Thursday 21 January 2021
European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020
The European Union (Future Relationship) Act received Royal Assent on 31 December 2020 and the trade and co-operation agreement is now enshrined in UK law, a historic moment in our nation’s journey following the 2016 referendum.
The Government sought, in line with the Sewel convention, legislative consent from the devolved legislatures of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for the future relationship Bill. The Scottish Parliament voted to withhold consent for the Bill. The Northern Ireland Assembly and the Welsh Parliament did not hold a vote on a legislative consent motion for the Bill. The Northern Ireland Assembly voted for a motion, with a Social Democratic Labour party amendment, that called for the Assembly to decline legislative consent. The Welsh Parliament voted in favour of a motion to “note” the Bill, regretting that it was not in a position to determine legislative consent.
The Government respect the devolution settlements and the Sewel convention, and are committed to working with the devolved Administrations on the implementation of the trade and co-operation agreement.
The convention holds that the UK Government will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the devolved legislatures, but the circumstances were not normal. The UK and EU needed to exchange notification of completion of procedures and complete other legal necessities, such as the UK's passing of legislation, early on 31 December to enable provisional application. If the Bill had not received Royal Assent in time, we would have been unable to exchange our notification by the morning of 31 December, the agreement could not have been provisionally applied, and the transition period would therefore have ended without a future UK-EU agreement in force.
We recognise that the expedited timescale was challenging, although the Bill was debated and voted on in Parliament by elected Members from across the UK. Taking the Bill to Royal Assent without the consent of the devolved legislatures was a significant decision. It is not one that was taken lightly. The circumstances of EU exit and the imperative of implementing the 2016 referendum constituted circumstances that were not normal.
While negotiations with the EU are a reserved matter, the UK Government are committed to continue working closely with the devolved Administrations to ensure that our future relationship with the EU works in the interests of citizens and businesses across the whole of the UK—something we demonstrated when engaging with the devolved Administrations in good faith throughout the negotiations.
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Decriminalisation of TV Licence Evasion: Consultation Response
Today, the Government published their response to the consultation on decriminalising TV licence evasion.
The consultation invited views on whether the Government should proceed with the decriminalisation of TV licence evasion by replacing the criminal sanction with an alternative civil enforcement scheme. It set out four criteria against which the issue of decriminalisation would be considered:
whether an alternative enforcement scheme is fairer and more proportionate;
the cost and difficulty to implement any alternative scheme;
the potential impact on licence fee payers, particularly the most vulnerable and those with protected characteristics; and
the overall impact on licence fee collection.
The consultation closed on 1 April 2020 after receiving 154,737 responses from individuals, campaign organisations and other stakeholders. A summary of the responses is included in today’s publication.
After carefully considering the responses received, the Government remain concerned that a criminal sanction for TV licence evasion is increasingly disproportionate and unfair in a modern public service broadcasting system. The consultation responses showed that a significant number of people oppose the criminal sanction with some highlighting the considerable stress and anxiety it can cause for individuals, including for the most vulnerable in society, such as older people.
However, the Government recognise that changing the sanction for TV licence evasion would have wide-ranging impacts for licence fee payers, including the potential for significantly higher fines and costs for individuals who evade the licence fee requirement under a civil regime. The consultation also highlighted significant impacts in terms of both the cost and implementation—particularly as the current system is very efficiently handled in the magistrates court—and challenges posed to the ongoing collection of the licence fee. The Government remain determined that any future change to the TV licence sanction or enforcement scheme should not be seen as an invitation to evade the TV licence requirement, nor should it privilege the rule-breaking minority over the rule-abiding majority.
The Government’s consultation response, which we publish today, therefore sets out that the issue of decriminalisation will remain under active consideration while more work is undertaken to understand the impact of alternative enforcement schemes.
In particular, a future decision on decriminalising TV licence evasion would benefit from consideration in the context of wider reform to the BBC. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has a roadmap for reform of the BBC and this provides critical context for any future decision on decriminalisation.
The Government will therefore take forward these considerations in the broader context of the next licence fee settlement, which will set the level of the licence fee for a period of at least five years from 2022, and where negotiations have recently formally begun.
A copy of the consultation response will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The attachment can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2021-01-21/HCWS732/.
Health and Social Care
Mental Health In-patient Deaths in Essex: Independent Inquiry
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) published his report “Missed opportunities: What lessons can be learned from failings at the North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust” on 11 June 2019 which found that there were a series of significant failings in the care and treatment of two vulnerable young men who died shortly after being admitted to North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust. I have previously announced my commitment to an inquiry into these tragic events.
Today, I am announcing the establishment of a non-statutory, independent inquiry into the circumstances of mental health in-patient deaths at the former North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, the former South Essex Partnership University Trust and the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, which took over responsibility for mental health services in Essex from 2017. This will cover the period from 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2020.
In announcing this inquiry, I am mindful of the current, extraordinary demands on the NHS as it responds to the worst pandemic in living memory. The Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust was one of the first to declare a major incident and the inquiry will schedule its work in a way that is sensitive to these pressures.
I have also listened carefully to the arguments proposing a more formal, statutory inquiry into these events. I share the desire for a robust and independent process that will get to the truth and deliver the necessary learning. I remain convinced that a non-statutory, independent inquiry is the best way to do this and identify the necessary improvements in the timeliest way.
I have asked the distinguished psychiatrist Dr Geraldine Strathdee CBE to chair the inquiry and am delighted that she has agreed to take on this important role. Dr Strathdee worked for many years as a consultant psychiatrist in the NHS. She brings a wealth of experience in mental health policy, regulation and clinical management and is a co-founder of the Zero Suicides Alliance. Dr Strathdee is a person of the utmost integrity and I will expect her to conduct this inquiry without fear or favour. In order to ensure her independence, she will step down from her current role as a national professional adviser at the Care Quality Commission when her term ends in March of this year.
The chair will be supported by expert advisers, including a legal adviser.
The inquiry will consider issues including:
the key factors that led to the deaths of individual patients, whether issues of omission or commission;
aspects of culture and governance that inhibited the trust(s)’ ability to learn and take action following any breaches of safety;
the quality of any previous investigations by the trust(s), the conclusions and recommendations of those investigations and the subsequent actions;
the response of the wider system to these events and the actions taken by the trust(s) in response to investigations or reviews conducted by any other body; and
the further lessons for the Essex Partnership University Foundation NHS Trust and what actions are necessary for the new trust chief executive and its board to ensure that current and future patients receive sustainable safe care; and
further lessons arising for the mental health services, the NHS and the wider system.
The inquiry will not reopen the investigation of fixed potential ligature points that has given rise to the prosecution of Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust by the Health and Safety Executive but may consider the evidence in this area.
The inquiry will be able to interview witnesses to determine if there were failures in care, safety, governance or professional standards and will examine all relevant records to get to the truth. We owe the families nothing less.
My Department will co-operate fully with the inquiry’s investigation, including provision of any documents it might hold that are relevant to these issues and are requested by the inquiry.
Similarly, all NHS employees will be expected to give the inquiry their full co-operation.
I am moving forward with this important inquiry in order to shine a clear light on what happened at the trusts so that lessons can be learnt by the current trust and the NHS more widely. These lessons must be applied to the trust and the NHS to ensure that the provision of mental health services is improved and, critically, that lives are saved. This will require the investigation of some, possibly all, mental health in-patient deaths that occurred across the county between 2000 and 2020. Our focus must be on how we learn the lessons to improve services and prevent in-patient deaths in the future. The chair will want to consider what level of scrutiny of individual deaths is necessary to do this. However, there may be limits on the scrutiny that is possible of the earlier deaths that occurred during this period.
The chair will recommend a final terms of reference following consultation with the families and others affected by these events which I will communicate to Parliament in due course.
The inquiry will be formally established from April 2021 and will aim to report in the spring of 2023.
Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority: Annual Report and Accounts 2019-20
The 2019-20 annual report and accounts for the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) is being laid before the House today and published on www.gov.uk. Copies will be available in the Vote Office. I am pleased to note that the GLAA continued to make progress with its important work in 2019-20 with a 26% increase in GLAA-led investigations and nearly 1,000 gangmasters licensed.
HS2 East Leg Spot Safeguarding
I am today publishing additional safeguarding directions for the High Speed 2 (HS2) railway for the west midlands to Leeds (known as the phase 2b eastern leg) section of the HS2 route to reflect the latest design of the HS2 railway. Please note that the final design of the HS2 phase 2b eastern leg and its integration with Northern Powerhouse Rail will be determined by the Government’s integrated rail plan, that I aim to publish early this year.
The latest safeguarding update includes a site east of Leeds. The site required by the HS2 rail project would support the potential integration between HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.
The developer of the site has been made aware of the safeguarding directions prior to their publication as has the local planning authority, Leeds City Council. By protecting the site now, the Government guard against potentially conflicting development, which could otherwise disrupt the construction of HS2, as well as the risk of increased costs of building the new railway. This protects the public’s interest in spending taxpayer money in a proportionate fashion.
The Government periodically review land requirements needed for the project and update the extent of safeguarding accordingly. It is anticipated that the land requirements for phase 2b of HS2 for the Crewe to Manchester (known as the phase 2b western leg) section of the route will be updated prior to the deposit of the relevant hybrid Bill.
A copy of the safeguarding directions will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses for record, and are publicly accessible online.
Dartford-Thurrock Crossing: Annual Accounts 2019-20
My noble Friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Baroness Vere of Norbiton) has made the following ministerial statement:
Under regulation 3 (1) (d) of the Trunk Road Charging Schemes (Bridges and Tunnels) (Keeping of Accounts) (England) Regulations 2003, annual accounts for the Dartford-Thurrock crossing charging scheme are published today. The accounts relate to financial year 2019-20 and will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Work and Pensions
Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme Levy 2020-21
The Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (Levy) Regulations 2014 require active employers’ liability insurers to pay an annual levy, based on their relative market share, for the purpose of meeting the costs of the diffuse mesothelioma payment scheme (DMPS). This is in line with the insurance industry’s commitment to fund a scheme of last resort for sufferers of diffuse mesothelioma who have been unable to trace their employer or their employer’s insurer.
Today I can announce that the total amount of the levy to be charged for 2020-21, the seventh year of the DMPS, is £28.9 million. The amount will be payable by active insurers by the end of March 2021.
Individual active insurers will be notified in writing of their share of the levy, together with how the amount was calculated and the payment arrangements. Insurers should be aware that it is a legal requirement to pay the levy within the set timescales.
I am pleased that the DMPS has seen six successful years of operation, assisting many hundreds of sufferers of diffuse mesothelioma. The sixth annual report for the scheme, along with the annual statistics were published on 26 November 2020 and is available on the gov.uk website. I hope that members of both Houses will welcome this announcement and give the DMPS their continued support.