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General Committees

Debated on Wednesday 9 September 2020

Delegated Legislation Committee

Draft Mobile Homes (Requirement for Manager of Site to be Fit and Proper Person) (England) Regulations 2020

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Philip Hollobone

† Amesbury, Mike (Weaver Vale) (Lab)

† Betts, Mr Clive (Sheffield South East) (Lab)

Brennan, Kevin (Cardiff West) (Lab)

† Brine, Steve (Winchester) (Con)

† Campbell, Sir Alan (Tynemouth) (Lab)

Clark, Feryal (Enfield North) (Lab)

† Clarke-Smith, Brendan (Bassetlaw) (Con)

† Docherty, Leo (Aldershot) (Con)

Elliott, Julie (Sunderland Central) (Lab)

Evans, Chris (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)

† Fletcher, Nick (Don Valley) (Con)

† Gibson, Peter (Darlington) (Con)

† Green, Chris (Bolton West) (Con)

† Jenkinson, Mark (Workington) (Con)

† Jenkyns, Andrea (Morley and Outwood) (Con)

† Johnson, Gareth (Dartford) (Con)

† Tolhurst, Kelly (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Hannah Bryce, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Tenth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 9 September 2020

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Draft Mobile Homes (Requirement for Manager of Site to be Fit and Proper Person) (England) Regulations 2020

Before we begin, I remind hon. Members of the social distancing regulations: spaces available to Members are clearly marked; unmarked spaces must not be occupied. The usual convention of a Government side and an Opposition side is waived on this occasion, so Members may sit anywhere. Hansard colleagues would be grateful if Members sent any speaking notes to hansardnotes@parliament.uk.

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Mobile Homes (Requirement for Manager of Site to be Fit and Proper Person) (England) Regulations 2020.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time since lockdown, Mr Hollobone—I am pleased to be here. The regulations were laid before the House on 8 July. Their purpose is to prohibit the use of land as a residential mobile home site unless the local authority is satisfied that the owner or manager of the site is a fit and proper person to manage it.

The Government are committed to ensuring that all park home residents have a safe, secure and affordable place to live. Park home sites make an extremely valuable contribution to the housing sector. The majority of park owners in England provide well-maintained sites and professional services to their residents, most of whom are elderly and among the most vulnerable people in our society. Sadly, their good work can be overshadowed by the minority of unscrupulous operators in the sector.

A major step towards the effective regulation of the sector was taken in the Mobile Homes Act 2013, and I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) for sponsoring that private Member’s Bill and for his ongoing work on this particular subject. To continue that important work, we carried out a two-part review in 2017. The evidence indicated that although there had been significant improvement in the sector, there were still some examples of serious abuses and exploitation. In some cases, residents were asked to pay £40,000 for a new long-term agreement that should have been given to them free of charge in the first place. Those practices are unjustifiable and unacceptable. The sector must not be allowed to provide rogue site owners with the opportunity to extract ever more cash from those who are on fixed or low incomes.

The case for change, to ensure that those who manage park home sites are fit and proper to do so, is compelling. The fit and proper person requirement would be a useful addition to local authorities’ existing powers to help target the worst offenders in the sector. Good site owners will not be concerned about being unable to meet the required standards; the minority who continue to abuse and exploit residents will have to improve or make way for more professional people to manage the sites.

The regulations will prohibit the use of relevant protected sites as residential mobile home sites unless the site owner or manager has been assessed as a fit and proper person to manage the site by the local authority. A relevant protected site does not include sites operated by local authorities, sites operated for holiday purposes only, or sites that are exempt from requiring a site licence. A relevant protected site that is occupied by members of the same family and is not run as a commercial residential site will be exempt from the requirements.

To manage a site, a site owner will be required to apply to the local authority for the relevant person—themselves or their appointed manager—to be included in the local register of fit and proper persons. In the application, site owners will be required to provide certain mandatory information to enable the local authority to assess the applicant’s suitability for managing sites. That information includes whether the applicant is able to secure the proper management of the site and whether they have committed certain offences or contravened relevant legislation. An up-to-date criminal record certificate will also be needed for the individual being assessed as the fit and proper person and, where applicable, for other individuals responsible for the day-to-day management of the site.

In cases where a company is being assessed as the fit and proper person or a company is responsible for the day-to-day management, a criminal record certificate will be required for the individual with responsibility for the day-to-day management of the site. If that individual is not a company officer, a criminal record certificate will be required for the officer to whom the individual reports, as if the officer was the individual. It is important that local authorities have some flexibility to take account of other factors that might affect a person’s suitability to manage a site. Local authorities will therefore have the discretion to take account of other relevant matters, including the conduct of any associates of the site owner.

The regulations require local authorities to establish and maintain an online register of persons whom they are satisfied are fit and proper persons to manage a site in their area. The register will enable existing residents, prospective purchasers and other local authorities to know who the person managing the site is and whether there are any concerns of which they should be aware. For site owners who do not maintain high standards of conduct and management, a local authority will be able to review their entry on the register and either remove them, attach new conditions or vary an existing condition that is attached to that entry. If the local authority rejects an application or removes a person from the register, the site owner cannot find an alternative fit and proper manager. The local authority will be able to appoint a new manager with the consent of the site owner.

In recognition of the serious abuses that the regulations are designed to tackle, there will be serious penalties for site owners who do not comply with them. The regulations introduce three criminal offences: operating a site in contravention of a fit and proper person requirement; providing false or misleading information in, or withholding information from, an application for inclusion in the register; and failing to comply with a condition of inclusion in the register. If a site owner is convicted of any of the offences under the regulations, they will face an unlimited fine.

The regulations will also enable a local authority to revoke a site licence in certain circumstances. We expect local authorities to revoke a licence only as a last resort, as it could lead to the closure of a site and put residents at risk of homelessness. However, we want to ensure that where it is necessary to revoke a licence, local authorities are able to do so without putting the welfare of residents at any risk. The Government will therefore introduce management orders as part of potentially forthcoming primary legislation. Management orders will give local authorities powers to appoint an interim site manager to take over the management of a site where a site licence might need to be revoked.

Our local authorities are working hard to enforce standards in the park homes sector, so we are mindful of the risks of putting new burdens on them. That is why we have given them the power to charge an application fee and annual fees to cover the cost of their work. We will publish detailed guidance to assist local authorities and site operators to understand their responsibilities under the new legislation.

The changes we are making through the regulations are substantial and build on the improvements that have already been made by the Mobile Homes Act 2013. The changes form part of a comprehensive programme of work that we announced in 2018 to further improve the sector and the lives of park home residents. The regulations are necessary to drive up standards of management and conduct across the park homes sector, and they ensure that residents’ rights are respected. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

May I affirm that it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone? I welcome the new Minister to her place, and I think she will be pleased to know that the Opposition support the measures before the Committee today. I do of course have comments to make, but I am sure people will be mightily pleased when I reaffirm that they will be kept brief.

We welcome this legislation, although it has probably taken several years too many to bring it to the House. That was an inevitable outcome, given the stories of exploitation and harassment experienced by residents of mobile homes and sites, which were pointed out by the Minister in her powerful introduction. Many of them have been documented in contributions from hon. Members across this House over the years.

The Minister will be aware that this legislation presents a huge amount of work for local authorities in dealing with applications and maintaining a register of those whose applications are successful. In order for these changes to work and protect people, local authorities need the funding and resources to deal with the applications and to be able to enforce action in the worst cases. I therefore seek clarity from the Minister about what meaningful support the Government are offering to local authorities to implement these measures and ensure that enforcement does take place in the worst cases.

There may be complex issues where parks are managed by companies or other corporate entities and, if proper support and expertise are not ensured, inconsistent decisions could lead to these well-intentioned regulations being undermined. I look forward to hearing the Minister speak in a little detail about how this will work beyond the simple question of funding.

I know my colleague Lord Kennedy raised this point in the other place, but it is worth getting a response from the Minister in this place. Although mobile home owners are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and harassment, such issues are present across the rental sector. When I inquired in July about the rogue landlord database, I was told by the Department that only 13 landlords had been added to it, despite a previous Government estimate of more than 10,000 rogue landlords operating in the UK.

I do not believe I should have to ask, so will the Government commit to looking at that, especially considering that legislative attention will turn to the private rented sector very soon? It has been more than a year since the Government said they wanted the list to be public, and they will have an opportunity to make it so very soon.

In conclusion, as I noted, these regulations have been a long time coming. Many stakeholders, such as the British Holiday & Home Parks Association, welcome them, as I am sure everyone in Committee does. I want reassurance that the new measures will be properly resourced and I look forward to the Minister’s reply shortly.

I, too, greatly support these regulations, because park homes matter and the people who live in park homes also matter. I warmly welcome the fact that we have got to this point. I have been part of the all-party parliamentary group on park homes since my arrival in this place in 2010, and I, too, pay tribute to the excellent work that our hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) did in 2013 to pass the Mobile Homes Act. It was a landmark moment for the sector, and the fit and proper persons test that we are enacting today is a key moment in that journey.

As the Minister says, that legislation paves the way for the regulations today, but I agree with the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Weaver Vale, that it has taken too long—some seven years—to get from Royal Assent for the Mobile Homes Act to the commencement of section 8, which gives reality to the fit and proper persons test. There are clearly many issues going on in the world and in Parliament today, so some people might question why this is needed; I just have a couple of remarks and a couple of questions.

I have a number of park homes in my constituency. When I talk to hon. Members, I am amazed by how many reel off the list of them in their constituency; we all have them. I have Colden Common, Littleton, Alresford, Oliver’s Battery, Sutton Scotney and Morn Hill. It must be said that the owners of those sites are not what anyone would describe as rogue owners; they are professional and the local authority would back me up on that.

Having worked on the subject for many years and spoken about it in this place many times, I have heard some pretty awful stories of owners abusing their position, residents terrified in their own homes, and family members worried sick for their loved ones. I will share one example with the Committee, which was given to me by the excellent Sonia McColl, who runs the National Park Home Owners Justice campaign and brings huge numbers of people to Committee Room 14, when she is allowed to.

This week, a lady who called the campaign’s helpline left a message to say that she was facing daily demands for cash for site fees and threats of eviction if she did not pay up. The police have shown little interest and if she calls them while the threats are being made, they ask her to put her phone on speakerphone, so they can hear what is being sad. She says that her council will not take any action because it cannot contact the licence holder and the landowner is currently in prison. She ended by saying that she had recently obtained a crowbar, and she will use it if she needs to. Clearly, that is not a happy situation, but it is by no means a one-off according to the helpline. I have heard many stories like that over the years.

People need the regulations to be enacted as soon as possible, because poor practices and unprofessional behaviour have a significant negative impact on the finances and health of residents, many of whom are elderly and on low incomes, and who choose to live in park homes for a little bit of peace as they hit old age or the back nine.

I have a specific point to make about the statutory instrument. I welcome the Minister to her position. I was going to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) on being the Minister finally holding the baby when the music stopped on getting it over the line, but my goodness, he missed it by a couple of hours. She will now be a hero of the park home sector for doing it. I can understand why local authorities have until July 2021 to get their house in order, but with another three months to get the applications in, that means it will be another year, which will be frustrating to residents.

I also have a couple of questions that came to me via my local authority, Winchester City Council. The fit and proper persons test is not just for new owners entering the market of park home owners but for current owners, which is absolutely right. My hope is that rogue owners will see the writing on the wall and change their ways or get out of the game. If they do not, however, and the local authority finds them not fit or proper, what happens to that site and the stability of those who call it home? That will create uncertainty and worry.

What mechanism is there for local authorities to liaise with one another, and how accessible will one local authority’s register be to another authority when assessing an individual? In the same way that police forces in England are separate bodies, but share intelligence to help to keep us safe, what will the sharing mechanism be? What data will local authorities be able to ask for from other statutory bodies? I am thinking about the police and the courts as two clear examples.

In the case from the helpline, I referred to the difference between the licence holder and the site owner, and I am keen to understand how the law will handle that distinction. I think the Minister said that in her opening remarks. Surely the fit and proper person test has to be applied to the site owner and the manager. If that is not done, the fear in the sector is that rogue owners will try to circumnavigate the measure. I am therefore concerned about the and/or approach. I am not asking the Minister to respond to that point, because I think she already has, but I wanted to put that on the record as a concern.

The problems of rogue owners have been out there for many years, but in my experience, local authorities rarely intervene effectively. Do local authorities have a duty to intervene? Do they have the resources and expertise to take on rogue site owners, who are often powerful, wealthy and almost exclusively men?

Finally, where next in the search for justice for park home residents? There are rumours of a park homes Bill during this Parliament, which I think would be very welcome. As the Minister will soon know, there are many issues to be grasped, such as the 10% commission issue, which we still put up with in the park homes sector but would not put up with in any other. That was also considered in the 2013 Act, and it needs careful attention. There are many other issues with park homes, and I am sure that many Members would be keen to get an update on what is next for the sector. I appreciate that the Minister is only a couple of hours into her brief, and she may wish to write to me with answers to some of these questions if she cannot answer them today—I would fully understand that.

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to welcome the Minister to her new role. She has rightly recognised the work that the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) did on his private Member’s Bill, which he successfully introduced into the House with cross-party support. What has probably not been recognised, which is why I am going to speak today, is that the Bill was largely based on recommendations made in a 2012 report of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee. In that report, we looked in great detail at the issue of park homes and the appalling circumstances in which many people, often elderly and vulnerable, were living. It was right that we looked at the issue, and our recommendations were carried through into legislation.

I happen to remember this particular debate about the fit and proper person test, because it was the one area on which the Committee and the Minister did not quite see eye to eye. We had a good discussion about the matter with the Minister at the time, who is now the Transport Secretary—that was quite a few Housing Ministers ago, as Members will probably understand. We made our recommendations and the Minister accepted them, apart from our recommendation about the fit and proper person test. In recommendation 10 of the report, we concluded that such a test could be a useful addition to a local authority’s armoury, in order to exclude the worst offenders from owning and managing park home sites.

We heard some horror stories in that inquiry. The hon. Member for Winchester is absolutely right to describe some of the things that happened, including threats to people—not just financial threats, but on occasion physical threats—trying to extort money out of them, trying to put restrictions on how they could use their homes, and other appalling stories. From our point of view, we certainly heard enough to know that people like that should not be allowed to own or run those sites in future.

However, the Government were not convinced at the time that the test should be introduced. They were “confident”, as we put it in our report, that the other reforms that were going to be introduced would do the job. What we said, therefore, was that there had to be a fall-back if the rest of the reforms in the legislation introduced by the hon. Member for Waveney were insufficient to control all the bad practices.

As a compromise, we recommended that if the Government could not agree to our clear recommendation that the fit and proper person test should be brought in at that time, they should put in the primary legislation an ability to bring in the test through secondary legislation in due course. We suggested that three years after the legislation had been passed, the Government should do a review to see how it was working, and come forward with secondary legislation in the light of that review. That was clearly stated in our 11th recommendation.

That is where we have got to now. I might say that it has taken a bit of time—the Minister referred to the fact that the review was done in 2017. All right: we can all appreciate that one or two things have happened since then, but at least it is right that we have got there now.

That is a good example of Select Committees working across party lines. The hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler) was instrumental in pushing for the Committee to undertake the inquiry. She has a lot of park homes in her constituency, and I give her the credit for our having moved forward on the Select Committee on a cross-party basis. Again, we came to a compromise: we said what we thought was necessary, but the Minister was not convinced, so we found a way forward by proposing that this test should be introduced through secondary legislation if in the end, after review, it proved to be necessary. We got there in the end, and it is the right place to have got to.

All I would say is that some of the people we took evidence from—there are some wonderful bits of evidence from that inquiry, which I had a look at last night—were park home owners. I should say straightaway that there are some very good ones, but when some of them came to give evidence, it was quite appalling: descriptions of attacking a woman and tying her to a tree, and other things that Members can read about in the evidence. Some of these people are not stupid; they are clever people who can manipulate the possibilities to extract everything they can from park home residents.

I say to the Minister that I hope this regulation is now watertight. Some of these people were trying to avoid it by appointing others—family members, maybe—to set up companies with others in control, while they were behind the scenes pulling the strings, in order to avoid this. Are we sure we have this right, so they cannot avoid it in that way?

Finally, to refer fleetingly to other issues that come before us as MPs and local supporters, I hope that this fit and proper person test works a bit better than the one operating currently in professional football.

Kelly Tolhurst: I thank honourable colleagues for their comments. My hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall), my predecessor in this role, is missing out on the opportunity to pass this statutory instrument today, but we wish him well in his new bigger role in the Department, in which hopefully he will continue to do good work.

I will answer some of the questions that have been posed. I thank the hon. Member for Weaver Vale for his comments expressing the Opposition’s support for the SI. On local authority support, we recognise what local authorities are currently going through, and the work they are doing on covid-19, so we do not want to put unnecessary burdens on them. In January, we set up the primary authority for assured advice, which is being run by North Somerset Council, so local authorities will be able to feed into that. That is also for local authorities and operators. We also have the local authority site licences officers forum, which we will continue to work with. We want to help, to ensure that we can implement these regulations as easily as possible and that local authorities can take action.

The hon. Member for Weaver Vale asked about the private rented sector. I hope he will forgive me, but that is not something I have yet looked at in my role. I am happy to engage with him further on anything he would like to raise in that area, to help me get up to speed. Ultimately, we believe that these regulations are really important. They move the position on and strengthen the rights of those residents. We are doing this to protect those individuals.

I, too, represent a constituency with park homes, and since being elected I have heard harrowing stories for constituents. Although I am new to the job, I am not unfamiliar with the circumstances presented to those residents. To reiterate what my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester said, the vast majority of owners and managers of these sites are very good and offer great services. Unfortunately, as with a lot of cases, there is a minority group who have no regard for the individuals that they are there to serve. That is what this debate is about.

Turning to my hon. Friend’s remarks, I recognise his work in this area and the passion with which he has represented constituents who have experienced these issues. It is really difficult to be here as a Minister and to hear some of the terrible situations that individual residents and constituents throughout the UK are experiencing at the hands of rogue site owners, particularly with something as important as the vulnerability of where they live. There should be nowhere safer than one’s own home, so it is really depressing to hear that.

Bearing in mind the pressures on local authorities owing to covid, the deadline is July 2021, enabling them to get the register in place and to get ready for applications to be submitted; this is a retroactive change, in the sense that someone who already has a site will have to apply. This gives sufficient time for local authorities to do that comfortably and for us to work with them on the implementation. The requirement is for all those sites to have gone through the process by October 2021. I understand that this is frustrating—timings are always frustrating—but we feel that, if it was any shorter, it might be a bigger burden on local authorities at this time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester questioned how local authorities can liaise with each other. The register will be public, so it will be accessible for local authorities, in line with the data protection rules regarding some of that information. Under the mandatory information required, applicants must also outline any other sites in other local authorities in which they have any interest, and also whether they have had an application refused or rejected in the past. We can prosecute them for not providing that information, or for providing misleading information. I do not think I mentioned it in my opening remarks, but the ultimate penalty is an unlimited fine. Hopefully, with those measures, local authorities should be able to liaise and to get that information easily, as should residents. While local authorities will ask for that mandatory information, they also have the discretion to ask for any further information that is material to an application, so they will have the opportunity to ask other bodies for information to support them in making their decision.

On licensing and what else we can do to tackle this area, the Government have made a commitment to bring in primary legislation. While I do not use this as an excuse, I am new to this post. However, I am really happy to engage with colleagues on this, and we are committed to moving that forward as soon as we are able to. I am really looking forward to understanding some of the work. We know that there are issues around commission, which has been hotly discussed. As I mentioned in my opening speech, if a licence is revoked, local authorities have the opportunity to apply management orders and potentially to put in a site manager. We recognise that there is lots of work to be done, but in a way we are celebrating moving on that a bit today. I am happy to write to my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester on that.

I very much thank the hon. Member for Sheffield South East for outlining his work and that of the Select Committee in this area, and for his support. I look forward to working with the Select Committee as we move forward. I reiterate that we will continue to work with local authorities. It is really important that we understand and are able to give them the tools and support to implement the regulations. I will obviously work closely on that, because now that we have taken all this time to bring the regulations into force, we want them to work. We will continue to do that.

In closing, I reiterate that the majority of site owners are responsible, compliant and make a valuable contribution to the housing market—they provide well maintained and safe sites for residents—but a minority knowingly flout those responsibilities and exploit their residents, most of whom are elderly, vulnerable and on low incomes. The regulations are necessary to protect and improve the lives, health and wellbeing of park home residents, and will ensure that all site owners—not just the good ones—meet the required standards of management and conduct. Unscrupulous site owners will have to change their behaviour or find a more competent person to manage the site. I am very grateful to Committee members for their time and contributions.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Mobile Homes (Requirement for Manager of Site to be Fit and Proper Person) (England) Regulations 2020.

Committee rose.

DRAFT INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY (AMENDMENT ETC.) (EU EXIT) REGULATIONS 2020

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Sir David Amess

† Baynes, Simon (Clwyd South) (Con)

† Bell, Aaron (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)

Champion, Sarah (Rotherham) (Lab)

† Coutinho, Claire (East Surrey) (Con)

† Evans, Dr Luke (Bosworth) (Con)

† Fletcher, Mark (Bolsover) (Con)

† Furniss, Gill (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab)

Grady, Patrick (Glasgow North) (SNP)

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

Hillier, Meg (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)

Hodge, Dame Margaret (Barking) (Lab)

† Hollinrake, Kevin (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)

† Logan, Mark (Bolton North East) (Con)

† Onwurah, Chi (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)

† Solloway, Amanda (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

† Tarry, Sam (Ilford South) (Lab)

† Tomlinson, Michael (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury)

Anwen Rees, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 9 September 2020

[Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Draft Intellectual Property (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

Order. Before we begin, I remind Members that social distancing should be observed at all times. Hand sanitiser has been provided. It is obvious that some colleagues present have not served on a Delegated Legislation Committee before; the Government and Opposition Whips are available to explain to Members, if they have any queries, how to proceed.

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Intellectual Property (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and it is a pleasure to speak in my first Delegated Legislation Committee as a Minister, particularly on such an important area as intellectual property. Intellectual property forms a vital part of the UK economy. A well-balanced IP system supports our citizens in their creativity and ingenuity, providing incentives for our businesses to innovate through research and development. We have seen the importance of innovation and creativity throughout the pandemic: the repurposing of old treatments to combat the virus, new technologies supporting social distancing, and theatre companies bringing performances into our homes.

IP enables society to benefit from sharing knowledge and ideas while rewarding creators. Innovation will be crucial in the years ahead to support our recovery from the impacts of covid-19, and the UK is already a global leader. Just last week, the World Intellectual Property Organisation ranked the UK as the fourth most innovative country in the world, and the Government are committed to ensuring that we maintain that position.

So why are the regulations needed? As the Committee knows, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 brings across EU law that applies to the UK at the end of the transition period, making it into domestic law. To safeguard against the possibility of leaving the EU without an agreement, six statutory instruments were approved last year, covering various IP rights. They ensure that EU law on IP will work correctly when brought across. Of course, the withdrawal agreement meant that the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020 in an orderly way. At the end of the transition period, we will have control of our laws and will operate once again as a sovereign, independent nation. However, it is still important that we do so with a statute book that functions effectively.

This SI, which was laid before Parliament on 13 July, therefore has three objectives. First, it updates last year’s SIs on IP so that they will work correctly at the end of the transition period. There will be changes to previous references to “exit day”. Updating also allows us to fix some small errors that were found when revisiting the text of those SIs.

Secondly, as EU law continues to apply to the UK during the transition period, the SI deals with the new EU law that has been introduced since last year’s SIs were made. It fixes inoperabilities that will arise when the law is brought over into UK law in December.

Thirdly, the SI ensures that we fulfil our obligations under the withdrawal agreement. The agreement commits the UK to preserving IP rights that had effect by virtue of our EU membership. Of course, that is what last year’s SIs were already doing, but there are some practical differences that must be reflected.

On trademarks and designs, last year’s legislation ensured that an equivalent UK right would be created for any EU right that is in force on exit day. Since EU rights continue to apply in the UK during the transition period, the SI moves the date of that process to 31 December. That will safeguard as many as 200,000 additional IP rights that will have been granted by that time. Where the validity of the EU right is being challenged and a decision is still pending at the end of the transition period, the withdrawal agreement requires us to apply that decision to the equivalent UK right once it has been made. The SI sets out how the process will work. It means that third parties will not require the expense of separate action to get rid of the equivalent UK right. The changes ensure that holders of such rights have certainty that their rights will be properly protected in the UK.

Another important area of IP law is supplementary protection certificates—SPCs—which provide additional protections for patented medicines and pesticides. This reflects that those must be approved by a regulator before they can be sold, which can take many years. SPCs help protect our most innovative drugs. For example, the asthma medicine Nucala has been protected for a maximum period of five years. Developed by GlaxoSmithKline, it has had world sales of more than £200 million in the last quarter. SPCs balance supporting innovation and developing new drugs with the need for patients to have access to drugs cheaply through competition from generic manufacturers.

The UK’s SP system derives from EU law. Last year’s legislation ensured that the system would function in the same way before and after exit day, giving certainty for both right holders and the wider interests. Since then, the EU law on SPCs has taken effect, introducing what is generally referred to as the manufacturing waiver. This allows third parties to make SPC-protected medicines in certain specific circumstances while the SPC is in force, without requiring the permission of the SPC holder. We consulted stakeholders on how the waiver should work in the UK. They were clear that we should keep the circumstances in which it can be used the same. That is the approach we have taken in this instrument to ensure we maintain the fine balance of this complex area of IP law.

Finally, the SI also deals with copyright and database rights, as well as the principle of exhaustion of rights. The changes in those areas are all concerned with simply updating last year’s legislation to reflect the end of the transition period. This instrument will ensure that the UK’s IP system has a firm footing when the transition period comes to an end, giving our innovative and creative citizens and businesses the certainty they need in this important area. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I welcome the Minister to her first SI Committee; it is a pleasure to shadow her. Science is an area on which there is general agreement in our aims, if not always in our implementation, approach and support for it. The Opposition’s aim is that the UK should be the most innovative nation in the world. Although our fourth place is something to be proud of, it is not something to be satisfied with.

As the Minister said, intellectual property makes a significant contribution to the UK economy each year. The 2017 report by the Intellectual Property Office estimated that UK firms invested £133 billion in knowledge assets, compared with £121 billion in tangible assets. A really important distinction often overlooked is that much of our property and business assets are in intangibles and IP, as opposed to bricks, mortar and manufacturing. The sector is estimated to represent 4.2% of total GDP. As the IPO has noted, it is growing UK investment in intangible assets that is protected by intellectual property, rising by £23 billion since the millennium.

The Minister said that intellectual property laws have been seamlessly—perhaps she did not this emphasise this enough—harmonised across Europe for many years, with much of the UK’s legislative framework in this area composed of EU regulations and directives that are shared across the 27 member states. These rules have protected businesses and benefited consumers. This is not just a debate about academic legal terms; it will have very real effects and will help support many of our constituents. It is the shared, for example while abroad —although obviously travel abroad is much limited these days.

Labour recognises that the purpose of the statutory instrument is to address a semantic issue and move the implementation date of several regulations from the exit day to the end of the IP competition day. We acknowledge that this measure is important and will ensure that a series of key rights remain in place until the end of the transition period, enforceable where necessary. We also recognise that the Government’s intention is to provide a degree of certainty to businesses between now and the end of the year by amending the existing 2019 regulations, which will ensure that UK and European Union proprietor rights remain in place at the end of the transition period and are fully protected for their duration. We welcome that.

However, we are concerned that existing sensible harmonised and reciprocal protections will cease to be available to UK nationals, residents and businesses after the transition period. The Minister spoke a good deal and very well on the rights of UK citizens and businesses in the UK. We are concerned about the rights of UK citizens and businesses within the European Union.

The Conservative party once claimed to be the party of business and, as such, the Government must understand that providing certainty for only the next three months is not really any certainty at all. Businesses of all sizes across the UK, and European Union businesses wishing to trade effectively with us, remain in the dark on what the future regime will look like. Many have told me how worried they are that they are not going to be able to plan to ensure that their intellectual property is protected immediately following the transition period.

Despite many rounds of negotiations, as we are all too aware, the Government are yet to make any progress on a future relationship with the European Union, which is causing huge uncertainty for businesses, which, as we all know, have already been hit hard by the unexpected coronavirus pandemic. This lack of progress puts UK businesses at a huge disadvantage.

As things stand, UK trademark attorneys will no longer have a right of representation at the European Union Intellectual Property Office, but European economic area practitioners will still continue to be able to provide an address for services before the UK Intellectual Property Office, which may lead to UK businesses and good jobs leaving for the European Union. The Minister and I have corresponded on this issue, and I have met the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys, for whom this issue is really important—as it is for those who depend on those jobs.

The Government have said that the rights of representation before EU institutions and courts are the preserve of the single market, but it is deeply concerning to UK businesses and the Labour party that the Government will not include that as a part of the UK’s approach to negotiations with the European Union. What is the Minister doing to address that imbalance, which will give an advantage to European Union trademark attorneys and put ours at a significant disadvantage? What is she doing to support UK IP practitioners? We acknowledge and welcome the consultation that the Government ran over the summer, but time is fast running out and we need action.

The political declaration, which the Government co-produced with the European Union, makes an explicit commitment to seek enforceable and reciprocal intellectual property protections,

“going beyond the standards of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights and the World Intellectual Property Organisation conventions”.

Unfortunately, we have seen the Government rowing back on some of the principles laid out in their own political declaration, which has left businesses unsure about what they can rely on the Government to deliver. Will the Minister take this opportunity to confirm whether harmonised IP and copyright-related protections are still a key negotiating objective of the Government, and give us an update on what progress has been made in this area of negotiations?

Businesses in the UK benefit from automatic database protections that are a unique feature of European Union law. Labour is pleased to see that this statutory instrument recognises the importance of that provision by extending it to the end of the transition period for all European economic area nationals, residents and businesses. However, it is unclear what protections will be available to businesses that, for example, might have multiple sites across the European Union, with shared databases being accessed across borders. That could lead to the absurd situation where one outpost was automatically protected by the harmonised European Union legal framework and another was covered by a UK limited legal framework. What are the Government doing to ensure that does not happen?

Equality and support for the disabled is one of our core values in the Labour party and something we take very seriously, so it is concerning that the proposed legislative change would lead to blind or visually impaired people in the UK having no automatic right to accessible format copies of materials under the widely celebrated European Union directive 2017/1564. As the UK is not currently party to the Marrakesh treaty, the additional opportunity to secure the right outlined here will not be available immediately after the transition period comes to an end without a bespoke agreement. Can the Minister be clear about what steps she is taking to ensure that there will not be a negative impact on blind, visually impaired or otherwise print-disabled people when we leave the transition period?

Finally, some businesses have communicated to me their concern that the sheer number of European Union trademarks that need to be converted into UK rights before the end of the transition period will place additional pressure on the registrar, and that gaps in cover could therefore occur. Can the Minister reassure those businesses that the Government have taken all necessary steps to ensure that the UK IPO is adequately resourced and ready to deal with the added red tape that comes from the predicted 700,000 trademarks that now need to be transposed? Can she tell us how many have been transposed to date?

Will the Minister take this opportunity to outline what consideration she has given to how the UK and the European Union, whatever the future trading relationship looks like, can co-operate and exchange information on issues of intellectual property, copyright and approaches to trademarks design and patents, as laid out in the political declaration?

Labour has always supported intellectual property; it was the last Labour Government that transformed the Patent Office into the Intellectual Property Office in 2007, and 30 years earlier it was a Labour Government that introduced the Patents Act 1977. We are happy to support the Government as a constructive Opposition on this issue, when they are right, and there are many examples of that within this SI. However, we have also raised many questions about how the UK will move forward following the end of the transition period. It is vital that British businesses, IP practitioners and consumers get the answers to these questions as soon as possible, so that they can navigate any future relationship in just 118 days’ time, and potentially at a time when we see a resurgence of the pandemic. I thank the Minister in advance for her response.

I thank the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central for her comments and acknowledge her great passion for science and this particular field. I thank the Committee for its consideration of the draft regulations and hon. Members for their valuable contributions.

In response to the specific questions that have been asked, of course we are interested in protecting UK rights here and abroad. This and other legislation ensures that we do that by, for example, creating comparable rights in the UK for trademark and design holders.

One of the questions was about consultation. The Government have taken on board the concerns raised by UK attorneys about their loss of rights and representation at EUIPO. The IPO has recently finished an online call for views on this issue, which received more than 1,000 responses. We are considering whether to reciprocate by requiring a UK-only correspondence. The IPO has been planning for some time for the end of the transition period. It is the most robust place to cope with the additional IP rights that will come across from the EU. No EU rights have yet been transferred; they will come across at the end of the transition period.

Intellectual property matters. The IP system exists to encourage innovation and the sharing of information, and gives confidence to invest time, money and energy in developing something new—a business, a new book or a new piece of technology. The UK IP system is consistently rated as one of the best in the world, and I agree with the hon. Lady about wanting to make the UK the most innovative country in the world—I thank her for that.

Earlier in the summer, the Government set out our long-term objective for research and development through the new R&D roadmap, which I believe is a strong foundation for the way forward. We are committed to strengthening science, research and innovation further across the UK and making them central to tackling the major challenges that we face, including disabilities such as blindness. Intellectual property has an important role to play in supporting those objectives.

The IPO will continue to deliver high-quality rights, grant services, lead best practice for the enforcement of IP rights and retain its central involvement in international discussions on the development of the global IP system. Alongside the roadmap and the IPO’s work, these draft regulations will play their part in helping to ensure that our IP system is in a good place to support the Government’s goals and innovation so that the UK is best placed to develop and grow innovative businesses. I hope the Committee will support the regulations.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft INSPIRE (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: †Stewart Hosie

† Bhatti, Saqib (Meriden) (Con)

Byrne, Liam (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab)

† Campbell, Sir Alan (Tynemouth) (Lab)

† Clarke, Theo (Stafford) (Con)

† Colburn, Elliot (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)

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

Hendrick, Sir Mark (Preston) (Lab/Co-op)

Hill, Mike (Hartlepool) (Lab)

Hopkins, Rachel (Luton South) (Lab)

† Hunt, Jane (Loughborough) (Con)

† Jenkinson, Mark (Workington) (Con)

† Jones, Fay (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

† Jones, Ruth (Newport West) (Lab)

† Morris, James (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Pow, Rebecca (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

† Sambrook, Gary (Birmingham, Northfield) (Con)

Thompson, Owen (Midlothian) (SNP)

Peter Stam, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 9 September 2020

[Stewart Hosie in the Chair]

Draft INSPIRE (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft INSPIRE (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

If anyone has a sense of déjà vu about this debate, that is not surprising, because we have debated this provision before. For one reason or another, it did not get through its due processes in Parliament, which is why we are here today. These regulations were laid before the House on 15 June 2020. I know that a great many statutory instruments come past your desk, Mr Hosie. I am not sure that many of them do inspire you, but we have the word “INSPIRE” in the name this time, so if we have done nothing else, we have ticked that box.

The origin of the UK INSPIRE—infrastructure for spatial information in Europe—regulations is an EU framework directive. The regulations have been in effect in the UK since 2009. The INSPIRE regulations established a UK spatial data infrastructure using common standards for spatial data and spatial data services. Spatial data, which is also and often referred to as geospatial data, is data that identifies the geographic location of features, boundaries and events. Just for clarity, so that members of the Committee reflecting on that know exactly what we are talking about, I point out that it includes data about natural features, such as rivers, elevation and marine features; constructed features, such as roads, buildings and wind turbines; and events, such as noise levels, air quality and industrial emissions.

The use of common standards means that spatial data is interoperable and can be easily found, used and combined with other data. The rationale for the INSPIRE regulations is to improve environmental policy making at all levels of government. Interestingly, there are 34 different categories of data that should be recorded under the regulations.

The amendments to the INSPIRE regulations before the Committee today are introduced purely to update two earlier sets of EU exit regulations relating to the operation of INSPIRE. The point of the update is that we ensure that the UK spatial data infrastructure continues to be effective and operable, having left the EU.

The first legislative update is to the INSPIRE (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018, which were laid in the House on 12 December 2018. Those regulations brought the majority of the INSPIRE directive, and its directly applicable implementing rules, into legislation covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own INSPIRE regulations and made its own amending legislation in 2018.

The second legislative update is to the Environment (Legislative Functions from Directives) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. Those regulations brought the remainder of the INSPIRE directive into UK legislation. The regulations were debated in the House on 17 July 2019 and made on 15 October 2019. The regulations concerning legislative functions transferred to the appropriate authority the functions of the European Commission in the EU INSPIRE directive and other directives. The functions transferred by those regulations in respect of INSPIRE are for the appropriate authority to make new sets of implementing rules and to revoke implementing rules that are no longer needed.

This SI amends the Environment (Legislative Functions from Directives) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which means that the SI must be debated under the affirmative procedure. As I am sure everyone realises, that is because it amends a power to legislate. The amendment to those 2019 regulations is to correct a reference to an EU implementing rule that was directly applicable and is no longer needed. That reference is replaced with a reference to a new implementing rule, Commission implementing decision EU 2019/1372, which was made in August 2019. At the request of the Scottish Government, similar amendments are made to the INSPIRE (EU Exit) (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2019.

The amendments in today’s SI will incorporate into UK law new arrangements for monitoring and reporting on the use and implementation of the spatial data infrastructure established by the INSPIRE regulations. So, we have finally got to the bit, Mr Hosie, that tells us what is new and why the regulations ae being updated. It is all to do with the new arrangements for monitoring and reporting. There are no policy changes in the new arrangements, which are designed to simplify monitoring and reporting of the use and implementation of the spatial data infrastructure, and to bring the UK legislation in line with that in the EU.

I should say at this juncture that it was actually officials from my Department—the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—who persuaded the EU Commission to introduce these new, simpler arrangements. Indeed, during our membership of the EU, the UK was considered the leading member of INSPIRE.

The previous arrangements for reporting on implementation and use of the INSPIRE spatial data infrastructure had many faults. The report format was long and required an unnecessary level of detail, which had a cost in time and resources. Every year, our officials had to write a report on how our reporting was going and it was something like 40 pages long. That process is all being simplified.

Even when completed, the previous reports did not allow easy comparisons between member states’ efforts on INSPIRE, so as to ensure a level playing field. The new system for reporting requires the Commission to compile and publish a country fiche assessment on how INSPIRE is being implemented and used in each member state. The country fiche highlights the progress on the various areas of INSPIRE implementation and presents an outlook of planned actions for INSPIRE implementation. It is a short high-level assessment. Member states are then required to check their report at least once a year and to update it as necessary.

Using the same system as our European neighbours to report on INSPIRE implementation after the UK has left the EU will mean that the UK can consider our efforts on INSPIRE against thoseThe purpose of this SI is to update earlier amendments made to UK INSPIRE legislation to ensure that an operable legal framework is in place now that the UK has left the EU. There are no policy changes, and for those reasons, I beg to move the measure.

Thank you, Mr Hosie for calling me to speak. It is good to be with you this morning to discuss the draft INSPIRE (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, and to speak for Her Majesty’s Opposition for the first time as the new shadow Minister for the natural environment and air quality. Of course, I should briefly pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle), who took a passionate interest in these important issues and who no doubt would have relished the opportunity to be here in Committee Room 14 at 9.25 am on a Wednesday.

As the Minister will know, this is not the first time this legislation has been laid for debate in the House. The first version was laid last year, but fell due to the Dissolution of Parliament ahead of the December 2019 general election, which meant we lost important time to consider the myriad decisions and regulations required ahead of the end of the transition period on 31 December this year.

We then had a second iteration of this legislation, which was tabled and then pulled earlier this year. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister why it was pulled, so that the House is aware of the smooth operation of this Government’s business. The people of the UK deserve competence and good government, and if the Conservative party does not want to provide those things, I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) will.

I suspect that all hon. Members saw the media reports this past weekend that Ministers seek to undermine their own legislation by overriding the withdrawal agreement. I have to say that many Labour Members hope that this SI and many others like it do not suffer the same fate.

The Minister and, I suspect, Government Back Benchers present will be pleased to know that Her Majesty’s Opposition have no intention of opposing this SI, but I want to speak briefly to it and to share a word of caution with the Minister. As my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), the shadow Secretary of State, noted when this business was last considered, those on our Benches welcome the fact that legislation has been passed to ensure that the UK stays in line with the INSPIRE regulations and that we are still committed to sharing our spatial information once the UK leaves the EU. Furthermore, we recognise the important need to create our data in a way that makes it accessible to, and able to be shared with, our friends and allies across the EU and, indeed, further afield.

The Opposition are proud of having internationalist values, and our collective commitment to solidarity, which bind us together as a party and form the basis of our vision for the country and the future of our planet and natural environment. We believe in working together and sharing information. We believe in being good neighbours and taking whatever steps are necessary for a sustainable future for all of us.

Members will know that sharing information has its benefits, whether it is information about energy, water, transport networks and accessibility or—and this is of course important to me as the shadow Minister for air quality—air quality and pollution. There have been many examples over the years where sharing information and data has saved lives, informed responses, and tackled problems. It is of some small comfort to me, and, I suspect, to the Minister, that the biggest cheerleaders of a hard Brexit have yet to move their focus to the sharing of spatial data. I hope that their lack of attention is a recognition of the vital nature of that important area.

Like many who pay attention to such issues, the Opposition are clear that as we move forward it is vital that the country should keep pace with the EU in various areas, including the one we are considering. It is vital that Ministers indicate properly and clearly how we will do that. When the UK had a seat at the table, with a voice, vote and veto, it could improve and influence the standards that we rely on and ensure that important data were shared effectively. Ministers need to ensure that we progress only forward, and that we improve. There can be no slippage and no going back. That goes for science and industry, farming and agriculture, access to water and air quality, and how the House does its job. The Opposition reiterate their commitment to the INSPIRE set-up and the framework and guidance around it, and we encourage Ministers to make all efforts to ensure that there will not be a slip in our approach and standards with our departure from the EU.

Lastly, I restate our concern at the Government’s approach to taking legislation through the House, and their wider approach to our departure from the EU. Government by statutory instrument cannot be the default, and neither can Ministers leave major pieces of legislation until the last minute. We stand ready as a proactive and objective Opposition to work with Ministers where we need to, and I hope that our approach to the SI today demonstrates that, but I caution the Minister that we will continue to hold her and her colleagues to account every step of the way.

I, too, very much welcome the new shadow Minister and look forward to working together on many issues with regard to the environment. I thank her for her remarks. The amendment in the statutory instrument ensures that we have operable legislation in place to allow the UK spatial data infrastructure established by the INSPIRE directive to continue to operate. Maintaining reporting on the use and implementation of our national spatial data infrastructure equivalent to that of EU member states, and particularly our neighbouring countries, will allow for easy comparisons.

I am glad about, and welcome, the shadow Minister’s comments about the importance of environmental data. The very fact that the UK has led on spatial data, and played a great role, indicates how important we believe it is. It is geospatial data that is referred to in the SI, but what I am saying applies to all environmental data.

I will disagree with the hon. Lady on one point: she suggested that perhaps not enough time had been given to considering the matter, but I assure the Committee that all the time necessary has been given to thinking about it—the roll-over and all the attention needed—because it is so important. Indeed, that time was devoted to the matter in October, and everyone has had a re-look at it to bring it back to the Committee this time.

We are debating it today, as I explained in my opening remarks, purely and simply because the legislation did not quite get through all its processes. That is why we are back here today. It was stopped by the election and coronavirus, and the delays that they caused, but that did not have any impact on the scrutiny the measure has received. I assure the shadow Minister that that is absolutely the case.

To wind up, I hope that Members fully understand what we have been debating today and the need for the regulations. As I outlined, the SI updates earlier amendments made to UK INSPIRE legislation to reflect new arrangements for monitoring and reporting on use and implementation. It does not make any policy changes. The SI ensures that the UK will have an operable legal framework for INSPIRE on EU exit day, which will be equivalent to the EU member states’. I am not sure whether we have inspired you or not, Mr Hosie, but on that note I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Act 2020 (Exception) Regulations 2020

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: David Mundell

† Bristow, Paul (Peterborough) (Con)

Burgon, Richard (Leeds East) (Lab)

Butler, Dawn (Brent Central) (Lab)

Cadbury, Ruth (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)

† Charalambous, Bambos (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)

† Cunningham, Alex (Stockton North) (Lab)

† Grundy, James (Leigh) (Con)

Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds North East) (Lab)

Harman, Ms Harriet (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab)

Jones, Fay (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

† Kruger, Danny (Devizes) (Con)

† Miller, Mrs Maria (Basingstoke) (Con)

Moore, Damien (Southport) (Con)

† O'Brien, Neil (Harborough) (Con)

† Philp, Chris (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

† Pursglove, Tom (Corby) (Con)

† Trott, Laura (Sevenoaks) (Con)

Bradley Albrow, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Eighth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 9 September 2020

[David Mundell in the Chair]

Draft Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Act 2020 (Exception) Regulations 2020

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the Draft Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Act 2020 (Exception) Regulations 2020.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell; I think it is for the first time, and I hope that it will be the first of many such happy occasions.

I will be extremely brief. The purpose of this instrument is very straightforward. Colleagues will recall that a few months ago we passed the Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Act 2020, which is a precursor to the introduction of a sentencing code. One of the things that Act does is a so-called clean sweep, which consolidates all previous sentencing legislation into a single code, for the ease and convenience of both the judiciary and the public.

However, certain important exceptions to that clean sweep have been made to ensure that no offender who committed an offence previously—that is, before the consolidation—is exposed to a more serious or heavier penalty than would have been the case without the consolidation. That is just a matter of fundamental natural justice. A change has been made recently—in April—to the victim surcharge, which has been increased by 5%. As a matter of fairness, any offence committed before the change to the victim surcharge should be charged at the old rate. It would be unfair if someone was charged at the higher rate even though the offence had been committed previously.

The purpose of the instrument the Committee is considering is to make an exception to the clean sweep, adding to the other exceptions that we put in the Act, to make sure that, for offences committed before the change made to the victim surcharge in April, the old surcharge applies and not the new one. Colleagues, including the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Stockton North, will recall that we debated this provision at some length in Committee, and it is doing exactly what we said we would do to ensure that fairness applies. On that basis, I commend the regulations to the Committee.

It is also my pleasure to serve under you for the first time, Mr Mundell. I hope I can make it a happy occasion by being relatively brief, although I have a number of points to make and a couple of challenges for the Minister.

It was, of course, a Labour Government that introduced victim surcharges, in 2007, to ensure that all offenders bore some responsibility towards the cost of supporting the victims of their crimes. It was also a Labour Government that enshrined into UK law the rights and freedoms contained in the United Nations convention on human rights, with the introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998—a feat that Labour Members are enormously and rightly proud of.

Article 7 of the Human Rights Act specifically protects individuals from being punished for something that was not against the law at the time the offender committed the act. It also means that if someone is found guilty of an offence, the penalty cannot be more severe than it was at the time the crime was committed. That is a critical safeguard for the rights of defendants and is crucial in upholding natural justice and public confidence in our justice system. So it is surely clear why today’s measure, which ensures that offenders do not pay higher victim surcharges than would have been applicable at the time of their offences, is in line with article 7, and it has the support of Labour Members.

Safeguarding these protections is always important, but never more so than now. The court backlog continues to grow at an alarming rate, because of court closures and the impact of the pandemic. Unconvicted people are spending longer and longer in prison before trial. Just this week, a statutory instrument extended the custody time limit prior to trial by a third, from six months to eight months. I am grateful to the Minister for briefing me on that particular SI last Friday evening. Sadly, however, the Government tried to slip that major change under the radar, by opting to publish it as a negative SI. Given that the instrument can lead to the incarceration of people without trial for an extended period, the Government ought to have announced their intentions in the form of a statement so that these issues can be debated.

We already know that some members of the judiciary are far from happy with the Government’s proposals and, worse still, do not think they will help solve the crisis in our courts and the administration of justice. Ruling just yesterday, His Honour Judge Raynor, in being asked to extend the custody period of a person who would not be subject to the new arrangements, discussed the issue. I will quote from that judgment, as it illustrates the anxieties of judges and others about the Government’s shortcomings in administering justice, which is highly relevant to the SI before us this afternoon.

His Honour Judge Raynor discussed the relevant issues and responses, including new legislation:

“What is the immediate impact of the new legislation expected to come into force on 28th September 2020, which will, for a 9-month period, extend the custody time limit from 182 days to 238 days? The extension will apply to new CTLs that begin during the temporary 9 month period for which time the amended Regulations will apply.”

He accepted that the new regulations did not apply to the case he was hearing, but he went on:

“Mr T has been remanded in custody for 321 days. He is innocent until proven guilty. That is at the forefront of my mind. He has been held for 139 days beyond the CTL which applies to him and 83 days beyond the new CTL which would apply to a defendant remanded into custody under the new proposed law. b. Article 6(1) and 5(3) of The European Convention on Human Rights.”

Judge Raynor continued:

“Has the State failed to organise its legal systems so as to allow the courts to comply with the requirements of Article 6(1) to ensure trials within a reasonable time of unconvicted defendants remanded into custody, whether the appropriate test is ‘regardless of cost’ or even a lesser requirement of ‘high cost’ or ‘cost proportionate to the exceptional situation’?”

He said yes.

Judge Raynor talked about the exceptional situation. He asked:

“Does the current coronavirus situation still amount to an exceptional situation?”

Yes, ruled the judge. He talked about exceptional and routine cases:

“Does the coronavirus itself turn every routine case into an exceptional case?”

No, said the judge. On good and sufficient cause, which may be the crux of the matter, he asked:

“Does the evidence now available to me indicate a lack of funding by The Ministry of Justice/Her Majesty's Court Service?”

The judge ruled yes. That is a very significant point. He continued:

“Do the new proposed measures announced in the press release dated 6th September 2020 and in The Criminal Courts Recovery Plan (CCRP 1) have a realistic prospect of success in the sense that they will significantly reduce the backlog of outstanding trials for those in custody?”

The judge concluded that no, they do not.

Confidence in the Ministry of Justice’s ability to deal with the crisis is clearly at an all-time low. I invite the Minister to tell us how he can reassure the country that the issues we currently face will be sorted out, and sorted out soon. We are witnessing the delay and denial of justice for thousands upon thousands of victims and defendants and, while we have not opposed the extension, on the basis that it is for a limited time, we believe that the Government should have been more open about it. The Minister may like to take this opportunity to confirm that the Government will not seek to have these powers extended beyond the nine-month period and outline what he sees as the impact on our already overcrowded prisons.

This SI at least ensures that the delays do not have any further unfair consequences for defendants in relation to victim surcharges. It would be against the principle of natural justice if anyone awaiting trial due to a court backlog of the Government’s own making were forced to pay an increased victim surcharge due to the extended length of time taken to appear before a court. It is only fair that the surcharge is representative of sentencing provisions at the time the offence was committed.

Ultimately, this SI ensures that when a court deals with an offender for an offence committed before 14 April 2020, the amount payable will be the same as it would have been at the time the offence was committed. It maintains that safeguard for fair sentencing, which is a principle that is unreservedly supported by those of us on the Labour Benches—all two of us. We welcome the amendment and look forward to working with the Government to defend human rights and uphold the law.

I will reply briefly to the shadow Minister’s comments. First, I welcome his support for this measure. I lament the absence of his colleagues—it is a shame they are not here with him to debate this important matter.

The hon. Gentleman raised a couple of points. Let me start by addressing the number of cases waiting to be heard before the courts. Obviously, coronavirus has enormously disrupted the operation of the courts because of social distancing and so on, but in the magistrates courts, for the last few weeks, disposals have exceeded receipts. We have been dealing with more cases than have been received and therefore the outstanding case load has begun to decline. That is an important, seminal moment in our recovery plan.

In relation to the Crown court, which the shadow Minister talked about, and jury trials, he will be aware that the Lord Chief Justice completely suspended jury trials in late March, and they did not recommence until May. Inevitably, if jury trials are suspended for health and safety reasons—for covid reasons—cases will back up. Since then, we have got Crown court jury trials up and running across the country, but in a way that is safe, so that jurors do not get contaminated by one another or by anyone else. That has necessarily limited the number of court rooms available, but we are now back to about 110 operable Crown court jury rooms as of today, and the intention is to reach 250 by the end of October. That will enable us to hear 333 Crown court jury trials per week by the end of October, which is back up to the pre-coronavirus level. That will be done in a safe way through a variety of measures to do with social distancing, perspex screens and separate jury retiring rooms. [Interruption.] I can see the shadow Minister is twitching eagerly, so I will give way.

I am keen to understand whether the Minister will start bringing his Nightingale courts in as part of that. He must accept that, even before the coronavirus crisis, there was a crisis in the courts, with 1 million cases in magistrates and Crown courts, and tribunals outstanding at the end of last year.

The number of Crown court cases outstanding at the beginning of this year was lower than it was in 2010. A great deal of progress had been made, and the Lord Chancellor had authorised, prior to coronavirus, additional Crown court sitting days that would have enabled further progress to be made.

In relation to Nightingale courts, all 10 announced in July are now up and running operationally. Further Nightingale courts are being announced, and we have secured further Treasury funding to the tune of £83 million to expedite the recovery of the court system after coronavirus. On the comments about funding that I heard quoted—I was surprised to hear such comments made by a judge in a judgment—the issues around funding have been and are being addressed.

On custody time limits, there is a short-term, nine-month extension because the hiatus caused by coronavirus means we need to extend those custody time limits temporarily. The shadow Minister accused us of trying to slip that past Parliament and the Opposition, but he also acknowledged that I phoned him personally to flag the changes. If I was trying to slip it past him, I would hardly have picked up the phone and telephoned him. That would have been an ineffective method of subterfuge, even by my standards.

I did make the point that the Minister was kind enough to inform me, but the whole of Parliament learned of this in a written instrument—a negative SI—which is not really the way to do business.

We did telephone everybody with an interest. I made phone calls, so I do not think that an allegation of subterfuge is one that I would accept. I am happy to phone anybody who wants a phone call on a Friday evening. It is a free service courtesy of the Ministry of Justice.

We have strayed a little beyond the strict terms of this instrument, so perhaps I should sit down. I commend the instrument to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Square Kilometre Array Observatory (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2020

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: †Sir Edward Leigh

† Brereton, Jack (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)

† Bryant, Chris (Rhondda) (Lab)

† Daly, James (Bury North) (Con)

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

† Fletcher, Mark (Bolsover) (Con)

Fovargue, Yvonne (Makerfield) (Lab)

† Garnier, Mark (Wyre Forest) (Con)

Gwynne, Andrew (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)

† Lewer, Andrew (Northampton South) (Con)

Mann, Scott (North Cornwall) (Con)

† Mumby-Croft, Holly (Scunthorpe) (Con)

† Onwurah, Chi (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)

† Solloway, Amanda (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Tarry, Sam (Ilford South) (Lab)

Thompson, Owen (Midlothian) (SNP)

† Tomlinson, Michael (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Twist, Liz (Blaydon) (Lab)

Huw Yardley, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Ninth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 9 September 2020

[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Draft Square Kilometre Array Observatory (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2020

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Square Kilometre Array Observatory (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2020.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. The order was made and laid before the House on 14 July 2020 under the affirmative process. I will explain the rationale behind it. The order confers immunities, privileges, reliefs and exemptions to the new intergovernmental organisation, the Square Kilometre Array Observatory, the SKAO, under the International Organisations Act 1968. If the Committee agrees, the order will complete the UK’s ratification of the convention signed in March 2019 and laid in Parliament in July of that year under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.

Before I go into detail, I would like to set the context with a few words about the Square Kilometre Array project and the new intergovernmental organisation, the SKAO, which is being established to deliver and operate it. The Square Kilometre Array is an international megascience project to build the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. It is truly a global effort, involving 11 member countries and the participation of about 100 organisations across 20 countries. The SKA is one of the most ambitious international science projects of the 21st century, co-located in South Africa and western Australia. It will use hundreds of dishes and thousands of antennae connected together by optical fibre to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail. The SKA is many times faster and significantly more sensitive than any current radio telescope and of a scale never seen before, which will enable scientists to test some of the key questions in physics about the nature of the universe. For example, was Einstein right about gravity? What is dark energy and why is it so important in our universe, and where did magnetism come from?

The SKA will deliver significant technological advances in data processing and opportunities for business innovation. It will help to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. The SKAO, based in the United Kingdom at the Jodrell Bank Observatory, will be the inter- governmental organisation building and managing the SKA. It will manage the construction, operation and data processing of the telescopes.

The SKA is a flagship project for the UK Government and underlines our commitment to worldwide partnerships as part of the modern industrial strategy ambition, to ensure that the UK remains a global leader in science, research and innovation. The Government have already committed £100 million to the construction of the SKA—we are one of the largest contributors—and a further £85 million for running costs over a 10-year period to 2026-27. Such investment gives the UK a leading role in the project during the construction and operation phases. That investment and the UK’s hosting of this new intergovernmental organisation at its Jodrell Bank headquarters is a demonstration of our world-leading position and influence in radio astronomy and wider scientific collaboration and exploration.

On the details of the order, the convention was formally laid in Parliament under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act in July last year and was completed in October. The order is part of the UK’s ratification and provides the privileges and immunities to enable the SKAO to function as an intergovernmental organisation in the United Kingdom.

It is standard practice for intergovernmental organisations and their staff to be accorded privileges and immunities by member states, but I reassure the Committee that the privileges and immunities afforded to officers of the SKAO in the UK are limited to those required for them to conduct their official activities and are not for their personal benefit. They are in line with those offered to officers of other intergovernmental organisations of which the UK is a member and include limited immunity from jurisdiction and inviolability for its officers and employees, including immunity from legal process in respect of their official acts, and tax exemption. They do not include immunity from UK road traffic law. The SKAO convention also requires that the SKAO has legal capacity so that it can enter into contracts and take such other action as may be necessary or useful for its purpose and activities.

The order applies to the whole UK. However, some provisions of the instrument do not extend to, or apply in, Scotland. A separate Scottish Order in Council has been prepared to deal with those provisions within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. That was laid before the Scottish Parliament on 10 August.

This order confers on the new SKAO and its staff the privileges and immunities that are necessary for the organisation to function effectively and conduct its official activities. The order will enable the UK to complete its ratification of the SKAO convention and make the global SKA project a reality. Completing ratification of the SKAO convention will bring us closer to answering some of the most important questions in advancing our understanding of the universe. The SKA will provide huge opportunities for technological advances and innovation, notably in the field of big data processing and in areas in which UK industry and research establishments are poised to benefit.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, and to follow the Minister in this debate on a subject of the greatest importance to humanity and to all of us. Space and its many unanswered questions inspire awe and excitement across the globe. For nearly 70 years, the official British space programme has been seeking to answer those big questions—as the Minister suggested—drawing on our world-leading science and research sectors. In fact, the British Interplanetary Society is the oldest space advocacy organisation on earth—there may be others elsewhere. As a nation, we have a proud history of space exploration and international collaboration. In 1957, British Skylark rockets were launched from Woomera, Australia. In 1962, the UK partnered with NASA to launch the Ariel satellite programme, launching rockets from an Italian base off the coast of Kenya. And at the turn of the millennium, the British National Space Centre was the third largest financial contributor to the European Space Agency.

This statutory instrument is a welcome continuation of Britain’s ambition and international collaboration in space exploration. I have been particularly inspired by the SKA since I attended a reception at South Africa House to present South Africa’s bid back in 2011.

As the Minister said, the SKA is an intergovernmental radio telescope project, with headquarters based at our own Jodrell Bank and bases built in Australia and South Africa. It was first conceived of as a project in the early 1990s and has seen many delays over the years. On the expected completion date in 2027, the SKA will be 50 times more sensitive than any other radio instrument on earth and it will provide the highest resolution images ever seen in astronomy, surveying the sky 10,000 times faster than ever before. This is a significant step forward in our ability to understand our universe, and the UK will be playing a leading role.

The convention, Command Paper 154, treaty No. 27, signed by the UK Government in March 2019, defines the Square Kilometre Array Observatory as an international organisation and provides the appropriate framework—the framework required for it to function internationally. This SI will provide the SKA Organisation with the legal capacity and immunities that are granted to multinational intercontinental projects, allowing it to function freely. This ensures that the UK is acting in accordance with article 4 of the convention and is taking the necessary action to ensure the legality of the SKA Organisation.

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate British scientists and researchers on establishing the UK’s world-leading capability in space to the extent that we are taking such a leading role in pushing back the boundaries of our understanding. The Minister and I agree on the importance of that. I do wonder, however, the day after a Government Secretary of State admitted to seeking to breach international law, whether the Minister thinks that our standing in relation to international agreements of this type will be undermined.

Has the Minister spoken with the Foreign Office or others to get a timetable for ratification from other signing nations? I found it difficult to discover which nations have signed and where we are in that process. What effect does the status of other member countries’ ratification processes have on our ability to develop the SKA infrastructure needed in the UK?

This statutory instrument depends not just on international law and our rules-based order, but, as the Minister indicated, on the integral role that international collaboration plays in space exploration. The UK Space Agency recognises that, and has provided up to £152 million in grants over five years to the international scientific community as part of this international partnership programme. The programme closed in April, so I would be grateful if the Minister can tell us how much of that £152 million has been released in the first year of the scheme.

Even in space, there is no escape from Brexit. In December, the UK Space Agency committed to contribute £374 million a year for the first five years to the European Space Agency, ensuring the UK’s continued participation in programmes such as Lunar Gateway. As we have said, this order is possible only because of the UK’s leadership and international collaboration, so will the Minister confirm that that commitment will remain in place, regardless of the outcome of the ongoing Brexit negotiations? What does she want the future relationship between the UK and European space agencies to look like following the initial five-year investment?

In addition to the SKA, UK firms have recently secured funding to play a key role in the European Union’s Copernicus Earth observation programme. Can the Minister guarantee that UK businesses that have contracts with delivery dates that run past 1 January 2021 will be able to deliver that work? Will she tell us what the Government are doing to ensure the long-term strategic and commercial benefits for UK businesses through the UK Space Agency from this programme and others? As we have heard, the UK is a world leader in science and research, and playing a key role in the SKA project is mutually beneficial. Some £6 million has already flowed into the Jodrell Bank facility in Macclesfield, which I visited—it is a credit to us all.

Space research is not only about broadening our horizons and venturing into parts unknown. NASA estimates that discoveries originating from space research have saved nearly half a million lives. UK Government figures estimate that the UK space industry has contributed £5.7 billion to the wider economy. The Minister spoke of the breakthroughs in big data anticipated as part of the SKA programme. What is her Department doing to secure the long-term viability of third-party organisations, and ensure the wider supply chain benefits from UK space research?

Labour is passionate about the long-term future and potential of the space sector. It provides high-skill, high-paid jobs, which are needed to address some of the challenges that we face. To achieve that, the space sector needs a long-term plan and clear direction from the Government so that it remains an attractive place for future projects similar to the SKA. Will the Minister commit to publishing a space industrial strategy to provide a roadmap for UK space exploration?

Order. Some of the hon. Lady’s comments are straying very wide indeed. This debate is quite narrowly framed, so we need to get back to the observatory and Jodrell Bank.

I appreciate that comment, Sir Edward. I am just trying to set the order in context.

The Government have recently made a £400 million investment in the OneWeb satellite programme. Can the Minister set out whether that is a wider UK Space Agency programme, like the subject of this order?

Labour is eager to support the long-term future of the UK space sector, and this order is a positive step, but we need to see a clear strategic outline of the Government’s vision for UK space. The SKA can provide the world with another giant leap, and we must see it as an example of the potential that can be unlocked through ingenuity, expertise and collaboration.

Thank you—I always want to call you Mr Leigh, but I suppose you are Sir Edward. It is an irony of being be-knighted that that is what happens. I am scandalised that the Minister says we have to discover where magnetism comes from, because it clearly comes from somewhere between Gainsborough and Rhondda. I do not think any more investigation is needed.

I have some serious points. Of course I support the measure before the Committee but I want fully to understand the dispute process—should there be any disputes. Clearly that is important whenever we enter into any international organisation. I remember when similar legislation was brought forward for the Olympic Delivery Authority and we had to be careful about the disputes process then. As I understand it from article 14 of the convention, disputes would happen in the Permanent Court of Arbitration, but is the Minister absolutely confident in the belief that we would get a good outcome from that if there were to be a problem?

Secondly, of course I understand the concept of immunity from suit. That is standard for all such international organisations and has been around since just after the second world war. However, I note that the Minister said it does not include road traffic law. I presume that means the congestion charge, parking and things like that; but does it include fraud? What other elements of criminal activity in this country would be exempt? Obviously quite a lot of people in this country are anxious about the way diplomatic immunity is waved around at the moment to protect people in relation to serious legal infringements.

Thirdly, obviously China is one of the signatories. That worries me to some degree. I note that it has not yet ratified, but I worry about its access to the intellectual property that is inherent in the matter, not least because article 11(1) of the convention, I think, says that IP policy has to be agreed unanimously. Obviously therefore China would have a veto on any intellectual property policy that it was not happy with. I worry about that, if I am honest, and I hope that the Minister can assuage my concerns.

I worry also about the measure relating to archives and premises. It is the archives bit that I am concerned about. I do not know what that means in terms of freedom of information—what access we would have in the UK to information, or whether there would be a bar to access. Who makes those decisions and how do we make sure that money is being correctly spent? I would be grateful to know who the two British Council members are, how they were appointed, and where they have come from.

Finally, article 8(8) of the convention says that the HQ, which obviously as things stand will be here, is decided by consensus. What happens if that consensus changes? Again, what role would China play? I note, incidentally, that the original convention refers to India, New Zealand and Sweden as signatories, but the explanatory memorandum that we have had merely refers to South Africa, Australia, China, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal. I wonder what has happened to India, New Zealand and Sweden. Have they fallen off the list somehow?

I acknowledge all the enthusiasm and passion expressed by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central. As she knows, we share a passion for the subject. I will attempt to answer most of the questions that have been asked but, if there are any I do not answer, we have already organised a further meeting.

I thank the Committee for its consideration of the draft order. We are looking at all the negotiations, and clearly, as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central mentioned, we have been talking to the Netherlands, Italy and South Africa. We are making sure that we have those continuing conversations. It is likely and expected in respect of those that we shall ratify shortly.

The hon. Member for Rhondda made many interesting points, and I was writing down some answers as I went along. We are working on all of the points that he raised, and we are more than happy to share that work as we do it. He is right that we have an international obligation. We have been working towards our roadmap, in which we have put all the things that we hope to do, and the UK Space Agency is at the heart of much of what we seek to achieve.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned diplomatic immunity. Clearly, what happened with Harry Dunn was unacceptable and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are pursuing that in the best way that we can. The order confers privileges and immunities on the new Square Kilometre Array Observatory only as far as is necessary for its function as an intergovernmental organisation in the UK.

It is enormously exciting for the UK and our astronomy community to be a key partner in a global project. As the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central said, we want to be the best in the world and unlock all the secrets of the universe. We remain committed to strengthening our position as a world leader in astronomy and space exploration. The order takes us one step closer to bringing the SKAO into operation. As one of the host countries, the Government remain committed to bringing the SKAO into being as soon as possible. By hosting the intergovernmental organisation in the UK, the UK will play a key role in bringing the project to fruition. Therefore, I commend the order to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.