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Written Statements

Volume 697: debated on Thursday 24 June 2021

Written Statements

Thursday 24 June 2021

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

FCDO Services Ministerial Targets 2021-22

My noble Friend the Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, has made the following written ministerial statement:

FCDO Services operates as a trading fund of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). I have set the following ambitious performance targets for 2021-2022:

An in-year surplus in excess of 0.0% before interest, tax and dividend;

Achievement of the return on capital employed (ROCE) of at least 6.5% (weighted average);

A productivity ratio of at least 82%, measuring actual billable hours versus available billable hours;

An in-year customer satisfaction rating average at least of 82%;

An average Civil Service People Survey "Your Say” score for ‘Employee Engagement’ of at least 61%; and

An average Civil Service People Survey “Your Say” score for “My Manager” of at least 65%.

FCDO Services will report to Parliament on its success against these targets through its annual report and accounts for 2021-22.

FCDO Services is a trading fund of the FCDO. It provides a range of integrated, secure services worldwide to the FCDO and other UK Government Departments, supporting the delivery of Government agendas. Services include protective security, estates and construction, cloud computing, communications and monitoring, logistics, translation and interpreting. This is combined with a portfolio of global maintenance work. FCDO Services also manages the UK National Authority for Counter Eavesdropping (UK NACE), helping protect UK assets from physical, electronic and cyber-attack.



Public Service Pensions: Cost Control Mechanism and Discount Rate Methodology

The Government have today published two consultations relating to public service pensions. These consultations seek views on two important aspects of the framework governing public service pension schemes: proposed reforms to the cost control mechanism and the methodology used to set the discount rate used at valuations of unfunded public service pension schemes.

One of the proposed reforms to the cost control mechanism could mean that the discount rate used at valuations of unfunded public service schemes to set employer contribution rates may also become relevant to the outcome of the cost control mechanism in the future. These consultations are therefore being published in parallel to ensure that respondents are fully informed of any potential interactions and to allow them to consider their responses across both areas of the public service pension framework.

The cost control mechanism

The first consultation document published today is titled “Public Service Pensions: Proposal to Reform the Cost Control Mechanism”.

Following recommendations from the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission in 2011, the cost control mechanism was introduced into the valuation process for public service pension schemes in the Public Service Pensions Act 2013 following consultation with member representatives. It was designed to ensure a fair balance of risk regarding the cost of providing defined benefit (DB) public service pensions between members and the taxpayer.

In September 2018, the Government announced they would ask the Government Actuary to conduct a review of the mechanism amidst concerns that it was not operating in line with its original objectives, which are:

To protect taxpayers from unforeseen costs

To maintain the value of pension schemes to the members

To provide stability and certainty to benefit levels—the mechanism should only be triggered by “extraordinary, unpredictable events”.

The Government Actuary’s final report, which sets out his findings and recommendations, was published on 15 June. The Government have considered this report and are now consulting on reforms they propose to make to the mechanism to ensure it operates as intended. All of the Government’s proposed changes are recommendations by the Government Actuary.

The consultation will last for eight weeks and close on 19 August. The consultation document can be found at:'> service-pensions-cost-control-mechanism-consultation.

The discount rate methodology

The second consultation is titled “Public Service Pensions: Consultation on the discount rate methodology”.

“SCAPE” (superannuation contributions adjusted for past experience) is the name of the process for setting employer contribution rates at valuations of unfunded public service pension schemes. The “SCAPE discount rate” is the discount rate used as part of this process. It is used to express the pension promises being built up in a scheme as a present-day cost and is set by HM Treasury following a prescribed methodology.

The Government previously consulted on the methodology used to set the SCAPE discount rate in 2010. In response to that consultation, they announced that the SCAPE discount rate methodology would be based on expected long-term GDP growth.

In response to the 2010 consultation, the Government expressed an intention to review the SCAPE discount rate methodology every 10 years. This consultation meets that intention and seeks views on the most appropriate methodology for setting the SCAPE discount rate going forward.

The consultation will last for eight weeks and close on 19 August. The consultation document can be found at:'> service-pensions-consultation-on-the-discount-rate-methodology.



Exercises in the Black Sea

On Wednesday 23 June 2021, HMS Defender (a Type 45 destroyer), left the Ukrainian port of Odessa en route to the Georgian port of Batumi in the Black sea. HMS Defender conducted innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters via a direct route using a traffic separation scheme (TSS), as is the right of the United Kingdom (and all nations) under international maritime law. This TSS is governed by the International Maritime Organisation and is designed to assist vessels in safely transiting congested waterways. The United Kingdom does not recognise any Russian claim to these waters, nor do we recognise the assertion from the Russian Ministry of Defence that HMS Defender was in violation of the UN convention on the law of the sea (UNCLOS).

At 0950 BST, HMS Defender entered the TSS, inside Ukrainian territorial waters. At 1000 BST, a Russian coastguard vessel warned that Russian units would shortly commence a live fire gunnery exercise. At 1008 BST, HMS Defender noted gunnery astern and out of range of her position. This posed no danger to HMS Defender. During her transit, HMS Defender was overflown by Russian combat aircraft at varying heights, the lowest of which was approximately 500 feet. These aircraft posed no immediate threat to HMS Defender, but some of these manoeuvres were neither safe nor professional. HMS Defender responded by VHF radio to the Russian units on several occasions and was, at all times, courteous and professional.

HMS Defender maintained a safe course throughout her innocent passage, on one occasion manoeuvring to avoid a hazard presented by a Russian coastguard vessel before re-assuming her intended course. HMS Defender completed the passage safely and in accordance with her intended route, departed Ukrainian territorial waters at 1026 BST. At no point were warning shots fired at HMS Defender, nor bombs dropped in her path as has been asserted by the Russian authorities.

Later on Wednesday 23 June 2021, the United Kingdom’s defence attaché was invited to a meeting in the Russian Ministry of Defence at which he received a note verbale. This will be considered and addressed in due course.

Under Article 19 of UNCLOS, HMS Defender had the right to exercise innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in the manner she did without giving any notice of her intention to do so. This is a right the United Kingdom affords to Russia and other states in the context of the UK’s territorial waters, including the Dover TSS in the English channel.

The Royal Navy, as well as other NATO and partner nations, have enjoyed a routine maritime presence in the Black sea for many years. At the time of this interaction, there were both Dutch and US warships operating elsewhere within the Black sea. The Royal Navy’s presence is about co-operating with our partners and allies to advance regional security, stability and freedom of navigation.

HMS Defender continues with her planned deployment and programme of visits. The Royal Navy will always uphold international law and will not accept unlawful interference with innocent passage.


UK MINUSMA Deployment

I would like to update the House on my previous statement (HCWS622), announcing the start of the UK’s long-range reconnaissance group (LRRG) deployment to the United Nations multidimensional integrated stabilisation mission in Mali, MINUSMA.

The UK’s first rotation to MINUSMA, led by the Light Dragoons, began in December 2020 and I am pleased to report that they have now completed their handover to their successors, following a successful six-month deployment.

Our troops have so far delivered on their objectives—to contribute to improving the UN mission’s performance and to help reduce the spread of insecurity across Mali and the wider Sahel.

Our forces have engaged with Malian communities who had never before met UN forces to understand their needs and concerns. They have gathered intelligence to support mission planning and improve overall mission performance, including the protection of civilians. They also led MINUSMA’s first cordon and search operation for some time, seizing weapons and equipment hidden by terrorists threatening local communities, and demonstrating how UK personnel can make an innovative and effective contribution to the mission.

Their high performance and professionalism have been acknowledged by international partners on the ground, and the UN Force Commander.

The Light Dragoon-led task group has been replaced by a contingent led by the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, with personnel drawn from The Queen’s Dragoon Guards and other units from across the armed forces.

I congratulate our returning troops on completion of a successful tour in a challenging and dangerous environment, and I am confident that the second rotation is well placed to build on the solid foundations laid by those preceding them. The new UK task group will be under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Will Meddings, of the Royal Anglian Regiment, and will continue to form a crucial component of the mission and force, working alongside over 60 other nations.

Despite the successes of our armed forces, we are conscious that the ongoing situation in Mali remains complex and needs a whole of Government approach to achieve our desired results. The coup in Mali last month reinforces the important role the international community plays in supporting stability in the country. The UK remains committed to the transition process towards democratic, constitutional rule in Mali. We will also maintain a close relationship with our allies, ensuring our activity aligns with planned adjustments to France’s footprint in the Sahel.

Our peacekeeping deployment to Mali is part of a broader HMG contribution seeking to help tackle the root causes of conflict. This includes a number of UK-funded programmes across Mali that intend to not only improve the lives of the civilian population, but also complement the tasks conducted by our armed forces. Programmes include helping communities resolve conflicts over land and resources; supporting women in taking a stronger role in conflict resolution; and helping civilian and military actors to better co-ordinate work.

While I am pleased to report that the troops in our first rotation will arrive home safe and well, we remain clear that this mission does not come without risk to those deployed. We regularly assess risks and will continue to make adjustments to ensure our forces can conduct operations safely.

Lessons identified from our first rotation will be applied to future MINUSMA deployments. We will also continue to draw on insight provided by the LRRG to support our efforts within the UN in New York to drive policy reform. They will feed into a review of our future commitment at the end of the year.

As outlined in the integrated review, the UK deployment to MINUSMA is a clear demonstration of this Government’s commitment to play a leading international role in multilateralism, collective security and conflict resolution. I am pleased to report on the successes of this first rotation, and will provide further updates to the House as the deployment progresses.


Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

News UK Undertakings: Application for Release in Full

On 1 February 2021, News UK submitted an application to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport requesting that I release in full the undertakings that were accepted by the then Secretary of State, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), in 2019, to replace conditions put in place by the then Secretary of State for Trade, the right hon. John Biffin MP, in 1981.

News UK has submitted that the changes in the newspaper industry and the challenges posed by the covid-19 pandemic mean that the undertakings are no longer necessary.

They note that the undertakings place them at a competitive disadvantage to other newspapers, and that the release is necessary to allow the continued provision of quality news by The Times and The Sunday Times.

Copies of the invitation to comment and the application documents will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The deadline for comments is 5 pm on 15 July. This application will be considered in a quasi-judicial manner through a fair and transparent process.

If, after considering the responses, I am minded to release, or vary the undertakings, there will be a further consultation on my decision as required by legislation.


Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Landscapes Review: Government Response

In May 2018, DEFRA commissioned Julian Glover and an independent panel to consider how we might improve the management of our national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs).

Their report, the landscapes review, was published in September 2019. It set out a series of recommendations, including that more should be done to support nature’s recovery in these landscapes; that the status of AONBs should be strengthened; that there was a need to bring the family of protected landscapes closer together with more strategic oversight and greater opportunities for career progression; and that more funding should support public access to protected landscapes.

The Government agree that more funding should be directed towards making space for nature and supporting nature’s recovery in our protected landscapes. Since the review was published, we have been supporting important projects in our protected landscapes through our nature for climate fund and green recovery challenge fund. Our future local nature recovery scheme, part of the future agriculture policy, will also support the objective of nature’s recovery in our protected landscapes and beyond. I have also asked Natural England to prepare proposals for the possible designation of additional national nature reserves, where there is landowner support, and to consider how nature’s recovery within such designations might be supported financially through our new landscape recovery scheme (also part of our future agriculture policy).

The Government also agree that we should do more to support public access to protected landscapes. Today, I am announcing the new farming in protected landscapes programme, which will provide additional investment to allow farmers and other land managers to work in partnership with our national park authorities and AONB teams to improve public access, and deliver bigger and better outcomes for the environment, for people and for places.

Natural England also will be taking forward the Government’s commitment to designate additional protected landscapes and is currently considering the designation of four new areas.

Yorkshire Wolds AONB

Cheshire Sandstone Ridge AONB

An extension to the Surrey Hills AONB

An extension to the Chilterns AONB

This work will contribute to the Government’s commitment of protecting 30% of our land by 2030, and boosting biodiversity, while taking forward the review’s recommendation to designate more areas of the country for their natural beauty.

Each of our protected landscapes has its own identity, and many of their functions require local accountability. However, we are also considering how their structures might be changed so that we can bring the family of protected landscapes closer together, and ensure there is more strategic direction nationally, while retaining their local functions. We will also be exploring opportunities to increase private investment, particularly by diversifying funding sources to include emerging markets in natural capital and other commercial opportunities. We are also considering options to strengthen the status and support given to areas of outstanding natural beauty and the recommendation to possibly change their name. The Government will be working closely with our partners over the coming months including local authorities and national park authorities, to address the review’s recommendations in full and consult on draft proposals later this year.


Health and Social Care

High Fat, Sugar and Salt Advertising Consultation Response

Today, I am pleased to announce that the Government are publishing the consultation response to both the 2019 and 2020 consultations. This outlines the final UK-wide policy on restricting high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) advertising, which we intend to legislate for in the upcoming Health and Care Bill.

Covid-19 has brought the dangers of obesity into sharp focus and highlighted that as a country we need to address the risks obesity presents. The Prime Minister has been clear that helping the nation get fitter and healthier must be a national priority and will make us more resilient to diseases in the future.

In 2018 the Government set the ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030 and help adults reach a healthier weight. As part of a suite of measures to meet this ambition, is it important that we reduce children’s exposure to advertising for products high in fat, sugar and salt on TV and online. We want to ensure that the media our children engage with mostly promotes a healthy diet. Evidence suggests that exposure to HFSS advertising can affect what and when children eat, shaping children’s food preferences from a young age. Over time, excess consumption can lead to children becoming overweight or obese, all of which puts their future health at risk; already one in three children leaving primary school are overweight or living with obesity.

In July 2020, as part of the tackling obesity’ strategy, the Government announced their intention to implement a 9 pm watershed on TV for advertising high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS). This followed on from a consultation held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and DHSC in 2019. The Government also announced they wanted to go further online and from November to December 2020 held a public consultation on introducing a total HFSS restriction online.

Shaping the marketing to our children

We will be introducing a 9 pm watershed on TV and UK on-demand programme services (ODPS) alongside a restriction of paid-for advertising online.

The product categories in scope of the restriction have been revised since consultation to focus on those that are of most concern to childhood obesity. The healthiest products within a specific category can still be advertised and products such as butter, olive oil and condiments are out of scope. This is consistent with the approach used for the promotion restrictions on volume and location which is also part of the strategy.

The online restriction is limited to paid-for advertising and will not apply to “owned media”—those spaces online where full editorial control and ownership applies, such as a brand’s own blog, website or social media page.

The policy will have a number of exemptions to balance health benefits and impacts on business. These are as follows:

Brand advertising (online and 9 pm watershed): Provided there are no identifiable HFSS products, food and drink brands can continue to advertise. This is to ensure that brands are not pigeonholed as synonymous with HFSS products and have the freedom to reformulate and move towards offering healthier products.

Small medium enterprises (SME) (online and 9 pm watershed): Businesses with 249 employees or fewer, that pay to advertise HFSS products that they manufacture and/or sell, will be exempt from the HFSS restrictions and can continue to advertise.

Audio (online only): As the impact and levels of child exposure to HFSS advertising on audio- only media (e.g. podcasts, online only radio) remain unclear, these forms of media are not subject to restrictions.

Business to business (online only): Businesses can continue to promote their products or services to other businesses, which we hope will prevent unintended consequences of impeding business activity where commerce is not with the purpose of encouraging children’s consumption of HFSS food or drink.

Transactional content (online only): To ensure that online content for the purpose of facilitating transactions involved in buying and selling products can continue and that consumers have enough information at the point of sale/purchase.

The enforcement approach will mirror current frameworks with broadcasters and ODPS under UK jurisdiction being liable for breaches of the watershed and advertisers being liable online. Ofcom will also be appointed as the appropriate regulatory authority for these restrictions and will be able to appoint a day-to-day regulator to carry out frontline regulation. The Government expect the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to fulfil this role.

Obesity is a complex issue that will not be solved by one policy alone. This is why our strategy includes a suite of measures such as expanding weight management services and restricting promotions of HFSS products.

This is the latest measure to support individuals to improve their health and thereby reduce pressure on the NHS. I welcome Members’ support and their views on how we can support the nation to get healthier and achieve our ambition of halving childhood obesity by 2030.