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Written Statements

Volume 742: debated on Wednesday 6 December 2023

Written Statements

Wednesday 6 December 2023

Cabinet Office

Hillsborough Charter

In April 2016, the then Home Secretary commissioned Bishop James Jones to produce a report on the experiences of the Hillsborough families, to ensure their perspective was not lost. The bishop’s report was published in November 2017. The bishop identified 25 points of learning in his report. A key recommendation among these was the creation of a “Charter for Families Bereaved through Public Tragedy” or, as it will be known, the Hillsborough charter. The charter, which the Government have signed, seeks to ensure that the lessons of the Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath are learned, to prevent those who are affected by public tragedy in the future from having the same experience.

Much of the charter is already embodied in the rules, obligations and codes that already apply to those in Government. In signing the charter, the Government are reaffirming their commitment to a continuing culture of honesty and transparency in public service and the wider public sector, in line with the existing frameworks and the underpinning values of the seven principles of public life—the Nolan principles—including in response to public inquiries.

The below sets out how the six points of the charter are reflected in existing rules, obligations and codes that apply to those who work in Government, and how the Government understand the effect of the charter in relation to these obligations:

In the event of a public tragedy, activate its emergency plan and deploy its resources to rescue victims, to support the bereaved and to protect the vulnerable.

Emergency response is provided for at a frontline level by organisations such as local authorities and emergency services, supported by statutory duties under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. It is the responsibility of the local resilience forum to co-ordinate the response to a major emergency, which is in line with this commitment in the charter.

Place the public interest above our own reputation.

The concept of placing the public interest ahead of reputation is rooted in the seven principles of public life and, in particular, the first principle of selflessness. All public servants should follow this principle, which states they should act solely in terms of the public interest. The civil service code, which is underpinned by primary legislation, includes four values—honesty, integrity, impartiality, objectivity. It makes clear that all civil servants are expected to carry out their roles with dedication and a commitment to the civil service and its core values, including integrity—putting the obligations of public service above your own personal interests. Special advisers are temporary civil servants, and follow the code of conduct for special advisers and the civil service code, other than the provisions on impartiality and objectivity; they are also bound by the requirement in the civil service code to act with integrity and honesty.

Approach forms of public scrutiny—including public inquiries and inquests—with candour, in an open, honest and transparent way, making full disclosure of relevant documents, material and facts. Our objective is to assist the search for the truth. We accept that we should learn from the findings of external scrutiny and from past mistakes.

The seven principles of public life embed a requirement for all public servants to behave with openness—acting and taking decisions in an open and transparent manner and only withholding information from the public for clear and lawful reasons—and with honesty, or being truthful. They also require public servants to be accountable by submitting themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this. The civil service code requires that civil servants deal with the public and their affairs fairly, efficiently, promptly, effectively and sensitively, and that they comply with the law and uphold the administration of justice. Ministers are subject to an overarching duty to comply with the law and to protect the integrity of public life.

The principles of the charter reflect the existing approach under the Nolan principles, the civil service code and the concept of operations to deal with the public and in respective processes openly and honestly. These principles also reaffirm our commitment to comply with the duty of candour and our existing disclosure obligations in respect of all proceedings in which the Government participate.

In some situations, it may be inappropriate for official information to be disclosed publicly—for example, legally privileged information—or it may not be in the public interest to do so because of the subject matter, such as issues of national security. The Law Officers’ convention may also apply to such information. Public officials are also subject to other requirements around information sharing, such as the Official Secrets Act 1989 and exemptions within the Freedom of Information Act 2000. This means that full disclosure may not always be possible in relation to broader scrutiny or inquiries. In signing the charter, the Government are not intending to widen the disclosure obligations which currently apply or to narrow the well-established exceptions to those obligations. Nevertheless, the Government are committed to ensuring transparency and openness in relation to public inquiries and inquests in the event of a public tragedy, and public officials are committed to this by the existing framework of obligations.

Hon. Members will be aware of the judicial review brought by the Government in relation to the covid inquiry. This was to establish clarity on an important point of law. We now have a clear ruling on the powers of public inquiry chairs on the submission of material.

The Government do not understand the charter to expand or alter such obligations whether in judicial review proceedings, inquiries or inquests—or any other proceedings—as defined in the Civil Procedure Rules, the Inquiries Act 2005 and settled case law. The Government will continue to comply with their existing duties in relation to candour and disclosure.

Similarly, the Government do not understand the existing duties in respect of the provision of information directly to the public to be expanded or altered by the signing of the charter. This is subject to extensive regulation in, for example, the provisions—including public interest considerations—of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations, as well as the Inquiries Act 2005.

Avoid seeking to defend the indefensible or to dismiss or disparage those who may have suffered where we have fallen short.

Under the seven principles of public life, all public servants are required to demonstrate leadership, which includes treating others with respect and challenging poor behaviour wherever it occurs. They are also required to act with selflessness, by acting solely in the public interest, and with honesty by being truthful. The civil service code makes clear that all civil servants are expected to carry out their roles with dedication and a commitment to the civil service and its core values, including honesty—being truthful and open—and integrity, or putting the obligations of public service above your own personal interests.

Special advisers are also bound by these requirements, by the code of conduct for special advisers, which sets out that

“the preparation or dissemination of inappropriate material or personal attacks has no part to play in the job of being a special adviser as it has no part to play in the conduct of public life”,

and the civil service code. Ministers are expected to maintain high standards of behaviour and to behave in a way that upholds the highest standards of propriety.

In accepting this principle, the Government do note however the importance of individuals being able to explain the rationale for their actions in the face of public scrutiny, including in the context of public inquiries.

Ensure all members of staff treat members of the public and each other with mutual respect and with courtesy. Where we fall short, we should apologise straightforwardly and genuinely.

All seven principles of public life broadly capture the need for public servants to treat the public and each other with respect and courtesy, and to be honest, transparent and genuine in assessing outcomes. The civil service code requires that civil servants are professional in how they deal with the public and their affairs, and act fairly, efficiently, promptly, effectively and sensitively.

It also requires that they comply with the law and uphold the administration of justice, acting with integrity by putting the obligations of public service above their own personal interests. As already noted, Ministers are expected to maintain high standards of behaviour and have an overarching duty to comply with the law and to protect the integrity of public life.

Recognise that we are accountable and open to challenge. We will ensure that processes are in place to allow the public to hold us to account for the work we do and for the way in which we do it. We do not knowingly mislead the public or the media.

All public servants, in line with the seven principles of public life, are required to demonstrate openness by acting and taking decisions openly and transparently, and not withholding information from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for doing so. They are required to be accountable by submitting themselves to the necessary scrutiny to be held accountable by the public, and to demonstrate honesty—being truthful—which would include not knowingly misleading others.

The civil service code requires that civil servants and special advisers deal with the public and their work fairly, and they comply with the law and uphold the administration of justice. Ministers have a duty to account to Parliament and will be held to account for the policies, decisions and actions of their Departments and agencies, and must give accurate and truthful information to Parliament. Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament, refusing to provide information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest, as set out in the extant 1997 resolution on ministerial accountability to Parliament.

[HCWS99]

Education

RAAC in Schools and Colleges

This update follows from my oral and written ministerial statements to the House in September and October.

An updated list of schools and colleges with confirmed cases of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete in England has been published today. As of 27 November, there are 231 education settings with confirmed RAAC in some of their buildings. Thanks to the hard work of school and college leaders, 228 settings (99%) are providing full-time face-to-face education for all pupils. Three settings have hybrid arrangements in place. This may involve some remote learning on some days as not all pupils can currently receive full-time face-to-face education. There are no education settings with confirmed RAAC where all pupils are in full-time remote learning.

Last year we issued a questionnaire asking responsible bodies for schools and colleges to identify whether they suspected they had RAAC. Responsible bodies have submitted responses to the questionnaire for 100% of schools and colleges with blocks built in the target era. All schools and colleges that have advised us they suspect they might have RAAC have had a first survey to confirm if RAAC is present. The vast majority of schools and colleges surveyed to date have been found to have no RAAC.

Every school or college with confirmed RAAC is assigned dedicated support from our team of caseworkers. Project delivery teams are on site to support schools and colleges to implement mitigation plans. They will work with them to put in place a bespoke plan that supports face-to-face education for all pupils as soon as possible based on their circumstances. Mitigation plans include other spaces on the school site, or in nearby schools or elsewhere in the local area, until building works are carried out or temporary buildings are installed.

The Government are funding the emergency work needed to mitigate the presence of RAAC, including installing alternative classroom space where necessary. All reasonable requests for additional help with revenue costs, like transport to locations or temporarily renting a local hall, are being approved. The Government are funding longer-term refurbishment or rebuilding projects to address the presence of RAAC in schools. Schools and colleges will either be offered capital grants to fund refurbishment work to permanently remove RAAC, or rebuilding projects where these are needed, including through the school rebuilding programme.

I want to reassure pupils, parents and staff that this Government are doing whatever it takes to support our schools and colleges in responding to RAAC and minimise disruption to education.

[HCWS98]

Energy Security and Net Zero

Energy Security Plan: Gas Supply

I am pleased to announce that the Government have today published two updates to the March 2023 Powering Up Britain Energy Security Plan. The first sets out key considerations on the future role that gas storage and other forms of flexibility can play in the security of gas supply. The second sets out a proposed methodology for assessing medium range gas supply security.

Energy security is a priority for this Government as we transition to net zero. While we expect UK gas demand to decline as part of this transition, natural gas will continue to play a critical role in our energy system for decades to come. Alongside this reduced demand we are facing reduced domestic supply. With declining domestic gas production from the UK’s continental shelf, the UK will become more dependent on gas imports, including from global liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies. As the gas storage and flexibility update highlights, natural gas LNG and interconnector imports are estimated to be approximately 11% of our total gas demand in 2023, rising to just

under 50% in 2045.

To slow this increasing dependence on gas imports and the risk of higher embedded emissions in them, the Government are backing the North sea oil and gas industry—so as to make Britain more energy independent. That is why we have introduced the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill to give industry certainty as to the future of licensing rounds. The continuing award of new oil and gas licences is essential to the UK’s energy security, further investment in moving the basin to net zero and in retaining the supply chain required for the transition. It will help slow the decline in the UK’s domestic production of gas as we consider the ongoing role of flexibility in the UK’s gas supply for the coming decades.

The role played by flexible sources of gas supply is expected to change over the coming years to provide two roles—continued and probably increased flexibility to respond to patterns of demand as well as making a contribution to baseload supply. For the gas system, the three forms of supply side, infrastructure-based forms of flexibility—geological gas storage, LNG and interconnectors—all share three key features: they can respond to peaks in demand, can be dialled up or down depending on demand across days and seasons, and their gas supply contribution is driven by market signals.

The gas storage and flexibility update therefore explores the future role that flexible sources of gas supply might play in gas security over the medium to long term, and the associated policy decisions for Government. We are proposing to launch a call for evidence on flexible sources in the coming months to support policy development on the future role of flexibility in gas security of supply.

The second update publication outlines a proposed methodology that could be used by the planned future system operator (FSO) to deliver a new medium range gas supply security assessment. This will be an annual assessment that will consider how the UK’s future estimated gas supplies compare against demand scenarios five and 10 years into the future. It will help Government and industry gain insight and plan for the UK’s future gas security. The Government will use this publication to engage with industry, academia, Ofgem, the system operators, and other stakeholders to further refine the methodology ahead of the FSO becoming operational.

I will place a copy of the documents: “The role of gas storage and other forms of flexibility in security of supply” and the “Medium range gas supply security assessment: methodology” in the Libraries of the House.

You can find the updates to the Energy Security Plan on: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/role-of-gas-storage-and-other-forms-of-flexibility-in-security-of-supply, and

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/medium-range-gas-supply-security-assessment-methodology.

[HCWS97]

Health and Social Care

Health and Care Settings: Duty of Candour

I wish to inform the House that the Department of Health and Social Care will lead a review into the effectiveness of the statutory duty of candour for health and social care providers in England. The review will formally commence early in the new year.

The duty of candour is set out in regulation 20 of the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014. It has been in place for NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts since 2014 and for all other providers regulated by the Care Quality Commission since 2015.

The duty of candour is about people’s right to openness and transparency from their health or care provider. It means that when something goes wrong during the provision of health and care services, patients and their families have a right to receive explanations for what happened as soon as possible and a meaningful apology.

Since its introduction, there has been variation in how the duty has been applied in some settings. To that effect, the review will look at the operation and enforcement of the existing duty, with a focus on delivering recommendations that can improve its application.

The terms of reference will be published on www.gov.uk and I will deposit a copy in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS100]

Home Department

Rwanda Treaty

On 15 November, the Supreme Court handed down its judgment in relation to the migration and economic development partnership between the UK and Rwanda. The Court acknowledged that changes can be delivered to address its concerns. We have been working with the Government of Rwanda to make these changes—they are equally committed to deliver this partnership.

Yesterday, I signed a new treaty with Foreign Minister Biruta. This further strengthens our partnership and addresses the conclusion from the Supreme Court on the risk of refoulement to those individuals who are relocated to Rwanda.

The treaty can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-rwanda-treaty-provision-of-an-asylum-partnership.

This treaty is binding in international law. It makes it absolutely clear that people relocated to Rwanda will be safe and supported and will not be removed to a country other than the UK. This ensures there is no risk of refoulement. For those who are not granted refugee status or humanitarian protection, they will get equivalent treatment which includes being granted permanent residence so that they are able to stay and integrate into Rwandan society.

Through the treaty, Rwanda will introduce a strengthened end-to-end asylum system. Individuals will have the right to appeal a decision on their asylum claim, which will be considered by a new, specialist asylum appeals body. It will have one Rwandan and one other Commonwealth co-president and be made up of judges from a mix of nationalities, selected by the co-presidents.

The treaty also enhances the role of the independent monitoring committee which will ensure adherence to obligations under the agreement. It will have the power to set its own priority areas for monitoring and be given unfettered access to complete assessments and reports. The committee will monitor the entire relocation process, including initial screening, relocation and settlement in Rwanda. It will develop a system to enable relocated individuals and legal representatives to lodge confidential complaints directly to the committee.

The Prime Minister committed to stop the boats, and we are delivering on that. The number of arrivals is down by a third; the initial asylum backlog is down from 92,000 to less than 20,000; we have removed over 22,000 people this year; and we have already closed 50 asylum hotels.

To fully solve this problem, we need a strong deterrent as part of our wider toolkit. As our deal with Albania shows, deterrence works: Albanian arrivals are down by more than 90% this year. That is why it is essential we remove illegal migrants to Rwanda. If people know they cannot stay in the UK if they come here illegally, we will prevent people from risking their lives by making the dangerous journey across the channel.

The Prime Minister has announced we will be bringing forward legislation to complement this treaty. I look forward to introducing this to the House in due course.

[HCWS101]