could potentially have criminalised legitimate discussion of some topics. I have therefore tabled amendments for the second day of Report stage to remove the harmful communications offence from the Bill.

To retain protections for victims of abusive communications, including victims of domestic abuse, we will continue progressing new offences for false and threatening communications. Furthermore, the Bill will no longer repeal the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and relevant sections of the Communications Act 2003. To avoid duplication in legislation, the Government will remove elements of the offences in these Acts which criminalise false and threatening communications.

Protection for Adults: The Triple Shield

It is unquestionable that speech that is illegal in the street should also be illegal online, and that major platforms should remove illegal content from their sites. While most platforms, including social media sites, have robust terms of service detailing the types of content they do or do not allow, anyone who uses these platforms regularly will know that there is a widespread failure of companies to enforce their own terms of service and platforms can often treat some sections of society differently. Lastly, I believe that rather than censoring adults, the Government should be standing up for free speech and choice by empowering people.

Together, these three common sense principles form the basis of the triple shield, a comprehensive set of tools to protect and empower adults. Under this system, three important rules apply:

Illegal: Content that is illegal should be removed. The Bill includes a number of priority offences, and companies must proactively prevent users from encountering this content. The Bill includes the relevant offences for England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Companies will also have to remove other relevant illegal content, when they become aware of it.

Terms of service: Legal content that a platform prohibits in its own terms of service should be removed, and legal content that a platform allows in its terms of service should not be removed.

User empowerment: Rather than tech giants’ algorithms alone deciding what users engage with, users themselves should have the option to decide. Adults should be empowered to choose whether or not to engage with legal forms of abuse and hatred if the platform they are using allows such content. So the “third shield” puts a duty on platforms to provide their users with the functionality to control their exposure to unsolicited content that falls into this category. These functions will, under no circumstances, limit discussion, robust debate or support groups’ ability to speak about any of these issues freely.

The user empowerment tools will allow adults to reduce the likelihood that they will see certain categories of content if they so choose. The duty will specify legal content related to suicide, content promoting self-harm and eating disorders, and content that is abusive or incites hate on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sex, gender reassignment, or sexual orientation. This is a targeted approach that reflects areas where we know adult users, in particular vulnerable users, would benefit from having greater choice over how they interact with these kinds of content. For the first time, tech giants will be required to give individual adults genuine control over their own accounts and online experience. I will table amendments relating to these provisions in the Commons.

This will be done while upholding users’ rights to free expression and ensuring that legitimate debate online will not be affected by these stronger duties. There are high thresholds for inclusion in these content categories, which will exclude discussions about these broad topics—even where that could be controversial or challenging—but where it does not become abusive. Nothing in this duty will require companies to remove or take down legal content. This will also be made clear through the Bill’s explanatory notes.

Category 1 services will still need to give users the option to verify themselves and choose not to interact with unverified users. This duty will remain unchanged, and again reinforces this Government’s commitment to ensuring users have genuine choice over their online experience.

These changes will ensure the Bill protects free speech while holding social media companies to account for their promises to users, guaranteeing that users will be able to make informed choices about the services they use and the interactions they have on those sites.

Accountability and further measures

Publication of enforcement notices: The regulator, Ofcom, will hold companies to account if they fail to comply with the requirements in the Bill by issuing fines or notifications requiring them to take steps to remedy compliance failures. To further strengthen transparency for users, we will give Ofcom the power to require services to publish the details of any enforcement notifications, including notices requiring them to remedy breaches, that they receive. I have now tabled these amendments in the Commons.

Self-harm: I am aware of particular concerns around content online which encourages vulnerable people to self-harm. While the child safety duties in the Bill will protect children, vulnerable adults may remain at risk of exposure to this abhorrent content. I am therefore committing to making the encouragement of self-harm illegal. The Government will bring forward in this Bill proposals to create an offence of sending a communication that encourages serious self-harm via an amendment in the House of Lords. This new offence will ensure that trolls sending such messages to a person, regardless of the recipient’s age, face the consequences for their vile actions.

Tackling violence against women and girls: It is unacceptable that women and girls suffer disproportionately from abuse online and it is right that we address this through the Online Safety Bill. Therefore, extensive work has been undertaken, including with Home Office colleagues, to understand how we can further protect women and girls through the Online Safety Bill, including to:

List Controlling or Coercive behaviour as a priority offence. This is an offence that disproportionately impacts women and girls—listing this as a priority offence means companies will have to take proactive measures to tackle this content, therefore strengthening the protections for women and girls under the Bill.

Name the Victims Commissioner and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner as Statutory Consultees for the codes of practice, to ensure that they are consulted by Ofcom ahead of drafting and amending the codes of practice.

These changes will be made to the Bill in the House of Lords.

As announced last week by the Deputy Prime Minister, we are also going to take forward reforms to the criminal law on the abuse of intimate images. Building on the campaign of my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller), as well as recommendations from the Law Commission, we will criminalise the sharing of people’s intimate images without their consent. This, in combination with the measures already in the Bill to make cyberflashing a criminal offence, will significantly strengthen protections for women in particular as they are disproportionately affected by these activities. The Government will table these amendments in the Lords. Separate to the Online Safety Bill, the Government will also bring forward a package of additional laws to tackle a range of abusive behaviour including the installation of equipment, such as hidden cameras, to take or record images of someone without their consent.

Epilepsy Trolling: I have tabled amendments for the second day of Report Stage to legislate for a new flashing images offence. I would like to pay tribute to the passionate campaigning that has been done on this issue, both by the Epilepsy Society, and parliamentarians from across both Houses to help the Government ensure that this appalling behaviour is tackled and that we fulfil the Government’s previous commitment to legislate to protect victims from epilepsy trolling. We have also made a number of other technical changes to clarify existing policy positions, further details of which can be found in the amendment paper.

To ensure the proposed changes go through proper scrutiny, we intend to return a number of clauses back to a Public Bill Committee for consideration. These are issues that are of fundamental importance to the regime, and to members of this House, such as freedom of expression, user empowerment, and age assurance, and it would not be right to proceed with these changes without detailed scrutiny in the House of Commons. We intend to make further changes, as set out above, in the House of Lords, however the timing of these amendments will depend on parliamentary scheduling.



Further Education

Today the Office for National Statistics published its decision to reclassify the further education sector and its subsidiaries as part of the central Government sector.

The ONS is an agency independent of Ministers, and it periodically reviews the classification of all sectors of the economy for the purposes of national accounts. More information on classification and how the ONS has reached this decision is available on its website.

This means the statutory further education sector—FE colleges, sixth-form colleges and designated institutions—and its subsidiaries are treated from today, 29 November 2022, for financial and accounting purposes as part of the central Government sector, with my Department as the principal Department responsible for ensuring the sector complies with financial and accounting rules. In practice, this means that colleges are now subject to the framework for financial management set out in the parliamentary document “Managing Public Money”, guidance on senior pay and other relevant central Government guidance.

The mission of colleges—to continue to fulfil their role at the heart of their communities, working in partnership with employers, local government and other providers to meet the needs of learners and the labour market—has never been more important. The decision to reclassify the FE sector will not alter these strategic aims. Colleges will continue to play a leadership role in England’s skills system. My officials will work to make sure that they provide the world-leading skills infrastructure that our country needs while adequately demonstrating that we are managing public money well.

My officials said at the start of the review that we wanted to ensure that if colleges were reclassified, it happened in as seamless a way as possible, maintaining continuity and stability for the sector where possible. We have taken the time to get these changes right; to give colleges the support that they need as the transition takes place; and to explore the ways that colleges, learners, employers and communities might all make the most of this change. Colleges will retain many of the flexibilities they currently have and day-to-day operations will continue with minimal changes, so colleges can maintain a smooth delivery.

With that in mind, my officials are publishing the Government’s response to this reclassification decision today, which sets out how my Department will continue to support colleges following the ONS’s decision.

To support and protect colleges, we will be:

Investing £300 million of payments before the end of the current financial year to eliminate the current deficit in funding experienced by March and move to a profile of funding that better matches need, recognising the challenging environment the sector faces;

Providing an additional £150 million of capital grant funding in 2023 to 2024 to support and protect colleges planning to invest in their infrastructure/estate where previously they would have borrowed from commercial lenders;

Allowing colleges to retain flexibility on using surpluses and sale of assets, ensuring that colleges can continue to invest in their estates while complying with the “Managing Public Money” framework; and

Working in partnership with the sector to develop the future approach to financial reporting, and a new college handbook

This means that how colleges report to and interact with Government will change. Colleges will be required to ensure their systems of financial control support public sector standards of accountability.

“Managing Public Money” is clear that public sector organisations may borrow from private sector sources only if the transaction delivers better value for money for the Exchequer. Because non-Government lenders face higher financing costs, in practice it is very unlikely that central Government bodies—now including colleges—will be able to satisfy this condition for future private sector borrowing. If colleges have any proposals for new private sector borrowing, they will now need Department for Education approval—we will update college learner grant agreements to include this as a condition of funding.

In recognition of the limitation on private sector borrowing that reclassification as part of central Government imposes, and in response to feedback from the FE sector and stakeholder groups, I am pleased to confirm that my Department will be investing an additional £150 million of capital funding in further education and sixth-form colleges. This change means that although colleges will have only very limited access to private finance, they will benefit from additional grant funding to improve the condition of the college estate. From the research we have done with colleges, I understand this is one of the main reasons that colleges currently seek private finance, so I hope it will be welcomed by the FE sector.

Furthermore, to help colleges manage their cashflow, my Department will address the historical issue of uneven monthly payments from central Government, which leave colleges out of pocket by March each year. My Department will invest £300 million in bringing forward payments into this financial year to enable us to smooth out the funding, so we have a new even profile for colleges from 2023 to 2024 for both the 16 to 19 and adult education budgets.

I can also confirm that colleges will retain the flexibility to carry over surpluses from one year to the next, and to keep and spend the proceeds from the sale of assets, subject to certain conditions, and this will be kept under review.

Many colleges have subsidiaries, some of which are profit-making entities with commercial operations. Subsidiaries play an important role in the college system, both in delivering provision and generating commercial income. Colleges will also retain the ability to operate their trading subsidiaries, which the ONS has reclassified to the central Government sector.

Regarding financial reporting, colleges will continue to produce their own annual report and accounts as normal for the year ending 31 July 2023. The Department will eventually be required to consolidate the accounts for all FE colleges into one. This means we will require additional information from colleges. We will be working with the sector to ensure that the impact of this request is manageable.

My officials will begin work to write a new college financial handbook and engage with representatives from the sector from the outset, with a view to sharing it in draft with colleges and sector bodies in autumn 2023 for consultation so that they are clear what is expected of them and build their understanding and support. In parallel, my officials will set up the necessary processes and data collection systems to operationalise the new MPM requirements. The handbook will be finalised for publication in March 2024, ahead of an effective date of August 2024 to coincide with the start of the financial year.

The changes will be explained in more detail in a letter from the accounting officer of the Education and Skills Funding Agency to all college financial directors and will be followed by further guidance to help colleges comply with the “Managing Public Money” framework and other central Government guidance as quickly as possible.

I am also writing today to college principals to explain the changes that need to be made and to thank them for the important role they will play in the public sector.

We have taken the opportunity of reclassification to strengthen our arrangements for, and invest more in, this hugely important sector, which is now more obviously than ever a vital part of the Government’s skills agenda for the future.

The Government’s response ensures we use this opportunity to continue to support colleges to do what they do best, while balancing this against the need to adequately demonstrate that we are managing public money well.


Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Funding for Woodlands and Timber Industry

Today we announced £20 million of funding to improve tree planting stocks, woodland resilience and domestic timber production, and to accelerate tree planting across England.

The £10 million has been awarded through the Woods into Management Forestry Innovation Funds and the Tree Production Innovation Fund to support projects that explore new technologies and business models to improve tree planting stocks and woodland resilience.

In addition, 57 local authorities have been awarded nearly £10 million to accelerate tree planting.

These initiatives will see hundreds of thousands of trees planted in communities across England. They represent another step forward in the Government’s drive to treble tree planting rates across England by the end of this Parliament.

The Local Authority Treescapes Fund and the Urban Tree Challenge Fund will reopen for new applications early in 2023.


Total Grant £

Oxfordshire County Council


Lancashire County Council


Tees Valley Combined Authority


Nottinghamshire County Council


Kent County Council


West of England Combined Aut.


Rotherham Metropolitan BC


North Yorkshire County Council


City of York Council


Warwickshire County Council


City of Trees


Gateshead Council


Wakefield Metropolitan DC


Gloucestershire County Council


Lambeth Council


London Borough of Enfield


London Borough of Hillingdon


East Riding of Yorkshire Council


City of Bradford Metropolitan DC


Portsmouth City Council


Calderdale Borough Council


Devon County Council


Lincolnshire County Council


Doncaster Council


Shropshire Council


Hertfordshire County Council


Halton Borough Council


Knowsley Metropolitan BC


Newcastle City Council


Buckinghamshire Council


North Somerset Council


Kirklees Council


Worcestershire CC


North Lincolnshire Council


Surrey County Council


London Borough of Islington


Haringey Council


Somerset County Council


Sheffield City Council


Leicestershire County Council


London Borough of Barnett


Walsall Council


Cheshire West and Chester Council


Royal Borough of Greenwich


Wirral Council


Hampshire County Council


Norfolk County Council


Leeds City Council


Central Bedfordshire


Solihull MBC


Wiltshire Council


Bedford Borough Council


Cambridgeshire County Council


St Helens Council


North Northamptonshire


City of London Corporation


Peterborough City Council