Cookies: We use cookies to give you the best possible experience on our site. By continuing to use the site you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more
House of Commons Hansard
x
General Committees
23 October 2018

Delegated Legislation Committee

DRAFT HIGHER EDUCATION (TRANSPARENCY CONDITION AND FINANCIAL SUPPORT) (ENGLAND) REGULATIONS 2018

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Sir Christopher Chope

Ali, Rushanara (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab)

† Brereton, Jack (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)

† Charalambous, Bambos (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)

† Clarke, Mr Simon (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Con)

Coffey, Ann (Stockport) (Lab)

† Courts, Robert (Witney) (Con)

Evans, Chris (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)

† Fletcher, Colleen (Coventry North East) (Lab)

† Grogan, John (Keighley) (Lab)

† Gyimah, Mr Sam (Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation)

† Jones, Andrew (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)

Kendall, Liz (Leicester West) (Lab)

† Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool South) (Lab)

† Milling, Amanda (Cannock Chase) (Con)

† Pawsey, Mark (Rugby) (Con)

† Syms, Sir Robert (Poole) (Con)

† Whately, Helen (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con)

Laura-Jane Tiley, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 23 October 2018

[Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Draft Higher Education (Transparency Condition and Financial Support) (England) Regulations 2018

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Higher Education (Transparency Condition and Financial Support) (England) Regulations 2018.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank the noble Lords on the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for their scrutiny of regulations under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, which were laid in the other place in June and detailed in the Committee’s 35th report. I aim to speak today to draft regulations encompassing two elements of the Act that require approval.

Section 9 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 relates to the transparency condition. We have made much progress in widening access and success for students from disadvantaged and under-represented groups in higher education. Following the latest data from UCAS, as of the end of clearing, university application acceptance rates for English 18-year-olds to full-time study are at record levels. The proportion of disadvantaged 18-year-olds entering full-time higher education increased from 13.6% in 2009 to 24.4% in 2017—also a record rate for English applicants.

However, we want to go further and strive to ensure that anyone, no matter what their background, who has the talent and potential to benefit from higher education, is able to do so. I particularly want further improvements in the rates of progress for students from disadvantaged backgrounds going to the most selective institutions, and commensurate progress in the outcomes they achieve. For example, I want such students to experience rates of completion and attainment similar to those of other groups of students.

We have charged the new regulator, the Office for Students, to urge higher education providers—particularly the most selective ones—to make greater progress in such matters. The introduction of the transparency duty through section 9 of HERA is a vital measure that will support the OfS in making the further progress that we all want. The duty requires certain higher education providers to publish information on application, offer, acceptance, completion and attainment rates of students, by ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic background.

The duty will apply to all providers registered with the OfS—in both the “approved” and the “approved (fee cap)” parts of the register. It will ensure that data on admissions similar to that released by the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge in recent months, in anticipation of the duty, will be available from August 2019. That greater transparency will clearly identify which higher education providers need to do more to widen the access and success of students from disadvantaged and under-represented groups.

The duty also requires the information to be given to the OfS. Crucially, that will help to inform the OfS’s assessment of providers’ performance on access, student success and progression. To ensure that there is progress, the OfS will have the power to take action if the provider does not comply with its obligations, including those on access for and participation of students from disadvantaged and under-represented groups.

The OfS has a range of interventions and sanctions that it can use to push providers to make improvements. Its powers, should it find it necessary to use them, include putting additional registration conditions on providers, suspending them from the OfS register and imposing monetary penalties. That duty was broadly welcomed by Members in debates on the Higher Education and Research Act 2017.

During the passage of HERA the Government made a commitment to ask the OfS to undertake a consultation in respect of additional information on protected characteristics such as age and disability that should be made available by providers in the future to help to drive equality of opportunity for all students. I am pleased to be able to report that the OfS has undertaken a formal consultation on the matter and held a series of supporting events. The consultation was part of a wider consultation on the OfS’s work on access and participation. Its findings will be published later this year. Implementation of the duty through these regulations will be a crucial and effective step in helping to ensure that we make further progress on the access for, and success of, disadvantaged students as well as more broadly supporting informed choice for all.

The second part of these regulations, section 39 of HERA, allows the OfS to provide financial support for higher education. These funding powers broadly replicate the funding powers conferred on the Higher Education Funding Council for England by section 65 of the Further and Higher Education Act of 1992, but have been expanded to enable the OfS to fund any eligible higher education provider.

In the new system, eligible providers are those that are subject to a cap on the fees they can charge, and thus are registered in the approved “fee cap” part of the OfS register. These powers ensure that the OfS can continue to provide funding for those important subjects which cost more to teach than can be met solely from tuition fees, such as the science and medicine courses that are so crucial to the economic and social future of the country.

These powers also make it possible for the OfS to provide funding to incentivise and support providers’ work on widening participation, allow indirect funding of qualified schools, colleges or other institutions that are connected to an eligible higher education provider, and meet the unavoidable costs of small and specialist provision, such as performing arts courses. In those aspects, they are the same as the previous HEFCE powers. The new element is that under the new Act, the OfS has the power to financially support a wider range of bodies and delivery models.

  In conclusion, the transparency condition and financial support regulations work together to enable the Office for Students to promote access and participation and student choice across all of higher education, and to support higher education teaching through financial support. Together, they are part of the vital foundations for the new regulatory framework, which will give the Office for Students the tools to deliver sector-wide reform and ensure that higher education delivers for every student. I move that these regulations are approved.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. May I give my profuse apologies to you and the Minister for being slightly late this morning; I was stuck for 40 minutes on a Network Rail train.

We welcome the Minister’s introducing the regulations for discussion today. We largely agree with him on the importance of widening participation and access to our higher education institutions and providers and the part that these transparency conditions can and should play. The devil is in the detail, however, and though there may be consensus on their importance, we disagree about some aspects of what should be included in these conditions, which are not included now. I will therefore try to persuade the Minister to strengthen them as much as possible. Before I do that, I must revisit what I said in 2016, when we discussed this clause and amendments that we tabled for the Minister’s predecessor. We said that the transparency duty was to be welcomed, but that there was a serious oversight in restricting the categories that higher education institutions had to publish information on participation. In particular, we said that there was no valid reason why data on students with disabilities, and the age profile of students, should not be included. We then tabled amendments to insert data on students with disabilities and care leavers and on students’ age profile.

It is absolutely essential that more work is done to reduce unequal access and success in higher education. Supporting people at all ages, not just at 18, is key. Overall social mobility is down, not up. The total number of English undergraduate entrants from low participation areas fell by 17% between 2011-12 and 2016-17. As a result, 12,600 fewer English undergraduate students from low participation areas started university courses each year than in 2011/12. So adding age and disability, as the Open University, Ruskin, the WEA, Birkbeck and a host of other adult education providers have said, is a way in which we can drive forward social mobility. Including age will encourage HEIs to promote the participation of older students as well as provide a further spotlight on the number of adults participating in HE.

Making it compulsory to publish data about the access, participation and attainment of disabled students will not only improve transparency but encourage HEIs to take greater responsibility to work towards eliminating the disabled student attainment gap. Is that not an important aspect of what the Government are trying to do by addressing the disability employment gap? They need not only to act on the recommendations on learning disability in the Maynard report, which was convened by my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), who is also a member of the Government, but to look at the format and implications of the gap.

I know that the OfS has just closed its consultation window on access and participation plans, which included asking whether respondents agreed or disagreed that it should explore requiring providers to submit and publish transparency data by age and disability. To what extent does the Minister agree or disagree that the OfS should do that? His colleague, Viscount Younger, said from the Front Bench in the House of Lords that “a good case” had been made,

“for the inclusion of age as a characteristic and I am sympathetic to his aims. Although I cannot pre-empt the consultation, I am prepared to say from the Dispatch Box that we fully anticipate that age will be part of the information the OfS will ask institutions to publish.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 April 2017; Vol. 782, c. 1001.]

What is the Minister’s reflection on that?

The third issue that we raised was that of care leavers, which has come up as a consistent theme across Government policy over the past few years. Ministers in the Department have been strong on supporting care leavers, and we think that it is important to add that category to the list, even though it is a relatively small and modest group. We also believe that, if the transparency duty is to have any impact, it needs to include as many different dimensions of participation as possible by social background. That view was echoed strongly by the Sutton Trust, which did not believe that the Bill and the regulations went far enough in that area. It said,

“evidence suggests many universities are favouring more privileged candidates even when levels of attainment are taken into account…The Bill should be amended to require universities to publish their contextual admission policies clearly on their websites”.

What recent discussions did the Minister have with the Sutton Trust and with the National Education Opportunities Network before the regulations before Parliament today were published on the need to strengthen them further?

The trade union for academics and other university workers, the University and College Union, has also said that mandatory reporting requirements should be extended to cover key workforce data that has the potential to impact on the quality of students’ education, such as the use of insecure contracts and student-staff ratios. Will the Minister consider including those in further regulations that might come before the House in relation to transparency and fair access? How often will the conditions be reviewed?

Having read through the explanatory memorandum, I have a few specific observations and questions for the Minister on the regulations we are discussing today. Paragraph 2.1 confirms that the OfS,

“must ensure that the ongoing registration conditions of each registered higher education provider...includes a transparency condition.”

Although we too think it is important that all approved institutions are required to have transparency commitments, could the Minister expand on the timeframe for those to be put in place? This is not only relevant to new institutions, but to all of our existing higher education institutions, and therefore the logistics are bound to be challenging. Can the Minister tell us within what timeframe all institutions should meet those expectations, and does he agree with the University and College Union and others that all providers should be required to produce an access and participation plan, not just a statement, as is currently the case for the approved category?

I do not wish to be unkind, but paragraphs 3.3 and 3.7 of the explanatory memorandum make me think that the Minister may have in the Department a budding Lewis Carroll. The opening sentence of paragraph 3.3 says:

“The Department notes that this instrument contains reference to a document that does not exist yet but is of the view that it is necessary to refer to it for the following reasons.”

That is not exactly the famous phrase from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, “Sentence first—verdict afterwards”, but clearly there is an issue in relation to how that will be taken forward. Can the Minister update us on the progress on producing that regime?

Paragraph 3.7 states that

“an institution can only be registered on the OfS register…if it is, or intends to become, an English higher education provider.”

Paragraph 3.9 explains the place of education in the devolved legislation competence of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. That is true in terms of the specifics of the regulation, but the Minister will be aware that tens of thousands of students from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will be at English universities and therefore subject to the provisions. Can the Minister tell us what discussions have been had with his counterparts in the devolved Administrations on that?

Paragraphs 7.1 and 7.2 of the explanatory memorandum state that

“although as of 2017 there are record numbers of 18 year olds entering higher education and the entry rate for the most disadvantaged English 18 year olds (measured by POLAR) has increased to 20.4%, it is considered that there is still more work to be done to reduce unequal access and success in higher education…In this context, the Department is of the view that greater transparency is one of the best tools available to drive social mobility.”

Indeed it is, but it also essential that a broad range of measures on socioeconomic background are looked at. Commenting on today’s statutory instrument, the Sutton Trust said to me:

“It is important that the OfS don’t just consider POLAR, as socio-economic disadvantage is complex and multi-dimensional. We think that the OfS should use a number of different measures, including POLAR, MEM”—

I am awfully sorry, but I have not got my head around that particular acronym—

“and free-school meal eligibility, FSM, so that there isn’t an overreliance on one specific measure.”

I hope that the Minister and his officials will muse upon that.

As I say, financial support is essential for widening participation. With that in mind, and given the clear priority to drive social mobility, do the Government still intend, as was outlined in the 2015 spending review, to cut the widening participation funding of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, as it then was, by up to 50% by the end of the spending review period?

The OfS is set to review all its funding allocations next year after the post-18 review has reported. The Open University has said that the part-time student premium, as part of its widening participation funding, is essential to those higher education institutions that do the heavy lifting in relation to social mobility, so as to deliver on access and student support for widening participation students. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will protect that?

On the consultation outcome, the explanatory memorandum to the regulations says:

“Sufficient input from the sector was received during the above consultations to inform policy development.”

I understand that the consultation took place under a previous Government, and indeed a previous Department—the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—but, in relation to these regulations and others that will come as a consequence of the 2017 Act, does the Minister consider that the Government have consulted widely enough with the people who use the system? I believe, as many in the sector do, that it is inadequate to consult simply the HEIs. There should also be some input from student organisations, qualification providers and employers.

On access and participation, we should all be concerned about not just the input but the output—how many disadvantaged students complete the course—and the outcome: the jobs and futures they move to. I appreciate that it is difficult for the Government to do any major longitudinal studies at this stage of proceedings, but I would like the Minister to give attention to that in relation to both these regulations and what will come out as a result.

Finally, I turn to the issues touched on in paragraph 12 of the explanatory memorandum on monitoring and review. We are told that the Department will ask the OfS

“to monitor the effectiveness of the condition in delivering the policy aims to widen participation in higher education and identify whether changes should be considered.”

Again, we agree. It is important to monitor the impact of conditions placed on providers, but the big question is what capacity the OfS will have to do that effectively. I say that deliberately, without straying from the narrow terms of the regulations, because at the Higher Education and Research Bill Committee we expressed concerns about the stand-alone nature of the new director for fair access and participation. The Minister will know that previously that director had his own establishment outwith the OfS, whereas now he is essentially in it. I am not commenting on whether he has enough people working for him; essentially he is not in charge of his department and it is up to the OfS to give him the tools to finish the job.

While we are talking about tools, Universities UK has raised concerns with me about the regulations. I do not know whether it made this request directly to the Minister or indirectly through his officials, but from the note I have had it is clear that it wants to see more information on the level of detail that institutions will have to submit for access reports and action plans. We know that the OfS has been given a risk-based approach to intervening on institutions, so can more information be provided on what the methodology for that will be? UUK also asks whether the Government will ensure that the OfS engages with the sector on defining the roles and the self-assessment tool, which will have to cope with a broad range of potential providers, including small and specialist institutions.

In connection with that, I have to say that the Government’s job, the Minister’s job and particularly the OfS’s job would have been greatly strengthened if the previous Government had not taken the inexplicable decision to get rid of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, which was of major assistance in providing longitudinal and attitudinal advice. The Government now find themselves having to commission bespoke assessments, which we and many people in the sector believe are an inadequate way of examining the issues. I accept that we are where we are, but that point lends weight to the concerns of UUK and individual HE providers.

With those observations, I will draw my remarks to a conclusion. I repeat that we strongly support the principle of the draft regulations and their direction of travel, but that as they are implemented—I accept that registration is a rolling process—we would like to hear more from the Minister and the Department to satisfy our concerns.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I thank the Opposition spokesperson for his comments. We have had several debates since I was appointed to this job; he always has a fistful of pertinent questions for the Government, and I welcome his contributions to our debate on the draft regulations. Before I make my concluding remarks, let me address some of his questions, in no particular order.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the rates of progression by area. The proportion of 18-year-olds entering higher education from disadvantaged backgrounds is at record levels. We use 18-year-old full-time rates in our calculations because they are the most up-to-date information that we have; we acknowledge that there has been a decline in part-time entrants, but it has been no more pronounced for disadvantaged entrants than for advantaged entrants.

On the subject of part-time students, it is worth mentioning one of the general duties set out in HERA:

“In performing its functions, the OfS must have regard to…the need to promote…greater choice…in the provision of higher education”.

That includes choice over means of provision, including via part-time study or distance learning. The OfS also targets an element of its teaching grant at part-time study, recognising its additional cost; £72 million was made available for that purpose in 2017-18, and the same amount was allocated in 2018-19.

Quite rightly, the hon. Gentleman brought up the subject of care leavers. Our guidance to the OfS asks it to monitor care leavers as a key target group, which it has done. We expect to see providers focusing on that in their access and participation plans. Whether to add age and disability is a decision for the OfS, but I am pleased that it has included that in its consultation, as we asked.

The point about outcomes for students is important. The transparency duty covers not only offers made, but the number of disadvantaged students who complete their courses and attain a particular degree.

Finally, on staff data, HE providers are autonomous, as the hon. Gentleman is aware. Data on HE staff is published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

I know that hon. Members have a keen and understandable interest in the implementation of HERA. There is no doubt that today’s scrutiny has played a vital role in ensuring that the reform promised by that Act is achieved. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft West of England Combined Authority (Adult Education Functions) Order 2018 Draft Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authorthy (Adult Education Functions) Order 2018

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Graham Stringer

† Beckett, Margaret (Derby South) (Lab)

† Brereton, Jack (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)

† Fletcher, Colleen (Coventry North East) (Lab)

† Fysh, Mr Marcus (Yeovil) (Con)

† Henderson, Gordon (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con)

† Jones, Graham P. (Hyndburn) (Lab)

† Jones, Susan Elan (Clwyd South) (Lab)

Malhotra, Seema (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)

† Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool South) (Lab)

† Milton, Anne (Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills)

† Morton, Wendy (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)

† Pearce, Teresa (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)

† Prentis, Victoria (Banbury) (Con)

† Scully, Paul (Sutton and Cheam) (Con)

† Shapps, Grant (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con)

† Smith, Royston (Southampton, Itchen) (Con)

Thomas, Gareth (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)

Jack Dent, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 23 October 2018

[Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Draft West of England Combined Authority (Adult Education Functions) Order 2018

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft West of England Combined Authority (Adult Education Functions) Order 2018.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (Adult Education Functions) Order 2018.

I call the Minister to speak to both instruments. At the end of the debate, I will ask her to move the second motion formally.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

It is a pleasure to serve with you on the Committee, Mr Stringer.

The orders, if approved and made, will provide for the transfer of certain adult education functions and associated adult education budgets to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and West of England combined authorities, and provide an opportunity for them to help their residents fulfil their potential. In 2015 and 2016, through a series of devolution deals agreed between the Government and the combined authorities, we made the commitment to fully devolve the adult education budget—AEB—and the orders will deliver on that commitment.

The orders are made under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 and will transfer certain adult education functions set out in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 from the Secretary of State to the combined authorities in relation to the area of each specified authority for the academic year 2019-20 and thereafter. The transfer does not include the functions in so far as they relate to apprenticeships or those subject to adult detention.

In the 2015 spending review, the Government made available £1.5 billion annually until 2020 for the AEB. Across England, that support to help adults with the skills and learning they need is vital in equipping them for work, an apprenticeship or further learning, and it acts as an integral stepping stone, particularly for those who have suffered a disadvantage. In 2016-17, the AEB supported adults to study courses in English, maths and English for speakers of other languages—ESOL—for level 2 or 3 qualifications and a wide range of community learning provision.

Combined authorities and, indeed, all local authorities have a role to play in supporting the introduction of T-levels, including working with employers to provide high-quality industry placements. Each combined authority has its own needs and circumstances. In my view, local authorities, including combined authorities, are fantastic enablers and facilitators. We are working with combined authorities, businesses and learning providers to establish how skills provision and reforms can be best shaped to fit the needs of local areas.

The orders will transfer certain adult education functions in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 from the Secretary of State to the combined authorities in relation to their area, and enable the transfer to them of the relevant part of the AEB. In particular, the following functions will be exercisable by the combined authority in relation to its area instead of by the Secretary of State: section 86, which relates to the education and training of persons aged 19 or over; section 87, which relates to the learning aims of such persons and the provision of facilities; and section 88, which relates to the payment of tuition fees for such persons.

Conditions are set out in relation to the transferred functions, in particular that the combined authority must have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State and adopt eligibility rules in accordance with any direction of the Secretary of State. The Department for Education will transfer the relevant part of the AEB to the combined authority to undertake the functions. It will be the responsibility of each area to manage its overall AEB allocation efficiently and effectively to meet the needs of its population.

Before the introduction of the orders, the Department considered business cases from the combined authorities for implementation funding, in preparation for the transfer of functions. After evaluating the cases, the Department agreed to provide appropriate implementation funding to support the combined authorities’ preparations and ensure that each area was able to prepare effectively for taking on the functions.

From the 2019-20 academic year, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and West of England combined authorities will be responsible for providing funding for statutory entitlements for eligible learners in maths and English up to and including level 2, the first full level 2 qualifications for learners aged 19 to 23, the first full level 3 qualifications for learners aged 19 to 23, and the forthcoming digital skills entitlement.

It is stating the obvious to say that skills are an essential driver of economic growth. Devolution gives the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and West of England combined authorities the opportunity to address the skills challenges that they face and improve economic growth in their areas. I have a number of examples of the good work going on in both areas. I will not detain the Committee unnecessarily by going through them now, but I would be happy to share that information with any hon. Members should they like me to do so.

Despite the social and economic strengths in these areas, a number of key challenges remain. Out of approximately 31,000 national lower super output areas, the West of England Combined Authority has one area that is ranked 65; a ranking of 1 denotes the most deprived area nationally. There are 43 LSOAs in the combined authority area that fall within the 10% most deprived LSOAs nationally. Both the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and West of England combined authorities have skills shortages and hard-to-fill vacancies that are constraining local businesses.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority has five areas that it has identified as major growth sectors: aerospace and defence, clean technology, agri-tech, creative and digital, and life sciences. Additionally, seven sectors are important to growth in the area but face persistent and significant skills gaps: advanced manufacturing, food manufacturing, logistics and warehousing, health, information and communications technology, financial services and construction. That is quite a list.

The position is similar for the West of England Combined Authority. In 2016, 23% of respondents to the West of England local enterprise partnership’s employer skills survey reported that they faced some sort of skills gap—that compared with 14% nationally, according to the 2015 survey of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills—with the greatest skills gaps being technical in nature. Some 805 employers reported that they had a vacancy, with 46% stating that vacancies were hard to fill.

Through these orders, the combined authorities can deliver a step change to support their residents into good jobs, with opportunities for people to progress and develop; improve the earnings potential of their low-paid, low-skilled workers; deliver a thriving and productive economy; and, critically, harness the collaborative enthusiasm of business, local authorities, the third sector and the public sector.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and to face again my colleague the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills across the room. We might be tempted to feel that this is groundhog day, because this is the third such set of statutory instruments, but all SIs have their particularities.

In her peroration, the Minister rightly touched on some of the paradoxes in relatively wealthy—I will not say “absolutely wealthy”—combined authorities, with skills gaps and other things. In the previous SIs, we have talked about some of the tensions—creative tensions, we hope—between the demands of place and sector in relation to moving much more quickly to the devolution of funding for non-adult apprenticeships and other skills, but we are not here today to talk about that in detail.

I want to pick up on some of the particular issues—indeed, the Minister touched on this in her comments—with these two combined authorities. Looking at the explanatory memorandum that we have been given, which must have been provided for all three of the Committees considering these sets of SIs, it is relatively heartening that, while they are varied, each of them refers to consultations that were undertaken by the proto-combined authorities. That is helpful and encouraging.

It is always difficult to get a broader response than from businesses that will be directly affected, but it is important to do so. You and I know, Mr Stringer—you know this only too well from your own personal experience in local government—how important it is to take people with us on a process. We also know what pitfalls can occur if we do not take people with us. The West of England Combined Authority undertook a major consultation in 2016; more than 2,000 individuals responded via survey and 14 organisations provided a response. Just less than half agreed that the WECA would ensure that skills and training provision would be better tailored to meet local needs.

The Minister alluded to the situation in the west of England. I am reliably informed, not least by WECA’s own website, that the west of England has one of the most skilled workforces in the country—42% of graduates choose to remain there and almost 48% of people are educated to degree level—but of course they have all sorts of needs, which the Minister has mentioned. The combined authority will assume responsibility for the apprenticeship grant. When describing how it proposes to handle that, it talks about how it will be used alongside mainstream apprenticeship participation funding to incentivise employers, but the authority has agreed to vary the criteria associated with the grant size to meet local needs. The ability to vary according to local circumstances will obviously be crucial in all the combined authority SIs that have come before us, but as I say, this combined authority has paid particular attention to it.

I was also pleased to see that, in its proposals and preparation for the devolution of adult education funding decisions, the combined authority talks quite strongly about the need to work with the Department for Work and Pensions to focus on those with a health condition or disability and the very long-term unemployed. The Minister, I know, given her own health background in Government, will understand the need for these devolved authorities to work collaboratively with other Departments, particularly in adult education. It is encouraging to see at this stage that that is what the West of England is keen to do.

The Minister also touched on the more difficult challenges in the West of England. She referred to one particular area that was very high on the disadvantaged scale. I was encouraged to see that, in its plans under the heading of apprenticeships and technical education, the West of England wants to develop new projects to support apprenticeships, working with the Careers & Enterprise Company.

Particularly—it does not say so specifically, but I will take a guess that it is Bristol—the area wants to work with the apprenticeship ambassador network, including the youth network and, indeed, the Bristol black and ethnic minority apprenticeships pilots. I am sure that the Minister will be aware of the keen interest that the Mayor of Bristol has taken in those projects; he has spoken on a number of occasions and he spoke very strongly about it at our party conference only a month ago. It is important, although overall we are dealing with a relatively well-off combined authority, that particular areas such as Bristol are looked at.

The orders in respect of Cambridge and Peterborough have also been the subject of the proper consultations and slightly more people responded. More than 4,000 people had their say, according to the Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority, or CPCA. This is interesting, because the question about adult education was not asked in quite the same way that the Government are dealing with it, but nevertheless I will give the figures. Asked for their views on giving the CPCA responsibility for adult education and skills training for people aged 19 and over, 74% of respondents to the online survey said they were supportive, and in the independent survey, which consulted a lot of businesses, 78% demonstrated their support. That might be something for the Minister to ponder.

The distinctive characteristic of Cambridge and Peterborough, which the combined authority rightly refers to, is its world-class higher education offering. There is the University of Cambridge, but also Anglia Ruskin University, which I had the privilege of visiting, wearing my other hat, and between them they represent the two thrusts in the area. When we talk about adult education, although we rightly think about the bread and butter things that can be done in skills and further education, we must not forget that such education needs to be—I will not stray beyond the statutory instrument we are considering—a key part of the mix in higher education, not least in view of the retraining and reskilling that we will require in the future, whatever the future may bring.

I had a quick look at the combined authority’s website today and I am glad to see that it has already hosted—last Wednesday—a market engagement workshop, with 33 attendees from 29 providers, some from within and some from outside the county. That makes the point that, although the Government are devolving the support to discrete areas, it is not as if there were a Berlin wall around the area, and the ripples from that part of the country to other areas are important. That is one reason why the CPCA and, I think, the Government, have recognised the importance of the Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes corridor. The CPCA is very ambitious with its strategic spatial framework, which is entitled, “Towards a Sustainable Growth Strategy to 2050”, by which time, if the good Lord spares us, the skills Minister and I may yet be in an emeritus and distinguished third age adviser role on such things—I will not trespass any further on our personal chronologies.

Again, the combined authority makes the point that Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s surrounding districts have strong functional links with the authority area. As the Minister and I said in a previous Statutory Instrument Committee, both the areas that we are discussing have a mix of areas—small towns, rural areas and cities—and it is important that in the devolution process they work hard on all those aspects.

On skills, not just for younger people but for older people, it is interesting that in its strategic document the CPCA gives an outline of participation in higher education and training across the combined authority area. Although it is perfectly true to say—looking at the hatchings on the map—that the vast majority of the area is doing well, certainly regarding the participation of young people in the so-called POLAR quintile, a number of areas in the north score very low on participation. The paradox is that we will have shortages of certain skills because people are very well trained, and those shortages could be exacerbated after Brexit, whatever its outcome. That is an additional reason for us to press forward with the devolution of skills in these areas.

I conclude by picking up on the implications of the process across the areas covered by all six statutory instruments, including Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and the West of England. The Minister will recall that, when we started on this odyssey with the Greater Manchester and West Midlands combined authorities, I raised the issue of the transitional funding and arrangements, and drew her attention to the particular problems of the Workers’ Educational Association. It is a national body that has worked for many decades—in some cases more than 100 years—in all of the six areas. It finds itself caught between the devil and the deep blue sea in the process of transition and is finding it hard to know where to get funding.

The Minister and I had a brief exchange on that, and I understand the Government’s current position. Since we had that exchange, it has come to my attention that, regrettably, at least one of the existing city regions has said that the WEA will not be prioritised for grant funding because the primary focus will be on residents. I do not want to comment further on that matter and I imagine that the WEA will makes its own representations to the Minister, but it brings us back to the following point. If the Minister and her Department cannot offer transitional funding from their budget, given the rosier news that the Chancellor had this morning about the PSBR and other things, it would be helpful if the Chancellor could recognise this matter in his forthcoming Budget.

With those observations, I will conclude, Mr Stringer. As I have said on previous occasions, we thoroughly support the objectives of this process, including for the two local areas that we are discussing today, and we will not oppose the motions.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

The hon. Gentleman and I agree on many things—maybe not all—and this is one. I acknowledge his points on the issue of transition. Not everybody was here last time, so I will repeat that transition is always difficult and I know there are particular issues for the WEA. I want to mention a few of the important points that the hon. Gentleman made. Wealthy areas may have significant pockets of deprivation that get overlooked among the leafy suburbs. That is a shame and this is an opportunity for the combined authorities to address that.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the world-class university at Cambridge and the ripples that need to go out from it. I think that is right. When there is a very high graduate population there is always a tendency, in this place and elsewhere, to forget the 50% or so who do not go to university or have the benefit of a degree. Many of them have talents and skills, but they have somehow got lost on the educational train. I hope that Cambridgeshire and the West of England use this opportunity to pick that up.

I would mention one other project that includes Bristol. It is a five cities project that focuses on increasing diversity and inclusion, especially in apprenticeships. The figures in an area like Bristol are truly shocking. In some wards 90% of young people go to university and in other wards the figure is down at 2%. No self-respecting local authority should be happy with such figures.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Anglia Ruskin university, and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough offer one example I will pull out. They are involved as the skills specialist in the feasibility study for bringing a new Cambridgeshire Academy of Transportation, Logistics and Sustainable Energies to the area. Maybe devolution is an opportunity for local authorities and combined authorities to pick slightly catchier titles for their initiatives and deliver more opportunities for people to take up skills and produce initiatives, projects and working groups that mean something to their local population, because some initiatives are slightly lost on even many of us in the Government.

Question put and agreed to.

Draft Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (Adult Education Functions) Order 2018

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (Adult Education Functions) Order 2018.—(Anne Milton.)

Committee rose.

European Committee

Exchanging Data with non-EU Countries

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Nigel Evans

† Bowie, Andrew (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (Con)

† Byrne, Liam (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab)

Davies, Geraint (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op)

† Davies, Mims (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales)

Elliott, Julie (Sunderland Central) (Lab)

† Elmore, Chris (Ogmore) (Lab)

† Hollingbery, George (Minister for Trade Policy)

† James, Margot (Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries)

† Jones, Darren (Bristol North West) (Lab)

† Lewer, Andrew (Northampton South) (Con)

† Lopez, Julia (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con)

† Pow, Rebecca (Taunton Deane) (Con)

† Smeeth, Ruth (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab)

Gail Poulton, Jeanne Delebarre, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

European Committee B

Tuesday 23 October 2018

[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Exchanging Data with non-EU Countries

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

Before we begin, it may assist the Committee and those in the Gallery if I briefly outline the procedures that we use in European Committees. First, a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, who I understand to be Darren Jones in this case, will make a statement of no more than five minutes on that Committee’s decision to refer the document for debate. The Minister—or in this case both Ministers—will make a statement for up to 10 minutes. Members of the Committee may not make interventions during either statement. Questions to the Ministers will follow. The total time for the Ministers’ statement and the subsequent question and answer session is up to one hour. A Minister will then move the motion and debate will take place.

Although we would ordinarily conclude our proceedings by 5 pm, those who know better than I suggest that we may have a Division at 3 o’clock, in which case I will suspend the Committee for 15 minutes. That time will be added on at the end. If everyone is happy, does a member of the European Scrutiny Committee wish to make a statement?

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I declare my interest, which is in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am a member of the European Scrutiny Committee and of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which both have an interest in this area. I apologise on behalf of my many colleagues who were not able to join us today.

The exchange of personal data between the UK and the EU is vital for current business, the functioning of public services, security and policing, and future trade. Whether it is used by innovative, cutting-edge new businesses or modernising old industries, data is at the heart of revolutionising the way we work and the way we live our daily lives. Data is becoming so pervasive that this issue affects both our constituents and the organisations we often refer to in such debates. The General Data Protection Regulation has brought data protection to the minds of many people who may not previously have spent much time thinking about it, and data breaches by big-name companies, digital or otherwise, keep the issue in the headlines. That is why we are having this important debate.

Although the European Scrutiny Committee thanks the Government for agreeing to schedule the debate, we are disappointed that it is not on the Floor of the House as we requested, particularly as a wide range of Select Committee Members, who unfortunately could not be here, have an interest in the topic. I hope the debate sheds light on the Government’s position on personal data flows in three different Brexit scenarios and in the post-Brexit world—if, as I keep saying, Brexit actually happens.

First, how will personal data transferred from the EU to the UK during a transition period be treated after that period? I understand that is one of the so-called separation issues to be dealt with under the withdrawal agreement—specifically article 67 of that agreement, which states that personal data needs to be processed in accordance with European Union law during any transition period, and thereafter in respect of what happens in the agreement. Will the Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries update us on the negotiations with the European Union about how safeguards will be put in place during a transition period and, in respect of data flows within such a period, under a new regime when it comes to an end? We were reassured by the Brexit Secretary both on the Floor of the House and in the Select Committee that there has been real progress in that area, so a general update would be welcome.

Secondly, what happens if a withdrawal agreement is not ratified before the UK’s exit on 29 March 2019? The Government recognise in their no deal guidance that there is not yet an agreed timetable for putting an adequacy decision in place in the event of no deal. Leaving with no deal would mean leaving with no data-sharing agreement. Without an adequacy decision, data could continue to be transferred only on the basis of alternative safeguards set out under GDPR—namely, standard contractual clauses for businesses and organisations. Will the Minister therefore set out what assessment her Department has made of the feasibility and cost to business of having to comply with such alternative safeguards in the case of a no deal Brexit? What is her view of the pending European Court of Justice case on the validity of standard contractual clauses, Data Protection Commissioner v. Facebook Ireland Ltd and others—the Schrems II case—in respect of the Government’s no deal advice?

Thirdly, for the post-Brexit world, the Government have repeatedly said on the Floor of the House that they seek to achieve a data-sharing agreement that goes beyond adequacy. There was some debate about whether that might be the basis of an agreement between the UK and the EU or reliant on the adequacy decision, which is of course unilaterally made by the European Commission. While we have debated that on a few occasions, I am still not clear about the Government’s preferred method, although I note that in the motion the adequacy unilateral decision is the “starting point”. Will the Minister set out today whether any enhanced arrangement beyond adequacy is realistic given the state of the Brexit negotiations, and what the position is on the UK’s proposal for a beyond adequacy agreement? Will she comment on the Government’s response to the Exiting the European Union Committee’s report on data, which suggests that enhanced adequacy involves some form of participation of the UK in EU data bodies and/or in a one-stop shop, which would involve an agreement to allow the relevant European Court jurisdiction and/or jurisprudence?

Finally, on future trade, does the Minister for Trade Policy envisage future trade deals including constituent or adjacent horizontal clauses on data sharing, to align with European standards in third-country trade deals? Will he confirm whether the clauses try simply to tackle data-sharing non-tariff barriers, or if they are envisaged to have an additional effect that could assist the UK in maintaining data-sharing safeguards with the European Union? Lastly, if possible, will he update the Committee as to the status of any proposed EU-UK agreement at treaty level, and what if any lessons have been learned from, for example, the EU-Japan free trade agreement?

I add on behalf of the European Scrutiny Committee that we still await a response to the questions posed on this topic in our report of 12 September. I am sure that the Ministers will take the opportunity today to answer any more general questions but, if not, I look forward to a commitment that we will receive that response in due course.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I thank the hon. Member for Bristol North West for running through the European Scrutiny Committee’s proposals for this afternoon’s debate. My colleague the Minister for Trade Policy and I welcome the opportunity to debate this important subject. The cross-cutting nature of data in trade agreements and its significance for our Departments mean that we will both make an opening statement and participate in the question-and-answer session. We have agreed to be brief and to stay within the conventional 10 minutes.

The free flow of data, with citizens who are rightly confident that their data, particularly their personal data, will be protected, is integral to our economy and vital for law enforcement co-operation before, during and post Brexit. The amount of data that we generate as citizens and businesses is increasing rapidly. Data flows help to ensure not only that people get paid and that health services can co-operate, but that people can live their lives. They affect all consumers and businesses. As we leave the EU, the UK will continue to be at the forefront of driving up standards and protecting individual citizens’ privacy, while ensuring that data continues to grow and be processed legally.

Many of the issues that we will touch on came up during the passage of our Data Protection Act 2018, and we welcomed the debates in the House on citizens’ privacy rights. I am proud of the Act, of our world-class regulator and that the UK has high standards of data protection, in line with the GDPR and the law enforcement directive. The Government have solidified the UK’s presence as a global leader in data protection. As such, we laid the foundations to forge trade agreements and take up a leadership role in promoting the free flow of data with high data protection standards. We believe that the provisions of trade agreements on the free flow of data and robust data protection frameworks are not in conflict. In fact, they should be mutually reinforcing. The Government have worked with the European Commission and member states to push for ambitious data clauses in trade deals to reduce protectionist barriers. We continue to engage with the Commission on their proposals.

The Government are looking forward to striking trade deals with provisions that lower barriers to cross-border data flow and, in particular, to deal with data localisation requirements, which can act as a protectionist force, locking companies out of overseas markets. We want to see data flow freely across national boundaries to allow enterprise, new ideas and economies to flourish within the close confines of data protection. That approach will align us with the growing digital economy in the European Union while opening up new opportunities in other fast-growing regions of the world.

I look forward to our debate. Negotiations with the European Union are live, so my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade Policy and I are somewhat constrained in what we can say, but I hope we can give the Committee enough detail during questions as we set out with clarity the advantages of our data and trade policy.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

The free flow of data, including personal data, is crucial to international co-operation and trade in the modern world, but it must be underpinned by high data protection standards. Because so much digital data involved in business and trade today includes at least some personal data, it is vital that the UK pursues trade rules in this area that provide clarity and certainty to industry and individuals so that personal data may continue to flow securely and freely while remaining protected.

I want to emphasise how the Government are committed to facilitating data flows as a key driver of global trade and the lifeblood of today’s digitalised economies while ensuring that rights to data protection and privacy are safeguarded. Data flows are vital not only to high-tech industries but to traditional sectors, goods and services. A trade framework for the UK and its international trading partners that includes robust commitments enabling cross-border data transfers and prohibiting data localisation is therefore critical for the UK’s future prosperity and economic growth. Even with the vast and numerous benefits to companies, consumers and economies that arise from the ability of organisations to share data easily across borders, dozens of countries are erecting unjustified barriers to cross-border data flows, such as data localisation requirements that seek to confine data within borders. Such a strategy can have a detrimental effect on the free flow of data. Trade agreements that include substantive provisions designed to enable data flow do not undermine data protection or privacy; on the contrary, such provisions tend to reinforce and safeguard protections for personal data and privacy.

Trade provisions often make clear that they do not prevent data from being subjected to data protection regimes and are therefore complementary to data protection and privacy. Countries should therefore be able to apply legitimate measures to protect data travelling to third countries. However, such international transfer regimes can facilitate or hinder the ability of countries to take advantage of trade measures on the grounds of privacy and the right to data protection.

After a period of some years and intense internal debate, we welcome the European Commission’s initiative in tabling proposals on cross-border data flows in trade agreements. That has been a sticking point in the Commission and the EU for a number of years. In particular, we welcome provisions designed to tackle unjustified data localisation requirements, which often serve to reduce trade with and new investment in trading partners, thereby depressing economic development. Although the UK Government see the provisions as a good starting point, we will look to be a world leader in setting clear and ambitious provisions in future trade agreements in this area as well as to shape the new global standards for modern free trade agreements.

Finally, I will have a crack at answering some of the questions from the hon. Member for Bristol North West. We very much welcome the EU’s position, as it has crystallised some of its thoughts and published a substantive text for the first time for use within the EU-Indonesia free trade agreement. We are looking for ambitious provisions to facilitate data flow and ensure that the playing field is level in areas such as data localisation. Any agreement will have to ensure that the high levels of personal data protection are not put at risk. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows well, the GDPR will be directly applicable in UK law straight after Brexit; it will be adopted as our standard. Trade provisions will therefore not form a legal basis for transfers of personal data. In short, we will lay the pipework and allow the playing field to be laid so that data can flow fairly across borders, but it is for others—the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, other authorities and other third-party countries—to turn the taps on or off.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

We now move on to questions to the Ministers. As we have two Ministers, perhaps Members could indicate which one they are directing their question at. This will go on until 3.37 pm, unless we get a Division, in which case injury time will be added.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

May I preface a couple of questions with some initial thoughts, Mr Evans? I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West on bringing this matter to the Committee.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I advise the shadow Minister to be brief, because there will be further opportunities to speak when the debate starts.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

Of course; I appreciate that, Mr Evans.

Like me, my hon. Friend will have been alarmed by the catena of platitudes from both Ministers this afternoon about the importance of data, the importance of trade and the importance of data to trade. We heard absolutely nothing about whether the Ministers are confident of securing an adequacy agreement, especially in the event of a no deal Brexit. As is eloquently set out in the paperwork for today’s hearing, the Ministers know as well as we do that this has to be signed off not only by the European Commission, but by the European Parliament, the article 29 working group and the European data protection supervisor.

Given the imminence of Brexit, I am extremely concerned that we have heard nothing about a timetable or a level of confidence. My question is blunt: in the event of a no deal Brexit, are the Ministers prepared to guarantee to the House this afternoon that a data adequacy agreement will be secured and that free data flows will continue?

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I cannot give him a categorical assurance that an adequacy agreement will be in place at any particular point during the negotiations. I can tell him that the UK Government have made it clear to the Commission that we are ready to commence discussions on a future adequacy agreement, even though the Commission has not indicated that it is yet ready to start such discussions. If we are successful in securing the transition and implementation period, we will stand ready to begin those preliminary discussions on an adequacy assessment during that period. Indeed, we stand ready now, but the Commission has indicated that it is not yet ready.

We agree that our primary goal is to secure an adequacy agreement. Through the recent publication of a technical notice, we have various provisions in place that should allow for the free transfer of data during the period in which we are discussing adequacy but have not yet secured it.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I do not know whether you prefer me to ask these questions standing up or sitting down, Mr Evans.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

Standing up.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

Thank you, Mr Evans. I am grateful for the Minister’s answer, but perhaps she could go further and tell us the precise timetable her officials have given her for what needs to be agreed when. Ultimately, we need to know when an adequacy agreement needs to be in place to ensure the free flow of data after we have left the European Union, which the Prime Minister assures us will happen at the end of March. Given that long stop date, as it were, what is the timetable for securing the necessary agreements from the European Parliament, the article 29 working party and the European data protection supervisor?

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

As I said, the UK is ready to begin preliminary discussions on an adequacy assessment now. I cannot give a cast-iron timetable, because I cannot speak for the European Commission, which is the vital party to such discussions. The ball is in its court. We have indicated that we are ready and willing to start adequacy discussions. We anticipate that those discussions will take place during the transition and implementation period. Through the technical notice, we have established the arrangements that we would put in place if there were to be a gap between our departure from the European Union and the timing of the future framework. We all know what is going on—on both sides—on many fronts, not just data protection.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

My last question is to press the Minister on a single point: by what date must an adequacy agreement be reached and in place to ensure that the free flow of data continues?

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

The Government will ensure the free flow of data, even if there is a gap between the time at which the United Kingdom obtains an adequacy decision and the time at which we leave the European Union. We are scheduled to leave the European Union at the end of March next year. We anticipate that there will be an implementation period that takes us a further 20 months. During that implementation period, we anticipate discussions with the Commission on an adequacy decision.

We cannot guarantee exactly when that adequacy decision will be made. I reassure all members of the Committee that on our departure from the European Union we will be 100% aligned with European data protection law, particularly the provisions of the GDPR. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill and I shared many discussions during proceedings on the Bill. When it received Royal Assent in May this year, it put us in 100% alignment with EU data protection law. We can be optimistic that an adequacy decision will not require the usual length of time that it takes the Commission to bestow such decisions on other third countries. However, the right hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot give a guarantee on that, because to do so is not in the UK Government’s gift. The decision will be forthcoming from the European Union.

If the right hon. Gentleman wants me to tell members of the Committee what will happen if we do not have an adequacy decision, either as we leave the European Union next March or even after the implementation period, I am happy to do so, but he looks as though he wants to intervene.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I am much less sanguine than the Minister about the possibility of an adequacy agreement. As she knows, we will not have article 8 to rest on after we leave the European Union. We have also sketched into the Data Protection Act 2018 sweeping exemptions from the GDPR for anyone who happens to be an immigrant, so I think the European Parliament will have some serious questions for the Minister about the adequacy agreement. Do we need an adequacy agreement in place to cover the implementation period, or not?

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I am not sanguine about anything to do with this; it is a serious matter. I may be optimistic, but there is a lot of work to be done, and I cannot guarantee when an adequacy decision will be made. I can only state categorically that it is the Government’s intention to prioritise discussions in relation to adequacy with the European Union, such that we get an adequacy decision as soon as it is practically possible for the European Commission to grant us one.

We have put in place some exemptions to the GDPR, as have other member states, but we have done so in a framework that permits member states to apply such derogations and exemptions. Other member states will have put in place similar or different exemptions. I contest the right hon. Gentleman’s statement that the exemptions are “sweeping” in respect of immigration. I remember the debates well. The powers are extremely contained, and they were amended on Report to constrain them even further.

I can answer questions about the measures that we will put in place if there is a gap between the granting of an adequacy decision and our departure from the European Union—and, indeed, after the implementation period, assuming the implementation period is agreed.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 5191/17, a Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and Council on Exchanging and Protecting Data in a Globalised World, and an Unnumbered European Union proposal for provisions on Cross-border data flows and protection of personal data and privacy; welcomes the adequacy framework as an effective means of ensuring a free flow of data from the EU to third countries; and further notes that in the context of the UK leaving the EU it provides the right starting point.—(Margot James.)

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

Does the Minister wish to say any further words?

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I have made my opening statement and I have answered questions. I have indicated my willingness to answer further questions, should they arise during the debate, but I have nothing further to say at this stage.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I am slightly alarmed by the content of this afternoon’s debate. Perhaps it might be easier for everyone if I tabled several parliamentary questions to follow up on the debate.

I am not clear whether adequacy discussions have begun in detail; I am not clear whether an adequacy agreement is needed for the implementation period; and I am not sure about the Minister’s level of confidence that an adequacy agreement will crystallise and be in place by the time the implementation period finishes. I have heard nothing about the Government’s assessment of the attitude in the European Parliament and the other organisations that have to sign off the decision. I am afraid that today’s debate has opened rather more questions than it has closed.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.