Skip to main content

Written Statements

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2023

Written Statements

Tuesday 5 December 2023

Prime Minister

Intelligence and Security Committee: International Partnerships Report

The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament has today laid before Parliament a report entitled “International Partnerships”. The Government recognise and welcome the important oversight provided by the Committee. I thank the Committee for the comprehensive and detailed nature of the report and the extensive work behind it. International partnerships are of crucial importance to the UK intelligence agencies in their work and I am grateful that this is endorsed in this report.

I welcome the Committee’s finding that, overall, it is satisfied with the management and development of the UK intelligence community’s partnerships, and the recognition that our agencies take both the letter and the spirit of their legal and ethical obligations with the utmost seriousness in managing these relationships.

The partnerships that the UK intelligence community maintains are critical to our ability to protect our national interests. These international partnerships allow the UK to benefit from intelligence sharing, shared analysis and assessment, and joint co-operation, maximising its capabilities and reach. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our Departments, agencies and their international partners for their work in maintaining these relationships, which are deeply important to our ability to keep the UK safe.

The Government will consider the Committee’s recommendations carefully and respond in due course.


Intelligence and Security Committee’s Annual Report

The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament has today laid before Parliament its annual report, covering its activities between April 2022 and March 2023. The report demonstrates the Committee’s wide-ranging work across a number of important issues.

The ISC is a leading and essential part of the machinery that provides expert and democratic accountability for our security and intelligence-focused Departments and agencies.

The Committee’s membership has changed during the period covered by the report, and I would like to thank the right hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) for his work on the Committee, and welcome the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) to this role.

The Government continue to support the Committee with its ongoing international partnerships, cloud technologies and Iran inquiries, and look forward to seeing the Committee’s recommendations in due course. During the period covered by this annual report, the Committee published a report on extreme right-wing terrorism. The Committee also finalised its report following a long-running inquiry on China, which was recognised as an exceptional, complex inquiry. The Government have published responses to both reports and are grateful to the Committee for devoting its time and attention to these topics, and thank the Committee for its recommendations. The Government will keep the Committee updated on our progress with its recommendations.

I would also like to thank the Committee for its work on the National Security Act 2023. Its engagement, understanding and expertise was invaluable and helped the Government to pass the biggest reform of national security in over 100 years.

The Government value the oversight provided by the Committee. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the National Audit Office, and other parliamentary Committees that, combined with the work of the ISC, provide an effective framework for oversight and scrutiny of the Government’s national security and intelligence work. The UK can be proud of its laws and values, and oversight is essential to maintain public trust. I reiterate my thanks to all those who carry out this essential work.

The Government note the Committee’s comments regarding the provision of sensitive information to parliamentary Select Committees, which were also contained in the 2021-22 annual report. There is existing guidance establishing that classification of material is not a reason for the Government to withhold information from parliamentary Committees and agreed processes are in place to provide sensitive information as required.

As raised by the Committee, the National Security Act 2023 obliges the Government to consider whether the current memorandum of understanding between the Prime Minister and the Intelligence and Security Committee should be altered or replaced to reflect any changes arising out of the Act. The Government look forward to working constructively with the Committee and Parliament on this matter.

I would like to again thank the Committee for its ongoing work to maintain robust oversight of the UK intelligence community.



Israel and Gaza

Since the terrorist attacks against Israel of 7 October 2023, the UK Government have been working with partners across the region to secure the release of hostages, including British nationals, who have been kidnapped. The safety of British nationals is our utmost priority. In support of the ongoing hostage rescue activity, the UK Ministry of Defence will conduct surveillance flights over the eastern Mediterranean, including operating in airspace over Israel and Gaza.

Surveillance aircraft will be unarmed, do not have a combat role and will be tasked solely with locating hostages. Only information relating to hostage rescue will be passed to the relevant authorities responsible for hostage rescue.


Health and Social Care

Visiting in Care Homes, Hospitals and Hospices: Government Response to Consultation

I make this statement on behalf of myself, the Minister for Health and Secondary Care, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) and the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) to announce the conclusion of the Government’s consultation on visiting in care homes, hospitals and hospices, and our response.

The covid-19 pandemic taught us valuable lessons about restrictions that had a serious effect on the health and wellbeing of care residents, patients and their families and friends.

Visiting was restricted at the height of the pandemic to prevent the spread of covid and keep people safe, but as restrictions eased the guidance for visiting in hospital and care settings changed accordingly.

The majority of settings adhered to the guidance but there have been reports of people being denied access to family members and loved ones, so the Government have acted to make sure expectations around visits are clear to providers.

On 21 June 2023, the Department of Health and Social Care launched a public consultation on our proposal to ensure that visiting in care homes, hospitals and hospices is protected in legislation.

Under the proposal, the importance of visiting for patients, care home residents and loved ones will become a fundamental standard of care, set out in regulations for the Care Quality Commission (CQC). This means that a visit from a loved one to patients and care home residents will be safeguarded, and Care Quality Commission inspections will monitor whether health and care providers are meeting those obligations.

We received over 1,400 responses to the consultation from a wide range of stakeholders, the majority of which supported the Government’s proposal. We therefore plan to bring forward secondary legislation to create a new fundamental standard in CQC regulations.

I would like to thank all those who participated in our consultation and in particular those from John’s Campaign and Care Rights UK, the hon. Member for Liverpool Walton (Dan Carden), my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and the hon. Member for St Albans (Daisy Cooper) who have continued to campaign on this issue.

The Government recognise their efforts and those of the many health and care settings which understand the importance of visiting and continue to follow our existing guidance that visiting should be facilitated. We will work closely with the CQC to develop clear guidance so that all settings can be in no doubt as to the standard expected in the provision of care, including supporting visiting.

The Government’s response to the consultation has been published on and I have deposited copies in the Libraries of both Houses.


Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Visiting in Care Homes, Hospitals and Hospices: Government Response to Consultation

Today, the Government have published details on the local government finance settlement for the next year, for councils across England. This policy statement comes in advance of the provisional local government finance settlement, and shows the steps this Government are taking to ensure stability of funding for councils.

At this year’s settlement, we are on course to provide an above-inflation increase in funding to the sector. We estimate that the settlement will make available approximately £64 billion to the sector, and expect that councils will see, on average, an above inflation increase in their core spending power next year. In cash terms, this is an increase of around £4 billion for the sector, or over 6%. At this time, we also recognise the need to provide stability to the whole sector, and we are therefore providing a sector-wide funding guarantee. This will be on the same terms as last year, ensuring that all local authorities see a minimum 3% increase in their core spending power before taking any local decisions on council tax levels.

The Government manifesto commits to continuing to protect local taxpayers from excessive council tax increases. This is an important local democratic check and balance to avoid the repeat seen under the last Labour Government when council tax more than doubled. The proposed package of referendum principles strikes a fair balance. Local authorities should of course be mindful of cost-of-living pressures when taking any decisions relating to council tax. As previously set out, we will set the core council tax referendum threshold at 3%, and set the adult social care referendum threshold at 2% for all authorities responsible for adult social care services. The council tax referendum provisions are not a cap, nor do they force councils to set taxes at the threshold level. It is for individual local authorities to determine whether to use the flexibilities detailed above, taking into consideration the pressures many households are facing. These actions are to protect hard-working people from excessive tax rises and are in contrast to the Labour Government in Wales which is planning to hike council tax through a council tax revaluation and higher council tax bands.

The Mayor of London has requested flexibility to levy an additional £20 on Band D bills to the Greater London Authority (GLA) precept to provide extra funding for Transport for London (TfL). The Government has expressed ongoing concern about the management of TfL by this Mayor, and it is disappointing that London taxpayers are having to foot the bill for the GLA’s poor governance and decision-making. Whilst the Government will not oppose this request, any decision to increase the precept is solely one for the Mayor, who should take into account the pressures that Londoners are currently facing on living costs and his decision to raise his share of council tax by 9.7% last year.

In the final year of the current spending review period, now is the time for stability and continuity, and we will therefore not be pursuing any fundamental reforms to the system. The Government is pleased to reconfirm the additional funding that we committed to the sector at last year’s autumn statement. In total we are providing local government with approximately £1 billion in additional grant funding for social care compared to 2023-24. We are also continuing the approach set out at last year’s settlement for other grants such as the rural services delivery grant and new homes bonus, which we know are important to councils.

Despite recent decreases in the rate of inflation, pressures still exist for local authorities. The Government ask authorities to continue to consider how they can use their reserves to maintain services over this and the next financial year, recognising that not all reserves can be reallocated, and that the ability to meet spending pressures from reserves will vary between authorities.

The exceptional financial support framework is available to provide support where a council has a specific and evidenced concern about its ability to set or maintain a balanced budget, including where there has been local financial failure. Where councils need additional support from Government, they should take every possible step to minimise the need for that support to be funded by national taxpayers, while also recognising the cost-of-living pressures on families. As part of that process, the Government will consider representations from councils, including on council tax provision.

We have made it clear that any attempt from a local authority to implement a “four-day week” is contrary to the interests of local taxpayers, and that this working practice does not represent good value for taxpayers’ money, nor places the sector in a good light with the public. We are continuing to work on measures to discourage the use of this practice. Those councils which are considering or operating a four-day working week pattern should stop this practice immediately.

All of the proposals set out in the policy statement will be subject to the usual consultation process within the local government finance settlement. This written ministerial statement covers England only. The policy statement will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses, and has been published on


Northern Ireland

Independent Reporting Commission: Sixth Substantive Report

I have received the sixth substantive report from the Independent Reporting Commission.

The Commission was established following the fresh start agreement of November 2015 to report on progress towards ending paramilitary activity. That agreement set out the Northern Ireland Executive’s commitments around tackling paramilitary activity and associated criminality, and led to a programme of work to deliver a Northern Ireland executive action plan. In the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) agreement in January 2020, a commitment was made to ongoing work to tackle paramilitarism, and this work continues, including through a second phase of the NI Executive’s tackling paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime programme.

In their sixth report, the Commissioners note there is increasing evidence that the programme is bearing real fruit, by fostering a partnership approach and helping to shape and inform the development of public policy and practice through the priority given to evidence and data. The Commissioners note the cumulative impact that collective law enforcement effort is having on paramilitary groups and their leaderships, and that good work continues to build resilience and strengthen protective factors of communities and individuals affected by paramilitarism.

Yet the report also reminds us that the problem of paramilitarism is enduring. We have seen on a number of occasions over the past year the disregard that paramilitary groups and those who claim affiliation with them have for public safety, and the harm and disruption they continue to cause through criminal activity and coercive control to the communities they often claim to represent.

The Commissioners have set out a number of recommendations on how the effort to tackle paramilitarism can be enhanced. We will consider recommendations for the UK Government through engagement with representatives of NI political parties, the NI Executive, the Irish Government, with civic society and community representatives in Northern Ireland, and with the Independent Reporting Commission.

Paramilitarism was never justified in the past, and cannot be justified today. The UK Government remain committed to delivering our vision of a safer Northern Ireland and to working with partners to support efforts against the enduring threat and harms posed to communities by terrorist and paramilitary groups.

Political leadership from across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland is essential to ensure it remains clear there is no place for paramilitarism. A functioning Northern Ireland Executive is the most effective mechanism for ensuring a strategic, cross-cutting approach to tackling paramilitarism in partnership with the PSNI and the wider public sector.

I would like to express my thanks to the Commissioners and the secretariat for their continued work reporting on progress towards ending paramilitarism.


Science, Innovation and Technology

Engineering Biology

Since its creation, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology has been working to cement the UK as a science superpower by creating the most innovative economy in the world. At the centre of this mission are five critical technologies that will deliver prosperity and security for the UK and deliver benefits to global society: engineering biology, quantum technologies, artificial intelligence, semiconductors and future telecommunications.

We are today publishing the “National Vision for Engineering Biology”, which outlines how engineering, or synthetic, biology will contribute to the UK’s growth, security, resilience and preparedness.

This vision responds to the Government’s recent call for evidence on engineering biology. It reflects what we heard about the UK’s strengths, challenges and opportunities. It defines the Government’s collective ambition for engineering biology, and sets the directions in which Government investment, policy and regulatory reform will deliver through the strands of the science and technology framework.

The Government define engineering biology as the design, scaling and commercialisation of biology-derived products and services that can create whole new categories of product or produce existing products more sustainably. It draws on the tools of synthetic biology to create the next wave of innovation in the bioeconomy. In addition to its economic benefits, engineering biology supports policy objectives across Government, including contributing to improvements in health, food security, environmental protection and the transition to a lower-carbon economy. This is a pivotal moment for engineering biology. Global leading nations are ramping up efforts to grow their sovereign bioeconomy capabilities and capture the economic benefits. The US and China have made ambitious statements of intent, and our international peers are investing significant sums to carve out strategic positions in the emerging global bioeconomy. At the same time, there is increasing recognition that countries need to apply engineering biology predictably, safely and responsibly to capture its full economic and societal potential for their populations. Engineering biology is a dual-use technology, and all Governments will need to adopt sensible, proportionate precautions.

The Government’s vision is for the UK to have a broad, rich engineering biology ecosystem that can safely develop and commercialise the many opportunities to come from the technology and the underlying science. We aim to gain as much economic value, security, resilience and preparedness as possible from our hard-won strengths and ensure that these create real benefits for the public. We will also move further and faster to put the UK right at the very forefront of global efforts to drive responsible and trustworthy innovation across the world. By addressing the social and ethical questions that may be raised by certain applications, we will ensure that we earn the trust of the public and consumers as we unlock the opportunities of this technology. At the same time, there is increasing recognition that countries need to apply engineering biology predictably, safely and responsibly, gripping this technology’s risks in order to capture its full economic and societal potential for their populations.

The Government will focus on six priorities to achieve this vision: world-leading research and development; infrastructure; talent and skills; regulations and standards; adoption by the broader economy; and responsible and trustworthy innovation. For each of these areas, DSIT has already started convening partners across Government and our research funding councils to understand the challenges and opportunities and to identify the support that the Government should provide.

Following publication of this vision, the Government will develop a clear plan of action for delivering the vision. Copies of the “National Vision for Engineering Biology” and the technical annex will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.