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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
15 November 2017
Volume 631

Written Statements

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Treasury

Childcare Service

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This Government are committed to supporting parents with the cost of childcare. We have doubled free childcare to 30 hours a week and introduced Tax-Free Childcare. This support is fairer than the employer voucher scheme, as for the first time it is available to self-employed parents, and all qualifying working parents regardless of their employer. It is better targeted as the support is based on a per child basis, rather than a per parent basis.

The Government opened the childcare service in April of this year—one site where parents can apply for both 30 hours’ free childcare and Tax-Free Childcare through an easy-to-use, single digital application. This avoids the need for parents to provide the same information twice and means that many parents receive an eligibility result in real time.

More than 275,000 parents now have an open childcare account. Of these, over 216,000 parents received an eligibility code for 30 hours’ free childcare in September.

However, HMRC recognise that over the summer some parents did not receive the intended level of service while using the site. While the majority of parents used the childcare service without significant problems, some parents experienced technical issues including delayed decisions about their eligibility for one or both of the schemes. The Government acted quickly to address this, and HMRC and their delivery partners NS&I have now made significant improvements to the service.

Over the coming months, we will gradually open the childcare service to parents of older children, while continuing to make further improvements to the system. This means we can manage the volume of applications going through the service, so parents continue to receive a better experience and prompt eligibility responses when they apply—almost all parents receive a response within five working days, and most get their decision instantly. All eligible parents will be able to apply by the end of March 2018.

On 24 November, we will open the service to parents whose youngest child is under six or who has their 6th birthday on that day. Parents can apply online through the childcare service which can be accessed via the Childcare Choices website: https://www.childcare choices.gov.uk.

Applications for Tax-Free Childcare accounts have been lower than expected. We want to encourage more parents to take up the offer they are entitled to, and now the service has improved, we will undertake activity to raise awareness of Tax-Free Childcare among parents.

Tax-free Childcare is just one part of the support this Government offer for childcare costs. Where eligible, parents are able to access working tax credits which covers 70% of childcare costs or universal credit which increases this support to 85% of costs, 15 free hours of childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds, 15 free hours for all three and four-year-olds, and an additional 15 hours to working parents of three and four-year-olds. Employer Supported Childcare will also remain open to new entrants until April 2018.

[HCWS247]

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The 1954 Hague Convention and Protocols

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I am today announcing and publishing measures to support the effective implementation of the 1954 Hague convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict and its two protocols of 1954 and 1999 and the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act 2017.

The United Kingdom ratified the convention and acceded to the protocols on 12 September. They will enter into force for the United Kingdom on 12 December. Commencement regulations have been made to bring the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act 2017 into force on that date.

I am publishing a document setting out implementation measures in three key areas: cultural property protected by the convention and protocols; safeguarding protected cultural property; and use of the cultural emblem.

Part one of the document identifies seven categories of cultural property in the United Kingdom which we consider meet the definition of cultural property set out in the convention and are therefore protected by the convention and protocols. These categories are indicative and non-exhaustive: there may be other cultural property which meets the definition and which is therefore also protected. The list of categories is UK-wide and has been agreed with the devolved Administrations.

Part two sets out our approach to safeguarding cultural property. It explains that we do not intend to impose any additional or specific safeguarding requirements on the owners, guardians and trustees of cultural property in England to be implemented during peacetime, given that they should already have plans in place to deal with emergencies and disasters and armed conflict affecting the territory of the United Kingdom is not expected in the foreseeable future.

Part three deals with use of the cultural emblem. It explains when permission to use the cultural emblem is required and how to request permission. It also explains that the Government do not intend to grant permission for the cultural emblem to be displayed on immovable cultural property, such as museums and historic buildings, during peacetime, except where a strong, persuasive case can be made for doing so, in order to protect the integrity of the cultural emblem as a symbol of protection during armed conflict.

Initial permissions to use the emblem for education and training purposes and by the Ministry of Defence, for the new armed forces’ cultural property protection unit, the British Red Cross, and the Blue Shield international and national committees of the Blue Shield are included in an annex. These permissions will come into force on 12 December.

Parts two and three and the permissions in the annex relate only to England. The devolved Administrations are responsible for safeguarding cultural property and for granting permissions to use and display the cultural emblem in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I am also publishing a separate guidance document on the new offence of dealing in unlawfully exported cultural property which is created by section 17 of the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act 2017.

Both documents are available at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/protection-of-cultural-property-in-the-event-of-armed-conflict.

I have arranged for copies of both documents to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS244]

Health

Hormone Pregnancy Tests: Expert Working Group Report

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My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Lord O’Shaughnessy) has made the following statement:

Today, the Commission on Human Medicines has published the report of its expert working group on hormone pregnancy tests. Based on its extensive and thorough review, the expert working group’s overall finding, endorsed by the Commission on Human Medicines, is that the available scientific evidence, taking all aspects into consideration, does not support a causal association between the use of hormone pregnancy tests, such as Primodos, during early pregnancy and adverse outcomes of pregnancy, either with regard to miscarriage, stillbirth or congenital anomalies.

In the UK, hormone pregnancy tests first became available for diagnosing pregnancy in the 1950s. Between the 1950s and 1978, when Primodos was withdrawn from the market in the UK, a number of studies were published which investigated a possible link between women being given a hormone pregnancy test to diagnose pregnancy and the occurrence of a range of congenital anomalies in the offspring.

Although there was never any reliable evidence that HPTs were unsafe, concern about this issue, coupled with the development of better pregnancy tests meant that a number of precautionary actions were taken to restrict the use of HPTs. The tests were voluntarily removed from the market by the manufacturers.

The body of information subsequently accrued by the ‘Association for Children Damaged by Hormone Pregnancy Tests’ and other campaigners, led to a Parliamentary debate in 2014 during which the then Minister for Life Sciences, George Freeman MP, stated that he would instruct that all relevant documents held by the Department of Health be released. In addition, he determined that an independent review of the papers and all the available evidence was justified.

The purpose of the review was to ascertain whether the totality of the available data, on balance, support a causal association between use of a hormone pregnancy test by the mother and adverse pregnancy outcomes. It also considered whether, alternatively, the anomalies could have been due to chance alone or due to other factors.

An expert working group of the Commission on Human Medicines was established in October 2015 to conduct the review with the benefit of up-to-date scientific expertise.

The expert working group was subject to a strict conflict of interest policy and comprised experts from a broad range of specialisms, together with lay representation. The terms of reference of the expert working group, were as follows:

To consider all available evidence on the possible association between exposure in pregnancy to hormone pregnancy tests and adverse outcomes in pregnancy (in particular congenital anomalies, miscarriage and stillbirth) including consideration of any potential mechanism of action.

To consider whether the expert working group’s findings have any implications for currently licensed medicines in the UK or elsewhere.

To draw any lessons for how drug safety issues in pregnancy are identified, accessed and communicated in the present regulatory system and how the effectiveness of risk management is monitored.

To make recommendations.

The final report summarises the scientific evidence that was considered by the expert working group, its conclusions on the evidence, and its recommendations. All the available relevant evidence on a possible association has been extensively and thoroughly reviewed with the benefit of up-to-date knowledge by experts from the relevant specialisms.

In addition to the overall conclusion, the expert working group has made a number of recommendations to safeguard future generations through strengthening the systems in place for detecting, evaluating, managing and communicating safety concerns with use of medicines in early pregnancy. These recommendations can be found in the report. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency will co-ordinate their implementation, in collaboration with relevant organisations; and the Commission on Human Medicines, together with its expert advisory group on medicines for women’s health, will ensure progress is regularly monitored.

The evidence which has been reviewed by the expert working group will be published in the new year once it has been checked in line with the legal duties of data protection and confidentiality.

Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www. parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2017-11-15/HCWS245/.

[HCWS245]

Transport

Road Haulage

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The impact of disruption at the port of Dover and Eurotunnel in Kent can lead to significant congestion in that county and further afield. In the event of such disruption, Operation Stack is deployed which queues lorries on the M20 until they can access their ferry or train, closing parts of the motorway to other traffic. However, it has been accepted that this is not an ideal contingency solution particularly given the impact it has on the M20, the surrounding roads, and in particular on people and businesses in Kent.

Following significant and long-running disruption in the summer of 2015, due to French ferry employee industrial action and migrant activity in France, Operation Stack was deployed for over 30 days that summer. The Government determined to find a solution to the issue and announced that a new lorry holding park would be built at Stanford West in Kent. The lorry park was to be designed to mitigate the worst impacts of Operation Stack by taking lorries off the road until they could be released to Dover or Eurotunnel.

However, in October 2016 this decision was judicially reviewed on the grounds that the Government had not properly taken into account the environmental impact on a local business and the area in which the lorry park would be built.

Today I am withdrawing the earlier decision to site a lorry park at Stanford West on the grounds that the Government can no longer defend the judicial review. My Department and Highways England have, since being judicially reviewed, tried to find a solution so that the lorry park could be delivered as quickly as possible to mitigate the impacts of Operation Stack, while also meeting our environmental obligations. However, it has not proven possible to do so.

But I can announce today that we are immediately starting the process to promote a lorry park through the normal planning process, including a full environmental impact assessment, as a potential permanent solution to Operation Stack. As part of this we will reassess the scope, scale and location of our solutions, taking into account changes since the original concept of the lorry park was promoted, in particular the UK’s exit from the European Union but also the need for “business as usual” lorry parking in Kent. Highways England intend to consult on the options in early 2018 with a view to submitting a planning application in 2019.

Alongside this, I have tasked Highways England with developing an interim solution to be in place by March 2019. Highways England have developed a number of options that, while continuing to hold HGVs on the M20, would allow non-port traffic to continue to travel in both directions reducing the levels of traffic disruption seen in Operation Stack. This could, for example, be through holding HGVs in the centre of the motorway rather than on the coast-bound carriageway. Different technologies ranging from steel barriers to moveable barrier systems could be deployed to deliver these solutions. A final decision on which option to take forward will be made in early 2018, with a view to completing delivery by March 2019.

Specific investment decisions on both the permanent and interim solutions will, of course, be subject to normal considerations of affordability and value for money.

Today’s announcement demonstrates that despite the setback to our plans to build a lorry park at Stanford West, the Government are still serious about finding both short and permanent solution to help tackle the traffic disruption that can occur from disruption at our busiest border for lorry freight.

[HCWS246]