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Written Statements

Volume 745: debated on Tuesday 20 February 2024

Written Statements

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Our Plan to Back British Farmers

Farming in England is going through the biggest change in a generation. The bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy disproportionately rewarded the largest landowners and held back smaller farmers, while delivering little for food productivity or the environment. The Government’s new schemes are investing in the foundations of food security, environmental sustainability and profitable farm businesses. Building on the largest ever update to our schemes announced in January, today we are setting out the next steps to deliver our plan to back British farmers.

Firstly, the Government will be taking further action to invest in sustainable, resilient farm businesses. In September 2023 we introduced the management payment to cover the administrative costs of entering our schemes. This has helped a record number of small farmers to sign up. We will be doubling that payment to up to £2,000 in the first year of each agreement, for agreements starting before March 2025, and extending it to countryside stewardship mid-tier. This means that the 11,000 farmers in England already in SFI will receive that top-up this spring.

We are also launching the largest ever grant offer, totalling £427 million. This invests £220 million in productivity and innovation in farming, £116 million in slurry infrastructure, and £91 million in improving the health and welfare of our farmed animals. The first of these schemes is an enhanced £70 million round of the successful farming equipment and technology fund, and we will also be increasing the currently open improving farming productivity fund from £30 million to £50 million —which covers robotics, automation and rooftop solar to build on-farm energy security.

We will improve the service and support being offered to farmers and cut planning red tape which currently stands in the way of farm diversification. We will lay the legislation to deliver that in April so that more farms in England can introduce farm shops or outside sports venues. We will continue to improve Government services with better digital infrastructure that is easier and faster to use. We will introduce more rolling application windows and make payments on time. In recent years there has been a growing awareness of the importance of farming mental health and we will be making up to £500,000 available to three charity partners to deliver projects that support mental health in the farming sector.

We are also strengthening our food security, which is a vital part of our national security. We will introduce a yearly food security index to underpin the Government’s three-yearly food security report. This will be made statutory when parliamentary time allows. The index will present the key data and analysis needed to monitor how we are maintaining our current levels of self-sufficiency and overall food security. We expect this to be UK-wide and will work to achieve this, strengthening accountability across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. We will publish the first draft during the second UK Farm to Fork Summit this spring, which will be an annual event.

We are also supporting farmers to utilise more of their produce and reduce food waste at the farm gate. We will be launching a £15 million fund, available directly to farmers or the redistribution sector working with farmers, to redistribute surplus food at the farm gate which cannot currently be used commercially. We are also committed to building fairness in the supply chain and will be laying the regulations for the dairy sector and conducting the Government’s next review for poultry.

Supporting farmers, improving our approach, and strengthening food security—this is our plan. We are sticking to it, to deliver a resilient and profitable farming sector which continues to produce some of the best food in the world.

[HCWS266]

Water Company Inspections

The Government are announcing plans today for a fourfold increase in water company inspections to drive the improved performance that the public rightly expect to see. Going forward, every water company operating wholly or mainly in England should expect their wastewater treatment sites to be regularly inspected by the Environment Agency (EA), and they should be in no doubt that this is driven by a need to crack down on their totally unacceptable, unlawful actions.

We have already increased our oversight of water companies and the EA have carried out over 930 inspections to date in this financial year. But the Government are going further and the number of inspections, including unannounced inspections, will rise to 4,000 by the end of March 2025—a fourfold increase. From April 2026, the number of inspections will rise further to 10,000 per year.

Increased inspections and enforcement will be backed by at least £55 million per annum. This will be fully funded through a combination of increased grant-in-aid from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the Environment Agency, and additional funding from water quality permit charges levied on water companies, subject to consultation.

More inspections will allow the Environment Agency to conduct more in-depth audits to get to the root cause of incidents, reducing the reliance on operator self-monitoring, which was introduced in 2009. Alongside more in-person inspections of water company assets, the EA will expand its specialised workforce, including by hiring more data specialists to make better use of analytics and technology. This follows the Government’s instruction to water companies to now monitor 100% of all storm overflows. New monitoring and enhanced EA data analytics will help detect instances where storm overflows may be used illegally, so that the Environment Agency can quickly direct new specialist officers to any sites at risk, identify any non-compliance and take action.

The EA is already conducting the largest ever criminal investigation into potential widespread non-compliance by water and sewerage companies at thousands of sewage treatment works. Since 2015, the EA has concluded 59 prosecutions against water and sewerage companies, securing fines of over £150 million.

We know that people across the country want to see more progress in tackling pollution, and if water companies break the law, under our new plans, they will be held to account.

[HCWS268]

Home Department

Independent Review of Prevent: One Year On Progress Report

The Government are today publishing a progress report on our implementation of the Independent Review of Prevent recommendations.

Prevent is a fundamental part of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy, known as Contest. Prevent aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. It does this by tackling the ideological causes of terrorism, intervening early to support those susceptible to radicalisation, and enabling people who have already engaged in terrorism to disengage and rehabilitate.

The “Independent Review of Prevent”, published on 8 February 2023, was conducted by Sir William Shawcross. It made 34 recommendations, which the Government accepted. In the Government response, published on the same day, we set out how we would implement the recommendations. We committed to delivering a renewed Prevent capability, which holds the mission of tackling terrorist ideologies at its core and responds confidently to emerging threats facing the UK.

In the 12 months since the publication of the independent review, we have made significant progress with 30 of the 34 recommendations completed in full, and 115 of the 120 sub-actions delivered.

We have delivered a number of key changes, as part of a broader programme to strengthen and reorient Prevent, that include:

New Prevent duty guidance that came into effect on 31 December 2023, following parliamentary approval. The new guidance responds to several recommendations and was developed in conjunction with a range of key Government partners and frontline practitioners.

Refreshing existing training to reflect the recommendations in the independent review, alongside developing new training packages that increase understanding of extremist ideologies. This new training offer equips statutory partners in fulfilling their obligations more effectively and supports them to make better decisions on when Prevent support is needed.

A new Prevent assessment framework, developed by the expert Counter Terrorism Assessment and Rehabilitation Centre, that is based on the most up to date evidence and learning. This ensures that decision-making on all Prevent referrals is rigorous, consistent, proportionate, and that only those that pose a counter-terrorism risk are supported by Prevent.

New Channel duty guidance that was published on 9 October 2023, that reflects the findings of the IRP, strengthens the Home Office’s quality assurance of how Channel is delivered, and responds swiftly to tackle any disparities in operational practice.

An independent Standards and Compliance Unit, that has been stood up as a stand-alone part of the Commission for Countering Extremism. The Standards and Compliance Unit provides a clear and accessible route for the public and practitioners to raise concerns about Prevent activity where it may have fallen short of the high standards we expect. It will be active from the 28 February, with people able to make initial contact through the website.

A significant change programme has already been implemented, but there is still more to do to ensure change is firmly embedded across Government and frontline sectors. We will continue to work at pace to implement the remaining four recommendations and five sub-actions.

Additionally, we will monitor the implementation of the recommendations to ensure that Prevent continues to hold itself to the high standards we have committed to, and remains agile in responding to the ever-changing threat picture in the UK.

A copy of the progress report will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and published on www.gov.uk.

[HCWS265]

Transport

Draft Rail Reform Bill

I am pleased to lay the Government’s response to the consultation on legislation required to deliver rail reform today. I am also publishing the draft Rail Reform Bill today, ahead of pre-legislative scrutiny which will be carried out by the Transport Select Committee. I have deposited copies of both of these documents in the Libraries of both Houses.

The railways are a vital part of the transport system of Great Britain. They support over a billion journeys, employ over 100,000 people and carry millions of tonnes of freight. Rail touches all corners of the country, connecting communities and forming an iconic part of our industrial heritage.

The public rightly expect ever more from our railways, but what has adapted over time now needs legislation to set the foundations for further progress in order to establish Great British Railways. To meet the demands of a modern economy and society, we want to be able to make the most of our investment in railway infrastructure, such as the investments that will come from Network North. Great British Railways will be best placed to optimise the railway to work effectively as a whole system, to make our railways more reliable, more efficient and more adaptive to technology and innovation, as well as fully embracing the private sector and its benefits.

While primary legislation is needed to establish Great British Railways, many reforms and tangible benefits for rail users can be delivered now. We are simplifying fares and continuing the rollout of pay-as-you-go and barcode ticketing, building local partnerships. We have set a new rail freight growth target and we are simplifying industry practices, reforming the commercial model and taking forward workforce reforms. We launched the second Great British Rail sale last month, which delivered real savings to rail passengers across Great Britain.

The consultation sought the views of industry and stakeholders on the primary legislative changes required to establish Great British Railways, which will be a new customer-focused, commercially-led arms-length body that brings together accountability for the railways. We received nearly 2,500 responses and have carefully considered these in creating the draft Bill, to ensure the reform of our railways is in the best interest of customers and the taxpayer whilst securing benefits for the industry and its workforce.

The draft Rail Reform Bill sets in motion the plan to deliver a bold vision for future rail customers—of punctual and reliable services, simpler tickets and a modern and innovative railway that meets the needs of the nation. When passed, it will help deliver on the 2019 manifesto commitment by bringing forward the biggest rail reform programme in a generation to create a simpler, more effective rail system. It will see the creation of a commercially focused Great British Railways that will leverage private sector innovation to help deliver a better offer for customers.

Great British Railways will have responsibility for infrastructure and operations, and oversight of whole industry finance where it is the franchising authority. It will be adaptable to changing customer needs, working in close partnership with the private sector—including train operating companies, freight operators, suppliers and innovators—to deliver a more efficient, modern rail system underpinned by better collaboration and aligned incentives, generating value and savings that will have benefits for passengers and taxpayers.

Given the scale and complexity of the changes being made to the sector, it is absolutely right that the draft Bill undergoes pre-legislative scrutiny to provide parliamentarians and experts across industry with the opportunity to review and test the legislation in draft. I am confident that the measures in this draft Bill will help deliver a simpler, more effective rail system, and am therefore pleased to commend it to the House today for pre-legislative scrutiny.

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