Eighteenth Report Contents

Instruments relating to COVID-19

Changes to business practice and regulation

Draft Contracts for Difference (Electricity Supplier Obligations) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020

12.This instrument proposes changes to the Contracts for Difference (CFD) scheme, the main mechanism for supporting new renewable electricity generation projects in Great Britain. According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the aim is to limit the negative short-term impact on electricity suppliers of an unexpected increase in the costs of the CFD scheme during the pandemic. Under the CFD scheme, the government owned Low Carbon Contracts Company (LCCC) manages CFD contracts with electricity generators and collects payments from electricity suppliers which pass on the costs to their customers. The LCCC expects a shortfall in funds required to pay generators in quarter 2 (April to June) 2020, following a sharp fall in electricity demand during the pandemic and a reduction in the amount collected from suppliers. There has also been a lower wholesale price of electricity, which has led to higher payments to generators who are paid ‘top up’ payments between the wholesale price and the strike price.5 BEIS says that because of the unexpected increase in suppliers’ obligations in quarter 2 of 2020, it has agreed a one-off loan to LCCC to enable it to pay generators without increasing the financial burden on suppliers. This instrument proposes to reduce each supplier’s obligation in quarter 2 2020 in respect of payments to generators by the amount of any government assistance to the LCCC in that quarter in proportion to the supplier’s market share in that quarter; and to increase each supplier’s obligation in quarter 2 2021 by the same amount to enable repayment of the financial assistance previously provided. The instrument proposes further changes to the CFD scheme, including to enable the LCCC to repay any government assistance using revenue collected from suppliers. BEIS says that while the loan to the LCCC is intended to be a one-off response to the current crisis, the changes made by the instrument are not time-limited and allow the same mechanism to be used if a similar event arose in the future or if the impacts of the pandemic last longer than expected.

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Public Health Information for Passengers Travelling to England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/567)

13.This instrument requires operators of commercial transport services for passengers travelling to England by sea, air or rail, from outside of the Common Travel Area,6 to ensure that information is provided to all passengers about coronavirus, and the related duties and public health guidance in the UK. The information must be provided to passengers before they book their travel, when they check in and whilst they are on board the vessel, aircraft or train. Failure to do so will be an offence. Around 140 travel operators will be directly affected by the Regulations, but the Department for Transport states that, as operators already have systems in place to provide information to passengers at each of the relevant stages of their journey, additional costs should be minimal.

14.The Regulations last for 12 months but the Secretary of State may, from time to time, suspend the requirement by making a statement on the gov.uk website. The Secretary of State may also specify the information to be provided and the manner in which it is to be provided at each stage of the passenger journey. The Regulations impose a duty to review the need for the requirement at least once every 21 days.

Public services

Draft Higher Education (Fee Limits and Student Support) (England) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020

15.This instrument proposes temporary changes to tuition fee limits and tuition fee loan amounts in England. The Department for Education (DfE) explains that the pandemic has placed a significant financial strain on the higher education sector and that, to mitigate the financial losses caused by potentially fewer students wishing to go to university in the next academic year, some higher education providers have adopted admissions practices, such as the large-scale use of unconditional offers, to recruit a greater share of domestic students than in previous years. Such practices allow providers to secure the tuition fee income attached to these students and to draw down a greater share of the public funding available in the next academic year, but, according to DfE, leave a smaller pool of prospective students for other providers which are put under financial pressure. The proposed changes seek to ensure that where a provider has recruited first year students starting courses above the level that the Department has allocated to that provider for the academic year 2020–21 (through temporary student number controls or SNC), reduced tuition fee limits will apply to that provider’s full-time undergraduate courses in the following academic year 2021–22. This is to ensure that if providers exceed their allocated SNC, the sums available to them through the student finance system in the subsequent academic year will be reduced proportionately. The instrument also proposes a proportionate reduction of the maximum tuition fee loan amounts available to English-domiciled students starting full-time courses at institutions in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland in the academic year 2021–22 where the number of students exceeds the SNC for that institution in the academic year 2020–21.

Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Statutory Storage Period for Embryos and Gametes) (Coronavirus) Regulations (SI 2020/566)

16.The statutory scheme for the storage by fertility clinics of gametes (sperm and eggs) and embryos intended for future use in fertility treatment or research has a time limit of 10 years (extendable on the basis of medical authorisation). In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority issued General Direction 0014 to all NHS and private clinics which had the effect of suspending treatment services from 23 March 2020. To address this, these Regulations extend the time limit to 12 years for those with material in storage who, because of the effects of the pandemic, have either not been able to access treatment or a written medical opinion to permit an extension in the normal way. These Regulations do not apply to embryos or gametes that are placed in storage after 1 July 2020 to which the normal 10-year statutory storage period will apply.

Law and order

Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 (Specified Proceedings) (Amendment) Order 2020 (SI 2020/562)

17.By 7 May 2020 more than 12,000 fixed penalty notices had been issued under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations in England and Wales. A person who does not pay a fixed penalty notice becomes liable to prosecution 28 days later under the “single justice procedure”, which permits a court to deal with the case on the paperwork, without the accused attending court. Under normal legislation the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is required to conduct all proceedings, but this Order excludes routine proceedings in relation to the penalty notices from that requirement. The Attorney General considers that it is not proportionate for the CPS to have conduct of these cases where the accused pleads guilty or does not respond to the notice and evidence served upon them. However, if the defendant pleads not guilty, wishes to challenge the fixed penalty notice or does not consent to the single justice procedure the CPS will, as a matter of practice, take conduct of it.

5 The strike price for electricity is fixed and reflects the cost of investing in a particular low carbon technology.

6 See footnote 2 above.

© Parliamentary copyright 2020