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Written Statements

Volume 688: debated on Wednesday 27 January 2021

Written Statements

Wednesday 27 January 2021

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Electronic Communications Code Consultation

The Government have ambitious plans to achieve nationwide roll-out of future-proof, gigabit-capable broadband and 5G networks as soon as possible to unlock the huge economic and social benefits this will bring. As we emerge from the covid-19 pandemic, ensuring the whole country has access to world-class digital infrastructure will be critical to our economic recovery.

We are working with industry to target a minimum of 85% gigabit-capable coverage by 2025 and to get as close to 100% as possible. We are also aiming to ensure that 95% of the UK’s geographic landmass has 4G coverage from at least one mobile network operator by 2025 and that the majority of the UK population has 5G coverage by 2027.

My Department is making significant progress, through the implementation of the recommendations made in our “Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review” published in 2018. However, in order to accelerate this work it is important that we deliver the changes that are needed to speed up commercial and public investment in gigabit-capable networks.

The electronic communications code (“the code”) is the legal framework underpinning the rights of telecoms operators to install and keep electronic communications apparatus on public and private land, and to carry out other activities needed to maintain and improve digital communications networks. The code was substantially reformed in 2017. Those reforms specifically recognised the increasing importance of access to fast and reliable digital services for society and the economy. While there have been no substantive changes to the policy underpinning the 2017 reforms, feedback from a wide range of stakeholders suggests further changes may be needed.

I am pleased to inform the House that we have today published a consultation to examine the scope for further legislative changes to the electronic communications code. If we decide changes to the code are needed, these will be focused on supporting our digital networks and ensuring the aims of the 2017 reforms are realised.

Telecommunications policy is reserved and the electronic communications code applies and extends across the UK. As with the 2017 reforms, we will work closely with the devolved Administrations to develop the finalised policy.

I have placed a copy of the consultation in the Libraries of both Houses.

Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www.


Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Bovine TB

I am updating the House on publication of a consultation on delivery of the next phase of our 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB (bTB) in England by 2038.

BTB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that England faces today. In the last year, we compulsorily slaughtered over 27,000 cattle in England to tackle the disease. This causes devastation and distress for hard-working farmers and rural communities and is damaging our reputation as world leaders in high standards of animal health and welfare.

The bTB eradication strategy we published in 2014 is making progress. We are now seeing sustained improvements in the high-risk area. We need to build on this momentum to achieve bTB free status for England by 2038.

In 2018, my predecessor commissioned Professor Sir Charles Godfray to conduct an independent review of our strategy (“the Godfray review”). In March 2020, we published a response setting out key priorities for the next phase. Today, I am launching a public consultation and a call for views on a range of proposals and longer-term options in keeping with that response, to take us into this next phase.

I am also pleased to report that work on developing a deployable cattle bTB vaccine continues and is on track to be completed within the next five years. Our goal is to deliver on the significant investment we have made to date in developing a candidate diagnostic test to detect infected animals among vaccinated animals to enable use of the vaccine. Although a cattle bTB vaccine will not be the single solution to the problem of bTB, it will be a strong additional tool at our disposal. The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has awarded a contract to Eville & Jones to run veterinary field trials aimed at generating the necessary evidence to enable UK marketing authorisations. The trials are scheduled to get under way in the coming months.

Badger culling is one of the most contentious and divisive policies within our bTB eradication strategy. Our current policy enables four-year intensive cull licences in defined areas with scope for a further five years of supplementary culling. The consultation sets out proposals for Natural England (NE) to stop issuing the current intensive cull licences for new areas post 2022 and enable new licences issued to be cut short if the chief veterinary officer considers this acceptable. Furthermore, I am proposing to restrict any new supplementary cull licences to two years and cease re-issuing such licences in any areas in which supplementary culling has previously been licensed.

As proposed in the Government’s response to the Godfray review, APHA recently released a new analysis showing the estimated distribution of TB infection in badgers in England’s bTB edge area. This will be of assistance to NE in assessing applications for badger culling and vaccination licences in the future.

The farming community has invested heavily in badger culling, which the evidence shows has played a critical role in helping to start to turn the tide on this terrible disease. But we were clear that culling badgers indefinitely is not acceptable. My proposed approach will enable us to complete the objective we set out to achieve when we started the culls. It will also support our stated intention of phasing out culling over the next few years. I envisage that in future some form of culling would be an option in exceptional circumstances to address any local disease flare-ups. This transitional period will also give us time to undertake badger vaccination pilots and develop our future badger vaccination policy. The end of widespread culling is also anticipated to coincide with changes in cattle measures, including our timeline for a deployable cattle bTB vaccine. Taken together, it is anticipated that these cattle and badger measures should preserve the benefits from intensive culling.

I am also proposing some targeted changes to our cattle bTB testing policy, to ensure we root out the disease more effectively in herds with recurring problems, and further help protect lower bTB risk areas.

In parallel to the consultation, I am also seeking views to explore other options for further accelerating eradication of disease. These include possible further changes and improvements to bTB testing, supporting responsible cattle movements and rewarding low-risk cattle purchasing behaviour. Our call for views also discusses ways we can continue to adapt how we reward farmers for “best practice”, in line with our wider agricultural transition plan.

There is no single solution to the scourge of bTB, but by deploying a range of policy interventions we can continue to turn the tide on this terrible disease and achieve our long-term objective of eradicating it in England by 2038.


International Trade

Contingencies Fund Advance

UK Export Finance is seeking a repayable cash advance from the Contingencies Fund of £500,000. The requirement has arisen due to an urgent need to refresh its existing IT equipment (laptops) to meet the needs of the Department and manage its response to covid-19.

Parliamentary approval for additional capital of £500,000 will be sought in a supplementary estimate for UK Export Finance. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £500,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.

The cash advance will be repaid upon receiving Royal Assent on the Supply and Appropriation Bill.