Thursday 13 May 2021
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals: Radovan Karadžic
Promoting and enforcing international justice is central to global Britain’s role as a force for good in the western Balkans and in the world. The conviction of Radovan Karadžić for genocide and grave crimes at Srebrenica, the siege of Sarajevo and other parts of the conflict was an essential part of addressing the horrors of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Ensuring accountability for such crimes is also pivotal for promoting reconciliation in the region.
On 24 March 2016, the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), in The Hague found Radovan Karadžić guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war committed during the conflict in and around Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) during the mid-1990s. The Court sentenced him to 40 years of imprisonment, which was increased on appeal to a life sentence.
Following a request to the United Kingdom from the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), the successor body to the ICTY, Radovan Karadžić will now be transferred to a prison in the UK to serve his sentence. Radovan Karadžić will be the fifth prisoner transferred to the UK by the ICTY/IRMCT.
The crimes for which Radovan Karadžić was convicted relate to actions taken in municipalities throughout BiH with a view to permanently removing Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory; spreading terror among the civilian population of Sarajevo through a campaign of sniping and shelling; taking UN personnel hostage; and the genocide at Srebrenica.
The United Kingdom signed a sentence enforcement agreement with the ICTY on 11 March 2004, allowing for sentences to be enforced in the UK, and for Her Majesty’s Government to meet the associated costs. The IRMCT remains responsible for further decision making regarding his imprisonment, over and above the prisoner’s daily care.
Official Development Assistance: Departmental Allocations
I would like to update the House on the official development assistance (ODA) allocation by Department, 2020-21.
The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office’s provisional statistics on international development confirmed that the UK met the target to spend 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance in the 2020 calendar year. https://www.gov.uk/government/ statistics/statistics-on-international-development-provisional-uk-aid-spend-2020.
Following the end of the 2020-21 financial year, we are now publishing the total ODA allocations to Departments and cross-Government funds for 2020-21, as set by HM Treasury at the 2019 spending round and subsequently adjusted through supplementary estimates 2020-21.
The below allocations show the revised financial year budget for 2020-21 compared to SR19 allocations. As set out in the “Official Development Assistance spending for 2020: First Secretary of State’s letter” published on 22 July, last summer the Government identified a package of possible reductions in their planned ODA spend for the calendar year 2020, which included arrangements to tailor spending further during the remaining months to enable the Government to manage ODA spend against an uncertain 0.7% position. That package included underspends, delaying activity and stopping some spend. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/official-development-assistance-oda-spending-for-2020-first-secretary-of-states-letter/official-development-assistance-oda-spending-for-2020-first-secretary-of-states-letter.
The Foreign Secretary led a cross-government review of how ODA is allocated for 2021-22 against the Government’s priorities after the 2020 spending review. The final allocations were provided in a written ministerial statement on 26 January 2021 (HCWS735).
ODA allocation by Department (£m) 2020-21 allocations made at the 2019 spending review Revised 20-21 allocations FCDO 11,865 11,075 BEIS 1,406 1,281 CSSF 687 644 HO 482 482 DHSC 301 273 Prosperity Fund 295 237 DEFRA 95 95 Other 58 54 1. The FCDO total for SR19 is constructed using the original DFID (accounting for reclassified R&D confirmed at SB20) and FCO SR19 allocations. 2. These figures do not account for budget exchanges or transfers that are agreed and occur between Departments at mains and supplementary estimates. 3. Departmental ODA outturn figures may differ from allocations due to transfers undertaken and agreed between Departments, budget exchanges, and any financial year underspend that may occur. 4. ODA allocations are adjusted as needed at fiscal events in line with OBR projections. 5. ODA in cross-government funds (CSSF and Prosperity Fund) is spent by several Government Departments. 6. “Other” includes DfE, DCMS, DWP, MOD, HMRC, HMT, ONS and Barnett given to the devolved Administrations as a result of UK Government spend on ODA.
ODA allocation by Department (£m)
2020-21 allocations made at the 2019 spending review
Revised 20-21 allocations
1. The FCDO total for SR19 is constructed using the original DFID (accounting for reclassified R&D confirmed at SB20) and FCO SR19 allocations.
2. These figures do not account for budget exchanges or transfers that are agreed and occur between Departments at mains and supplementary estimates.
3. Departmental ODA outturn figures may differ from allocations due to transfers undertaken and agreed between Departments, budget exchanges, and any financial year underspend that may occur.
4. ODA allocations are adjusted as needed at fiscal events in line with OBR projections.
5. ODA in cross-government funds (CSSF and Prosperity Fund) is spent by several Government Departments.
6. “Other” includes DfE, DCMS, DWP, MOD, HMRC, HMT, ONS and Barnett given to the devolved Administrations as a result of UK Government spend on ODA.
E-Commerce: VAT Legislative Changes
The Government will be introducing changes to simplify the way VAT is administered for some goods sold between Northern Ireland and the EU, and some low-value imports into Northern Ireland from 1 July 2021 (otherwise known as e-commerce VAT changes). This mirrors an EU-wide reform, which the UK is implementing in Northern Ireland in line with the obligations set out under the Northern Ireland protocol, where EU VAT rules with respect to goods will continue to apply in Northern Ireland. However, Northern Ireland is, and will remain, part of the UK’s VAT system.
The overall aim of the e-commerce VAT changes is to facilitate the declaration and payment of VAT for (a) sales of goods to consumers between Northern Ireland and the EU; and (b) low-value goods, where they are in consignments valued up to £135 (€150), supplied to consumers in Northern Ireland from non-EU countries, including from Great Britain. The changes will affect businesses and online marketplaces that are involved in these transactions. The consumer experience overall will not change.
On 1 January 2021, the UK introduced a set of new VAT rules for the imports of low-value goods into Northern Ireland from outside the UK and the EU. The EU’s e-commerce reforms mirror many of those changes. Therefore, the Government consider that there will only be minimal changes for businesses selling imported goods to customers in Northern Ireland.
From a UK perspective, the e-commerce changes mean that:
A new single EU-wide distance selling threshold of £8,818 (€10,000) will be introduced for the sales of goods and services in the EU. The threshold will only apply to supplies of EU-located goods to and from Northern Ireland, which means that, EU suppliers who exceed the threshold will have to register for VAT in the United Kingdom if they wish to sell goods to consumers in Northern Ireland;
Online marketplaces will be liable for collecting and accounting for VAT on goods supplied in Northern Ireland, under certain circumstances; and
Low-value consignment relief, which relieves import VAT on consignments of goods of up to £15, will be removed fully in Northern Ireland and across the EU.
Alongside these changes, two new IT systems will be introduced: one for accounting and collecting VAT on sales of goods between Northern Ireland and the EU—the one-stop shop; and the other for accounting and collecting VAT on imports of non-excise goods from non-EU countries, where they are in consignments that do not exceed £135 (€150) in value—the import one-stop shop. Both systems are designed to reduce burdens on business and facilitate the collection of VAT on sales of goods across Northern Ireland and the EU; and are optional for businesses and online marketplaces to use.
The UK will be taking a phased approach to the introduction of these IT systems. HMRC have today published guidance on gov.uk setting out what this will mean for businesses. However, in many cases, if businesses and online marketplaces opt not to register to use these systems, there will be no change in how they declare and pay for VAT on their sales of goods to consumers in Northern Ireland and EU member states.
The Government will legislate for these changes shortly.
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has written to the Premier League and to Sky, BT, Amazon and the BBC, as the current holders of broadcast rights to the Premier League in the UK, to inform them that the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is “minded to” make an exclusion order under the Competition Act 1998, allowing the Premier League to renew its current broadcast agreements with current UK broadcast partners for an additional three-year period starting 2022-23, without conducting the normal tender process.
In order to remain consistent with past commitments to competition authorities and to avoid a potential breach of competition law, and absent covid-19, the Premier League would normally have re-tendered its domestic broadcast rights in early 2021 at the midpoint of the current three-year cycle and would have concluded sales by now. However, covid-19 has had a significant impact on the value of broadcast rights for football across Europe. Under an auction, it is plausible that the value of the Premier League's domestic rights could drop.
The football pyramid receives the majority of its funding via the Premier League’s broadcast revenue. The Premier League and its clubs have already experienced financial losses totalling over £1.5 billion due to the impact of the pandemic, with further losses projected into next season. The wider football pyramid, from the championship through to women’s football and the grassroots, has also suffered financial losses due to the pandemic.
The Government have been clear that football has the resources to support itself financially to deal with the consequences of the covid-19 pandemic. To provide financial stability for the football pyramid, the Premier League has therefore requested that the Government make an exclusion order allowing it to renew its current broadcast agreements for an additional three years, on the same commercial and licence terms, with current UK broadcast partners, without conducting a tender process.
Under paragraph 7 of schedule 3 to the Competition Act 1998, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has the power to exclude, via a so-called “exclusion order”, certain agreements from the application of UK competition law where there are “exceptional and compelling reasons of public policy” to do so.
If such an exclusion order is made, the Premier League has committed to:
guaranteeing existing levels of financial support for the football pyramid for four years from 2021-22 to the end of the 2024-25 season. This includes solidarity payments, parachute payments, youth development funding and funding for grassroots football at existing levels, worth over £1.5 billion over the three-year rights cycle.
maintaining at least this level of funding even if its international broadcast rights decrease in value when they are re-tendered individually over the next year into 2022, and to increase the level of funding if its international broadcast rights exceed their current value; and
providing a further minimum £100 million in solidarity and good causes funding to the end of the 2024-25 season, in roughly equal shares, to the National League, women’s football, league one and two clubs, grassroots football and cross-game initiatives. This would make a significant financial contribution, including doubling the support for the non-league system, and providing crucial financial support for the women’s game.
The Secretary of State for BEIS and DCMS Ministers have considered the impact of covid on the English football pyramid and are minded to agree the Government should act to enable the Premier League to provide financial stability to protect the pyramid following heavily disrupted seasons due to covid, for the following reasons:
Football clubs are a central part of local communities across the country. They provide a focal point, but also huge social and health impacts via outreach and wellbeing programmes and fundamentally provide economic value to local areas through jobs, income and tourism. There is therefore public policy value in preserving football clubs for their fans as consumers and local residents.
There is inherent value in the football league pyramid. As our national game, football holds a unique cultural position, and the preservation of a meritocratic, fair system through the football pyramid has a public policy benefit in its own right.
There is public policy value in having a healthy football system. It is a source of international reputation, attracts fans globally and is a major source of exports for the United Kingdom. The strength of the Premier League is one of the UK’s soft power levers for the United Kingdom to attract investment, so having a financially stable system enables that.
As the football pyramid receives a majority of its funding from the Premier League, a reduction in the value of domestic broadcast rights would negatively affect the ability of the Premier League and its clubs to continue to directly and indirectly support the football pyramid in England in the current climate. This would compound the impact of the wider financial losses each level of the pyramid has experienced due to covid, with a real prospect that some clubs and facilities could cease to exist.
An exclusion order allowing the continuation of previously competitively tendered rights for another three years would support all of football following covid. It would help to promote the domestic game after heavily disrupted seasons due to covid by enabling the Premier League to commit to its solidarity payments, parachute payments, and funding for grassroots football at existing levels, worth a minimum of £1.5 billion to the football pyramid over three years.
An exclusion order would also enable the Premier League to release at least £100 million of new funding for particularly vulnerable areas of the sport. This would make a significant financial contribution, including doubling the support for the non-league system, and providing crucial financial support for the women’s game.
The Government are in the process of a fan-led review of football governance, and the Premier League is undertaking a strategic review. The proposed exclusion order would not preclude those reviews from acting to change the distribution of broadcast revenue, but it would provide a level of certainty for the wider football pyramid and a minimum level of funding to maintain stability to 2024-25.
On advice from my Department, the Secretary of State for BEIS is satisfied that the Premier League’s funding commitments as set out above would provide vital financial stability for the English football pyramid, allowing football to support itself financially, and that renewing the Premier League’s domestic broadcasting rights for a limited period of three years only will help to minimise any possible detrimental effects on the broadcasting market and consumers.
On balance, the Secretary of State for BEIS is minded to conclude that there are exceptional and compelling reasons of public policy to make the proposed exclusion order, but would like to consider any representations from interested parties before a final decision is taken. Written representations should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by 5 pm on Friday 28 May 2021.
An exclusion order, if made, should be seen as a temporary measure in response to the pandemic. The Government are content that this request by the Premier League was not made as a result of the recently proposed European super league.
Ministers at my Department will keep Parliament updated on progress with this case. A copy of the “minded to” letter will be placed in the Library of both Houses.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Independent Reservoir Safety Review Report
Today I am publishing Professor David Balmforth’s review into the application of current legislation for reservoir safety which considers whether the regulation of reservoirs remains effective and robust in securing the ongoing safety of this critical infrastructure. This review follows Professor Balmforth’s initial report into the lessons that could be taken from the Toddbrook reservoir incident, where parts of the spillway collapsed following significant heavy rainfall.
I thank Professor Balmforth, and all those who contributed, for a comprehensive assessment of the current reservoir safety framework, and his further recommendations for improvement.
The report recognises that there is already a well-established regime to manage the safety of our reservoirs, and that the legislation that supports it is well understood by all those involved, with high levels of compliance. It recognises that many reservoirs have appropriate surveillance, operation and maintenance but the report raises concerns that this is not applied consistently across the industry as a whole.
The report found that both the legislation and industry practice has not always kept pace with the risk-based approach adopted for health and safety in other industries, resulting in a potentially disproportionate approach for measuring risk. Professor Balmforth also found that not all reports received from engineers were clear or well understood by owners and operators, which may be leading to delays in repairs, and/or ongoing regular maintenance at some sites.
The review highlights that the regulator for reservoir safety, the Environment Agency in England, has limited opportunity to quality-assure the overall processes and procedures, which is a key role of other regulators.
The role of panel engineers is central to ensuring all our reservoirs are managed and maintained to minimise risk to public safety. This report finds that while the appointment process ensures competent and capable individuals are in these roles, improvements could be made in respect of the current fragmented approach and leadership for ongoing development and knowledge sharing. There is concern that the supply of appropriately qualified and experienced engineers for the future may not keep pace with need.
Examples of good practice from across the reservoir industry, other regulated industries and international experience have been used to inform a set of comprehensive and interlinked recommendations for both Government and the industry to consider.
The recommendations include:
Seven recommendations (or parts thereof) that relate directly to developing a reservoir safety regime through a risk/hazard based approach
Five recommendations (or parts thereof) relating to panel engineer and owners roles and responsibilities
Three recommendations (or parts thereof) in respect of panel engineer supply and/or ongoing development of the engineers and/or owners
Six recommendations to strengthen the role of the regulator (Environment Agency) including new responsibilities, duties and powers
One recommendation for Government to consider the legislative framework in the round
I welcome these recommendations, and their potential to further strengthen how Government and the reservoir sector itself can embed and secure an effective safety culture. While some of the ideas and recommendations can, and indeed must, be taken forward by the industry itself as good practice now, others will likely require legislative changes.
DEFRA will take forward detailed work, including with the industry, to explore these recommendations further. This will ensure we have a reservoir safety regime that is fit for the future, without disproportionate burden on those responsible.
Alongside this review, Government have taken action to further strengthen reservoir safety, including making it a statutory requirement for registered reservoirs to prepare on-site emergency flood plans. I have issued a direction to this effect to all undertakers of large raised reservoirs in England. This will ensure that those responsible have plans in place and are prepared to mitigate and/or manage an emerging or actual emergency that could result in an uncontrolled release of water. Thankfully such incidents are very rare in this country, but the experience from Toddbrook clearly demonstrates how important this preparation is.
Health and Social Care
Coronavirus Restrictions Regulations
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/750 came into force on 18 July 2020 and have now been extended until 17 July 2021. These regulations give powers to local authorities to issue a direction to impose prohibitions, restrictions or requirements in respect of:
individual premises (regulation 4(1));
events (regulation 5(1)); and
public outdoor places (regulation 6(1)).
A local authority may give a direction under regulation 4(1), 5(1) or 6(1) only if it considers that the following conditions are met:
a) that giving such a direction responds to a serious and imminent threat to public health,
b) that the direction is necessary for the purpose of preventing, protecting against, controlling or providing a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection by coronavirus in the local authority’s area, and
c) that the prohibitions, requirements or restrictions imposed by the direction are a proportionate means of achieving that purpose.
The local authority must have regard to any advice provided by its local director of public health, its interim or acting director of public health, or a consultant appointed by the director, interim director or acting director of public health, in order to issue a direction under the No. 3 regulations.
The No. 3 regulations also allow for the Secretary of State to give a direction to a local authority requiring it to issue a direction under regulation 4(1), 5(1) or 6(1) if the conditions in paragraphs (a)-(c) would be met in relation to the direction. The Secretary of State may also revoke such a direction but must first consult the chief medical officer or deputy CMO of DHSC. To date, I have not given or revoked any directions under regulation 3 of the No. 3 regulations.
Support to local authorities
To help support local authorities in their decisions to issue directions under the No. 3 regulations, optional templates for directions, a decision-making guide and a process map have been provided by the Joint Biosecurity Centre. In addition, a newsletter is regularly published offering additional guidance, local authority case studies and communication of initiatives within local areas to provide assistance. Training has also been offered to all local authorities on the aims and use of the No. 3 regulations, most recently in March 2021.
Use of directions to respond to a serious and imminent threat to public health
Local authorities have used the No. 3 regulations to manage the risk of virus transmission in their local areas. Figures from 18 July 2020 to 29 April 2021 are:
Region Bar/Club/Pub1 Restaurant1 Business1 Event2 Outdoor places3 Total East midlands 15 12 3 1 1 32 East of England 6 2 0 5 0 13 London 14 2 16 3 0 35 North-east England 34 2 6 1 0 43 North-west England 45 20 25 15 0 105 South-east England 0 0 3 9 3 15 South-west England 0 0 1 3 0 4 West midlands 6 5 12 2 0 25 Yorkshire and Humber 12 7 6 8 0 33 Totals 132 50 72 47 4 305 1 Regulation 4—directions relating to individual premises 2 Regulation 5—directions relating to events 3 Regulation 6—directions relating to public outdoor places
East of England
Yorkshire and Humber
1 Regulation 4—directions relating to individual premises
2 Regulation 5—directions relating to events
3 Regulation 6—directions relating to public outdoor places
Directions can be used to restrict activity in individual premises, events and public outdoor places in a variety of ways, such as restricting customer numbers, requiring seating to be suitably distanced and ensuring customer social distancing. A direction may also be used to close a business or place restrictions on, or prohibit, an event where the risk of transmission, and therefore risk to health, is considered too high. Two thirds of directions issued under regulation 4(1) have closed businesses, while one third have placed restrictions upon the business. Directions issued under regulation 4(1) account for 83% of all directions issued, while directions issued under regulation 5(1) on events, and regulation 6(1) on public outdoor places, account for 15% and 2% of all directions issued, respectively.
As of 29 April 2021, I have considered seven representations from appellants which were made under regulation 4(9)(b) and 5(9)(b) of the No. 3 regulations. On all occasions, after investigation and thorough consideration of the representations and epidemiological data, I decided that it was not appropriate to exercise my power in regulation 3(2) and I upheld the directions on the basis that they were made in response to a serious and imminent threat to public health, were necessary and proportionate, and were based on the epidemiological evidence and other available information.
I will continue to provide updates to the House regarding the use of these powers.
Legislation to Counter State Threats: Government Consultation
I am today publishing the consultation on the Government’s legislative proposals to counter the evolving and full range of state threats posed to the United Kingdom.
The threat from hostile activity by states is a growing, diversifying and evolving one. States are becoming increasingly assertive in how they advance their own objectives and undermine our own. Unlike terrorists, whose methods rely on grabbing the public’s attention, states conducting hostile activity against us will seek to operate in the shadows and remain hidden. While sometimes acts are conducted in broad daylight or through obvious propaganda channels, many of the myriad forms that state threats take will not always be visible: for example, espionage, political interference, sabotage, electoral interference, disinformation, cyber operations and intellectual property theft. Though these acts fall short of open conflict, the consequences for our democracy, economic security and prosperity are real. We continue to face this very real and serious threat from those who seek to undermine and destabilise our country to pursue their own agendas.
In addition, the global landscape has changed significantly since comprehensive legislation was last passed in this area. New technologies and their widespread commercial availability, have created new opportunities and vectors for attack, lowering the cost and risk to states to conduct espionage. There are also a number of current and future trends that impact on both the threat and our response, including the covid-19 global pandemic, advances in data and technical innovation, and the increasing use of information operations that aim to sow discord, attempt to interfere in democracy, and disrupt the fabric of society.
There is a significant volume of work ongoing within Government to counter state threats and we are making the UK safer by strengthening our ability to deter, withstand and respond to it. This work includes bringing into force a new power under schedule 3 to the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 and avowing the Joint State Threats Assessment Team to better understand the threat and inform the Government’s response. However, there remains a compelling case for new legislation to help address the threat. Now is the time to comprehensively update existing laws and bring forward new powers.
At their core the legislative proposals in the consultation seek to do three things:
Modernise existing counter espionage laws to reflect the modern threat and modern legislative standards;
Create new offences, tools and powers to detect, deter and disrupt hostile activity in and targeted at the UK;
Improve our ability to protect official data and ensure the associated offences reflect the greater ease at which significant harm can be done.
The legislative proposals in this consultation have been developed through extensive review of current legislative provisions and collaboration with security and intelligence agencies and policy departments at the forefront of tackling state threats in the UK today. These proposals, which are intentionally designed to be country and actor agnostic, include:
Reform of the Official Secrets Acts 1911,1920 and 1939—these Acts contain the core espionage offences which have failed to keep pace with the threat and modern legal standards;
Reform of the Official Secrets Act 1989—which governs the law around the unauthorised disclosure of official material and its onward disclosure; and
The creation of a foreign influence registration scheme—an important new tool to help combat espionage, interference, and to protect research in sensitive subject areas, as well as to provide a greater awareness of foreign influence currently being exerted in the UK.
The consultation also considers whether there is the case for new tools and powers to criminalise other harmful activity conducted by, and on behalf of states.
I have asked my officials to engage with parliamentarians, Committees and key industry, research and media sectors to ensure as many views as possible can be heard and considered to inform final policy legislative proposals. The Home Office will work in close partnership to consult with the devolved Executives given the clear applicability to the entire United Kingdom.
The input received through this consultation will help shape the tools and powers to ensure they are comprehensive, effective, workable and balance the protection of national security with the important rights and values we all enjoy in the UK.
This country is fortunate to have the best security services in the world. I stand shoulder to shoulder with them, just as I do with our police, and I am committed to ensuring that they have the tools in place to keep this country safe, disrupt hostile activity and punish those who conduct hostile acts against the UK.
I will arrange for a copy of the consultation document to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The deadline for responses to the consultation is 22 July 2021, following which I will update the House and publish the Government’s response to the consultation.
Housing, Communities and Local Government
Local Government Pensions
The Government are committed to public service pensions which are fair to public sector workers. In 2014, reforms were made to the local government pension scheme in England and Wales (the LGPS) to make the scheme more sustainable and affordable for the longer term. These reforms followed the prior recommendations of the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission and were part of similar reforms made across the public sector. The Government believe the 2014 changes to the LGPS balanced the interests of local government workers, employers and taxpayers fairly, and it remains the right package of benefits for the sector.
In July 2020, MHCLG consulted on changes to the local government pension scheme in England and Wales (LGPS). That consultation outlined proposals to amend LGPS “transitional protections” following a December 2018 Court of Appeal finding that similar provisions in the judicial and firefighters’ pension schemes gave rise to unlawful discrimination. Transitional protections had been introduced by the Government to exempt scheme members nearest to retirement from the impact of the reforms made to public service pensions in 2014 and 2015.
In the LGPS, transitional protection was provided through an “underpin”, providing protected members with the higher of their pension under the reformed, career average scheme and the pension they would have been entitled to under the previous final salary scheme. In our consultation, we proposed extending underpin protection to younger qualifying members.
The Government received responses from a variety of stakeholders. These were detailed and varied, and the Government are grateful for the consideration and thought given to the issues covered in the consultation. Responses were largely supportive of the key elements of the proposals.
After consideration of the responses, we can now confirm the key elements of the changes to scheme regulations which will be made in due course. The overarching aim is that the changes will address the findings of the courts and provide protection to all qualifying members when their benefits are drawn from the scheme. The key points are:
Underpin protection will apply to LGPS members who meet the revised qualifying criteria, principally that they were active in the scheme on 31 March 2012 and subsequently had membership of the career average scheme without a continuous break in service of more than five years.
The period of protection will apply from 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2022 but will cease earlier where a member leaves active membership or reaches their final salary scheme normal retirement age (normally 65) before 31 March 2022.
Where a member stays in active membership beyond 31 March 2022, the comparison of their benefits will be based on their final salary when they leave the LGPS, or when they reach their final salary scheme normal retirement age, if earlier.
Underpin protection will apply to qualifying members who leave active membership of the LGPS with an immediate or deferred entitlement to a pension.
A “two stage process” will apply for assessing the underpin so that, where there is a gap between a member’s last day of active membership and the date they take their pension, members can be assured they are getting the higher benefit.
Scheme regulations giving effect to the above changes will be retrospective to 1 April 2014.
A full Government response, containing further detail on the matters addressed above, and on other issues which were covered in the consultation, will be published later this year. This will include the Government’s decision on whether members will be expected to meet the underpin qualifying criteria in a single period of scheme membership for the underpin to apply.
It is anticipated that regulations giving effect to these changes will be made after new primary legislation in relation to public service pensions has completed its passage through Parliament, and the Government’s intention is that regulations will come into force on 1 April 2023.
Ensuring that future pension accrual for all LGPS members is on a career average basis from 1 April 2022 will mean that local government workers continue to receive some of the best pension scheme benefits available in the UK, but that provision is more sustainable for the long term and more affordable for the taxpayer.
Motor Fuel and Biofuel Regulations 2021
I have today published the draft statutory instrument the Motor Fuel (Composition and Content) and the Biofuel (Labelling) (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2021 and accompanying explanatory memorandum. These regulations amend the Motor Fuel (Composition and Content) Regulations 1999 to require the introduction of E10 petrol (petrol with up to 10% ethanol) at filling stations in Great Britain. Current petrol in the UK contains up to 5% ethanol (referred to as E5).
Switching to E10 can reduce the CO2 emissions from a petrol vehicle by around 2%. This, combined with an increase to overall renewable fuel targets (which has been subject to a separate consultation) could cut overall transport CO2 emissions by a further 750,000 tonnes a year—the equivalent of taking around 350,000 cars off the road. E10 introduction will also help support UK farmers and particularly the ethanol industry based in the north-east of England. Producing ethanol also creates the valuable by-products of high-protein animal feed and stored CO2. These reduce reliance on imported products, in line with the Government’s bioeconomy strategy.
The regulations also ensure the ongoing availability of E5 petrol (petrol with 5% or less ethanol) for those with vehicles and equipment unsuitable for use with E10. The amendment to the Biofuel (Labelling) Regulations 2004 changes the consumer message that must be displayed when E10 petrol is sold at filling stations. These regulations also make amendments related to the United Kingdom’s exit from European Union to rectify deficiencies in the regulations and replace references to European directive 98/70/EC with references to domestic legislation.
The regulations are published in accordance with the procedure required by schedule 8 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and agreed with Parliament. The draft regulations will be available for review for 28 days before they are laid and debates scheduled. They remake the provisions of the Motor Fuel (Composition and Content) and the Biofuel (Labelling) (Amendment) Regulations 2021. Those regulations were treated as if they were subject to the negative procedure, but as they amended provision made under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 using a power conferred before 21 June 2017, paragraph 13(1) of schedule 8 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 applied meaning that the affirmative procedure should have been used.
These regulations were subject to open consultation. The policy detail, Government response and impact assessment are available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/ consultations/introducing-e10-petrol.
Licensing of Railway Undertakings: Draft Legislation
As part of the Government’s EU transition programme, the Department for Transport, working with colleagues in other Government Departments, has been in discussion with France on bilateral arrangements to support the continuation of cross-border services, which provide significant economic and social benefit to the United Kingdom. While other bilateral agreements remain under discussion in relation to the channel tunnel, the critical agreement relates to the recognition of operator licences, which are needed to operate rail services. Agreement in principle has now been reached with France at a technical level, subject to final legal checks, and the agreement is expected to be concluded in the coming weeks, with ratification through the UK and French Parliaments then to follow.
Through these regulations, which will amend 2005 and 2019 regulations, the Government intend to take the necessary steps to ensure that the above-mentioned bilateral agreement on the rail operator licensing framework for the channel tunnel can be ratified, supporting the continued smooth operation of cross-border rail services. The regulations will enable cross-border operators to continue to operate as they do now and will not introduce any new requirements on them. Without this legislation, there is a real risk that rail freight services, excluding Eurotunnel shuttles, and Eurostar passenger services through the channel tunnel would cease to operate from 30 September, when the current EU contingency legislation applicable to the channel tunnel expires.
The regulations are being published in draft 28 days before they are due to be laid for affirmative debate. This is required under paragraph 14 of schedule 8 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 because the 2005 and 2019 regulations which are being amended were originally made under the European Communities Act 1972. The draft regulations and accompanying explanatory memorandum can be found on gov.uk.
High Speed 2 Phase 2a: Consultation Response Report
I am today publishing a consultation report as required under section 60(1) of the High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Act 2021. The report summarises the responses to the HS2 phase 2a local consultation held between 1 February and 26 February 2021 and has been prepared by the independent research company, Ipsos MORI. I am placing copies of the report in the Libraries of both Houses.
I am carefully considering the report and will publish the Government response to their findings in June.
The attachment can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2021-05-13/HCWS19/.
Maritime and Coastguard Agency: Business Plan 2021-22
I am proud to announce the publication of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s (MCA) business plan for 2021-22. The MCA does vital work to save lives at sea, regulate ship standards and protect the marine environment. The agency affects not just those working on the coast or at sea, it upholds the legacy of our great maritime nation.
The business plan sets out:
MCA’s work towards positioning the United Kingdom as the innovative flag of choice;
Supporting the development and implementation of emerging fuels and technologies, with a key drive towards reducing emissions and with the support and development of autonomous shipping and;
The vision for a future aviation strategy, including the next phase of helicopter contracts.
At the international level, MCA will work alongside the Department and with the input of other Government Departments to represent the UK’s interests at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), and at other relevant bodies.
Domestically, MCA will, despite the impact of the pandemic, continue to work collaboratively to grow the maritime sector in the UK so that it continues to contribute positively to the economy. They will also continue to provide a valuable contribution to the delivery and ambitions that were set out in the Maritime 2050 strategy just over two years ago and its accompanying route maps.
This plan allows service users and members of the public the opportunity to see how the agency is developing and using new technologies to improve its services and performance.
The key performance indicators will assess how the agency is performing in operating its key services, managing reforms and the agency finances throughout the year.
The business plan will be available electronically on gov.uk and copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The attachment can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2021-05-13/HCWS18/.
Work and Pensions
Benefit Fraud and Error Statistics
The statistics for fraud and error in the benefit system for the financial year ending 2021 were published on 13 May 2021, at 9.30 am.
When the pandemic struck last year, the Department faced an unprecedented challenge in meeting the surge in new universal credit claims, which at their peak reached 10 times the levels we would expect during normal times.
DWP’s considered judgement was to get money as quickly as possible to those who needed it. To do this, the Department took the decision to streamline our checks to ensure that people could make a claim and still stay at home, save lives and protect the NHS.
This decision meant that the Department could successfully pay an additional 3 million claims during the early months of the pandemic, at the peak of the surge in claims. This ensured that households affected by sudden job losses were able to access benefit payments to help them meet the cost of living during this challenging time.
We were careful to assess what the changes might mean for fraud and error, which is why we logged each change and considered the impact it would have. We also tracked every claim where we were unable to undertake the usual checks.
We began to restore our processes at the earliest opportunity. Limited by capacity constraints due to social distancing and “stay at home” guidance, we accelerated our innovation by building new safeguards, like our enhanced checking service, a team of trained investigators who review claims and contact claimants by telephone to obtain further information or evidence where there is suspected fraud.
We also increased the role of our integrated risk and intelligence service in co-ordinating the monitoring of, and response to, fraud risks from individuals and organised crime groups. A targeted attack on the benefits system by organised criminals at the height of the pandemic was thwarted by the Department for Work and Pensions, which meant we prevented an estimated £1.7 billion from being paid to people trying to scam the system.
Throughout the pandemic, our serious organised crime teams continued to target organised crime groups working collaboratively with other Government Departments and law enforcement agencies nationally and across borders. We have recently identified another organised attempt to fraudulently claim universal credit at scale and have worked in conjunction with the police to arrest suspects involved, seizing evidence which will enable us to pursue the perpetrators. We will pursue and prosecute those who commit fraud against the benefit system.
The action we took in terms of reinstating—where possible—our normal checks, introducing mitigations and actively intervening in cases has made a significant difference to the level of fraud we might otherwise have incurred.
However, we always knew a minority would abuse the situation the country faced and were clear that the level of fraud and error would inevitably increase, a fact recognised by the National Audit Office. The fraud and error figures published today confirm that overall losses last year were 3.9%, mainly through fraudulent activity from a minority of claimants in the pandemic.
All benefit fraud is wrong. It is a crime and we are bearing down on it as the country emerges from the pandemic. We take any abuse of taxpayers’ money seriously, but it is especially disappointing to see people exploit a global pandemic in this way.
We are part way through an exercise which is examining all the cases we tagged and reapplying the verification standards that would have been applied at the time, had it not been for covid-19. We will correct each and every case where we find something is wrong, and where appropriate, we will bring to bear the full force of the law.
In addition, at the Budget the Government announced £44 million of funding for a package of measures designed to prevent fraud and error entering the system, including the expansion of both the enhanced checking service and the integrated risk and intelligence service. This will help build on the work already undertaken to protect universal credit, which has seen us improve the way we collect information, introduce new housing costs verification procedures and develop risk profiling strategies.
The figures announced today show how hard we, as a Department, have worked during these difficult times to offset fraud and error. Despite the huge surge in claims and redeployment of staff, the proportion of fraudulent claims has remained broadly the same as pre-pandemic levels. While the value of overpayments has increased, this is in part a consequence of our decision to suspend the minimum income floor (MIF) in order to support self-employed universal credit claimants during the pandemic. We will be reinstating MIF in August 2021.
Moreover, official error in universal credit decreased this year, which is testament to the efforts of our staff and the hard work put in to support claimants.
We stand by our decision to honour our obligation to those who found themselves relying on the welfare safety net to support them through these exceptional times. Given the circumstances, no responsible Government could have considered an alternative course of action.
The Department continues to focus on reducing fraud and error. We are confident the plans we are putting in place will reduce the losses incurred during the last year and will help us develop new approaches to root out the scourge of benefit fraud.