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Written Statements

Volume 615: debated on Monday 17 October 2016

Written Statements

Monday 17 October 2016

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Competitiveness Council

My noble friend, the Minister of State for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has made the following written statement:

I represented the UK at the recent meeting of the Competitiveness Council in Brussels on Thursday 29 September.

The Council started with the regular competitiveness check-up. The Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, Elzbieta Bienkowska, outlined the challenges faced by start-ups and scale-ups in Europe, particularly in comparison to businesses in the US. In the subsequent exchange of views, the key themes were the need to advertise available sources of funding for start-ups; the lack of access to risk capital; and the importance of providing effective support at regional and national levels. A proposal for a joint meeting of competitiveness and ECOFIN Ministers to discuss this issue was met with broad support. I intervened to express support for the focus on scale-ups and shared an example of UK best practice through the British Business Bank.

The next item was the collaborative (sharing) economy. A Commission presentation was followed by discussion in which several member states stressed the need for collaborative economy businesses to respect existing legislation and tax compliance. I intervened to support the Commission’s vision, as outlined in the recently issued guidance. As part of my intervention I highlighted initiatives by organisations such as Sharing Economy UK (SEUK) to promote responsible growth within the sector.

The next item was a presentation on the standardisation package. The core element of the package is the voluntary joint initiative on standardisation, which brings together all the actors of the standardisation community. A large number of standards-setting bodies and industry representatives signed it in June. The majority of member states signed it in the margins of the Council. I signed on behalf of the UK.

Over lunch, Ministers were joined by Jean-Louis Marchand, President of the European Industry Construction Federation (FIEC) to discuss the construction sector. There was agreement on the importance of the construction industry to the EU economy and the need to increase investment in the sector, including through the use of existing financial instruments. The role of digitisation was recognised, as was the need to remove barriers in the internal market. I highlighted a number of UK initiatives, such as building information modelling (BIM) and smart meters, where digitisation has been used to support innovation in the sector. I also cited the forthcoming services card (formerly known as the services passport) as an important mechanism to support the provision of cross-border services. Commissioner Bienkowska said that the card needed to tackle both regulatory and administrative barriers if it was going to add real value.

The afternoon session started with a discussion on the European steel industry. It focused on EU action since the start of the steel crisis in 2014. Commissioner Bienkowska said that she had been working closely with the Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmstr?m to alleviate the impact of the pressures faced by Europe’s steel industry. She said that a level playing field was needed to make the industry fit for globalisation and highlighted the problems caused by global overcapacity and dumping. Many member states called on the Commission to bring forward its proposal on market economy status for China as soon as possible, with reform of the EU emissions trading system, energy costs and the circular economy also recurring themes. I intervened to welcome the establishment of the global forum on steel, as agreed at the G20 in September 2016.

The next item was a discussion on industrial policy in Europe. Several member states called on the Commission to commit to an ambitious and proactive industrial strategy in its forthcoming 2017 work programme. The Commission welcomed the initiative by highlighting all the work that was on-going to support industry. This was followed by an item focused on Europe’s transition to a low-carbon economy, on which no member state intervened.

The Slovak presidency then introduced the item on the unitary patent and the Unified Patent Court (UPC). The Commission noted that only two further ratifications were needed to bring the UPC into effect, and highlighted the urgency with which this was awaited by business. I intervened to commend the work that has gone into the UPC and said that the UK was actively looking into resolving the legal and practical challenges quickly and would provide a further update at the next Competitiveness Council.

The penultimate item was an update on a May conference on the challenge of balancing plant breeders’ rights with patent rights. The Commission noted that any solution should not re-open the biotech directive, but was working on guidance to clarify its effect.

Finally, the Commission presented on the proposed review of the supplementary protection certificate (SPC) regulation, specifically the introduction of the SPC manufacturing waiver. While some member states intervened to highlight the importance of the waiver, others outlined their misgivings, arguing that the right balance already exists between the rights of brand-name and generic pharmaceuticals manufacturers.

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Education

UNCRC

The UK state party is a proud signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and today I want to reinforce this commitment.

The articles under the UNCRC set out a vision that all children—regardless of background or circumstance—develop their full potential, free from hunger and want, neglect and abuse. These principles reflect our own drive and commitment to social mobility and the ambitious reforms we each lead to ensure that Britain is country that works for everyone.

The 5th periodic reporting cycle with the United Nations concluded in June 2016. The UN Committee scrutinised the UK state party’s progress in implementing the CRC since our last report in 2008, and in July 2016 published their concluding observations.

I welcome these concluding observations. They recognise the great strides we have taken to make sure that all children have the opportunity to flourish and grow. For example, efforts taken to improve mental health services, improvements to law to ensure that children live in safe and loving environments, improvements to supporting and protecting asylum-seeking children and ensuring that all children have access to high-quality education. Indeed, all Government Departments play a role in building a society where everyone has fair and equal opportunities to go as far as their talent and their hard work will allow. And our policies recognise that children are far from secondary in this vision.

Alongside the celebration of our achievements, the Committee also offered recommendations on areas that require additional attention or greater push for change. As we each look to our ambitious programmes of reform to make sure that Britain is a country that works for everyone, I encourage you to reflect on these recommendations; for example, by reflecting the voice of the child fully in the design and implementation of policy.

Both the UNCRC articles and concluding recommendations serve as a helpful and important guide to making sure that our policies—whether they hold direct or indirect consequences—consider children.

My Department will issue the Committee’s concluding recommendations across Whitehall this week. I encourage all Departments to read these recommendations and take them into account as we work together to achieve social mobility.

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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Environment Council

I am attending the EU Environment Council in Luxembourg on the 17 October, along with my hon Friend the Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry (Nick Hurd MP).

Following adoption of the agenda, the list of “A” items will be approved.

Under legislative activities the Council will debate proposals for a regulation on binding annual greenhouse gas emissions reductions by member states from 2021 to 2030 and on the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions and removals from land use, land use change and forestry into the 2030 climate and energy framework.

Under non-legislative activities, the Council will aim to adopt Council conclusions on the convention on biological diversity and sustainable water management.

The following items are due to be discussed under Any Other Business:

a) 28th Meeting of the Parties (MOP 28) to the Montreal protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer (Kigali, Rwanda, 10 to 14 October 2016).

b) Communication on decarbonisation of the transport strategy.

c) 17th Meeting of the Conference of the parties (COP 17) to the convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (Johannesburg, South Africa, 24 September to 5 October 2016).

d) 39th International Civil Aviation Organisation Assembly (Montreal, Canada, 27 September to 7 October 2016).

e) Unspent funds from the New Entrants Reserve (NER300) funding programme.

f) Natural resources management on the example of Bialowieza Forest: repercussions for Europe.

g) Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants and amending directive 2003/35/EC (NEC)—lessons learnt.

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Exiting the European Union

General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council (Trade)

The General Affairs Council (GAC) on Tuesday 18 October is expected to focus on: preparation of the October European Council; legislative programming and the inter-institutional agreement (IIA) on ‘better law-making’; and the mid-term review of the multiannual financial framework.

I will also represent the Government at an extraordinary meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) dedicated to the comprehensive economic and trade agreement with Canada (CETA).

Preparation of the October European Council

Ministers will discuss the draft conclusions of the European Council. The European Council itself will take place on Thursday 20 and Friday 21 October. The agenda covers migration, trade and EU policy toward Russia; this item will include a discussion on Russia’s recent actions in Syria. The UK will play a full part in the discussion on these issues both at the GAC and at the European Council.

Legislative programming and the inter-institutional agreement on Better Law-Making

In April this year a new inter-institutional agreement on better law making was adopted. One provision of this is that following the adoption of the Commission Work programme by the Commission, the Commission, Council and European Parliament will issue a joint declaration setting out the top priorities and objectives for the year ahead. The Slovak presidency is expected to update Ministers on the process surrounding the joint declaration.

Multiannual financial framework

This will be a follow-up to the introductory discussion that took place at the last GAC on 20 September. Final decisions will be taken later in the year.

Comprehensive economic and trade agreement with Canada (CETA)

The presidency has also scheduled an extraordinary meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in trade formation with a view to agreeing Council decisions on the signing, provisional application and conclusion of the comprehensive economic and trade agreement with Canada (CETA), before it is sent for deliberation by the European Parliament and for full ratification by all EU member states. CETA is an important trade agreement for the UK in terms of the economic benefit it will bring to British businesses while we remain a member of the EU.

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Health

Healthcare Safety Investigations

“There is a culture within many parts of the NHS which deters staff from raising serious and sensitive concerns and which not infrequently has negative consequences for those brave enough to raise them”

(Sir Robert Francis QC, Freedom to Speak Up report - http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/2015021815 0343/https:/freedomtospeakup.org.uk).

The NHS has an excellent track record in recruiting and developing the very best—the brightest, the most dedicated and the most caring. Our staff have a passion for providing the highest quality care that they can, and a commitment to continuously improving their knowledge and their skills. We must not forget that what staff learn through the experience of giving care is at least as valuable as what they are taught in the lecture theatre. Learning through experience is the key to improving the quality of people's care. This includes learning from mistakes.

We need to create the right conditions to enable staff to learn from their experiences, including their mistakes. All too often, they tell us that there is a culture of blaming, not learning. That is why the Government want to change the atmosphere in which NHS staff work.

There is a strong connection between ‘psychological safety’ and a culture of learning within an organisation. In a true culture of learning, staff can feel confident they will be treated fairly, and patients and families can be assured that errors and the causes of them will be fully explored. Creating and sustaining this broader culture of psychological safety and learning is down to leaders and managers in the system. For them to be able to do so, the Department of Health, as steward of the health system, needs to set the right conditions for such a culture to flourish.

Recent inquiries have illustrated that staff need to feel more confident that the information they give to safety investigations, which have the sole function of learning from errors, will not be used unfairly. That is why we are proposing to create a “safe space”—a statutory requirement that information generated as part of a safety investigation will be kept confidential and will not be shared outside the investigation’s boundaries, except in a number of limited circumstances.

This is used currently by the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB), where investigators are able to offer this safe space to those they speak to, thanks to the robust statutory framework in which they work, arising from regulation-making powers in primary legislation. A key aspect of this statutory framework is the duty not to share information given in the course of an investigation with any other individual or body, unless (usually) there is a High Court order.

The proposal outlined in this consultation is to create a statutory prohibition on the disclosure of material obtained during certain health service investigations unless the High Court makes an order permitting disclosure, or in a limited number of other circumstances.

This broadly mirrors the regime followed in the area of air accidents investigations. It would allow the investigator to say to staff involved in incidents:

“This investigation is not to attribute blame. The information you give me as part of this investigation will not be passed on to those not involved in the investigation unless there is a High Court order, or if the information you provide demonstrates to me there is an active and ongoing threat to patient safety represented by the practice or actions of one or more individuals that requires action”.

The safe space approach is designed to improve patient safety standards over time, by enabling clinicians to discuss openly and honestly their experiences, including aspects of care that ought to be improved. These are valuable lessons that others can learn from, and will improve standards, potentially across the whole system. By concentrating on finding these more widely applicable lessons, safe space investigations will address themes rather than re-examine specific cases. But should the investigation uncover evidence of immediate risks to patient safety, criminal activity, serious misconduct or seriously deficient performance then the police or relevant professional regulator will be informed and will take the appropriate immediate action.

Creating a safe space is also a difficult balance to achieve—between reassuring staff that the information they give will not be passed on, while also reassuring patients and families that they have the full facts of their, or their loved one, care. We all want the standard of that care to get better and better each year. The purpose of this consultation is to seek the views of patients, the public and the professionals who work in the NHS about our proposed approach. In particular, we want to find out from them about what needs to be changed, added, or strengthened in order to achieve the learning not blaming culture that will underpin quality improvement in the NHS.

Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament. uk/business/publications.

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