Skip to main content

Written Statements

Volume 708: debated on Thursday 3 February 2022

Written Statements

Thursday 3 February 2022

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Ebbsfleet Garden City: Update

I am today laying a departmental minute to advise that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has received approval from Her Majesty’s Treasury for a remote contingent liability for the Department arising from Ebbsfleet Development Corporation’s investment in the Ebbsfleet central site.

As part of the 2014 Budget, the Government announced plans to create a new garden city—the first in over a century—at Ebbsfleet, north Kent. The Government also established the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, a statutory body that reports to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, to bring forward the development of the garden city.

The Ebbsfleet garden city will help provide new homes and support wider economic growth across the Thames estuary.

The departmental minute describes the remote contingent liability DLUHC will incur in relation to EDC entering into an indemnity with HS1 Ltd. The remote contingent liability will remain for the short time that the works will be ongoing and will cease to exist once the occupiers of the land have signed off the works.

The Department will fund any expenditure should any claims be brought forward against EDC, through the normal supply procedure.

[HCWS581]

Elections

The Elections Bill brings forward changes to our electoral system which are vital to ensure our democracy remains secure, fair, modern and transparent, and I am pleased to update Parliament today with further information on the implementation of two key changes, the extension of the franchise for British citizens living overseas, and the introduction of an online application service and identity verification for absent votes. In addition, today the Government are providing their response to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s report on the Elections Bill to the Committee.

Overseas electors policy statement

The Government’s 2019 manifesto included a commitment to “make it easier for British expats to vote in [UK] parliamentary elections, and get rid of the arbitrary 15-year limit on their voting rights”.

Through the Elections Bill, the Government are extending the franchise for UK parliamentary elections to all British citizens living overseas who have been previously registered to vote or previously resident in the UK. In addition to extending the franchise, the changes will facilitate participation by making it easier for overseas electors to remain on the register with an absent vote arrangement in place ahead of elections.

The Bill, and the secondary legislation which will flow from it, will also deliver improvements and consequential amendments to the registration process for overseas electors, including the processes by which applicants have their identity and connection to their relevant previous UK address verified.

To provide further information on these proposals, I am today publishing a policy statement setting out the key changes in the Elections Bill, as well as the Government’s intention for associated secondary legislation, which will set out further requirements regarding how those changes will work in practice.

The approach we are proposing to take is subject to ongoing engagement with stakeholders and, ultimately, will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

Identity verification for absent vote applications and an online application service policy statement

As set out in my statement to the House on 6 January (HCWS525), a measure to introduce an identity verification for absent vote applications and an online application service was introduced to the Bill via Government amendment at Report stage of the House of Commons. I am therefore pleased to be also publishing a policy statement on these measures to outline further information on the Government’s plans for how the policy will operate in practice.

Digitising the absent vote application process will also benefit overseas electors who typically vote by post or proxy, and will complement the Bill measures that remove the current 15 year limit on the voting rights of overseas electors.

It is our expectation that all the measures in the Elections Bill will be in place within the lifetime of this Parliament and implementation will be staged over a sensible and pragmatic timetable; it is imperative that this is done properly and with sufficient time for the elections sector and for voters to prepare for the new requirements. It is our ambition for rollout of the changes for overseas electors and the new online application service for absent votes to take place in parallel, alongside changes to the arrangements for renewals of absent vote applications, thereby improving efficiency of the system for both electors and administrators.

PACAC response

On Monday 13 December, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) released a report on the Elections Bill. Today the Government are providing its response to the report.

The associated policy statements have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS584]

Cabinet Office

Commission for Racial Equality Pension and Life Assurance Scheme

It is normal practice, when a Government Department proposes to undertake a contingent liability in excess of £300,000 for which there is no specific statutory authority, for the Minister concerned to present a departmental minute to Parliament giving particulars of the liability created and explaining the circumstances.

I wish to notify Parliament of a contingent liability that the Government have entered into in the form of an indemnity connected to the winding-up of a pension scheme managed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, an arm’s length body which is sponsored by the Cabinet Office.

The EHRC is the successor body to several anti-discrimination bodies that were dissolved by the Equality Act 2006. One such body was the Commission for Racial Equality, which set up a pension and life assurance scheme—CREPLAS—in 1974.

The winding-up process is now nearly complete. The scheme has surplus assets of c. £7.4 million, and when winding-up is fully completed the trustees will refund the surplus, net of tax, to the Treasury via the EHRC.

The Treasury granted the CREPLAS trustees two lines of protection in the form of (a) post-wind-up indemnity against future claims and (b) the power to purchase private insurance. The Treasury is satisfied that its handling of this unusual case should not set a precedent for other existing or future cases both within Government or for other public sector bodies.

The residual risk borne by EHRC/Treasury under the proposed indemnity has been estimated at under £3 million, and is acceptable to the Treasury. In relation to this, I have today laid before Parliament a departmental minute giving notice of the Department incurring this contingent liability.

The contingent liability will in due course be included in departmental and ALB annual reports and accounts.

[HCWS580]

Education

Capital Spending

Today, my noble Friend The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System (Baroness Barran) made the following statement:

Today, we have published the Government’s response to the consultation on prioritising remaining places in the school rebuilding programme. We have also published guidance on how schools can be nominated for the next prioritisation round, which also opened today.

The school rebuilding programme was announced by the Prime Minister in June 2020. We have already announced the first 100 schools to benefit from the programme as part of a commitment to rebuild or refurbish the poorest condition buildings at 500 schools over the next decade. Replacing poor condition buildings with modern designs that will be net zero carbon in operation will transform education for hundreds of thousands of pupils.

The first projects in the programme are now under construction, and the finished buildings will bring pride to the students, staff and communities who use them. The programme also represents a close partnership with the construction sector, enabling us to invest in skills, drive growth and build back better as we recover from the covid-19 pandemic.

We will continue to make the best use of remaining places in the programme by prioritising schools with buildings in the poorest condition, or with significant issues that could pose a risk of closure.

In its consultation, the Department proposed an approach to assessing nominated schools using consistent, national data on school condition. Bodies responsible for school buildings would also be able to submit additional professional evidence of severe need, such as structural issues. The majority of consultation respondents agreed with these proposals.

The approach we are putting in place for selecting schools will, for the first time in this programme, allow academy trusts, local authorities and other bodies responsible for school buildings to put forward schools for consideration in a straightforward way that minimises burdens on the school sector. This approach also harnesses local insight into the schools with greatest need and maximises value to the taxpayer.

In addition to our building programmes, we also support the school sector with annual capital funding. We have allocated £11.3 billion to improve the condition of the school estate since 2015, including £1.8 billion in financial year 2021-22. Allocations for 2022-23 will be set out in due course.

Further details, including guidance on how schools can be nominated in the upcoming prioritisation round, have been published on gov.uk. Copies of the consultation response and Equalities Impact Assessment will be placed in the House Library.

[HCWS583]

International Teacher Training Qualification

The Department for Education has today confirmed who will pilot a new international teaching qualification called iQTS. The new qualification will support those who already deliver excellent teacher training in England to meet global demand for high quality professional development and provide more opportunities for teachers around the world to train to high standards. Six providers have been approved to deliver the pilot from September 2022. The selected pilot providers are available at: Introducing the international qualified teacher status (iQTS) pilot - gov.uk (www.gov.uk)'>www.gov.uk)

In February 2021, the Department for Education and Department for International Trade published an updated International Education Strategy, where it was announced that the Government would consult on plans for a new international teaching qualification.

The consultation set out the proposed framework for iQTS, built around methods and standards of English initial teacher training, with contextualisation to reflect the local setting in which the qualification would be delivered.

The proposals for iQTS received significant support and in August 2021 the Government response was published, announcing the intention to launch iQTS with a pilot in 2022. The response is available at: Introducing international qualified teacher status (iQTS) - gov.uk (www.gov.uk)'>www.gov.uk)

In November 2021, the Department for Education published guidance on iQTS, available at: Introducing the international qualified teacher status (iQTS) pilot - gov.uk (www.gov.uk)'>www.gov.uk). This set out further detail around the iQTS framework, criteria and pilot for institutions and trainees. Pilot providers will use this guidance to deliver robust iQTS programmes from September 2022. The guidance on gov.uk confirmed:

iQTS will be recognised by the Department for Education as equivalent to English qualified teacher status (QTS), subject to the will of the Parliament, and delivered in English.

Only accredited English ITT providers will be able to offer iQTS.

All of the English Teachers’ Standards will be included for iQTS, with guidance for how to apply them in different international contexts.

The core content framework will be used in its entirety, with guidance for international application.

The entry criteria will remain aligned with domestic requirements for ITT courses.

Six pilot providers have been approved to deliver the iQTS pilot from September 2022. This follows the completion of an exercise where accredited English initial teacher training providers were invited to apply to join a year-long pilot to test and improve the design and delivery of the iQTS qualification.

[HCWS582]

Levelling Up Missions: Education and Skills

I have announced a number of new education and skills reforms which support delivery of two of the Government’s 12 levelling up missions which can be found in full on gov.uk.

The missions that the Department for Education will lead are:

Education: By 2030, the number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths will have significantly increased. In England, this will mean 90% of children will achieve the expected standard, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by over a third.

Skills: By 2030, the number of people successfully completing high quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK. In England, this will lead to 200,000 more people successfully completing high quality skills training annually, driven by 80,000 more people completing courses in the lowest skilled areas.

Plans to deliver our ambitious education mission will be underpinned by proposals for 55 new education investment areas that will target investment, support and action that help children from all backgrounds and areas to succeed at the very highest levels. Education investment areas will cover the third of local authorities in England where educational attainment is currently weakest, plus any additional local authorities that contain either an existing opportunity area or were previously identified as having the highest potential for rapid improvement. A list of all 55 education investment areas can be found on gov.uk.

We will also open new free schools where they are most needed and prioritise education investment areas in doing so. This will include new specialist sixth-form free schools, helping ensure talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to the highest standard of education this country offers.

The UK Government will create a transformative new online UK National Academy. It will support pupils from all backgrounds and areas to succeed at the very highest levels. This support will be made available across the UK.

I am announcing a joint project to be launched between DfE and the Food Standards Agency to design and test a new approach for local authorities in assuring and supporting compliance with school food standards. The UK Government will promote accountability and transparency of school food arrangements by encouraging schools to complete a statement on their school websites, which sets out their whole school approach to food.

In addition, the UK Government will invest up to £5 million to launch a school cooking revolution, including the development of brand new content for the curriculum and providing bursaries for teacher training and leadership and training for governors and trusts.

To make our skills mission a reality, thousands more adults will soon be able access free, flexible training and get the skills they need to secure careers in sectors including green, digital and construction as part of up to an additional £550 million boost to expand the popular across the country.

To better understand the skills gaps, I am establishing a new future skills unit which will look at the data and evidence of where skills gaps exist and in what industries. Furthermore, we are working with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to roll out higher technical qualifications from September 2022, which have been approved against employer-led standards as providing learners with the knowledge, skills and behaviours required for a given occupation.

Employers must be at the heart of reforming local skills infrastructure. To realise this, the 2021-22 skills accelerator is piloting new employer-led local skills improvement plans and supporting providers with strategic development funding to help shape technical skills provision to better meet labour market needs.

So that in future we can achieve greater alignment to the delivery of employment and skills interventions, in Blackpool, Walsall and Barking and Dagenham the Government are trialling new pilot pathfinder areas to bring together local delivery partners from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education, to support people into work and better identify progression opportunities for those in part time employment.

Alongside launching a further nine institutes of technology, taking the total in England to 21 and exceeding our manifesto commitment, the Government will secure their long term-position as anchor institutions in their regions, on a par with the UK’s world-leading historic universities successful institutes of technology will in future be able to apply for a Royal Charter.

We will also increase access to HE particularly in towns, cities and rural locations without access to this provision.

As part of the launch of the £2.6 billion UK Shared Prosperity Fund, adults across the whole of the UK will benefit from the multiply programme, offering national and local support for people to gain or improve their numeracy skills, worth £559 million over the SR21 period.

I will place a copy of the full list of the education investment areas and the methodology for their selection in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS585]

Health and Social Care

Covid-19 Vaccinations: Condition of Deployment

In December 2021, Parliament approved legislation requiring vaccination as a condition of deployment (VCOD) in health and wider social care. This was due to come into force from 1 April 2022.

On 31 January I announced the Government intention to revoke the regulations making vaccination a condition of deployment in all health and social care settings. This is subject to consultation and Parliamentary process.

I have listened to the best clinical and scientific advice and considered how we can achieve public health and safety with the minimum number of restrictions or requirements on people’s lives. The changes in the pandemic as a result of the omicron variant and the continued success of the vaccination programme mean it is right that we revisit the balance of risks and opportunities that guided our original decision last year.

Whilst vaccination remains our very best line of defence against covid-19, and all people working in health and social care settings have a professional duty to be vaccinated, the view of this Government is that it is no longer proportionate to require vaccination as a condition of deployment through statute.

Following this announcement, I am now providing further clarity on how this planned revocation impacts on the 3 February deadline for a first dose of covid-19 vaccination for those currently working in CQC-regulated health and wider social care settings. I am aware that, based on the guidance already issued, those who employ or engage staff working in health and wider social care settings may have begun to prepare for formal meetings with staff if they remain unvaccinated.

With the announcement of our intention to revoke this legislation, the Government’s clear advice is that those employers do not serve notice of termination to employees in connection with the VCOD regulations.

NHS England has written to healthcare employers requesting that employers do not serve notice of termination to employees affected by VCOD regulations. Furthermore, my Department has written to the adult social care sector and advised that employers in wider adult social care do not serve notice of termination to employees in connection with the VCOD regulations.

I want to acknowledge the incredible efforts of the health and social care sector over the past year to encourage staff to receive their covid-19 vaccinations. These have been very much appreciated. Since September there has been a net increase of over 127,000 people working in the NHS who have been vaccinated. During the same time, we have also seen a net increase of 32,000 people vaccinated in social care including 22,000 people in care homes and 10,000 people working in domiciliary care.

My Department will move quickly to publish a consultation as legally required, and will continue to keep all those affected updated.

[HCWS587]

Covid-19 Testing: Transparency

I am today laying in Parliament a set of documents in response to the Humble Address motion of the House of Commons passed on 17 November 2021.

The Department of Health and Social Care has followed a rigorous process to identify and quality assure all relevant-documents. Specialist document review software was used to identify references to “Randox” across 56 ministerial private office and special adviser email accounts. The Department also asked current and former ministers and special advisers who could have been involved in correspondence about the specified meeting and contracts to provide relevant records from their private systems. The Department reviewed approximately 11,000 records to identify the documents laid today.

We are committed to ensuring transparency in order that Parliament is able to scrutinise and hold the Executive to account. However, the Government also have a responsibility to consider whether it will be in the public interest to place information into the public domain. This necessitates balancing the need for openness against other important and long standing, and often competing, principles, such as the need to protect legal confidentiality and Cabinet papers for reasons of collective responsibility, and legislation, such as the Data Protection Act.

This has been a costly and time-consuming exercise. Initial searches identified 1.5 million pieces of information relating to Randox. This was narrowed to the approximately 11,000 documents which then needed individual review in order to determine whether they were relevant or in scope of the Humble Address. Those which have been identified as in scope have been published, subject to public interest considerations such as the application of data protection principles towards named staff. Had this been a Freedom of Information Act request or Parliamentary Question, this exercise would have passed the disproportionate cost thresholds.

As noted in the Government Response to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee's Fifteenth Report: “Status of Resolutions of the House of Commons” in March 2019, “the Government therefore agrees with PACAC that this device should not be used irresponsibly or over-used. As the Committee notes, such powers lack statutory force and if they cease to be exercised responsibly, the Government will have to reflect carefully on what measures may be required in order to protect how it should respond in the public interest.”

As the public would expect, at the start of the pandemic the Government took every possible step to rapidly build the largest testing industry in UK history from scratch, this has played an important role in stopping the spread of covid-19 and saving lives, and the service Randox provided was integral to that response.

There are robust rules and processes in place to ensure that all contracts are awarded in line with procurement regulations and transparency guidelines and that any potential conflicts of interest with respect to commercial matters are appropriately managed. Ministers are not involved in the assessment and evaluation process for contracts.

Building the scale of testing needed at an unprecedented speed required extensive collaboration with businesses, universities and many others, to get the right skills, equipment and logistics in place as quickly as possible. We make no apology for working at an incredible pace to tackle the biggest public health emergency in living memory.

I want to take the opportunity to reiterate my thanks everyone who has worked tirelessly across Government, the private sector and beyond to help deliver one of the biggest testing programmes in Europe.

[HCWS586]