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Written Statements

Volume 675: debated on Wednesday 29 April 2020

Written Statements

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Cabinet Office

Digital Identity and gov.uk Verify Programme

I would like to update the House on the gov.uk Verify programme and the provision of digital identity services to Government, following the written ministerial statement of 9 October 2018, Official Report, col. 3WS, by the former Minister for Implementation, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden), CBE.

As you will know, the coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic has led to unprecedented demand for key online services using digital identity such as universal credit. In this light, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has given approval to the Cabinet Office to continue gov.uk Verify operations for up to a further 18 months.

The Government have also taken steps to bolster the resilience of the service which is facing an unprecedented level of usage.

During this time the Government will continue to update the House on our broader work as it progresses

[HCWS217]

Contingent Liability: Ventilator Capacity

During the course of the coronavirus outbreak, the Government’s strategy to increase ventilator capacity has focused on procuring more devices from existing manufacturers overseas, scaling up production of existing ventilator suppliers, and working with industry to design and manufacture new devices.

The ventilator challenge was launched in March. At present, two devices from the ventilator challenge are ready for use in hospitals, with the Penlon ESO2 device becoming the first newly adapted device to receive approval for use during the pandemic from the regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). A number of other devices are currently undergoing tests for regulatory approval.

Given the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic, Cabinet Office has given indemnities both against IP infringement, in respect of the designs, and against product liability claims against the manufacturers of rapidly manufactured ventilator system (RMVS) products.

It is normal practice, when a Government Department proposes to undertake a contingent liability in excess of £300,000 for which there is no specific statutory authority, for the Department concerned to present to Parliament a minute giving particulars of the liability created and explaining the circumstances; and to refrain from incurring the liability until 14 parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the minute, except in cases of special urgency.

Unfortunately, due to the urgent need to finalise the deal and the confidential commercial nature of the negotiations, it was not possible to notify Parliament of the particulars of the liability and allow the required 14 days’ notice prior to the liabilities going live. A delay would have resulted in an unacceptable delay in lifesaving equipment being provided to the NHS.

The precise commercial terms which have been negotiated for each supplier are, and will remain, commercially confidential. While it is difficult to estimate the potential liability exposure, it could exceed £300,000. For this reason, I am informing Parliament of these arrangements.

On this basis, I have today laid before Parliament a departmental minute setting out what these indemnities are.

The Treasury approved these liabilities before they were activated. However, if any Member of Parliament has concerns, he/she may write to me and I will be happy to examine their concerns and provide a response.

The Departmental Minute (Departmental Minute-Notification of Contingent Liability.pdf) can be viewed online at: https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications /written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2020-04-29/HCWS216/.

[HCWS216]

Treasury

Bilateral Loan to Ireland

I would like to update Parliament on the loan to Ireland.

In December 2010, the UK agreed to provide a bilateral loan of £3.2 billion as part of a €67.5 billion international assistance package for Ireland. The loan was disbursed in eight tranches, and the final tranche was drawn down on 26 September 2013. Ireland has made interest payments on the loan every six months since the first disbursement.

HM Treasury has today provided a further report to Parliament in relation to the loan as required under the Loans to Ireland Act 2010. The report relates to the period from 1 October 2019 to 31 March 2020. It reports fully on the one principal repayment and one regular interest payment received by HM Treasury during this period, and sets out details of future payments up to the final repayment on 26 March 2021.

HM Treasury received a further payment on 20 April 2020, after the scope of the report published today. In line with the agreed repayment schedule, HM Treasury received a total payment of £406,672,904.07 from Ireland. This comprises the repayment of £403,370,000 in principal and £3,302,904.07 in accrued interest. The total outstanding principal on the loan is £1,613,480,000, and the Government continue to expect the loan to be repaid in full and on time.

A written ministerial statement on the previous statutory report regarding the loan to Ireland was issued to Parliament on 3 October 2019, w, column 62WS.

[HCWSD219]

Coronavirus-related Activities: Statutory Residence Test

The Government warmly welcome the expertise and resources offered by those who wish to come to the UK to combat the coronavirus, from anaesthetists through to engineers working on ventilator design and production.

However, the actions and presence of these individuals in the UK could inadvertently and unfairly affect their own tax residence status, and potentially deter others from giving their assistance.

Accordingly, the Government will legislate in Finance Bill 2020 to amend the statutory residence test (SRT) to ensure that any period(s) between 1 March and 1 June 2020 spent in the UK by individuals working on coronavirus disease-related activities in specified sectors will not count towards the residence test.

[HCWS218]

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Maximum Sustainability Yield: UK-relevant Quota Stock Species

I would like to update the House today on a change to the number of total allowable catch limits (TACs) for quota stock that the UK has an interest in that will be fished at or below their maximum sustainable yield in 2020.

Analysing the UK’s progress towards delivering sustainable fisheries management including fishing at MSY is complex. This is because few total allowable catch (TAC) spatial management areas directly overlap with their corresponding International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) biological stock advice areas, with examples of both pooled TACs comprising elements of multiple biological stocks, and other biological stocks being split across TAC areas.

Noting these complexities, and in partnership with our scientific advisers at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), we have now reviewed the outputs from the fisheries negotiations for 2020. In doing so we have identified some corrections need to be made to the number of TACs at MSY that the UK has a fishing interest in for 2020. With these adjustments—a change related to one stock—accounted for, the UK had 36 (67%) TACS set at MSY out of a total of 54 TACs derived from stocks with MSY assessments in 2020. These figures are different from the figures previously communicated for 2020 i.e. 37 (69%) TACs set at MSY out of a total of 54. The figures for 2019 are unchanged: 30 (59%) TACs set at MSY out of a total of 51 TACs derived from stocks with MSY assessments in 2019.

As we have left the EU and the common fisheries policy, the UK Government will undertake a further forward-looking review of the methodology applied to assess the sustainability of fishing opportunities. In doing so we will seek the views of stakeholders. The new methodology will inform our negotiations for fishing opportunities in 2021 and will represent a fresh and transparent new approach to assessing outcomes on TAC setting including in relation to MSY that will reflect our objectives for delivering sustainable fisheries as an independent coastal state.

[HCWS213]

Health and Social Care

Ministerial Correction

My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation (Lord Bethell of Romford) has today made the following written ministerial statement:

I would like to inform the House that a written answer I gave on 15 April to the noble Lord Sharkey contained information that was out of date at the time of answering. I wish to correct the formal record.

In my reply, I stated that information on the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s (NICE) methods review was not yet available. However, information had been shared by NICE that updates my answer as it originally stood, therefore, making the information provided on 15 April out of date.

The updated position is that NICE has considered its ability to carry out and complete the methods and process update and has decided to extend the timelines. NICE now plans to hold a six-week public consultation on proposals in October 2020 and a further consultation on a draft programme manual in February 2021, with implementation in June 2021.

[HCWS215]

Home Department

Covid-19: Misuse of Drugs Regulations

Today, the Government are laying the Misuse of Drugs (Coronavirus) (Amendments Relating to the Supply of Controlled Drugs During a Pandemic etc.) Regulations 2020 (“the 2020 regulations”) in the House.

These regulations enable emergency supply of controlled drugs during a pandemic and will come into force on 30 April 2020.

The instrument amends the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 (“the 2001 regulations”) in order to allow pharmacists at a registered pharmacy business to supply, in a pandemic situation, medicines without a prescription, where the patient has been receiving a schedule 2, 3 or part 1 schedule 4 controlled drug as part of ongoing treatment, and to supply schedule 2, 3 or part 1 schedule 4 controlled drugs under a serious shortage protocol. The amendments also allow pharmacists, in a pandemic situation, to change the intervals on instalment prescriptions for schedule 2 and 3 controlled drugs without the immediate need for a new prescription from an authorised prescriber under the 2001 regulations, with the approval of the prescriber or their appointed representative.

The amendments are enabling and would only be used in limited circumstances following an announcement by the Secretary of State and under conditions specified by the health service in the area(s) to which the announcement applies.

On 1 April 2020, I wrote to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), to set out the proposed measures and to seek its advice. The ACMD provided its advice on 7 April, and this is available at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/acmd-advice-on-covid-19-emergency-legislation-to-enable-supply-of-controlled-drugs.

I have considered the ACMD advice carefully, consulted with the Department of Health and Social Care, and agreed to all the recommendations. Further explanation of the legislative changes is set out in the explanatory memorandum attached to the 2020 regulations.

[HCWS214]

Housing, Communities and Local Government

Local Government Finance

I wish to set out to the House the financial support my Department has provided to local government so that it can fulfil its essential role in the national response to covid-19.

Additional Funding

In total I have announced over £3.2 billion of additional funding for councils to support their continued efforts to address the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in their communities, both through increased expenditure and those budgetary pressures that arise from falls in income during the lockdown period.

Recognising that councils are best placed to decide how to meet pressures in their local area, this funding has not been ring-fenced; however, we expect councils to prioritise spending in those areas where we asked them to carry out extra work and new tasks, in particular, in relation to adult social care, children’s services, public health services, shielding the vulnerable, homelessness and rough sleeping, supporting the NHS, and managing excess deaths.

An initial £1.6 billion of funding was announced on 19 March, and allocated based on a mixture of the adult social care relative needs formula; and the 2013-14 settlement funding assessment, which is a measure of general service needs, both of which are familiar formulations to local councils. Further details of this allocation, broken down by individual local authority, can be found on the Government website.

On 18 April I announced a further £1.6 billion to support councils in their continued response to the pandemic. Full details of the allocation of this further funding were announced on 28 April 2020 and have, once again, been made available on the Government website. These additional allocations have been made on a per capita basis, using the latest ONS population projections. This reflects that this is a national emergency and there are a range of pressures across local government. For two-tier areas, the split of this funding between county and district authorities will be 65:35. This provides significantly more funding to district councils than the first round of allocations reflecting the impact that a reduction in incomes from sales, fees and charges has had, particularly on these councils. However, this formulation also continues to reflect the acute pressures on social care.

Of the additional funding, £28.5 million will support stand-alone fire and rescue authorities (including Greater Manchester Fire). In addition, the Home Office will launch a £6 million Fire Covid-19 Contingency Fund, specifically to support fire and rescue authorities who incur significant costs as a result of additional duties during the covid-19 outbreak.

Cashflow Support

On 16 April, I announced measures to provide cashflow support to authorities. These were intended in part to mitigate the impact of temporary delays in tax payments. These measures include deferring the payment of the central Government share of business rates by councils: payments collectively worth £2.6 billion; and bringing forward central government payments of social care grants worth £850 million, so that they are paid entirely in April rather than in April, May and June.

Future Reform

I am committed to reforming the funding framework for local government so that it is simpler, more up to date, and more transparent. However, in order to ensure that we get these reforms right, both the Government and councils need to work together to arrive at the right approach. Neither we nor councils currently have the capacity, nor the necessary degree of financial certainty, to engage properly with these reforms now. As such, I have announced that we will be suspending implementation of the review of relative needs and resources and the planned increase to 75% business rates retention in 2021-22. These decisions will allow councils to focus on meeting the immediate public health challenge posed by the pandemic.

The Government will work closely with local councils as it determines how best to treat accumulated business rates growth and the local government finance settlement in 2021-22.

[HCWS220]

Transport

Planning Applications

This statement confirms that it has been necessary to extend the deadlines for decisions on the following five applications made under the Planning Act as indicated below to allow for further work to be carried out before they are determined by the Secretary of State:

Lake Lothing 3rd crossing Lowestoft: for the proposed development by Suffolk County Council of a new multi-span single highway opening bascule bridge over Lake Lothing in Lowestoft. The Secretary of State received the examining authority’s report on 5 September 2019 and the current deadline for a decision was 5 December 2019. The deadline is now extended to 5 May 2020;

West Midlands strategic rail freight interchange: for the proposed development by Four Ashes Limited of a new strategic rail freight interchange and other supporting infrastructure works near junction 12 of the M6 motorway in South Staffordshire district. The Secretary of State received the examining authority’s report on 27 November 2019 and the current deadline for a decision was 27 February 2020. The deadline is now extended to 5 May 2020;

A303 Sparkford to Ilchester Dualling: for the proposed development by Highways England of a continuous dual carriageway on the A303 linking the Podimore bypass and the Sparkford bypass. The Secretary of State received the examining authority’s report on 12 September 2019 and the current deadline for a decision was 12 December 2019. The deadline is now extended to 17 July 2020;

A63 Castle Street improvement—Hull: for the proposed improvement by Highways England of approximately 1.5 km of the A63 and connecting side roads in Hull between Ropery Street and the Market Place/Queen Street junction. The Secretary of State received the examining authority’s report on 24 December 2019 and the current deadline for a decision was 24 March 2020. The deadline is now extended to 31 May 2020; and

A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down: for the proposed construction by Highways England of a new two-lane dual carriageway for the A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down in Wiltshire. The Secretary of State received the examining authority’s report on the A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down development consent order application on 2 January 2020 and the current deadline for a decision was 2 April 2020. The deadline is now extended to 17 July 2020.

Under section 107(1) of the Planning Act 2008, the Secretary of State must make his decision within three months of receipt of the examining authority’s report unless exercising the power under section 107(3) to extend the deadline and make a statement to the House of Parliament announcing the new deadline.

The Department will also endeavour to issue decisions ahead of the deadlines above wherever possible.

The decision to set new deadlines is without prejudice to the decisions on whether to give development consent for the above applications.

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