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Written Statements

Volume 707: debated on Wednesday 19 January 2022

Written Statements

Wednesday 19 January 2022

Cabinet Office

Veterans Strategy Action Plan 2022-2024

The Government have today published the “Veterans’ Strategy Action Plan 2022-24”, setting out how we will continue to empower, support and champion our veteran community. Just as the armed forces have stood by our country in its times of need, the nation will continue to fulfil its duty by supporting our veterans in their civilian lives.

The plan will deliver for veterans across three key areas. We will better understand our veteran community, making sure we have the information we need to inform policy and service design.

We will transform services and support for veterans, building on progress already made to ensure we are meeting veterans’ needs. We will celebrate our veterans and their contribution to society so that all veterans feel their service is valued by the nation.

The action plan contains over 60 commitments, which together will provide a step change in provision. For most service leavers, the successful transition into employment is the foundation of positive life outcomes. We will be doing more to champion the unique skill set of veterans to employers through a bespoke campaign and a new private sector employers advisory group. We will continue to support veterans to gain quality employment, with the roll out of the Great Place to Work for Veterans scheme, which guarantees interviews for veterans in the civil service. We are launching “Advance into Justice” which will fast-track veterans into prison officer roles. We will improve the enhanced learning credit scheme to make it easier for veterans to access a wider range of academic and vocational opportunities to support their development of a chosen career post-service.

We will also invest in making better use of data than ever before, as well as digital programmes, including a £44 million digital transformation package. Compensation and pension services will be radically improved, with a new digital portal that will enable veterans to apply and track progress online. This will help the 1.2 million pensions members and 30,000 annual compensation claimants to access services more quickly and easily.

We want to ensure all veterans feel their service is valued. Regrettably, some people have historically been excluded from serving their country. The Government are determined to take bold steps to begin looking at how we can redress these past wrongs, and we will commission an independent review into the impact that the pre-2000 ban on homosexuality in the armed forces has had on LGBT veterans today.

A further £18 million will be invested in health and wellbeing support for veterans. To bring improvements to mental health services, NHS England will bring the three services offered under Op Courage into one long-term integrated service, making access easier for veterans and their families. The Veterans Trauma Network will be further developed to create an integrated plan to support the physical health of veterans. “Veteran Aware” accreditation will continue to be rolled out across England— meaning more NHS trusts and GP practices than ever before will become veteran-friendly accredited.

The Office for Veterans’ Affairs will work across Government and beyond to make sure the action plan commitments are monitored and delivered. in 2024, the Government will develop a veterans’ strategy refresh, setting out how far we have come and what remains to be done to deliver on our policy ambition by 2028 to make the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran.

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Defence

UK Armed Forces Families Strategy 2022-2032

The Ministry of Defence’s “UK Armed Forces Families Strategy 2022-32” on making the recognition and care of armed forces families a national priority has today been laid before the House.

The strategy addresses the challenges armed forces families face with mobility, deployment and separation and the implications this has for accessing good quality healthcare, education, and accommodation. It also notes the evolving nature of family life and the pressures this can place on childcare and managing the career of the partner or spouse alongside that of the service person.

The strategy will be supported by an action plan that includes the commitments made in the Government’s response to the “Living in Our Shoes” report by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). The strategy and action plan will be delivered in partnership with the devolved administrations and the charitable and private sectors.

The delivery of improved support is already under way. For example, the MOD is working with the Department for Education and local authorities to lessen the impact of mobility on service children’s educational attainment. Informed by consultation with families, we are also working with the Department for Health and Social Care and healthcare providers across the UK to improve understanding of the health needs of armed forces families. To advocate for the skills and experiences of partners and spouses we are collaborating with the Department for Work and Pensions and charities to ensure that they are recognised and valued by employers. And next year sees full roll-out of the wraparound childcare programme.

But this is only the beginning. The Government and their partners value the role of all families in the regular and reserve forces and recognise their integral role in providing support to serving personnel based in the UK and overseas. Therefore, we are committed both to putting them at the heart of the Defence community and to helping them thrive in wider society. Together, under the principles of this strategy, we will continually review our policies to better support them, empower them and improve their lived experience.

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Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Public Consultations to Improve UK Cyber Resilience

Today, my Department has launched two consultations seeking public views on our proposals to improve the UK’s cyber resilience.

The UK, as one of the leading digital nations, has accelerated its adoption of digital technologies. These technologies have rapidly become integral to the functioning of our economy and form an important part of our critical national infrastructure. In order to ensure our continued prosperity, it is vital that cyber-security is a fundamental part of our country’s digital transformation journey.

Cyber-security incidents are increasing in frequency and sophistication, with the potential to cause severe damage to critical national infrastructure and the economy. Over the course of the last year, the National Cyber Security Centre has faced an unprecedented increase in the volume of cyber-security incidents to which it has had to respond. In addition, there have been a number of high-profile cyber incidents within the last year, both domestically and abroad, which have highlighted the increasing sophistication of threats to the UK’s cyber resilience. The faster paced digitisation of the UK’s economy means that these attacks will have an even greater impact on British businesses and consumers.

Incidents such as the SolarWinds supply chain compromise in December 2020 and the ransomware attack on the Colonial pipeline in May 2020 demonstrated how such cyber-attacks can impact critical services and national infrastructure. At the same time, they have also highlighted the increased need for a sustained supply of diverse and skilled individuals into the cyber workforce to make systems more resilient against cyber-threats like these.

Today’s consultations are aimed at addressing these challenges. They are divided into three distinct pillars, which are discussed over two separate consultations, given the nature and audience of the differing pillars.

The first consultation covers pillars 1 and 2, and applies to the whole of the United Kingdom. Changes proposed here affect the Network and Information Systems (NIS) Regulations 2018. This is a key piece of cyber-security legislation which establishes legal measures to strengthen the overall level of security (both cyber and physical resilience) of network and information systems that are critical for the provision of essential UK services, such as transport, energy, water, digital infrastructure, arid health, as well as key digital services.

Proposals in pillar 1 seek to bring additional critical providers of digital services under the NIS regulations. The proposals also establish a new risk-based and proportionate supervisory framework for all digital service providers in scope of NIS. Combined, these proposed measures will strengthen the oversight of providers who frequently have privileged access and provide critical support to essential UK services, and ensure that these businesses have adequate cyber-security protections in place.

The proposals in the second pillar seek to future-proof the NIS regulations, by allowing changes to be implemented so the UK can adapt to evolving threats and technological developments. The Government propose powers to allow important updates to the NIS framework to be made in the future, either to respond to changing threats or technology or to cover other areas as necessary, as well as provisions to secure the most critical organisations on which essential services depend. The Government would also propose to make changes to the current cost recovery system and the incident reporting framework under NIS. Measures proposed in both of these pillars seek to address some of the supply chain cyber-security issues which we have experienced, and which, given the nature of the digital economy, are here to stay.

The second consultation covers the third pillar. Its audience is different from the first two pillars and its proposals are limited to England only. It proposes a set of additional approaches the Government can provide in quality-assuring the cyber profession. This includes exploring both legislative and non-legislative options. The Government will look to the UK Cyber Security Council to be the professional authority to ensure efforts to supply the cyber workforce with diverse and high-quality individuals is done consistently and sustainably. The role of the council will involve developing professional standards and a career pathways framework, bringing together the existing qualification and certification market under a coherent structure. The consultation seeks to gather views on embedding a legislative underpinning for the cyber profession as well as non-legislative measures including a potential role for Government procurement requirements that explores the extent to which a similar demonstration of competence should be required for specific Government functions.

Copies of the consultation on proposals for legislation to improve the UK’s cyber resilience and embedding standards and pathways across the cyber profession by 2025 can be found on the Government website: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/proposal-for-legislation-to-improve-the-uks-cyber-resilience.

Sharing views will help improve the UK’s cyber-security regulations. By strengthening the oversight of critical digital suppliers, existing cyber-regulation, and improving the UK’s cyber-security profession, we can solidify the UK’s position as a democratic and responsible cyber-power and protect our essential services (such as the NHS, transport services, digital services and energy supplies). This will, ultimately, defend the interests, livelihoods, and economic prosperity of our people and businesses.

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Reporting Contingent Liabilities: Guarantee to Back a Borrowing Facility for Historic Royal Palaces

The departmental minute laid today is in respect of an extension to the period whereby Government acts as a guarantor on behalf of Historic Royal Palaces for a borrowing facility of up to £4 million to meet short-term cash flow requirements.

The renewed guarantee will be available until 19 January 2027 and Historic Royal Palaces will only enter into borrowing facilities at such times and within such monetary limits as the Department shall agree.

The guarantee provides a safeguard protecting Historic Royal Palaces’ business from a sudden and serious decline in economic conditions affecting Historic Royal Palaces’ admissions income, if such an event should occur, until the savings from their planned rationalisation measures could come through. It would be used only in extreme circumstances. Until the expiration of the previous renewal in September 2021, the guarantee had been in place since 2002 and prior to spring 2020 had not been called on.

Historic Royal Palaces is a charity established by royal charter. By virtue of a contract entered into on 1 April 1998, it carries out the functions of the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport under section 21 of the Crown Lands Act 1851 of managing the unoccupied royal palaces.

A copy of the departmental minute will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

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Health and Social Care

Contingent Liability Notification: Covid-19 Antivirals

Departmental Contingent Liability Notification (deployment of the novel oral antiviral drug PF-07321332+ritonavir)

I am making this statement for the benefit of hon. and right hon. Members to bring to their attention a contingent liability the Government have agreed to relating to the two contracts signed between Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) and the medicine supplier Pfizer for the covid-19 antiviral drug PF-07321332+ritonavir (co-packaged and marketed as Paxlovid).

On 20 October 2021, the Government announced the procurement of two novel oral antivirals to treat UK covid-19 patients. One of these was PF-07321332+ritonavir, of which the Government purchased 250,000 patient courses.

On 22 December, during recess, the UK Government procured an additional 4.25 million antivirals to treat covid-19. This included a further 2.5 million patient courses of PF-07321332+ritonavir.

Antivirals including PF-07321332+ritonavir will support the community-based treatment and recovery of those at highest risk of hospitalisation and death who test positive for the virus. We do not anticipate a reduction in effectiveness of antivirals against the omicron variant compared to delta.

On 31 December 2021, PF-07321332+ritonavir was granted a conditional marketing authorisation by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and a temporary regulation 174 authorisation for Northern Ireland to ensure access to supply across the UK. This was after PF-07321332+ritonavir (Paxlovid) was found to be safe and effective at reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death in people with mild to moderate covid-19 infection who are at an increased risk of developing severe disease.

I am now updating the House on the contingent liability HMG has taken on in relation to antiviral supply via this statement and a departmental minute which has been laid.

Even if vaccination and revaccination against new variants is largely effective, they are not enough to protect vulnerable cohorts of patients including the immunocompromised and those who cannot have a vaccine or fail to mount a sufficient immune response. Antivirals add another layer of resilience and flexibility to the UK’s fight against covid-19. To continue obtaining the benefits of improved health outcomes such as reducing deaths, hospitalisations, severe disease and its complications, a programme of investment in antivirals is required.

Given the exceptional circumstances we remain in, rapid purchase of these antivirals, while they remained available, was vital. Willingness to accept a contingent liability with respect to antiviral suppliers has helped to secure access to antivirals, with the expected benefits to public health and the economy alike, much sooner than could have been the case otherwise.

While we have been required to work at pace to gain access to these emerging viable antivirals in a highly competitive global market, we have, of course, continued to have due regard for the fundamentals of protecting the taxpayer and ensuring appropriate standards of public administration are followed.

Even though PF-07321332+ritonavir has been developed at pace, the process of approval for this drug has included a full assessment of data and clinical trial results by the MHRA. This is used to assess the safety, quality and efficacy of the treatment before issuing a licence.

I will update the House in a similar manner regarding the deployment of PF-07321332+ritonavir into the community and the wider rollout of molnupiravir.

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