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Written Statements

Volume 703: debated on Monday 15 November 2021

Written Statements

Monday 15 November 2021

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

ACAS Guidance: Publication

I welcomed the publication on Thursday 11 November by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service of their online guidance “Making changes to employment contracts—employer responsibilities.”

I strongly encourage all businesses to consider this new guidance on how employers should approach workplace problems that might conceivably require contractual changes. In the guidance, ACAS states that an employer should only consider dismissing and offering to rehire someone on new terms as a last resort. Before doing so, an employer must have made all reasonable attempts to reach agreement through a full and thorough consultation.

The guidance is available at: https://www.acas.org.uk/changing-an-employment-contract/employer-responsibilities.

[HCWS390]

Industrial Development Act 1982: Coronavirus-related Assistance

I am tabling this statement for the benefit of hon. Members to bring to their attention spend under the Industrial Development Act 1982. In addition to the obligation to report on spend under the Industrial Development Act annually, the Coronavirus Act 2020 created a new quarterly reporting requirement for spend which has been designated as coronavirus-related under the Coronavirus Act. This statement fulfils that purpose.

The statement also includes a report of the movement in contingent liability during the quarter. Hon. Members will wish to note that measures such as local authority grants, the coronavirus job retention scheme and self-employed income support scheme, and tax measures such as the suspension of business rates are not provided under the Industrial Development Act 1982 and hence are not included below.

This report covers the second quarter of 2021, from 1 April to 30 June 2021, in accordance with the Coronavirus Act.

The written ministerial statement covering the first quarter of 2021 was published on 22 June 2021.

Spend under the Coronavirus Act 2020

Under the Coronavirus Act 2020, there is a requirement to lay before Parliament details of the amount of assistance designated as coronavirus-related provided in each relevant quarter. In the period from 1 April to 30 June 2021, the following expenditures were incurred:

Actual expenditure of assistance provided by Her Majesty’s Government from 1 April to 30 June 2021

£573,322,073

Actual expenditure of assistance provided by Her Majesty’s Government from 25 March 2021

£3,272,359,763

Expenditure by Department

Actual expenditure of assistance from 1 April to 30 June provided by:

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

£567,348,740

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

£5,973,333

Contingent liability under the Coronavirus Act 2020

Contingent liability of assistance provided by the Secretary of State from 1 April to 31 June 2021

£3,468,776,393

All contingent liability of assistance provided by the Secretary of State from 25 March 2020

£70,323,958,288

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Defence

Afgan Relocations Assistance Policy: Data Breach Investigation

On 21 September, l committed to update the House on an investigation into MOD data breaches concerning the email addresses of Afghan nationals who are eligible for the Afghanistan relocations and assistance policy, but at that time remained in Afghanistan.

Incident

The first report of a data breach was received on the evening of 20 September and consisted of 245 live email addresses. On 22 September, following my statement to the House, the MOD was made aware of a previous breach of 55 addresses—10 of which were in addition to the first breach—which had occurred on 13 September. Subsequent investigations identified that a third breach had occurred on 7 September involving an additional 13 email addresses not previously compromised.

Upon learning of the initial breach, I immediately ordered the undertaking of an investigation and any actions that would prevent further breaches. The investigation was conducted in two parts. The first addressed the circumstances of the breach, its causes and the immediate and longer-term actions required to prevent recurrences and mitigate any potential additional risks to those Afghan nationals affected. The second part of the investigation concerned the data handling and data protection arrangements that were in use by the ARAP team and made recommendations on how best to ensure an appropriate data handling regime was in place.

Investigation findings

The investigation has concluded that the breaches arose in almost identical circumstances. All three took place in the ARAP casework team, tasked with providing personal support and advice to the cohort of ARAP-eligible Afghan nationals and all involved a group email to elements of that cohort, which used the “carbon copy” instead of “blind carbon copy” field to anonymise the recipients.

The cause of these mistakes was not simply human error in isolation, but a lack of written standard operating procedures and training, which should have prevented such a mistake being made. That in turn was assessed to be the result of several contributing factors, all arising from the intense speed, scale and operational pressure of the casework, and the fact that the team had been built and then expanded quickly in order to support the rapid increase in activity necessary as a result of the evacuation. As a result, some members of the team were inexperienced and insufficiently trained for such casework management.

The ARAP team’s efforts to evacuate as many Afghans as possible in a short period of time was followed by a rapid transition to communicating with those who were unable to relocate, in order to begin providing follow-on support. In the haste of this transition the risks arising from changing how officials communicated—which had previously been done on an individual basis, often by telephone rather than email—were not fully recognised or managed.

The MOD has undertaken further investigation of any possible increased threat to those affected. While media reports have indicated some localised Taliban reprisals against Afghan nationals formerly employed by coalition forces, the MOD assesses that the Taliban are not conducting centrally directed and co-ordinated targeting of ARAP-eligible persons. The investigation found that no further personal or locational information was revealed in the data breaches that has substantively increased the ability of the Taliban to target ARAP-eligible persons.

All ARAP-eligible individuals whose details were involved were notified within 30 minutes on discovery of the breach on 20 September and advised on actions to minimise the risk to them and have subsequently been contacted to provide additional security advice. The MOD is not aware that anyone has come to harm as a result of these breaches, but continues to provide security support to ARAP-eligible families while they await relocation to the UK.

Remedial actions

Significant remedial actions have now been taken to prevent such incidents occurring again. These include:

Establishing new data handling procedures for ARAP casework management.

Ensuring all staff appointed to the ARAP team are fully aware of those procedures and trained in their proper employment.

Creating a “Registry” function, with authority over data handling procedures and a remit to continually improve those processes and assure that all staff are familiar and compliant with them.

Appointing additional ARAP team members with specific responsibilities for all record keeping and information management.

Instigating a “two pairs of eyes rule” so that any external email to an ARAP-eligible Afghan national must be reviewed by a second member of the team before it is sent.

Ensuring that any group emails, such as routine updates, must be authorised at the OF-5 or B1 level (i.e. Colonel equivalent).

As a consequence of the breaches, two personnel were suspended from the ARAP team, pending the outcome of the investigation. The individuals’ actions that contributed to the data breaches were not found to have been deliberate or negligent, but the result of insufficient training and data handling procedures. They have subsequently been reassigned to other roles, outside of the ARAP team.

The ARAP team has now received additional recommendations and support from Defence Digital—the directorate responsible for ensuring effective use of digital and information technology across Defence—which are being applied to further improve the ARAP team’s handling and protection of casework data. Finally, the MOD reported itself to the Information Commissioner and will co-operate fully with all investigations and findings.

The remedial actions outlined above are already providing much greater assurance of data handling within the ARAP team. I am confident that their continued application is sufficient to prevent any recurrence, but have directed that the team seeks to continually improve its processes.

ARAP progress

The data breaches detailed above were unacceptable and fell short of the high standards to which the MOD typically holds itself. They were also a breach of the trust many former Afghan staff have placed in us to honour our commitment and do all that we can to keep them safe. We continue that work and it is also important to reflect on the scale of the challenges and achievements of the ARAP team.

Since the scheme was launched in April over 89,000 applications have been made and many more continue to be received, each requiring detailed review and processing. As a result of these efforts more than 7,000 Afghan nationals—staff and their families—who worked in support of the Government’s mission in Afghanistan have now been successfully relocated to start new lives in the security of United Kingdom.

There were a further 311 ARAP-eligible Afghans who were called forward with their families during the evacuation operation, but sadly unable to board flights. There are now fewer than 200 remaining in Afghanistan and we continue to work with urgency to relocate all those who remain via a range of routes. Those who have left Afghanistan for third countries are being provided with support in-country and assisted to continue their journey to the UK. As part of that process we have already conducted five RAF flights, carrying more than 400 people. The flights will continue as long as necessary and the ARAP scheme is not time-bounded so any further applicants who are found to be eligible will continue to be relocated indefinitely.

The scale of these achievements should not be underestimated and has been made possible by the professionalism and determination of the ARAP team and their colleagues across Defence who continue to honour our debt of gratitude to the Afghan nationals who supported our operations in the country. ARAP remains a foremost priority for the MOD and I continue to closely monitor the progress of the ARAP team to ensure its performance remains of the highest possible standard.

I would like to take the opportunity to assure the House that although the impact of these breaches appears to have been limited, all breaches of personal data are taken extremely seriously by MOD.

Finally, I offer again my sincerest apologies to all those affected by these data breaches and assure them that we continue to make every effort to relocate them to the UK as quickly and safely as possible.

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Education

GCSEs and A/AS Levels 2022: Contingency Arrangements

The Government’s policy is that GCSE and A/AS level exams will go ahead in 2021-22, with adaptations to take account of the disruption to education that students have experienced. These include providing a choice of topics or content in some GCSE subjects, advance information on the focus of the content of exams to support students’ revision, and support materials in some GCSE exams. These adaptations, along with our support for education recovery, public health measures and the approach to grading that Ofqual has announced, will help to ensure exams can proceed safely and fairly next summer.

However, there remains a small risk that further disruption due to the covid-19 pandemic will mean it is not possible for exams to go ahead safely or fairly. On 30 September the Department for Education and Ofqual therefore set out our intention to use Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) for GCSES, AS and A-levels in 2022 in the unlikely event that it proves necessary to cancel exams, and published a joint consultation.

The consultation outlined proposals on how teachers should collect evidence over the rest of this academic year to support the awarding of TAGs, if necessary, including arrangements for private candidates. The consultation also sought views on improvements to the 2021 arrangements for quality assurance and appeals.

On 11 November, the Department and Ofqual published the decisions taken following analysis of the responses to the consultation.

The proposals that were set out in the consultation received broad support and Ofqual has now published guidance for schools, colleges and other exam centres on collecting evidence that would be used to assess students’ performance if exams were cancelled. The guidance takes a proportionate approach and is being published now so that teachers know how to collect evidence from their students in advance of any decision to cancel exams. Ofqual has confirmed that, where possible, centres should use their existing assessment plans.

Ofqual will only publish guidance on how to determine TAGs, and centres would only be required to develop policies for awarding TAGs, if exams are cancelled.

Ofqual has also confirmed that it will not take decisions at this point about the quality assurance arrangements that would be used for TAGs in 2022, or how student appeals would work. These are both dependent on the timing of any decision to cancel exams and the reason for that decision, including any public health restrictions in place at the time.

If it proves necessary to cancel exams in some parts of England, exams will be cancelled for all students and the TAGs approach will be implemented nationally.

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Health and Social Care

Covid-19 Update

The UK’s covid-19 vaccine programme continues to protect the nation against the virus. As of 13 November, 50.5 million people have now received their first covid-19 vaccine dose and 46 million have had their second dose. Over 12.6 million of the most vulnerable have also received a third dose/booster vaccine to keep them as safe as possible over the winter months.

The independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has published further advice on the covid-19 vaccination programme. Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) has accepted this advice and all four parts of the UK intend to follow the JCVI’s advice.

Children and Young People aged 16 to 17:

The JCVI has provided further advice on the vaccination of those aged 16 and 17. 16 to 17-year-olds included in phase 1 of the adult vaccination programme, 16 to 17-year-olds who are household contacts of immuno-suppressed individuals, and those aged 17 and nine months or over are already eligible for a second dose of covid-19 vaccine. The JCVI has now recommended a second dose of vaccine be offered to all remaining individuals between 16 and 17 years of age 12 weeks after their first dose. The preferred vaccine for all those aged under 18 remains Pfizer/BioNTech.

Expansion of the COVID-19 booster vaccination programme to all those aged 40 to 49 years:

The JCVI has recommended expanding the covid-19 booster vaccination programme by offering all adults aged 40 to 49 years a booster vaccination, six months after their second dose.

The booster vaccination should preferably be undertaken with either the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, or a half dose of Moderna vaccine.

This announcement follows the advice published on 14 September which recommended booster vaccinations be given to individuals who received vaccination in phase 1—cohorts 1-9.

With deployment of the extended booster vaccination offer imminent, I am now updating the House on the liabilities HMG has taken on in relation to further vaccine supply via this statement and the Departmental Minute containing a description of the liability undertaken. The agreement to provide indemnity with deployment of further booster doses to the population increases the statutory contingent liability of the covid-19 vaccination programme.

Given the proximity between receiving JCVI advice and deployment, we regret that it has not been possible to provide 14 sitting days’ notice to consider these issues in advance of the planned extension to the booster programme in the UK.

Deployment of effective vaccines to eligible groups has been and remains a key part of the Government’s strategy to manage covid-19. Willingness to accept the need for appropriate indemnities to be given to vaccine suppliers has helped to secure access to vaccines, with the expected benefits to public health and the economy alike, much sooner than may have been the case otherwise.

Given the exceptional circumstances we are in, and the terms on which developers have been willing to supply a covid-19 vaccine, we along with other nations have taken a broad approach to indemnification proportionate to the situation we are in.

The covid-19 vaccines have been developed at pace, however at no point has safety been bypassed. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approval for use of the currently deployed vaccines clearly demonstrates that these vaccines have satisfied, in full, all the necessary requirements for safety, effectiveness, and quality. We are providing indemnities in the very unexpected event of any adverse reactions that could not have been foreseen through the robust checks and procedures that have been put in place.

I will update the House in a similar manner as and when other covid-19 vaccines or additional doses of vaccines already in use in the UK are deployed.

HM Treasury has approved the proposal.

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Work and Pensions

International Labour Organisation Convention 190

I would like to inform the House that, today, the Government will lay the text of a Convention of the International Labour Organisation, the Violence and Harassment Convention, in the form of a Command Paper in both Houses together with an explanatory memorandum stating the Government’s proposal that the UK should ratify it. If no objections are raised in the next 21 sitting days, the Government will move to draw up the UK’s Instrument of Ratification. The convention will come into force 12 months after the instrument of ratification is deposited with the International Labour Organisation.

This is the first international treaty to recognise the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment. This convention, along with its supplementing recommendation (No. 206), sets out a common framework for action to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work. It is a broad instrument, affording comprehensive protections to a broad range of individuals, including those most vulnerable to violence and harassment at work, in relation to a wide range of work environments and activities.

The Government already have the legal framework in place to meet the requirements of the convention, including civil and criminal law provisions, as well as occupational health and safety law.

Following our response to the sexual harassment in the workplace consultation, published earlier this year, the Government will also be introducing a new proactive duty requiring employers to take steps to prevent their employees from experiencing sexual harassment and introducing explicit protections for employees from harassment by third parties, for example customers or clients. These measures will not only strengthen protections for those affected by harassment at work but will also motivate employers to make improvements to workplace practices and culture.

The Government will not waver in our defence of the rights of women and girls to live free from violence and abuse. The UK will continue to protect and promote the safety and rights of women and girls overseas, and call for all member states to remain committed to international conventions, including by ratifying the International Labour Organisation Violence and Harassment Convention as a means of promoting its aims globally.

It has taken time to get to this point. The UK played a leadership role in the two-year negotiations on the content of the convention, building on our already strong position on violence against women and girls. Following this we consulted the devolved administrations and our social partners, all of whom are in full support of ratification.

Ratifying this convention is the right course of action and I hope it reassures the Houses of the Government’s commitment to tackling violence and harassment in the world of work.

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