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Written Statements

Volume 741: debated on Thursday 30 November 2023

Written Statements

Thursday 30 November 2023

Culture, Media and Sport

Online Advertising Taskforce: Action Plan

I am pleased to inform the House that today we are publishing the Online Advertising Taskforce’s action plan.

The Online Advertising Taskforce brings together representatives from Government and the online advertising sector to work in collaboration to address illegal harms and the protection of children in relation to online advertising. Its creation was announced in the Government’s response to the online advertising programme consultation, published in July, and the taskforce held its first meeting later that month. It committed to agreeing upon and delivering a programme of work to help address illegal advertising and minimise children being served advertising for products and services illegal to sell to them (“in-scope harms”), in anticipation of regulation being introduced in due course.

The action plan we are publishing today brings together commitments from Government and industry that seek to drive progress against two objectives: improving the evidence about the in-scope harms, and expanding voluntary industry initiatives that seek or have the capacity to address them. This has been a collaborative and ambitious piece of work and we are grateful for the invaluable contribution of taskforce members since the summer.

The Government have also been working with technology companies as part of their online fraud charter, which will further drive action against fraud, including that which is perpetuated through online advertising, and which is also being published today. Through both programmes of work, the Government and online advertising companies will implement significant protections from fraud for everyone engaging in business and recreation online.

The action plan will be published on the Online Advertising Taskforce gov.uk page: https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/online-advertising-taskforce.

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Energy Security and Net Zero

UK Priorities for COP28

The UK is committed to tackling climate change and restoring nature. We have reduced our emissions by more than any other major economy since 1990 and, going forward, have one of the most ambitious targets for 2030. Our emissions are down 48% compared to 1990 and we have grown the economy by 70% over the same period.

We brought the world together at the COP26 Glasgow summit to speed up the global net zero transition, as well as brokering a historic deal to end deforestation and kickstart new green finance markets. However, limiting global temperature increases to 1.5° will only be possible if countries around the world commit to join the UK on a net zero pathway. The science is clear that global emissions need to peak by 2025 and must be reduced by 43% in 2030 compared to 2019 in order to achieve this.

The upcoming 28th conference of the parties under the UNFCCC (COP28), to be hosted by the UAE in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December, will mark an important moment to get to net zero. Amid record global temperatures, the first global stocktake of progress against the Paris agreement will show that the world is currently off track and urgent action is needed to keep the 1.5° goal within reach. The world needs to take a hard look at what is working and where we are failing to deliver, focusing our resources on practical, deliverable solutions. This COP must deliver the framework and targets already agreed, including in Glasgow, and set out the long-term decisions that are needed to bring everyone with us, from rural communities to the countries most impacted by climate change.

The context is challenging, given the current geopolitical tension, conflict and macroeconomic environment where countries are battling inflation and debt. At the same time, the widespread impacts from increasing global temperatures have never been felt more, underscoring the need to deliver on our climate commitments and reduce emissions.

His Majesty the King will attend the opening ceremony of the world climate action summit at COP28 at the invitation of the UAE and at the request of HMG, and will deliver an opening address. The Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, Environment Secretary and other Ministers will attend the summit. I will lead the negotiations for the UK.

The Prime Minister’s focus will be on forests, finance and net zero transitions. These are areas where the UK can lead global progress, building on our track record, and working with the UAE presidency, other countries, business and civil society.

Overall at COP28 the UK wants to see progress in five priority areas:

New commitments and action to keep 1.5 alive. Coming out of the global stocktake, we need renewed leader-level political consensus and increased ambition to keep 1.5 in reach. We need commitment to peak global emissions by 2025 and clear guidance for the next round of NDCs. And we need a clear, forward-looking road map with global targets in key sectors and commitment to action including through the breakthrough agenda, on forests, and through the phasing out of hydrofluorocarbons. Since 2010 the UK has seen nearly £200 billion of public and private finance investment in low carbon energy sectors. We will use this domestic experience to spearhead efforts to accelerate decarbonisation of key sectors of the global economy.

A clean energy package with clear commitments to transition away from fossil fuels. This includes commitments to triple global renewables and double energy efficiency by 2030, to phase out unabated fossil fuels—in line with the G7 commitment the UK helped to deliver earlier this year—and to end new unabated coal power and phase out coal power globally.

An outcome on finance that helps deliver the trillions needed to accelerate the transition. This includes reform of international financial institutions, delivery this year of the collective goal of $100 billion climate finance per year for developing economies, and progress on the post-2025 climate finance goal with contributions from a broader range of donors. Based on preliminary data, the OECD has stated that it is likely that the $100 billion goal was met in 2022. The UK will play its part. We are fully committed to delivering on our £11.6 billion of international climate finance and we are a world leader in green finance. We will work with partners to realign financial flows with the Paris agreement and global biodiversity framework.

Progress on building resilience to climate impacts—demonstrating progress on the Glasgow commitment to double adaptation finance by 2025 and establishing an effective loss and damage fund to support countries that are particularly vulnerable. We are pleased that the loss and damage transitional committee, mandated by COP27, has put forward a recommendation on the fund. The UK was instrumental in securing that recommendation and we hope it will be agreed at COP28. We will continue to advocate for the priorities of the most vulnerable. I co-chaired a third climate and development ministerial alongside the UAE, Malawi and Vanuatu at pre-COP last month. This focused on enhancing access and delivery of adaptation finance, the equitable delivery of high-quality grant-based finance and concessional finance.

Real progress towards protecting, restoring and sustainably managing nature, on land and in the ocean, which is crucial to delivering on net zero and building resilience. We need COP28 to maintain momentum on the implementation of the global biodiversity framework agreed at CBD COP15 last year, to make concrete progress on the historic agreement to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. We want to see forests prioritised in the global stocktake and to use the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership as the vehicle to drive accelerated delivery of the Glasgow leaders declaration on forests and land use. To date UK International Climate Finance has avoided over 410,000 hectares of ecosystem loss.

We will continue to deliver ambitious reductions, embracing innovation and green finance opportunities. The UK will go into COP28 with a strong record at home and internationally. We recently committed $2 billion to the green climate fund second replenishment, the biggest single international funding commitment the UK has made to help tackle climate change, making us the top contributor cumulatively to the world’s most prominent international climate fund.

In his recent net zero speech, the Prime Minister set out the long-term decisions to enable a just transition to net zero while maintaining public support. We are absolutely clear that net zero is the right thing to do for our long- term national security, economic prosperity and the future of our children.

All countries around the world need to do more to keep 1.5 alive. The UK is delivering significant progress, and following the clear framework and targets agreed at Glasgow COP, we saw 90% of global GDP committed to net zero. We must now drive progress and support other nations constituting 99% of emissions to grasp the benefits of green growth.

We will update the House in the usual way once negotiations have concluded.

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Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Sudan Update

I would like to update the House on the situation in Sudan since the outbreak of conflict on 15 April this year between the Sudanese armed forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), and the UK’s efforts in support of the Sudanese people.

Violence continues across the country. The lack of humanitarian access and a disregard for civilian life is resulting in terrible suffering. The conflict has caused destruction on a massive scale as a result of the indiscriminate use of force by both sides, including shelling and airstrikes in urban areas. Since 15 April, more than 6.3 million people have been displaced, including over 1.3 million people who have fled to neighbouring countries, seeking safety, protection and assistance. Twenty-five million people are in urgent need but constraints on humanitarian access mean insufficient aid is reaching them.

There is mounting evidence of abhorrent atrocities against civilians, in particular in Darfur. Women and girls are subject to rape and sexual violence. Houses are being burnt to the ground. People’s livelihoods are being destroyed. These attacks have all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing and may amount to crimes against humanity.

Following the conclusion of the first round of Jeddah talks that resumed on 26 October, the UK is continuing to support the mediation efforts of the US, Saudi Arabia, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the African Union. I urge both warring parties to engage constructively with these talks to secure short-term ceasefires and improvements in humanitarian access.

But in the meantime, the suffering of the Sudanese people continues. There have been increasing reports from El Geneina and Ardamata in West Darfur of potentially ethnically-targeted violence against men and boys and alleged executions, including the murder of Masalit community leader, Al-Farsha Muhamed Arbab. These atrocities must end immediately, and those responsible must be held to account.

We are supporting the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR). CIR works to monitor atrocities in Sudan using satellite imagery to investigate attacks against civilians and infrastructure, and also to monitor hate speech and incitement of violence. This financial year, the UK has provided £600,000 to CIR for this project. Our partnership on this innovative work is vital in documenting the ongoing atrocities, and preserving and sharing evidence, so that those committing these heinous crimes can be brought to justice.

In July, I announced a package of sanctions, freezing the assets of three commercial entities linked to both SAF and RSF. We stand ready to take additional measures.

In the UN Security Council (UNSC), UN General Assembly and at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), we have consistently condemned the violence across Sudan. On 11 October, the HRC adopted the UK-led “Sudan Core Group” (US, Germany, Norway, UK) resolution, which creates an independent and international fact-finding mission to investigate atrocities in Sudan and support future accountability efforts.

As part of our commitment to humanitarian assistance, I announced £21.7 million in humanitarian funding in May for those in need in Sudan, in addition to £5 million to help meet the urgent needs of refugees and returnees in South Sudan and Chad. UK Aid is providing nutrition, safe drinking water, medical care and shelter, as well as supporting protection services including for those affected by gender-based violence. In November, the UK confirmed a further £14.3 million in humanitarian aid, bringing the total to £36 million for 2023-24.

The UK, alongside Norway, jointly funded the Sudan humanitarian conference that took place in Cairo on 18 to 20 November; an event that brought together Sudanese grassroots organisations, NGOs and the international humanitarian system to develop co-ordination mechanisms to give a greater voice to Sudanese organisations in the humanitarian response.

We have also established a new British Office Sudan in Addis Ababa, until a British embassy can be re-established in Sudan. This makes us the first western nation to set up an operational office for Sudan in the region. The staff of the British Office Sudan in Ethiopia will continue to work to support our diplomatic and humanitarian aims to bring peace and stability to the people of Sudan, as well as continuing to assist in providing limited remote consular support to British nationals in Sudan. I would like to put on record my thanks to the Government of Ethiopia for enabling the setting up of this office.

The UK remains committed to supporting Sudanese civilians to chart their own future for their country. Neither of the warring parties should have any future role in power in a future democratic Sudan. I therefore warmly welcome the gathering of Sudanese civilian actors and stakeholders in Addis Ababa on 23 October as an important step towards the formation of an inclusive and representative pro-democracy civilian front.

The UK will continue to advocate for a ceasefire, safe and unfettered humanitarian access, an end to atrocities and a return to a civilian-led Government that can deliver the peace and stability the Sudanese people deserve.

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Home Department

Online Fraud Charter

Today, I am pleased to inform the House that we are publishing the online fraud charter.

A key deliverable in the Government’s fraud strategy—https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fraud-strategy

—the online fraud charter contains a series of ambitious commitments from several of the largest tech companies in the world. These commitments reflect a landmark moment in our fight against fraud and will target some of the most harmful and pervasive frauds that occur online. This includes stronger action to make sure people are who they say they are on marketplaces and on dating apps. It will ensure that signatory companies make fraud easier to report online. When content or users are found to be fraudulent, immediate and decisive enforcement action will be taken.

Further detail will be published online but the charter will contain actions focusing on:

Blocking frauds from occurring in the first place

Improved reporting structures and faster takedowns of harmful content and users

Making sure advertisers are who they say they are

Greater collaboration with law enforcement and other partners to drive further intelligence sharing, transparency, public communications and horizon scanning.

Tech companies have made strong progress in the last several years in combating fraud and, with the Online Safety Act 2023 in the process of coming fully into operation, change will be a statutory responsibility. However, those that have signed this charter have shown their willingness to work faster and in a more targeted fashion than regulation will require. I commend their constructive engagement and their ambition in agreeing to these commitments. I am pleased to see them taking responsibility to protect their users from fraud.

We are taking the fight to the fraudsters, targeting the criminals that try to exploit us when we are online. Today, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries has also announced the publication of the Online Advertising Taskforce action plan, which brings together initiatives from industry and Government to tackle illegal online advertising and increase protections for children. Through both of today’s announcements, the Government and industry will implement significant steps to make sure that the British public are protected online. The online fraud charter will be published on the Joint Fraud Taskforce gov.uk page— https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/joint-fraud-taskforce.

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Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Elections Act 2022 and Boundary Review

I wish to make a statement.

Evaluation of the Elections Act 2022

The Government are committed to ensuring UK elections remain secure, fair, modern and transparent. As part of this commitment, the Elections Act 2022 introduced new measures designed to increase the security and integrity of UK elections. Two of these measures, voter identification in Great Britain and enhanced support for disabled voters in polling stations, were delivered for the first time in polling stations at the May 2023 local council elections.

The Government are pleased with the introduction of voter identification in Great Britain, with data gathered in polling stations showing that 99.75% of voters were able to cast their vote successfully under the new measures. This smooth roll-out is a testament to the skill and careful planning of local authorities and electoral administrators, without whom the realisation of these measures would not be possible. We thank them.

However, the Government are committed to understanding fully the impact of the Elections Act and to improving its implementation where necessary. They are committed in legislation to undertake an evaluation of the voter identification policy after its first implementation. To this end, the Government appointed external research agency IFF Research to evaluate the implementation of the Act, examining the impact of the voter identification and accessibility measures at the May 2023 local elections. The Government are also committed in legislation to conducting further evaluations at the next two UK parliamentary general elections.

Today, I am pleased to share IFF Research’s first evaluation report. This independent evaluation has used data gathered at polling stations, supplemented by public opinion survey results, the Electoral Commission’s data and report on the May elections, surveys with the electoral sector and qualitative research to provide a full picture of the impact and implementation of the voter identification and accessibility measures. While providing further evidence of successful delivery, the report also makes a number of recommendations for both the Government and others including the Electoral Commission for ongoing improvements.

In addition to the Government evaluation, I have today published the Government response to the Electoral Commission’s report on the May 2023 polls. The Government welcome the views of the commission and have considered its recommendations carefully.

Implementing the Elections Act requires close partnership working between the Government, the commission, the electoral sector, and their representative bodies. We look forward to continuing close engagement with all our partners as we implement the remaining measures from the Act and take forward any necessary adjustments in response to this evaluation.

Responding to the evaluation

The IFF evaluation makes an assessment of where adjustments may be made to delivery of the voter identification and accessibility measures that would improve the experience of both voters and electoral administrators. The Government are keen to support the diligent work of the Electoral Commission and other partners and we look forward to discussing these recommendations further.

These recommendations include: action that may be taken on training and guidance for polling station staff and electoral administrators on the reasoning behind which photographic identification documents are accepted in the polling station; how to apply the Electoral Commission’s guidance for returning officers on supporting disabled voters to enable or make it easier for them to vote in polling stations; activity and communications to address any gaps in awareness or understanding across the whole electorate of the voter identification requirements; the availability of the voter authority certificate; and the additional support and equipment available to disabled voters and more specifically to address this among groups where awareness is low; supporting electors who may struggle with the online application process to apply for a voter authority certificate; and increasing the time available for processing voter authority certificates ahead of a UK parliamentary general election.

Many of these recommendations are, of course, in areas where the Government recognise they should and do not have a direct role, but in these and other aspects of delivery we remain keen to support the brilliant work of returning officers, electoral registration officers, their electoral services teams, the Electoral Commission, and all our other partners.

Other recommendations in the report are specific to supporting and strengthening future evaluations, for example by gathering more evidence from specific groups of interest, and these will be taken forward in future plans.

Ongoing evaluation

The Government are committed to maintaining the integrity of the ballot and ensuring that UK elections remain accessible to all. While the evaluation published today demonstrates the significant steps we are taking in achieving these aims, the Government will continue to learn from this and future evaluations and other sources of data. We look forward to further assessments that will be published in the future and the ongoing successful implementation of the Elections Act, ensuring the integrity and accessibility of our democracy now and into the future.

Copies of the “Electoral Integrity Programme Evaluation Report: Year 1” and the Government’s response to the Electoral Commission’s report on the May 2023 polls will be placed in the House Libraries.

Implementation of the Boundary Review

The Government’s 2019 manifesto committed to ensuring updated and more equal parliamentary boundaries. These help to make sure that votes carry more equal weight in Parliament, across the whole United Kingdom. To this end, Parliament passed the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020, which provided for the number of constituencies in the UK to remain at 650 and for a boundary review to take place on the basis of this number of constituencies and to report before 1 July 2023.

The 2020 Act also provides for regular boundary reviews, which will ensure that the boundaries remain up to date and involve less change at each cycle by not having such a long period between reviews. The boundary commissions will likely commence their next review in 2029 and complete it by October 2031.

The four independent boundary commissions commenced their review shortly after the Act came into force. Having completed the review, the boundary commissions submitted their final reports to the Speaker of the House of Commons on 27 June 2023. The Speaker laid the reports before Parliament on 28 June 2023. We thank the Boundary Commission for its work.

At the Privy Council meeting on 15 November 2023, His Majesty the King made the Order in Council to enact the changes recommended by the boundary commissions. The order came into force on 29 November 2023 and the new parliamentary constituencies and boundaries will take effect at the next UK parliamentary general election. Until that time, any UK parliamentary by-elections will continue to use the pre-existing constituencies and boundaries.

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