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Written Statements

Volume 743: debated on Tuesday 9 January 2024

Written Statements

Tuesday 9 January 2024

Energy Security and Net Zero

Long-Duration Electricity Storage: Consultation

Today I am announcing the next steps the Government are taking to create a policy framework to encourage investment in long-duration electricity storage. This delivers on commitments we have made in the British energy security strategy and “Powering Up Britain: Energy Security Plan”.

The Government have today published a consultation which proposes a cap and floor investment framework to address the barriers to the deployment of long-duration electricity storage. The consultation seeks views on our approach, including the eligibility criteria for assessing applications, the design of the cap and floor mechanism and our proposed options for delivering the scheme.

Long-duration electricity storage technologies will be central to a secure, cost-effective and low-carbon energy system. External analysis indicates that deploying long-duration electricity storage could save billions of pounds for consumers, making sure that we reach net zero in a proportionate and pragmatic way.

Pumped hydro storage is the most mature example of long-duration energy storage. Novel technologies including hydrogen, liquid air and compressed air storage, are also emerging. The Government’s £69 million longer-duration energy storage competition, part of the £1billion net zero innovation portfolio, is supporting the commercialisation of these technologies.

In “Powering Up Britain: Energy Security Plan”, we committed to put in place an appropriate framework to enable investment in long-duration electricity storage which will contribute to balancing the electricity system. The consultation follows a call for evidence in 2021 to understand the barriers to the deployment of long-duration electricity storage.

A copy of the consultation will be deposited in the Library of the House.


Energy Infrastructure Planning Projects

This statement concerns an application for development consent made under the Planning Act 2008 by Equinor New Energy Ltd for the extension of two offshore wind farms with associated onshore electricity connections, located respectively 15.8 km and 26.5 km north of the Norfolk coast.

Under section 107(1) of the Planning Act 2008, the Secretary of State must make a decision on an application within three months of the receipt of the examining authority’s report, unless exercising the power to set a new deadline under section 107(3) of the Act. Where a new deadline is set, the Secretary of State must make a statement to Parliament to announce it. The current statutory deadline for the decision on the Sheringham and Dudgeon extensions offshore wind farm projects application is 17 January 2024.

I have decided to set a new deadline of no later than 17 April 2024 for deciding this application. This is to ensure that there is sufficient time for the Department to consider further information and to conduct any necessary consultation.

The decision to set the new deadline for this application is without prejudice to the decision on whether to grant or refuse development consent.


Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Diplomatic Passport Policy

This statement updates the House on forthcoming changes in respect of the issue and use of diplomatic and official passports.

Diplomatic and official passports were first issued in 1994 to UK civil servants accredited, under the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations or the Vienna convention on consular relations, whilst on overseas postings at one of our diplomatic missions or consular posts. Their accompanying dependants also received them when the receiving state also agreed to accredit them. The intention was to clarify the holder’s diplomatic status and remove scope for misunderstanding, while ensuring that the privileges and immunities of our accredited staff and their families were respected by their host state. Diplomatic and official passports have been issued on this basis ever since, with only a few case-by-case exceptions agreed, for example to allow their use on security grounds and in relation to countries operating restrictive visa regimes.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has recently conducted the first in-depth review of diplomatic and official passport policy, in the light particularly of the needs of modern diplomatic families, who reflect our increasingly diverse UK society and workforce, and the values we hold in respect of that diversity.

The findings of that departmental review recognised challenges faced by some families in certain countries and the practices of like-minded international partners, and argued for greater flexibility in the issue of diplomatic and official passports. Accordingly, while the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will maintain the fundamental link between a diplomatic or official passport and accreditation, the department will introduce some important exceptions, where accreditation by the receiving state will no longer be a prerequisite for issuing diplomatic or official passports, namely:

all same-sex established partners and spouses accompanying an accredited civil servant on an overseas posting, whether the partner or spouse is accredited by the receiving state or not;

unmarried opposite-sex established partners accompanying an accredited civil servant on an overseas posting, again whether they are accredited or not.

These changes will ensure that all spouses and established partners of those accredited to serve the UK overseas will have the same access to diplomatic and official passports. This ensures that the issue of these UK passports will more closely reflect UK values, rather than being limited by the policy of the receiving state in respect of accreditation. Diplomatic and official passports remain travel documents and do not confer the privileges or immunities associated with accreditation under the Vienna conventions.

As a rule, Ministers and other parliamentarians will continue not to be eligible for diplomatic and official passports, reflecting the original controls and limitations stipulated at the time of their introduction. However, where Ministers are required to conduct Government business involving travel to a country operating a restrictive visa regime, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will consider whether issuing a diplomatic passport is necessary to facilitate that business.

These changes will be implemented with immediate effect.


Global Refugee Forum 2023

I am pleased to inform the House about the outcomes of the second Global Refugee Forum (GRF), co-hosted by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Government of Switzerland in Geneva on 13 to 15 December 2023.

We are living in a time of unprecedented international challenges, ranging from conflict in Ukraine and the middle east to flooding and drought caused by climate change across parts of Africa. As a result, estimates suggest that the number of people forced to leave their homes has risen to over 110 million people this year. In recent years, we have seen countries rally around to support the growing number of refugees across the world. The UK Government believe that collective action is needed to meet these growing challenges.

Four years after the first GRF, over 4,000 representatives from member states, UN agencies, civil society, financial institutions, the private sector and over 300 refugee leaders came together in Geneva to mark progress and pledge further efforts to deliver the Global Compact on Refugees, signed by 181 member states in 2018. More than 10,000 individuals from 120 countries participated online.

I led the United Kingdom delegation. Representing a whole-of-society approach, our delegation included two refugee representatives, as well as UK and devolved Administration officials. Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Edinburgh held a number of productive meetings and attended a reception for representatives to highlight the UK’s co-sponsorship of pledges on education and gender equality and preventing gender-based violence. Additionally, UK local authorities were represented by the Mayor of Bristol, in his capacity as part of the leadership of the Mayor’s Migration Council.

During the forum, the international community collectively reaffirmed and pledged towards the four objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees: ease pressures on host countries; enhance refugee self-reliance; expand access to third country solutions; and support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity.

All these objectives are, of course, aligned to the UK’s wider migration policies. We continue to regard the Global Compact on Refugees as the best framework for addressing rising global displacement, and for ensuring that refugees are supported to remain in the regions where they are currently hosted and return home safely and with dignity, when conditions allow. To drive forward work initiated at the first GRF, as well as the commitments set out in our international development White Paper, the UK announced 15 pledges:

A £4 million pledge to support inclusive refugee education—better educated children living through displacement and crises;

A contribution of £2 million new funding to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women’s special window on crises;

Support for meaningful refugee participation in policymaking and high-level meetings affecting displaced populations;

A contribution to ending statelessness multistakeholder pledge;

Working with the global community to drive greater action on conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peacebuilding;

Action to help build the resilience of refugee, internally displaced and host communities to climate and associated impacts;

Support refugees to access cleaner sources of energy that meet their basic needs, reduces deforestation and improves security for women and girls;

Support for inclusion of forcibly displaced and stateless persons in national statistical systems;

A reaffirmed commitment to supporting the Rohingya and their hosting states;

A continued effort to provide safe and legal routes to the UK as well as support for those who arrive through these routes;

Continued resettlement of refugees through community sponsorship;

Continued provision of work routes for skilled displaced people;

Continued support around the integration of refugees in the United Kingdom;

Improving refugee self-reliance by supporting refugees with recognition of their professional qualifications in the UK; and

Support from the British Council to meet the language needs of refugees and displaced people.

As the UNHCR has recognised, the challenge now is to maintain momentum and translate the international community’s pledges into substantive outcomes.

To this end, we will work to fulfil our own pledges, continue to work to ensure that all countries are playing their part in supporting refugees, and pursue the related measures identified in the Government’s response to the International Development Committee’s eighth report of Session 2022-23.


Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Social Housing Quality

On 21 December 2020, just days after his second birthday, Awaab Ishak died having suffered a severe respiratory condition. The coroner’s inquest, in November 2022, concluded that his death had been caused by mould in his social home in Rochdale. His parents had repeatedly raised concerns with their landlord about the poor state of the one-bedroom flat. Others, including health professionals, also raised the alarm on their behalf. Not only were these requests for help ignored but the family was blamed for causing the lethally dangerous conditions in which they were forced to live. Social landlords like Rochdale Boroughwide Housing are not altruistic amateurs but professional organisations providing a service; it is their responsibility to meet basic repair requirements to keep residents safe in their homes.

In order to enforce this responsibility, and to ensure that no other family suffers such a tragic bereavement owing to a landlord’s failure to address health and safety risks, the Government introduced Awaab’s law as part of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023. This landmark legislation, which entered the statute book on 20 July last year, will improve the quality of social housing accommodation and redress the balance between social landlord and tenant, giving residents a stronger voice.

Today, I am pleased to announce that the Government have launched our consultation on how Awaab’s law should operate in practice, including the specific requirements it will place on social landlords. For the first time, landlords will have to meet regulatory requirements on how quickly they must act to address hazards such as damp and mould in their tenants’ homes. The new requirements will form part of all social housing tenancy agreements, so that landlords who fail to fulfil their duties and miss timescales for repairs can be held to account by law.

The proposed requirements, which have been drawn up with the support of Awaab Ishak’s family, include:

exacting timescales for investigations and repair works when hazards in social homes are reported;

robust recording by social landlords of actions taken in response to hazards, and the issuing of written summaries of investigation findings to residents;

and the offering of suitable alternative temporary accommodation in circumstances where it is unsafe for residents to remain in a property.

Following the consultation, we will introduce secondary legislation as soon as possible to bring Awaab’s law into force.

I wish to pay tribute to Awaab’s parents, Faisal Abudullah and Aisha Amin, for their courageous and tireless campaign for justice, not only for their son but all residents of social housing. It was my honour to introduce Awaab’s law in their son’s name. I would also like to put on record my thanks to the Manchester Evening News and Shelter for supporting this cause, and to the 177,820 members of the public who supported the family’s petition.

Finally, while Awaab’s law is at the heart of the Government mission to improve the quality of social housing, this is just one part of the biggest Government reforms to social housing in a decade. Since 2010, there has been a steady improvement in the quality of social housing with a reduction in the proportion of non-decent social rented homes from 20% in 2010 to 10% in 2021. We are committed to taking further action on a number of other fronts, including consulting on a new minimum energy efficiency standard for the social rented sector; consulting on a competence and conduct standard for social housing staff, including professional qualification requirements for senior housing managers and executives; publishing the Government response to our consultation on new electrical safety requirements for the social rented sector; and we have also consulted on new directions to the regulator of social housing relating to the provision of information on tenants’ rights and complaints. This Government continue to be committed to naming and shaming social housing providers who have failed their residents and breached regulatory standards, including Camden Council’s fire safety failures across thousands of their homes. Collectively, these measures support our ambition to halve the number of non-decent rented homes by 2030, drive up standards across the social rented sector and rebalance the relationship between landlord and resident.