Tuesday 8 December 2020
Taxation (Post-transition) Bill
The Government have today tabled resolutions for the Taxation (Post-transition Period) Bill as part of their preparations for the end of the transition period.
The Bill will take forward changes to the tax system to support the smooth continuation of business across the UK. It will ensure legislation required for the purposes of VAT and customs and excise duties to support the practical implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol is in place by the end of the transition period. It will also implement further changes to the tax system which are required ahead of the end of the transition period, including the introduction of a new system for collecting VAT on cross-border goods.
The Government will introduce Finance Bill legislation in the spring, following the next Budget in the usual way.
Unacceptable Behaviours Progress Review
Today the Ministry of Defence is publishing the Unacceptable Behaviours Progress Review and its response, a copy of which has been placed in the Library of the House.
The Progress review was conducted by Danuta Gray, Non-Executive Member of the Defence Board and Chair of the People Committee. The review assessed progress made by implementing the Wigston review’s 36 recommendations in the single services, UK Strategic Command and Head Office.
The review found that good progress was made over the past year. To further accelerate progress, it made an additional 13 recommendations, many of which build upon Wigston recommendations. I welcome the report and accept the recommendations in full. We will be considering how to best take the recommendations forward. We remain committed to preventing and reducing instances of unacceptable behaviour and supporting our people when instances do occur.
While there is clearly work still to do, over the past year we have issued new policy guidance on unacceptable behaviours, introduced a new whole-force bullying harassment and discrimination helpline, introduced active bystander training and ensured our personnel have access to professional mediation services. We are also making reforms to the service complaints system and will be rolling out the first changes in the new year.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Avian Influenza: Housing Measures for Kept Birds
Further to my statement of 12 November, high pathogenicity avian influenza continues to circulate in the UK and Europe. There are now eight confirmed cases in England in kept birds and a large number of findings in wild birds across 19 counties.
Public Health England advises that the risk to public health is very low and the Food Standards Agency has said there is no food safety risk for UK consumers.
Given the high risk of incursion to captive birds we are adding a housing measure to the avian influenza prevention zone (AIPZ). This will take effect from 14 December. It will require all keepers to house their birds or otherwise keep them separate from wild birds. Keepers have until 14 December to ready their birds for housing.
The addition of the housing measure has been co-ordinated with the devolved Administrations and Scottish and Welsh Governments are introducing a similar measure. In practical terms, this means the additional requirement to house birds applies to the whole of Great Britain. In Northern Ireland, as in GB, there is an avian influenza prevention zone in place and the case for further measures on housing is kept under review.
There are rules covering the free range sector in these circumstances. Eggs may continue to be marketed as free range providing the birds are not housed continuously for more than 16 weeks. There are similar rules for poultry meat for 12 weeks. Eggs or poultry can continue to be marketed as organic regardless of this additional housing requirement.
The key to protecting the sector and reducing the risk of further increase in cases is for all keepers to adopt the highest possible standard of biosecurity.
We continue to urge bird keepers to be vigilant for any signs of disease, ensure they maintain their biosecurity, seek prompt advice from their vet and report suspect disease to the animal and plant health agency (APHA), as they must do by law.
We strongly advise keepers to register on the poultry register so as to receive notifications and disease alerts. This is mandatory for all those with flocks of over 50 birds. Registration is easy and can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/bird-gatherings-licences
Officials examine the evidence about the risk on a daily basis and review their risk assessment at least once a month. The need to keep the housing requirement in place will therefore be continually under review.
Health and Social Care
Covid-19 Vaccine Roll-out: Contingent Liability
I am tabling this statement for the benefit of honourable and right honourable Members to bring to their attention the contingent liabilities relating to the contract signed between HMG and Pfizer/BioNTech for their covid-19 vaccine.
On 2 December, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) gave its authorisation for use of the covid-19 vaccine being manufactured by Pfizer/BioNTech. With deployment of this vaccine beginning this week, I am now updating the House on the liabilities HMG has taken on in relation to this vaccine via this statement and departmental minute laid today.
The agreement to provide an indemnity as part of the contract between HMT and Pfizer/BioNTech creates a contingent liability on the covid-19 vaccination programme, and I have laid a departmental minute today containing a description of the liability undertaken.
It has been and is the Government’s strategy to manage covid-19 until an effective vaccine/vaccines can be deployed at scale. Willingness to accept appropriate indemnities has helped to secure access to vaccines with the expected benefits to public health and the economy alike much sooner than may have been the case otherwise.
Given the exceptional circumstances we are in, and the terms on which developers are willing to supply a covid-19 vaccine, we have taken a broader approach to indemnification than we usually would. Global approaches differ, but we are aware that many other nation states are offering indemnities as part of their contractual arrangements, or other means e.g., the US PREP Act, which provides immunity from liability to vaccine developers.
Even though the covid-19 vaccines have been developed at pace, at no point and at no stage of development has safety been bypassed. The independent MHRA’s approval for use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine clearly demonstrates that this vaccine has satisfied, in full, all the necessary requirements for safety, effectiveness, and quality. We are providing indemnities in the very unexpected event of any adverse reactions that could not have been foreseen through the robust checks and procedures that have been put in place.
Developing a vaccination against covid-19 has been an extraordinary feat which has been delivered at great pace. Given the pace of vaccine development and our ambition to deploy the vaccine as soon as it has been authorised, it has not been possible to provide you with normal 14 sitting days to consider this issue of contingent liabilities.
I will update the House in a similar manner as and when other covid-19 vaccines are deployed.