House of Lords
Wednesday 2 September 2020
The House met in a Hybrid Sitting.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. I welcome noble Lords back and bid you all good afternoon. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally.
Death of a Member: Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan
Retirements of Members
My Lords, I should next like to notify the House of the retirement, with effect from 31 August, of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, and the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Birmingham, and, with effect from today, of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I should like to thank all the noble Lords for their much-valued service to the House over the years.
Oral Questions will now begin. Please will those asking supplementary questions keep them short and confined to two points? I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
EU: Non-financial Services
My Lords, we have discussed non-financial services in all seven negotiating rounds to date and have identified large areas of common ground. However, in some areas the EU has been unable to match our ambition. In the interests of compromise, we have agreed to use the EU’s services proposal as the starting point for a text-based negotiation, although the Commission’s insistence on parallel progress in other areas is currently impeding our efforts to agree a consolidated text.
My Lords, a no deal for services would be disastrous for a sector already under immense strain from Covid. Does the Minister agree that, out of the range of concerns voiced by industries, including IT and creative services, it is essential that a suitable mobility framework is in place by the end of the year? For the music industry, will the Government negotiate a two-year, multi-entry visa, or ensure that the commitments in mode 4 are extended to include touring under the free trade agreement? An appropriate solution for all services would be beneficial to both the EU and the UK.
My Lords, I fully agree with the noble Earl on the importance of the creative industries, particularly music, for which he is such a doughty champion. Some of the points he raises today have been raised with my colleagues in DCMS, and there are difficulties. Monsieur Barnier has labelled some of our proposals, which I referred to in my Answer, as “freedom of movement for service suppliers”—which I hope shows that we are trying our level best to do the best. We are seeking to lock in, on a reciprocal basis, only arrangements that the UK already has with third countries.
Has my noble friend noticed that over the summer months our trade negotiators have been making excellent progress in trade talks with Japan, the United States and others, yet the EU seems to be the odd one out? Is the confusion in the EU due to the fact that its Trade Commissioner had to resign and it did not get round to appointing a replacement, even at such a crucial time—or might it be because the EU is still trying to cherry-pick the negotiating agenda, insisting that we give it what it wants on fishing rights in British waters and on jurisdiction before it deals with other matters? Why is the EU alone in surrounding itself with despondency and difficulty?
My Lords, I am not quite as adept as my noble friend, but I try never to bring too much despondency to the House. The Government’s position is that we still very much hope that we will get a fruitful and excellent agreement, but my noble friend is right to say that major difficulties remain and that the EU’s insistence on progress on state aid and fisheries is an obstacle to making progress overall.
My Lords, nearly three years ago I chaired an inquiry into non-financial services. As far as I can see, and from what the Minister says, virtually none of the concerns of those sectors has yet resulted in an actual agreement, even in draft. It would of course be helpful if the Minister could undertake to get his department to reply to each of the recommendations in that report but, for today, perhaps he could respond on just two sectors. On the creative industries—music, film, broadcasting and theatre in particular—what progress has been made for reciprocal provisions on intellectual property, free movement, particularly mode 4, and even such basic things as transportation of musical instruments and theatrical scenery, for example? On transport, specifically aviation—I declare my vice-presidency of BALPA in the first sector—and road haulage, aside from any short-term contingency provisions—
My Lords, I cannot answer all the questions that the noble Lord has asked, for the reasons discussed, but I will seek out the answer to his question on his report. So far as reciprocal arrangements are concerned, I repeat what I said earlier: namely, that the Government are seeking to make progress but there are technical delays in the negotiations as a result of the EU’s position.
My Lords, historically the UK led in the push for freedom to provide services across the EU, but now the Government’s determination to leave the single market and to privilege regulatory autonomy over market access and, even worse, their cavalier attitude to no deal risk sacrificing our trade in services, which represents over 80% of our economy and 30 million jobs, and nearly half our exports with a trade surplus with the EU. Any action can only mitigate the damage. Lawyers, musicians and other creative artists, IT consultants and truck drivers all depend on the ability to move freely to work. Many services are also bundled into the production of goods. These sectors are already reeling from the Covid shutdown. What real hope can the Government, who are rejoicing in ending free movement, genuinely offer these professionals regarding their ability to continue to earn a living from the mobility of working in the EU?
My Lords, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the single market. The Government have tabled proposals in a number of the areas that the noble Baroness referred to, and I have commented on the reasons for some of the current difficulties in making progress.
My Lords, further to the question from my noble friend Lord Whitty, what assessment have the Government made of the concerns raised by the chair of the DCMS Select Committee about the impact on any adequacy agreement on personal data if the mooted free trade agreement with the US includes Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act?
My noble friend will be aware that the withdrawal agreement does not protect the rights of representation of UK trademark and design professionals in the European Union Intellectual Property Office, while it does protect the rights of EEA professionals to work in the UK for an extended period, when there will be a great deal of new work at the UK IPO. What plans do HMG have to make these arrangements reciprocal?
My Lords, the Government are committed to protecting IP to a very high level and are proposing a chapter in the free trade agreement based on precedence to reflect this. Both the EU and the United Kingdom are IP-intensive economies and we need to make progress. My noble friend is right in relation to rights of representation that flow from the single market, and I assure her that these issues are currently very much in the mind of the Government.
My Lords, I do not have in my brief the precise figure that the noble Baroness has asked for, so, as I promised earlier in relation to another question, I will write to her with that. The Government’s overall objective is to sustain, develop and increase the viability of our magnificent non-financial services and creative services.
My Lords, information on the Department for International Trade website that I accessed this morning shows that we have made agreements with countries representing only 8% of UK trade in goods and services. If we ended the year on that basis, it would be catastrophic for the British economy, as I am sure the Minister would agree. What is the Government’s target for the amount of trade that we will be doing with the world under free trade agreements—if indeed the Government have a target at all?
There are 120 days until 31 December. We know what has not been agreed, because that is in the newspapers, and we know what the Government have chosen not to pursue in the agreement—namely, security and defence—but we do not know what has been raised and what has been agreed, subject of course to “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. Will my noble friend undertake to provide a Statement to Parliament setting out exactly what has been agreed, which aspirations we have put forward and which have been completely rejected? This is not interfering with the negotiations; it is informing Parliament and the public.
My Lords, the Government are not giving a running commentary on the negotiations. We remain in close contact with our EU counterparts. There were discussions yesterday and we look forward to the next round of talks in London next week. I can promise my noble friend that we will publish the agenda for that next round towards the end of the week as usual.
Green Investment Fund
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the total amount of public investment in carbon intensive sectors, including air travel, car manufacturing and road building; and what comparison they have made between that level of investment and the amounts available to the Green Investment Fund.
My Lords, the Government are committed to a green recovery with concern for our environment at its heart. This summer we announced £2 billion for the green homes grant to help people to reduce energy bills and cut carbon, and £2 billion over the course of this Parliament to increase walking and cycling.
I thank the Minister for her reply. What I was trying to ferret out with this Question was the discrepancy between the Government’s support for environmentally damaging sectors of the economy and the tiny amounts of money given to green sectors. We are in a climate emergency. The Green Party has a fully costed manifesto, and I would be happy to sit down with the Minister to go through some policies that would pay dividends in recovering our environment.
My Lords, our economy is not yet in a net-zero status, so to support the economy during the time of coronavirus we have invested in sectors that might contribute carbon. However, I disagree with the noble Baroness about the level of investment that the Government have put into green recovery. In addition to the £4 billion that I just referred to, there is an extra £1 billion for ultra-low emission vehicles and £800 million for carbon capture and storage, in addition to the Clean Growth Fund and a new future homes standard, which will align with the fact that we are planning to build, build, build to get the clean homes that we need.
The Cameron Conservative Government showed their lack of commitment to the Green Investment Bank when they took the short-sighted step of privatising it and then mishandling the sale. Could the Minister outline in what ways a second green investment bank will be more effective and, importantly, how its success will be evaluated?
My Lords, the reason for moving the Green Investment Bank into the private sector in 2017 was to allow it to raise equity from private finance sources to increase the amount of investment going into these sectors. In addition, the Government have launched the Clean Growth Fund, a venture capital fund that will match fund with a charity that invests in new businesses looking to accelerate the commercialisation of innovative new technologies.
On 29 June this year there was a Question about reducing emissions and ensuring sustainable aviation. The Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Vere of Norbiton, responded that the Jet Zero Council had recently been set up and would look at these issues. Could the Minister report to the House on the progress of those discussions and whether there is any further progress in investing in sustainable aviation, such as the electrification of short-haul flights and cleaner fuels?
My Lords, will my noble friend take this opportunity to examine the damage to the economy, as well as the reduced impact on the environment, of the collapse of the aviation sector as a result of Covid-19? Will this be taken into consideration regarding future investment and assessment of the impact on the environment?
My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the anger of the Extinction Rebellion protesters outside Parliament relates directly to our failure inside Parliament, particularly the gaping chasm between the Government’s rhetoric on climate change and their actions? Will they at least begin to bridge that gap by instituting a comprehensive green investment plan, including investment in green hydrogen and clean battery production, so that the UK economy is not once again left catastrophically behind the curve?
I am afraid I have to disagree with the sentiments the noble Lord expressed in that question. We have announced, including in the summer economic update, billions of pounds for a green recovery to support our economy. The evidence from fiscal stimulus packages in response to the global financial crisis showed that green policies can support short-term jobs—indeed, more short-term jobs than traditional stimulus. That is why the Government are investing in a green recovery.
I reassure my noble friend that last week we launched an eligibility checker on the Simple Energy Advice website so that homeowners and landlords can find out what measures they are eligible for. Another important part of making this scheme work is for tradespeople to sign up for TrustMark status to deliver the scheme. We will be investing more in publicising the scheme to tradespeople and those who may benefit over the next few weeks and months.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned the Clean Growth Fund, but I am right in saying that it is limited to £40 million at the moment, so there is a bit of a gap in the investment required. In July the Energy Minister said that the transition to a greener economy would require a huge amount of investment. Although it might be seen as another U-turn, is the answer not another green bank?
The Clean Growth Fund has £20 million of government investment, but that is matched pound for pound by CCLA, one of the UK’s largest charity fund managers. As I referred to in response to previous questions, that is not the limit of the Government’s investment in clean growth, which runs to billions of pounds.
My Lords, success for the £800 million of public investment in carbon capture and storage that the Minister referred to depends on a credible business model; the previous two competitions failed because of the absence of one. When will the Government publish their response to the eight-week consultation on CCUS business models that ended a year ago?
I am afraid I do not have a date for the noble Lord for the response to that consultation, but I can say that at Spring Budget 2020 the Government announced at least £800 million to support this sector in two industrial clusters. We aim to have the first one up and running by the mid-2020s.
My Lords, will the Minister use this opportunity to commit the Government to phasing out any further support for the aviation and motor sectors by the end of this financial year unless they obtain legally binding commitments from the companies concerned that are firmly and transparently tied to achieving our zero-carbon targets? If she will not do that, can she explain why not?
My Lords, the Government are urging us to abandon home-working and to return to our offices with the old daily commute, but travelling to work creates harmful emissions. What assessment have the Government made of the impact of the return to the daily commute on both climate change and the health of the population?
As we can see from a slightly busier House today than before Recess, some noble Lords have returned to a bit of a commute. I do not think there has to be a contribution to climate change from commuting. That is why we have invested £2 billion in walking and cycling, which can contribute to people’s well-being. One of the things that we have seen during the pandemic is more flexible working structures that may allow people to get away from just peak travel. That can reduce congestion and reduce the impact on climate change.
My Lords, we published Tackling Obesity: Empowering Adults and Children to Live Healthier Lives on 27 July. The strategy demonstrates an overarching campaign to reduce obesity, takes forward actions from previous chapters of the childhood obesity plan and sets out measures to get the nation fit and healthy, protect against Covid-19 and protect the NHS.
My Lords, if the Government persist in abolishing Public Health England, who will be responsible for policies to tackle obesity? Secondly, does the Minister agree that tackling obesity, especially childhood obesity, requires more than a few policy headlines but rather a whole-government approach that includes healthcare, education, local government, transport, finance, the built environment, sports provision, advertising—especially social media—and scientific research, plus a focus on preschool children, disadvantaged groups and involving young people themselves?
My Lords, I pay tribute to those at Public Health England who brought together the obesity strategy announced in July and who will continue to work on the obesity strategy. We are consulting on where the ultimate home for that team should be. I emphasise that the obesity strategy launched in July was the most holistic and joined-up piece of policy on obesity in recent times. I emphasise that the money that has come from the sugar tax is now going to pay for sports in schools.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred to the need for what the IPPR—in a report from last week that I am sure the Minister is aware of—called a “whole society” approach. The current strategy focuses on a few aspects of consumption. Will the Government consider the issue of production and the fact that large multinational companies are making huge profits from unhealthy products, particularly in the beverage sector? What will the Government do to make sure that they make a larger contribution to solving the problem they have created?
My Lords, I welcome the IPPR report, but it is not true that the Government do not have a whole-society approach. Our approach to obesity involves physical education, supporting underprivileged families, addressing issues with marketing and a whole range of different issues. As for the noble Baroness’s points on profit, this Government are not against profit, but we are for healthy outcomes for young people.
My Lords, clearly prevention is better than cure and there is no panacea. However, there seems to be some evidence that, where families are brought together in family programmes to help them bring about behavioural change, there is more likelihood of them sticking to a healthier lifestyle. I ask my noble friend the Minister whether these programmes are ongoing and, if not, whether they can be started again and rolled out countrywide? It seems that, if families are brought together to help them think about behavioural change, this could be one way of tackling the obesity crisis.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, for her expertise in this matter. She is entirely right that decisions made by families together are more powerful than those made by individuals. The obesity campaign launched in July seeks to achieve exactly that by having a campaign on better health targeted at the whole population. I also emphasise the Healthy Start vouchers, a scheme to provide a nutritional safety net to hundreds of thousands of pregnant women and families with children aged under four, which is one way of bringing families together around healthy food.
School nurses play important roles in dietary education for new parents and school pupils. With the anticipated changes to Public Health England, how will the Government ensure, without structured plans, that these services are strengthened to promote healthy eating and exercise to prevent early childhood obesity?
The noble Baroness is entirely right that these nurses play an absolutely pivotal role. The reorganisation around PHE is due to start in April. We are seeking the best possible advice on where that work could be best sited. The National Institute for Health Protection is one potential home, but I reassure the Chamber that a safe and important home for those nurses is a priority for the Government.
My Lords, obesity is overwhelmingly a problem of deprived communities. Therefore, does the Minister agree that initiatives on child obesity need to be tackled by communities themselves, supported, of course, by adequate government funding. How are the Government encouraging such activity—for example, by harnessing the power of food banks, parents, schools, clubs and children themselves—to develop local solutions?
The noble Baroness has a point on the importance of targeting the right populations and there are certainly some demographics that incur higher incidences of obesity and for which the health disbenefits of obesity are higher. For these, we have special programmes to support them in schools with vouchers and medical interventions. However, obesity is a national problem that affects all parts of society. In Britain we have got it wrong and we need to address this issue as a nation.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, rightly emphasised the link between deprivation and childhood obesity. Therefore, while welcoming the announcement of the Government’s obesity strategy, I ask the Minister: what specific steps are the Government taking to address the links between deprivation and obesity; how will this be funded; and what plans do they have to introduce policies with a more explicit focus on early years to reduce childhood obesity rates?
My Lords, there are individual programmes specifically targeting those from deprived backgrounds. I emphasise the childhood obesity trailblazer programme, which has funding for several councils to pioneer forward-thinking ideas to address childhood obesity among those target populations.
The other area that I emphasise is exercise in school. Of course, obesity is linked to intake, not exercise, but exercise helps to get the disciplines right around looking after one’s mind and body. The £320 million going into school sports facilities is a massive bonus in this area.
My Lords, could my noble friend say, a little more specifically, what training and support will be available to health visitors for the very earliest intervention? Would not the one-year and two-year checks that the majority of children go along to be an ideal opportunity to inform parents about the nutritional needs of very young children so that they can make those informed choices?
Health checks in the early years of childhood are an incredibly valuable opportunity to intervene in a number of health inputs. Diet and exercise are two of those. Training is in place for health visitors to provide dietary advice but, when back at the department, I will ask whether we are working on any new initiatives at the moment and write back to my noble friend.
I have two questions for the Minister. Could he explain to the House why Professor Dame Sally Davies’ 2019 report on childhood obesity, which made 49 recommendations, seems to have been lost? Given that Public Health England plays a crucial role in addressing obesity, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said, and the obesity team seems to be homeless at present, how will the Government ensure that its expertise, accountability and leadership is retained and relevant bodies are sufficiently funded?
My Lords, the report from Professor Sally Davies has not been lost; the July obesity strategy leans extremely heavily on the insight and advice of Sally Davies, who continues to have a strong presence in the department and informs all our decisions, as does the public health team at PHE. Professor John Newton had an extremely high profile during the launch of the obesity strategy in July and continues to have an important voice at all levels of the department.
In her 2019 report, the Chief Medical Officer pointed out that, when we leave the European Union, it will be open to the Government to alter VAT rates. She recommended that healthy foods should remain without VAT, as they are at the moment, but that there should be a tiered approach to unhealthy foods and drinks as far as VAT is concerned. What is the Government’s response to this recommendation?
Covid-19: Self-isolation Payment Scheme
My Lords, to be eligible for this payment, individuals must live in Blackburn with Darwen, Oldham or Pendle and have been asked to self-isolate by Test and Trace, be employed or self-employed, stand to lose income because they are unable to work from home while self-isolating, and receive at least one of the following benefits: universal credit, working tax credit, income-related employment and support allowance, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income support or pension credit or housing benefit.
My Lords, I am grateful. People are told to quarantine as soon as they have symptoms and wherever they live. Can I ask the Minister two questions? First, why is the payment only for those who have had a positive test or been told to isolate by NHS test and trace? Secondly, the Government’s description of the scheme says that it is intended only for those in high-infection areas, but if there is an outbreak elsewhere, in a care home or a factory, do those workers not need support? If they cannot afford to stay at home, does that not risk creating a new high-infection area?
My Lords, the reality of the epidemic is that it targets some communities in specific areas with laser-like focus. The feedback from some of those communities, local authorities and community leaders is that support is needed in some areas where there has been a local lockdown. We have responded to those suggestions and put this financial support in place for specific communities in specific areas. In that, we are responding to local suggestions.
My Lords, I am not sure that I heard all the question. Can I just explain that those who are isolated for 10 days will receive £130? Other eligible members of their household who have been self-isolating will also be entitled to a payment. Eligible non-household contacts instructed to stay at home and to self-isolate will also be entitled to a payment of up to £182.
My Lords, what current criteria are the Government using to determine local lockdowns? In the light of reports from Manchester today, what improvements, if any, have been made in the area of local consultation and the imposition of a local lockdown since the decisions of 30 June in Leicester?
My Lords, a huge amount of data, both national and local, gets put into the local lockdown process during the gold meetings of the JBC. The liaison between gold and local authorities and local MPs has been improved and upgraded massively in the last few weeks. I cannot share any update from the JBC meetings today.
My Lords, there are many situations where citizens are being mandated to self-isolate or quarantine, such as specific workplaces or specific countries or, as we have seen at the weekend, with the flight from Zante. However, those people may not live in areas with high incidence of Covid-19. In these circumstances, how will such people be covered by any benefits so that the choice is not between feeding themselves or health protection for anyone affected?
My Lords, under the current scheme, benefits are provided to those who live in Blackburn with Darwen, Oldham or Pendle. It does not extend to other areas. We will assess the impact of this scheme and review whether it should or could be extended in any way.
My Lords, support for the most vulnerable in undertaking self-isolation should not just, as suggested, be a matter of financial support, important though that is. It should include emotional and mental health support to the household. Does the Minister agree? What provision is being made for this sort of support? In so far as it is provided by local authorities, will adequate funding be made available to them?
The noble Lord is entirely right. The decision to isolate is extremely tough for a great many people, both economically and psychologically. The importance of isolation is absolutely critical in our battle against Covid. We have to think of ways of supporting people in every way we can. That is the responsibility of local authorities, and we have provided them with £300 million of funding to support their isolation, test and trace programme. I would like to pay tribute to local authorities that are doing a fantastic job of putting support in place for those who are isolating in expectation of the winter.
My Lords, I speak from Pendle, and declare my interests, where council staff and the council leadership are working heroically in the front line of the Covid battle. This is a welcome although very small step. Is the Minister aware, though, that our determination to test, test, test and find positive cases is greatly hindered by the inefficient and failing national tracking, contact and isolate system and by the complex, obscure and bureaucratic way in which decisions on local restrictions and support are being made? Will the Government give much more authority and resources to local people with the skills and local knowledge that are needed, particularly in tracking down local contacts and persuading them to co-operate? Give us the tools and we will get on with the job.
The noble Lord gives fascinating testimony, and I pay tribute to the council in Pendle, which is well known for its energetic approach in dealing with the epidemic. I honestly say a massive thank you to all those in Pendle who are working so hard. Despite what the noble Lord has just said, they are being successful. The strategy is working and they are fighting the disease and breaking the chains of transmission, and we are all hopeful that Pendle will be restored to normal life as soon as possible. Our approach is to give those on the ground the tools they need, exactly as the noble Lord asks. I am hopeful that that is happening. I hear reports that it is, and that is very much the emphasis of our approach.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that if local spikes appear around the United Kingdom, this scheme will be available to them? Will it be available in Glasgow, for example? Can he confirm that enough flexibility will be allowed to those administrating the scheme to ensure that those who need the scheme, whose circumstances will vary greatly, will be able to get it quickly and expeditiously?
The noble Lord asks a wide-ranging set of questions. We are looking at the effectiveness of the scheme. We are working with DAs to see whether the scheme could or should be extended in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Once that review is done and we have assessed its impact, we will be able to make decisions of the kind he describes.
My Lords, the payment itself will not affect existing benefits in any way. Payments through the scheme will, though, be subject to income tax and some form of national insurance contribution, in line with other support payments such as through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
My Lords, I return to the question asked by my noble friend Lady Lister. What was the evidence base for the decision that £13 a day would be sufficient to persuade low-paid workers to forgo their earnings and therefore self-isolate? The Minister did not answer the question the first time round; perhaps he could answer it now. What were the criteria?
The evidence base and criteria were our discussions with local authorities and community leaders on what an effective amount would be that would tip the balance in a personal decision to isolate. As I said earlier, those personal decisions are extremely tough. It was agreed with local infection teams and authorities that this was the kind of sum that would make a difference.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, hybrid proceedings will now resume. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing; others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
Private Notice Question
My Lords, the commitment to spending 0.7% of our national income on aid is a manifesto commitment and is enshrined in law. As the PM has made clear, the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will maximise the impact of our aid budget to help the world’s poorest, while making sure that we get the best value for money for the UK taxpayer.
My Lords, in an article in this week’s Sunday Times on the Chancellor’s possible tax rises was this line:
“Treasury officials are also examining ways of siphoning cash from the foreign aid budget.”
Given that £2.9 billion has already been cut from UK aid this year, going further would mean repealing legislation. From the same article was this quote:
“A source said: ‘Foreign aid is being looked at as well’.”
Quite simply, can the Minister say whether such media reports over the last few days are wishful thinking within elements of her party, or is it a precursor to yet another government U-turn, this time on a Conservative manifesto commitment?
My Lords, rather than focusing on unattributable media reports, I point the noble Baroness to No. 10’s confirmation yesterday that there is no change to the Government’s commitment to maintaining a 0.7% aid target. Also, the Foreign and Development Secretary today confirmed that we will continue to spend 0.7%. That is written into the law. The Prime Minister has said that we want aid capacity and development expertise; that is what we want to be the beating heart of the new department.
My Lords, I have two questions. When will the first accounts for the new joint department be signed off, as they must be, by the FCO Permanent Secretary, and published? Secondly, on 19 June, 191 NGOs, think tanks and charities, all working on humanitarian assistance—including of course the current Covid problem—wrote to the Prime Minister protesting about this new arrangement. The doctors wrote, similarly, a couple of days later. All made the point that DfID is one of the most successful and respected aid departments anywhere in the world, and is recognised as such by everywhere else in the world. Has the Prime Minister answered those letters from the 191 NGOs and the doctors? They were written 10 weeks ago. If not, after almost 10 weeks, when will he reply?
My Lords, departmental accounts will be published in the usual way. I reassure the noble Baroness and, indeed, the NGOs to which she referred, that of course we are listening very closely to what they say to ensure that the new department is greater than the sum of its parts, and what we want it to be. We aim to use all the tools of our influence and expertise to continue our work and development. We are a world leader in international development, as the noble Baroness says, helping to end extreme poverty in developing countries around the world. We are absolutely committed to putting UK aid at the heart of what we do in the new department. We will continue with our 0.7% and will ensure that we continue the good work that we have seen from DfID in the new FCDO.
Development is global and long term, which is usually different from the aims of other government departments. Given the headlines about raiding the development budget, including from the Treasury, exactly how will her department guard against this?
My Lords, as I hope I have made clear, we will continue our commitment to 0.7% in the new department, as was said in the Conservative Party manifesto on which we were elected, and we will proudly maintain that commitment. We must ensure that both our diplomacy and development work continues, as it has done in the two separate departments, within the new department. In our new department, we aim to pursue our national interests and project the UK as a force for good in the world, which includes safeguarding UK security, defending our values, reducing poverty and tackling the huge global challenges that we face.
My Lords, our overseas aid programme is under a triple threat: the questioning of the commitment to 0.7%; the reduced value of the 0.7% because of the post-Covid recession; and the subverting of aid spending into quite different areas, such as defence. Does the Minister accept that an effective aid programme is, in fact, firmly in the UK’s national interest and enhances our reputation globally? Will she reassure me that spending in areas where we are acknowledged world leaders, such as malaria—I declare my interest—which was also specifically mentioned in the Conservative Party manifesto, will be safeguarded going forward?
I completely agree with the noble Baroness that our work in international development is firmly in the national interest and absolutely enhances our global reputation abroad. We have been a world leader in many things, including malaria. We need to focus, rightly, on the Covid-19 response, but we must not forget or reverse the significant gains that have been made over the years. We have many proud achievements on malaria, and the UK will continue to lead the way on eradicating malaria as part of our work on ending preventable deaths.
I welcome the Minister’s comprehensive replies and have a simple question for her. On the back of my views that the merger will add greatly to UK influence in global leadership, given that public health is central to all our thinking at the moment internationally, can the Minister reassure me that, from now on, we will use our contribution to the World Health Organization, where we are in fact the largest and most powerful contributor, to the greatest possible extent? That means perhaps not just contributing, but ensuring that the WHO has reorganisation in the centre, or whatever is needed, because it has lagged a little bit, which is why we have lost the United States. Will the Minister reassure me that she will do everything she can to make Britain more powerful in the World Health Organization dimension?
As my noble friend says, we are a leading donor to the WHO. We have already pledged £75 million to help it to lead international efforts to stop the spread of the virus and then the pandemic. The UK has long been an advocate for reform in the WHO. We want to see the WHO continue to learn lessons on how to improve its response to global health emergencies. The new department will help us in this aim, bringing together our diplomatic engagement with the WHO and other bilateral donors, and also our development funding, for the first time.
My Lords, I have personally seen through the Anglican Communion’s worldwide partnerships the positive impact that the UK’s overseas aid has made to alleviating poverty. I share the concerns of other Peers about the reports of the Government’s intent to overturn the legal commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid. At the risk of tedium, I hope that the Minister will continue to give this House assurances that the Government have no such plans, which would reduce the UK’s impact under the UN sustainable development goals.
I thank the right reverend Prelate for her question. Like her, I have seen at first hand the incredible work that church and faith groups do around the world. I assure her that we will continue to be guided by our responsibilities under the International Development Act, which of course includes a commitment to poverty reduction.
My Lords, as we have heard, there has already been a substantial reduction in real aid spending due to the contraction of our own economy. Where is the strategy? Which country programmes have been identified for closure and cuts? Does the Minister agree with the Prime Minister that we should be diverting aid from partners in countries such as Zambia and Tanzania? If so, why?
As the noble Lord said, given the expected fall in gross national income this year, our commitments to aid spending have been reviewed across all departments. The strategy behind that was to ensure that there is continued support for the five priorities for overseas development assistance: the Bottom Billion support, poverty reduction, climate change, girls’ education and, of course, Covid-19. We want to ensure that Britain continues to play its role as a force for good in the world. That implementation is happening as we speak, and we are discussing that with suppliers. As usual, there will continue to be adjustments in year to individual departmental overspend to meet the 0.7% target, but we are absolutely focused on making sure that we continue to fund the priorities that I have outlined.
My Lords, is not the problem for the Minister that whatever she says in good faith is being undermined by persistent and detailed leaking, not least in today’s edition of the Times? The aid budget is a jewel in a very jaded foreign policy. Why should it be put at risk?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that it should not be put at risk. It is not at risk. I point to the comments from No. 10, from the Foreign Secretary today and, indeed, from the Prime Minister when he made his announcement to Parliament on the merger. We should be incredibly proud of the changes that 0.7% has made and continues to make in people’s lives around the world, from girls’ education to eradicating wild polio in Africa. We continue to be proud of that and to be absolutely committed to carrying on the good work of 0.7% in the new FCDO.
My Lords, we continue to be incredibly concerned about the situation in Yemen. In fact, we have an announcement today, given the impact of Covid-19 heightening the risk of famine in countries from Sudan through to Yemen. We are providing an extra £190 million of famine relief. At the same time, in order to leverage our diplomatic network and bring countries together, we have appointed a new envoy for famine relief and we will continue to ensure that we are giving the support to the people of Yemen that they need.
Can the Minister give us more assistance in developing public health training, because it is the lack of public health training in many of the countries concerned with Covid-19 that is putting them at even greater risk than they are already? Will she also discuss with the Foreign and Development Secretary the whole question of training officials from the two participating departments, perhaps with some help from those of us who have experienced working in both departments? That way we can show the diplomats exactly why foreign aid is so critical to what they do, and help the development specialists to understand the problems faced by the diplomats.
As my noble friend said, it is incredibly important that we think carefully about how we spend our 0.7% budget. Of course, Covid-19 has changed our perception of what we should be doing. I agree with her that we need to invest more in health training and health systems in the developing world to make sure that they are strong enough to cope with this pandemic and any others that might come in the future. I also agree with my noble friend about the importance of sharing the expertise from DfID and the FCO with the new department. There will, of course, be learnings for everybody, and I would very much like to take her up on her offer of help on that, because I know that she has many years of experience in this. I am sure that the new department would benefit from that.
My Lords, I welcome the Government’s reassurance on the matter of 0.7% and I should mention my entry in the register of interests. However, I do not think that the announcement at the end of July of the cuts in the budget as a result of the contraction in the economy was a good start for transparency in the new department. To announce £2.9 billion of cuts without any detail or criteria was a significant problem, so I would like the Minister to give us some assurance, first, that there will be a detailed announcement about these cuts and, secondly, that the criteria used to make the cuts will be properly announced to Parliament in due course.
My Lords, the Foreign Secretary explained in letters to the Select Committees and placed in the Libraries of both Houses the priorities on how these decisions were made. We remain firmly committed to transparency in our aid spending. I hope noble Lords will welcome the announcement that we will continue in the Independent Commission for Aid Impact.
On the prioritisation decisions, at a minimum our DevTracker website is being updated at the end of every month. If, by the end of August, amended programmes and projects have been uploaded on to that, provisional international development statistics will be published in the usual way. Then, of course, the final international development statistics in autumn next year will include country-level data.
We do not know what the current GNI figure is, so this is an iterative process as we go, but we are absolutely determined to ensure that we are using the aid money that we have to deal with the many issues that the world faces.
Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill
Order of Consideration Motion
That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to which the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill has been committed that they consider the bill in the following order:
Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clauses 2 to 5, Schedules 2 and 3, Clauses 6 to 9, Title.
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill
Order of Consideration Motion
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating virtually, but all Members are treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
Schools and Colleges: Qualification Results and Full Opening
The following Statement was made on Tuesday 1 September in the House of Commons.
“With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the full opening of our schools and colleges from this week, but before I do I would like to update the House on the current position regarding exam results for this year’s GCSE and A-level students.
As the House will be fully aware, exams had to be cancelled this year because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Students have now received results for GCSE, AS and A-levels, as well as vocational and technical qualifications, which will allow them to progress to the next stage of their lives. The independent regulator Ofqual had put in place a system for arriving at grades that was believed to be fair and robust. It became clear, however, that there were far too many inconsistent and unfair outcomes for A-level and AS-level students and that it was not reasonable to expect them to be dealt with through even a boosted and enhanced appeals process. Instead, students have been awarded the grades that schools and colleges estimated they would most likely have achieved, or their calculated grades if they were higher.
The situation has, I know, caused a great deal of stress and uncertainty, and I am deeply sorry that those who have borne the brunt of it have been students themselves. I can only apologise to them again for that. We took immediate action to provide certainty as soon as it was clear that if we did not, too many students would have received grades that did not reflect their hard work and ability.
For vocational and technical qualifications, the situation was different because most were not subject to standardisation like GCSE and A-level grades. Awarding organisations that used a similar model have, however, also reviewed their results to ensure that each student has been treated as fairly as possible. We recognise, however, that some students may still be unhappy with their summer grade and that for some, such as home-educated students, there was not enough evidence for any grade to be awarded at all. To support those students, in the autumn we are running an extra exam series in all subjects at GCSE, A-level and AS-level. Additional opportunities will also be provided for some other vocational and technical qualifications that received calculated grades.
We have been working with the further and higher education sectors to manage applications for this year’s places. To ensure that students can progress to higher education, we intend to remove the temporary student-number controls that had been introduced for the coming academic year. We set up the higher education taskforce and are working closely with the sector to create additional capacity and encourage it to be as flexible as possible. Providers have agreed to honour all offers to students who meet the conditions of their offer, wherever that is possible. If a course is full, universities will give students a choice of suitable alternative courses if they are happy to take one, or a deferred place if they would prefer to wait an additional year. This year, many more students have been successful in meeting the grades required to study medicine and dentistry. The Government have removed the caps on student numbers that were in place for both subjects.
The Ofqual board has agreed temporary arrangements with Ofsted to support the ongoing work on this summer’s GCSEs, A-levels and AS-levels, and on vocational qualifications, including appeals and autumn exams, as well as preparations for next year’s exam season. We are determined that exams and assessments will go ahead next year and are working with the sector to ensure that that is done as smoothly as possible.
The former chief regulator, Sally Collier, decided that the next stage of the awarding process would be better overseen by new leadership. As a result, the Ofqual board has asked Dame Glenys Stacey to act as acting chief regulator until December 2020. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sally Collier for the commitment that she has shown over the past four years and wish her well.
Although none of this disruption is what we wanted for our students, I believe that they now have the certainty and reassurance they deserve and will be able to embark on the next exciting phase of their lives. I hope the whole House will join me in wishing them all the very best for their future.
Let me now turn to the full opening of our nation’s schools and colleges. Welcoming pupils back will be a massive milestone for schools throughout the country. On 2 July, we published detailed plans for nurseries, schools, special schools and colleges that set out what was required to deliver full return as safely as possible for all our children. The guidance has been developed with medical and scientific experts and Public Health England and follows regular engagement with the education sector. The recent letter from all four UK chief medical officers, which emphasised the low risk of long-term harm from Covid-19 due solely to attending school in comparison with the high risk of long-term harm from not attending school, particularly for more vulnerable children and young people, has, I hope, given parents extra assurance that with the protective measures in place, our pupils are returning to a safe environment, and an environment they will gain so much from.
As they return, pupils will be kept in consistent groups and the older children will be encouraged to distance wherever possible. At a minimum, this will mean keeping whole year groups in schools and colleges separate. This is in addition to the other protective measures, such as enhanced cleaning and hand washing. We have also advised that pupils in secondary schools should wear face coverings in communal areas if there is a local lockdown in place, unless they are exempt.
Strict hygiene protocols are in place and PPE has been distributed to every school to bolster their supplies for use in the unlikely event that a pupil develops Covid symptoms on the premises. A small number of home-test kits are also being distributed for anyone who develops symptoms and who would not otherwise have access to testing themselves. All schools will also have access to direct support and advice from local health protection teams to deal with any cases that may occur.
Together with colleagues from the Department for Transport, we have announced an additional £40 million in funding for local transport authorities to ease pressure on public transport. We have also published guidance for local authorities to manage capacity and reduce the risk of infection on school transport. We have urged all students and staff to walk or cycle to school or college if this is a suitable alternative for them.
I know that these past few months have been some of the most challenging that schools, parents and, most of all, children have faced. I would like to take this opportunity to applaud all our dedicated education staff for the incredible efforts that they have made to keep children learning at this difficult time. I am confident that we have the necessary preparations in hand to ensure a successful return for all our pupils. I commend this statement to the House.”
My Lords, my apologies: I thought that the noble Baroness the Minister was going to repeat the Statement.
I start by congratulating young people across the country on their GCSE and A-level results, which have caused them much more anxiety than necessary. Labour is absolutely clear: we want children back in school and we want them to stay there safely. As the shadow Secretary of State said yesterday, we will always work constructively with the Secretary of State to achieve that, and the questions that I put to the Minister should be taken in that spirit.
The vast majority of schools will reopen fully over the next few days. We welcome that, but many issues of concern remain. For example, schools were denied the necessary information to prepare for reopening, with the Government’s guidance for head teachers to plan for tier 2 restrictions being published only last Friday.
Over the past month, we have been presented with the extraordinary saga of the 2020 examinations. Ministers’ fixation on avoiding grade inflation led to the adoption of a statistical approach that was never going to survive contact with real live students. Mr Gove’s reforms to exams meant that there was no back-up to call on. It beggars belief that the Secretary of State was warned of the debacle and yet allowed such flawed results to reach publication before the inevitable retreat, thereby causing not just distress to so many students but chaos in the university sector. It seems that we have a Government who resolutely refuse to recognise problems that are so obviously coming down the road, proclaiming absolute confidence in their ostrich-like convictions until the moment of the screeching U-turn.
With regard to this summer’s exam results, can the Minister say when the Secretary of State first knew of the potential problems with the flawed standardisation approach, and what action he took as a result? The evidence given by Ofqual to the Education Committee today has raised serious questions about the Secretary of State’s role in the fiasco. We welcome the apology in the Statement but not his repeated attempts to blame Ofqual and officials for the exams crisis. It is now clear that he was responsible. The head of Ofqual has gone and the head of DfE is going. As we say in Scotland, Mr Williamson’s jaiket is on a shoogly nail.
In a helpful letter to all noble Lords last week, the noble Baroness the Minister stated:
“The relevant awarding organisations have assured the DfE that students will receive their results by this Friday.”
That was 28 August. Can the Minister say how many BTEC students have still not received their results?
On the national tutoring programme, can the noble Baroness say when it will take effect? Yesterday, the Secretary of State merely referred to “this academic year”, which is, to say the least, open-ended. Is she also aware that there is scope for the independent sector to demonstrate public benefit under its charitable status by becoming registered tutors under the programme? Not all the work should be handed to private tuition agencies, but whoever is involved it must start soon.
Finally on the return of schools, can the Minister say why early years and post-16 providers remain ineligible for the catch-up premium, and what extra support will be available for children with SEND?
Turning to the 2021 examinations, the tinkering around the edges proposed by Ofqual does not begin to address the scale of the problem that years 11 and 13 have faced this year and will face next year. The call by teaching unions to change the exams more fundamentally is right: we need to address how we can “build back better”.
Two immediate principles should underpin exams in 2021. First, as the noble Baroness may recall, I argued—in response to the Statement of 8 July—that a plan was needed when schools returned, not in desperation as June 2021 approaches, to cope with the disruption that has already happened, and, just as importantly, for what may happen next year. A robust system does that, and it is surely a condemnation of the Government’s approach that there was no such plan this year. Failing to announce a plan that would have gone some way to reassuring students that they will not be penalised because of the possible future impact of the pandemic amounts, essentially, to a head-in-the-sand assumption that the next academic year will run smoothly and exams and progression in 2021 will operate as if nothing much has really happened. That is surely wishful thinking.
Schools, colleges and universities need time to plan. What discussions are Ministers having with the sector and UCAS to ensure that workable arrangements are in place? Can the Minister guarantee that a contingency plan will be put in place this month in case exams are disrupted again? Removing the cap on admissions by individual universities without a strategy for dealing with the fallout from that decision merely pushes the problem into next year.
Children and their families should have been the Government’s top priority over the summer, but their interests have been placed below those of the Government and Ministers. That must now change, for the good of all young people—for their education and their futures.
My Lords, I was slightly confused because I thought the Minister would start by reading the Statement—I do not quite know what happened, but I have obviously got that wrong.
We welcome the fact that children and young people are returning to school, and we have to do all in our power to make this work successfully—and to make it safe. Naturally, the Government have produced reams of guidance for schools. Head teachers have told me that some of it is quite contradictory. I shall give one example. The guidance says:
“No-one should be excluded from education on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering.”
Yet it also says that when children are walking down corridors or are in open-access areas in schools they should wear a face covering. However, the guidance says that, no, you should not be excluded or told that you had to wear one. That guidance has to be there—I understand that—but head teachers, schools and teachers are looking for simplified, easy-to-follow advice that they can adhere to.
During this period of school closures, children have fallen further and further behind, particularly disadvantaged pupils and those from BAME communities. Schools should be doing everything in their power to ensure that those children are able to catch up on those lost months of learning. I have seen it floated that the Government are considering doing some formative or summative testing to find out what the gap is and what the loss of learning is and how that can be supported. I welcome that—it is an important initiative that should happen.
I am concerned about three areas. One is that, during the period of school closures, children and young people who were excluded from school—they were not on any register because they were excluded—and those young people in alternative provision were the most vulnerable pupils in our system, and they need extra support and help. I do not know what the Government’s view on that should be, but alternative providers are concerned that those young people could easily get into further trouble.
Then there is the question of the 60,000 home-educated children. I strongly believe, as I suspect the Minister does, that now is the right time to introduce a policy to ensure that home-educated pupils are registered so that we know what is going on in their learning. However, I was concerned to see that external, home-schooled students have not received an A-level or GCSE grade. Could the Minister shed light on this? I am told that 20,000 students have been informed by their institutions that they will not receive a GCSE grade this year.
Let me give noble Lords the case of a young man from Oxford—I apologise to the Minister for throwing this out now and I will give her the correspondence afterwards. Due to personal reasons, he had to be home educated and do his own learning for biology, chemistry and physics at GCSE and A-level. He had a place at a university, but he has been told—I presume that this is true of other young people too—that he will not get a grade because he was an external candidate, not through a school. That is incredibly worrying. Could the Minister look at this issue?
Finally, I go back to mainstream schools. If, God forbid, a pupil is tested as Covid positive, who tells the school? Who tells the head teacher? Is it left to the parents to inform the school? Who is it left to? I am told by head teachers that there are no processes whereby the testing regime should automatically inform the head teacher. That is crucial for the well-being of schools and pupils, and to making the return to full-time education successful.
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Watson, in thanking young people for their resilience during a crisis this summer that no-one intended them to have to go through. I repeat to your Lordships’ House the apology made by the Secretary of State and in my letter to noble Lords. I thank the noble Lord for his wish to work constructively on these matters.
On schools reopening, the main guidance to put in place the hierarchy of controls, on the need for bubbles or for year groups to be kept separate in secondary schools was issued on 2 July—well in advance of the end of summer term—and enabled schools to prepare. However, for the thankfully very small number of situations where there are additional restrictions, the guidance was issued only recently.
On the noble Lord’s questions about exams, it is important to remember the principle that Ofqual was a body created by Parliament. It was created by statute and is answerable to Parliament. There are good reasons in principle why the regulation of public examinations in this country is not subject to direct government interference. It was Ofqual’s responsibility to have the data to develop the algorithm and then send that algorithm to the various examination boards. There was a reaction at the stages at which the department was made aware of additional concerns and Ofqual met regularly with the department even from before the announcement was made for exams to be cancelled. The department reacted, but Ofqual is the independent regulator.
On sharing data, in the week running up to the A-level results the system was as per any normal year. On the Monday or Tuesday some headline data is given to the department. On the Wednesday that data is shared with schools and is then published on Thursday. To respect the normal division of responsibilities between the department and Ofqual, that long-standing practice was abided by and Ministers did not see the detail of results for individual students or the schools that would have been affected.
Only a tiny fraction of BTEC examination results remains to be communicated to students. That is where further information is needed. Each year there are normally, unfortunately, a small number of results outstanding. Pearson has assured us that it is working to issue these remaining results as soon as possible.
It is envisaged that the first services from the national tutoring programme, which is being delivered by the EEF and Teach First, will be delivered in the second half of the autumn term.
On the specific questions on early years catch-up, of the £350 million tutoring programme, £8 million has been awarded to Nuffield for early language development and there was an announcement that there will be small-group tuition for disadvantaged 16 to 19 year-olds. They are now included in the catch-up.
On the issue around special educational needs students, as noble Lords will be aware, the Oak Academy’s provision of online lessons has of course included some for those with special educational needs. The guidance and the links to the various resources on the Department for Education’s website include links to these. We have been working closely with the sector. Over the next year an additional £730 million will go into the high-needs budget, meaning that it will have grown by £1.5 billion, or 24%, in just two years. We are responding on special educational needs. The £650 million of main catch-up funding going out to schools has been weighted per pupil for specialist schools, because we recognise the higher per pupil costs in those settings.
There will be a contingency plan for examinations next year. There has already been guidance on the curriculum so that schools knew what they were doing from the moment they came back. For instance, in English literature they know that pupils will potentially be examined on only three of the four set texts and there have been changes to field work in geography, et cetera. The question of whether there will be a delay was part of Ofqual’s consultation on the 2021 series, and that will be confirmed as soon as possible.
There is now a higher education task force, chaired by Michelle Donelan, the Minister for Universities, which meets regularly with Universities UK and other stakeholders to work with the sector on the implications of the change in the awarding of grades for A-levels.
Turning to the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, I specifically checked and, while it is my personal preference to read the Statement, I was told that in this hybrid situation I do not repeat it. However, I put my view that I want to read it to noble Lords because it helps.
A lot of specific guidance has had to be set out for the sector. Officials and the sector have worked very closely to try to get the right boundary in not being able to be prescriptive, because we have over 20,000 schools in about 70,000 buildings. There must be the framework and the principles for head teachers and other school leaders to make their risk assessments and the changes to their buildings.
Masks are recommended only where we have something such as a tier 2, where there is a local lockdown, but schools can advise their students on that. I hope that the guidance is not contradictory on that matter.
Disadvantaged pupils are of course a concern for noble Lords and for the department. That is why there is the £1 billion catch-up fund. On excluded pupils, many of whom will have been in alternative provision, all schools reopening includes AP schools. At the end of the summer term we announced additional funds for those leaving AP to make sure that they had additional support and did not end up not in education, employment or training. We are working to ensure that they do not fall within the gaps.
On home education specifically, yes, we are particularly concerned. Going back to the cancellation of exams and the work the exam centres did, obviously some home-educated students then register at a school and sit their examinations in that school. As far as possible, we asked those schools to evaluate the performance of that student if they had any data on which to do so, but of course there were situations in which it just was not possible. That is also about the integrity of head teachers and teachers who did not feel they could give a grade. That is why the autumn series of resits in all subjects will be so important, particularly for home-educated students.
There was a recent consultation from the department on whether to have a register with local authorities and whether to pay exam fees for home-educated students, because we are concerned about the rise in the number of home-educated students. The reasons are not, as perhaps they were 10 or 20 years ago, well-meaning parents. Some who are in home education are potentially not getting the education they deserve, but we do not have the data. I will update the House as soon as I can on what is happening with that consultation.
Finally, I thank noble Lords for their support. I hope we can work constructively, going forward.
My Lords, the combined impact of schools’ closure during lockdown and the discriminatory effect of the grading algorithm has further widened the education and attainment gap between pupils from less-advantaged backgrounds and those privileged to attend better-resourced, fee-paying schools. Can the Minister say what discussions are taking place with the independent school sector about its potential contribution to the national effort to help disadvantaged pupils catch up? For example, donating tutoring capacity or access to high-quality outdoor facilities such as sports grounds would not only help the children most in need but would justify the charitable status these schools enjoy.
My Lords, forgive me; the noble Lord, Lord Storey, also asked about the attainment gap. At the moment the department is seeking as quickly as possible an assessment of what education has been lost and the effect on the attainment gap. We appreciate the EEF’s work, and there have been other reports. There is a procurement out at the moment so that we can assess not all pupils, obviously, but get a better base as to what has actually happened, allowing the next few weeks for things to settle down in schools. Teachers will be assessing that at the moment.
Independent schools are very keen to engage. I personally have been engaging with them through the Independent Schools Council and the Boarding Schools’ Association. They offered some summer clubs over the school holidays, but in my next meeting with them I will talk to them about how we can structure more their desire to help.
My Lords, given that examinations are by their very nature socially distanced and that most schools broke just before the exam period, some of us wonder whether the wholesale cancellation of all exams was absolutely necessary. On postponing next year, the Schools Minister yesterday highlighted the need to consult the devolved Administrations. What formal structures are being considered to ensure that in future there is a properly co-ordinated approach to these matters across the whole of our United Kingdom?
My Lords, on the cancellation of exams, I think we need to cast our minds back. At the time exams were due to start, no secondary school pupils had been back in the building and the confidence was not there among parents. I hate to think of the trauma we could have caused by children going straight from lockdown into an invigilated situation. It just was not possible, and the department was commended on a decisive decision at that moment that exams were cancelled. So, with the best will in the world, that was the right decision and we stand by it.
On communication with the four nations, only yesterday officials were in a four-nations meeting. There is regular dialogue at both ministerial and official level with the four nations. For instance, the direction letters sent by the Secretary of State to Ofqual were copied to each of his three counterparts in the nations. We are working closely. It is unfortunate for all young people that none of the four nations managed to deliver the standardisation that we had intended to deliver and believed was best for children.
It makes sense to have a back-up plan for the examinations next summer, and the Minister mentioned contingency plans. I am not clear whether the Government are considering anything other than a delay of four or so many weeks. There is gathering support for the idea of moderated assessments throughout the school year. Is something like that being considered by the Government? If so, why have details not already been announced? Term has started and teachers need to know how their children might be assessed before they start the academic year.
My Lords, yes, there will be a 2021 contingency plan. As I have mentioned, Ofqual has already consulted in relation to 2021, and one of the suggestions in that consultation was a short delay to the sitting of exams. I cannot remember offhand whether moderated assessments were part of that consultation, but this highlights again the issue of what form the examinations will take. There is the direction of government policy, but then it is for Ofqual to run that. I will make sure that the idea of moderated assessments is put forward. As the noble Baroness will probably be aware, Ofqual has delegated to a sub-committee of its board chaired by Amanda Spielman, who will take forward what the system will be for examinations next year. We recognise that decisions need to be made as soon as possible.
My Lords, I refer to the register of interests; I am a Cambridge academic. The Statement the Minister did not have the opportunity to read to the House states:
“To ensure that students can progress to higher education, we intend to remove the temporary student-number controls that had been introduced for the coming academic year.”
There is then also a discussion about deferring places for students who got their grades this summer. What impact do the Government expect these changes to have on students just entering year 13? They have had their year 12 education damaged or impeded and will potentially face a challenge for places next year.
My Lords, until students enrol at the end of this month—clearing is still going on at the moment—we will not know the enrolment for this year and the implications for higher education institutions. Obviously, the process is beginning for next year’s students, and I know that some schools used the one-on-one contact with students at the end of last term to talk to them about that process and their personal development statements. Of course, there are offers of deferral to next year for this year’s students, as an option when courses are full and they do not want to be on a substitute course this year. Further details of the impact on next year and the decisions that need to be made will be given as soon as possible.
My Lords, I ask the Minister to define conceptually for education—and indeed for other Whitehall departments—where power, responsibility and accountability begin and end, both for the now-misnamed Permanent Secretaries and for Secretaries of State.
My Lords, in this sector I have outlined where the responsibilities of Ofqual and the department are in relation to this matter. I myself am bound by ministerial responsibility. On this matter, the Prime Minister made clear that it was time for new leadership at official level, and sadly the Permanent Secretary agreed to stand down.
I call the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. No? I call the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth.
My Lords, I remind noble Lords of my educational interests. The Education Select Committee warned Ministers in May that the model used for exam gradings may be biased against young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The former director-general for schools, Sir Jon Coles, warned them again in July, and so did Tim Oates from one of the exam boards, also in July. What happened in Scotland with Highers previewed the chaos in England. The Minister of State for Schools has Ofqual in his list of responsibilities. Did he ask questions of Ofqual following those warnings? When did he know that the model was not going to work?
My Lords, in relation to the situations the noble Lord outlined, yes, there were meetings between Ofqual and the department. We always knew that there were limitations within the system, but the department was reassured that those limitations could be dealt with by an appeals system. As evidence that there were discussions, shortly after the situation arose in Scotland, we introduced the ability for students to appeal on the basis of mocks. When it became apparent after the issuing of the A-level results that the anomalies between grades were such that it was more just to award on the basis of assessments by teachers, the scales tipped and the grades were awarded on that basis. But at every stage, when those warnings were issued, the department reacted, responded and was reassured.
My Lords, when it comes to the taking of exams—the gong that has clanged loudest over this—some with special educational needs take exams slightly differently, such as those who have to dictate to an amanuensis. Are we establishing a process where we know what will be required of that person? Many people—for instance, someone with severe dyslexia or even a damaged hand—will dictate their exam to some other person. That means sitting close to them in a confined room. Are we looking into how this will be done? Is there a testing process? Or, are we going to take the revolutionary step of saying that you can use assisted technology in public examinations on a mass scale? I wonder whether the Government have any idea about this for the autumn.
My Lords, I always try to come very well prepared, particularly on special educational needs and disabilities, but on that issue, which I think may be within the province of Ofqual, I do not have a detailed answer for the noble Lord. But I will write to him, since it is important, with social distancing, to enable all students to sit examinations in the autumn.
My Lords, I, too, welcome children’s return to school. But I rise to express my considerable concern about parents with severe underlying conditions, who received letters from the department earlier this year warning them not to leave their homes because they were at such risk from Covid-19. These parents are now risking their lives to send their children back to school. The Minister mentioned that there will be a small number of home test kits for anyone who develops symptoms. What plans do the Government have to provide home test kits to enable daily testing of children of the most vulnerable parents? These kits would need a rapid return of results—ideally, within about 10 minutes. Only then could these families hope to continue to lead normal lives. I think this is urgent.
My Lords, it is my understanding that, although people received those letters earlier in the year, shielding ended on 1 August. In relation to the test kits, there are initially 10 per school for school leaders to distribute to families or support staff who might have difficulty accessing a test either by post or by attending one of the mobile centres. Test results should be received within 24 hours and unfortunately not within the 10 minutes the noble Baroness suggested.
My Lords, I welcome the assurance from the Minister in response to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, that moderated assessment will be considered for next year. But is this not an opportunity—given that in our age of shocks, there could be a more resilient and secure method of testing—to allow students to show what they can understand and think critically about in coursework, rather than relying on the 20th-century, old-fashioned idea of testing what people can regurgitate in exams?
My Lords, although I agree to take back the suggestion to see whether it was in train or any one of the processes, the Government stand by their view that, as this year has shown, the fairest way to assess student attainment is by public examinations, and that is what we expect to do next summer.
My Lords, I declare my interest as editor of the Good Schools Guide. We review tutoring companies, and private tutoring has been one of the great successes of independent education in the last 10 years, with an enormous increase in both quantity and quality. I congratulate the Government, therefore, on the introduction of the National Tutoring Programme, which I believe will be a great support to those children who can access it. But I am surprised to be told that many of the most successful tutoring companies with the highest reputations are to be excluded from competing for part of that contract. Can my noble friend tell me what is going on?
My Lords, it is an integral part of catching up for disadvantaged students to have access to small-group tuition. We hope that this will be one of the changes that Covid-19 brings about, through the use of remote education, for example. In relation to the programme, Teach First is providing it where there must be a person physically in the building—certain schools will need one person to devote themselves to their cohort—but other tutoring will be delivered remotely. That is being delivered through the grant to the Education Endowment Foundation. If the noble Lord could send me details of those companies, the foundation is seeking to make sure that the best tutoring out there is made available to disadvantaged students.
I want to press the Minister on the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Birt, because, regrettably, I do not think her answer was satisfactory. Was it not the Secretary of State who decided not to follow the example of the Scottish Government to bring back teacher assessments instead of Ofqual’s algorithms, which were leading to gross injustices to many students? In these circumstances, why did the Secretary of State not resign, when the Permanent Secretary was shown the door? Surely, this is an abrogation of our constitutional principle that Ministers take responsibility in the end.
My Lords, I have outlined to noble Lords that once issues were raised about the Scottish results, there were concerns that they should not be repeated in England. That was the moment at which that could be compensated for by the introduction of an additional appeal based on a valid mock. There was a response; it is not that nothing was done once we were aware. When issues were brought to our attention, matters were dealt with.
My Lords, this summer’s debacle threw up a massive disadvantage gap between state and independent schools. The latter continued with online teaching and learning to far greater effect than the former. Following the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and the Minister’s answer, independent schools are always ready to play their part, so can the Minister say why the National Tutoring Programme has a minimum of 500 students to access, when most independent schools have only about 390? They would be asked to tutor more pupils than they actually teach.
My Lords, given the scientific evidence that schools are extremely low-risk environments for the spread of Covid-19, and the harm already suffered by children from not being in school, I am delighted that the Government are now getting on with seeing children back into school. I will ask my noble friend two questions, if I may. First, could she reassure the House—she may have just done so—that the Government intend that exams will be sat by years 11 and 13 next year, given that that is so important? We do not want to see another cohort disrupted like this year’s. Secondly, could she help us understand the criteria the Government want to use to decide which children receive the special remedial help for disadvantaged children, and by whom these decisions will be made?
My Lords, it is wonderful that we are all in agreement that it is great to know that, as we stand here, so many children are back in school today, where they belong. It is the expectation that exams will be taken in 2021. In relation to the delivery of catch-up support, the majority of the £1 billion has gone out through the normal system of core funding for schools, because it is the schools on the front line that know which of their students have fallen furthest behind during the lockdown period. They have been given information from the Education Endowment Foundation on how best to use that money to support students. We trust the professionals to make those judgments and we are aiding them to do that.
Tutoring support will be offered with about a 25% cost reduction. We have given guidance that some of the £650 million will be spent on buying in the tutoring that we are providing at this heavily subsidised cost. We have confidence in the head teachers who, today and tomorrow, will know how their pupils have fared—some of whom they, sadly, will not have had any contact with for many months.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Does the Minister agree that education is one of the few means by which we can go beyond our circumstances and achieve our potential? To this end, is the department considering an equality impact assessment into what happened this summer, not least the impact on white working-class young men and indeed all other protected characteristics?
My Lords, I am sure I am not alone in saying that education has enabled me to go way beyond my circumstances. It is vitally important that we know the impact that policies have on different communities. Ofqual published an equality impact assessment when it launched its consultation on the 2020 exams and it will publish a similar document in relation to the examinations next year.
My Lords, I want to take the Minister back, I am afraid, to the process leading up to the announcement of A-level results, because the process that she described is really quite extraordinary. It is not that there was no consultation between the Minister and Ofqual, it is that there was consistent regular dialogue, with questions asked and answers given, and yet the fiasco that we now know about still unfolded. It does not say much for the competence of the Minister that, despite intense scrutiny, conversation and demands for answers, we still ended up with the scale of the discriminatory fiasco that emerged. I ask again: how can it possibly be justified that the accountability and responsibility principles applying to the Permanent Secretary and the Ofqual head do not also apply to a Minister who was so embroiled in the process for weeks and months in the run-up?
My Lords, as I have outlined, during that process, reassurances were given that the limitations of this system could be dealt with through an appeals process. Noble Lords will have seen the incremental changes in that appeals process. I have outlined the introduction of mocks after the Scottish results. When the balance changed, the most just of the two systems became the use of only teacher assessments. That is when the decision in relation to using only teacher assessments was taken, but that decision was for Ofqual, in agreement with the Secretary of State.
Medicines and Medical Devices Bill
My Lords, the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill is crucial to the development of a modern, safe, medical regulation regime. Its focus is the development of important innovations that will improve and save lives for the next generation, and the protection of patients in an area which has, historically, been slow to move and which, in a few months, passes from European to domestic legal oversight. When we look at our plans for the health of the nation, having the agility to revise our key regulatory regimes is not a “nice to have”; it is absolutely essential to protect the lives of patients and empower the innovations that will extend their length and quality.
I begin with safety. The first and most critical consideration of any Bill on medicines and medical devices must be the safety of patients. We also consider the safety of providers, the environment and, in Part 2 of the Bill, animals, but the safety of patients is paramount. We have all reflected on the detailed and thorough report of my noble friend Lady Cumberlege. I have listened to the testimony of some of the patients and families who have campaigned on patient safety, and shared, in a small way, their pain and suffering. They brought to life how critical this Bill is. We owe them a huge debt of thanks, as we would not be here today without their determination.
There is no disagreement among us on the importance of the safety of patients. The Bill puts safety at the heart of regulatory decision-making, facilitating the sharing of information to support public health concerns and creating mechanisms to track the use of medical devices or medicines against a patient record. The thoughtful, thorough, modern use of data is how we know that something is going wrong and how to put it right. That is the view of the Government, which my noble friend Lady Cumberlege and her team brought vividly to life in the Bill’s passage in another place. That is why I am delighted with Clause 16, introduced as an amendment, which ensures that data provisions in the Bill are central to its effectiveness. By introducing a medical devices information system—or database—we have radically improved that effectiveness.
We once faced a situation where patients could not be traced, and a conversation could not be had between a patient and their clinician because we did not know which specific device had been implanted into a person or by whom. When I found this out, I was dumbstruck. This must not happen in the future. The Bill will support the tracking and tracing of medical devices and will enable a future system of clinical registries, such as the National Joint Registry, to ensure that UK patients are better supported.
When there is a problem, it is important not only that we know that something has happened, but that we take forceful action. Part 3 of the Bill therefore sets out a consolidated suite of powers available to the regulator, including the ability to step in and recall a device if the manufacturer fails to do so where necessary. Chapter 4 of Part 3 of the Bill clarifies the powers of disclosure around devices, allowing the Secretary of State to warn members of the public about safety concerns. We must ensure that avoidable harm is avoided by acting expeditiously to protect patients. Let me be clear: the regulator can and does work in close partnership with industry to deliver on behalf of patients, but it has, and will continue to have, teeth when industry fails to protect patients.
We live in a world where big data, artificial intelligence and genetics have become enormously powerful engines of innovation, and where engineering and computer science have combined with medicine to create an unexpected synthesis. These drivers of development are generating exciting new medical innovations that are aiding patients who were previously beyond help, bringing down the costs of treatment and driving growth in Britain’s thriving life sciences industry. I have seen the power of innovation at first hand in the last few months, during the Covid-19 crisis. Our National Health Service is the first around the world to have determined the importance of an effective therapeutic drug, dexamethasone, through the recovery clinical trials programme. Our medical manufacturing industry worked closely with the regulator to move swiftly and safely and put 14,000 ventilators into the health system. In the area of diagnostics—my specialist subject—innovation is driving the accuracy, cost, speed and scale of devices beyond our initial hopes.
We need this pace of innovation in day-to-day, back-to-business delivery too. That is why we are investing in the partnership between the NHS, with its unique pool of patients, and the life sciences sector, which can make treatments happen. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, who is chair of the excellent Accelerated Access Collaborative, which gets the best new treatments and technologies into the hands of patients and clinicians faster than ever before. We face a new horizon of tailored treatments and diagnostics that we never could have envisaged five or even three years ago: biotechnology, artificial intelligence, robotics. We are at an inflection point where innovation can make a huge difference. I am pleased and proud to be a Minister championing the role of innovation in the healthcare system at this incredible time. Supporting innovation through this Bill ensures that UK patients benefit from the thriving life sciences sector by bringing investment, jobs and prioritisation to Britain’s medical needs, balanced by the need to manage risk.
Availability and attractiveness are the twin pillars of the Government’s strategy on medicines and medical devices, and the key themes of this Bill. Availability means the reliability of medicines and medical devices and their availability to UK patients. Attractiveness means doing everything reasonable to be the first place where new treatments are rolled out and adopted, where investment in life science takes place and where the enrolment of patients in clinical trials is supported.
Recent months have proved how the availability of medicine relies on fast, accurate, responsive regulation. It is the work of the regulator, hand in hand with the industry, that has ensured that therapeutics, including those used in intensive care, have been in safe supply and that devices, including the important vaccines, get into the right hands to bring this crisis to an end. Clauses 2, 6, 8, 12 and 15 all deal with how we ensure the essential and safe flow of medicines and medical devices. Clauses 2, 8 and 12 allow for regulations to be made that could, for example, affect how medicines or devices are distributed. Clauses 6 and 15 allow us to make pre-emptive regulations to reflect the realities of an emergency, such as a pandemic, and to prepare early.
It is right that we do more to get regulated medicines into patients’ hands and do not keep people waiting long for innovative treatments. I pay tribute to a number of noble Lords who I know tirelessly make the case for certain therapeutics or treatments to be accelerated through the health system. The attractiveness of the UK is fundamental to getting new breakthroughs to patients here quickly.
Let me say a word about regulating for the future, and the work of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Constitution Committee. I pay tribute to learned colleagues on these committees: I know they approach their work diligently and seriously, with significant legal expertise, and I anticipate discussion of their conclusions. I know a number of noble and noble and learned Lords will wish to speak to those reports today, and I will pay serious attention to the points raised.
This is, as it must be, a framework Bill. I recognise that concerns have been expressed about the breadth of the powers and a number of suggestions have been made as to how the Bill might be improved. I am listening, but it is important to note the challenges of taking a different approach to that outlined here.
These delegated powers are necessarily broad, given the hundreds of pages of the Human Medicines Regulations alone. These regulations can span many different matters and it is vital that the ability to make a change for the benefit of patients, where even a really minor point can be important, is not lost. We live in a world where it was only 12 years ago that the iPhone was released, yet today we are trying to figure out how to regulate an AI-supported cancer-screening gadget from KardiaMobile that plugs in to your smartphone and delivers a medical-quality ECG in about 30 seconds. We live in a world where 3D bionic arms, such as the Hero Arm from Open Bionics, have multigrip functionality, and where the national lung matrix trial at the University of Birmingham is exploring how patients with non-small cell cancers respond to tailored treatments.
Primary legislation cannot be relied on to be passed quickly when there are matters of concern for the safety of medicines and medical devices. For example, when concerns were raised across the EU about the scrutiny of notified bodies, and safety concerns arose from certain implants, it took years to update legislation. My noble friend Lady Cumberlege has made clear what happens when change is slow: it has an impact on patients. I know this from another area and I will give an example. When the Communications Act 2003 was passed, the internet was hardly mentioned. Some will say we could not have predicted the immense role that video sharing and social media platforms would now play in our lives, but I remember at the time that legislators were urged to take internet innovations seriously and put in place frameworks to anticipate technical change. Now we have widespread fake news, cyberbullying, the intimidation of public figures and a pornography boom, but without the legislative powers that perhaps we would like to stop or regulate them, because there was no framework to make new regulations to cover these innovations. I am here to listen, so I would like to listen to the advice of the Chamber on how to handle this complex challenge.
In conclusion, I remind noble Lords that because of its importance for patients, we need to get the Bill done and to secure the ability to protect patients quickly if the need arises. We need powers to deliver and to trace and track medical devices as soon as possible. I know it is important that we discuss these issues properly, but the Bill is not just exciting, ambitious and direction-setting; it is essential that it makes it to the statute book by the end of the year. I look forward to listening to the contributions ahead; we are receptive to how we might make the Bill better, as we did in the other place. My door is open, and in that spirit of co-operation and consensus building, I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister and declare my interests as a member of the GMC board and as president of GS1, the barcoding organisation responsible for the Scan4Safety programme. The Bill is of great importance for patient safety, but also for the health of the life sciences sector, yet it is striking for its brevity and, as the Minister acknowledged, for the extensive powers given to Ministers without the exceptional justification required for the skeleton approach taken. The Minister said he was listening, but he will know that both the Delegated Powers Committee and the Constitution Committee were highly critical, and I believe there is a strong argument for the Bill’s powers in relation to medicine and medical devices regulation to be subject to sunset clauses.
Leaving the EU’s regulatory regime brings significant risks that companies will choose somewhere other than the UK to trial and launch medicines. At the moment we are nowhere near knowing whether our new regulatory system is to be aligned with the rest of Europe—the policy statement published yesterday by MHRA on devices and clinical trials regulation from 1 January 2021 is silent on this. I have to say to the Minister that I am not impressed that his department thinks it is acceptable for such a publication to be produced hours before our Second Reading debate. There is certainly no room for complacency. The European Medicines Agency covers 25% of global pharmaceutical sales; the UK on its own makes up just 3%. The odds are that companies will want to submit applications for new drugs to the EMA before the MHRA, meaning that the UK will lose its advantage and UK patients will risk getting slower access to the latest medicines.
As Sarepta pointed out to me, for many companies the attractiveness referred to in the Bill equates to speed of decision-making at every stage. That means being able to approve clinical trials faster than in the EU, maintaining swift decision-making on medicines approvals and getting approved medicines to patients faster. Yet the Minister will know that the NHS record in uptake of new medicines is very poor indeed, and I would like to hear from him what is going to be done to improve access for NHS patients to these new medicines.
On patient safety, Ministers are silent on whether they will accept many of the recommendations of the Cumberlege review. In particular, will the Minister support the appointment of a commissioner for patient safety, which the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, argued for very persuasively in her report?
Finally, I turn to the abhorrent practice of forced organ harvesting taking place in China today, and to the importance of ensuring that the UK is not in any way complicit in these crimes. In a letter to me last night, the Minister referred to the World Health Organization’s view that China is implementing an ethical voluntary organ transplant system. That is simply not credible, and in fact it is based on a self-assessment by China itself. A much more objective assessment comes from the China Tribunal, which concluded:
“Forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale.”
At the moment, human tissue and organs can be imported into the UK from countries such as China without traceability, documentation or consent. Marie Rimmer MP tabled an amendment in the Commons to deal with this. A similar amendment will be tabled here and I very much hope that the Government will agree to it.
My Lords, Brexit poses many threats to the economy and well-being of UK citizens. Perhaps the greatest is the threat to our life sciences and pharmaceutical industries which, based on our scientific resources in universities and companies that have easy access to international talent and resources, have been truly world-leading. The impact of moving away from the existing collaborative approach between the UK and the EU will be substantial. The European market accounts for 25% of all world sales of medicines and has timely access to new medicines and devices. The UK, in comparison, accounts for only 3% of the total world market. It is against that backdrop that we have to consider this legislation, which is intended to mitigate threats to our industry.
We all agree that we need legislation, but not this thoroughly unsatisfactory Bill. It is a Bill that should not be accepted unless it is thoroughly revised, for three main reasons. The first is that alluded to by the Minister: it is built on the flawed assumption that the Secretary of State or an “appropriate authority” must take equal account of the safety of human medicines and medical devices, the availability of human medicines and medical devices, and the “attractiveness” of the relevant part of the UK as a place in which to conduct clinical trials, supply human medicines or develop medical devices.
The last two considerations depend on the paramountcy of the first. If we do not accept that in legislation, none of the rest will apply; we will simply be signalling to the world a willingness to move away from international standards. One of the most interesting and detailed points made in the briefings that we were given came from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, which pointed out that it wanted to encourage the UK to apply for full membership of the International Council for Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use and the International Organization for Standardization. They are global organisations that produce harmonised regulatory guidance across nations. It was pointed out that previously the UK had represented the EU at meetings of those bodies and contributed to committees and regulatory thinking. Since 1 February 2020, we have had no direct recognised status as either a member or an observer. If we are willing to move away so swiftly from the international standard-setting bodies, we cannot do so on the basis of this unsatisfactory legislation.
The second reason for rejecting this Bill is that it is a Toom Tabard Bill, as we would say in Scotland; it is an empty cloak. The Minister put the best gloss possible on the reports from the Delegated Powers Committee and the Constitution Committee, whose comments were detailed, comprehensive and scathing—I have rarely seen reports of that nature.
On the delegated powers, Clauses 1, 8 and 12 allow Ministers by regulations to amend or supplement the whole regulatory regime for human medicines and clinical trials under important legislation such as the Human Medicines Regulations 2012. Those regulations alone contain 350 criminal offences which a Secretary of State could unilaterally or without any scrutiny change completely. It is something when the Constitution Committee says, as it has done:
“The delegated powers to create and adjust criminal offences in this Bill are constitutionally unacceptable.”
That is a very powerful reason.
Both the Delegated Powers Committee and the Constitution Committee were deeply critical of the way in which the Government have used this legislation, coming as it does at the time of the current pandemic, to confer emergency powers on Ministers to disapply existing health medicines regulations. They point out that there are no formal requirements to set out the form, publication or dissemination of protocols; Ministers can do that simply by publishing a document on a website. That is not taking back control; it is taking the mickey. It is time for us as a Parliament to stand up and say that this is not an acceptable way forward.
The third reason for rejecting this Bill is its potential to do harm. Many professionals in the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries have expressed the fear that by slightly and incrementally moving away from existing regulation from the EU we could very quickly put ourselves into sudden isolation. We should be fearful of that, not just because it could harm our ability to market into the European Union but because many other countries—African countries, for example— use EU approval as a short-cut mechanism for approving medicines which they do not have the capacity to trial themselves.
The report of the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, is sobering. If we were to take just one thing from it, it would be the need for us to set up as soon as possible and as a matter of urgency not just databases but registries of medical devices. Those of your Lordships who have read the report will understand the difference that makes to traceability.
The Government are in trouble with the timescale that they have set for Brexit. This Bill demands detailed and lengthy scrutiny. For the health not just of our fellow citizens but of future generations, some forensic surgery needs to be done on it. It should not pass without receiving detailed attention from your Lordships’ House.
My time limit curtails me from commenting on the Minister’s or other speeches, so I shall get on.
I know that the Government feel that this is a simple Bill that is needed to implement EU laws in UK legislation in relation to medicines and medical devices, but the implications of it go far beyond that. The Cumberlege report has added the need to strengthen the Bill in relation to patient safety.
In Part 1, the Government set out their ambition to have a world-class regulatory authority for medicines and medical devices that puts patient safety at the forefront and promotes innovation by making the UK “attractive” to investors. I cannot complain about that.
The Government have stated their ambition to make the UK a science superpower in which life sciences and the development of new medicines will play a crucial part. This Bill offers the Government an opportunity to say how they plan to do this but fails to do so. As the Science and Technology Committee report on life sciences indicated, the UK leads in life sciences research, but it is not very successful at taking research to innovation and commercialisation. The stated aim in the Bill to make the UK attractive is presumably to address this deficit, but it gives no definition of “attractiveness”, although the Minister referred to it in his speech. I hope that he will clarify it in more detail in Committee and even define “attractiveness”.
The Bill falls short of identifying how it will achieve its objectives, except that the Secretary of State will take wide powers to do it. Let me highlight the areas of my concern which I wish to explore in Committee. The Bill gives broad delegated powers to the Secretary of State to amend or supplement regulations. As the Delegated Powers Committee and the Constitution Committee—already referred to several times—recognise, some delegated powers may be necessary, but the Bill grants powers far wider.
Furthermore, the Bill adds to the complex regulatory regime rather than simplifies it. Clarification is needed as to how it intends to prioritise patient safety, even when there might be conflicting interests, such as “attractiveness” for investors. The findings of the Cumberlege review, that patients’ concerns were ignored, need to be addressed in the Bill. While the creation of a registry of devices is welcome, their safety and efficacy need to be addressed. I hope that my noble friend Lord Kakkar takes up this cause. If he does, I shall certainly support him.
Why will the MHRA be the regulator that licenses devices and maintains the register, but any new information systems are to be held by NHS Digital, referred to in the Bill as the information centre? What pre-market processing will there be for devices prior to approval for usage?
Clarification is needed from the Minister on the powers that the Secretary of State will have in emergency situations and on the removal of the duty of confidentiality and privacy afforded to patients. I want to explore how the Government plan to make the United Kingdom a prime destination to conduct clinical trials, an area of considerable concern for a wide sector of pharma. The Minister may well remember the debate at the time of the withdrawal Bill on clinical trials and making the UK a prime destination to conduct trials. The key point in being able to do this was the ability for the MHRA to have a close relationship with the EMA. What discussions are going on currently to enable this to happen? Regulations for medicines is a devolved issue for Northern Ireland, a potential area of divergence in the future from the rest of the UK. The implications of this need to be clarified in the Bill.
In conclusion, I am able to support much of the Government’s ambitions through this Bill to make UK regulations in medicine world-leading. Having said that, I will support amendments that allow for greater scrutiny of the powers of the Secretary of State, place greater emphasis on patient safety and give a clear commitment to allow the MHRA to make strong partnerships with other regulators. I look forward to Committee.
My Lords, I welcome the Bill. As my noble friend rightly said in a very positive opening speech, it is not only a necessary Bill but one which presents us with opportunities. I hope that, during the passage of the Bill, we will look to realise those opportunities, and I want to refer to one or two.
My noble friend talked about the Delegated Powers Committee’s remarks, which made the very compelling point that, in reproducing the regulation-making powers, we are moving from the power to make regulations to meet EU legal requirements to the ability of Ministers to set down their own legal requirements; these are very different things. What we need to do in the latter case is not to move from where we are now, as my noble friend might have suggested, to something that sets out in primary legislation the detail of these regulations—nobody is intending that—but to something that moves us from a skeleton Bill to a framework Bill. What is the difference? The difference, in my mind, is a very straightforward one. The framework Bill is purposive. It sets out why regulations are being made and gives an ability to look at the primary legislation and ask, “Do these secondary instruments fulfil the purposes of the primary legislation?” During the passage of the Bill, we must look very carefully to meet that test.
I want to make three quick points. First, I think we are already among the best places in the world for medicines innovation. We may be 3% of the pharmaceuticals market but we are 10% of medicines innovation. I want to continue that. One thing the industry has told us, including me, over past years is that it wants to see our NHS take up new medicines and make them available to patients—a point that my noble friend reiterated. There is a commitment in our manifesto that says:
“We will extend the successful Cancer Drugs Fund into an Innovative Medicines Fund”.
I think the time has come for that and I hope that the Bill will make provision for that to happen.
Secondly, the MHRA is a world leader—for example, in the assessment of medical devices—but we have a problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said. We will be accepting CE markings through to 2023. I am pretty sure, unless somebody tells me otherwise, that the EU is not going to accept UK conformity assessments any time soon. So we are in an asymmetric relationship, and we have to think very hard about how we can sustain the MHRA. In the course of that, what the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said is absolutely right: we must not be pulled between American FDA standards and EMA standards. We should be trying to move everybody to international standards, and that is something we will have to look at hard.
As we put more registries in place, I hope that they will include patient-reported outcomes: that is important. For medical devices, I hope that we will show how we are going to take them up in the NHS as well. On the consultation that ended last year on the medtech funding mandate, the time has come to do it. Ministers have not said that it will be brought into place this year or next. I think that the Bill should bring forward the medtech funding mandate, as the medicines mandate is in place. Finally, on clinical trials, the EU has not implemented its clinical trials information system and is not at present expected to do so until the end of 2021. We need to be in it. The legislation says “corresponding or similar to” but I do not know what “or similar to” means. We are either in it or not in it, and I hope we will be in it.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, in particular as an adviser to Intuitive Surgical, to Healthy.io and, until the end of August, to the Department of Health and Social Care.
I congratulate my noble friend on bringing this Bill to the House; I know how hard he has worked to do that. For those of us concerned to make sure that British patients get access to the best drugs and devices—and, frankly, after the past six months, who is not concerned with that?—this is the most important piece of legislation we have in front of us.
My belief is that the Bill gives the UK the chance to create the most rigorous, innovative and safety-conscious regulatory scheme in the world. While there are many downsides to leaving our current system in the EU, as noble Lords have pointed out, there are many benefits, too. Just look at the way that the US FDA has embraced digital and algorithmic therapeutics, while the EMA has lagged behind. To make the most of these new freedoms, we need a regulatory system that can evolve in response to new discoveries and advances in medicine.
Considerable concern has already been expressed in the House today, and no doubt will continue to be throughout the afternoon, about the use of delegated powers in the Bill to provide this kind of flexibility. Having been in my noble friend’s shoes, and having been not so gently admonished by the DPRRC in the past, I can only say that this is not a hill that I wish to die on again. But it seems to me that we are exchanging one system of delegated powers for another, with the added benefit that the authority that will be using these powers has the virtue of being elected by the people it seeks to regulate. At the very least, this is surely an improvement on the status quo ante.
There are two substantive issues that I would particularly like to focus on, already raised by my noble friend: innovation and patient safety. On innovation, we currently benefit from being in one of the top two markets in the world for medicines and devices, and our regulator is rightfully regarded as one of the best in the world. As other noble Lords have said, leaving the European system could bring challenges when it comes to patients accessing innovative therapies, but these can be more than mitigated by a new joined-up approach to research, regulation and uptake. This would require the creation of a world-beating, digitally powered clinical trials infrastructure to test ground-breaking medicines and devices; a rapid but rigorous regulatory process for the most promising technologies; as my noble friend Lord Lansley has pointed out, the creation of an innovative medicines fund to bring those to market; and harnessing the collective might of the NHS to adopt and scale those therapies.
My noble friend the Minister pointed out that during the Covid crisis this is precisely what we have done for therapeutics, vaccines and other technologies that can help. The pandemic has shown British science and medicine at its best. Does he agree that we now need this kind of regulatory regime for all medicines and devices in the future? If so, will he tell the House when comprehensive plans for creating such a regime will be published?
Even as we go about producing the most pro-innovation regulatory regime in the world, we must never forget, as my noble friend Lady Cumberlege put it in her excellent report, that our obligation is first to do no harm. Too many people—often, it seems, women—have borne the brunt of an approach to post-licensing surveillance that, historically, has been too analogue and too unresponsive to patients’ needs. The sad consequences of this are movingly documented in my noble friend’s report. I wholeheartedly endorse her recommendations, and I am delighted that the government amendments in the other place will improve the use of data for patient safety.
But let us be clear: there is much more to do, so I ask my noble friend the Minister, when will the Government respond to the Cumberlege report’s thoughtful and sensible proposals? Does my noble friend agree that we should use the next few weeks to make progress on implementing its recommendations? Otherwise, as I am sure he is aware, he might find that the House does that work for him.
I have every confidence that my noble friend will work with noble Lords to produce a pro-innovation, safety-conscious regulatory system for the UK. He has my support for those efforts, and I am happy to welcome and support his Bill.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath mentioned the China Tribunal’s final report and its conclusions about forced organ harvesting in China. Despite the overwhelming evidence, China denies the claims, relying on the fact that the WHO cleared it of wrongdoing.
In June this year, I reminded the Minister the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, that 12 months earlier he had shared my concern that the evidence on which the WHO had cleared China was based on self-assessment by the Chinese authorities. At that time, I asked about the Government’s response to the China Tribunal and what the result had been of representations to the WHO and the Chinese authorities. The Minister replied that the Government’s position remained that the practice of systematic state-sponsored organ harvesting would constitute a serious violation of human rights. He assured this House that the UK regularly raised these concerns with China. He also confirmed that the UK had consulted the WHO, which had restated its view that China’s system was ethical. The WHO does not have an independent expert compliance assessment mechanism; it merely has a reporting requirement. So why has the UK not argued for change within the WHO? We should all, including the UK, be ensuring that there is independent verification.
UK legislation requires prior consent and traceability for human tissue for medical research and use in medicines when sourced from the UK, but if human tissue has been imported then the consent requirements do not apply. We have seen exhibitions in New York and Birmingham, in 2008 and 2018 respectively, both of which used plastinated bodies from Dalian Hoffen Bio-Technique in Dalian in China. They were classified as unclaimed bodies with no relatives to identify them. In 2008, the New York state attorney-general required a disclaimer that included the words that the organisers
“cannot independently verify that the human remains you are viewing are not those of persons who were incarcerated in Chinese prisons.”
The UK has arguably some of the most ethical and comprehensive consent requirements for human tissue in the world, yet imported human tissue slips through the net. It has also been reported that two UK companies supply organ-preserving devices to mainland China, which could explain how they are being transported around China.
I hope the Minister will heed the words of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and other noble Lords and ensure that the Government have the means to ensure that the UK is no longer complicit in the harvesting of human organs from living victims.
My Lords, I want to address two areas. The first is the future of life sciences research and the pharmaceutical industry and the other, as mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Hunt, is the use of human tissue.
As we have seen so clearly during the pandemic, life sciences in our universities, working closely with the pharmaceutical industry—for example, the Jenner Institute with AstraZeneca—have been a key UK strength. However, our life sciences are already threatened by the Government’s decision to leave the single market and end the free movement of people, as well as by their losing access to EU funding. The pharmaceutical industry is affected by our pulling out of EU regulation, damaging its ability to access that market. Our standards must therefore be at least as high as those in the EU, and I ask for the Minister’s reassurance on that.
As my noble friend Lady Barker noted, the ABPI cogently argues that the UK should apply for full membership of the ICH and the ISO. Previously, as she said, the UK represented the EU at meetings, but since Brexit the EU has had no status here at all. We must urgently rectify that. We were global leaders because of the NHS and our history in the development of clinical trials and comprehensive data registries, such as that which demonstrated the link between smoking and cancer. As the noble Lord, Lord Patel, has flagged, we are risking that. We must not damage our life sciences sector further.
Consistent with the need to maintain standards, I come to my second area, where I fully endorse what the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Collins, have said about imported human tissue and biological medicines. We simply cannot allow human tissue from victims of forced organ harvesting to enter the UK. We have become more aware in recent times of the treatment in China of the Falun Gong and the Uighurs. The China Tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice, released its full report in March. Has the Minister read the report? Forwarding the letter from the WHO to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, when he must know the current constraints on the WHO, is, frankly, astonishing. If the Minister has read the report, he will know the tribunal concludes that crimes against humanity have been committed against these groups beyond reasonable doubt.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, noted:
“Forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale and that Falun Gong practitioners have been one – and probably the main – source of organ supply.”
With regard to the Uighurs, the tribunal says it has
“evidence of medical testing on a scale that could allow them, amongst other uses, to become an ‘organ bank’.”
We now hear that they are being used for unapproved Covid vaccines.
The Human Tissue Act 2004 has strict requirements for tissue sourced within the UK, but it does not restrict imported tissue in this way. That gap must now be filled if we are to maintain that the UK has the highest standards in this area. The Minister will be hearing the signs of cross-party support, and I trust that the forthcoming amendment will be immediately accepted by the Government. That is clearly right, but it is also vital if the UK is to remain a leader in the life sciences field. There are many challenges that this field now faces.
My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hormone Pregnancy Tests. I want to raise two issues: Primodos, which is part of the investigation conducted by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege; and the violation of human rights in the trading and misuse of organs and human tissue, referred to earlier by the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover.
The Minister knows how much I admire the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, but I reiterate my whole hearted support for her report and recommendations, and I place again on record my admiration for the sensitive way in which she collected evidence, dealt with the many people who were affected by these scandals and brought forward these admirable recommendations. Parliament must now ensure that the report does not gather dust. The Royal College of Surgeons rightly draws attention to the review’s recommendation of a patient safety commissioner, as referred to earlier, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister what we are going to do about that.
It is over 10 years since I first questioned Ministers about Primodos after a man called Karl Murphy came to my university office and showed me the disabilities with which he has had to live all his life. Following the recent Sky TV documentary, he emailed me last week saying:
“the lies and deceit I have seen regarding this drug is an utter disgrace … I really do hope that the Government and Bayer have some respect and understanding of what these families are going through.”
The redoubtable Marie Lyon has refused over all these years to let this scandal be swept under the carpet, and I am glad that the Minister heard from her first-hand only yesterday. She made a telling point to me that in appointing Stephen Lightfoot, an ex-director of Bayer, as the new chair of the MHRA, they have clearly learned absolutely nothing about conflicts of interest and public perception and confidence. In the light of such appointments and reports of five scientists walking out of a task force for back pain after finding out that a briefing paper was funded by the drug company Grünenthal, perhaps the Minister will say what the Government will be doing to police conflicts of interest and the suppression or manipulation of data.
If Primodos teaches us anything, it is the importance of the independent assessment and scrutiny of all clinical trials. But, like others, I would like to see the Bill tackle the misuse of human tissue and organs. In the letter sent yesterday by the Minister, he says the
“government takes these allegations seriously and we continue to monitor all available evidence”,
but monitoring is simply not enough.
Two years ago, in August 2018, along with Professor Jo Martin, the president of the Royal College of Pathologists, I wrote to the Times after the NEC in Birmingham hosted the exhibition referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Collins. It was called “Real Bodies” and from the company Imagine Exhibitions. The exhibition consisted of human corpses and body parts. It advertised those exhibits as
“real human specimens that have been respectfully preserved”.
They were categorised as “unclaimed bodies”, with no relatives to identify them. As we heard, in advance of the American equivalent of that exhibition it was stated in a disclaimer —after a settlement with the New York State Attorney-General—that these human remains could be those of persons who were incarcerated in Chinese prisons. Imagine Exhibitions admitted that there was no documentation to prove the identities of the cadavers, yet they were permitted to enter the UK to be put on public display for commercial gain. Human tissue from abroad has no consent or traceability requirements to enter the UK, nor do we prohibit commercial gain. However, we should do and this Bill gives us the opportunity to do it.
My Lords, I stand before you as a person who was shaken by the experience of personally listening to over 700 women and their families, who have been damaged by the healthcare system. Their testimonies actually haunt me. Their bravery impels me to right their wrongs.
In our report, First Do No Harm, we examined and researched two medications. First, Primodos, already very well explained by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, was a hormone pregnancy test taken between the 1950s and 1970s and associated with terrible damage to some newborn babies. Those newborn babies now need care and support as adults while their surviving mothers, now elderly, have lived a life wracked by guilt. Secondly, there is sodium valproate, an effective medication to control epilepsy. When taken in pregnancy, there is a 50% chance of a severely damaged child being born. Even today, that medication is still being given to women who are unaware of the consequences. Then there is pelvic mesh: a plastic net which can migrate, disintegrate and wrap itself around vital organs, severing some and causing appalling suffering and pain.
The root cause was the failure of the healthcare system as a whole, and by some in the medical profession who ignored the concerns of women and their families. These women knew what was wrong but they were dismissed. They were told it was all in their heads—just a woman’s problem, not to be taken seriously. This made me furious. As Sir Cyril Chantler, the review’s vice-chairman, reminded us, for whom is the healthcare system run? We pay for it; it is ours. It is run for us, the people and patients. Your Lordships all know, as I do, that when we are ill or in pain most doctors will listen. But if they sense that a mistake has been made, they clam up, become defensive and act irrationally.
Now for the good news. The report has raised a clarion call for action and I thank all parliamentarians who have been so supportive—particularly your Lordships, but you are not alone. There are the 15 patient groups, the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the British Society of Urogynaecology—all with their medical membership—along with the BMJ, in its stunning editorial last week. All these and so many more want to see our recommendations implemented and we can start right now, with the safety Bill.
I intend to put down an amendment to appoint a patient safety commissioner—a voice for, and listener to, patients. If a product raises concern, that commissioner must say “Stop—this is a worry. We need to investigate and research to ensure safety”. It is better to have a few false alarms than the tragedies we have witnessed, which have cost lives, caused suffering and family break-ups, and damaged children. These are personal costs beyond price, with millions of pounds to be paid from the public purse.
We parliamentarians are establishing a parliamentary group called “First Do No Harm”. Its purpose is to ensure that all our recommendations are implemented. The only cloud on the horizon is the Department of Health and Social Care, which simply does not get it. Asking everyone, as it does now, to work together better in the future simply will not work, any more than it has in the past. We need someone and something new: a patient safety commissioner. Yesterday, we heard that the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, has announced that Scotland is to have a patient safety commissioner on our lines. But in England, rumours are absolutely rife of a ritual burial and answers to the PQs are evasive. I say to my noble friend the Minister: this is his opportunity to give an assurance that this report will be implemented with a taskforce and timetable, as set out in our Recommendation 9. Please can the families who have been hit so tragically hard have that assurance?
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness and to pledge our support—I feel sure of that in this House—for what she is trying to achieve, in the light of what she has achieved so far. We all look forward to what the Minister will say in response to her plea.
This is a Bill that we can and should welcome, in many respects. For example, I share many of the ambitions mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, when he spoke. It sets out a necessary regulatory framework; my concern is that it comes with unnecessary risks as well. It spans the range of human and veterinary medicine. It includes clinical trials and the ability to prescribe. It addresses some of the abuses raised by the noble Baroness in her report, and it raises fundamental questions about capacity and professional standards. That means it is important, not least for the reasons which the noble Baroness has just explained in her example, that the balance between powers and accountability—between patient safety and risk—is got absolutely right. We will obviously probe this in detail as the Bill goes through the House.
I have two concerns. One is how patient safety can be protected within the context of creating an attractive environment, whatever that means. The other is the speed, direction and potential impact of the cumulative divergence from the stability and standards of inherited EU law. The Bill is designed to achieve just that and to accelerate it. Our task in this House is how to anticipate impacts and correct for perverse consequences. That is why I feel that the better purposes of the Bill are undermined by the fact that it is a skeleton Bill. We are not surprised, of course; this is what we have come to expect. Skeleton Bills have become not the exceptional position, as urged by the Constitution Committee, but the default position of this Government, who are so committed to accelerating deregulation and for whom, frankly, Brexit provides the obvious opportunity.
The first 15 clauses of the Bill consist entirely of powers to make provisions by regulations about human and veterinary medicine and medical devices. I hope that the House will challenge in particular the provocative powers of delegation in Clauses 1, 8 and 12, not least given the chaotic conditions that we seem to be approaching with no deal at the end of this year. However, it is the fundamental disregard for Parliament which explains the exasperation expressed by the Constitution Committee and the DPRRC in its report on the Bill, the latter in particular towards the flimsy and, frankly, disingenuous justifications that were offered for the use of powers.
Noble Lords will also find if they read the whole report that there is more than a disregard for the job of Parliament. In some cases, the suggestion is that the new powers offer the same restraints as the existing ones. They do not. This is why the Bill presents such a risk. The anticipated divergence is away from a stable regulatory framework into an unknown environment in ways that cannot be tested in this House because the design, as well as the delivery, is in secondary legislation. The Bill is divergence by delegation.
The Secretary of State has made no bones about this. At Second Reading in the other place he spoke of the Bill giving
“the means to depart from EU rules and regulations in future, moving at a faster pace … it ensures that we can easily amend regulation through secondary legislation without having to bring a new Bill”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/3/20; col. 659.]
The DPRRC has replied that the Secretary of State has taken upon himself
“very wide powers to almost completely re-write the existing regulatory regimes for human and veterinary medicines and medical devices.”
In the strongest language that I can remember, it describes the powers taken to allow regulations for making the disapplication of legislation subject to conditions set out in a protocol—whatever that might mean—as
“yet another example of ‘camouflaging legislation’.”
This is Parliament; this is our job: to expose legislation, not camouflage it. Will the Minister assure us that he will listen and respond positively to the call for restraints and the removal of those powers in the Bill that have been so insufficiently explained by the Government so far? He will save himself a lot of grief if he does.
My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. The Bill covers a multitude of issues, but apart from giving massive powers to Ministers it provides very little detail. It is an empty bucket. Henry VIII would have been proud of it.
Like others, I have read the Delegated Powers Committee’s report on the Bill. I have rarely read a report from this respected committee that is so trenchant in its criticism of a Bill and of the government memorandum, which failed miserably to justify those elements that the DPRRC finds to be “inappropriate”. The powers given to Ministers are not just for transferring EU regulations into UK law; they are extensive—almost unfettered—powers to amend, extend or disapply regulations, breaking many of which would be a criminal offence carrying a two-year prison sentence.
Many of these regulations would be laid by the negative procedure, with the excuse that they might be urgent. Even those that carry the affirmative procedure do not allow Parliament to scrutinise them or amend them in the same way as we would if they were done by primary legislation. Ministers claim that there is no alternative other than putting all the detail of all the regulatory changes into primary legislation. This is nonsense and the Government know it.
I have to agree that it is not always possible or even desirable to use primary legislation for technical changes, but there is no detail at all in the Bill about what changes the Government intend about human and veterinary medicine and very little about medical devices regulations. The Government even plan to disapply some regulations simply by introducing a protocol, thereby completely bypassing any parliamentary scrutiny at all. It is rightly described by the DPRRC as “camouflaging legislation”. Its overall conclusion is that the Bill transfers powers from the European Union directly to Ministers, completely bypassing Parliament.
If this is what the Government mean by taking back control, it is exactly what remainers feared when the EU referendum was put to the people. Control is going to Ministers, not Parliament. In a parliamentary democracy, that is unacceptable. Under the Bill, Ministers could completely rewrite the regulatory frameworks for medicines and medical devices, so it is not surprising that noble Lords have received so many very concerned briefings from the field.
Having in mind the fact that patient safety must be at the heart of the legislation, what constraints do we find on Ministers in the Bill? In making regulations, Ministers must have in mind three issues: patient safety; the availability of medicines and medical devices; and the attractiveness of the UK for clinical trials and the supply of medicines and medical devices. I was surprised when I first read the Bill to find the word “attractiveness”. I have never seen it in a health Bill before—a trade Bill, yes, but not a health Bill. My primary question to the Minister is: is this a hierarchy of issues and is patient safety paramount? I would not want rigorous regulation of the safety of medicines to be subservient in any way to the ability to attract producers or researchers to come to the UK to take advantage of a more lenient regulatory regime.
Frankly, if the Government want to attract people here to do research and clinical trials, I can think of no better way than to remain as closely aligned as possible to the EMA and set up the safest, fairest, most rigorous and transparent regulatory regime in the world. This Bill does not do that. I ask for detail, transparency, appropriate parliamentary oversight and the whole package of recommendations from the report by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege.
My Lords, I declare an interest as co-chair of the All-Party Group on Speech and Language Difficulties.
On 6 May, the chief executives of the British Dietetic Association, the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, the Society of Radiographers, and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, and the chair of the British and Irish Orthoptic Society collectively wrote a letter to Jo Churchill, the Minister responsible for taking the Bill through the other place, in which they appealed for extended prescribing rights, in view of the range of benefits that they would provide to patient care and the potential savings to the NHS that would result. In particular, they pointed out that such rights would result in better support and more timely care for the patients they worked with, and improved patient safety, because allied health professionals, with appropriate expertise, were often best placed to make safe medical decisions. This is particularly apposite during the problems posed by Covid-19, because patients in the community may have to wait for weeks or months for assessment or continuance of treatment.
On 10 June, I and my co-chair of the APG, Geraint Davies MP, also wrote to the Minster, welcoming her response during the processing of the Bill in the Commons, in which she said that it would give the Government powers to extend prescribing responsibilities to professional groups where it was safe and appropriate to do so. In this connection, I note the comments on delegated powers in the damning report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, published on 22 July, to which other noble Lords have already referred.
The Minister responded to our letter on 12 August, saying that the Bill will allow the Government to continue to update the professions that can prescribe medicines where it is safe and appropriate to do so, without, however, specifying which professions. To date, the professional organisations that wrote to the Minister in May have not received a reply.
All requests by professional organisations for the grant of prescribing rights will need to be subject to intense consultation before they are granted and any resulting recommendations subject to parliamentary scrutiny, as the Delegated Powers Committee points out. Will the Minister say whether that is HMG’s intention and to which professions they plan to give prescribing rights?
My Lords, I will focus my contribution on the safety of medical devices, post-marketing surveillance and organ donation. The noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, did us all a service with her review, highlighting the trauma and damage suffered by women who have had implantable devices, such as surgical mesh, inserted in the pelvis to treat urinary incontinence.
This Bill could become an important vehicle for implementing the Cumberlege review. It recommends that, in the event of an issue with a device, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency—the MHRA—must have the power to remove a device from the register. This can occur only if all devices, not just some, are included. The report, in recommendation 7, calls for a central patient-identifiable database for all implantable medical devices.
Post-marketing surveillance often relies on professional organisations such as the royal colleges and the specialist associations to undertake outcome studies to assess complications after surgery. The Royal College of Surgeons believes that provisions included in Clauses 13 and 16 should be strengthened to ensure expert oversight of medical devices registers. The National Joint Registry is an excellent example of a long-established registry overseen by a steering committee of experts. Recommendation 7 is key, stating that the database can be
“linked to specifically created registers to research and audit the outcomes both in terms of the device safety and patient reported outcomes measures.”
The poly implant prosthesis, or PIP, breast implant is another example of a product that causes harm and misery to many women. The utilisation of systems for tracking devices, such as the Scan4Safety programme, which involves patients wearing barcoded wristbands that can be scanned and tracked against patients’ records, is to be recommended. Although new Clause 16 is welcome, we need to be clear whether the intention is to mandate the tracking of all medical devices or just a select few.
The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, or HSIB, has published several reports on safety problems arising from the design, usability, regulation, procurement and marketing of medical devices. For example, it has carried out an investigation into flaws in the design and usage of smart infusion pumps and several investigations into problems with poorly designed devices and equipment which might be manageable by those familiar with them but become a problem when used by those such as staff redeployed in the Covid crisis. The HSIB can highlight these issues but needs legislation to be able to enforce the withdrawal of defective equipment.
Finally, on organ donation—we have heard much of this from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and others—in a study published in BMJ Open, ethical issues were raised over the estimated 85,477 organ transplants in China. Ninety-nine per cent of the 445 studies failed to report whether the organ donors had given consent to transplantation. The paper concluded:
“The transplant community has failed to implement ethical standards banning publication of research using material from executed prisoners. As a result, a large body of unethical published research … exists, raising questions of complicity to the extent that the transplant community uses and benefits from the results of this research.”
The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, will be bringing forward an amendment on this issue which I plan to support.
My Lords, I, like most other noble Lords, have been inundated with briefings from a range of interested parties. Of course, everyone sees the Bill as important and absolutely essential as we leave the EU, but there is a widespread fear that, as it stands, it leaves far too many uncertainties.
The main issue at stake is that the Bill has too little detail and leaves too many actions to the regulations that the Secretary of State may or may not wish to put in place at some unspecified date. It gives the impression that the Bill has been written in haste. The fact that the Explanatory Notes are longer than the Bill speaks volumes. Here are a few of the areas where we should seek greater clarity in the Bill and not in some uncertain future secondary legislation.
The first is the clinical trials directive. It is absolutely essential that we get this, or the successor to the EU regulations, right when those regulations are no longer available to us. Heaven knows we in the UK spent enough time trying to get the directive fit for purpose. I remember spending much frustrating time in Brussels arguing the case for the workable scheme that eventually emerged, and now it seems that we will have to start again with a UK version. The research community and the pharmaceutical industry are deeply concerned that, in undertaking the clinical trials essential both for patient safety and for the timely availability of new drugs, we do not place new barriers in their way.
Can the Minister reassure us that, whatever regulations we put in place, we can interrogate them and that they are entirely compatible with the EU schemes so that we can avoid all that time-wasting frustration of submitting applications to more than one body? There is a fear that anyone conducting trials in Europe will have to employ expensive lawyers in Brussels to sort out the problems. Can he also ensure that the MHRA is given a clear remit for what is likely to be its enhanced role and that it is given the resources necessary to take on the extra work?
While I am on about clinical trials, it is clear that for many rare diseases there are just too few cases in the UK alone and that trials of new treatments have to be done with the much larger populations available across Europe. We can do this now, but can the Minister tell us whether and how it will be possible to do so in the future? For the very many rare diseases—there is a large number of them—will we be able to continue trials across Europe without all sorts of hurdles getting in the way, and will we get the full alignment so essential if we are to encourage industry investment and if our patients are to receive new treatments as rapidly as those in the rest of the world? There are opportunities to sort out some of the issues surrounding data protection and confidentiality in relation to clinical trials.
Then there is the whole question of the safety of medical devices, on which we have the important and very impressive report of the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege. How could anyone listening to her impassioned speech today resist her pleas? Her recommendations are clear and necessary. Will the Government take them up? Will they ensure that Britain remains at the forefront in developing safe and effective devices by making all new devices before and after development registrable and trackable so that all outcomes can be monitored? Does the Minister agree that the appointment of a patient safety commissioner, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, proposes, would be a very positive move? Patients certainly need some sort of shepherd to take them through the myriad regulatory bodies. They, and we, need that.
There are many other concerns with the Bill where matters are skimmed over and left to be dealt with by regulations that bypass parliamentary scrutiny. I hope that the Minister will tell us when he expects those regulations to be available and that he will help us to fill in those huge gaps.
My Lords, as we have heard loud and clear today, this Bill is fraught with many critical flaws that the Government must address. However, I will focus on the concerns that have been expressed by pharmacists about the wording of Clause 3, relating to the development of a successor UK system to prevent the supply of falsified medicines, which is symptomatic of the Government’s high-handed approach.
The clause refers to
“the use, retention and disclosure, for any purpose to do with human medicines”
of information collected by such a system, which considerably broadens the original data-collection provisions of the Falsified Medicines Directive. Yet the Explanatory Notes make no mention of this legislative creep and, indeed, the Health Minister, Jo Churchill, said in Committee in the Commons:
“The Bill, in the main, does not deliver any immediate change to the regulation of medicines and medical devices.”—[Official Report, Commons, 8/6/20; col. 7.]
In this context, data is sensitive, commercial currency. All parts of the medicines supply chain need access to broad patterns of medicines usage but, in the current scheme, access to pack information, which could highlight purchasing decisions and margins being made, is restricted to details such as the name, batch, expiry, serial number and active/inactive status, with some exceptions for investigating incidents and the national competent authority, MHRA, used for various purposes.
Because of the issue of the commercial sensitivity of data, Article 54a, regarding the protection of personal information or information of a commercially confidential nature generated by the use of the safety features, was inserted into the preamble of the Falsified Medicines Directive and the principle of “whoever generates the data owns the data” was enshrined in Article 38 of the associated delegated regulation of 2016, which followed the Falsified Medicines Directive.
The Department of Health and Social Care already has access to a very wide range of data on medicines sales and use in the UK under the Health Services Products (Provision and Disclosure of Information) Regulations. Ministers can request more detailed information if required. Given both this access and the known sensitivities around falsified medicines data, it is unclear why the department wants to extend the purposes for which data is collected under a future UK system and why this has not been discussed with stakeholders in the existing Falsified Medicines Directive scheme. Pharmacists have concerns not just that the department might accidentally release commercially sensitive data but that it might use such data to gain an unfair advantage, given its monopoly position as the main purchaser of medicines in the UK.
Of course, the details of a new scheme will need to be set out in regulation, but the regulation-making powers under Clause 1 are, as the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee pointed out in very clear terms in its damning report—which many noble Lords have referred to—considerable, and they provide no guarantee at all that the use of falsified medicine data will follow the previously agreed pattern.
It is clearly important to ensure that primary legislation provides the necessary protection. I hope the Minister, on mature consideration, will agree to ensure that the Bill is amended to enshrine a duty of full consultation and agreement in the Bill over this data use as we go forward.
My Lords, I will raise two issues, the first being organ harvesting. I propose to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. Like other noble Lords, I am very concerned by the activities in China. There are other countries where organs, particularly kidneys, are also sold, and we should not be allowing them to be used in this country.
Secondly, I support the constitutional concerns of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, especially with regard to the proposed use of negative rather than affirmative procedures. I am also very concerned about the creating and adjusting of criminal offences by regulation and I would strongly support sunset clauses.
My Lords, many noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Andrews and Lady Walmsley, have made reference to the extremely strong—you might almost say scathing—report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. It is worth going back to its conclusions, in which it states that Ministers are
“given very wide powers to almost completely rewrite the existing regulatory regimes for human and veterinary medicines and medical devices”.
This Bill sees the Government seize control, rejecting the oversight and scrutiny of the elected Members in the other place and the technical experts here. In the best Trumpian style, it declares that the rules will be whatever they want them to be. Forget checks and balances, forget consultation and careful consideration; let Ministers rip. Indeed, that is what the Minister suggested he wanted in his opening remarks, focusing on speed of action, which would happen with scant parliamentary scrutiny. What he is suggesting is something new and radical.
Yet, as the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee points out, the Government claim elsewhere that this is like-for-like replacement of existing powers. The Government cannot have this both ways: it is either new and radical or just more of the same. However, the Minister is clearly right: this is new and radical, because what exists now is
“a mechanism for transposing into UK law EU rules on medicines and medical devices ... The new powers are subject to no such constraint”.
The answer here is not to concentrate power in the hands of the Government. The current system is clearly not good enough, but the answer is not to take away controls and oversight but rather to strengthen them through democracy, openness, a focus on the patient experience and independent expertise. As the Cumberlege report suggests, a commissioner for patient safety is crucial, and I am pleased to offer the Green group’s support for the noble Baroness’s proposed amendment, which she just outlined. We need a more democratic, listening approach, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, demonstrated so effectively, not a centralised, unchecked one, in which few have input.
Let us consider what the UK regulation might look like if the Bill goes through. We will have a Minister who will be bombarded by well-funded industry lobbyists on what the new rules should look like. A pharmaceutical company or a device manufacturer has not taken the Hippocratic oath. Their job—their legal obligation, in fact—is to maximise profits, and their profits are very large. As the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine suggested, an appropriate metaphor for the pharmaceutical industry is an 800-pound gorilla. “What does that do?” he asked rhetorically. Whatever it likes. Your Lordships’ House might like to contemplate the image of Matt Hancock up against that gorilla.
We have already seen drug companies flexing their muscle in the notable case of Selexipag—also known as Uptravi—using a patient representative group as cover for a massive lobbying effort. We know that pharmaceutical companies are lining up for a post-Brexit bonanza, increasing the price that the NHS pays for drugs. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, made clear in his excellent speech, there is a huge problem in our system with conflict of interest, which is only likely to grow.
I am most often talking about the disastrous model of US healthcare in the context of the rush to privatise our NHS, but a significant contributor to its disastrous and highly expensive outcomes is the political power of the pharmaceutical companies. This Bill is not “take back control”. This is “abandon control” and, when you are talking about medicines and medical devices from the industry that gave us thalidomide, the US opioid epidemic, Primodos and pelvic mesh, that is a frightening development.
My Lords, I too extend my congratulations to the Minister on introducing the Bill. I suspect it will be a somewhat different Bill by the time we have finished with it.
This exposes the whole nonsense of “taking back control”. We are 3% of the world drugs market; the European Medicines Agency is 25%. The way for us to gain control is to work with our colleagues in large organisations where we can have considerable impact, not to start setting up our own organisations. The impact of moving away from the European Medicines Agency is going to be a considerable extension of a centralised process of regulation and it is also going to add to the unaccountable powers of Ministers, because the EMA does have a certain amount of accountability attached to it, which I do not think will happen. Indeed, it will not be the Ministers who will be making these decisions; it will be civil servants some way down the pecking order—and many of them will in the end have to take account of what the medicines agency has to say.
One danger we face is what the British Medical Association has called the butterfly effect: we have a slight derogation from a slight position of an EMA rule, then it multiplies, because one leads to another and then to another. You have to ask yourself whether this divergence can be kept under constant evaluation, because it needs to be. I put it to the Minister—he may not like it—that in the end we are going to have to negotiate a formal agreement for continued participation in EMA assessments, because we need a common assessment. We face otherwise the danger of delay—that manufacturers will say, “Let’s be logical: 22% of the market is in Europe, 3% is in Britain, so let’s get the European agreement first, because that’s where things are based.”
As a side-effect, we will then need an agreement with Euratom for isotopes, which has not yet been mentioned but is crucial to the health service, and that will have to be a separate agreement. We will also need to maintain access to EU funding programmes; we need these joint programmes to develop to do the best job for the citizens of this country—and, of course, we need alignment with the clinical trials regulations. We cannot have a different clinical trial regulation in Britain from what is in practice in the rest of Europe. We need all those things, and we need a professional structure in Britain for advising the Minister and drawing on the advice available.
I support the idea of a commissioner for patient safety. I hope that the Minister will go away and work out how it is to be done before he gets defeated on the Floor of the House. I also believe that the proposal on the harvesting of organs will not get through this House, and there will be an amendment on that. I say to the Minister: please do your homework and bring us something that we can agree with. Otherwise, the Government are going to get defeated.
My Lords, I shall raise just one issue—that of prescribing rights, already highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. Clause 2(1)(n) deals with amendments made to provisions that govern who can supply or prescribe human medicines. As the Minister, Jo Churchill, recognised in Committee in the other place on 8 June, the provisions referred to are set out in Clause 2(2). The power gives the Government the ability to amend the rules around who can supply, administer and prescribe medicine in line with healthcare needs when it is safe and appropriate to do so. The most recent changes to prescribing responsibilities were in 2018, when legislation was amended to allow trained paramedics to act as independent prescribers.
The Minister informed the Committee that the Government had published an illustrative SI, showing how the provision could be made to permit dental hygienists to supply and administer certain medical products in the course of their professional duties. That is important, because the Government could use the opportunity presented in this Bill to extend supplementary prescribing rights training for occupational therapists and extend independent prescribing rights training to other allied health professionals, including dieticians, orthoptists, diagnostic radiographers and speech and language therapists. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has made clear, this could help to deliver better support and more timely care for patients; reduce pressure on other health professionals; increase system efficiency; and maximise the ability to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic now and in the predicted post-pandemic surge on services. The extension would also build on the groundwork already undertaken by NHS England’s scoping exercise over the last few years on extending prescribing rights. However, having had full consultation with professional bodies, any SIs laid must be subject to affirmative resolution in this House—and, of course, such SIs must be underpinned by efficient, robust and coherent regulation.
I support the views of the allied health professionals that there could be considerable benefits to extending these prescribing rights, including better support and more timely care for the patients they work with, enabling them to have more equitable access to treatment and reduced pressure on other stretched professionals, especially GPs. As an example of those benefits, I highlight the work of speech and language therapists. Without independent prescribing rights, speech and language therapists have to hand over a prescription to a different prescriber, such as the GP. If the prescriber is on another site, that can sometimes result in considerable delays. In addition, for those patients with eating and drinking difficulties, the current situation could increase the risk to their safety, including adverse effects such as aspirational pneumonia or reflux, with the possible increased likelihood of hospital admissions.
As noble Lords will be aware, speech and language therapists provide life-changing treatment, supporting care for children and adults who may have difficulties with communication or with eating, drinking and swallowing. They are also involved in key clinical and health pathways, including cancer, particularly head and neck cancers, learning disabilities, brain injuries, stroke and progressive neurological conditions such as dementia. Expending prescribing rights to them and allied health professionals could enable safer and more efficient patient care, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that he will support this issue as this legislation progresses though this House.
A lady local to me wrote to me about the excellent Cumberlege report. She said: “Mesh has ruined my life. I have lost my colon, appendix, cervix, uterus and parts of my vagina to mesh. I have been violated with at least two unconsented mesh procedures in my rectum and bladder—the scans don’t lie—and if I want removal, I may lose those parts of me as well. I have lost my sex life, my continence and my well-being. I have lost four jobs and I will shortly be losing my home since I cannot work.”
I shall call this lady Jane, which is my middle name, but it could be any woman in this Chamber or this country. Indeed, the online support group for women victims of mesh alone has over 8,000 members. Jane, like many others, has been brushed off, patronised and accused of imagining symptoms or being hysterical, while the perpetrators closed ranks, covered up their mistakes and made her suffer.
Vaginal mesh implants have caused women extreme pain, “like having razor blades inside them.” The noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, found in her report inadequately tested and poorly regulated meshes to be the cause of so much pain and misery. But the treatment of women over mesh, and the two drugs in her report, seem symptomatic of a culture of exasperation, impatience and disbelief on the part of many medical professionals when women tell them what they are going through. Barbara Ellen of the Guardian speculates about what would happen if the boot were on the other foot, and men had penis implants that felt like slashing razors. Would they be written off as “hysterics” and “whingers”?
Although I normally steer well clear of all matters medical, I cannot allow this Bill to pass without doing my utmost to ensure that women such as Jane, and all the Janes to come, will be properly protected from the inadequate testing of products, the failure to react and recognise when things are going wrong, and the cover-ups of life-ruining mistakes which have gone on without being called to account.
I am entirely in accord with the recommendations of the noble Baroness’s report and those of the Royal College of Surgeons. What we need in this Bill is proper traceability for all medical devices; a redress agency and revision of the MHRA; registries to monitor patient outcomes and spot early on if things are going wrong; and the setting up of a patient safety commissioner. Above all, we need to recognise the importance of giving primary regard to the safety of medicines and medical devices. This medical misogyny has to end.
My Lords, I would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, for her excellent work on the report that she has presented to the House. I would like to support her recommendations, and most particularly her recommendation for a patient safety commissioner.
This is an important Bill, and there is an opportunity presented by it to improve the regulation of human organ harvesting across the world. Organ transplantation is one field of medicine that offers great hope to the recipient. Organs are taken from deceased donors in particular circumstances and for years living donations have been possible. A person can donate a kidney, part of a liver and so on, and live perfectly well afterwards. I have seen it. It can make the difference between life and death. It is a rapidly growing field of medicine in which demand exceeds supply.
Here in the UK, we have stringent regulation of the process of organ donation to ensure that those who donate are protected and that donation is only allowed from those who are fit and are willing to donate without any payment but to help someone else. That is how it should be and at its best this is a wonderful development. Similarly, organ transplantation after death can, in the right circumstances, bring untold blessing to those who receive an organ.
However, the very fact that demand for organs for transplant exceeds supply means that there is a market in organ harvesting, both from the living and the dead. For decades, people have been forced through poverty to sell their own organs. This is unethical and wrong. There should be no support for such practices, and we must ensure control over any contribution made by British companies that enable such activity.
We know, too, that there is transplant tourism, where people travel to countries where they may be able to get a transplant, in some cases with few questions asked about where the organ donated to be transplanted came from. We know, too, that organs can be shipped and transplanted into recipients across the world without proper procedures. There continues to be a major problem in the lack of global control over organ harvesting. There has been a reference to the work of the China Tribunal and to reports of a state-run programme of forced organ harvesting in China, the organised butchery of living people to sell body parts, which the China Tribunal compared to the
“worst atrocities committed in conflicts of the 20th century.”
We know that Uighurs, Falun Gong practitioners and others are being killed and subjected to forced organ harvesting.
When an organ is taken, whether from a living or a dead body, it needs to be preserved and transported to its destination. Just as we now require that imported products, whether they be clothes or anything else, should be manufactured in ethical conditions, we need to ask ourselves whether British manufacturers are selling to China the devices, medicines and technology which will enable China to sell organs which have been harvested from people in China’s detention camps or otherwise wrongly obtained. There could be many spin-offs from such activity, including the use of such organs—that can be imported here without any evidence of consent or traceability—for medical research, a market in immunosuppressant drugs for the recipient, and a market in harvested organs which might even be imported and used here in the absence of full regulation.
China is not self-sufficient; it is highly reliant on the West for the equipment and medicines which it needs to help its organ transplant and harvesting industry. The extent of British engagement is not immediately accessible in the context of the Chinese organ transplantation process. The report The Economics of Organ Harvesting in China indicates that there are British companies with interests in this area—in research and in producing and selling organ-preservation solutions to China.
It is right to support and develop ethical, regulated organ transplantation. It is profoundly important that this Bill provides for proper regulation. We can provide regulation to prevent companies being empowered and enriched by the mass crimes that may be facilitated elsewhere. This will show the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party that the balance between human rights and commerce will change.
We need to think very carefully about how this Bill will proceed, so that it does that which it seeks to do and protects the health and safety of those who may be forced organ donors.
My Lords, this Bill, the scope of your Lordships’ debate and the report from the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, emphasise the importance of government supervision of the supply, distribution and safety of medicines and medical devices.
The noble Baroness’s report is entitled a “Safety Review”. In the Commons debates, the junior Minister for the Government, Jo Churchill, described patient safety as paramount. The conduct of the affected families, described in the report, is exemplary: the way they try to cope with their suffering; their attempts to change things, to be listened to and to make reasoned submissions; and they deserve the assistance of this House and the Government.
The report refers to three conditions arising from two drug-related circumstances and one involving a medical device. The report identifies six other separate conditions that have not been investigated. History reveals to us thalidomide, the haemophiliacs given infected plasma that caused them to have AIDS, CJD or mad-cow disease, and one or two more. There has been over a dozen major, medical events affecting the safety of our people over two generations. This is a problem that is always to be dealt with—preferably before the problem happens.
The noble Baroness’s report therefore recommends that the Government should act. First, it should create a redress agency. Doctors and staff are taught “First, do no harm”. The necessary consequence of that is, if harm is done then there should be a remedy for it. That can best be done through a no-fault fairly based redress agency, which does not take away social care, special educational provision or additional provision but gives help in addition. Some of these children will never be able to manage their own affairs.
Who should pay for it? It should include manufacturers of drugs and medical devices. The industry’s capitalised market value in this country is several hundred billion pounds. The French company Sanofi, which makes sodium valproate, have a capitalised value of over €100 billion. Such companies can afford to contribute to the downside that comes from their place in the market.
Secondly, a patient safety commissioner should be created. Legislation has three principal tests: purpose, structure and effectiveness. Let us not become hypnotised by structure. What is the purpose? How can we make it effective and safe? Those questions guide us to the structure. He or she could co-operate with the MHRA and any other relevant authorities.
Lastly, as to what is to be done, the Government should set up a task force now that is government-based, with independents involved, to find out how, at what time, in what manner and at what cost this report’s recommendations can be implemented. Let us not be told that it is too complicated. Within days of becoming Prime Minister, after years of litigation in which I was involved on behalf of the haemophiliac AIDS victims, John Major’s Government publicly accepted all the terms. I thank noble Lords for their patience.
My Lords, this potentially useful Bill raises many questions. I declare my interests as patron of the British Stammering Association—I am a stammerer myself—and vice-chair of the All-Party Group on Speech and Language Difficulties. In particular, it will be important to use the Bill to establish the post of patient safety commissioner, which was so powerfully advocated by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, and supported by many speakers today.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, I echo the concerns of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, which wants to work with the commissioner to safeguard people with communication needs, especially those with additional health inequalities, to ensure that their needs are identified and tackled, and their voices heard. There is a deficit here.
In addition, I add my voice to the call to extend powers to undertake supplementary training and to prescribe to occupational therapists, radiographers, dietitians and members of the British and Irish Orthoptic Society. This would greatly improve the efficacy of these services while reducing pressure on other professionals. I look forward to the Minister’s answer.
My Lords, I declare my interests as chair of the Association of Medical Research Charities, whose members contributed £1.9 billion to medical research last year, and of the Specialised Healthcare Alliance, which campaigns for those with rare conditions and those needing specialised care.
I will make three broad points. The first is to do with the Bill’s structure. I welcome the Bill, in that it could create opportunities for improved regulatory regimes. We cannot, however, tell whether it will. It is a skeleton Bill with a whole array of delegated powers and no detail of how the powers will actually be used. This makes effective, proper scrutiny very difficult, if not entirely impossible. The DPRRC report is especially damning on this point, as many noble Lords have noted. It is worth quoting its conclusion:
“We are deeply concerned not only by the Government’s failure to provide sufficient justification for the adoption of a ‘skeleton bill’ approach—which would give Ministers sweeping powers to almost completely re-write the existing regulatory regimes for medicines and medical devices—but also by their failure to acknowledge the breadth of the powers that the Bill would confer.”
The Minister wrote to me on 2 August, saying:
“You expressed some concern that this way of regulating the sector meant that Parliament would not be able to scrutinise the powers in the Bill if we did not provide further clarity about the policy changes we intended to make through the delegated powers. I have asked my officials to think further about the extent to which we can provide Parliament greater information to aid its scrutiny.”
That was a month ago. Can the Minister say what progress has been made in his thinking and whether we will see the fruits of it before Committee? For our part, in Committee we will want to explore means to improve scrutiny mechanisms, including the use of the made affirmative procedure mentioned by the DPRRC, and the use of a sunset provision, as discussed in the Commons.
My second point is to do with clinical trials, which are an absolutely critical part of UK life sciences and of what makes the UK a global leader in medical research. Anything that reduces the number of clinical trials will weaken that leadership and could delay access to new drugs and treatments. The Government understand this, which is why I was surprised by the weakness of their approach. The Bill simply requires the Minister, in making regulation, to “have regard to” the attractiveness of the UK as a place to carry out these trials or to supply human medicines. “Attractiveness” is not defined, and in any case this is a very weak and perhaps meaningless obligation that also entirely omits to mention manufacturing. We will want to return to all that in Committee.
We will also want to ask again which aspects of the CTR the Government believe to be in the best interests of UK patients, industry and non-commercial researchers, and which they will regulate for. We will also ask how the Government will assess these best interests and what they may be.
My final point is about consultation. We welcome the commitment to consultation and to a possible early start for it. Such consultation is necessary, but is not, as the DPRRC points out, a substitute for parliamentary scrutiny. The Bill and the Explanatory Memorandum contain no detail about the form of consultation, who is to be consulted and when, or when the consultation results will be available to Parliament. Will the Minister provide answers to these questions ahead of Committee, and could he confirm that patient groups, medical research charities and academic researchers will be among the consultees?