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Written Statements

Volume 651: debated on Wednesday 12 December 2018

Written Statements

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Competitiveness Council

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for State for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Henley) has made the following statement:

The Competitiveness Council took place on 29 and 30 November. The UK was represented by the right hon. Lord Henley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, on day 1 (internal market and industry); and by Katrina Williams, deputy permanent representative to the EU, on day 2 (research and space).

Day 1 (Internal Market and Industry)

The Council agreed a general approach on the platform-to-business regulation and to entering into inter-institutional negotiations with the European Parliament; these are anticipated to begin later this month. The UK welcomed the evidence-based approach taken by the Council; we consider that the compromise text meets the demand from business users for transparency without stifling development and innovation of online platforms. Others indicated that they could support the general approach but had hoped for more ambition for further regulation. Other member states urged the presidency to uphold the Commission’s light-touch approach in talks with the Parliament, with some underlining that it was too soon to consider stricter rules. The UK joined the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Poland in signing a joint statement to the minutes expressing reservations about new provisions for public enforcement.

The Council adopted a partial general approach on the single market programme. The UK noted that, while it generally supported the programme’s aims, it retained a parliamentary scrutiny reserve over this dossier and therefore abstained. The Council also adopted a general approach on the general safety of vehicles regulation.

The Council adopted conclusions on “A Future EU Industrial Policy Strategy”. The Commission highlighted the link to its long-term strategy on climate, published on 28 November.

Commission Vice-President Katainen presented the Commission’s recent communication on the future of the single market. He urged member states to adopt outstanding legislation in the remaining months of this legislature. Some member states noted a recently published report on trade in services as evidence of the persistent barriers in this area. Member states also noted the potential of digitalisation and cross-border data flows to boost the competitiveness of EU services and manufacturing. The UK noted the important economic links that would continue between the UK and EU after the UK’s exit, and the shared challenges we face, particularly around digitalisation. Other member states highlighted the role of social, environmental, regional and transport policy in the functioning of the single market.

Ministers received information on the recently agreed changes to the state aid enabling regulation, and on the negotiations on supplementary protection certificates for medicinal products where the UK advocated maintaining the scope of the original Commission proposal. The Council noted the annual report of the SME envoy network and received information from the incoming Romanian presidency about its priorities.

Day 2 (Research and Space)

The Council began with a progress report and an exchange of views on the regulation establishing the space programme of the Union. The discussion focused on governance, and in particular on the importance of clearly defined roles and responsibilities for all actors involved in delivering the programme. Access to space and how to maximise the competitiveness of the European space sector were also discussed.

The Council agreed on the conclusions on the governance of the European research area. The Council then discussed the Horizon Europe package—the framework programme for research and innovation 2021-27. The debate centred on four outstanding issues: the overall structure of the programme; return grants for Skłodowska-Curie actions; capping for partnership budgets; and the European Innovation Council. The Austrian presidency redrafted the regulation text following member states’ interventions and the UK was content with the final version. The Council then agreed a partial general approach for the framework programme and its rules for participation and dissemination. The Austrian presidency also presented a progress report on the specific programme implementing Horizon Europe.

During any other business the Austrian presidency provided information on the conference “Evolution of Europe’s space activities: Long-term perspective” held in Graz, 5 and 6 November 2018. The Romanian delegation then concluded the Council by outlining the work programme of the incoming presidency.

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Health and Social Care

NHS Overseas Charging Regulations Review 2017

On 16 November 2017, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) announced to the House that my Department would be conducting a review into the impact of amendments made to the NHS charging regulations in 2017, with particular regard to any impact on vulnerable groups and those with protected characteristics.

The review is now complete, and the evidence received demonstrated that there is no significant evidence that the 2017 amendment regulations have led to overseas visitors being deterred from treatment or that the changes have had an impact on public health.

I am pleased that the review has shown that the 2017 amendment regulations are largely working in the way they were intended. These changes were, amongst other things, made to enshrine in law that overseas visitors not eligible for free care must pay for any non-urgent treatment upfront, to help reduce the need to chase up charges, and to remove the anomaly whereby the healthcare setting or provider type could determine whether services would be charged for or not.

Some case studies presented did reveal that there is more to do to ensure some groups of vulnerable overseas visitors understand their entitlements and treatment options, and that providers of NHS care consider fully when a patient can be reasonably expected to leave the UK before deciding if treatment should be safely withheld if payment is not provided.

We will continue to work to ensure that these issues are addressed, so that the charging regulations are implemented in as fair a way as possible. We will improve information and support for NHS staff and patients and work with stakeholders and interest groups to ensure that key messages and safeguards are understood by all.

To ensure clinicians, NHS and community care staff fully understand our guidance and how it should be implemented in practice, we will revise and relaunch our focused e-learning training programme, and work with NHS Improvement’s support teams to promote it. This will ensure that all relevant aspects of overseas visitors’ personal circumstances are taken into consideration when clinicians decide whether treatment is immediately necessary.

To combat any misconceptions around how the cost recovery regulations affect access to care, the Department and NHS Improvement will continue the close partnership with community groups and stakeholders representing vulnerable individuals to develop user-friendly, culturally-appropriate guidance, and ensure this reaches those who may be impacted by this policy.

Finally, we will continue to work closely with NHS Improvement and frontline staff to keep the impact of the regulations and these further actions under very close review, and to provide additional support and guidance to organisations implementing the regulations in different settings in the best interests of patients.

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Home Department

EU Internal Security Fund: Opt-in Decision

The Government have decided not to opt in (under the UK’s JHA opt-in protocol) to a proposal establishing an internal security fund (2021-27). The intended fund would not come into operation until the start of the next multiannual financial framework (2021), after the UK has exited the European Union and after the currently envisaged end of the proposed implementation period. As such, the UK would not be able to benefit from the fund as a member state.

In addition, the UK did not opt in to the previous iteration of the ISF as it provided no benefits to the UK beyond our own domestic capabilities. There is no evidence that this situation has changed, and that the ISF would remain a poor fit for UK policing needs. The benefits are unlikely to outweigh the cost of UK participation, and there was therefore no practical reason to opt in.

Until the UK leaves the EU it remains a full member, and the Government will continue to consider the application of the UK’s opt-in to EU legislation in the area of Justice and Home Affairs on a case by case basis, with a view to maximising our country’s security, protecting our civil liberties and enhancing our ability to control immigration.

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Police Custody: Deaths and Serious Incidents Review

On 30 October 2017, the right hon. Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC’s independent review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody was published, alongside the Government’s substantive response.

As part of their response, the Government commissioned the Ministerial Council on Deaths in Custody to play a leading role in considering Dame Elish’s most complex recommendations. Today, as co-chair of the Ministerial Board on Deaths In Custody—alongside Jackie Doyle-Price MP and Rory Stewart OBE MP—I report on the progress made in delivering this work programme.

We have made good progress in addressing Dame Elish’s recommendations, although, of course, there remains more to do. First, we have focused on support for families, which includes work on the provision of legal aid for bereaved families, making inquests more sympathetic to their needs and improving the information available immediately after an incident. Secondly, we have worked to ensure that organisations are held to account when a death in police custody occurs. We have reformed the Independent Office for Police Conduct to strengthen its independence and improve the timeliness of its investigations, and we have introduced reforms to strengthen the police discipline regime. Thirdly, and above all, we are committed to preventing deaths in police custody. We have significantly restricted the use of police stations as places of safety, the National Police Chiefs’ Council is driving progress in national training and assessing the health of detainees, and the Government are investing record levels in mental health, among other measures.

Every death in police custody is a tragedy. The impact is devastating on their loved ones. Dame Elish’s report has been a catalyst for change, and in my role as co-chair of the Ministerial Board on Deaths in Custody, I am determined that we sustain momentum in addressing the difficult issues at hand.

We will deliver a year two work programme which will continue to prioritise preventing deaths in police custody and in the tragic instances that they do occur, holding organisations to account and improving support for families.

I would like to thank Dame Elish again for her far-reaching contribution to this important issue, and Deborah Coles, who advised Dame Elish’s review, for her continued passion to enact change. Most importantly, I would like to thank the families who contributed to Dame Elish’s review and who continue to share their experiences so that we can learn from them.

I am placing a copy of our progress update in the Library of the House and on www.gov.uk.

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Anti-corruption Strategy

Today, I am publishing the first annual update on the UK anti-corruption strategy 2017 to 2022. The Government committed to providing an annual written update to Parliament on progress. The UK anti-corruption strategy provides a framework to guide Government anti-corruption policies and actions and this update highlights the action we have taken since its launch in 2017. It details the significant progress we have made, including actions taken to meet the commitments that were due by the end of 2018.

The UK has a good track record in combatting corruption. We are ranked as jointly the eighth least corrupt country by Transparency International and, last week, we received the highest ever ranking from the Financial Action Task Force for our efforts against money-laundering and counter-terrorism. We recognise, however, that there is more to do. Corruption undermines confidence in our institutions, threatens our security and damages our business interests, making it harder for our companies to compete internationally. This is why we have committed at least £48 million over the next 18 months for the serious and organised crime strategy, which consists of a package of capabilities to tackle economic crime and illicit finance, including the launch of the national economic crime centre. In addition, the £45 million prosperity fund global anti-corruption programme, approved in October 2018, will work with partner Governments to promote inclusive sustainable growth and increase global prosperity through tackling corruption. The Government will continue to combat corruption and to promote integrity and transparency at home and overseas, working with international allies and at international forums to raise standards and to promote collective action.

A copy of the report will be placed in the Library of the House and will be available on the gov.uk website.

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