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Written Statements

Volume 676: debated on Tuesday 2 June 2020

Written Statements

Tuesday 2 June 2020

Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body

Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act: Documents Required

I wish to inform the House regarding certain documents that have been agreed by virtue of the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019 (“the Act”).

On 8 April the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body was established as a corporate body by section 2 of the Act with overall responsibility for the parliamentary building works. As required by section 3 of the Act, the Sponsor Body established the R and R Delivery Authority to carry out the works.

Section 4 of the Act requires the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority to enter into a programme delivery agreement (PDA) regarding the arrangements for the definition, development and delivery of the works. The PDA was approved by the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority Boards on 18 May and it will be reviewed after six months.

Section 5 of the Act requires the Sponsor Body to prepare a strategy for consulting Members of both Houses in relation to the works, which must be published by 3 June. The Sponsor Body Board approved the strategy on 23 April and the Commissions of both Houses took note of the strategy in May. The Act requires the strategy to be kept under review with subsequent versions published accordingly.

Section 6 of the Act requires the Corporate Officers of both Houses to enter into a parliamentary relationship agreement (PRA) with the Sponsor Body. The PRA sets out the arrangements for how both Houses and the Sponsor Body will work together during the works, including their respective roles and responsibilities, and what they should expect of each other across a wide range of areas. The Commissions of both Houses and the Sponsor Body Board approved the PRA in April and it will be reviewed after six months.

Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questionsanswers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2020-06-02/HCWS254/ .

[HCWS254]

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Historic Royal Palaces: Contingent Liabilities

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 Minister concerned:

To present a departmental Minute to Parliament, 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 the cases of special urgency.

The departmental Minute I lay today is in respect of two matters:

First, to provide the House with notice that Historic Royal Palaces’ previously approved £4 million overdraft facility, whereby Government act as a guarantor, has now been called upon and thus the guarantee has been activated as a result of COVID-19.

Secondly, to provide the House with retrospective notice of a new contingent liability of up to £20.8 million created by my Department. This is in relation to a new borrowing facility of up to £26 million for Historic Royal Palaces whereby Government provides the lender with a guarantee of 80% against the outstanding balance of the finance.

Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) is a charity established by Royal Charter. By virtue of a contract entered into on 1 April 1998, it carries out the functions of the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport under Section 21 of the Crown Lands Act 1851 of managing the unoccupied Royal Palaces.

The £4 million guarantee was originally placed in 2002 and was intended to safeguard HRP’s business from a sudden and serious decline in economic conditions affecting HRP’s admissions income. Since that date, the guarantee has been extended on a rolling basis. Following the laying of a departmental Minute and written ministerial statement by the then Heritage Minister on 15 September 2016, the £4 million guarantee was last renewed for a period of five years.

As a result of covid-19, HRP closed all of the palaces in its care on 20 March 2020. As HRP receive no grant-in-aid from Government and are entirely dependent on admissions, visitor related spend and events, they have therefore lost their main sources of income. While HRP currently have reserves of c.£33 million, the use of these reserves before they mature would not be cost effective and lead to financial penalties being incurred. The £4 million overdraft facility with Barclays Bank has therefore been put in place to meet their immediate cash flow requirements in April and thus the £4 million guarantee has been activated.

HRP expects that the current crisis will exhaust all of their reserves within the current financial year. The new guaranteed borrowing facility of up to an additional £26 million will enable HRP to allow their reserves to mature and invest in the business. The guarantee will be available for a period of two years and HRP will only enter into borrowing facilities at such times and within such monetary limits as the Department shall agree.

HRP’s cash flow estimates showed that by the end of May they would have exhausted the existing £4 million overdraft facility and be in urgent need of c.£1.4 million to make payments due.

Therefore, due to the urgency involved, the Department has authorised HRP to immediately draw down £4 million from the additional £26 million facility to meet HRP’s immediate cashflow needs.

I am placing today a copy of the departmental Minute in the Library of the House.

Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament. uk/business/publications/written-questionsanswers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2020-06-02/HCWS256/.

[HCWS256]

Education

Reopening Schools

This week, we have been able to take the first, cautious step towards getting children and young people back in education. In line with many other countries this is being done with a phased approach. As the Prime Minister confirmed on 28 May, the Government’s five tests are being met and all nations in the UK are beginning to ease the lockdown restrictions.

Based on all the evidence, in England this means that nurseries and other early years providers, including childminders, are now able to welcome back children of all ages. Primary schools are able to welcome back pupils in reception, year 1 and year 6, in smaller class sizes, alongside children of critical workers and vulnerable children of all ages who will continue to be able to attend.

We recognise that schools and nurseries need time to plan and to implement the strict protective measures we have asked them to put in place. We are continuing to work with the sector to ensure any schools experiencing difficulties are supported to welcome more children and young people back as soon as possible.

From 15 June, secondary schools and further education providers are being asked to provide face-to-face support for years 10 and 12, and 16-to-19 learners in the first year of a two-year study programme, who are due to take key exams next year. This support will supplement their remote education, which will continue to be their main method of education during this term. As the scientific evidence indicates numbers need to continue to be limited, we are asking that only a quarter of this cohort should attend at any one time to limit the risk of transmission. Children of critical workers and vulnerable children in all year groups will continue to be able to attend full time.

The Department for Education has published detailed guidance for settings on how to prepare.

We continue to follow the best scientific advice and believe that this cautious, phased return is the most sensible course of action to take. As the Prime Minister has set out, the Government will continue to monitor the rate of transmission carefully and will not hesitate to reintroduce restrictions on a local or regional basis if required.

I continue to be immensely grateful for the response of all those in working in education, childcare and children’s social care during this challenging time.

[HCWS258]

Higher Education Stabilisation Package Draft Regulations

On 4 May 2020, the Secretary of State for Education (Gavin Williamson) announced a package of measures to protect students and higher education providers, in response to the coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic. This package was designed to stabilise university finances, including tuition fee income resulting from admissions, and to support our world-class higher education system to continue to deliver for all students and the wider economy.

One of the measures announced was temporary student number controls (SNCs) designed to prevent recruitment by providers taking a form which would be against the interests of students and the sector, yet still allow students who want to go to university, and meet their entry requirements, to access higher education.

I announced on 4 May that SNCs would be linked to the student finance system. I can confirm that I will be laying draft regulations before Parliament which provide that, where an SNC is exceeded in academic year 2020-21, providers in England which are subject to a tuition fee limit will have that limit reduced in the subsequent academic year. In the case of institutions in the devolved administrations which attract student loans for students from England, the maximum loan amount will be reduced in academic year 2021-22 where they exceed their SNC in academic year 2020-21.

These number controls are a response to the financial threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic. They aim to prevent large swings in the number of students between providers, with much higher levels of recruitment at some providers potentially leaving others in financial difficulty. They also aim to prevent recruitment practices which are against students’ best interests because they may encourage them to accept an offer from a provider that is not best suited to their needs.

On 1 June we published a policy statement setting out the detail of the SNCs. These will allow higher education providers to recruit, without the financial consequences referred to above, fulltime, undergraduate, UK-EU domiciled students (with certain exemptions) up to a set level, based on 2019-20 numbers and provider growth forecasts, and which allow additional growth of up to 5% in the next academic year.

In addition, providers can also apply for additional places, following the process set out in the policy statement. The Government will allocate an additional 10,000 places for strategically important subjects, with 5,000 of these ring-fenced for nursing, midwifery or allied health courses to support the country’s vital public services.

In the event that a provider does not abide by its student number controls, the Government will address the consequences for the stability and the sustainability of the higher education sector by reducing the sums available to the provider through the student finance system in the subsequent academic year. This will be through the introduction of lower fee limits in the academic year from 1 August 2021 for providers that recruit more students than their individual SNCs. Maximum tuition fee loan amounts available to English-domiciled students starting full-time courses at institutions in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales are also reduced in the same circumstances.

The Government therefore intend to lay draft regulations (the higher education (fee limits and student support) (England) (coronavirus) regulations 2020) before Parliament for their approval. These regulations will amend the legislation which prescribes tuition fee limits and tuition fee loan amounts.

These SNCs are in the best interests of the financial health of the higher education sector overall, and will help to ensure we can continue to look after the best interests of students, allowing them make well-informed choices that give them the best prospects for success in their lives and careers.

[HCWS252]

Health and Social Care

NHS Test and Trace

On 28 May the NHS Test And Trace service was introduced across England. This forms a central part of the Government’s covid-19 recovery strategy to help as many people as possible return to life as close to normal as possible, in a way that is safe and protects our NHS and social care.

The objective of the NHS Test And Trace service is to push down and keep low the rate of reproduction (R) of covid-19 and reduce the total number of infected people by catching cases before they spread the virus. It brings together testing, contact tracing and outbreak management into an end-to-end service.

The roll-out of the NHS Test And Trace service has been made possible by the rapid expansion of testing. The largest network of diagnostic testing facilities in British history has been created and now has the capacity to carry out 200,000 tests a day. This includes 50 drive-through sites, more than 100 mobile testing units and three mega laboratories. Everyone in England is now eligible for a test if they have covid-19 symptoms. These symptoms are: a new, continuous cough; or a high temperature; or a loss of, or change in, normal sense of smell or taste.

The NHS Test And Trace service uses a combination of 25,000 dedicated contact tracing staff, local public health experts and an online service to trace the contacts of anyone who tests positive for covid-19. The NHS covid-19 app, which will further extend the speed and reach of contact tracing, will be rolled out nationally in the coming weeks as part of the NHS Test And Trace service.

On 22 May we announced £300 million of new funding for local authorities in England to work with NHS Test And Trace to develop local outbreak control plans. These plans will focus on identifying and containing potential outbreaks in places such as workplaces, housing complexes, care homes and schools, ensuring testing capacity is deployed effectively and helping vulnerable people who are self-isolating access essential services in their area.

Anyone who tests positive for coronavirus is contacted by NHS Test and Trace and asked to share information about their recent interactions. This could include household members and people with whom they have been in direct contact or within 2 metres for more than 15 minutes. People identified as having been in close contact with someone who has had a positive test must stay at home for 14 days, even if they do not have symptoms, to stop unknowingly spreading the virus.

Those who need to self-isolate will be informed about local support networks if they need practical, social or emotional support. They will also have access to the same financial support available to those who have to self-isolate because they or another member of their household have symptoms or have tested positive for covid-19. This includes access to statutory sick pay, subject to normal eligibility conditions.

The public will have a key role to play in making this service a success. They will need to report covid-19 symptoms, book tests, help to identify recent close contacts, and self-isolate for at least seven days if they have covid-19, and for 14 days after they were in contact with the person who tested positive for covid-19 if they are identified as a close contact by NHS Test and Trace.

We have put in place a comprehensive media campaign to increase public awareness of the NHS Test and Trace service, what it is, why it is important and what the public need to do. This includes TV, radio, video on demand, posters, digital display and social media.

We are working closely with the devolved Administrations and public health agencies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure an aligned approach to testing and tracing across the United Kingdom where possible.

[HCWS255]

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendments) (No.3) Regulations

On 26 March 2020, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 came into force, imposing restrictions on people’s movements and gatherings, and requiring the closure of certain retail and public premises, in the interest of public health in light of the coronavirus pandemic. A review of these regulations must take place at least every 21 days to ensure the restrictions remain necessary. I completed the third review as required on 28 May 2020.

Taking into account scientific advice and taking into consideration the Government’s assessment against the five conditions required for change, we can proceed with some limited and cautious amendments to the regulations to ease the restrictions as announced by the Prime Minister on 28 May 2020.

The changes coming into effect include allowing for increased social contact outdoors (both public and private places) in groups of up to six people from different households and opening some outdoor retail (e.g. vehicle showrooms and outdoor markets). Those from different households should continue strictly to observe social distancing guidance.

In order to provide greater clarity and certainty to the public, businesses and police, we are confirming in law what people cannot do rather than the reasons for which someone can leave the home.

The changes generally follow the principle that outdoor environments, while not zero-risk, have a lower risk of transmission than indoor.

Additionally, to ensure that we are making future decisions about the lockdown at the right time, the maximum review period will change from 21 days to 28 days. This will allow decisions to align more closely with the period of time necessary to assess the impact of previous changes on key data feeds, including the R rate. The Government will also keep all the measures under continual review and will account to Parliament on an ongoing basis.

Publicly available Government guidance on www.gov.uk is being updated to ensure it fully corresponds with the amended regulations. These remain strict measures, but they are measures that we must take in order to protect our NHS and to save lives.

[HCWS253]

Housing, Communities and Local Government

Grenfell Tower: Phase 1 Report Next Steps

On 30 October 2019 phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower inquiry, which focused on how the fire started and spread and the emergency response, concluded with the publication of the phase 1 report. In January 2020 the Government reaffirmed the acceptance, first given on the day of publication, to accept in principle all the recommendations that Sir Martin Moore-Bick made for central Government in that report.

Six months on from the publication of the Government response to the phase 1 report, I would like to update Parliament on Government progress at turning our commitments into real and lasting change to building and fire safety.

The Grenfell fire was an unimaginable tragedy that must never be allowed to happen again. Even in these unprecedented times, the Government commitment to implementing the inquiry’s recommendations, as a priority, remains unchanged. As does the Government commitment to ensuring those most affected, the bereaved and survivors—who have displayed such remarkable courage, resilience and dignity—continue to be engaged in discussions about policy development.

Ban on the use of combustible materials

The inquiry’s report was clear that the use of aluminium composite material (ACM) rainscreen cladding and combustible insulation on the exterior of the tower was the defining factor in the rapid spread of the fire. The Government introduced regulations in December 2018 that banned the use of combustible materials in and on the external walls of specific types of new high-rise buildings. A public consultation was held between January and May 2020, to further explore and refine the scope of that ban, including a proposal to ban the use of ACM with unmodified polyethylene core and similar materials on all buildings in England. We are analysing feedback and will be publishing a response in due course.

Remediation

Since the Grenfell Tower fire, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the Home Office (HO) have identified over 450 buildings with unsafe ACM cladding, and we have worked with local authorities and fire and rescue authorities to ensure that appropriate interim safety measures are in place, while these buildings undergo remediation.

In March this year the Government announced that they will provide £1 billion to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe non-ACM cladding systems. This is in addition to the £600 million which Government have made available for remediation of the highest risk ACM cladding. The prospectus for this fund was launched last month and sets out the buildings and non-ACM cladding systems that are eligible for funding; and registration is now open for potential applicants, in advance of the full application process opening by the end of July 2020. More information on the fund prospectus can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/remediation-of-non-acm-buildings#prospectus%E2%80%94outlining-eligibility-for-the-fund.

This fund will meet the cost of remediating unsafe non-ACM cladding systems where building owners or other entities legally responsible for making buildings safe, are unable to do so. Government are also providing additional, specialist project management capability to building owners or managing agents to speed up the development and implementation of building plans.

The fire protection board

The Government have also established a fire protection board, chaired by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), to provide greater assurance to central Government of fire and rescue service protection activity. The board is leading a building risk review programme, supported by Government funding to ensure that all high-rise residential buildings of 18 metres or above are inspected or reviewed by the end of 2021. We are also using a proportion of the additional £20 million secured for fire and rescue services in the recent Budget to further support an uplift in protection capability.

Stay put

At the end of last year, a joint HO and MHCLG steering group was set up to support a technical review of stay put. There are three strands to this work: an evidence review, assessing academic evidence on methods of evacuation; operational research to test evacuation strategies; and building design research. The first stage of this work has been commissioned and is underway while preliminary work is being carried out on the other strands.

Building safety

At the heart of the Government radical reforms of building safety is the new building safety regulator, which we are establishing within the Health and Safety Executive. The Government set out plans in our response to the “Building a Safer Future” consultation for the biggest change in building safety for a generation.

The new regulator will be responsible for implementing and enforcing a more stringent regulatory regime for higher-risk buildings, as well as providing wider and stronger oversight of safety and performance across all buildings and increasing the competence of those working on building safety. This work complements the establishment of a new construction products regulatory role to strengthen national oversight and effectively enforce the new regulatory regime.

The Government will soon be publishing the draft Building Safety Bill for scrutiny before it is introduced in Parliament. This Bill will put in place this new and enhanced regulatory regimes for building safety and construction products, and ensure residents have a stronger voice.

In April, the Government published a workplan detailing the next steps for the wider review of approved document B, following the technical review that was started in December 2018. Research will be carried out in areas such as means of escape, compartmentation and toxicity. This work will build on the changes we have published in an update to approved document B last month, so that sprinklers and wayfinding signage will be provided in all new blocks of flats above 11 metres. The Government are also working with the NFCC on further tests of evacuation with a view to including guidance on provision of these systems in a later update to approved document B.

Fire Safety Bill

The inquiry’s phase 1 report also called for new duties on building owners and managers to share technical information with fire and rescue services and undertake regular inspections of flat entrance doors. It is our intention to take forward these recommendations for existing buildings under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 underpinned by the changes being introduced through the Fire Safety Bill.

The Fire Safety Bill, which was introduced in March and received cross-party support, clarifies that the scope of the Fire Safety Order covers external walls, including cladding and balconies, and flat entrance doors in multi-occupied residential buildings. It provides a firm foundation upon which to bring forward secondary legislation to implement the recommendations that require further changes to the law. The Bill is a significant further step to ensure better identification and management of fire safety risks in such buildings.

It is important that the Government response to the inquiry’s recommendations has the support of those with experience in these matters, and those most affected by them. To ensure their views inform our response, a public consultation will be issued soon setting out the Government’s proposed approach to the remaining recommendations that call for legislative change.

Fire and rescue services

Many of the recommendations within the inquiry’s phase 1 report were directed at non-Government organisations that are equally committed to the reforms. The report was clear that the London Fire Brigade (LFB) must learn and change to restore public confidence. Our request for regular progress reports from the LFB setting out how it is translating the recommendations into action are a key part of retaining focus and momentum on the need for change.

There remains much to do, but the HO is already seeing a commitment to revised policy and procedures backed up by the use of better equipment and technology to support high-rise fire-fighting and fire-fighting in London more broadly. The pandemic has created many challenges, but it has not affected the LFB’s commitment to implementing the inquiry’s phase 1 recommendations.

It is important that the lessons from Grenfell are learned beyond London. This is why the NFCC is working to ensure that the phase 1 recommendations are implemented across all fire and rescue services. The HO is working closely with the NFCC on an improvement plan to help it drive real change across the sector.

In the three years since the Grenfell Tower fire, the Government have remained steadfast in its commitment to driving forward both cultural and legislative change so that no such tragedy can ever be allowed to happen again. Through implementation of the reforms highlighted in this statement, and wider work of Government and our stakeholders, we will move from the conditions that allowed a tragedy like the fire at Grenfell Tower to occur almost three years ago, to a system which ensures developers and building owners demonstrate greater responsibility for the safety of residents and which allows local authorities and fire and rescue authorities to enforce this. The Government are firmly committed to ensuring all residents are safe in their homes, now and in the future.

[HCWS257]

Justice

Prison and Probation Service: Roadmap to Recovery (Covid-19)

I am today announcing the Government’s plans for how Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service will start to recover from the impact of covid-19.

I want to first pay tribute to the hard-working staff across the country who have continued to deliver essential services in spite of the virus. They have been striving tirelessly to make sure those in their care are safe and the public is protected.

The Government have introduced strong measures to save lives and protect the NHS, including reducing face-to-face interactions in both prison and probation, minimising transfers between establishments, shielding the vulnerable, quarantining new entrants to prison and making greater use of technology to enable family contact and supervise offenders in the community.

As a result of the success of these measures, we are formulating plans for how these restrictions can be cautiously rolled back over the coming weeks and months. This will happen within overarching frameworks for prisons and probation which have been published today. These decisions will be guided by public health advice and the best available data.

In prisons there will not be a simple easing of restrictions across the estate but national guidance will ensure there is consistency in decision making by governors. That means establishments will progress at their own speed, taking full account of their specific circumstances.

We know it will not be a straightforward return to normality. As the Prime Minister has set out, the whole country now needs to prepare for an extended period of living with and managing the threat from the virus.

But over the coming weeks and months, we will restart aspects of daily prison life, such as social visits, education and work, and face-to-face probation supervision, including unpaid work and accredited programmes, with adaptations where necessary to ensure safety.

We will continue to closely monitor the situation, and only proceed once it is safe to do so. Should restrictions need to be re-imposed to ensure the safety of staff and those in our care we will not hesitate to do this.

During this time, we will continue with measures such as providing additional temporary accommodation, and making careful use of our end of custody temporary release powers, to ensure we are able to manage the possibility of any future outbreaks.

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