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House of Commons Hansard
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General Committees
25 February 2020

Delegated Legislation Committee

Draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 Draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2020

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: James Gray

† Afolami, Bim (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)

Callaghan, Amy (East Dunbartonshire) (SNP)

† Champion, Sarah (Rotherham) (Lab)

† Docherty, Leo (Aldershot) (Con)

† Drummond, Mrs Flick (Meon Valley) (Con)

† Evans, Dr Luke (Bosworth) (Con)

† Fell, Simon (Barrow and Furness) (Con)

† Francois, Mr Mark (Rayleigh and Wickford) (Con)

† Gideon, Jo (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Con)

† Gray, Neil (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)

† Green, Chris (Bolton West) (Con)

† Greenwood, Margaret (Wirral West) (Lab)

† Griffiths, Kate (Burton) (Con)

† Tomlinson, Justin (Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work)

† Webbe, Claudia (Leicester East) (Lab)

† Western, Matt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)

Whitley, Mick (Birkenhead) (Lab)

Peter Stam, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 25 February 2020

[James Gray in the Chair]

Draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2020

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I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2020.

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With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2020.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. You are a dear Wiltshire neighbour, and I could not pick a better Chair. The two statutory instruments will increase the value of lump sum awards under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 and the diffuse mesothelioma scheme, which was set up by the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008. As many hon. Members will know, the schemes stand apart from the main social security benefits uprating procedure. Although there is no statutory requirement to increase rates, I am happy to maintain the position taken by my predecessors and increase the amounts payable from 1 April 2020 by September’s consumer prices index of 1.7%. That is the same rate of increase that will be applied to many other social security benefits, including those payable under the industrial injuries scheme.

The Government recognise the very great suffering of individuals and their families caused by the serious and often fatal diseases resulting from exposure to asbestos or other listed agents. The individuals affected, and their families, may be unable to bring a successful claim for civil damages, often due to the long latency period of their condition. Some may not show signs of disease until many years after exposure, by which time their employer may have ceased trading. The lump sum schemes exist to compensate such people, as well as to ensure that people receive compensation in their lifetime, while they can still benefit from it, without having to await the outcome of civil litigation.

I will briefly summarise the purpose of the two schemes. The 1979 Act scheme provides a lump sum compensation payment to those who have contracted a dust-related respiratory disease covered by the scheme, are unable to claim damages from employers because they have gone out of business, and have not brought any action against others for damages. The scheme covers five dust-related respiratory diseases, all of which have serious impacts on day-to-day life. They range from diffuse mesothelioma to lung damage caused by asbestos. The 2008 mesothelioma lump sum payments scheme widens the compensation criteria for those who have contracted diffuse mesothelioma but cannot claim compensation under the 1979 Act scheme—for example, those who were self-employed or whose exposure to asbestos was not due to work.

Payments made under the 1979 Act scheme are based on the age of the person with the disease and their level of disablement at the time of diagnosis, measured on a percentage scale. All payments for diffuse mesothelioma are made at the 100% rate. All payments under the 2008 scheme are also made at the 100% disablement rate, and based on the age of the sufferer, with the highest payments going to the youngest people with the disease. In the last full year, from April 2018 to March 2019, 3,920 people received payments under both schemes, totalling £52.8 million.

The prevalence of diffuse mesothelioma in Great Britain remains at historically high levels, which I know is a particular concern of Members. The disease has a strong association with exposure to asbestos. Current evidence suggests that about 85% of all mesotheliomas diagnosed in men are attributable to asbestos exposures that occurred through work. The life expectancy of those diagnosed is very poor: many people die within 12 months of diagnosis. Data published by the Health and Safety Executive shows that the number of mesothelioma deaths is projected to be about 2,500 by 2020, before beginning to decline in the coming years, reflecting a reduction in asbestos exposure after 1980.

I will briefly discuss lung health improvements more broadly. Although we expect the number of people being diagnosed with diffuse mesothelioma to start to fall in the coming years, we know that many people will continue to develop it, and the other respiratory diseases to which the regulations relate, for many years to come, so the Government are committed to working in partnership with our arm’s length bodies and agencies to improve the lives of those with respiratory diseases. The NHS long-term plan reflects our priority of improving outcomes for people with respiratory diseases.

During last year’s debate on the uprating of the schemes, my predecessor referred to the pioneering lung health checks trialled in Manchester and Liverpool. So far, the trial has shown an almost fivefold reduction in stage 4 disease in Greater Manchester, with 80% of cancers diagnosed at an earlier stage. We anticipate that the scheme will be rolled out across the country, and I am pleased to report that a mobile site in Hull was launched last month.

To return to these important regulations, I am sure we all agree that although no amount of money can ever adequately compensate individuals or their families for the suffering and loss caused by diffuse mesothelioma and the other dust-related diseases covered by the two schemes, people who have those diseases rightly deserve some form of monetary compensation. I am required to confirm to the Committee that the provisions are compatible with the European convention on human rights, and I am happy to do so.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. The Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 uprate the lump sum payments for sufferers and their dependants in line with September’s consumer prices index of 1.7%. Labour welcomes the fact that the Government have reviewed the rates to maintain their value in line with the CPI. We recognise that they are under no obligation to do so.

The Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 made provisions to fast-track up-front lump sum payments for people diagnosed with diffuse mesothelioma and their dependants. The scheme provides that support in recognition of the difficulties that people often face in obtaining compensation from other sources, and of the fact that sufferers usually die within months of being diagnosed. It is a truly devastating diagnosis to receive.

That scheme operates alongside the scheme established under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979, and offers support to those unable to benefit from it. If a person has died as a result of mesothelioma, payments can be made to their dependants. It is funded by a compensation recovery mechanism, so that payments made are recovered from any subsequent successful civil compensation claim. The 2008 scheme provides a one-off payment to sufferers who have no occupational link to the disease or who are self-employed, including sufferers who live in close proximity to a workplace containing asbestos, those exposed to asbestos in the environment and family members exposed via workers’ clothing.

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops in the lining that covers the outer surface of some of the body’s organs. It is usually linked to asbestos exposure. It mainly affects the lining of the lungs, although it can affect the lining of other organs as well. It takes many years to develop, but is usually rapidly fatal following the onset of symptoms. Unfortunately, it is rarely possible to cure, although treatment can help to control the symptoms.

According to the NHS website, more than 2,600 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year in the UK. Most cases are diagnosed in people aged 60 to 80, and men are more commonly affected than women. Last year, the Minister’s predecessor said that deaths from mesothelioma were at a “historically high level” and the widespread use of asbestos in the decades after world war two means that, sadly, the issue may be with us for some time.

Some 86% of schools contain asbestos, according to a 2015 study. The material was typically used in buildings between the 1940s and 1970s. Experts say that it is a greater health risk as it gets older and starts to degrade. According to the National Education Union, at least 319 teachers have died from mesothelioma since 1980, 205 of whom have died since 2001.

As I have said, Labour welcomes the uprating of the lump sum payments for sufferers of mesothelioma and their dependants. We remain concerned, however, about the striking lack of parity between the lump sum payments made to sufferers and those made to dependants. Under the regulations, a mesothelioma sufferer who is diagnosed at the age of 67 will receive a payment of £20,042. By contrast, if someone suffering from mesothelioma dies aged 67 or over, their dependant will receive a payment of just £8,084. A mesothelioma sufferer who is diagnosed at the age of 37 will receive a payment of £93,827. However, if someone suffering from mesothelioma dies at that age or under, their dependant will receive a payment of £48,829. Does the Minister think that is fair?

When last year’s equivalent of these regulations was debated on the Floor of the House in February 2019, the then Minister said:

“Of course, I fully understand that families can be devastated and very badly affected, but there is still the recognition that they are able to get compensation, even if it is not at the same level.”—[Official Report, 6 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 360.]

She also said that the issue of disparity in payments to sufferers and dependants is raised each time this kind of debate is held. Is that not telling? Does it not make the Government realise that it is about time that payments were equalised? After all, it is 10 years since 2010, when the then Labour Minister, Lord McKenzie of Luton, pledged to equalise payments. Unfortunately, the signs are that the Government’s position will not change soon, but I urge the Minister to reflect on it.

On 6 February, the current Minister said, in response to a written parliamentary question on equalisation from my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan):

“It is right that available funding is prioritised where it is needed most, that is to people living with these diseases.”

I ask the Minister to listen to the repeated calls for equalisation, to look again at the issue, and to consider the devastating impact that mesothelioma has on family members who lose a loved one. Given that the difference in payments often affects women whose husbands were directly exposed to asbestos at work, what assessment have the Government made of the impact on women of a lack of parity in payments? What is the most recent estimated cost of providing equal payments for sufferers and their dependants?

To reiterate, Labour welcomes the support available to sufferers and the uprating of provisions, but it is clear that a number of issues need to be addressed. Although we note that the Government are not under any obligation to uprate, Members said a lot about automatic uprating during last year’s debate on the equivalent of these regulations. At that time, the then Minister said that she would

“absolutely think about what has been said about automatic uprating”.—[Official Report, 6 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 356.]

It was Labour’s view then, and it remains our view now, that automatic uprating is the right thing to do. Can the Minister tell us what has come of his predecessor’s pledge to “absolutely think about” what was said about automatic uprating in last year’s debate? Will he think about what he has said today, and will he go one step further by committing to automatic uprating?

It is vital that we continue to raise awareness of the risk of working with, or in an environment with, asbestos. Can the Minister reassure Members that continuing to raise awareness is a priority for the Government, and can he tell us how the Government will do that?

Responsibility for asbestos lies primarily with the Health and Safety Executive. It is important to point out that the HSE’s funding has been cut significantly since the Conservatives came to power. It will receive £100 million less from the Department for Work and Pensions in 2019-20 than it did in 2009-10—a reduction of 54% in real terms. Between 2010 and 2016, the number of inspectors was reduced by 25%. What impact have the cuts had had on the ability of the HSE to regulate, monitor and take proactive action to prevent work-related death, injury and ill health, including that related to asbestos and mesothelioma? Will he take this opportunity to rule out further cuts to the HSE—

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Order. I am afraid the hon. Lady is drifting rather far away from the subject we are discussing—namely, that of the two statutory instruments that relate to the uprating of the benefits. Perhaps she could return to the main topic.

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I felt it was relevant, but I will return to the topic.

Can the Minister confirm that, post Brexit, this country will not lower standards to match American regulations, which allow products containing up to 1% of asbestos?

Labour welcomes the regulations to increase lump sum payments to pneumoconiosis sufferers by 1.7%, in line with inflation. We have noted that the Government are under no statutory obligation to do so. The pneumo- coniosis regulations refer to the 1979 Act, which provides lump sum payments to people suffering from certain asbestos-related conditions or their dependants where they are unable to claim damages because the employer has gone out of business. As well as mesothelioma, the scheme covers pneumoconiosis, bilateral diffuse pleural thickening, byssinosis, and primary carcinoma of the lung where there is accompanying evidence of asbestosis and/or bilateral diffuse pleural thickening. What action are the Government taking to raise awareness of all those conditions, their range of causes, the circumstances in which they are likely to occur, and the support available?

People suffering from pneumoconiosis often face a series of hurdles to receive payments from the DWP. The disease can be difficult to diagnose using two-dimensional X-rays, as they may not show enough detail and because it can take 10 years to manifest. That means that the last X-ray a miner received on leaving work may not have picked it up. Smokers or former smokers aged between 55 and 80 already receive invitations for screenings for lung diseases. Will the Minister talk to colleagues in the Department for Health about extending that to former miners?

As with the mesothelioma regulations, Labour welcomes the uprating but there is again a lack of parity between the amounts of compensation offered to sufferers and to their dependants. Will the Minister commit to establishing parity? What other support, as well as financial, do the Government make available to those who lose a loved one to a disease covered by the regulations? I say again that Labour welcomes the upratings, but I urge the Minister to reflect carefully on the many issues raised by the Committee.

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It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. In the knowledge that I would sit on this Committee, I contacted the British Lung Foundation to get its opinion on the regulations, and it was broadly very positive about the changes.

It will come as no surprise, however, that improvements can be made, and the British Lung Foundation has come up with two that are quite modest and which I ask the Minister to consider. Could the uprating of payments be automatic and linked to an inflation index, for example, rather than being made at Parliament’s discretion? Will the Minister also consider additional funding of research into the increasing number of treatment options available? As we all know, cures for these conditions are sadly lacking.

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I call the Minister, who need reply only to matters that fall within the scope of the regulations.

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Thank you, Mr Gray. I very much welcome the clear cross-party support for the two sets of regulations. A number of valid points have been raised. I pay tribute to the British Lung Foundation, which is a really good, proactive charity that works with hon. Members across the House. We will take into consideration the points it has raised.

The shadow Minister asked a number of important questions, one of which was about equalising the payments made to those who have the disease and their dependants. The main intention of the schemes is to provide financial support to people living with certain diseases and to help them deal with the issues that the illness brings, so it is right that funding is targeted where it is most needed—to people living with the disease.

Equalising the awards made to people with the disease and their dependants would require changes to primary legislation. That would be a complex task, as awards to dependants under the 1979 Act include payments made in two parts: first, a payment for the effects of the illness before death, based on the assessed level of disability and on the length of time that a person had the illness; and secondly, a payment made in cases in which the death was actually caused by the relevant disease.

I was also asked why the Government do not automatically uprate payments. Although I sympathise with that view—in theory, automatic uprating would be more straightforward—there would be no monetary gain because we have actually uprated payments in line with CPI every year. These debates provide a valuable avenue for Members to discuss their thoughts on the lump sum schemes and, more broadly, on support for people with respiratory disease, and I know that many Members value that. We will, however, keep that under review.

Reference was rightly made to what more the HSE and the Government could do to raise awareness. The HSE does fantastic, proactive work to co-ordinate stakeholder activity on occupational lung diseases. As a Government, we regularly signpost people using the gov.uk website.

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Obviously, the biggest tragedy is that most people who suffer with mesothelioma are not aware that they have the condition until it is too late. The payments recognise and compensate for that. Can the Government do more to find former workers who may have been exposed to asbestos and other work-related hazards and who may find themselves suffering from such a condition further down the line?

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That is a fair challenge. The Government are passionate about doing everything we can to raise awareness. Significant improvements have been made in Government, the HSE and the NHS to engage as many stakeholders as possible. One example is the British Lung Foundation, which can then raise awareness among its members, identify illness as soon as possible, and provide the appropriate level of support. That goes back to the point about why we have these annual debates: they are an opportunity to shine a light on the issue, and if people have proactive ideas, we are very receptive to them.

The Government recognise the important role of the schemes in providing financial support to people diagnosed with mesothelioma and other dust-related diseases. The regulations will ensure that the value of the schemes is maintained. I commend the uprating of the payments scales and ask for the Committee’s approval to implement them.

Question put and agreed to.

Draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2020

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2020.—(Justin Tomlinson.)

Committee rose.

Draft Double Taxation Relief and International Tax Enforcement (Gibraltar) Order 2020

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Siobhain McDonagh

† Coutinho, Claire (East Surrey) (Con)

† Eastwood, Mark (Dewsbury) (Con)

† Fletcher, Mark (Bolsover) (Con)

† Flynn, Stephen (Aberdeen South) (SNP)

† Fuller, Richard (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)

† Glen, John (Economic Secretary to the Treasury)

† Green, Chris (Bolton West) (Con)

† Grundy, James (Leigh) (Con)

† Harper, Mr Mark (Forest of Dean) (Con)

† Hart, Sally-Ann (Hastings and Rye) (Con)

† Jones, Mr Marcus (Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household)

Perkins, Mr Toby (Chesterfield) (Lab)

† Reynolds, Jonathan (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op)

† Smith, Jeff (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)

Thomas, Gareth (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)

† Timms, Stephen (East Ham) (Lab)

† Twigg, Derek (Halton) (Lab)

Sarah Rees, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 25 February 2020

[Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Draft Double Taxation Relief and International Tax Enforcement (Gibraltar) Order 2020

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I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Double Taxation Relief and International Tax Enforcement (Gibraltar) Order 2020.

May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh? The order before the Committee gives effect to a new double taxation agreement, or DTA, with Gibraltar. DTAs remove barriers to international trade and investment and provide a clear and fair framework for taxing businesses that trade across borders. By doing that, they benefit both businesses and the economies of the countries signed up to them.

I shall say a few words about this agreement. We have agreed a comprehensive DTA with Gibraltar that is based on the OECD’s model tax convention and the domestic tax laws and the treaty preferences of both jurisdictions. This is a first-time DTA with Gibraltar and will introduce a number of improvements for businesses, individuals and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. It will strengthen our relationship with Gibraltar, promote trade and investment and help to tackle tax avoidance.

I shall outline the agreement’s key features. First, it complies with the minimum standards laid down in the base erosion and profit shifting, or BEPS, project, which is the OECD’s framework for combating tax avoidance by multinationals. That means that our DTA includes a statement in the preamble that the DTA is not intended by the parties to facilitate avoidance or evasion, as well as including the principal purpose test—a provision denying benefits under the DTA where the main purpose of the transactions or arrangements is to avoid tax.

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Does my hon. Friend find it an interesting coincidence, as I do, that at the moment when, in the main Chamber, the Opposition are trying to persuade the House that this Government have done nothing about combating tax avoidance and evasion, the Minister is putting before the Committee a clear example of where the Government are leading our international colleagues in putting in place mechanisms to ensure that we facilitate international trade and business while ensuring that people pay the tax that is rightly due to the British taxpayer?

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I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. I am always very interested in what he has to say. I confess that on this occasion I have not been able to attend the Chamber yet. I look forward to hearing the arguments deployed and will reserve judgment, but what I can do is commend to him the logic and value of this intervention by the Government, and I will go on to explain further why this DTA is a positive step forward.

The DTA is comprehensive in scope, and as such covers all income and gains, including dividends, interest and royalties. However, we have ensured that we will retain the right to apply a withholding tax of 15% on distributions from real estate investment trusts. Also, benefits in respect of interest and royalties are limited to persons who can demonstrate a close connection to Gibraltar. That provides an additional layer of protection against residents of third countries exploiting the provisions.

The new agreement also provides for mandatory binding arbitration, which ensures that disputes are resolved and that double taxation is therefore avoided. Finally, the new DTA provides for mutual assistance in the collection of tax debts. That will mean that, for the first time, the UK can ask Gibraltar to collect tax debts on our behalf.

Together, these features strengthen both countries’ defences against tax avoidance and evasion. In summary, the agreement is one that both the UK and Gibraltar can be happy with. It protects UK revenue and provides a stable framework in which trade and investment between the UK and Gibraltar can continue to flourish. I therefore commend the order to the Committee.

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May I, too, say that it is always a pleasure to serve under you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh? I thank the Minister for his opening remarks and his explanation of the order that we are dealing with today. It is vital that the interests and affairs of Gibraltar, and its relationship to the rest of the UK, are carefully considered as we depart from the European Union. All hon. Members will want to make sure that Gibraltar’s interests are properly protected, particularly as I understand that Spain has made its own tax treaty arrangements with Gibraltar.

Overall, the Opposition are pleased that the Government have chosen to follow the OECD model convention as the template for the order, so there is no reason for us to oppose it. I have a few minor questions to ask the Minister, however, about the exact implementation of the model.

In the explanatory notes and the Minister’s speech, it was mentioned that the double tax arrangement meets the minimum standard recommended by the OECD/G20 base erosion and profit shifting project, which aims to stop abuse of DTAs by individuals and companies trying to reduce their tax liability. Gibraltar as a jurisdiction has made progress in recent years in strengthening its anti-BEPS provisions. About 11 months ago, in a similar delegated legislation Committee on the Financial Services (Gibraltar) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) addressed some of those points and noted that Gibraltar had been removed from the tax haven list by the OECD after concluding some of its DTAs.

With that in mind, I wonder whether the Government gave any regard to using this process as an opportunity to develop a measure that not only meets the minimum standards but enhances them and provides a leading example of how we can enhance the provisions. All aspects of BEPS must be dealt with, and that is especially important if the UK is to have flexibility in how it sets cross-border taxation policy in future.

Elements of the OECD model convention allow for considerable leeway. Is it the Government’s intention to take advantage of any of that flexibility? For example, there is a quite expansive definition of “permanent establishment” in the text of the model convention. Will that be adopted in future DTAs?

I am interested to hear further detail about how consultation is taking place with the Government of Gibraltar on the arrangements, and how Parliament will be kept informed of that process, to ensure transparency and accountability.

My final question raises a broader point about the UK’s interaction on tax affairs in the light of our departure from the European Union. Is it the UK’s intention to seek observer status in the code of conduct group—a sub-committee of ECOFIN—given that the Cayman Islands, a British overseas territory, is being blacklisted by the EU? There will clearly need to be a shift in our approach for the UK and Gibraltar, as we will no longer be able to participate in that committee by right as a member of the European Union. I would appreciate any clarity that the Minister can provide on those points.

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I am grateful for the constructive observations of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde. With respect to the BEPS standards and the principle of stopping the abuse of DTAs, and the wider issue of how the Government might use those standards to inform future DTAs, I acknowledge what he says about the leeway in the OECD standards. I cannot give him a specific commentary, however, because DTAs are done country by country. It is probably appropriate for me to write to him to give him more specific detail, as far as I can, about how we are applying the standards across different DTAs.

The hon. Gentleman asked about transparency and how the arrangement can be scrutinised. The signed agreement was published on the Government website and a ministerial statement was made to that effect on 17 October 2019, which gives MPs the opportunity to make representations. The Government do not consult generally on the content of DTAs, because they are the product of bilateral negotiations that deal with a vast range of complex issues. They are not really suitable for open negotiation, but we have been as transparent as we would expect to be, and as everyone would expect us to be, on that matter.

The hon. Gentleman’s third point was about the UK’s observer status at ECOFIN. I do not have any further information on that; that will be a supplement to the first point in the letter that I write to him. I am aware of the Cayman Islands blacklisting last Monday or Tuesday and the Financial Action Task Force rulings, which we take seriously. I will write to him to give him clarity on that matter, rather than waffle on any further. I hope that that gives him some satisfaction, and that the Committee will approve the order.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Laurence Robertson

Campbell, Sir Alan (Tynemouth) (Lab)

† Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)

† Eshalomi, Florence (Vauxhall) (Lab/Co-op)

† Farris, Laura (Newbury) (Con)

† Gibson, Peter (Darlington) (Con)

† Grant, Mrs Helen (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con)

† Griffith, Andrew (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)

† Henderson, Gordon (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con)

† Henry, Darren (Broxtowe) (Con)

† Loder, Chris (West Dorset) (Con)

McKinnell, Catherine (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab)

† McMorrin, Anna (Cardiff North) (Lab)

McGovern, Alison (Wirral South) (Lab)

Morris, Grahame (Easington) (Lab)

† Russell, Dean (Watford) (Con)

† Selous, Andrew (Second Church Estates Commissioner)

† Tami, Mark (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)

Charlotte Swift, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 25 February 2020

[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure

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I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure (HC 299).

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. The Measure was laid before the House on 4 November 2019. To some colleagues, this might seem a slightly unusual format for a Delegated Legislation Committee. I should explain that the Measure has been through the Ecclesiastical Committee, which is composed of Members of both Houses, is cross-party and is chaired by Baroness Butler-Sloss. That Committee went through the Measure in considerable detail on 29 October, and the House of Lords did the same on 30 January—I have the reports of both sets of scrutiny with me today. I therefore hope that we can deal with the Measure reasonably expeditiously.

Although the provisions contained in the Measure are miscellaneous, they are nevertheless important, so I will go through the Measure section by section. Section 1 enables members of religious communities to be ordained and to be licensed to serve in their community as a deacon or a priest.

Section 2 implements a recommendation from Dame Moira Gibb’s report following her review of the Church of England’s response to the horrendous abuse committed by Bishop Peter Ball. One of the report’s recommendations was the introduction of a national register of clergy with permission to officiate. That recommendation has been further developed, and section 2 will now require that there be a national ministry register. Every clerk in holy orders who has the authority to exercise ministry in the Church of England will have to be included in the register. There is also provision for the creation of a register of licensed lay people. Bishops will be required to provide details to the Archbishops’ Council on a regular basis, so that the national registers are kept up to date. A form of the register that omits personal contact information will be published by the council and will be accessible to the public free of charge.

Section 3 enables deaconesses, readers and lay workers to provide funeral ministry on a similar basis to the clergy. They will be able to do so at the request of the family or friends of the deceased, having informed and sought the good will of the deceased’s incumbent. The deaconess, reader or lay worker must also be authorised by the bishop to conduct funerals and have the consent of the incumbent of the parish to which they are licensed.

Section 4 makes provision for cases in ecclesiastical courts dealing with the care of churches where a party is unable to pay the court fees. Secular courts already have a statutory power to grant waivers of court fees for those who are of limited means, and the ecclesiastical courts will be able to do the same.

Sections 5 and 6 are concerned with cathedrals. Section 5 makes it possible for the Cathedrals Fabric Commission or a fabric advisory committee to vary an approval for works that it has previously granted, which should avoid the need for a cathedral to restart the application process where proposals need to be revised. It also allows for proposals to be revoked and provides a right of appeal.

Section 6 makes it easier to build on disused burial grounds belonging to cathedrals, provided that there is no objection from a relative of anyone buried in the land in question during the past 50 years. It provides a definition of “relative” for this purpose and for the purpose of equivalent legislation relating to churchyards.

Section 7 amends the legislation relating to the inspection of churches to make it clear that the inspector appointed under the legislation is appointed by the parochial church council and is responsible to that body. Before appointing an inspector, a parochial church council will have to obtain and have regard to advice from the diocesan advisory committee, but diocesan advisory committees will no longer have approved lists of inspecting architects. Instead, the committee will advise whether a particular professional has the necessary qualifications and experience to inspect the church in question. There will be statutory guidance from the Church Buildings Council on the appointment and work of inspectors.

Sections 8 and 9 deal with parochial registers and records, taking account of registers of church services that are kept in electronic form and clarifying the meaning of “records” so that the right things, such as the written records, facts and events, and not the wrong things, such as photographs or lists of incumbents fixed to a church wall, are deposited in county record offices.

Section 10 allows the Cathedrals Fabric Commission to delegate its functions to its officers. Section 11 places limits on the length of successive terms of office on diocesan advisory committees. Section 12 removes a technical legal problem where a diocesan board of finance grants a lease to a parochial church council. Section 13 clarifies where responsibility rests for the payment of pensions in respect of service after 1997.

Section 14 replaces various outdated terms in the constitution of the General Synod; among other changes, “Chairman” formally becomes “Chair”. Section 15 corrects some stray cross-references in the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011. Section 16 provides for the short title of the Measure, its commencement and its extent.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. The good news is that Labour is supportive of this Measure, so we will not detain the Committee long. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I see that is a popular approach.

The only point of clarification is in respect of section 13, which deals with pensions provision. Regarding those changes, and where liability does or does not lie, or where the change is effective, I wonder whether there was consultation on those points with the clergy who have been affected by them.

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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. Section 13 amends section 11 of the 2018 Measure to make it clear that although the commissioners are not responsible for paying pensions in respect of service carried out after 1997, they are liable for making contributions into the fund out of which the board must pay pensions in respect of such service. I reassure him that, as far as the clergy are concerned, their pensions will carry on under the same terms and conditions of service as they were before and after 1997; it is just a question of who is responsible. After 1997, diocesan boards of finance have a significant additional responsibility alongside the Church Commissioners. All these matters were fully discussed with the clergy before they came before this Committee. I hope that is helpful to the right hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.