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Written Statements

Volume 745: debated on Wednesday 21 February 2024

Written Statements

Wednesday 21 February 2024

Defence

Nuclear Deterrent

I am today informing the House of HMS Vanguard’s recent Demonstration and Shakedown Operation.

A Demonstration and Shakedown Operation is a routine operation which takes place when a ballistic missile submarine completes its planned deep maintenance period. It involves a comprehensive series of complex weapons system and sub-system tests, assesses the performance of the submarine and its crew. It culminates in a test fire of an unarmed Trident II D5 missile.

It is long-standing practice not to comment on the detail of submarine operations. However, in recognition of the level of interest in the recent Demonstration and Shakedown Operation, this statement seeks to provide as much information as possible while protecting national security.

On 30 January 2024, HMS Vanguard and her crew conducted their most recent test operation.

The test reaffirmed the effectiveness of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, in which the Government have absolute confidence. The submarine and crew were successfully certified and will rejoin the operational cycle as planned. On this occasion, an anomaly did occur, but it was event specific and there are no implications for the reliability of the wider Trident missile systems and stockpiles. Nor are there any implications for our ability to fire our nuclear weapons, should the circumstances arise in which we need to do so.

The Trident missile system remains the most reliable weapons system in the world, having successfully completed more than 190 tests.

The Government have absolute confidence that the UK’s deterrent remains effective, dependable, and formidable.

That is why we are continuing to invest in the next generation of Dreadnought-class ballistic missile submarines, in extending the life of the Trident missile and in replacing the warhead, to keep us safe for decades to come.

Sustaining the deterrent and renewing it for the future is a truly national endeavour. It is the culmination of the dedicated efforts of thousands of people, not just in the Ministry of Defence but at locations across the country, from the nuclear laboratories at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire to the BAE Systems dockyards at Barrow-in-Furness.

Our continuous at-sea deterrence posture has been maintained for nearly 55 years by generations of highly dedicated and professional submariners. We owe them, and their families, our thanks for their sacrifices and outstanding service, which is often out of sight but should never be out of mind.

The nuclear deterrent deters the most extreme threats to our national security, keeping the UK and our NATO allies safe. It is the ultimate security insurance policy.

The UK’s resolve and capability to use its nuclear weapons, should we ever need to do so, remains beyond doubt.

[HCWS272]

Energy Security and Net Zero

Consumer Protection in the Green Heating and Insulation Sectors

The Under-Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, my noble Friend Lord Callanan, has today made the following statement:

Today, I am announcing the work that the Government are undertaking to improve consumer protection in the green heating and insulation sectors.

This announcement is in response to today’s progress update from the Competition and Markets Authority’s green heating and insulation review’s update on the standards landscape. The CMA’s update highlights actions by standards bodies in response to the good practice principles developed by the CMA alongside its report “Consumer protection in the green heating and insulation sectors”, published in May 2023.

In 2022, the CMA commenced a review of consumer protection focusing specifically on business practices, consumer experience and standards in the green heating and insulation sectors. They published a report of their findings on 31 May 2023, suggesting actions to both Government and businesses to help raise the level of consumer protection.

The Government welcome the research that the CMA carried out and acknowledge the concerns raised in its original report about business practices in the sector, including the finding that some businesses are making misleading claims about products, as well as concerns about limited transparency of price information. The Government expect businesses to ensure that their practices always remain lawful.

The Government acknowledge the findings on consumer experience, where some consumers may face difficulties when carrying out retrofit work, and on standards, where the landscape offering protections for consumers can be seen as complex and confusing to navigate.

I am pleased to see swift engagement from the industry in response to the CMA’s findings on standards and the lack of protection for some consumers having green heating and insulation measures installed in their homes, highlighted in the update published today.

The Government are committed to protecting all consumers undertaking home retrofit work as well as improving the overall consumer journey. Our work with the CMA and across Whitehall includes:

Engaging with standards organisations such as the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), the leading standards and quality assurance organisations for small-scale renewable technologies such as solar panels and heat pumps in the UK. To participate in a Government incentive scheme such as the boiler upgrade scheme, the installation must be carried out by an MCS-certified installer, to the relevant MCS installation standard for that technology, using an MCS-certified product. This helps to ensure that the renewable system is safe and installed properly, and that the appropriate protections are in place for consumers if things go wrong. MCS is currently implementing a series of reforms that are intended to improve the operation of the scheme, including improving consumer protection. We are closely monitoring the implementation of these reforms. Further detail of the reforms can be found in the MCS consultation and response https://mcscertified.com/mcs-scheme-redevelopment/.

An update of the mandatory technical competencies for installers working under competent person schemes, establishing clear competency requirements for everyone carrying out building work to meet the building regulations. Self-certification, through competent person schemes, provides an alternative and cost-effective means of delivering compliance with the regulations.

A review of the conditions of authorisation1 to ensure they are fit for purpose. The conditions of authorisation are the requirements that a scheme operator must meet to be authorised as a competent person scheme under building regulations.

Continued work alongside industry stakeholders such as TrustMark to improve vital financial protections, such as extending the length of loft guarantees in Government schemes and a clearer redress process for consumers should they need to raise a concern about the work.

Improving access to impartial advice and information to ensure consumers have the necessary information to make informed choices regarding energy efficiency measures and clean heating options. This includes digital tools to highlight what measures a consumer can take to make their home more energy-efficient and how to decarbonise their heating and then find sources of grant funding to help with the cost of installation. There is also access to a phoneline for those needing digital assistance or more bespoke support, and a series of in-person advice pilots running across the country.

Consideration of progress against the recommendations in the “Each Home Counts” report2 published in 2016, to ensure that implementation of the recommendations to improve consumer advice, protection and industry standards in the home retrofit sector has been successful and learn any lessons from that implementation.

This is all in addition to around £20 billion allocated by the Government during this Parliament and the next to support households, businesses and the public sector drive improvements in energy efficiency and clean heating to bring down bills and emissions.

The Government will update the House on progress and further work to improve consumer protection in the normal manner.

1 https://www.hse.gov.uk/building-safety/strategic-plan.htm

2 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/each-home-counts-review-of-consumer-advice-protection-standards-and-enforcement-for-energy-efficiency-and-renewable-energy.

[HCWS271]

Health and Social Care

Martha's Rule

I would like to update the House on the Government’s commitment to implement Martha’s rule in England. Today we are announcing plans to implement Martha’s rule in at least 100 acute or specialist NHS sites in England by March 2025. Martha’s rule is an initiative that gives patients and their families who are concerned about deterioration in their physiological condition the right to initiate a rapid review of their case 24 hours a day from someone outside of their immediate care team.

Calls for Martha’s rule came following the tragic death of 13-year-old Martha Mills, who, after being admitted to hospital following an accident, contracted sepsis and deteriorated quickly.

Sadly, the signs of sepsis were not acted upon by doctors quickly enough, despite Martha’s family raising concerns with clinicians. Coroners found that Martha would probably have survived if doctors had identified the warning signs and transferred her to intensive care earlier.

I would like to pay tribute to Martha’s parents, Merope and Paul, who have worked tirelessly to raise awareness of what happened to Martha and to highlight the critical role that families play in recognising the signs of deterioration in their loved ones.

In September, the then Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Steve Barclay), asked the Patient Safety Commissioner, Dr Henrietta Hughes, to rapidly lead work on how Martha’s rule could be implemented in England. I am grateful to Dr Hughes for her extensive engagement with system leaders and stakeholders, and for her recommendations on what Martha’s rule should look like.

While some NHS trusts already offer rapid review processes similar to Martha’s rule—called Call 4 Concern—others do not have an equivalent mechanism in place. In recognition of these variations in readiness, we are initiating a phased approach to implementing Martha’s rule.

The first phase will see Martha’s rule rolled out to at least 100 acute or specialist provider sites in England in 2024-25, supported by up to £10 million. NHS England will lead the process of identifying which acute provider sites will participate in this first phase and supporting the development of their local processes. Alongside this, drawing from the local learning from new and existing schemes, NHS England will develop proposals for national roll-out in the next spending review period.

This approach will enable significant progress to deliver Martha’s rule next year and to evaluate the additional resources needed for national roll-out.

I also look forward to working with the Patient Safety Commissioner, whom I have asked to chair a stakeholder oversight group jointly with NHS England and the DHSC. This group will build on the extensive engagement that has taken place over the last year, and will bring together patients, clinicians and external experts to provide ongoing advice to NHS England on the delivery of Martha’s rule.

[HCWS273]

Home Department

Firearms Licensing Controls: Sound Moderators

The Government are today launching a consultation on removing a firearm accessory known as a sound moderator from firearms licensing controls. The intention is to do this by making use of a legislative reform order, made under section 1 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006.

A sound moderator is a firearm accessory that can be attached to a rifle barrel to reduce the sound and flash when the rifle is fired. It does so by trapping and slowing down the gases produced by the propellant when the rifle is fired to eliminate the muzzle blast of the shot. It does not fully silence the “crack” of the bullet but reduces the audible sound of the rifle by around three quarters. Sound moderators are used to protect shooters’ hearing, to reduce the disturbance to others in the vicinity of shoots and to stop shooters being temporarily blinded by the muzzle flash of a shot. They are entirely inert objects and contain no moving parts and do not of themselves create any risk to public safety.

Sound moderators are currently defined in the Firearms Act 1968 as a firearm which means that a firearms certificate from the police is required in order to possess one. A certificate to possess a sound moderator is only issued to persons who have been subject to robust suitability checks to allow them to own a firearm, and there are currently around 200,000 sound moderators currently covered by firearms certificates. Obtaining a firearms certificate for a sound moderator incurs costs for shooters in applying for a certificate and increases the licensing burden of police firearms licensing departments.

We are therefore consulting on our proposal to introduce a legislative reform order to remove sound moderators from firearms licensing controls, which the Government believe will have a positive impact for many firearms certificate holders, registered firearms dealers and the police.

This country has robust controls on firearms which are kept under constant review to safeguard against abuse by criminal and terrorists and to ensure public safety. The Government are of the view that making this change to firearms legislation will not impact in any way on the strength of our firearms controls.

The consultation will run for six weeks, and the Government will publish their response in due course. A copy of the consultation will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and published on www.gov.uk.

[HCWS270]

Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration

I have terminated the appointment of David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, after he breached the terms of appointment and lost my confidence.

Mr Neal was informed that his appointment would be immediately terminated yesterday, on 20 February 2024. Mr Neal’s term of appointment was due to end on 21 March 2024.

The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration is a highly important position. A candidate will be appointed following robust competition, in accordance with the Governance Code on Public Appointments.

The planned recruitment process for the next Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration is in progress.

The Home Office is committed to publishing the reports submitted by the former Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration and will provide responses in due course.

[HCWS269]

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Returning Officer Indemnities

For the purposes of police and crime commissioner and UK parliamentary elections and recall petitions, returning officers and petition officers are statutorily independent officers and are separate from both central and local government. As a result, they are personally liable for the conduct of the elections. It is therefore necessary for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to indemnify police area returning officers and local returning officers in England and Wales against uninsured claims that arise out of the conduct of their duties in PCC elections. It is also necessary to indemnify returning officers or acting returning officers in England, Scotland and Wales against uninsured claims that arise out of the conduct of their duties during UK parliamentary elections and petition officers in respect of recall petitions.

Local authority officers acting in the role of returning officer and similar statutorily independent offices when running polls have traditionally had arrangements which insure them against any risks they face in taking forward their statutory duties at local elections and which may also cover UK parliamentary elections. The cover obtained usually forms part of the local authority’s own insurance arrangements. While this insurance may also cover some risks to which the returning officers and petition officers may be exposed at PCC and UK parliamentary elections and recall petitions, they could be liable for claims of a type not covered by those insurance policies. They could also be liable for claims that exceed the insurance limits in their existing cover. Hence the Government have provided an indemnity to ensure they have effective cover and which can be called on where insurance is not available or inadequate.

The existing indemnities for PCC and UK parliamentary elections run out on 1 May 2024. The existing indemnity for recall petitions runs out on 6 May 2024. Considering this, DLUHC proposes to continue to provide police area returning officers and local returning officers with a specific indemnity for the forthcoming PCC elections on 2 May 2024. Separate indemnities will also continue to be provided for returning officers and acting returning officers at UK parliamentary elections and petition officers in relation to recall petitions. The indemnities for PCC, UK parliamentary elections and recall petitions will indemnify against claims that arise out of the conduct of the relevant officer’s duties where existing insurance cover does not apply. The renewed indemnities will cover costs arising in relation to PCC elections where the date of the poll is on or before 2 May 2028, and for UK parliamentary elections and recall petitions where the date of the poll is on or before 2 May 2029.

Where a relevant returning officer already holds insurance which covers liabilities incurred at a PCC, UK parliamentary election, and recall petition they will be required to claim under that insurance—or to seek to claim under it—before making a claim against the relevant indemnity. Insurance for specific elections has historically provided extremely poor value for money, with claims made under such cover being smaller than the cost of the insurance premium. An indemnity therefore provides better value for money and this approach has been taken for elections since 2009. The indemnities will be limited to the extent set out in the departmental minute. The indemnities are subject to exceptions identified in the minute but are unlimited in terms of the maximum amount covered per claim. If the liability is called, provision for any payment is to be met from the consolidated fund.

On this basis, I have today laid a minute setting out DLUHC’s intention to extend the current arrangements which indemnify the relevant returning officers and petition officers against claims that arise out of the conduct of their duties in relation to PCC elections, UK parliamentary elections, and recall petitions.

Regarding the process of renewing indemnities, since 2009, the Minister concerned has presented a departmental minute to Parliament giving particulars of the liability created and explaining the circumstances, and has refrained from incurring the liability until 14 parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the minute, except in cases of special urgency. HM Treasury has approved the renewal of these indemnities. However, following further discussion with HM Treasury, it has been agreed that, in line with the contingent liability approval framework, the renewal of indemnities now qualifies as part of Government’s “normal course of business”. This means that any future renewal of indemnities will not require HM Treasury’s consent or future notification of Parliament.

[HCWS275]

Northern Ireland

Omagh Bombing Inquiry: Terms of Reference

On 2 February 2023, I announced that I would establish an independent statutory inquiry into the preventability of the Omagh bombing. The Real IRA-perpetrated terrorist atrocity in August 1998 killed 29 people and two unborn children, and injured 220 others. This was a heinous act carried out, not just on the people of Omagh, but on all those in Northern Ireland who supported the peace process.

On 12 June 2023, I announced the appointment of Lord Turnbull KC as chairman of the Omagh Bombing Inquiry.

Since his appointment, I have been working with Lord Turnbull to agree the terms of reference for the inquiry. I can confirm that the inquiry’s terms of reference have now been finalised and are set out in full below.

I have placed a copy of the terms of reference in the Library of the House.

The Omagh Bombing Inquiry is now formally established and able to begin its important work. Its terms of reference are as follows:

Purpose

1. To investigate whether the car bomb detonated in Omagh, County Tyrone on 15 August 1998 in which 29 people and two unborn children were killed could have been prevented by UK state authorities, with particular attention to the matters considered by Horner J. in the application for judicial review, Re Gallagher [2021] NIQB 85.

Scope

2. To the extent necessary to investigate issues relating to whether the Omagh Bombing could have been prevented by UK state authorities, the Inquiry’s investigations will include consideration, individually and collectively, of the following matters:

a. As background and context to the Omagh Bombing, the assessment by UK state authorities of the threat posed in Northern Ireland by dissident republican terrorists from 1 December 1997 to the date of the Omagh Bombing. This shall include consideration of any change in the assessment following the Belfast Agreement on 10 April 1998.

b. The adequacy of the measures taken by UK state authorities, including the police, security forces and Intelligence and Security Agencies, to disrupt those dissident republican terrorists who had been involved in terrorist attacks or attempted terrorist attacks in the period from 1 December 1997 to the Omagh Bombing. This shall include consideration of any change in the measures used or approach taken by UK state authorities following the Belfast Agreement on 10 April 1998.

c. The adequacy of the policies and practices of UK state authorities, including the police, security forces and Intelligence and Security Agencies, in sharing intelligence between themselves and with the authorities in the Republic of Ireland on the activities of those dissident republican terrorists who had been involved in terrorist attacks or attempted terrorist attacks in the period from 1 December 1997 to the Omagh Bombing.

d. The allegation made by Norman Baxter (former Senior Investigating Officer in the investigation into the Omagh Bombing) in the course of his evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee on 11 November 2009, that police investigators into previous attacks in Moira (20 February 1998), Portadown (9 May 1998), Banbridge (1 August 1998) and Lisburn (30 April 1998) did not have access to intelligence materials which may reasonably have enabled them to disrupt the activities of dissident republican terrorists prior to the Omagh Bombing.

e. Information relating to dissident republican terrorist activity said to have been passed to police between June and August 1998 by an alleged British security forces agent known by the name of Kevin Fulton and whether that might reasonably have enabled UK state authorities, whether on its own or in conjunction with other information, to disrupt dissident republican terrorists engaged in the planning and preparation of the Omagh Bombing.

f. The nature of the intelligence said to have been obtained by the UK Government’s Communication Headquarters (GCHQ), including from alleged vehicle and telephone monitoring, of dissident republican terrorists involved in the planning, preparation and conduct of the Omagh Bombing and other earlier attacks.

g. The adequacy of the analysis and handling of and response by UK state authorities to any intelligence obtained by GCHQ, including from vehicle and telephone monitoring, of dissident republican terrorists involved in the planning, preparation and or conduct of the Omagh Bombing and other earlier attacks.

h. The extent and adequacy of steps taken by UK state authorities to track and analyse the mobile telephone usage by those suspected to be involved in dissident republican terrorist attacks before the Omagh Bombing and whether that might reasonably have enabled UK state authorities to disrupt dissident republican terrorists engaged in the planning, preparation and or conduct of the Omagh Bombing.

i. Any other matters which are relevant to whether the Omagh Bombing on 15 August 1998 could have been prevented by UK state authorities. To the extent it is relevant to the issue of preventability by UK state authorities, this may include information sharing and investigations with and by state authorities in the Republic of Ireland.

Method

The Inquiry will examine and review all documents as the Inquiry Chairman shall judge appropriate.

The Inquiry will receive such oral and written evidence, in OPEN and CLOSED, as the Inquiry Chairman shall judge appropriate and follow such procedures as are appropriate to ensure that the Inquiry is effective, taking account of the need to protect national security interests.

Report

The Inquiry will report to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland as soon as practicable. The Inquiry Report will make such recommendations as may seem appropriate. Given the sensitive nature of the material, the Inquiry Chairman may choose to produce both an OPEN and a CLOSED report.

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