Thursday 13 December 2018
Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations
I have today placed in the Library of the House a copy of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations (RFCAs) combined annual report and accounts for 2017-18. I am very grateful to the RFCAs for their valuable work in support of the reserve forces and the cadet organisations. I should also like to thank Lieutenant General (Retd) Robin Brims for all he has done as chairman of the Council of RFCAs, as he prepares to step down from the role at the end of the year.
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
The telecommunications formation of the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council took place in Brussels on 4 December 2018. The deputy permanent representative to the EU, Katrina Williams, represented the UK.
The Council began with the formal adoption of legislative “A” points, during which the Council adopted the European electronic communications code (EECC) and body of European regulators of electronic communications (BEREC) proposals. The Austrian presidency then secured a partial general approach on the digital Europe programme, which the UK supported. A progress report and policy debate then took place on the European cybersecurity industrial, technology and research competence centre and the network of national co-ordination centres proposal. Following this, a progress report and exchange of views took place on the ePrivacy regulation.
Afterwards, the Austrian presidency provided information on the progress of current legislative proposals, namely: the recast public sector information directive; the .eu top level domain regulation; and the Cybersecurity Act. The Austrian presidency also provided an update on the state of play of the digital single market. The Council ended with a presentation from the incoming Romanian presidency on their work programme for the first half of 2019 and their priorities for the digital single market. These were: innovation; cybersecurity; skills; and women in tech.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Agriculture and Fisheries Council
As the provisional agenda stands, the only item for fisheries will be a Council regulation on Atlantic and North sea TACs and quotas for 2019, for which a political agreement is sought.
The primary focus for agriculture will be on the post-2020 common agriculture policy (CAP) reform package. Council will consider a progress report, covering three regulations: one on CAP strategic plans; a second on financing, management and monitoring of the CAP; and a third on common market organisation (CMO) of agriculture products.
Council will also hold an exchange of views on the updated EU bio-economy strategy.
There are currently six items scheduled for discussion under any other business:
information from the Croatian delegation on the inter- parliamentary conference “The role of Parliaments in shaping the future of food and farming” (Zagreb, 22-23 November 2018)
information from the Commission on the current legislative proposal on a regulation amending regulations (EU) No. 1305/2013 and (EU) No. 1307/2013 as regards certain rules on direct payments and support for rural development in respect of the years 2019 and 2020
information from the presidency on the conference “The development of Plant Proteins in the European Union—Opportunities and Challenges” (Vienna, 22-23 November 2018)
information from the presidency on massive forest damage in Europe
information from the Commission on the follow-up to the Fipronil incident: state of play of implementation
information from the Danish delegation on the establishment of an international centre for antimicrobial resistance solutions (ICARS) to strengthen the fight against AMR internationally and especially in low and middle-income countries.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Chemical Weapons Convention
On 19 and 20 November 2018, 160 states parties to the chemical weapons convention (CWC) met for the annual conference of states parties (CSP) to discuss implementation of the CWC and agree the annual budget for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). This was the first CSP since the UK and international partners called a special session in June 2018 to address the threat from chemical weapons use following recent use in Syria and Salisbury.
The former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), updated the House on the June special session on 9 July 2018 (HCWS835 and HLWS809). The November CSP was vital to consolidating the success achieved in June and implementing the decision to enable the OPCW to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria, and potentially more widely at the request of an affected state party.
On 20 November, states parties overwhelmingly rejected attempts by Russia, Iran, China and Syria to reverse the June decision. Equally importantly, the CSP voted by 99 votes to 27 to adopt the budget proposed by the OPCW director-general for 2019. This included a 2.4% increase to the budget specifically to fund part of the Syria attribution work and to improve cyber-security. The vote sent a clear signal of broad-based commitment to upholding and strengthening the CWC and the ban on development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons.
The UK is proud to have been at the forefront of diplomatic efforts to secure this positive outcome. We look forward to supporting the OPCW technical secretariat and fellow states parties to enable Syria attribution arrangements to become operational as quickly as possible, and to further discussion of the director-general’s proposals on verification and technical assistance work, including attribution work beyond Syria.
The five yearly review conference, designed to review the operation of the convention, immediately followed the CSP. This year consensus on a final report from the review conference was not possible. This was in part due to Syrian and Russian refusal to include references to Syrian regime responsibility for chemical weapons use, including the findings by the OPCW-UN joint investigative mechanism. A lack of a formal report is not unprecedented and will neither affect continuing implementation of the convention nor prevent implementation of the CSP decisions, including the UK-led June decision.
The UK will continue to work with states around the world to support progress towards universal and effective national implementation of the CWC and to uphold the global ban on chemical weapons, including through the provision of £1.1 million of funding to the OPCW to assist the implementation of the June decision and the OPCW’s work more broadly.
Health and Social Care
Independent Breast Screening Review
The independent breast screening review was announced on 2 May to look into a serious incident in the breast screening programme in England, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of women aged between 68 and 71 not being invited to their final breast screening. I would like to apologise for the distress and suffering caused by this incident.
The review concluded that the policy on the upper age limit for breast screening had been ambiguous since the outset of the programme in 1988. A new specification, issued in November 2013 by the Department of Health and NHS England (NHSE), attempted to clarify how the upper age limit should be defined. However, the specification inadvertently changed the policy, which resulted in a discrepancy between the specification and the IT systems in use, and was not consistently implemented by the breast screening units. This was the source of the incident, which first became apparent in January 2018. The impact of the change in policy was not fully understood at this time.
While subsequent advice provided to the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), was based on an incomplete understanding of what had happened, we welcome the review’s conclusions that the former Secretary of State was correct, based on the information provided, to inform the House of the breast screening incident. The review makes clear that the number of women affected by this incident is significantly lower than previously estimated. Based on the review’s conclusions, Public Health England’s (PHE) current estimate of the number of women who may have had their lives shortened is zero to 34. We agree with the recommendation that PHE progresses as quickly and as sensitively as possible the clinical review with the NHS of all women who may have suffered harm.
The protection of the public’s health has been, and remains, the paramount consideration when responding to this incident. Although PHE was slow to develop a clear understanding of the incident and its causes, we reiterate the review’s praise of the operational response. We would like to put on the record our tremendous gratitude to PHE and the dedicated NHS staff in breast screening centres across England who worked tirelessly to manage significant additional demand and pool capacity across centres to ensure that additional appointments were made available and offered to all women who wanted one.
We agree that there is an urgent need to clarify how we define the upper age limit for breast screening. We will commission the UK National Screening Committee (UKNSC) to provide advice as soon as possible on the scientific evidence to support a precise definition of age. On the basis of the committee’s advice, we will ensure that a new, fit for purpose specification for our national breast screening service is agreed and is reflected in the programme’s delivery. DHSC will work with NHSE and PHE to ensure that the management of local breast screening units, quality assurance of the service they provide, and the national breast screening programme performance indicator are consistent with the new service specification.
We agree it is vital to ensure clarity in roles and responsibilities within each of the national cancer screening programmes, and in accountability arrangements for how these services are commissioned and delivered. We welcome the report’s reference to the comprehensive review of cancer screening programmes by Professor Sir Mike Richards that was recently announced by NHSE. Terms of reference will be published once we have had an opportunity to fully reflect on the review’s recommendations.
We also need to ensure that our current systems adequately support effective delivery and we acknowledge the review’s criticisms that the current national breast screening system (NBSS) is outdated. We welcome the review’s conclusion that the introduction of breast screening select by PHE in 2016 was a step forward. I can confirm that Government have already committed an initial £1.8 million to design a replacement for NBSS.
We will continue to monitor closely all screening IT systems to ensure they are robust and operating as they should. A series of fail-safes to ensure the monitoring of the use of “call and recall” systems within breast screening offices has already been put in place, together with additional national assurance to ensure that these fail-safes are being used effectively.
The AgeX trial will continue as planned. The trial will provide significant new evidence on screening women under 50 and over 70 that simply is not available now, providing the evidence needed to make decisions about the age range for breast screening.
It is essential that we take all necessary actions to learn from the mistakes made. We will consider the review’s report and its recommendations in detail over the coming weeks and will provide a substantive response in the new year. I would like to record my thanks to the co-chairs of the review for their thorough report.
The Government are committed to making it easier for lawful residents to demonstrate their right to work in the UK, and to strengthening the support we provide to employers when complying with the provisions in the Immigration Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 to avoid employing illegal workers.
In April this year, the Home Office launched a new online checking service. This service enables UK employers to check the current right to work, in real time, of a person who holds either a biometric residence permit or a biometric residence card, and to see whether they are subject to any restrictions.
The system works on the basis of the individual first viewing their own Home Office right to work record. They may then share this information with an employer if they wish, by providing their employer with a “share code”, which can be used to access the record. This authorisation represents an important safeguard and means employers will only view an individual’s information having received their consent and the share code allowing their access.
We have worked closely with UK employers and with users of the service in developing this new system, which has been operating effectively to provide employers and migrants with additional assurance where used to support right to work checks.
In order for employers to actually rely on the new online service to discharge their legal responsibilities under illegal working legislation, it is necessary to amend the Immigration (Restrictions on Employment) Order 2007 to properly integrate the service into Home Office legislation which stipulates the checks employers should conduct to avoid a penalty for employing an illegal worker. These checks are currently largely predicated on a face value examination of a physical document.
Today we have laid before Parliament the Immigration (Restrictions on Employment) (Code of Practice and Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2018, in accordance with the 2006 Act, together with a revised code of practice, which provides that employers will be able to rely on an online check from the end of January 2019, where a prospective employee has an immigration status that is compatible with the online checking service (holders of biometric residence permits or cards, and those with online immigration status).
From the end of January 2019, employers will be able to request either the online check or the existing document-based check. Online checks will therefore be a voluntary option while migrants and employers develop familiarity with the new service and take up becomes more prevalent.
The online checking service has also been developed to enable EU migrants granted leave to remain under the EU settlement scheme to view their status and to share it with employers and other service providers where appropriate. Current arrangements, under which EU citizens can demonstrate their right to work in the UK by producing their national passport or identity card, will continue after the UK leaves the European Union and for the entire duration of any implementation period. However, with the latest development, EU nationals may alternatively choose to rely on online status issued following a successful application to the EU settlement scheme, by using the online service to share their right to work with their employer. Further detail on the future immigration system will be set out in a White Paper shortly.
The Immigration (Restrictions on Employment) (Code of Practice and Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2018 also seeks to amend the list of documents which demonstrate a right to work, to remove the requirement that a British birth or adoption certificate must be the full certificate for these purposes. The intention is to make it easier for British citizens who do not hold a passport to demonstrate their right to work, using a short birth or adoption certificate with a national insurance number.
In addition to the order, we have also laid the Licensing Act 2003 (Personal and Premises Licences) (Forms) (Amendment) Regulations 2018. The regulations make consequential amendments to prescribed licence application forms to reflect changes to the order.
Successive UK Governments have introduced measures to tackle illegal working which represents the principal pull factor for illegal immigration to the UK, and the 2018 order underscores our commitment to improve the necessary system of checks for employers and workers alike. I would be happy to arrange a demonstration of the new online service for hon. Members.
Chief Coroner’s Fifth Annual Report
I am pleased to lay and publish the Chief Coroner’s fifth annual report to the Lord Chancellor on the operation of coroner services under section 36 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (“the 2009 Act”). The report covers the period 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018.
In particular the Chief Coroner’s report sets out:
the continuing work to promote consistency in the resourcing of and practices in coroner offices across England and Wales;
the training and guidance that coroners and their officers have received and the engagement with a wide range of stakeholders;
recommendations to improve coroner services further.
I am very grateful to His Honour Judge Mark Lucraft QC for building so effectively on his first year’s achievements.
I am grateful, too, to all coroners and their officers and other staff, for having supported the Chief Coroner to improve services for bereaved people and for their valued and continuing frontline work.
Copies of the report will be available in the Vote Office and in the Printed Paper Office.
The document will also be available online at:
Supreme Court Judgment on the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill
Today the Supreme Court handed down its judgment on the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill. The Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament in March of this year. In April the UK Government’s Law Officers referred the legislation to the Supreme Court for a ruling on whether it is within devolved legislative competence.
As I stated when the Bill was referred to the Supreme Court, given the view of the Presiding Officer that the continuity Bill was not within the legal competence of the Scottish Parliament, it was right to seek clarity. The reference was simply in line with the processes provided for in the Scotland Act 1998, which anticipated such situations occurring.
And so I am grateful to the Supreme Court for examining the issues here and for providing greater clarity. This is not simply a question of where constitutional powers lie, important as those questions are. Greater clarity was needed to ensure that our statute book functions properly and that the law is clear for businesses and individuals.
The UK Government thank the Court for its time in considering this case.
The Court’s judgment that significant parts of the Bill are outside the competence of the Scottish Parliament shows that the UK Government was right to refer the Bill to the Supreme Court. We will now carefully review the Court’s judgment.
We want to continue to work with the Scottish Government to provide much needed clarity for businesses and individuals in Scotland. This has been our aim throughout this process.
I have always been clear that it is in the best interests of the people of Scotland for the UK and Scottish Governments’ to work together as we leave the EU.
This remains my commitment and this will continue following this judgment.
Work and Pensions
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 6 December 2018 in Brussels. The deputy permanent representative to the European Union, Katrina Williams, represented the UK.
Two legislative proposals achieved general approach at the Council. These were the proposed regulation establishing a European labour agency and a third batch of amendments to the worker protection directive on carcinogens and mutagens.
The Council reached political agreement on a recommendation on access to social protection for workers and self-employed and there were presidency conclusions on gender equality, youth and digitalisation.
The Council also discussed the European semester. As part of this agenda item, the Council approved a contribution to the draft recommendation on the economic policy of the euro area made jointly by the Employment Committee (EMCO) and the Social Protection Committee (SPC); endorsed their joint messages on aspects of digitalisation and robotisation; and endorsed EMCO’s key messages on the latest biennial assessment of member states progress tackling long-term unemployment.
There were a number of progress reports and information items during the Council. These included an update on progress in negotiations regarding a regulation on the European globalisation adjustment fund (EGF); a proposal from 2008 for a directive on equal treatment; and a presentation from the Commission on its 2019 “Autumn Package” of annual growth survey, alert mechanism report, and draft joint employment report.
The Council closed with updates on the status of other legislative files, broader developments in the field of employment and social policy, and an overview of the priorities of the incoming Romanian presidency.