Health and Care Bill (Thirteenth sitting)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: † Mr Peter Bone, Julie Elliott, Steve McCabe, Mrs Sheryll Murray
† Argar, Edward (Minister for Health)
† Crosbie, Virginia (Ynys Môn) (Con)
† Davies, Gareth (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)
† Davies, Dr James (Vale of Clwyd) (Con)
† Double, Steve (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)
† Foy, Mary Kelly (City of Durham) (Lab)
† Gideon, Jo (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Con)
† Higginbotham, Antony (Burnley) (Con)
† Madders, Justin (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
† Norris, Alex (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
† Owen, Sarah (Luton North) (Lab)
† Robinson, Mary (Cheadle) (Con)
† Skidmore, Chris (Kingswood) (Con)
† Smyth, Karin (Bristol South) (Lab)
† Timpson, Edward (Eddisbury) (Con)
† Whitford, Dr Philippa (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)
Williams, Hywel (Arfon) (PC)
Huw Yardley, Sarah Ioannou, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 19 October 2021
[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]
Health and Care Bill
Before we start, I have a few notices. Welcome to Committee Room 14. Please stand to catch my eye because this is such a long room, although if you are doing anything naughty at the back I will see it. I should say that today is my birthday, but wishing me a happy birthday will get you no advantages. Electronic devices should be put on silent mode. No food or drinks, except water, are permitted during the sitting.
The House encourages Members to wear masks when they are not speaking and to give one another space when seated and when entering and leaving the room. Thankfully, in this Committee Room that is easy to do. Hansard colleagues would be grateful if Members could email their speaking notes to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I beg to move amendment 117, in clause 79, page 69, line 15, leave out “services” and insert “care”.
This amendment has the effect that information standards may be set for public bodies that exercise functions in connection with the provision of any health care in England, and not simply NHS services.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government amendments 118 to 121.
Clause stand part.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. As a member of the Government, I am well aware that seeking to curry favour with you in the Chair is a futile task, but none the less I wish you a happy birthday.
The amendments ensure that the drafting of the clauses covers all healthcare, whether delivered by public bodies or by the independent sector on behalf of the NHS or not, and that the relevant persons are captured by the requirement to comply with information standards. Those are matters of technical detail, and ensure that the changes made by clause 79 are coherent and consistent.
Amendment 117 makes minor changes so that information standards can apply to public bodies that exercise functions in connection with the provision of healthcare in England. It ensures that information standards can be applied to public bodies, even if the healthcare is not provided as part of the NHS. Similarly, amendment 118 ensures that information standards can apply in the processing of non-NHS and NHS healthcare information.
Amendments 119, 120 and 121 make consequential changes as a result of the previous amendments. Without those changes, there could be uncertainty about whether information standards can be applied to healthcare information generated outside the NHS. Without the amendments, we might not be able to ensure that data relating to NHS services—such as data about services provided in private patient units or by independent sector providers—flows through the system in a standardised way so that it is always meaningful and easy to understand for any recipient or user.
Clause 79 amends the Health and Social Care Act 2012. It allows the publication of mandatory information standards relating to the processing of information, including its transfer, collection and storage. Health and adult social care providers must currently have regard to information standards, but the clause would require providers to comply with them. The clause allows for the application of mandatory information standards to private providers as well. It requires regulations to be made about procedures for creating information standards. The clause also includes a power to require information from providers for the purpose of monitoring compliance with information standards.
The measures will help ensure that information flows through the system in a standardised way so that it is easily accessible and useful, and they will help to ensure the security of that information when it is processed. Given that publicly funded providers are already required to have regard to information standards, the clause will cause minimal disruption to compliant providers but will enhance the Department’s ability, on behalf of the public, to deal effectively with cases of non-compliance.
By applying information standards to private providers, the clause aims to improve the experience of patients who move between publicly and privately funded services by their own choice, such as individuals who choose elective surgery by a private provider. It does that by enabling the setting of standards that encourage the frictionless movement of information between those providers, with the aim of supporting timely and appropriate patient care decisions.
We consider the clause a crucial enabler for the creation in its broadest sense of a modern heath and care service whose systems are integrated and responsive to the needs of patients and users. I commend it to the Committee.
It is a pleasure to resume proceedings on the Bill with you in the Chair, Mr Bone. I would extend birthday greetings to you, but I know that Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are already giving you all the joy that you need at this time of the year.
That has more influence.
I thought that might get more traction with you.
I also take the opportunity on behalf of Opposition Members to pass our sincere condolences to Government Members and to pay tribute to our friend Sir David Amess. He was a wonderful man: funny, kind and caring. I say that now because my final conversation with him was about the Bill, which precluded me from joining him on a trip. He commended me on my diligence but also cautioned me not to work too hard. I will always remember that; it was classic David.
As the Minister said, we have reached the data part of the Bill. It is important for everything we talked about in part 1, because all the new cultures that we seek to foster will fall over if the data does not work and, as he said, flow freely back and forth between organisations. At the end of the day, ensuring that data can port between different organisations is our problem to solve, not that of the patient or the individual. Therefore, if we are to have properly joined-up care, it is vital that those who provide care have a full sense of who they are caring for and what is needed.
I will not cover the Opposition’s really good amendment to the next clause, which would improve it further, until we get to it. In that spirit, we do not intend to divide the Committee on this group of amendments or on the clause more generally, but I have a couple of points to address, which I hope the Minister might come to in his summing up.
On the clause in general, the Opposition support putting the entire health and care system on the same footing for information standards. As we heard in oral evidence, one of the major blockers is the myriad data systems used across the health and care landscape, many of which cannot talk to each other. When I was an adult services portfolio holder in my local council, I saw how hard it was sometimes even for council systems to talk to each other—I do not know whether that was remarkable or inevitable—never mind systems across different organisations and, in this case, the public, private, and community and voluntary sectors. That is a real challenge. I do not think we can remove that completely—systems may look different because of their different purposes—but there must be some attempt to standardise.
The Opposition do not oppose the clause, but proposed new section 6B in subsection 2(c) allows organisations to opt out—we might want organisations to be able to do that in some circumstances—and proposed new section 6C provides that regulations will cover when that is allowable. However, it is hard to know whether the clause will work until we have seen whether the regulations are strong enough and set a high enough bar on opting out. Will the Minister confirm that the measure allowing for opting out will be very much exceptional and that we will not see any nonsense about commercial confidentiality? We want data to flow across sectors, and that confidentiality has traditionally been one of the barriers to that.
Let me turn to Government amendments 117 and 118, which will expand the scope of the organisations covered. That is good. If we are to share data between social care and more traditional healthcare services, that includes a big landscape of non-NHS providers and perhaps even non-local authority providers, and it is right that information standards should be aligned. There must be a common basis on which to build. The Minister said that in general most organisations are probably already in that space and paying the due regard that they need to, but I fear that these things will be easier in concept than in execution. I am keen to learn what assessment the Minister and his officials have made of how ready the disparate providers in this landscape are to meet these new requirements, whether he thinks there will be a transition period, and whether providers will be helped to do this. Otherwise, the implementation of this strong concept in the Bill will not work. I hope the Minister can address that.
May I put on record my gratitude to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about our late colleague? I suspect that the Health team and the shadow Health team will also speak of him in oral questions in the Chamber in a little while. The hon. Gentleman’s anecdote was all too typical of Sir David and his approach to these things. I think the last time I spoke to Sir David was at our party conference; I had to do something on the platform, and he seemed mildly bemused by the fact that I was rushing off to have my make-up done before I went before the cameras. He then insisted on posing for a photograph with me. It was typical of him. We all miss him terribly in this place, as of course, most importantly, will his wife.
I am also grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support, in broad terms, for clause 79 and the Government amendments. He is absolutely right about the importance of data flowing freely and safely for the benefit of patients. That is why the clause strengthens the wording of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, so that it says “must…have regard to” and “must…comply with”.
The hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions. First, he talked about the option of opting out from regulations. I can offer him reassurance on that; yes, I hope that its use would be exceptional, rather than the rule. Our assessment is that there is already widespread compliance with what we are seeking to do here, but as he rightly says, we have to make sure that we have as robust a framework as possible, because it is up to us to make this work for the patient, rather than their having to work their way around a challenging framework.
The hon. Gentleman’s final point was about the burden of execution. He is absolutely right; as we all know in this place, and from our previous careers in local government—we talk about this a lot—something can look immaculately thought-through and put together on paper, but when we hit the reality of practical implementation, there can be significant challenges. It is not our assessment that there will be significant burdens or challenges with implementation; I go back to my point that our understanding is that the vast majority of these requirements are already adhered to. However, I am happy to keep the matter under review, and to make sure that we tweak the implementation if we need to, and are sensitive to the reality on the ground.
Let me put a bit more flesh on the bones on the subject of the waiver—the opt-out, as it were—as we may touch on the subject when we come to the hon. Gentleman’s later amendments and in subsequent clauses. The thinking behind the waiver is that there may be circumstances in which an organisation feels that it genuinely cannot meet a published information standard that applies to it. That is why there is the waiver power. It could apply to use it, but that request would have to be considered very carefully by officials before it was granted.
I hope that I have given the hon. Gentleman some reassurance, but he knows, I hope, that I seek to be pragmatic in much of what I do, and in the implementation of the provisions, I will seek to apply a degree of common-sense pragmatism.
Amendment 117 agreed to.
Amendments made: 118, in clause 79, page 69, line 21, at end insert—
“(aa) in subsection (3), for ‘services’ substitute ‘care’;”.
This amendment makes it clear that the Secretary of State’s power to set information standards extends to information concerning health care other than NHS care.
Amendment 119, in clause 79, page 70, line 2, at end insert—
“(d) in subsection (7)—
(i) at the appropriate place insert—
‘health care’ includes all forms of health care whether relating to physical or mental health and also includes procedures that are similar to forms of medical or surgical care but are not provided in connection with a medical condition;”;
(ii) omit the definition of ‘health services’.”
This amendment is consequential on Amendments 117 and 118.
Amendment 120, in clause 79, page 70, line 29, at end insert—
“(3A) In section 251C (continuity of information: interpretation)—
(a) after subsection (6) insert—
‘(6A) “Health services” means services which must or may be provided as part of the health service in England; and for that purpose “the health service” has the same meaning as in the National Health Service Act 2006 (see section 275(1) of that Act).’;
(b) for subsection (7) substitute—
‘(7) Adult social care’ and ‘public body’ have the same meaning as in section 250; and ‘processes’ and ‘processed’ are to be read in accordance with the meaning of ‘processing’ in that section.” —(Edward Argar.)
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 119.
Clause 79, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Sharing anonymous health and social care information
I beg to move amendment 109, in clause 80, page 71, line 15, at end insert—
“(4A) Before the power in subsection (1) may be exercised, and every five years thereafter, the Secretary of State must review, and lay before Parliament a report of that review, the possibility of combining the exercise of that power with the exercise of the powers under which—
(a) the General Practice Data for Planning and Research programme, and
(b) other data-sharing programmes
I am moving this amendment in my name and those of my colleagues. There has been some disappointment that on part 1 of the Bill we have not been able to move the Government particularly far from what was originally presented in the Bill. As has been said a number of times, this Bill ought to drive integration in health and care services, but instead we really have a reorganisation Bill, with a promise from the Prime Minister to return with an integration White Paper in due course—when presumably some configuration of all of us will come back and do all this again. It is hard to think that we have not left some opportunities on the table, so I hope we can do better on parts 2 to 5 of the Bill, and I do not think there is a better place to start on that than amendment 109, which would significantly help the Government with an issue that they have been struggling with for more than a decade.
It is obligatory for Health Ministers and shadow Health Ministers to start by saying that data saves lives, and it does. It tells us what is happening in our communities and our country and how we may need to change services to meet the needs of populations. But if it is done right, it can also tell us what will happen in the future and what future needs we will have to meet. For the purposes of designing health and care services, that is golden information. It gives us the chance to get ahead of the curve, to make good early investments and to avoid dreadful workforce gaps, which we are seeing at the moment and which have been created over the last decade.
We are fortunate that there is no country in the world better set up for high-class use of data than ourselves. We have a single health system in each of the four nations covering our entire populations. Of course, our data is spread over more places than simply NHS databases. If we can get it organised, we ought to have the most rich understanding of our population’s health and of the outlook for the future. What an extraordinary gift that is, but we are not using it effectively enough at the moment and we can do much better.
I remember, early in my stint as shadow Public Health Minister, meeting a group of dentists, one of whom said to me that they can not infrequently recognise the signs of certain eating disorders by the impact that frequent vomiting has on the back of a person’s—in these cases, generally a young person’s—teeth. They found it hard to understand why they had no idea whether anyone else who provided care for that individual, or perhaps even the individual themselves, knew that that had happened, because they had absolutely no broader healthcare information about the person. Of course, there are important circumstances in which we need to create firewalls to protect privacy, and we would want people to have only the information that they needed to do their job properly, but in this case the clinician felt like they were flying blind and unable to provide the very best care for this person as a whole person rather than caring just for the teeth of the person.
As an Opposition, we want to see data used well, wisely and in an integrated manner, and if there has really been only token integration in part 1 of the Bill, why not see the real thing in part 2? As I have said, the history here for the Government is chequered. Only this summer, through the General Practice Data for Planning and Research programme, the Government sought, with a characteristic, I might say, lack of touch, to grab all the data from England’s GPs without explaining to patients why they wanted it, what they would do with it, who would use it and who would not use it. Again, it feels as if it is more than a three-word slogan: not enough time was taken to explain this, and the result was entirely predictable.
According to a survey done by Which?, 55% of people had heard of the scheme and, of those who had, 71% felt that the NHS had not publicised the scheme well. Of those unaware of the scheme, nearly 40% stated that they would now be likely to opt out of it. Fifty per cent. of the respondents who were aware of the plans said that they had heard about them through news or social media rather than official sources. Forty-two per cent. said that hearing about the scheme made them trust the NHS less—that was a particularly startling finding. And nearly one third of those who knew of the scheme and had opted out of it had found the opt-out process overly complicated. What a mess. In the end, we saw 1.4 million people opt out, despite how hard it had been made to do so, and the plans were soon punted into the long grass, to return at a date not specified.
This is a real hammer blow for the confidence in how the state and the country handle data. These were the headlines on 13 and 14 October alone. The Bracknell News had, “Thousands of people in Bracknell Forest have opted out of sharing their medical records”. The Somerset County Gazette had, “MORE than 10,000 people in Somerset West and Taunton have opted out of sharing their medical records”. The Lancashire Evening Post had, “Thousands in Preston block bid to share medical records”. The Wirral Globe had, “Tens of thousands of people in Wirral have opted out of sharing their medical records”. The Bolton News had, “Nearly 20,000 Bolton patients opt out of sharing their medical records for research.” There were similar headlines in the Shields Gazette, Hemel Hempstead Gazette, the Hartlepool Mail and more. If it were not so serious, it would be funny.
Each of those headlines is another setback for confidence in individuals’ data and its handling by the state. They go into people’s inboxes or browsers across all those communities and undermine the case for the better use of data. This episode should be looked on with real sadness and frustration. After significant opposition from Labour Members, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners, patients and campaigners, the process is now in mothballs, perhaps never to be seen again.
I talked to a journalist after the pause was announced, and they said to me, “Alex, that was a big win for you guys, eh?” I think they were surprised when I said that, at best, it was a pyrrhic victory, but in reality it was a loss for everybody because we will not now be in a position to use our data to its maximum effect. Even worse, the Government had tried the exact same thing eight years previously and failed in precisely the same way. As I say, they have had other failures to launch over the last decade. This is not a three-word slogan. It is just too complicated to be executed properly.
These things do not have to be made as hard as they look. I strongly believe that people will support the use of data to improve our health, but they want to know that it will not be flogged off to a political donor for goodness’ knows what purpose, and that it will not be given to a company for nothing to help it develop treatments that then get sold back to us at a significant premium. I do not think the tests proposed are too much to ask. There is so much suspicion these days about the use of data. Conspiracy theories abound, and the loss of confidence will set us back for a significant period. That is why I find it so hard to understand why we are not taking the opportunity in part 2 to rectify the mistakes over the summer and the previous decade, but amendment 109 seeks to help.
The Committee took evidence about this matter from NHSX at the beginning of our second sitting, which already seems a long time ago, and Simon Madden, the director of data policy, stated:
“Above all else, I think that the overriding need for trust and transparency—to build public trust in the use of health data—is vitally important”.
That is bang on the nose. I did not hear the Minister say that in his opening speech, so I hope we will when he responds. There needs to be an understanding that the failure to handle GPDPR properly has really set us back.
What I could not understand, though, was the witness’s next answer, when I asked about the process enabled by part 2 of the Bill and the future resumption of GPDPR, or presumably a successor programme, and whether they would run together. I felt the two answers were contradictory. The witness stated:
“Essentially, they are separate in terms of process”.
He then said:
“The general public will not make a distinction between any things to do with their health data.”––[Official Report, Health and Care Public Bill Committee, 7 September 2021; c. 37, Q46-7]
I would argue strongly that it is the second statement that is correct. Anything to do with data in part 2 of the Bill or a resumption of GPDPR, or a successor to GPDPR, will be considered the same thing by the public. It will be regarded with suspicion because of the mistakes that have been made. Amendment 109 seeks to pull the processes together into one place because, as the witness said, the public will think of them as one thing, and we ought to treat them as one thing.
Clause 80 enables a health or social care body to extract relevant data from another such body. I have no problem with that in an integrated system, but it cannot be decoupled from future attempts to create a single health and care information database, as the Government sought to do over the summer. I hope the Minister will say that the process in part 2 of the Bill and other processes that may return in future are two parts of the same whole and as such will be treated that way, or we will make the same errors. I desperately hope that we will hear that today. As I have said, clause 80 is important. Amendment 109 makes it better. I hope to at least hear from the Minister a desire to bring all data programmes under one roof. In principle, we need organisations to talk to each other, and there is a requirement for that to happen.
During party conference, I escaped briefly to meet people at the Macmillan Horizon Centre in Brighton, which supports people and their families living with cancer. I met a man called Marc Valentine who is living with cancer. Due to delays with his care, his cancer is now terminal. He visits multiple hospitals and care settings for guidance and treatment but, in an example of massive system failure, his records do not follow him from meeting to meeting. Here we have a person with cancer who had sat down with a world-class cancer clinician who said she could not offer guidance because she simply did not know anything about his case. As a system, we have wasted the one thing that Marc does not have—time. We can do much better.
The clause will help by allowing organisations to demand such information of each other. That is probably second-best; it would be better for information to be readily shareable. That is why Labour are proposing this amendment. We have heard that the public will not differentiate between the different processes, and I cannot quite understand why the Government propose to make them.
It is important that we recognise the different types of data. The clause is talking about anonymised data, from which we are looking at performance standards, outcome standards and the percentage of patients who had a certain treatment. It is not talking specifically about identifiable data. We also have fully identifiable data with patient details, and in between those we have what is called pseudonymised data, which is like a blurry picture. However, the public are also concerned about that data because they fear that when it is triangulated with other sources somebody can be identified.
It is important that clinical data—the basis of communication between a GP, a breast surgeon like me and an oncologist in a centre—moves around and can be used. However, we must recognise that, as the hon. Member for Nottingham North clarified with the survey that he quoted, the public are concerned about their data. Beyond someone’s biological self, the most important thing that relates to them is their personal data, and after the care.data scandal of seven years ago and Google DeepMind, the public do not trust programmes that suddenly appear with little discussion and consultation and that talk about taking data. There is a huge public education process to be carried out, but equally, in the end, confidence is undermined by the talk about sharing data, whether identifiable or pseudonymised, with commercial companies.
Anonymised data is not an issue. For example, of the patients who took a drug, 10% got a side effect and, of those, 3% had previous heart disease. That is useful information; it does not identify patients. The public’s concern is that commercial companies, including pharmaceutical companies, could access pseudonymised or full data that would identify them. It is important that the Government explain the three types of data and how they are used for utterly different things. The public have no issue with Public Health England or academics working to recognise what is happening with heart disease or cancer in the UK and learning from data. However, they are concerned about the potential commercial use and potential revelation of their personal data.
The Government have a long job to do to convince the public. The danger is that the baby goes out with the bathwater and we lose not just research but integrated functioning in NHS England. It is important to recognise that the data held in the devolved health services is completely separate. I will come to that on clause 85.
Unfortunately, Mr Bone, you missed our last sitting, in which I relayed to other Members my long career in the NHS and my experience on these matters, but I will start in the spirit in which I left off. Having worked at a clinical commissioning group at the time of the care.data episode, I absolutely concur with the comments made by the Labour and SNP Front Benchers, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire.
We have had a lost decade, which is a great shame because the use of such data—we have learned much more about data and science during the pandemic—can save lives. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North mentioned meeting a patient who could perhaps have been helped better. At the end of the day, that is what we want to make happen.
My experience inside the health service will not be everybody’s, but on information governance the attitude to data is very well developed and sophisticated, and people take it incredibly seriously. When we started on the care.data episode, the value of that really seemed self-evident in the system.
We need to bear in mind, as we look at the issue as legislators, that the people who deal with it day to day to effect what they see as positive change may be operating on one track and be completely taken by surprise by the public reaction. I remember trying to understand it myself; I am not a data specialist, but I tried to understand the different channels of what was being tried at the time. I explained to more senior managers that it did not sit right with me—I did not understand where it was going or what it meant for me. If I did not understand it, I knew that if it were not explained carefully, as the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire says, the general public would not either.
There is a missed opportunity. I ask the Minister to consider our very helpful Opposition amendment, not just in his role as a political leader in the Government, but by thinking about the rest of the system and how we can support it to do what it needs to. We absolutely need to bring the general public with us. Because of the mistakes of the past, I would argue that that we now require quite a mammoth exercise: not just differentiating between types of data, but considering who owns it, how we give it and what powers we will have in future.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North said, the opt-out was really quite an incredible exercise over the summer. I think that has gone below the political radar in terms of the numbers of people who have taken that really quite difficult step. Part of this, as we will come to later, is about trust in GPs and GP data, which is where so much of our individual source data goes. The role of GPs also has to be brought very carefully along the path, because that data is of course very valuable for them.
The commercialisation concerns people, but beyond that, this is about our very essence—our trust in the system and the clinicians we see, who most of the time are our GPs. The Government need to step back—although not for too long, because they have already stepped back for a decade—and consider what is the best public exercise that they could embark on to resolve this problem, as the system and all of us really need.
Accepting our amendment in the spirit in which it was moved would be a step in the right direction. If the Government do not accept it, at the very least we should understand what they propose in its place.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Nottingham North for tabling amendment 109. I appreciate where he is coming from; as I understand it, his amendment is intended to ensure that the clause does not require health and care organisations to provide information that they could already be required to provide under existing powers. He talked about consistency and a single approach, and he is right.
The hon. Member for Bristol South is absolutely right, as is the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire, about the need for us—the Government, the system and indeed all of us—to better explain and reassure people about the fact that data saves lives and about how it is used. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire was right to draw a distinction between pseudonymised and anonymised data. She was equally right to highlight that pseudonymised data is not relevant under the power, which is about anonymised data. In a sense, the reassurance is there, but it is incumbent on us to make it clear to people.
We have seen in individuals’ treatment and care pathways the value of data shared and the benefits that it can bring, but we have also seen that more broadly in the development of new drugs and treatments and the benefits that can come from science and research. It is a challenge on occasion to draw a neat line, because some commercial entities develop drugs and do the research. The hon. Member for Bristol South made a key point. She will correct me if I have misunderstood, but people’s concern is not about anonymised data being used to develop drugs that will save lives; it is about where there is a commercial impetus behind it and a commercial gain, and whether the data could be used in a particular way.
In terms of safeguards to prevent private companies from requesting data and using it for commercial purposes, the power to require the anonymous information applies only to public bodies. All NHS organisations will be expected to meet very high standards around the transparency and accountability set out in our five principles governing data-sharing arrangements entered into by NHS organisations, published in July 2019. Those include the principle that any use of NHS data not in the public domain must have an explicit aim to improve the health, welfare and care of patients in the NHS, or how it operates, and relevant bodies would have to continue to comply with those standards.
The hon. Member for Nottingham North made a point about different strands and paths being applied to different things. In June 2021, the then Secretary of State published “Data saves lives: reshaping health and social care with data”, which is the overarching strategic approach. In reality, a lot of what is in that does not require legislation. We do not want to over-legislate, but we are seeking to fill some gaps.
On the hon. Gentleman’s underlying points, the clause his amendment seeks to tweak is designed to enable individual health and adult social care public bodies to access anonymous data to support their functions. It is clearly intended to establish that sharing anonymous data to help staff do their jobs is a key duty and responsibility of all organisations that provide health and social care services in England. It applies only to information that does not relate to identified or identifiable individuals. The information can already be shared without the need for further safeguards around privacy and confidentiality. The Bill does not provide an alternative route for sharing personal or patient information that would be subject to safeguards and data protection legislation, or make any other provisions applying to data-sharing programmes, such as the General Practice Data for Planning and Research programme.
The June strategy that I referred to includes a commitment to reduce the data burden for health and care staff. That is why the clause does not expressly require organisations to process information to render it anonymous so as to comply with a request. We have also taken regulation-making powers to enable exceptions to the power to be made. Again, we come back to seeking to provide appropriate safeguards, but minimising the burden.
The hon. Member for Nottingham North touched on regulations. Key to our consideration of what exceptions should be included in the regulations will be minimising that burden. That could include providing that the power does not apply to information available through other means, and we do not intend to commence the clause until the underpinning regulations are also in place.
On the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, I entirely understand where he is coming from, but I fear that it is not necessary for safeguarding patient information, given that the clause relates only to anonymised data and not to identified or identifiable individuals. I fear equally that it would not go with the grain of seeking to ensure that the burden of data sharing is minimised. In particular, it would appear—he may correct me on this—to require the Secretary of State to carry out a review before each request is made under the clause and to lay a report before Parliament.
I ask the hon. Gentleman not to press the amendment to a vote, although I suspect he will. I am happy to have further conversations with him about what he seeks to achieve. Hopefully, I can give him more reassurance or, if I cannot, explore whether there is more that we need to do in this space to reassure him, the Committee, the House and the broader public on the points about confidence made by the hon. Members for Bristol South and for Central Ayrshire. On that basis, I gently encourage him to consider not pressing his amendment to a Division, and I am happy to engage with him and the Committee if he feels that that would be constructive.
Alex Norris, gently or otherwise.
I thank colleagues for their contributions, which I thought were really good. This is an important area, and it is important that we give it a proper look. The points that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire made about the different types of data were important, and the run-through of their benefits and disbenefits was well made. I know that we will get to them again when we debate future amendments, so I will not prejudge that conversation. I still feel strongly—this relates to what the Minister said—that we have reached a point in the public conversation where there is no differentiation left, and that is the point that Simon Madden made. Because the temperature of the discussion has been elevated, they will be seen as one. That is what I have sought to address in my amendment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South was right to say that we have had a lost decade. That is, sad because it means that there have been healthcare improvements that we have not made. Over that time, extraordinary workforce gaps have emerged, and we would perhaps have been able better to plan around them if we had had a greater sense of the growing healthcare needs in our population. She is right that getting public trust back will be a “mammoth exercise”. That is why we have advocated for getting everything under one roof, in a single process.
The Minister mentioned that we all have a responsibility to explain data, and that it is important to make the arguments that we make in here out in our communities. I agree, but I feel I have much less of a responsibility to do that when the process is snuck out over the summer at short notice, without our ever having had a conversation about it. There could have been some effort to build consensus. I would have been willing to have difficult conversations with colleagues and constituents about it on that basis, but the way the process was handled made it impossible to defend. It left right hon. and hon. Members in the very strange circumstance of helping people to opt out of a system while thinking that that was not a good decision for them, or for anybody. As local representatives, we have a responsibility to people who ask for help.
I still do not get the sense from what has been said since then, publicly or in these proceedings, that the Government really understand the public message that they have sent, and I fear that that means we will keep repeating this conversation. In the amendment I simply ask that before the powers in the clause are turned on, a statement is made about how we seek to use these processes, and any other data processes, and handle them as one piece. That feels like a very modest ask.
I am going back and forth on whether to press the amendment to a Division. The Minister’s offer was a kind one, and I am conscious that I am putting a lot of this at his door. He did not create this process, but he is here speaking to part 2, so it is at least half him. Perhaps, when the dust has settled from what happened over the summer, we can have a conversation soon between Government and Opposition Members about how to do such things differently in future.
I am grateful for that, and on that basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: 121, in clause 80, page 71, line 20, leave out “250(7)” and insert “251C(6A)”—(Edward Argar.)
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 120.
Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
As we alluded to in our discussion on amendment 109, the clause inserts a new section into the Health and Social Care Act 2012. It has the sole objective of increasing the sharing of anonymous data for the benefit of the health and adult social care sector. The provision applies only to information that is in a form that does not identify any individual or enable the identity of any individual to be ascertained. It allows health and social care public bodies to require such information from other health and social care public bodies and from others who are commissioned by public bodies to provide health and adult social care services. As we discussed in relation to amendment 109, the provision requires those bodies to share only information that they already hold in anonymous form; they are not required to process information held in order to render it anonymous.
The use of “anonymised” in the title of the inserted chapter is a typographical error to be corrected. It does not reflect a change in the policy intention, nor does it have any practical impact on the clause. Anonymous information—information that does not identify any individual or enable the identity of any individual to be ascertained—can already be shared without the need for safeguards to ensure privacy and confidentiality. The provision will mean that public bodies will be able to require such information to be provided to them for the benefit of the health and adult social care sector.
The hon. Member for Nottingham North made an important point about understanding the message from the public on data. He may have a different interpretation, but I think the message was, “Data saves lives, but it is our data. We want to know and approve of how our data is used and have control over it.” People recognise that data can improve care and treatment, but it is their data and they want to be reassured and comfortable about how it is used and the safeguards that are in place, and that it is their choice rather than something that is done to them.
The new power to require sharing of anonymous information will complement section 251B of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which places a duty on certain health or social care organisations to share information about an individual with certain persons where that will facilitate the provision of care to the individual and it is in the individual’s best interests. Both measures underline the importance of sharing data proportionately and appropriately to improve services and care.
The clause will also complement key provisions in the Bill, supporting those that strengthen the duty to co-operate across the health and care system. Regulations will provide for exceptions. Issues such as minimising the burden on providers and protecting commercially sensitive information may be taken into account when introducing exceptions. It is intended that proposed new section 251D(1), which allows for anonymous information to be required, will not be commenced until the regulations are made and the exceptions are clear. Given the extensive debate that we have had on amendment 109, I will stop there and commend the clause to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 80, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
General duties of the Health and Social Care Information Centre etc
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The clause amends the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and requires NHS Digital, when exercising its functions, to have regard to the need to promote the effective and efficient planning, development and provision of health services and of adult social care in England. NHS Digital must have regard to that alongside various other duties, and the clause requires it to have regard to the need to balance those duties.
In addition, subsection (3) makes clear that NHS Digital may share information for purposes connected with the provision of healthcare or adult social care, or the promotion of health. That is intended to address previous confusion about when NHS Digital can share data by clarifying that it can share data for purposes such as planning the delivery of services and medical research. This will ensure that NHS Digital has the right powers and duties to collect, share and otherwise process data proportionately, appropriately and with due regard to protecting privacy.
The clause will also ensure that consideration of the benefits to the health and care system and the individuals served by it sits at the centre of NHS Digital’s duties, alongside its other general duties. These include having regard to the need to promote the effective, efficient and economical use of resources, and to respect and promote the privacy of the recipients of health and adult social care, and a duty on NHS Digital to minimise the burden it imposes on others.
The clause acknowledges that NHS Digital’s key functions may sometimes pull it in different directions, and that where that happens, it must balance competing priorities and outcomes—something we expect all organisations to do every day, but it should be explicitly acknowledged in NHS Digital’s key functions.
We also want to provide greater clarity on the purposes for which NHS Digital can share data. It has a rich store of data, which, when used securely, safely and responsibly, can help ensure that everyone receives the best care and treatment—a point that the hon. Member for Nottingham North made in debate on the previous clause. The changes that we made to NHS Digital’s legislative framework in the 2012 Act are intended to ensure that it can do that. The clause will not enable data to be sold to private organisations; I offer him that reassurance, as I suspect as he would have asked me for it in a moment, and I hope it is welcome to him. He may none the less ask me to reiterate that in my concluding remarks.
NHS Digital will continue to be subject to data privacy laws in relation to its use of data; also, its legislative framework and processes place strict controls on its dissemination of data. Those controls include a requirement that any sharing of information be for legitimate purposes, such as those connected with the provision of health or adult social care, and scrutiny by NHS Digital’s independent group advising on the release of data, which advises NHS Digital on the appropriateness of sharing any confidential information. The clause will provide NHS Digital with the clarity it needs to use health and care data to benefit the public and support the health and care system safely and appropriately. I therefore commend it to the Committee.
As the Minister says, the clause deals with the Health and Social Care Information Centre, known to its friends as NHS Digital. This is a crucial body, and everything we have heard in debate so far, and in part 1 of the Bill, makes NHS Digital’s role even more central. The provisions in the Bill are modest; to use the Minister’s preferred language, they are de minimis. NHS Digital will be crucial as the body that can bring together, under one roof, information held by various organisations, and that can make sense of multiple systems in order to get the right information out, which is difficult. As we have heard, the history is chequered.
I hope that when the Minister sums up, we will at least hear a commitment that goes beyond what is in the Bill, and that NHS Digital is empowered to get a grip on our data across the entire piece. This is very much in the spirit of what I just talked about; there are multiple processes, all of which will at some point go through NHS Digital, which makes it an important clearing house. I hope Ministers will have a keen eye on its resources, and technical expertise. There is a real need for the organisation to demonstrate leadership, politically and at official level, and to pull the system together. I hope that we will hear a little about that, and about the outlook for NHS Digital. I am grateful for the point about private companies’ data; I will not reiterate that.
I am grateful to the shadow Minister for his remarks and their tone. I hope that I can reassure him, in the few brief moments that I will take to sum up, that we recognise entirely NHS Digital’s current and potential role in helping to pull the piece together, adopting an holistic approach to data, and making sure that there is a coherent data strategy that works. I am confident and reassured that it has the technical expertise and resources to continue to develop its work and deliver for people in this country. I also reassure him that it continues to be a key priority of Ministers and the Secretary of State to ensure that NHS Digital has the tools it needs to do the job, so that, to go back to the thread that has run through our debate this morning, it uses its data to save more lives and provide more treatment, and does so in a way brings the public and our electors along with it. I hope that reassures him, and I am grateful for his remarks.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 81 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Collection of information from private health care providers
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Clause 82 enables NHS Digital to require private healthcare providers to provide data, where this is necessary or expedient in order to comply with a direction by the Secretary of State to collect information. It does this by amending section 259 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
This provision will enable a consistent approach to the use of data, supporting improved safety and quality across private and NHS health services. The need for this was underlined by the Paterson inquiry, which examined the case of Mr Paterson, a breast surgeon who worked both privately and for the NHS and was found guilty of wounding with intent in relation to unnecessary surgery. NHS Digital has been working with the Private Healthcare Information Network to develop the acute data alignment programme. These provisions will support that work and enable data to be required from private providers where it is needed.
This provision is needed to ensure that the system has the information it needs to better understand the quality and safety of services across private healthcare and the NHS. NHS Digital will be able to exercise this power only where it has been directed to establish an information system by the Secretary of State, and information from private providers is necessary or expedient for that system to be established or to operate. That means we can ensure that demands on private providers are proportionate and necessary, and that they do not duplicate other requirements.
Clause 82 will provide NHS Digital with the powers it needs to contribute to the work that is being done to address issues of patient safety and quality identified through the shocking case of Ian Paterson. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.
We think that this measure is particularly important. Private companies must play their role in the process and share their information, just as we would expect the NHS and local authority bodies to do. However, we want clarity that there will be no refuge to be had from hiding behind bogus confidentiality on commercial grounds. That is not explicitly recognised in the Bill, but I am hoping that I have read this right and the Minister can confirm that that is because proposed new section 251ZA, which clause 79(3) will insert into to the 2012 Act, allows the Secretary of State to compel the provision of that information if they judge it to be necessary.
I beg to move amendment 143, in clause 83, page 73, line 23, after “assistance” insert
“or any form of reablement and rehabilitation provided under section 2 of the Care Act 2014 to reduce the need for care and support”.
This amendment is consequential on NC47.
With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 47—Registration of tertiary prevention activities in respect of provision of social care—
“(1) Section 9 of the Health and Social Care Act 2008 is amended in accordance with subsection (2).
(2) In subsection (3), at end insert ‘or any form of reablement and rehabilitation provided under section 2 of the Care Act 2014 to reduce the need for care and support’.”
This new clause would bring reablement and rehabilitation provided under section 2 of the Care Act 2014 to reduce the need for care and support into the purview of the Care Quality Commission.
These measures would bring reablement and rehabilitation provided under section 2 of the Care Act 2014, for the purpose of reducing the need for care and support, into the purview of the Care Quality Commission. Unlike other adult social care functions, rehabilitation and reablement services are not currently part of regulated adult social care activities. There is no reporting, guidance on service standards, monitoring or inspection. That is despite the fact that rehab activities carry a level of risk similar to that of other adult social care interventions. This is particularly pertinent because rehabilitation services will be critical for those who are recovering from long covid.
One example that would fit into this category is vision rehabilitation. There is evidence from the Royal National Institute of Blind People that there are individuals who have been waiting since 2018 for their vision rehab. That will, of course, have been affected by the pandemic. However, those waiting more than two years, who have had this very profound change in their lives, need to develop new skills that they previously would have relied on their sight to achieve. The sooner that can be done, the better, because there are going to be so many other obstacles to adapt to.
The pandemic alone is not reason enough to offer comfort there. In the RNIB’s research, an inquiry made to lead councillors for adult social care in England last year found that about four in 10 did not know that vision rehabilitation formed part of that portfolio. An element of that will be because it is an unregulated function. Having been such a portfolio holder, I remember that you are very conscious of regulated provision in your area, because of the seriousness that comes with that, and I want to explore this gap a little.
Of course, the past 18 months have been extraordinary circumstances. Being a regulated activity on the same level of other adult social care activities would not fix the problems on its own, but it would have made a difference. It would certainly have given those gaps greater prominence. That might have been the beginning of addressing them. Indeed, there is a sense in the sector that this level of regulation would improve the visibility and priority of these services to senior managers and lead members by allowing for better data collection, for guidance, for quality standards to be developed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, and for inspection services by the Care Quality Commission.
I will not say much more on that. It may well be that this is not the best mechanism to do those things, but I would be keen to understand why this particular element of adult social care is unregulated when so much effort is put into regulating other elements of it. Rehabilitation and reablement are particularly important.
I am grateful to the shadow Minster for tabling the amendment and enabling us to have this discussion and air this issue. I understand his intentions in the amendment and new clause 47. It is right that social care services are appropriately and effectively regulated, and this includes rehabilitation and reablement. However, I do not believe that the amendment and the new clause are the right way of achieving the intended outcome.
Where providers carry out regulated activities as defined under schedule 1 to the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014, rehabilitation and reablement services are already within the scope of the CQC’s activities. As such, most rehabilitation and reablement services are CQC registered and are usually carrying on the regulated activities of accommodation, personal care, and treatment of disease, disorder or injury.
The definition of social care in section 9 of the 2008 Act is already sufficiently broad to cover reablement and rehabilitation provided under section 2 of the Care Act 2014. If there are concerns about the scope of CQC regulatory activities in relation to these services, they would perhaps be more appropriately picked up as part of the ongoing review of the 2014 Regulations. That work would probably sit better there. We intend to publish the response to that public consultation on the review in due course. For that reason, I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment and perhaps seek to use that process and that review as the mechanism by which to further air these issues.
I am grateful for that reassurance. That does provide comfort, certainly on the CQC aspect. The driver behind the amendment was as much that the CQC sharpens its focus for local authorities. I am not quite sure that we have got to the point where this will close that gap. However, there is a good mechanism by which to do so, so I might pursue this later, rather than pushing it to a Division.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
This clause inserts a new chapter 3 into the Health and Social Care Act 2012, relating to information about adult social care. It introduces a new power for the Secretary of State to require regulated adult social care providers to provide information relating to themselves, their activities or individuals they have provided care to. The information may be sought only for purposes connected with the health or adult social care system in England, and its processing will need to comply with the UK general data protection regulation. Disclosure of commercially sensitive information is restricted under new section 277B(2).
As the shadow Minister set out, the clause enables the Secretary of State to delegate this function to the Health and Social Care Information Centre—known to its friends as NHS Digital—or to a special health authority, or to arrange for other persons to exercise them. Any such person would be subject to the restrictions on onward disclosure set out in new section 277B in the same way as the Secretary of State.
The clause is crucial for helping us to fill data gaps, understand more about self-funders and better manage emergency situations. Data from local authorities can show only part of the picture, as individuals who privately fund care have little or no contact with a local authority. That needs to be addressed to support local authorities to manage provider markets and secure improved outcomes for all receiving care and support.
The provisions will support a consistent and transparent approach to the processing of data across privately and publicly funded care to enable improved safety and quality of provision. Without that data, our ability to effectively identify and manage emerging risks and issues and to take appropriate action will be restricted.
The clause will enable us to collect higher-quality and more timely information, fill data gaps, support high-quality provision of services, and manage risks at local, regional and national levels. I therefore commend it to the Committee.
To date we have discussed 83 clauses, and we might finally have found a little note of integration. Local authorities not only want to share their data, but they want a greater sense of the data that they do not have, as the Minister said. They are desperate to do this. They want the all the needs of their service users to be met, but they are frustrated by a system that is atomised and hard to navigate. We know that that is also exhausting for patients and their families. I know that local authorities will jump at the chance to use the provisions effectively, but I have a couple of questions.
First, is there an expectation and obligation that the data sharing will be a two-way street? There are times when local authorities are frustrated about their ability to get information either out from the centre or from local health services. I would not want that opportunity to be missed. Secondly, to reiterate a point I made earlier, it is a pain getting systems to talk to each other. Will the Minister and his officials look at what support and time may be needed to implement the measures?
I am, as ever, grateful to the shadow Minister. On his final question, about the burden of the additional data that we want to collect, which is a fair one, the aim is to reach a point where we can collect and share data across the sector in a way that minimises those collection burdens. That will include giving careful consideration to the frequency and nature of data collection. We will seek feedback from those engaged in the process and carry out appropriate assessments of it.
The capacity tracker, which is a web-based digital insight tool that we used to collect provider data in near-real time to help manage the pandemic, currently has a very high completion rate. We do not anticipate that any further mandated collection will create a significant burden in addition to that tracker. We learned during the pandemic that it is one of the things that will have beneficial applications in future. The capacity tracker currently operates on a voluntary basis, but it has high sectoral coverage—about 95% of adult social care providers are voluntarily using it. That, I suspect, is motivated by the infection control fund incentives, but our intention is to make it as simple and as easy as possible for people to continue using the tracker without imposing a burden on them. We recognise, however, that if those incentives are not there, the balance of burden and compliance changes, so we are looking at longer-term collections, which would likely be required far less frequently than the frequent iterations involved in managing a pandemic.
We therefore believe that we have struck the right balance, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to keep the matter under review and seek to strike the appropriate balance.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 83 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Enforcement of duties against private providers
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The clause inserts a new chapter into the Health and Social Care Act 2012 dealing with the enforcement of information provisions. It enables regulations to be made to impose financial penalties on private providers that, without reasonable excuse, fail to comply with an information standard or a requirement to provide information, or that provide false or misleading information. I am sure that you, Mr Bone, and members of the Committee will be pleased to hear that the regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure in Parliament. This allows us to provide for enforcement in respect of private organisations, which are not subject to usual accountability mechanisms and judicial review in the same way as public bodies. The clause also provides for the regulations to set out details such as the amount of the penalty, as well as safeguards such as notice of the penalty and an opportunity for the person to make representations and to appeal to the first tier tribunal.
Clause 84 enables the Secretary of State to direct a special health authority to exercise the enforcement functions under regulations made under these new provisions and to give directions to the special health authority about the exercise of those functions. That provision and the related information provisions in the Bill are part of the wider strategy for health and care data, which aims to ensure more effective use of data across health and adult social care to deliver better treatment for patients, better health results for people who need care and support, and better decision making, research and support for those on the frontline. Our expectation is that those aims will be delivered through the commitments in that data strategy, including the legislative changes that we are making. The use of fines or, in the case of public bodies, judicial review is—as always—a mechanism of last resort but an important part of achieving those aims. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.
The clause is an important counterpart to clause 82. If private organisations do not comply with their duties, enforcement will be necessary, although we hope it will not prove to be so very often.
As the Minister said, much of this has been left to regulations, so we are flying a little blind, but his point about the affirmative procedure is welcome as we will have a chance to revisit the issue. Ahead of that, however, we suggest that the Government consider two things in formulating regulations. First, a private company should not be able to pay its way out of its responsibilities. The fine alone should not discharge the notice, and instead the information should still be forthcoming.
Secondly, in pursuit of that, under section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 the Secretary of State has the power to injunct a company and stop it trading if it does not comply with its responsibilities to publish a statement on modern slavery and its supply chain. A similar provision in the Bill would be highly effective. I hope that the Minister and his officials will consider that when they formulate the regulations. We will have a further debate on this at that juncture.
I beg to move amendment 65, page 77, line 3, at beginning insert “Subject to subsection (3A),”
This amendment, together with Amendment 66, would allow specified people and organisations who are required to provide information for a registry or information system to provide information to NHS Digital in pseudonymised form.
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 66, page 77, line 12, at end insert—
“(3A) The provision mentioned in subsection (2)(b) must enable those required to provide information to provide information in pseudonymised form.”
See explanatory statement to Amendment 65.
Amendment 64, in clause 85, page 77, line 33, at end insert—
“(5A) The Scottish Ministers may exempt persons to whom subsection (5) applies and who are in Scotland from any requirements imposed by regulations under this section.”
This amendment would allow Scottish Ministers to exempt providers in Scotland from participating in any particular registry or medical devices information system.
Amendment 61, in clause 85, page 77, line 34, at beginning insert “Subject to subsection (6A),”
Amendment 62, in clause 85, page 77, line 47, at end insert—
“(6A) Provision under subsection (6)(c) and (d) may only provide for the disclosure, use or (as the case may be) further disclosure of information for purposes of public health analysis, and must prohibit disclosure, use or further disclosure of information for commercial use.”
This amendment would require that the disclosure of information will only be for the purposes of public health analysis and not for commercial use.
Amendment 63, in clause 85, page 78, line 1, leave out
“includes power to vary or revoke the directions by a subsequent direction”
and insert “—
(a) includes power to vary or revoke the directions by a subsequent direction, and
(b) is subject to the consent of—
(i) the Scottish Ministers insofar as the direction makes provision for any matter which falls within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament,
(ii) the Welsh Ministers insofar as the direction makes provision for any matter which falls within the legislative competence of Senedd Cymru, and
(iii) the Northern Ireland Ministers insofar as the direction makes provision for any matter which falls within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly.”
This amendment would require the appropriate authority to obtain the legislative consent of the devolved governments before powers under this clause are exercised.
Amendment 60, in clause 85, page 78, line 9, at end insert—
“(8A) Regulations under subsection (1) may not be made without the consent of the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers and the Northern Ireland Ministers.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to obtain the legislative consent of the devolved governments before powers in this clause are exercised.
Amendment 67, in clause 85, page 79, line 8, at end insert—
“(4) Provision under subsection (3) which changes the territorial extent of provisions of Chapter 2 of Part 9 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 (constitution and functions etc of the Health and Social Care Information Centre) and—
(a) relates to Scotland may only be made with the consent of the Scottish Ministers,
(b) relates to Wales may only be made with the consent of the Welsh Ministers, and
(c) relates to Northern Ireland may only be made with the consent of the Northern Ireland Ministers.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to obtain the legislative consent of the devolved governments before regulations under this provision are made.
I should like to speak to the whole group of amendments because they all relate to one another—amendments 65, 66 and 64 are very much about the form of data, which I discussed earlier.
The principle of the clause relates to the powers that are going to be given to the Health and Social Care Information Centre. It is given a power to require, so it can demand data. As a Scottish MP I am aware that data handling under NHS Scotland is different. Our data systems are different. We have a real concern that there is no mention of consultation, let alone legislative consent. For the public across the UK, the way in which their data is handled, who owns and controls their data and what is done with it are critical. We did not take part in the care.data project or Google DeepMind. There has not been any attempt within NHS Scotland to commercialise data, but we have very innovative working from Public Health Scotland and the academic universities. We do not want to see that undermined.
It is disappointing that there is no recognition in the clause that there should be both consultation and consent from the devolved Health Ministers. Proposed new section 7A(2) and 7A(4) give the power to require, and amendments 61 and 62 relate to proposed new section 7A(6) on how data is used and to whom it is disclosed, which we discussed earlier.
On proposed new section 7A(3) relating to the form of data, I totally support registries, particularly of devices. We are all aware of vaginal meshes. I remember wading through case sheets at the time of the PIP breast implant scandal, even though I knew we had never used them, because the only way to prove that none of my patients had had them was to go through literally every single operation note and sign it off.
Amendments 65, 66 and 64 relate to the form of data and specify that the Health and Social Care Information Centre would have power to decide what kind of information would be included in individual patient information. Amendments 61 and 62 relate to what we talked about earlier: disclosure to third parties, which is of public concern.
Amendments 63, 60 and 67 relate to proposed new section 7B(5)(b), which is the power to change the territorial extent. Although most of these provisions talk about getting data on social care from local government in England, it is completely within this Bill that the information centre would be able to demand data from devolved health centres and that the Bill’s territorial extent could be changed later by regulation, and without consultation, let alone legislative consent. All my amendments relate to the same basic principle: the four health services run separately, use different data systems and have different principles for sharing, using and analysing data, and whether they feel that sharing that with commercial companies is actually in the best interests of research, of patients and of clinical communication.
It is not necessary for pharmaceutical companies to have access to pseudonymised or individual data to study the functioning of their drugs. They require analysed, anonymised data that has been handled by trusted academics and researchers, whether from Public Health England or working in collaboration with universities. The amendments call for both consultation and legislative consent, without which the devolved health services and their principles of keeping data within the NHS and the public health system will be undermined. The Government need to talk to the devolved nations about that. They saw this Bill the day before it was launched. That is not consultation. That is not collaboration. That is not involvement.
It may well be that Ministers feel that a central registry of individual, identifiable details makes sense, or they may feel that it should be pseudonymised and brokered by the individual health services, because it will be those services that will have to contact patients if devices are found to be unsafe or need reviewing or if people need further surgery. This is about the lack even of consultation. As we have talked about all morning, data is so important to the public and to patients that legislative consent should be put into all those clauses of the Bill. I am disappointed that none of the devolved Ministers got to see the Bill when it was being put together, and as we heard from the Welsh Health Minister during the evidence sessions, her concerns are exactly the same as those of the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care.
That is what I call for the Government to do, and I look forward to the Minister’s comments.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire on her amendments and the case she made for them. I remember with fondness that during proceedings on the Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021 we were able to offer constructive ways in which information regarding medical devices could be collected and used. We managed to move the Government on that. I hope we have similar success on these proposals too, because those were arguments well made.
Amendments 65 and 66 get to the heart of building confidence regarding data among the general public. There is widespread understanding about anonymised data and about datasets so big that individuals cannot be recognised, but we know that sometimes, if we want more detail, and particularly around rarer conditions or in rural and more isolated communities, we risk identification. Giving our information leaders the tools with which to protect individuals while still delivering the desired outcome is a sound principle and is part of hearing the message that was sent from our constituents, so we can start to rebuild trust. Providing such extra tools would be proportionate.
Turning to amendment 64, devolution is at its best when the four nations can exercise the advantage of local knowledge and leadership but collectively harness separate oversight to tackle collective challenges. That is important, particularly for the use of data. I strongly believe it will be in the interests of people across the United Kingdom for all four nations to have similar systems of standards and alignment on data. I am conscious that the challenges in north Nottingham will be similar to the challenges in north Cardiff, but devolution may well mean that services in Cardiff are different from those in Nottingham; that is part of the process. It can also mean that the outcomes are different, and we may want to know that, so that one community can, if it wants to, change to replicate what another is doing. I am not arguing against common usage; I think it is important, but we do not want a situation where the Secretary of State seeks to act with overbearing control as a first among equals. The mutual benefits of sharing data are so clear to all parties that they ought to be able to be agreed on a good-faith and negotiated basis. It should not need compulsion from the Secretary of State; in fact, that would be a significant failure. Therefore, the opt-out specified would be proportionate in this case.
Amendments 61 and 62 are crucial. The general practice data for planning and research process fell over because a significant part of the population did not trust the Government to handle their data appropriately. There is widespread concern about the Government’s relationship with big commercial entities, whether in the planning process, political donations or covid contracts. They are not scare stories or political fluff; they are real issues, they are in the public consciousness, and there is a sense that that relationship and the balance with the commercial sector is not one where the calibration is right.
On data, we must at every opportunity send the loudest possible signal that there are irremovable firewalls between people’s data and commercial usage. That works on two levels. First, as mentioned there is a lack of trust that the data will not be handed over to big commercial companies. We know that the mega-giants in social media have an insatiable desire for our data, and the old adage that social media is only free because our data is the product rings true. The NHS is not like a social media platform, though; it is free at the point of use, but we have paid for it through our taxes. It is not a free service we get in return for sharing our data, and there is no mandate to simply pass on the information collected as a result of our healthcare.
Let us be honest: what confidence would we have in sending the Government to negotiate with these companies? We have seen the painstaking process involved in just getting them to pay tax in this country; I would not, with full confidence, send a Prime Minister to negotiate a fee for our data, because I suspect we would end up paying the companies. This is an opportunity to be absolutely, immovably and irreversibly clear that we do not think that they should be near this data.
Secondly, it is worth reiterating that it is not as simple as just not handing data over. Even through legitimate and beneficial use of data, we are still at risk of getting a bad deal. For example, we no doubt want to use population-level healthcare to work out what conditions we may need new treatments for in the future. For that reason, we want researchers to use this data, and from that new treatments and drugs will emerge. Big pharmaceutical companies stand to gain from this, so how is it to be accounted for? We have a stake and have played a part in that process, so we ought to have a share of the benefits. How will the premium that we pay for the new treatments reflect the contribution that we have made—bluntly, where is our dividend? Those are the reasons that the GPDPR process fell apart, and why there is so much suspicion about the Government’s handling of data more generally. If we keep repeating the same approaches we will get the same outcomes. This is a moment to change that and to send a signal that our data will be protected from commercial interests; I hope the Minister will meet this moment.
Finally, on amendments 60 to 63 and 67, I will not rehearse the arguments I have previously made. I can conceive of times when NHS bodies, local authorities, community and voluntary sector providers or private sector providers might fall short of the expectations we have of them on data sharing, and exceptions where the Secretary of State may need to step in. That is why the Opposition have supported earlier clauses in part 2. That is a reasonable and proportionate way of ensuring that the data sharing regime is an enabling regime. I cannot think that applies to the devolved nations. All four nations are partners in the common pursuit of improving health outcomes; we may diverge in approach, but the common goal is the same. I cannot conceive that there will be such a divergence on data that it would be legitimate and wise to resolve it by working without shared consent. I hope, in the light of the arguments made, that the Minister will revisit that point.
To the point made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire about the relationship with Edinburgh, while it is correct that a number of these clauses, and a large part of the Bill, were not finalised in their drafting until a day or two before publication, it is important to say that since the beginning of this year Scottish Government officials have had sight of the intentions and have been discussing with UK Government officials the wording and content of these clauses. I appreciate that this is not necessarily the same as a Minister seeing the exact wording, but that relationship and transparency has been there at that level.
I also put on record my gratitude to Humza Yousaf, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care. I spoke to him a week or two ago, and with tragic timing, in that conversation he asked me to pass on his best wishes to James Brokenshire for his recovery. I know that they got on well, and I hope that I have a similar relationship with Humza, who is pragmatic, and I appreciate the work that he is doing on this. We continue to talk, because I am keen that we have that healthy relationship and it is my intention that we respect the Sewel convention and work together to come to an agreed position. It is challenging because there are genuine differences of principle on how things should be interpreted, but I am committed to working with him, as he is with me, to find a way to reach a common position that respects everyone’s principles and approach.
The medicine information systems clauses give us an important opportunity to ensure we have the highest quality evidence on which to base critical regulatory decisions. If we get this right, there is real potential, which has been alluded to by all Members, to take a step forward in the way medicines are monitored, risks are identified and action is taken to protect patients. We need to provide for the most effective operation of this system to realise the full benefits for patients across the UK.
The detailed operation of the system will need to be carefully considered further as we develop the regulations under the clause. It will probably be important that the systems are able to receive information that is fully identifiable to ensure accurate linkage and deduplication of data. That is necessary to ensure that the information system is able to capture a comprehensive picture of a patient’s treatment to generate robust evidence, and that if a patient moves from one area of the UK to another, they are not lost from the registry.
Robust decision making on patient safety must be made using accurate data, which can only be achieved by processing identifiable data from the four nations to create the UK-wide information system. That necessitates precise data linkage due to the nature and potential rarity of harmful events based on multiple identifiable data points. It is proportionate to use identifiable data to understand potentially adverse patterns early.
Patient-identifiable information is also necessary where inclusion in a registry is to be used as a risk minimisation tool, where a patient needs to be identifiable in the registry to their healthcare providers, or if information systems are linked with wider safety monitoring mechanisms already in place, such as the yellow card scheme, through which the public and healthcare professionals can report adverse incidents experienced with a medicine to MHRA, to further strengthen the data it collates.
It is not necessary to make provision in the Bill, because the powers in clause 85 give the ability to follow the most appropriate approach on the collection and disclosure of data, following discussion with stakeholders on the detail of the future regulations. The confidentiality and security of patient data and the reassurance that offers to patients is paramount. I hope I can assure the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire and other Members that all data held in a medicines information system will be processed in compliance with data protection legislation, which places crucial safeguards on the use of that information. That includes data principles such as lawfulness, fairness and transparency, purpose limitation and data minimisation—meaning that the minimum necessary information will be collected to meet the required purpose.
I recognise the importance of ensuring the appropriate and proportionate use and access to information in a medicine information system. As part of our consultation on the regulations to establish and operate a medicine information system, we will engage with patient groups and other stakeholders across the UK, as well as the devolved Administrations, on the content and scope of the system to ensure we do what is right for patients.
On amendment 64, at official level we have been in discussions with the devolved Administrations since February about the provisions in the Bill, particularly those for which at an early stage we identified a shared agreement that legislative consent was required. Clause 85 is one of those. I would like to put on record my gratitude to those officials—we often talk at ministerial level, but they worked very hard for some time in the spirit of finding a way forward that works for everyone. Let me say the same in respect of the devolved Administrations, who have spent considerable time working with us.
Without going into too many details, because those discussions are continuing, I have had constructive discussions with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care in Edinburgh. I am keen, as he is, to do what we can to move those discussions forward. I hope we will be able to provide further reassurance over any outstanding areas of concern to the DAs, and where necessary and agreed, to table amendments ahead of Report. I hope that gives the hon. Lady some reassurance that I am directly engaged with the Cabinet Secretary and I will continue to be so. I am due to have another conversation with him in the coming days, and I have in my bundle another draft letter I am due to send him addressing some of the details of the granular points we are now looking at. I hope we will be able to make progress.
For medicine information systems to be truly effective as a tool, they need to cover all patients using the medicine across the UK. The regulatory decisions taken on the basis of the data collected will apply to the licensing of that medicine across the whole of the UK. My concern about Scottish Ministers choosing whether Scottish providers should or should not participate in the information system is that it could risk a fragmented approach, which is why we are having those discussions at policy level.
The amendment would apply only to medicine information systems. However, I note that the hon. Lady also refers to the medical devices information system. My memory may fail me, but I recall that the regulation enabling the medical devices information system was introduced in the Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021, which was passed by both Houses and was subject to a legislative consent motion, agreed by the Scottish Parliament at the time.
The amendments in the Bill related to the medical device information system are technical in nature. We believe that, having got where we are, it would not be appropriate to revisit those substantive points, which were debated fully and voted on in the context of that previous piece of legislation. I again commit to working as closely as I can with the devolved Administrations to find a way forward.
Turning to amendments 61 and 62, as we have debated in other clauses, the Government are committed to championing the safe, effective use of data, enabling it to flow in a lawful, secure and appropriate way to improve outcomes for citizens. NHS Digital allows information to be used for purposes connected to health and care by organisations that have a legal basis and legitimate need to use the data. That approach enables data to be made available for a range of purposes that improve health and care. In some instances, such a use may have a commercial aspect, for example when informing the commissioning of tertiary services, such as paediatric services for children adversely affected by medicines taken in pregnancy, or when supporting research by organisations at the earlier stages of developing new treatments.
I recognise that individuals, regardless of where they live in the UK, will rightly want to be reassured that their information will be used in a trustworthy and appropriate manner. NHS Digital does not approve requests for data where the purpose is for marketing, insurance or similar purposes. That would extend to systems established under this clause. We would also continue to build on the safeguards in place to ensure that information will be appropriately protected and to ensure transparency about how it is used and by whom. The Government will work closely with the devolved Administrations to ensure that differences in approach to the use and disclosure of information across the UK are taken into consideration in developing the medicines information system.
Finally, I turn to amendments 63, 60 and 67. Amendment 60 would require consent to be obtained from all the devolved Administration Ministers in each case where the regulation-making power in clause 85 relating to medicines and information systems is exercised. Similarly, amendment 63 would require consent to be obtained from the devolved Administrations before the power in clause 85 to give a direction can be used. Amendment 67 would require consent to be obtained from the devolved Ministers before the power in clause 85(5) relating to territorial extent of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 could be exercised.
Clause 85 would enable the capture of data on the use of specific medicines throughout the UK to support high-quality evidence on their use, benefits and risks, and will be a significant step forward in improving the monitoring of medicines. As I have said, we are seeking to implement a system that works for the whole of the UK and ensures the safety of all patients. I reiterate that I am committed to working with the devolved Administrations to see if we can do just that.
The crux of what the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire is getting at is “consult or consent”, and the difference of interpretation on which is the more appropriate. Without going into too much detail, those are exactly the conversations I am having with her colleague, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care. Those discussions are ongoing, but I hope we will be able to make further progress. My previous conversations with him have been typically well informed and positive, and I hope we continue to make further progress.
It is important to be clear that clause 85(5), which would be affected by amendment 67, is a technical provision. Regulations made in relation to medicines and medical device information systems will introduce more substantial functions for NHS Digital in relation to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. To ensure that NHS Digital can effectively undertake its UK-wide function in relation to the medicines and medical devices information systems, it is appropriate that certain provisions relating to the Health and Social Care Act 2012 can form part of the law for the whole of the UK. That is achieved through the power in clause 85(5).
That power can be exercised only as part of the regulations that deliver either the medicines or the medical devices information systems. The power applies only to certain provisions in the Health and Social Care Act 2012 that relate to the functions and constitution of NHS Digital. Therefore, use of the power is appropriately limited, and is also subject to the same public consultation requirement before any changes can be introduced through those regulations. It is not the intent to impact the range of other elements of the 2012 Act outside of the context of NHS Digital’s functions under the Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021.
The Government are committed to ensuring that all patient data are captured efficiently, stored safely and used effectively, including those from patients within the devolved Administrations. To reiterate one more time, I commit to continuing to work closely with the devolved Administrations in discussions on this. I cannot promise what the outcome of those discussions will be; that would be wrong while they are going on. However, I commit to continuing to engage in good faith with the devolved Administrations to see whether we can make further progress. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire might consider withdrawing her amendment, but obviously that is her choice.
I welcome the Minister’s constructive comments. Obviously, I am not party to the consultations that are going on. I am still disappointed that there was not provision for both consultation and, where necessary, legislative consent. As the Minister clarified, those registries will absolutely contain individual patient data. As a surgeon, of course I support the principle of registries and how they are put together, but the responsibility for data in NHS Scotland and in the other devolved nations lies with the Health Ministers of those nations. It is disappointing that there was nothing put in these provisions.
I hope that the consultation goes forward. I will therefore not push the amendments. Obviously, I reserve the right to table amendments at a later stage. However, it is important that the Government recognise that the same concerns that we have heard around GP data in England would then apply in Scotland, where we have not taken any kind of commercial approach in the past, and that there will be a recognition of the role of those health Ministers. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
As we have discussed in the context of the various amendments, clause 85 inserts a new chapter, 1A, into the Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021. It introduces a new power to make regulations that would provide for one or more medicines information systems to be established and operated by NHS Digital. The power may be exercised only for the specified purposes set out in the provision: namely, purposes relating to the safety, quality and efficacy of human medicines and the improvement of clinical decision making in relation to human medicines. The clause sets out the types of provisions that could be made by the regulations and, to ensure full engagement, includes a mandatory public consultation requirement that must be fulfilled before any regulations are made.
Medicines information systems will enhance the capture and collation of information on the uses and effects of specific medicines across all four nations, including medicines prescribed to patients by the NHS and private healthcare providers. That information will be used by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to enhance post-market surveillance of medicines by enabling the development of comprehensive UK-wide medicines registries, which will be used to drive improvements to patient safety. The evidence generated through medicines registries can be used to inform regulatory decision making, support local clinical practice and provide prescribers with the evidence needed to make better-informed decisions. For example, where safety concerns have led to the introduction of measures to minimise risk to patients, comprehensive medicines registries will enable early identification and investigation of cases where those measures are not being followed, so that additional action can be taken to improve safety at national, local or individual patient level.
The clause also ensures that we have the right powers to promptly modify what data is collected by NHS Digital as the need for new or different information about a medicine emerges in the light of changing or developing public health needs. That will provide the ability to rapidly respond to emerging risks to patient safety if and when they develop.
Given the overarching aims of the clause, it makes sense that the provisions will ultimately sit within the Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021, which has a similar power for establishing information systems for medical devices in section 19. To ensure the effective operation of both the medicines information systems and the medical devices information systems, the clause also introduces necessary technical amendments to the MMD Act.
The clause drives forward improvements to the safety measures that protect patients in the UK against avoidable harm from medicines, and supports the need for the establishment of registries as recommended in the independent medicines and medical devices safety review, published last year. The clause directly supports putting patient safety at the heart of regulatory decision making. It will ensure that we have robust and comprehensive evidence to address public health concerns, and enable mechanisms to track the use and effects of medicines, based on public health needs. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.
I had intended to go the entire period that I am in this place, however long that might be, at least trying to be a young Member, if not a new Member, but clause 85 amends a piece of legislation that I was on the Bill Committee for previously, so I feel that I cannot do that now. That is really startling. Nevertheless, as I said earlier, I and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire argued strongly for this in Committee on that Bill, and I certainly would want to see this used properly and developed. With all the daily treatments that there are—and certainly when it comes to the medical devices that are inserted into people on any given day and on every day of the year every year—we really ought to know what those things are and, when there is a problem, be able to deal with it quite quickly.
I will make one final point. The Minister references, quite rightly, the independent review—the Cumberlege review. We will be revisiting the matter in the new clauses, because the Government have not done the job properly on that review. Although there are elements in this clause that make good on some of the commitments, there are very significant things that have been left out and that the Government do not intend to do, and they have really let down the families by not doing them, so we will be returning to that point, and I hope to find the Government in listening mode when we do.
I have nothing further to add to what we have said, save that I am always in listening mode when the shadow Minister is making his points.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 85 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Steve Double.)
Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.
Nationality and Borders Bill (Fifth sitting)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: †Sir Roger Gale, Siobhain McDonagh
Anderson, Stuart (Wolverhampton South West) (Con)
† Baker, Duncan (North Norfolk) (Con)
† Blomfield, Paul (Sheffield Central) (Lab)
† Charalambous, Bambos (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)
† Coyle, Neil (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab)
† Goodwill, Mr Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
† Gullis, Jonathan (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
† Holmes, Paul (Eastleigh) (Con)
† Howell, Paul (Sedgefield) (Con)
† Lynch, Holly (Halifax) (Lab)
† McLaughlin, Anne (Glasgow North East) (SNP)
† McDonald, Stuart C. (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
† Owatemi, Taiwo (Coventry North West) (Lab)
† Pursglove, Tom (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
† Richards, Nicola (West Bromwich East) (Con)
† Whittaker, Craig (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury)
† Wood, Mike (Dudley South) (Con)
Rob Page, Sarah Thatcher, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 19 October 2021
[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]
Nationality and Borders Bill
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to what will be for some of you the first sitting of a Committee for a very long time, and for others probably the first sitting of a Public Bill Committee. Please switch electronic devices to silent. I am afraid that food and drink are not allowed in the Committee Room, so if any Member feels obliged to get a coffee or something, I am afraid they have to drink it outside in the corridor. Water, of course, is permitted.
Members are encouraged to wear masks when they are not speaking, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering. I shall mainly not be wearing a mask, I am afraid, because my glasses steam up and I need to be able to see my papers. I mean no discourtesy to any Members who feel either inclined or obliged to wear a mask. Hansard will be grateful if Members could email their speaking notes to email@example.com.
The format of the Committee Room this morning is slightly changed as a result of the pandemic. It is a sadness to me and to the Clerks that civil servants are now required to sit in the Public Gallery rather than where they would normally sit, along the side. That makes life slightly difficult for parliamentary private secretaries, who may wish to communicate messages from the civil service to the Minister. I gather that that is now done electronically, but if there is a problem please let me know. I hope that the system will work, but we need to know if there is a difficulty.
We are about to commence line-by-line consideration of the Bill. Before we do that, at the risk of teaching granny to suck eggs, I will give a very modest tutorial. I am fully aware that, as Committees have not sat for some time, there will be Members present who have never sat on a Public Bill Committee. Even those who have and, dare I say it, even Chairmen sometimes get things wrong or do not understand what is going on. It is a fairly arcane process. All the papers that are needed, in case you have not already worked this out for yourselves, are on the table in front of me. You are not supposed to walk in front of the Chair, but I will not bite your head off if you suddenly find that you need a paper that you do not have, so feel free to come and get it. I should have said at the start that when I am in the Chair—this may not be the case with Ms McDonagh; it is up to her to decide—if Members wish to remove their jackets they may do so. Given the weather, you may not wish to.
Coming to the selection list, which I hope you all have a copy of, you will note that amendments are grouped by subject of debate, which may or may not be in the order that the Bill dictates. The order is dictated by subject matter, not the sequence in which amendments have been tabled. That is why you will find that the groupings appear to be out of order. The first grouping—amendments 29 and 84—relates to clause 1, so that is pretty straightforward. The second grouping under clause 1 relates not only to clause 1 but to other clauses. If you wish later to move an amendment, only the lead amendment may be moved. Therefore, amendment 29 may be moved, but not amendment 84, and amendment 8 but not the rest of the group. The other amendments may be moved when they are reached in the Bill. The amendments to clause 10 will be debated now but moved formally when we reach clause 10.
I am sure that is as clear as mud, but it will become clear. If Members have doubts about this or any other procedure, please do not hesitate to ask; like the man from the Inland Revenue, we are here to help you.
Not all amendments will be moved. All Government amendments will be moved, but if an Opposition Member wants to move an amendment that does not appear at the start of a group, please tell us. The Clerk will note it and you will be asked to move it at the right point in the Bill.
I hope that is relatively clear. Unlike in proceedings on the Floor of the House, any Member who wishes to speak should indicate as much to the Chair—I do not have second sight. We will try to accommodate you. You may intervene more than once in Committee, whereas only one speech may be made of the Floor of the House.
At the end of clause 1 there will be a stand part debate, offering an opportunity to debate the whole clause, as amended. If I consider that every conceivable thing that can, should or needs to be said about clause 1 has already been said, I shall not permit a stand part debate: that is in my gift, not yours. I always say that you may have one bite of the cherry, but not two. I normally allow a fairly wide-ranging debate on the first group of amendments—Siobhain might take a different view—but please bear it in mind that if you avail yourself of the opportunity I am unlikely to permit a stand part debate: you cannot say the same thing twice.
I shall try to guide you as we go along, but I am probably no less rusty than you. Let us see how we get on.
Historical Inability of Mothers to Transmit Citizenship
With this, it will be convenient to debate amendment 84 page 2, line 14, leave out
“had P’s parents been treated equally”
“had P’s mother and P’s father been treated equally”
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger.
I thank colleagues from across the refugee and asylum sector for their considerate and constructive scrutiny of all the proposals made in the Bill’s evidence session in September.
As part of the Opposition’s detailed scrutiny, we will express our serious concerns about the Bill, which we believe does nothing to address the crisis in our broken asylum system and seeks to penalise the most vulnerable people in our society.
I shall first consider the Bill’s impact in addressing historical injustices in British nationality law concerning discrimination, specifically in relation to British overseas territories citizenship. We generally support the proposals in clauses 1 to 5, which seek to close important loopholes.
I pay tribute to the efforts of the British Overseas Territories Citizenship Campaign, which has campaigned tirelessly over many years for the nationality and citizenship equality rights of the children of British overseas territories citizens who have suffered under UK law owing to loopholes that we shall discuss in detail. These people feel a strong connection to the UK and deserve our support.
British nationality law can be complex. Some of the complexity arises from the British history of empire and Commonwealth. In passing the British Nationality Act 1981, Parliament created British citizens and British overseas territories citizenship. In doing so, it abolished citizenship in the UK and colonies—abbreviated to CUKC—which was a unifying citizenship for all persons of the UK and its colonies. This meant that the status of some children had the potential to be changed to overseas citizens, even though they had been born and raised in the UK.
Persons unified by CUKC were therefore separated by the 1981 Act into two groups, but amendments made since mean that the two groups are no longer aligned in British nationality law.
The Bill’s early clauses seek to bring into line the two elements of British nationality—British citizenship and British overseas territories citizenship. For the benefit of those on the Committee, I point out that British overseas territories citizenship is the citizenship of people connected to the territories that the UK has retained. It includes the following territories: Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Clause 1 would create a registration route for the adult children of British overseas territories citizens and for mothers to acquire British overseas territories citizenship. Before the 1981 Act commenced on 1 January 1983, British nationality law discriminated against women, whose children could not acquire British citizenship through them. The Act removed that discrimination, but did not address the impact of that discrimination prior to the Act. Many people, therefore, would have been born British but for this discrimination and continue to be excluded from British nationality after the passing of the Act.
It is clear that a historical anomaly was created. Changes were made under section 4C of the 1981 Act to rectify the situation of children of British citizens, but no such rectification was made for the children of British overseas territories citizens. Members of the Committee will know that under the 1981 Act a number of cases arise in which an individual who would have qualified for automatic British overseas territories citizenship, British citizenship or the right to register or naturalise as a citizen is unfairly prevented from doing so through no fault of their own, as has been the case with the adult children of British overseas territories citizens.
We need to rectify that injustice. The historical inability of mothers to transmit citizenship should be corrected, and I am glad that is being addressed in the Bill. Clause 1 sets out to correct that and create a registration route for the adult children of British overseas territories citizen mothers to acquire British overseas territories citizenship.
The Opposition generally support the changes proposed in clause 1 to close that important loophole. None the less, our amendment refers to a technical matter in relation to the drafting of clause 1—specifically, that it does not follow the language previously accepted to address the injustice, as used in section 4C of the 1981 Act.
I am sure that the Committee will agree that clarity is crucial in matters of citizenship and nationality law. The language used in clause 1 is not sufficiently clear. I will explain why. For example, the clause introduces proposed new section 17A, subsections (a) and (b) of which include the terms “had P’s parents been treated equally”. As Amnesty International and the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens outline, the difficulty with such wording is that it tells us nothing about the direction in which equality is to be achieved or indeed in what place.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Citizenship, clarity and consistency in the law are essential, which is why we seek to rectify the position. The provisions of one Act cannot be inconsistent with those of another.
The amendment would address the difficulty by inserting the wording,
“had P’s mother been treated equally with P’s father”,
in clause 1. It would clarify the clause and the positive intention behind it. I think that there is broad agreement in the Committee on the need to address the historical inability of mothers to transmit citizenship.
Ordinarily, unless the Minister wishes to intervene, we now have a debate in which any Member may take part. At the end of the debate, the Minister exercises his right to respond and the mover of the motion decides whether he wishes to press the amendment to a Division or withdraw it. If it is the latter, I seek the leave of the Committee for him to do so.
That is a very good point, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman makes it. It gives me an opportunity to explain again. You may speak to any of the grouped amendments. In this instance, you may speak to amendments 29 and to 84, although it has not been moved. Any one of the second grouping of amendments—8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and new clause 16—may be spoken to. They may be moved later. I hope that is clear.
Thank you, Sir Roger: that is very helpful.
Do we have to declare an interest each time we speak or once per sitting? I want to make it clear and above board that I have received support from the Refugees, Asylum and Migration Policy project. It provides policy support two days a week. I am unsure how often I have to do that in the course of a Bill Committee.
We have declared interests during the evidence sessions, and personally I regard that as a declaration of interest. If a Member is in doubt and wants to do a belt-and-braces job on this, they should feel free to declare an interest and cover themselves. That is their responsibility. As far as the Chair is concerned, that job has been done already. If a Member has not declared an interest but wishes to do so, the appropriate moment for it is when they stand to speak.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I am grateful for your refresher course. We are all rusty and I ask for your forgiveness for the mistakes that I shall undoubtedly make in the days ahead.
I support amendments 29 and 84 and much of what the shadow Minister just said. I welcome the Minister to his new role. I wish him all the best—apart from with large parts of the Bill, unfortunately. He has been thrown in at the deep end, and I dare say his recess was particularly busy. However, I congratulate him on finding time to record an excellent time in the London marathon a couple of weeks ago.
This complex and technical Bill raises profoundly important issues. We are all aware of the huge concerns that have been expressed about large parts of the Bill. I would also like to thank the various organisations that have given evidence in writing, orally or in private briefings or that have drafted the overwhelming majority of the amendments that we have tabled. I thank the Clerks for their help in what is not always a straightforward process in tabling amendments at a time that has been hugely difficult for them as well as for all hon. Members. We do, however, start our line-by-line consideration on a positive note. Even though we have fundamental disagreements with many aspects of the Bill, that is not the case for part 1 where for eight ninths of the time we can have hearty agreement. We just suggest a little probing and tweaking on one or two issues.
The shadow Minister said that the Government are correcting some historical injustices of UK nationality law as well as bringing British citizenship and British overseas territories citizenship law back into line. That is welcome. No doubt, it might have happened sooner, but it is good that it is happening. I pay tribute to the campaign groups that have continued to make the case over several years, including the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, Amnesty International and the BTOC campaign group which will be particularly pleased to see many of the changes in part 1 and to whom I had the pleasure of speaking briefly yesterday on a Zoom call at a time that was very early in New York.
The folk that I spoke to yesterday had suffered blatant injustices and it is important that we put faces to that. They had been denied British citizenship and British overseas territories citizenship simply because of the marital status of their parents. It is hugely welcome that those injustices are now going to be fixed.
Being a citizen is absolutely fundamental to our lives and to our enjoyment of a whole host of rights. Hence the right to citizenship is enshrined in the United Nations declaration of human rights, article 15 of which confirms that everyone has a right to a nationality and that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality or denied the right to change their nationality. In a practical sense, it is the right to have rights and citizenship can be a pivotal first step in providing security and a sense of safety to those who enjoy it. It is a recognition on both sides that this is someone’s country, so being unjustly deprived of citizenship is a grievous harm to suffer. We welcome the first eight provisions that correct some of those injustices and later we shall ask for the same logic to be used in other cases that we firmly believe are injustices too.
As we have heard, clause 1 seeks to correct the injustice suffered by people who would have been British overseas territories citizens but for the rules that stopped mothers passing on citizenship in the same way that fathers could. That is clearly discrimination against women and their children and is not acceptable.
I understand some of what the hon. Gentleman is saying but, by way of clarification, may I point out that there is never any doubt as to who the mother of a child is, but there are occasionally questions over the paternity? Does the wording of the amendment make it easier to define who the father is? Sometimes someone’s parent may not be the biological father. Is the difference between a father, and someone who is married to the mother who may have thought he was the father when the child was born?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the intervention but I am not sure that I followed every aspect of it. All I can say is that the definition of father in the amendment is exactly the same as the definition that the Government have used. It is not changing that at all. I will explain exactly what the amendment does in a moment.
We are talking about getting rid of the unacceptable discrimination against women and children. A correction, albeit an imperfect one, to the laws of British citizenship that does exactly the same thing has already happened. In clause 5, there is a provision that actually fixes that. However, that correction was not made to British overseas territories citizenship. The Government have already fixed it for British citizenship; the amendment is now trying to fix it for British overseas territories citizenship. In a nutshell, the question we are asking the Government is, “Why are they using slightly different wording this time round compared with last time?” That is the crux of the debate and I will come back to that point.
My amendment would allow people who have suffered injustice to register as British overseas territories citizens. That is good, but two issues arise. The first is cost and we will come to that when we consider the next group of amendments. The second is about the language used and whether it really makes sense. Amendment 29 would challenge the Government on the use of the language to correct the injustice. Slightly surprisingly, the Government have not just copied, or used copy and paste, from the fix used for British citizenship that is found in section 4C of the British Nationality Act 1981. Section 4C allows for the correction of injustices by registration if someone missed out on citizenship because citizenship by descent was not provided for mothers “in the same terms” as for fathers or if someone missed out because it could not be acquired because it could not be obtained “in the same terms” for mothers as for fathers.
The Bill, in doing the same job for British overseas territories citizens, uses the terminology
“had P’s parents been treated equally”.
The key questions for the Minister have been pointed out by Amnesty International and the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens in their written submissions. Why are the Government not using the same language as they used to fix the problem for British citizenship? If there is a good reason for not using that language—if there is some sort of problem with the language that was used in the case of British citizenship and the fix used for that—do we not need to go back and fix that fix, as it were? Even assuming that there is a problem and the language used has to be different, why have the Government chosen to use this language, which seems rather clunky and problematic?
Speaking about hypothetical circumstances when parents are treated equally does not make it clear, unlike the section 4C version, whether we are, to coin a phrase, “levelling up” rather than levelling down. P’s parents could be treated equally badly, as well as equally well, so the drafting leaves a lack of clarity about the fact that we want mothers to be treated the same as fathers and not the other way round. The Government like to talk about “levelling up”, so here is a chance for the Minister to do some of that and make what appears on the face of the Bill absolutely clear.
Amendment 29 provides the best wording and addresses all the points in amendment 84. It flags up another place where the issue arises and if we wound back the clock a few days, I would probably copy amendment 29 that the shadow Minister has tabled. I believe it is the best version. I will therefore not press amendment 84 to a Division, but I fully support amendment 29. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
Ordinarily, I would take speakers from both sides of the Committee, but if no Government Member wishes to speak at this stage, I will call the hon. Member for Glasgow North East.
I will be brief and echo what my hon. Friend has said. I welcome the Minister to his place and wish him well although I am sorry to say not with this Bill. I thank all the multiple organisations that are concerned by the Bill and supported the moves to make the changes that need to be made.
It might be a moot point but, as my hon. Friend said about amendments 29 and 84, we do not want to be in a situation in which parents are treated equally badly. I suspect that that is not what the clause is about and I hope that the Minister will say that it is fine and we will accept that. However, it is important that we acknowledge that mothers were treated unequally and wrongly. That is because, throughout the centuries, women have been treated systemically badly. Yes, of course things have improved—and this is an improvement—but we have to acknowledge it whenever there has been systemic bias against any group of people, and in this case we are talking about women and mothers. I do not think any member of the Committee would disagree that what has happened is extremely unfair but we must acknowledge it so that we can move forward. Acknowledging a problem draws attention to it. Let us not pretend that we have equality of the sexes and genders. We do not. Every time that that is acknowledged it enables us to move forward and think of other situations in which there is inequality.
We have helpfully been provided with photos of members of the Committee and been given their constituency names but when I saw the photo of the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby, I thought he was the right hon. Member for Con, Scarborough and Whitby. I thought, “Where is ‘Con’?” until I realised that it referred to the fact that he is a Conservative. I am learning something new every day.
The right hon. Gentleman was factually correct to say that it is easier for mothers rather than fathers to prove their parentage. That is why I wonder why on earth it was so difficult for women to pass on their nationality to their children. There is no question who the mother is in such cases. I hope the Minister will say that he will change the language to refer to mothers and that the Government will acknowledge the inequalities between men and women and mothers and fathers. Treating parents equally should not mean that they are treated equally badly. I suspect that he does not want to do that and I support most of the provisions in this part of the Bill. That is probably the last time I shall say that today.
I start by thanking Opposition colleagues for their warm welcome to me in my new role. It is welcome that, in the early provisions of the Bill, there is broad agreement across the Committee about the need to correct the injustices and to put things right.
I thank the hon. Members for Enfield, Southgate, for Halifax, for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and for Glasgow North East for tabling amendments 29 and 84. They both refer to clause 1, which I am pleased to introduce because it corrects a long-standing anomaly in British nationality law. I appreciate hon. Members’ attention to detail in seeking to make sure that the new provision is clear and in line with the parallel provision in the British Nationality Act 1981 for the children of British citizen mothers. However, I do not think an amendment is needed, as the proposed wording here achieves what is intended. In saying that this provision applies to someone who would have been a citizen had their parents been treated equally, we are talking about a situation where the law applied equally to mothers or fathers, women or men.
The term “parents” is consistent with the wording used in section 23 of the 1981 Act, which determined which citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies became British dependent territories citizens on commencement. One of the three conditions that a person needs to meet to qualify for registration under this clause is that they would have become a British dependent territories citizen under section 23(1)(b) or (c) of that Act. That section refers to a person’s “parent”.
I wish to point out that we will further clarify the points that have been made in the underpinning guidance. I trust that will afford greater comfort because it is clear that the Bill is technical, so plain language will be used in the guidance itself to achieve what members of the Committee seek to achieve.
I, too, congratulate the Minister on his new role. If the Minister is saying that this may require further explanation in the guidance, will he agree to review it in more depth before the Bill reaches the Lords if organisations are able to present examples of case studies where the current wording may not meet the Government’s intent?
I will of course be delighted to receive any such examples. I genuinely think that, as with so many cases of immigration law, the underpinning guidance plays an important role in making it clear, in plain English that people can understand, precisely what various aspects of the law entail. I am satisfied with the current wording of the clause.
I understand what the Minister says about the wording doing a job in statute, but will he say whether he thinks that the wording used has any implications for British citizenship as opposed to British overseas territories citizenship? Was a problem with the wording recognised and is that the reason why it was not copied across? Or is this Bill a wee bit different and therefore uses different wording?
The short answer, based on my understanding, is no. The connected provision in the Act talks about parents and not the mother and the father, so that is why we think this is the appropriate route to take for BOTCs. I am satisfied that the current wording does what is required so I ask hon. Members not to press their amendments.
I have heard what the Minister has said, but we could avoid going down the path of seeking to clarify the current wording if the same wording that was used in the 1981 Act were used here. We do not see what the problem would be. If the wording in the 1981 Act is adequate, why not just repeat it in the Bill? It would provide clarity and stop problems occurring in the future. Our belief is that everyone should be treated equally, and we should not have a separation, which the amendment tries to correct, between British overseas territory citizens and British citizens. Regrettably, we will press the amendment to a vote.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Ordinarily, Mr McDonald, I will not ask this question, because I will assume that if you, or any other Member who wishes to move an amendment that has been debated but not yet called, have not notified the Chair, you do not want it to be called. However, because this is the first time, do you wish to press amendment 84 to a Division?
In that case, we move on to the next grouping.
I beg to move amendment 8, in clause 1, page 2, line 46, at end insert—
“(7) The Secretary of State must not charge a fee for the processing of applications under this section.”
This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from charging a fee when remedying the historical inability of mothers to transmit British overseas territories citizenship.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 9, in clause 2, page 7, line 30, at end insert—
“(6) The Secretary of State must not charge a fee for the processing of applications under sections 17C, 17D, 17E or 17F.”
This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from charging a fee when remedying the historical inability of unmarried fathers to transmit British overseas territories citizenship.
Amendment 10, in clause 3, page 8, line 18, at end insert—
“(4) The Secretary of State must not charge a fee for the processing of applications under this section.”
This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from charging a fee for British citizenship applications by certain British overseas territories citizens.
Amendment 11, in clause 7, page 10, line 25, at end insert—
“(5) The Secretary of State must not charge a fee for the processing of applications under this section.”
This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from charging a fee on applications for British citizenship by people who have previously been denied the opportunity to acquire it on account of historical legislative unfairness, an act or omission of a public authority, or exceptional circumstances.
Amendment 12, in clause 7, page 11, line 8, at end insert—
“(5) The Secretary of State must not charge a fee for the processing of applications under this section.”
This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from charging a fee on applications for British overseas territories citizenship by people who have previously been denied the opportunity to acquire it on account of historical legislative unfairness, an act or omission of a public authority, or exceptional circumstances.
New clause 16—Registration as a British citizen or British overseas territories citizen: Fees—
“(1) No person may be charged a fee to be registered as a British citizen or British overseas territories citizen that is higher than the cost to the Secretary of State of exercising the function of registration.
(2) No child may be charged a fee to be registered as a British citizen or British overseas territories citizen if that child is being looked after by a local authority.
(3) No child may be charged a fee to be registered as a British citizen or British overseas territories citizen that the child or the child’s parent, guardian or carer is unable to afford.
(4) The Secretary of State must take steps to raise awareness of rights under the British Nationality Act 1981 to be registered as a British citizen or British overseas territories citizen among people possessing those rights.”
This new clause would ensure that fees for registering as a British citizen or British overseas territories citizen do not exceed cost price. It would also ensure that children being looked after by a local authority are not liable for such fees, and that no child is charged an unaffordable fee. Lastly, it would require the Government to raise awareness of rights to registration.
In short, the amendments say to the Government, “Having recognised an injustice and provided people with a right to have it fixed, which is very welcome, you must also ensure that that remedy is accessible to those who have been wronged.” It is about the cost of applications, and about other parts of the procedures that have been put in place. If we acknowledge that these people should have been British citizens automatically, we should not ask them to jump through other hoops. They should not have to pay any fee for an application or for biometrics, or travel hundreds of miles for a citizenship ceremony unless they want to, if that would not have been required of them had the injustice not been done.
It is all about putting the person, so far as is possible, in the position in which they would have been had the injustice not occurred. It is also about making people aware and giving them support, if they need it, to make these new rights a reality, so that we are not just passing laws but making sure they are effective. That can be vital—we know that from the Windrush scandal and the deliberately low-key efforts by the Home Office in the 1980s to advertise registration rights, to avoid a deluge of applications.
Amendment 8 provides that there should be no fee for registration applications under clause 1. As we discussed, that remedies injustices in relation to British overseas territories citizenship for women and their children. Amendments 9 to 12 would do similar in relation to three other clauses that seek to remedy other injustices: clause 2, which corrects injustices whereby people lost out on British overseas territories citizenship because of rules that prevented unmarried fathers from passing on that citizenship; clause 3, which corrects the double injustice faced by some who, having lost out on British overseas territories citizenship, then lost out on entitlement to British citizenship provided for by the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002; finally, clause 7, which provides for more general power to remedy injustices by registration as British overseas territories citizens or British citizens.
The Bill recognises that had our laws not been unjust, the people impacted would have been BOTCs or British citizens with no fee and no procedure. It seems only just to rectify that injustice free of charge. In relation to clauses 1 and 2, there are no fees charged for the equivalent fixes to British citizenship law, so it should be the same for British overseas territories citizenship. I was pleased to learn at the weekend, having already tabled the amendments, that back in July the Home Office had apparently written to various nationality experts to confirm that the intention was not to charge for those applications and that the same approach would be taken for applications under clause 3. That is welcome, but it would be useful for the Minister to confirm that is accurate, so that we can hold the Government to account in future, if the Treasury ever tries to force a change of approach.
I still say that Parliament’s intention should be in the Bill, because it is clear from debates around the British Nationality Act 1981 that registration fees for children were never intended to be set at anything more than the cost of processing for the Home Office. Yet a quarter of a century later, the Home Office started ramping up prices relentlessly and now makes massive profits on them. Let us all agree today that the applications should be free and ensure that our successors are aware of that by putting it into law.
Notwithstanding the welcome Home Office letter, that still leaves applications under clause 7, which is the broad discretionary clause. It would be good to have an indication of the Government’s thinking. Let us remember what that clause provides for: it is a general fix for persons who missed out on British citizenship or British overseas territories citizenship because of laws that discriminated between men and women or against children of unmarried couples, or because of acts or omission by public authorities or something exceptional. If a person has been deprived of citizenship because of discriminatory laws or a mistake by a public authority, it is hard to see why they should be charged a fee for fixing that. That is certainly true where citizenship would have been automatic, hence this amendment.
As the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens and Amnesty International argued in their written submissions, fees for registration are undermining access to those procedures. The sum of £1,112 for a child and £1,206 for an adult is a long way beyond the cost—something like £372—to the Home Office of the registration process. It is particularly dangerous to ramp up the fees for applications where success is not guaranteed or certain. Under clause 7, it is not the case that someone simply has to show a date of birth and nationality of a parent and it is easy to know whether the applicant will be successful. In many cases, people will be unsure whether the Secretary of State will regard their circumstances as exceptional. Even if the circumstances are exceptional, as the clause stands, the Secretary of State still has the discretion to say, “no”, because the clause says she “may” register them in those circumstances, rather than “must”.
The lack of certainty of success, coupled with the high fee, risks causing low uptake of the new rights. We are all delighted that the new rights have been put into law, but if someone is not certain that they will be successful and they are putting at risk a huge fee, they will simply not apply and injustices will be left uncorrected.
New clause 16 would enshrine a broader principle that registration for citizenship should not be a profit-making exercise. It is vital to keep in mind the fundamental distinction between naturalisation and registration. It is possible that the root of such problems is the fact that the Home Office has come to treat those things as pretty much the same—they are not; they are very different.
People who naturalise as British citizens, and their families, have made a conscious choice to come to the UK, settle and make this their home country, and seek its citizenship. In contrast, those who register as British citizens—in the overwhelming majority of cases, they are children—did not make those choices. Often, they are British-born kids who are not automatically British at birth. They are allowed to register as British if they lived in the UK for the first 10 years of their lives; if either parent settles and becomes British before the kid turns 18; or if they were stateless at birth and live here for five continuous years. Although the Home Secretary has no discretion over that, the 1981 Act quite rightly retained a discretionary power for the Home Secretary to allow other children to register, including those who came here at an early age and who are, to all intents and purposes, British.
In 1981, Parliament repealed automatic citizenship by birth alone on the basis that birth here did not necessarily mean that someone’s connection to the country was strong enough that this should be their country of citizenship. However, Parliament was careful to put in place protections for children born here to non-British parents, for whom this clearly was or became home, hence their right to register as British citizens. Far from being equivalent to naturalisation as a British citizen—those people have picked the UK to be their home—citizenship through registration should be seen as equivalent to the British citizenship that most people in this room will have automatically enjoyed simply by being born here to British parents.
To make a massive profit from that is as outrageous as demanding that anyone in this room pay for the privilege of being British. Parliament took the view that Britain was the home country for those kids in the same way that it is for everyone in this room. Now, the Home Office is putting that citizenship way beyond the means of many. When he was Home Secretary, the now Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), accepted that that fee was a huge sum of money. The Home Office is undermining Parliament’s intentions: thousands of children cannot access the citizenship that should be theirs because the Home Office now charges that huge sum. When the fees for registration came into force, they were set at something like £30—around £100 in today’s money—simply to cover the cost of administration, and it remained like that for a quarter of a century. Since 2007, however, the Home Office has rapidly ramped up the fee, which now stands at more than £1,000. The application processing cost stands at around £360, so almost £700 of the fee is pure profit for the Home Office.
The impact on kids whose families cannot afford to register them is absolutely profound. Many will grow up unaware that they are not British citizens like their pals. That penny will perhaps not drop until they cannot join a school trip abroad or apply for college, university or a job. Without British citizenship, those children are made subject to immigration control and could feel the full implications of the hostile or compliant environment, meaning that they even run the risk of being refused access to child healthcare, employment and education, social assistance and housing, and of being detained, removed and excluded from their own country altogether. It is important to say that that affects tens of thousands of British-born children, and is surely contrary both to the Government’s duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and to the requirement that children’s best interests be a primary consideration in all actions that affect them.
Over the years, the Home Office has made various arguments, a number of which do not stand up to scrutiny, and I will address three of them. First, the Home Office often asserts in such debates, of which we have had several since I turned up in 2015, that the fee reflects the benefits received by the child in being able to register. That is a completely inappropriate argument. On that basis, we all should be charged a fee for our British citizenship, but as it is our right, we are not, and it should be exactly the same for those kids.
Secondly, in what I regard as an even more dreadful argument, the Home Office states that citizenship is not actually necessary for those kids, and that they can instead just apply for leave to remain. Frankly, that is an astonishing argument. If the Home Office said to anyone on the Committee, “We are going to deny you your British citizenship, but don’t worry, you can apply for leave to remain—we might even give you a fee waiver if you’re struggling to afford it”, would any of us be content with that? Absolutely not, particularly given that the leave-to-remain route is the horrendous ten-year route to settlement. To suggest that immigration leave is any sort of equivalent to being recognised as a national is quite simply insulting to those kids.
Thirdly, the Home Office makes the case that people using the immigration and nationality system can fairly be asked to pay a contribution towards its broader costs, so that British taxpayers do not have to. In some circumstances, I accept that that is true. I do not have a problem if the Home Office makes a profit on work visas, perhaps, to subsidise other work that it does, but it is totally unfair to apply that principle to people for whom the UK is home, and who are simply trying to access their right to nationality. These are not migrants choosing to come here to work, study or whatever else; they are, to all intents and purposes, British kids, and it is time that the Home Office supported them in exercising their rights to the British citizenship that reflects that, and stops trying to profit from them and put them off. Let us end this injustice now.
The principle of fees reflecting the cost of delivering the service is a good one that should be applied widely across Government. It is applied, for example, at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency for some of the processes that it carries out for motorists. The Passport Office reflects the cost of issuing a passport in the fee that it charges. In the vast majority of cases, the cost of these services should be reflected in the fee. When I was an immigration Minister, I would scrutinise officials and say, “Why is it so expensive to do this?” They would say, “Well, these are often quite complex cases with quite a lot of paperwork.” We must also bear in mind that there are people who try to obtain British citizenship fraudulently using fake documents. Therefore, the amount of scrutiny that needs to take place reflects that. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that we will continue to apply that principle, so that we do not see profit incentives but merely cost recovery.
There is a slight contradiction in what the right hon. Member is claiming, because in the practical, lived reality of examples in my constituency it is at the point that a child discovers that they need to go through the citizenship process in order to access a passport that they discover all the fees that they are obliged to pay. He says that he wants the passport process to reflect only the costs of administering that passport. For the children and families affected by this, in order to get that passport at cost they have to pay thousands of pounds, which is profit for the Home Office.
As I was saying, I would always scrutinise the officials and say, “Does it actually cost this much to apply?” They gave me evidence that this was indeed an expensive operation. As I said, often fake documents are presented, and forensic work needs to be done to ensure that the identity of the person is as stated, and that the documents provided in evidence are correct.
The figures that I gave in terms of the cost to the Home Office came from, I think, freedom of information requests, so they have been carefully calculated. It is beyond doubt—I do not think the Home Office disputes this—that it makes something like £700 profit on an application that costs just over £1,000. We are talking about kids, so it is, as the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), said, a huge sum of money.
As I said, I hope that the Minister will reassure us of the principle that was certainly in effect when I was in the Home Office: that this is not an opportunity to make a profit out of these people, but merely to recover the cost.
I believe that the amendments will place a greater burden on taxpayers as a whole for a service that is being provided to these applicants. I am also a little concerned about new clause 16(3), which talks about whether a person can afford the fee. I am not clear whether that means that it should be set at a level that anyone can afford, which in effect would have to be zero, or whether the proposal is for some sort of means testing, which of course would add the cost of getting financial information from the applicant. The cost of the process could end up being greater overall, although if the new clause were accepted the costs for some would be lower than for others.
The fundamental point is that a kid’s British citizenship is not a service; it is a right. I am happy to have a discussion about the wording of the new clause, but I understand that the language has been borrowed from elsewhere. The Home Office has fee waiver schemes, for example in the long route to settlement, as the right hon. Member will well know, so it is not something that the Home Office will not understand. It will be able to put in place a scheme that allows people who are generally unable to pay the fee because of their impoverished circumstances not to have to pay it. I am happy to discuss the wording if he accepts the principle.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I maintain my view that the Government have it right on this occasion: the fees should reflect the cost of delivering those services, and should not fall more widely on taxpayers as a whole. Of course I have a right to a British passport, but that does not mean that I should not pay the fee to ensure that the passport is applied to me, not to somebody who is pretending to be me or trying to impersonate another citizen.
To echo the point made by the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, no big profits are made on passports. Of course, people still have British citizenship even without a passport. A passport is a useful thing to have to prove citizenship in many circumstances. In a way, that could almost be described as a service. I think it is a pretty important one, and it is right that the Home Office does not make a huge profit on it, but the right hon. Member was not charged a fee for his British citizenship. None of us were. It is not a service that has been provided to us; it is a right, and it is a right for these kids as well.
We have had lots of support on these arguments from Conservative MPs over the years. It is very strange that it is a Scottish National party MP who tends to stand up and champion British citizenship. I thought that this would be made for Conservative MPs. Even if folk will not support us today, I encourage them to please go away and think about this, and speak to their colleagues. I think many hon. Members would have sympathy for this cause if they just looked closely.
I completely understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I maintain my position that although it is a right for these people to apply for citizenship, the cost of their doing so, and indeed the cost of ensuring that people who may be fraudulently trying to avail themselves of citizenship, should not fall disproportionately on taxpayers as a whole but on the applicants. As long as the Minister can reassure us that the fees reflect the cost, and that any high fees can be justified by the man hours spent and the time needed to check those applications, the Government should be supported on the wording in the Bill.
Before I come to what I was going to say, may I respond to the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby as well? He does not need that reassurance, and he does not need to worry about the British taxpayer, because in 2018 the Home Office made profits of £500 million by charging £500 million more than it cost to process fees. He talked about the DVLA. He cannot say that the DVLA never gets fraudulent claims; it builds them into its costs. The Home Office has already built in the cost of checking fraudulent claims, and the profit in 2018 was £500 million for the whole year, so the British taxpayer does not have to worry about that. Who has to worry about it are the people who have to pay the fees, which is what I wanted to talk about.
I will give two examples that I think will illustrate the broader point of the unfair impact on people’s lives when they have to pay fees over and above what it costs to become a British citizen or to be allowed to remain in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East was right to focus on children. After all, children have absolutely no say on what happens in their lives. Throughout all the talk about immigration, particularly asylum for instance, we talk about single men as if they are not vulnerable. I will tell the Committee about two young men who were extremely vulnerable—they are less so now—and how the fees affected their lives, stopped them living their lives, and almost ended one of their lives.
They are not young men now. If they are watching this—I doubt that they will be—I think they will be delighted that I am calling them young men; they are just younger than me. I will not give you the first one’s correct name. He adopted a Scottish name, which I will say is Fraser, even though it is not. Fraser has become part of my family. He calls my mother “Mum”. She taught him to drink whisky and he is eternally grateful for that.
My mum is even less likely to be watching this, but if she is, I will certainly let the hon. Member know.
Fraser—I must remember to use the adopted name—came from Sudan. His village, where he grew up, was razed to the ground. Everybody fled, and he did not know where the rest of his family were. He assumed that his two brothers, sister, mum and dad had died, but he did not know for sure and he kept hearing rumours over the years. He was helped by the British Red Cross, so he came here as an asylum seeker and then got his refugee status. But he wanted to go back and find out, because he kept hearing rumours that his sister had managed to get away and that his mum might still be alive, although he doubted it. The British Red Cross was doing everything it could to help him, but in order to get back to Sudan he needed a British passport and to be a British citizen. He had got his refugee status, but that took something like six years beyond when he was able to apply for citizenship, because he could not afford the fees. Had he been charged what it actually cost the Home Office, he would have got home a whole lot sooner. I know that nobody in this room would have wanted what happened to him to happen, but I am just explaining what the impact of these extortionate fees can be.
It took Fraser a long time, but he did finally get back with his British passport. Members here will be very proud of me, because I went to his citizenship ceremony and stood to sing “God Save the Queen”. I do not do that terribly often, but I did it for him, because it was so important to him. He went to Sudan to see what had become of his family and he discovered that his sister had fled but had come back. His sister was there, living in very dangerous circumstances, which he was then able to help her with. She has children there; she does not want to leave Sudan, but she wants to be safe and he was able to help her. He discovered that his mum had been very ill for many years. She had not died at the time; she, too, had escaped. She had been very ill for many years but—I am trying to think how to put this—she had clung on, because she just wanted to see him one more time. But she had died two months before he got over there.
As I said, I am not for a second suggesting that anybody here or anybody drafting the legislation would not care about what happened to Fraser, but if he had had easier access, had not had to save up for years because he worked on the minimum wage in various precarious employments, and had been able to get over sooner, he could have been reunited with his family, which is a huge thing for him. He calls my mum “Mum”, because he does not have one in his life.
I will call the second person I want to talk about Matthew. He had leave to remain but had to renew it after three years. He, too, worked on the minimum wage in precarious employment, with a zero-hours contract. How could he save up the £2,000 that he had to pay to renew it? So he buried his head in the sand; he did not save it up—well, he could not possibly have saved it up, to be fair—and then his employer said to him, rightly, “I’m no longer allowed to employ you, because you don’t have leave to remain.” He said, “But I can’t afford to apply for leave to remain,” but of course the employer cannot do anything about that. He was obviously then unemployed, but he has no recourse to public funds, because he does not have any status in the UK, so his housing association is saying to him, “Where’s the rent?” A year has gone by and he has clocked up all sorts of debt. His housing association is saying, “Look, we don’t want to evict you, but we are going to have to.” That is all because he could not afford the fees—fees that were way more than it was costing the Home Office. There was no need to do this to him.
The situation then got really complicated because he discovered something—this fits in with new clause 16 and awareness raising. He did not know that it is possible for the fees to be waived if the person is in certain circumstances, and his case fitted those circumstances; they are not waived as a right, but there is that possibility. He did not know that, so he did not ask. He got a lawyer, who obviously did know it, and asked. The Home Office asked to see his bank statements for the past couple of years, and then said, “No, we are not waiving the fee,” and just left it at that. He came to me, and I asked the Home Office. The Minister there was very helpful and said, “Look, it is because he has been gambling his money away. That is why he can’t pay his fees.”
The complication was that when he got his final pay packet, knowing that he had no recourse to public funds, that his employer had to let him go, and that he had no way of paying the rent or looking after his son, he started gambling. He was not a gambling addict, but he started because what else could he do when he had no other way of paying those fees? He could have become a gambling addict—although he ran out of money and had no access to it—but gambling was not his thing. He was not interested in it, but he had no other choice. He became extremely depressed. He did not want to go, and I could barely get him to look up when I spoke to him.
Thankfully, that Minister understood what I said about why he had no other option to get those fees, and in the end they were waived. That was two years ago, so he will have to go through the process again in less than a year’s time. When the pandemic hit, he could not find employment. He may have employment now, but if he has, it is likely to be minimum wage, and he has to save all that money all over again.
Those decisions are not made because we do not want to cost the taxpayer any more money. The decision to make a profit from people has a hugely detrimental impact on their lives, including that constituent and his children. He had to send his children to live with somebody else because he could not feed them and had no heating. I put on the record my thanks those at his housing association, Spire View Housing Association, because they took an interest in the case and took it aside. Not only that, but they gave him a fuel card so that he could heat his home, and food and vouchers so that he had a little dignity and could go and buy food himself. They really helped him to get back on his feet, and it was incredible that they did that. I hope I have illustrated how excessive fees can have a massive impact in a way that I do not think anyone in this room would want them to.
I am a little rusty when it comes to this process, Sir Roger, so thank you for your clarifications. I missed the first evidence session, in which declarations of interest were made, because I was at my brother’s wedding, which was fantastic. For the purposes of formal declaration, as noted in my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, I receive support from the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy Project in a policy capacity to support constituents and to work on relevant issues here in Westminster.
I welcome the Minister to his new role and congratulate him on completing the marathon, which of course goes through my constituency—he is welcome back to Bermondsey and Old Southwark any time. He was raising funds for Justice and Care, which could lead to interesting discussions about some aspects of the Bill. [Interruption.] I have not been heckled by technology before—these are interesting interventions. We are clear for take-off I believe.
I shall plough on. The Bill addresses access for a relatively small group, which some will welcome, but I support the amendments. [Interruption.] This is rather distracting.
Order. I am terribly sorry, but clearly someone has not fastened their seatbelt. Let us try again, but if it happens again I may have to suspend the sitting for five minutes.
I thank colleagues for their kind words about not particularly wanting to hear my contribution and being grateful for the technical problem.
I support the amendments because I believe that the Bill misses an opportunity to address some wider process issues that need reviewing for several reasons. Fundamentally, I come back to the impact of imposing costs on people’s access to their rights and entitlements, given the delays and times involved and the impact on Home Office staff.
Let me give a practical example: the Home Office’s processes take so long and cost so much that businesses in my constituency have moved country as a result. One financial sector firm was trying to recruit someone from Japan. They were told that it would take at least six months to process an application, and that she may not even qualify to work in the UK under the process they were following. They discovered that it was cheaper and faster to up sticks, because of the price, process and times. They chose to move to Frankfurt, and in two weeks they were able to complete the registration and visa process that they could not do over here.
There is a wider problem with how long the process takes. Imposing costs adds to the bureaucratic impact on the Home Offices and the delays. At the end of March 2021, 66,000 people were waiting for initial decisions from the Home Office—the highest figure for over a decade. Of those, 56,000 had been waiting more than six months. I come back to the point that the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby made about accessing a passport. If a child wants to go on a school trip and wants a passport, but cannot get it without going through a process that takes more than six months, how on earth will they go on a school trip? In that circumstance, children are denied the opportunities afforded to their classmates, even if they were born over the river here at St Thomas’ Hospital and sit next to the other children whom they do not have the same rights as. It is iniquitous.
I just want to share a story. When I was in primary 7, everyone in my class went on a trip to Paris, except me, because my parents were too strict and thought I was too young. At least I understood why. Those children cannot go because of who they are; it is not because of a decision by their parents but because they are deemed not to be equal to their classmates. I know how bad it felt to be told by my mum and dad that I was not going to Paris. It must feel 100 times worse for a child when who they are is in question.
Order. We are feeling our way. I do not want to be heavy handed, but interventions are not speeches.
It is quite all right. We allow greater flexibility in Committee than we do on the Floor of the House. Nevertheless, an intervention should arise directly from, and be a question to, the Member who has the floor.
I am not sure why the hon. Lady’s parents were concerned about Paris in particular, but the point is that they were able to make that choice. In these circumstances, children born and educated in this country who have never lived anywhere else do not have the right to decide whether they can go on a school trip.
Returning to my point about the timeframes involved, the number of people waiting over a year for a decision has risen tenfold since 2010, with 33,000 people in that position in 2020, including 7,000 children, and 2,500 people waiting more than three years. I have at least two examples in my constituency of people waiting over a decade for a Home Office decision on their status. Those people are reliant on local authority emergency support, because the Home Office has shunted the cost to councils rather than get on with the process, make a decision and end the need for more expensive emergency support.
Who carries out the process and what trust is there in the Home Office? We are well aware of the Windrush examples and the denial of entitlements to people who were legally entitled to be in this country and should have had their rights upheld. They should have been respected for their contribution to rebuilding this country, to providing our public services in particular, and to our economy more widely.
The hostile environment has damaged trust in that regard; calling only on casework experience, the Home Office had an officer placed in my council’s “no recourse to public funds” team who took away the driver’s licence of someone who was seeking support from the council, which caused even more complications in getting their situation addressed, adding more time and more delay. In this Bill, the Home Office seems to be adding more complications, process and bureaucracy, rather than addressing where things have gone wrong—and things have gone very badly wrong.
To give one example, my constituent Ade Ronke came to see me when I was first elected in 2015. At that point, her son was three years old and she had been battling for three years to try to get her status resolved. The Home Office had declared that she was in effect a person of bad character because it believed that she had been subject to a criminal prosecution. She had never been arrested, she had never been in court, and the police and courts provided proof that it was not her that the Home Office was referring to, but it took a long time. Her son was 10 years old before that case was resolved. He had grown up for seven years in a family where there was no entitlement to child benefit or housing benefit and no recourse to public funds. Throughout that process, his mother was reliant on a church group for accommodation.
The Home Office could have used the Bill to address the division that has been created between what the Government aspire to do and the faith groups and others who are providing support, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North East mentioned. That philanthropic support means that there are many organisations and individuals out there who are aware of the deep disadvantage and even destitution that these Home Office policies cause, which the Bill could have addressed.
There is also an issue about numbers, which perhaps the Minister can address when he speaks. It is unclear whether the Bill will require the Home Office to take on more staff or whether it intends to increase the workload of existing staff. The staff complement has risen in the past 10 years, but productivity has collapsed. We see fewer decisions made and fewer interviews of people going through these cases per calendar month, despite the fact that there are more officers working on those cases, according to Home Office figures.
At a time when nine in 10 crimes in this country go unpunished, we should be doing everything humanly possible across the House to ensure that the Home Office can focus on law and order and its fundamental purpose of keeping our communities safe. That is not happening for my constituency on antisocial behaviour and other crimes, and it would be welcome if the Home Office could return its focus to those issues, rather than adding more bureaucracy, more costs and more time to distract from that fundamental purpose.
Linked with that question, over the past 10 years we have seen a drop in access to legal aid. I know that the Bill’s equality impact assessment suggests there will be an extension to legal aid support in some cases. I hope that the Minister, when he addresses this particular section of the Bill, will confirm that legal aid will be available to those going through citizenship processes.
As the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and all the other places—I thought my constituency had a long name—said, there is also a cost issue, and the Bill misses an opportunity to address that. I support these amendments based on the cost issues alone, because we are one of the most expensive countries in the world in terms of the bureaucracy involved in this. I am proud to be British; I think this is the best country in the world and that London is the best city in the world, but it is also one of the most expensive.
To process citizenship here costs 10 times as much as in many of our neighbours: France and Spain have the lowest, but I appreciate that some on the Government Benches do not like European comparators, so let us look at the United States, as our price is already double theirs. It is also hideously expensive here compared with Canada, which charges only £400 to process citizenship, or other Commonwealth compatriots such as Australia.
I know that some Government Members will be using Australia as an example in later parts of the Bill, but perhaps they could have a look at it here as well, because Australia charges just £153 for an adult citizenship registration process, and Australia does not charge children a bean. There is a direct example within the Commonwealth of a country that has adopted a more progressive system, and perhaps we could learn from that.
Of course, those costs have risen massively, more than tripling in the last six years for leave to remain, or a 331% increase for those who prefer percentages that go above 100—something I am not massively in favour of. A 10-year route to settlement now costs an adult £12,761. That is an extortionate figure and profiteering. The Government’s own figures suggest that the Home Office costs for processing a 10-year route to permanent settlement through leave to remain is £141 per application, which is about 15% of the application costs. Obviously that leaves 85% profit to the Home Office, which is not reinvested in speeding up the process for others going through what the Bill will produce.
Those basic fees do not include the immigration health surcharge, which was just £200 in 2018 but was doubled in 2019. Another £624 was added in October 2020: three times as much as it cost in 2018 was added in one fell swoop. I hope the Minister will outline any plans for the future in that regard and let us know whether we can expect to see those costs rise dramatically again.
In terms of overall costs, more than half the 10-year route is now the immigration health surcharge—£6,240. If the Government want the NHS to cut the backlog and address all the health needs that have arisen during the pandemic, perhaps one way to support the NHS to deliver its fundamental role is to stop bogging it down in paperwork and bureaucracy and let it do its fundamental job of healthcare rather than focus on Home Office-imposed bureaucracy.
For a child, the cost of an application is £1,012, or £11,221 for those using the 10-year route to settlement—again, a massive figure. But the Home Office has revealed that the cost of processing is just £372 per application, so two-thirds of the profits for children is profiteering from misery, as we have already heard in some examples—something I will come back to.
The third reason that we need the Bill to go further in reviewing costs and other issues is that some of this is legally required by the Government due to court decisions. I want to flag up a brilliant campaign that a school in my constituency was involved in called Children into Citizens, which Surrey Square Primary School championed alongside Citizens UK. The school identified this issue in 2017 because of a school trip—the direct example already given this morning. It found that one child in a class was not able to join a school trip because he did not have a passport and was unable to get one processed. The real blockage was the cost.
This was someone who was born in London and sat next to other children in a class in education whom he felt he was the same as, up to that point. He did not know that he was being treated differently simply because of where his parents were born, by a Government who are building ill feeling towards themselves. I have some concerns about where that ill feeling and sense of alienation as a direct result of Government policy could lead some children. When I was first selected, the Metropolitan Police raised some security concerns. I think the Government had better bear that in mind when looking at reducing hostility and division. The Bill sadly misses the opportunity to do that.
The school came to the Home Office in 2017 with Citizens UK for a carol service. Again, it was reaching out to all those who say that we are a Christian country with a Christian heritage. The school was doing that from its Christian standpoint, seeking a Christian response to the concern that it had identified. It had widespread media coverage. In 2018 it was on “The One Show”—which I am sure you are an avid viewer of, Sir Roger—and on Channel 4, when one of the parents talked about their experience of borrowing. For those who do not have the money up front for this process, where to access funds can become very problematic. In Southwark, we are fortunate to have a credit union that has 33,000 members, I think, which is massive for a credit union. The population of Southwark is 300,000, so that is a very large number. Where those unaware of mutual credit unions go for financial support can be more risky and much more expensive in the longer term.
Citizens UK has met Home Office officials, had huge petitions and 1,500 people gathered at St George’s cathedral, in my constituency. The organisation has been campaigning avidly ever since. In April 2019, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration published a report that included recommendations suggesting that the fee waiver system for children be expanded. Citizens UK was pleased with that and was part of the campaign that saw the freedom of information request reveal that 900 stateless children pay the application fee every year. That puts some of these figures into a human context.
In August 2019, the group were back in The Times and on Sky News. Their experiences contributed to legal cases and in December 2020 the High Court ruled that the child citizen fee was unlawful, after a legal challenge by the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens. In February, the Court of Appeal upheld that ruling. At the time, the Government suggested there would be a review, but in February the Home Office said:
“Citizenship registration fees are charged as part of a wider fees approach designed to reduce the burden on UK taxpayers. The Home Office acknowledges the court’s ruling and will review child registration fees in due course.”
We had that commitment in February, but we have a Bill before us in October. Can the Minister clarify how that review has contributed to a Bill that does not address the fundamental problem? If the Government continue with this, they will fall foul of further legal decisions and there will be costs imposed.
At a Westminster Hall debate in March, the then Immigration Minister said:
“Following the Law Commission report on simplification of the immigration rules in 2020, the Home Office is in the process of looking to simplify the immigration rules. As part of that, we are looking at reviewing the rules on settlement and when people qualify for it…We are currently carrying out a section 55 assessment to inform a review of the fee.”—[Official Report, 25 March 2021; Vol. 691, c. 467WH.]
It is disappointing because, if we fast-forward to October, we have a Bill before us that does not do what the Government said they would be doing earlier this year.
When the Minister speaks, I hope he will be able to clarify those specific issues, because this is a significant missed opportunity. We have heard about the human cost, but sometimes we are shy about talking about the cost to Government. If the Government continue to ignore the court ruling, there will be costs to Government of getting this wrong. It would be blasé of the Government to ignore those costs.
Those delays have a long-term economic cost. Coming back to the point made by the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby, there is an issue about full cost recovery for accessing a passport, for example for British-born people in these circumstances who want to go to a British university. I have had examples in my constituency where people have been asked to prove they are British citizens, so that they do not have to pay international fees to study at British universities, and they have to pay all the citizenship fees. Would there be support for the Minister to undertake a review of whether there is an impact on British universities? They have seen a drop in international students and need more students to come through. Do the citizenship fees deter some people from going to university?
Or indeed joining the British Army. I had a constituent whose mother was German and was married to a British citizen, who was in the British Army in Germany at the time. My constituent apparently could not join the British Army. He had to go through the process and pay the citizenship fees to join the British Army.
Some people are fortunate enough to find sponsors for these processes, but fundamentally that still leaves the problem in place. The Government said they would review this. Where are they with that? The point I want to make is this: someone who goes to university is more likely to secure a higher income and pay more taxes in the long term, so, if this issue is a deterrent to some people going to university, which I believe it has been in some constituency cases, failure to address the problem will have a long-term economic hit on UK plc.
My final point is on the lived reality of people in these circumstances. They often have no recourse to public funds conditions imposed as well, and the restrictions and limitations of that are devastating. Sadly, I have multiple examples from my constituency.
Mr Musari came to see me in 2015, when I was first elected. He was working in the private sector and renting in the private sector, when he suddenly had a no recourse to public funds condition imposed on him. His wife was pregnant with their third child, Mofe, at the time, so she had stopped working in order to give birth—you cannot really do both at once. The impact of the no recourse to public funds condition was that he was in the process of being evicted, because he was not able to pay his rent, because he could not access benefits and continued support. He became reliant on a church group for accommodation.
He told a group in my constituency—he got up and told this story publicly—that on Christmas day, when he was living through that terrible experience, he woke up in that emergency philanthropic accommodation, in one room with his wife and their three children. They had no private kitchen use. There was no Christmas dinner. Because of their financial circumstances, there were no Christmas presents for the children. He said that that day he felt that Government policies meant that if he took his own life, his children would get more support. He told that story publicly to outline the human impact on him.
His family, of course, ended up becoming reliant on emergency social services support from Southwark Council. That is a massive cost to a council—a colossal cost. London councils are spending £53 million a year on emergency social services for children subject to no recourse to public funds conditions, because the Home Office has imposed that process on them. That is the process we have before us today. It is a massive economic cost. Councils of every political hue are up in arms at how they are being forced to spend money through their noses on emergency services rather than on more affordable, long-term, permanent accommodation. Emergency accommodation provided through social services is the most expensive—more expensive than sending someone to prison or detaining someone in hospital. It is a ridiculously expensive system, but a deliberate choice. The Bill is an opportunity to address those issues, and I fear that it will impose new, and more, costs.
The equality impact assessment says that the Government plan to drop no recourse to public funds conditions for some of those affected by the legislation. I hope the Minister will say more about that. I hope he will agree to do what the Prime Minister has asked, which is to publish the figures on all those subject to no recourse to public funds conditions. I hope he will tell us whether he will agree to a review of the whole system to help people like Mr Musari and all those affected as we go forward.
The hon. Gentleman has been entirely in order throughout his remarks. He has quoted from a number of documents. Would he please make sure that paper copies—or electronic copies, preferably—are made available for Hansard? Thank you.
I will be brief. I entirely support amendment 8 and the associated amendments on fees. The starting point is rectifying the injustice that has been done, and fees should not be a barrier to rectifying that injustice. We support the waiver of fees in those cases, because there has clearly been an anomaly that has disproportionately affected the people in this case. Fees should never be used as a barrier and they will clearly be a barrier in this instance, and that is why we support amendment 8 and the associated amendments in the group. If the intention is to make it easier for people to acquire citizenship, we want to remove barriers, not add them. That is what the amendment would do and that is why we support it.
There has been discussion about the cost of the administration of fees. My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark has made the point that the Government are meant to be carrying out a review following legal challenges. I hope that we see the fruits of that review before the Bill goes through its parliamentary stages, so that we can have greater certainty. I am sure the Minister will clarify that. We also need to make sure that awareness is raised about the access to rights to citizenship and the impact that the fees will have. For those reasons, we commend the amendments.
I am grateful to the hon. Members for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and for Glasgow North East for tabling amendments 8 to 12 and new clause 16, which provides the Committee with the opportunity to consider fees charged in respect of applications for British citizenship and British overseas territories citizenship.
Before I address the specific points in the proposed new measures, I want to provide some background information. Application fees for immigration and nationality applications have been charged for a number of years under powers set out under clause 68 of the Immigration Act 2014, and they play a vital role in our country’s ability to run a sustainable system, reducing the burden on taxpayers. Sitting beneath the 2014 Act are fees orders and fees regulations, which are scrutinised by both Houses before they come into effect; that is an important point. That ensures that there are checks and balances within the system and maintains the coherence of the fees framework. If we were to remove those fees during the passage of the Bill, as the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark suggests, it would undermine the existing legal framework without proper consideration of the sustainability and fairness to the UK taxpayer.
I want to comment on the point about the burden on taxpayers. First, there is a very significant profit margin—86% profit for some of the processes of the Home Office—so there is no burden there. Secondly, it is quite offensive language to those that are living, working and paying tax here to say that they are a burden, even though they are already contributing economically through national insurance and tax contributions. I find the language unhealthy.
Order. The Minister has indicated that we want to make progress, and that is true, but the Minister must not feel under any pressure not to respond to points that have been raised. This is a very important part of the Bill, so please, as a new Minister, feel able to take your time if you need to do so.
Thank you, Sir Roger. I appreciate that. I also appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s strength of feeling on this matter. I was Parliamentary Private Secretary, several years ago, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby who was Immigration Minister, and I learned a lot from him. He got to the nub of the issue of fees. The truth is that there is a level of fee that is set. There is constant parliamentary scrutiny of those fees, as I have described. There is a level of cost associated with that. Any fee level that is incurred over and above that is actually invested into the wider nationality and borders system and helps to pay for the services that are provided.
The Minister refers to the contribution of the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby. That was a challenge to give a commitment that fees should not be set at a level that does other than reflect cost. I hope the Minister will take advantage of that opportunity. As he is beginning to develop his argument, he is suggesting that fees are set at a higher level in order to reinvest in the Home Office. That is what other people have described and The Times reported in 2019 as profit of quite significant proportion.
I will gladly take away the Committee’s feedback on fees. As I have said, fees are kept under constant review and are subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I have no doubt that members of the Committee, and indeed Members across the House, will want to scrutinise any fees orders and fees regulations that are brought forward, express views on them and, as they see fit, either support them or take issue with them.
To return to the focus of the amendments and the clause, removing these fees during the passage of the Bill would undermine the existing legal framework without proper consideration of sustainability and fairness for the UK taxpayer. It would also reduce clarity in the fees structure by creating an alternative mechanism for controlling fees.
Beginning with amendments 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12, the aim of which is to limit the Secretary of State’s power to charge a fee for applying for British overseas territories citizenship, I can reassure the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East that I am sympathetic to the view that a fee should not be charged in cases where a person missed out on becoming a British citizen automatically due to historical anomalies. The provisions in the Bill are about righting historical wrongs, and I can give the Committee my assurance that we will look carefully at where fees should be waived via the fees regulations. However, as I have outlined, that is not a matter for this Bill and it should be remedied through secondary legislation, in line with other changes to immigration and nationality fees.
My understanding, from the briefing I was given at the weekend, is that in July the Home Office sent a letter to nationality experts stating that the intention was not to charge a fee, but the Minister seems to be saying something different; that there will be fee waivers, rather than no fees at all. We are talking about historical injustices here, so can he be a little more clear? Is the intention not to charge a fee for the applications to which amendments 8 to 11 refer?
The hon. Member is always on point in asking pertinent questions. I reiterate the point that the Home Office tends not to charge fees in instances where unfairness or injustice have occurred, and it remains our intention to continue to adopt that approach in relation to the provisions that we are enacting through the Bill. I hope that gives him the reassurance he is seeking.
I thank the Minister for giving way. Yesterday we saw Parliament at its finest, and I genuinely think that he is a decent man, but what he is saying today is not what was indicated previously and it does not address what the Court of Appeal has required the Home Office to do. If he is saying that there will be secondary legislation at some point, when is it coming, because we have an opportunity here to address the issue? The Court of Appeal found that the Home Office had failed to assess the best interests of children in setting the fee. To fail to do so again in this legislation will have only one outcome, which is the Government being back in court.
Also, I forgot to mention the case that I was speaking about earlier, so for reference it is R (The Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens) v. the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
I thank the hon. Member for that further intervention. Let me just set out the position on the point about child citizenship fees that he raises. I understand the concerns expressed about child citizenship fees. However, this is currently subject to legal challenge in the Supreme Court and the position will be reviewed after the judgments have been received.
So when the Government said in February that the issue was being reviewed, was it not being reviewed then? It is extraordinary that many months down the line the Minister is telling us that there will be a review only if they lose the case in the Supreme Court, which will incur further costs of millions of pounds for the taxpayer simply to go through the legal process.
The hon. Member would be surprised if we did not want to review the situation and take into account fully the judgment of the Supreme Court in due course. I think that it is entirely proper that we take a view on this and that the situation should be reviewed in the light of any judicial ruling handed down. This exchange has been very useful, as it has allowed me to address many of the points that I would have picked up at the end of my remarks.
I turn now to subsection (1) of new clause 16, the aim of which is to limit the Secretary of State’s power to charge a fee for applying for British citizenship and British overseas territories citizenship to the cost to the Secretary of State of processing the application. As I have already outlined, imposing such a requirement would cut across the funding and coherence of the whole system and is not a matter for the Bill.
Subsection (2) would prevent the Secretary of State from charging a fee to register as a British citizen or British overseas territories citizen if the child is being looked after by a local authority. It is important to remember that any child, irrespective of nationality, who is looked after by their local authority can apply for both limited and indefinite leave to remain without being required to pay application fees.
The Minister is being generous with his time, but I regret that the Home Office appears to have dusted down the same old briefing and he is making the same points that have been made before. He cannot possibly argue that limited leave is some sort of alternative to British citizenship. None of us would accept that; why should these kids?
We would argue that the provision ensures no child in local authority care is unable to access leave. We remain of the view that citizenship is not necessary for any individual to work, live, study or access services within the UK. Subsection (3) would prevent the Secretary of State from charging a fee to be registered as a British citizen or British overseas territories citizen that the child or the child’s parent, guardian or carer is unable to afford. That raises similar points to subsection (1) in that imposing such a requirement would cut across the funding and coherence of the whole system and is not a matter for the Bill. Subsection (4) would require the Secretary of State to take steps to raise awareness of rights under the British Nationality Act 1981.
I have a quick question on the fee waiver. Why is registration for citizenship just about the only thing where there is no fee waiver scheme at all? There is a fee waiver sometimes for the 10-year route to settlement—as ludicrous a system as that is. Why is there no fee waiver system at all even for folk who cannot remotely afford that?
The Minister is being very generous in giving way. Perhaps he will be able to tell us how many applications for a fee waiver were denied by the Home Office in each of the last few years, or perhaps he could furnish us with that detail in another way. My understanding is that it is about 90%.
Again, I do not have the figure to hand, but I will happily take that away and see if I can provide him with a written answer on that point. Information about becoming a British citizen is made available in published guidance on gov.uk and we are committed to ensuring information of this nature is fully accessible for all. I am conscious that we have had quite an extensive debate around fees in general, but I hope what I have said around the provisions in the Bill and the Government’s intentions for handling fees in relation to the nationality measures we are seeking to enact gives comfort to the Committee, and that the hon. Members will feel able to withdraw their amendments.
I am grateful to all Members for taking part and the Minister for his response. There have been two separate issues. First, on the new registration provision in the Bill, he has provided some assurance that because it is correcting historic injustices the broad intention will be hopefully to avoid a fee. We will hold the Government to that and watch very carefully.
I hear what the Minister says about the fact there is a system of statutory instruments being laid—we all come here and say our piece and then the Government sets a fee pretty much regardless. In theory, that is fine. However, the lesson we learned about the citizenship registration of kids is that in 1981 the then Government and Parliament as a whole made it absolutely clear that profits should not be made on that registration, and that was fine for 20 or 25 years. But then along came successive Governments that decided to ramp it up.
On a principle as fundamental as this, I still think there is a strong case for putting it in the Bill. If a new Government want to change the approach in the future, they can do so, but they will first have to introduce primary legislation to do that. I do insist on amendment 8. I will insist even more strongly on new clause 16.
I am absolutely for having debates on what fees should be set for tourist visas, working visas or student visas. I accept that it is legitimate to say that in a sense it is almost a commodity, because of the benefit that people are getting. It is not illegitimate to say that we will charge more than it costs us to process such applications, and to use some of that money for other Home Office functions. We can have a debate about precisely where we should set those fees. I agree that we have set them too high, as has been indicated, but we are talking now about something fundamentally different. It is not a student visa or a work visa; this is somebody’s British citizenship. It is not a commodity or a service, as has been mentioned. It is a fundamental part of their identity.
I do not know how many hon. Members have kids, but if the Home Office said to them, “Because we are giving your kids British citizenship, we expect you to pay us 1,000 quid, and we are going to use some of that money to do other stuff as well,” they would be outraged. They should be outraged that the Home Office is doing this. It is a different kettle of fish, and I hope the Minister will take that away and push back with officials.
The hon. Gentleman asked specifically about fee waivers in relation to nationality, and I have just reflected on that point. My understanding is that, for most people, nationality is a choice and is not needed specifically to live in the UK. That is why we do not tend to offer fee waivers, typically, unless it is to correct a historical injustice. I just wanted to make that point clear.
I am grateful, but that is an argument that the Home Office makes every time we have this debate. We have had Westminster Hall debates and so forth, and it is an awful point. This is the point that I have just been making. Imagine if I were to say to the Minister that we are taking British citizenship away from him and that he could get indefinite leave to remain or apply for five years’ leave to remain or two and a half years’ leave to remain. The long route to settlement involves two and a half years, two and a half years, two and a half years and two and a half years. After 10 years, thousands of pounds and all sorts of uncertainty, he would get settlement, but even that is not citizenship. We would laugh at anyone’s suggestion that we would swap our British citizenship for that. That is not a remotely reasonable justification for not having a fee waiver.
It is the Home Office’s official position that British citizenship is somehow equivalent to the long route to settlement. The long route to settlement is a disgrace, but that is another issue. For goodness’ sake, we are talking about something that I would think Conservative and Unionist politicians would think fundamental. A kid’s citizenship is not a commodity or a service. Leave to remain is not an alternative, so that is not an excuse for not having a fee waiver or for having a fee for kids who are in care.
The right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby made plenty of points about the importance of being able to subsidise other parts of the system, and I get that for other reasons, but not for this. The figures show that the Home Office is making a huge profit. Making that profit on visa applications means that tens of thousands of kids who should be British citizens are out there struggling to secure leave to remain, with thousands of pounds of fees. They are being denied access and their rights, stability and security. I ask the Minister to take the issue away and think about it again. I also ask Government Members to think about this issue, because it is not party political. As say, I have had lots of support from Conservative MPs in the past. Let us do justice by these kids. In effect, they are British citizens. Let us make them legally British citizens as well.
As I say, new clause 16 is modest. It is not asking for no fees at all; it is asking for no more than cost price. It is asking for a fee waiver, and it is asking to ensure that people have all these rights. I will definitely press amendment 8, and new clause 16, when we reach it, to a vote.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Having listened very carefully to the debate this morning, I am of the view that the matters arising from clause 1 have been thoroughly debated. I therefore do not propose to engage in any stand part debate.
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Historical inability of unmarried fathers to transmit citizenship
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
There is no need to have a stand part debate on clause 2. There are no amendments to clause 2, but I do not wish to curtail debate if hon. Members have anything they wish to say.
I have some remarks, which I will try and keep as brief as possible. As outlined in the Committee, opening clauses 1 to 5 seek to close the important loopholes in British nationality law. As we have already heard, British nationality law has discriminated against women and that will be corrected by clause 1 and the Opposition amendments. Clause 2 deals with children born out of wedlock, who have been prevented from deriving nationality from a British father if unmarried. That is another historical injustice and I am glad it is being considered in the Bill.
As Committee members know, before 1 July 2006, children born to British unmarried fathers could not acquire British nationality through their father. Registration provisions have since been introduced to rectify that issue for the children of British citizens through sections 4E and 4I of the British Nationality Act 1981, but that was not changed for children of British overseas territory citizens. Let us pause for a moment to reflect on the impact of the inconsistency: a child has no control over its parents’ choices, yet British overseas territories children, now adults, have been discriminated against because their parents were unmarried. Due to a loophole in British nationality law, those children would not automatically acquire British overseas territory citizenship as the law failed to provide unmarried fathers with the ability to transmit citizenship. Therefore, through no fault of their own and without knowing why, that group of British overseas territories children did not acquire rights as British overseas territories citizens—rights they deserved and should have been entitled to, including, for example, holding a British passport or gaining consular assistance from the UK.
As we know, injustices that relate to nationality and citizenship span generations, and it is right the Government seek through clause 2 to correct the historical inability of unmarried fathers to transmit citizenship. The clause will insert new sections 17B and 17G to the British Nationality Act to provide for registration as British overseas territories citizens for persons born before 1 July 2006 to British overseas territories citizen fathers, where the parents were unmarried at the time of their birth. The provisions provide an entitlement to be registered for those who would have become British overseas territories citizens automatically had their parents been married at the time of their birth and for those who would currently have an entitlement to registration were it not for the fact that their parents were not married at the time of their birth. As the clause creates a registration route for the adult children of unmarried British overseas territories citizen fathers to acquire British overseas territories citizenship, the Opposition welcome and support clause 2. It shows that the adults who have slipped through the cracks in UK nationality law over many years are no longer punished and, instead, are finally placed on an equal footing with mainland UK children born under the same circumstances.
Following clause 1, this clause also seeks to rectify a historical anomaly in British nationality law for people who would have become British overseas territories citizens. The purpose of the clause is to insert a new registration provision for people who, first, would have become BOTCs automatically had their parents been married and, secondly, would currently have an entitlement to registration as a BOTC but for the fact that their parents are not married. That has long been awaited. We are aware of people who would have become British had their parents been married and see citizenship as their birthright.
The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).
Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.
Building Safety Bill (Eleventh sitting)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: Philip Davies, †Peter Dowd, Clive Efford, Mrs Maria Miller
† Amesbury, Mike (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
† Bailey, Shaun (West Bromwich West) (Con)
† Baillie, Siobhan (Stroud) (Con)
† Byrne, Ian (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab)
† Cadbury, Ruth (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
† Clarke, Theo (Stafford) (Con)
† Clarke-Smith, Brendan (Bassetlaw) (Con)
† Cooper, Daisy (St Albans) (LD)
† Hopkins, Rachel (Luton South) (Lab)
† Hughes, Eddie (Walsall North) (Con)
† Logan, Mark (Bolton North East) (Con)
† Mann, Scott (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury)
† Osborne, Kate (Jarrow) (Lab)
† Pincher, Christopher (Tamworth) (Con)
† Rimmer, Ms Marie (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab)
† Saxby, Selaine (North Devon) (Con)
† Young, Jacob (Redcar) (Con)
Yohanna Sallberg, Adam Mellows-Facer, Abi Samuels, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 19 October 2021
[Peter Dowd in the Chair]
Building Safety Bill
Meaning of “building safety risk”
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 60, 61 and 58 stand part.
Before I address this group, I would like to say that since this Committee last met we have suffered the very sad loss of two much loved and much respected colleagues, so I want to put on the record my condolences to their families and close friends, who are trying to come to terms with their tragic loss.
Following the pause in proceedings yesterday, the business of the House continues and we must now turn our minds to saving the lives of other people.
Clause 58 serves as an overview of part 4 of the Bill, which contains provisions for the management of building safety risks in higher-risk buildings. Part 4 is concerned with occupied buildings. It defines a building safety risk and it defines and places duties on the accountable person in relation to risks in their building, including duties regarding resident engagement.
Clause 59 defines “building safety risk” for the purposes of the Bill as a risk to the safety of people in or about a building due to the spread of fire or structural failure. The accountable person for an occupied higher-risk building must consider the spread of fire, structural failure and anything which may trigger them, through the safety case approach.
The Government’s approach embraces the independent review’s recommendations that the new, more stringent regulatory regime should focus on fire and structural safety. Our consultation referenced fire and structural safety, and we have engaged stakeholders on what the appropriate building safety risks should be. That engagement has supported that our approach covers the appropriate risks.
The clause also creates a power for the Secretary of State to add other building safety risks in the future, should evidence come to light that that is necessary. The Building Safety Regulator will oversee building safety and through that gain knowledge about the built environment. Therefore, it is only right that it must provide a recommendation or advice, or be consulted, before the power to specify new building safety risks is used. However, the spread of fire and structural failure cannot be removed in the future. They will and must remain at the heart of the new regulatory regime.
Clause 60 will enable the Building Safety Regulator to recommend that the Secretary of State makes regulations under the power in clause 59(1)(c). It also specifies the conditions that must be met for the regulator to do so. Through its duty to keep the safety of people in and about buildings under review, the regulator will be aware of the risks to and in buildings. It is only right that the regulator should be able to make recommendations based on that knowledge. In making a recommendation to change the definition of building safety risk, the Building Safety Regulator must have regard to the regulatory principles in clause 3, including proportionality.
We are focusing on preventing those rare incidents that have the highest consequences. The conditions that must be met for the regulator to make a recommendation reflect that, including the three-part test for simultaneously adding a new category of higher-risk building and a new building safety risk.
Finally, clause 61 provides that the Building Safety Regulator must provide advice about proposals to make regulations under clause 59(1)(c) to the Secretary of State, if requested. The regulator will be able to provide expert advice and will be a wealth of knowledge on risks such as the aforementioned spread of fire and structural failure. Moreover, it is important for the regime to be flexible and to be able to respond to new risks, if and when they arise. Thus the ability for the Secretary of State to request formal advice when considering altering the definition of building safety risk is an important step in ensuring that the Secretary of State is expertly informed and to keep the regime flexible.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 59 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 60 and 61 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Meaning of “higher-risk building” etc
I beg to move amendment 12, in clause 62, page 81, line 37, at end insert—
“(aa) has characteristics relating to function, material used for construction or inaccessibility of emergency routes out of the building as must be defined by the Secretary of State in regulations which make it a high risk to its residents, or”
This amendment would require the Government to define high-risk buildings which are not at least 18 metres or 7 storeys high in regulations.
With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part.
It is a pleasure once again to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd, and to follow the Minister, whom I welcome to his place on the Front Bench. I concur with his comments on the tragic events surrounding Sir David Amess and on the loss of James Brokenshire, who served this House and, indeed, the Department well over the years.
The amendment seeks to broaden the definition of risk. During Committee stage, Members and Ministers have heard and reviewed evidence from many stakeholders, including the Construction Industry Council, which has argued that the current definition—which applies to buildings below 18 metres or with fewer than seven storeys—is not a sufficient definition of genuine risk. Indeed, the Fire Brigades Union argues in its written evidence, provided just a few days ago—I am sure that Members have had the opportunity to read it—that the scope is not broad enough.
For example, the fire at a residential care setting in Crewe not very long ago—we have referred to it throughout our deliberations—would not have been covered by the proposed definition because it was below 18 metres and had fewer than seven storeys. Yet the residents who called that building home were undoubtedly at a higher risk than many of us in this Committee Room.
The fire at the Cube student accommodation in Bolton, which has also been referred to throughout this Committee, would not have been covered by this definition, either. Yet in a relatively short period, a significant fire destroyed the building and—there but for the grace of God—nearly cost lives.
Although it is acknowledged that hospitals and care homes are covered by previous clauses, which have been debated, their focus is also on buildings below 18 metres or with fewer than seven storeys. The 18-metre threshold has caused considerable debate, as have comments made by officials in the now renamed Department. I am not at all confident that the Department itself believes that it is an appropriate figure. Indeed, the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), said that relying
“on crude height limits…does not reflect the complexity”
of the risk, as many Committee members will know. He concluded that height would need to
“sit alongside a broader range of risk factors”—[Official Report, 20 January 2020; Vol. 670, c. 24.]
Finally, given that buildings below the proposed threshold are no longer deemed to be at high risk, I find it rather perplexing that the Government would advertise for and recruit a civil servant on a salary of £77,000 to take charge of the new proposed loans regime to remediate building safety issues on buildings from 11 to 18 metres. If they are not at risk, they are not at risk.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Dowd. I echo the comments made across the Committee about our departed colleagues Mr Brokenshire and Sir David Amess.
I rise to support amendment 12, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale and the hon. Member for St Albans. I reinforce the point that risk to building safety should be defined by actual risk—as assessed by the many experts we have in this country and the systems that we use but should probably improve—and not by some arbitrary cut-off.
I will describe two examples. On building risk, my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale mentioned the risk of occupation, which should be covered but from which so many users and so many types of residential building are excluded—a point that I have covered in previous Committee sittings.
In my constituency, we have six 22-storey tower blocks called the Brentford Towers, which are council blocks with a mixture of tenants and leaseholders and were built more than 40 years ago. Not so long ago, a man died in a fire in his flat in one of those blocks. The fire did not spread. There was smoke damage in the communal hallway, which was shared by three other flats, and a lot of the smoke went out of his windows or through the smoke escape hatch on the stairwell.
The fire did not spread upwards, downwards or into the other flats on the man’s floor, because the building was designed with fire safety in mind and had not subsequently been messed around with. The fire doors were all shut and the smoke vent was open. That is what was supposed to happen: it was a tragic death, but sadly the man might have died in any kind of home-based fire. No one else was injured, no other flat was damaged and the cost to the community was minimal.
The other example is a block of flats that I have mentioned before, Richmond House in Worcester Park in south London. It had four storeys, I believe, with just over 30 flats. Once the fire took hold, it took 11 minutes for that building to burn down completely. By the grace of God, as my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale said, no one died, although some people had smoke injuries.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. On a number of occasions during the passage of the Fire Safety Act 2021 and this Bill, we have heard from the Government that the number of fires has gone down, but does the hon. Member agree that it is important that we remember the evidence we have heard from a number of organisations that fires are now spreading a lot faster and that there is therefore a much greater danger when fires do break out?
The hon. Member is absolutely right: we need to look at the evidence from actual fires. Many of us have had examples in our own constituency; the one that I mentioned was not in mine, but there was a fire in a block of flats in my constituency as a result of flammable cladding that had not yet been removed. Luckily, the fire brigade got there in time, before serious damage, injury or death occurred.
I conclude by referring to so much high-quality, professional expertise that has submitted evidence to the Committee and said that the risks should be based on actual risk and not on an arbitrary cut-off by height or number of storeys.
I thank hon. Members for raising the important question of the definitions for high-risk building safety and safety in buildings of under 18 metres and a height of seven storeys. I am afraid the Government will not be able to accept the amendment.
We recognise that the height and the use of a building are not the only factors that affect the level of risk found in each building. However, they are commonly used factors in determining the level of risk. We consider that other factors, including the materials used for construction, the presence of fire protection measures and the distance to emergency exits, could be used to define a high-risk building, but we concluded that it would be inappropriate to base the regime on factors like that because we were concerned that there would be unintended consequences. For example, when considering the materials used in construction, a large number of materials can be found in various quantities in various combinations. A material or product may be safe on one building owing to its placement, use and combination with other materials yet unsafe on another. Apart from particular circumstances such as the ban on combustible materials in and on external walls of certain buildings, a blanket approach to specific materials would therefore be inappropriate.
As for the accessibility of emergency routes, our assessment is that this would be a subjective factor. Different people may have different opinions about whether a building has sufficiently accessible emergency routes and therefore whether the building is or is not a high-risk building. This would not provide the clarity residents, industry and the regulator need.
We recognise that it is important that the risk of a fire occurring is low in any building. We must be proportionate in the application of the new regulatory regime.
The FBU and Leeds University have carried out recent research that for residents in buildings of 11 metres-plus the risk of fire is somewhat higher. The current scope of the Bill suggests that it captures about 13,000 buildings, but if the definition were broadened to buildings of 11 metres-plus, it would be about 100,000. There has been no effective risk assessment of the risk in individual buildings, and people who reside in them may have disabilities, for example. They would be at significantly higher risk. There are also care homes, hospitals, prisons and educational institutions, so more effective and concerted effort needs to be made by Government and Departments to assess risk properly.
The stakeholders we have consulted—Dame Judith Hackitt, the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Building Research Establishment—all think we have taken a proportionate approach in setting the level at 18 metres. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned prisons, but we should not be distracted by other things. My understanding is that the fires that there have been in prisons in recent times have not involved a spread from the source location. Clearly, risk safety means that there is a limited amount of combustible materials in cells. I understand the point that he is making and we are sensitive to it. We do not in any way avoid the fact that the Bill might need to evolve at some point in the future. More risks may become apparent and we will talk again when we come to later clauses about how the Bill may develop to accommodate that.
The definition of high-risk building for the occupation regime that is outlined in part 7 was determined on the basis that the risk to multiple households is greater when fire spreads in buildings of at least 18 metres. That followed extensive consultation, including a stakeholder listening exercise following the publication of the independent review by Dame Judith Hackitt, stakeholder engagement and our public consultation on building a safer future. Therefore, we think the current definition is correct, proportionate and deliverable for the new regulator. The amendment intends to create a power that duplicates clause 62(5), which already contains a power to alter the definition of higher risk building.
Clause 144(3) states:
“Regulations may describe a building by reference to its height, size, design, use, purpose or any other characteristic.”
I confirm that this subsection allows regulations to be made to define higher-risk building use, using the characteristics included in the amendment, if the Government later consider it appropriate.
What material factors would be considered appropriate to reconsider this situation? What would be necessary to re-examine or develop this further? Are the Government waiting for incidents to happen? Risk is supposed to be based on hazards and the likelihood of them materialising. Risk assessments are supposed to avoid materialisation, but that is not how the Bill is drafted.
I understand the passion with which the hon. Lady makes her case, but I simply do not accept that point. We have been highly proportionate. Dame Judith Hackitt is well respected in this field. We have taken her advice and that of the Building Research Establishment—experts in the field—into consideration. The Building Safety Regulator will be responsible, through the Health and Safety Executive, for monitoring ongoing situations and therefore will be well placed to make recommendations to the Secretary of State should new evidence come to light. We are alive to the issue, and the Bill responds to it.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. We need to acknowledge how much the building safety sector has changed as a result of Grenfell Tower and of this Bill. People are more attuned to fire safety and the risks and are more engaged in the process of addressing it. I speak following my engagement with social housing providers. I know from the work that we are doing on the social housing White Paper that they are much more engaged. They are listening to their residents and working with them. We are providing an opportunity to ensure that residents’ voices are heard more in the future. With the resident engagement set out in the Bill we will be in a much better informed position to determine safety risks.
I assure Members that the safety of people in buildings under 18 metres high and under seven storeys is of no less importance to the Government. We have a wide programme to strengthen the fire safety regime that includes improving fire safety in all premises regulated by the fire safety order and introducing specific requirements to protect residents’ safety in multi-occupied residential buildings of any height.
I shall not go into the details of clause 134, which takes forward our proposals on fire safety reform, as it is due to be debated at a later sitting of the Committee. However, it is another step in the delivery of our reforms and the Committee will be aware that the Government intend to lay fire safety regulations specific to multi-occupied residential buildings this autumn.
In the light of the work that the Government are doing to protect residents’ safety in multi-occupied residential buildings under 18 metres in height and under seven storeys, and given how the power to amend the definition of higher-risk buildings in clause 62(5) works with clause 143(3), I urge Members to consider withdrawing the amendment.
With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 64 to 67 stand part.
Clause 63 sets out that the Secretary of State must consult the Building Safety Regulator, unless advice or a recommendation has already been provided, before making regulations under clause 62. The regulations may supplement clause 62, exempt categories of building from the definition of higher-risk building, and provide definitions or alter the clause, apart from subsections (2) and (5). The regulator will oversee building safety and through that gain knowledge about the built environment. It is therefore only right that it is consulted before the powers in clause 62 are used.
Clause 63 also states that the Secretary of State must consult any other persons they consider appropriate before making regulations under clause 62. As the powers cover a few areas, we do not think it right to specify particular other people to consult. However, we recognise that there may be other appropriate people to consult before regulations are made, so we have included that general duty. The powers in clause 62 should not be used lightly and must be used in a proportionate way. This clause provides one of the checks on that.
Clause 64 provides extra checks. If the Secretary of State proposes to use the powers in clause 62 to add a category of building to the definition of higher-risk buildings, it stipulates that the Secretary of State must have received advice or a recommendation from the Building Safety Regulator, and a cost-benefit analysis must be undertaken and published. The Building Safety Regulator oversees building safety and is therefore in the best position to assess if a category of building should be higher risk. It is vital that the regulator’s advice be obtained if it has not already provided a recommendation if the definition of higher-risk building were to expand. To ensure that we are being proportionate in the measures we place on buildings, a cost-benefit analysis must be carried out. If the definition of higher-risk building were to expand, it is only fair and transparent that the analysis must be published.
Clause 65 provides for the Secretary of State to use regulations to disapply or modify clauses from part 4 of the Bill for a category of higher-risk building. We cannot predict incidents that may occur in the future, nor how the evidence base on risk will evolve. There may be circumstances in future where it would be prudent to include a different category of building within the definition of higher-risk building for the occupation elements for the new regulatory regime. In this case, it may not be appropriate to apply all the clauses within part 4 of the Bill to that category of building—for example, resident engagement duties in a non-residential building. The clause provides for that scenario. Any substantial change to the regime that we have so carefully thought through should be open to comment and scrutiny. That is why the Building Safety Regulator and any other appropriate person must be consulted, and it is why regulations to do that must be approved through the affirmative procedure by both Houses.
Clause 66 specifies when the Building Safety Regulator must make recommendations to the Secretary of State that a category of building should be added to the definition of higher-risk building for the purposes of part 4 of the Bill. Through its function to oversee building safety, the regulator will be aware of the risks to and in buildings, and the regulator should therefore be able to make recommendations based on that knowledge.
Any change to the definition of a higher-risk building must be proportionate. That is why the regulator can recommend adding a category of building to the definition of a higher-risk building only if it believes that a three-part test is met. First, it must believe that the level of building safety risk is greater in the proposed category of building than in buildings in general. Secondly, it must believe that if the building safety risk occurred there is the potential for it to cause a major incident in the proposed category of building. Lastly, it must believe that the occupation parts of the new regulatory regime should apply to the proposed category of building.
To ensure that the process is transparent, if the Secretary of State does not make regulations to put the regulator’s recommendation to add a category of building into effect they must publish an explanation. If the regulator considers that a category of building should no longer be a higher-risk building it must provide a recommendation to the Secretary of State. It would not be appropriate to continue to apply the occupation parts of the new regulatory regime to a category of building that should no longer be a higher-risk building.
Clause 67 provides for the Secretary of State to request advice from the Building Safety Regulator about the definition of a higher-risk building. The regulator will be able to provide expert advice. Therefore, the ability of the Secretary of State to request formal advice when considering altering the definition of a higher-risk building is vital. Any change to the definition of a higher-risk building must be proportionate, which is why the regulator can recommend adding a category of building to the definition of a higher-risk building only if it believes that the three parts of the test that I referenced when discussing clause 66 are met.
Similarly, if the Secretary of State requests advice about whether a category of building should no longer be a higher-risk building the regulator must provide it. To ensure that the process is transparent, if the Secretary of State does not make regulations to put a recommendation made under subclause (3)(a) into effect they must publish an explanation of why not.
I thank the Minister for his comments. We have some questions and points of clarity. On clause 63, who would the appropriate stakeholders and consultees be? On clause 64, the notion of a cost-benefit analysis raises important issues. Who bears the cost, and how will that benefit be measured? Could clause 67 include flood risk, for example? An early amendment that we tabled referred to climate change, as we march towards COP26.
With regard to who to consult, the question would be: what is the circumstance in which we are seeking information? For the sake of argument, one example given in the explanatory notes is increased wind speeds. If buildings suffered as a result of that, we would need to consult structural engineers. Were it a different issue, we would need to consult a different group of people, so it is helpful for it to be an open category, and for the Building Safety Regulator, and probably the Secretary of State, to understand and determine from whom they would need to seek advice.
On the cost-benefit analysis, I suspect that we will come later in our discussions to who bears the costs in various circumstances. Clearly that will depend on the leasehold arrangements that are in place in that particular building. Given that we have seen changing climate conditions, flood risk is certainly one of the things that could be considered in the future, depending on how weather conditions change in the coming years.
I conclude by saying once again that the powers in clause 62 should not be used lightly. They must be used proportionately, and clause 63 provides one of the key checks on that. Combined with clauses 63 and 65 to 67, and with parliamentary scrutiny, clause 64 ensures that using the powers in clause 62 to expand the definition of a higher-risk building is done appropriately and in a transparent way.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 63 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 64 to 67 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Meaning of “occupied” higher-risk building etc
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Clause 68 defines the meaning of “occupied” and a resident of a higher-risk building. They are key definitions that determine the application of the obligations under the new, more stringent regime provided for in part 4. As the Committee will recall, the definition in clause 62 defines the meaning of a higher-risk building as one that is at least 18 metres in height, has at least seven storeys and contains at least two residential units.
Clause 68 gives details of the meaning of an occupied higher-risk building. It states that if a higher-risk building is to be classified as occupied, residents must actually be living in the building. Specifically there must be residents in more than one residential unit in the building. If there is a building that meets the definition of higher risk but that is not occupied for the time being, it will not be subject to most of the obligations under part 4 such as the registration requirement or production of the safety case. I will discuss that later. However, some of the provisions kick in regardless of occupation. A reference to a resident of a higher-risk building is to a resident of a residential unit. The definition of a residential unit will be discussed at clause 123.
Clause 68 creates a power for the Secretary of State to amend the definition of “occupied” and the resident of a higher-risk building. By way of regulations, the Secretary of State has a power to define the meaning of being the resident of a residential unit. This is to ensure that the scope and definitions can be amended to meet future policy relating to building safety regulation.
Order. The Minister has finished so we will leave it at that.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 68 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Meaning of “Accountable Person” Etc
With this, it will be convenient to debate Government amendments 42 to 51 and clause stand part.
This group of amendments makes provisions on who the accountable person is for higher-risk building when the title to the building is held in commonhold. The commonhold association owns and manages the common parts of the building in accordance with the commonhold community statement framework. Amendment 48 ensures that the Bill is explicit in providing that where the title to the building is held in commonhold, the commonhold association will always be the accountable person for the building. That works to ensure that the building safety risk will be properly managed by providing that an accountable person is both identifiable and, more importantly, responsible when considering that building ownership type.
Amendment 49 aligns the definitions of commonhold land and commonhold associations with the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002, thereby maintaining consistency across the interacting pieces of legislation. Amendment 41 makes consequential changes necessitated by amendment 48. Amendments 42 to 46 and amendments 50 and 51 are technical and deal with the definition of an accountable person in relation to higher-risk buildings, where the right to manage has been exercised. Currently, the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 provides that where the right to manage has been exercised by leaseholders, the right to manage company takes on all the management functions for a building under the lease. That includes the repairing obligations for common parts. By virtue of clause 69(1)(b), the Bill provides that a right to manage company will therefore become an accountable person for the higher-risk building. Amendments 42 and 46 ensure that when that is the case, a person who is an accountable person by virtue of clause 69(1) is now expressly excluded if all the remaining obligations in relation to the common parts are subsequently the obligations of the right to manage company.
The amendments clarify where the responsibility for building safety duties sit when the right to manage has been exercised, thereby avoiding any confusion where it may appear that there is more than one accountable person captured by the definition for the same common parts of the building. I point out to the Committee that where repairing obligations are not provided for under a lease, and do not therefore become functions of the right to manage company, persons will still rightly also be captured as an accountable person under clause 69(1)(a) or (b) for their respective parts of the building. That maintains a whole-building approach to building safety management.
Amendment 50 aligns the definition of a right to manage company with the existing definition in the 2002 Act to maintain consistency across the interacting pieces of legislation. Amendments 43, 44 and 45 make consequential changes necessitated by the changes made by amendment 42. Amendment 51 is consequential on the motion to divide clause 69 into two separate clauses. Subsection (3) will now form its own clause entitled “Part of building for which an accountable person is responsible”.
On amendment 47, the Committee will be aware that clause 69(1) defines an accountable person for a higher-risk building as
“a person who holds a legal estate in possession in any…of the common parts”.
However, in some complex leasehold arrangements it may be that the person who has the active repairing obligations for some of the common parts holds a legal estate in the building but does not have the legal estate in possession. Under the current Bill provisions, that would mean that those persons are not currently being captured as accountable persons but they should be, as they have the active repairing obligations for some of the common parts. The amendment addresses that issue by ensuring that where such leasehold arrangements are in effect, the landlord or superior landlord who has the relevant repairing obligations pursuant to a lease for any of the common parts will be accountable persons for those respective parts of the building. In that scenario, the person with the active repairing obligation will therefore be the accountable person instead of the person who holds the legal estate in possession in those common parts under clause 69(1)(a). The amendment gives due consideration to the whole building approach to building safety by ensuring that where a superior landlord or landlord is under a relevant repairing obligation for only some parts of the common parts, both they and the person with the legal estate in possession will be captured as accountable persons for their respective parts of the building.
Turning to the clause itself, the independent review concluded that having a clear and identifiable person with responsibility for managing building safety during occupation and maintenance was clearly necessary. Clause 69 enacts that recommendation, and creates the statutory definition that identifies who the accountable persons for occupied higher-risk buildings under the new building safety regime are. These accountable persons will have legal requirements under the Bill to ensure that fire and structural safety for their parts of the building are being properly managed in accordance with the new building safety regime.
Having clearly identifiable accountable persons is critical to managing buildings safely, enabling residents to feel safe in their homes and enabling the Building Safety Regulator to regulate effectively. The effect of this clause is that accountable persons could therefore be landlords, freeholders, right to manage companies, management companies or commonhold associations that are in charge of repairing the common parts of a building. The clause defines common parts to include the structure, exterior and any other part of the building provided for the common use of the residents.
Clause 69 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations to amend the definitions of accountable persons, to ensure that the new regime is adaptable and fit for purpose for many years to come. To provide further clarity to accountable persons about the areas that fall under their remit for the purposes of fulfilling their duties, the clause allows the use of regulations to define the parts of a building accountable persons are responsible for. The Government recognise that the success of the enhanced building safety regime rests with ensuring that it is clear where responsibility lies, so that building safety obligations can be adequately complied with.
Many of these amendments are technical tidying-up exercises, looking at the legislation coming through the other place at the moment on leasehold, ground rents and commonhold. In principle, these measures support that direction of travel on commonhold, but to get the new regime right, to stop the ping-pong of people passing the buck that we are all familiar with, there is still more work to be done on the accountable person—the principal accountable person. I noted that on, I think, Thursday 14 October, 200 factsheets were published by the Department. I know every Member on this Committee will have read them in great detail over the past few weeks.
The amendment tries to add some clarity, but again it relies on secondary legislation. The Minister mentioned the right to manage and commonhold, the relationship with the building owners and the demarcation of who will be the principal accountable person versus the accountable person. How will the disputes that will undoubtedly arise be resolved?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. My understanding is that, if there is contention over who is responsible, the principal accountable person will first and foremost be the person responsible for the exterior of the building. That gives us an easily defined headline position, but, as he rightly points out, there is incredible complexity in English law when it comes to property ownership. It is good that the opportunity arises within the Bill to allow flexibility for the Secretary of State to redefine the accountable person, should it transpire that for some reason there is an entity that has escaped the clutches of this clause. Hopefully we have covered everybody now, given the complex amendments we have tabled; but, should the need arise in future, the Secretary of State has that flexibility.
Amendment 41 agreed to.
Amendments made: 42, in clause 69, page 85, line 35, after “person” insert
“(‘the estate owner’) who holds a legal estate in possession in the common parts of a higher-risk building or any part of them (‘the relevant common parts’)”.
This amendment and Amendment 46 provide that a person within subsection (1)(a) is not an accountable person if their repairing obligations in relation to the relevant common parts are obligations of a right to manage company.
Amendment 43, in clause 69, page 85, line 35, leave out “a higher-risk” and insert “the”.
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 42.
Amendment 44, in clause 69, page 85, line 37, leave out paragraph (a).
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 42.
Amendment 45, in clause 69, page 86, line 1, leave out “person” and insert “estate owner”.
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 42.
Amendment 46, in clause 69, page 86, line 4, at end insert “, or
(c) all repairing obligations relating to the relevant common parts which would otherwise be obligations of the estate owner are functions of an RTM company.”
This amendment and Amendment 42 provide that a person within subsection (1)(a) is not an accountable person if their repairing obligations in relation to the relevant common parts are obligations of a right to manage company.
Amendment 47, in clause 69, page 86, line 4, at end insert—
“(2A) Subsection (2B) applies where—
(a) under a lease, a person (‘the estate owner’) holds a legal estate in possession in the common parts of a higher-risk building or any part of them (‘the relevant common parts’), and
(b) a landlord under the lease is under a relevant repairing obligation in relation to any of the relevant common parts.
(2B) For the purposes of this section and section 70—
(a) the legal estate in possession in so much of the relevant common parts as are within subsection (2A)(b) is treated as held by the landlord (instead of the estate owner), and
(b) if (and so far as) the landlord’s actual legal estate in those common parts is held under a lease, the legal estate in possession mentioned in paragraph (a) is treated as held under that lease (and, accordingly, subsection (2A) and this subsection may apply in relation to it).”
This amendment provides that where, for example, a landlord of a person within subsection (1)(a) has covenanted to keep the common parts held by the person in repair, the landlord is the accountable person (instead of the person).
Amendment 48, in clause 69, page 86, line 4, at end insert—
“(2C) Where a higher-risk building is on commonhold land, the commonhold association is the accountable person for the building for the purposes of this Part.”
This amendment provides that where title to a higher-risk building is held in commonhold, the commonhold association is the accountable person for the building.
Amendment 49, in clause 69, page 86, line 15, at end insert—
“‘commonhold association’ and ‘commonhold land’ have the same meaning as in Part 1 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 (see sections 34 and 1 respectively);”.
This amendment, which is consequential on Amendment 48, defines “commonhold association” and “commonhold land” for the purposes of this clause.
Amendment 50, in clause 69, page 86, line 21, at end insert—
“‘RTM company’ has the same meaning as in Chapter 1 of Part 2 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 (right to manage).”
This amendment, which is consequential on Amendment 46, defines “RTM company” for the purposes of this clause.
Amendment 51, in clause 69, page 86, line 23, leave out “subsection (3) or”. —(Eddie Hughes.)
This amendment is consequential on the motion to divide this clause into two clauses.
I beg to move,
That Clause No. 69 be divided into two clauses, the first (Meaning of “accountable person”) consisting of subsections (1) to (2C) and (4) and (5) and the second (Part of building for which an accountable person is responsible) consisting of subsection (3).
The motion, which would divide amended clause 69, moves the power under subsection (3) into a separate clause, creating two distinct clauses. That is so that all the clauses relating to the identity of the accountable person are in one place, and the ability to make regulations to help identify the parts of the building for which the accountable person is responsible can be in the other.
Question put and agreed to.
As a result of the Committee’s decision to divide clause 69 into two clauses, I now propose, in accordance with the precedent, to ask the Committee to come to a formal decision separately on the two clauses created. For the purpose of putting these questions, I think it will be convenient to the Committee to describe the two clauses as clause 69A and 69B, and to debate them together. When the Bill is reprinted after the conclusion of the Committee stage, these clauses and the remaining clauses of the Bill will be renumbered accordingly.
Question proposed, That clause 69A, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 69B stand part.
We have already debated clause 69 in detail at an earlier stage. Therefore, I will briefly touch on the core functions of clause 69A and clause 69B. Clause 69A creates the statutory definition that identifies who are the accountable persons for occupied higher-risk buildings under the new building safety regime. Clause 69B will allow the use of regulations to define the parts of a building that accountable persons are responsible for.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 69A, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 69B ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Meaning of “principal accountable person”
I beg to move Government amendment 52, in clause 70, page 86, line 29, at end insert “, or
(ii) is within section 69(1)(b) because of a relevant repairing obligation (within the meaning of that section) in relation to the relevant parts of the structure and exterior of the building.”
This amendment caters for cases where accountable persons within clause 69(1)(b) have repairing obligations in relation to the structure and exterior of the building.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government amendment 53.
Clause 70 stand part.
Government amendments 54 and 55.
Clause 71 stand part.
Amendments 52 and 53 amend clause 70. The Committee will know that clause 70(1)(b) sets out that the principal accountable person for a higher-risk building where there are multiple accountable persons is the one
“who holds a legal estate in possession in the relevant parts of the structure and exterior of the building”.
That is a more eloquent answer to the question put earlier by the hon. Member for Weaver Vale. However, there is a scenario where an entity holds a legal estate in possession in the relevant parts of the structure and exterior of the building but is not subsequently captured as an accountable person under clause 69. In those circumstances, the provisions as drafted would not capture a principal accountable person for the building. Specifically, this occurs when accountable persons within clause 69(1)(b) have the relevant repairing obligations in relation to the structure and exterior of the building, but do not hold the legal estate in possession to these common parts of the building.
Amendment 52 is technical and caters for this issue by ensuring that the accountable person who has the repairing obligations for the structure and exterior by virtue of clause 69(1)(b) can become the principal accountable person. It also aligns with amendments made to clause 69, which are aimed at ensuring that the accountable person is the person who has an active repairing obligation through their legal estate in possession or, where they do not have a legal estate in possession, has an active repairing obligation pursuant to a lease. Amendment 53 makes a consequential change necessitated by the changes made through amendment 52.
Amendments 54 and 55 amend clause 71, which sets out that an interested party may apply to the tribunal for a determination on who the accountable persons for the building are, who the principal accountable person is, or the parts of the building for which an accountable person is responsible. Under the current provisions, an interested party is either the regulator or a person who holds a legal estate in any part of the building. This does not therefore allow an accountable person who has an active repairing obligation, but does not hold a legal estate, to apply to the first-tier tribunal for a determination.
Amendment 55 addresses the issue by capturing a person who is under a repairing obligation to the common parts of a building to now be classified as an interested party for the purposes of clause 71, enabling them also to make an application for a determination to the first-tier tribunal. This works to effectively align clause 69 with clause 71.
Amendment 55 also limits applications that can be made to the first-tier tribunal from a person with just a legal estate in the building to a person holding a legal estate in the common parts of the building. This ensures that the court’s resources can be dedicated to resolving complex issues from those that are, or may be, directly responsible for managing building safety for the building. Amendment 54 makes a consequential change as a result of an amendment made to clause 70.
I will now move on to the clauses themselves, beginning with clause 70. We concur with the independent review’s recommendations that a “clear and identifiable dutyholder”, with overall responsibility for building safety during occupation and maintenance, is needed for higher-risk buildings. Clause 70 makes certain that all occupied higher-risk buildings will have at least one clearly identifiable accountable person, known as the principal accountable person, who will be responsible for ensuring that fire and structural safety is being properly managed for the whole building.
This clause sets out that, where there is a single accountable person for a building, they will automatically become the principal accountable person. Where there are two or more accountable persons, the one responsible for the repair of the structure and exterior of the building will be the principal accountable person. The principal accountable person will have overall responsibility for meeting specific statutory obligations for the whole building, such as complying with registration and certification requirements for the building. Where there are multiple accountable persons for a building, the principal accountable person will have the same statutory obligations for assessing and managing building safety risks in their own part of the building as each individual accountable person. This will be as well as additional obligations arising from their role as principal accountable person.
As part of the registration process, the principal accountable person will identify themselves to the Building Safety Regulator as being the person with overall responsibility for managing fire and structural safety. If a principal accountable person does not come forward to register the building, the Building Safety Regulator can identify who the principal accountable person is by using the statutory definition, or by applying to the first-tier tribunal for a determination. Having a principal accountable person for each higher-risk building is critical to effectively managing buildings safely, as a whole, and ensuring that residents feel safe in their homes.
Clause 71 allows an interested party to make an application to the tribunal for a determination on who the accountable persons are, who the principal accountable person is, or which parts of the higher-risk building an accountable person is responsible for. We recognise the importance of ensuring that the correct persons with responsibility under the Bill are identified, and that the extent of where their responsibility lies is clear. The clause is to be used in complex cases requiring judicial oversight, as the tribunal will decide and provide clarity to those who may be affected by the Bill.
Once an interested party makes an application to the tribunal, the tribunal would make a decision that may bind persons as the ones with obligations pursuant to the extent applicable by the Bill. The clause specifies that an interested party who may apply to the tribunal is either the regulator or a person who holds a legal estate in any part of the building. Buildings must have only one principal accountable person, and in cases where more than one person fits the definition of a principal accountable person clause 71 allows the tribunal to decide, as it considers appropriate, who the principal accountable person for the building is.
I thank the Minister for his thorough explanation, which was a great credit to him. I have a couple of questions. The clauses make sense—again, they are technical, tidying-up exercises. Earlier, I referred to 13,000 buildings. We have principal accountable persons and accountable persons. That is a lot of people who require the skills, qualifications and competence to ensure that this new landscape emerges. Are the Minister and his team convinced that it will be properly resourced, and that we genuinely will change the landscape for existing residents, leaseholders and other people? Also, on clause 71, at what stage should the determination be made at the tribunal? Must all buildings in scope have a clearly identified principal accountable person?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. The question of capacity is an interesting one, although it may be that various people will hold principal accountable positions, as with building safety managers. Some people might hold the position for multiple buildings. There are big companies that own lots of buildings and will therefore already have managing obligations for multiple buildings. With regard to capacity, we are talking big numbers. According to my notes, the number of buildings in scope is 12,500, but some of them could be covered by multiple people. There are already large practices operating in this area.
As I said, given the existence of the Bill, and subsequent to Grenfell Tower, there has been a huge increase in the number of people who are concerned and active in the building safety sector, so I do not feel that there is any need to be concerned about capacity at this stage. However, the point and purpose of the Building Safety Regulator is to be live to changing circumstances so, should there prove to be challenges once the Bill is implemented, it will be for the regulator to monitor any challenges and report back to the Secretary of State. I am sure that we will talk about that in the House in future.
On the tribunal, we will discuss building registration when we come to other clauses. We are expecting buildings to be registered within six months of the implementation of the Bill. The Building Safety Regulator will be aware of any buildings that have not been registered or of cases in which there is complexity in identifying principal accountable persons or accountable persons. The number referred to the tribunal will, we hope, be limited. It will be imperative to move quickly in that small number of cases.
Amendment 52 agreed to.
Amendment made: 53, page 86, line 38, leave out from “person” to end of line 39 and insert “is within subsection (1)(b).” .—(Eddie Hughes.)
This amendment is consequential on amendment 52.
Clause 70, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Determinations by the tribunal
Amendments made: 54, page 87, line 9, leave out from “person” to “the principal” in line 11 and insert “within section 70(1)(b)”.
This amendment is consequential on amendment 52.
55, page 87, line 15, leave out “building” and insert
“common parts (or who claims to hold such an estate), or
(c) a person who is under a relevant repairing obligation in relation to any part of the common parts (or who claims to be under such an obligation).
(4) In subsection (3) ‘relevant repairing obligation’ and ‘common parts’ have the same meaning as in section 69.”—(Eddie Hughes.)
This amendment changes the persons who may make applications under this clause, limiting paragraph (b) to persons holding legal estates in the common parts, and including (in new paragraph (c)) persons under repairing obligations in relation to the common parts.
Clause 71, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Occupation: registration requirement
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.