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Written Statements

Volume 659: debated on Wednesday 1 May 2019

Written Statements

Wednesday 1 May 2019

Health and Social Care

Health and Social Care Providers

Yesterday, 30 April 2019, Four Seasons healthcare group announced that they have appointed Richard Fleming, Mark Firmin and Richard Beard (Alvarez and Marsal) as administrators to Elli Investments Limited (EIL Guernsey) and Elli Finance (UK) Plc (EFUK). These two companies between them hold £625 million of the company’s debt. It has also announced the launch of an independent sales process of the operational parts of the group, Four Seasons healthcare, Brighterkind and the Huntercombe group, which will continue to deliver care as normal.

The group has been going through financial restructuring negotiations with its main creditor H/2 Capital Partners since December 2017 with a standstill agreement on its interest payments in place. This agreement has been extended several times, with the latest of these having expired at 23:59 on 29 April. The planned sale of the operating businesses, through an independent, court appointed administrator, will now bring greater certainty to those in care, their families and the 22,000 people employed by the company.

I would like to update the House on the steps being taken to assure people with care and support needs currently being met by the Four Seasons healthcare group that they should not see a gap in their care service—no matter how their care is funded.

I have met with the company and the administrator to seek assurance that they are putting the continuity of care at the forefront of this process and that there will be no sudden care home closures. I am pleased to confirm that they have provided both me and the Care Quality Commission with this reassurance.

In the event that a buyer is not found for any of the care homes, the company has undertaken to manage any future plans around the transition of care with great sensitivity, taking time to ensure that residents are supported to find a new home.

In 2014, the law was changed giving the CQC a new responsibility to monitor the financial sustainability of the largest and most-difficult-to-replace care providers across the country. That means the CQC has a legal duty to notify local authorities if it considers there to be a credible risk of service disruption (stage 6 notification) as a result of business failure so that they have more time to prepare their plans to protect individuals. The CQC is clear that there is no current risk of service disruption and is not issuing a stage 6 notification to local authorities at this time.

The Care Act 2014 also places duties on local authorities to intervene to protect individuals where their care provider is no longer able to carry on because of business failure. There should never be a gap in the care that an individual receives. Local authorities have a statutory duty under section 48(2) of the Care Act to meet the needs of individuals temporarily if their care provider is no longer able to carry on. Business failure is a normal part of a functioning market and local authorities have appropriate plans in place to minimise disruption of services

The CQC and my Department are closely monitoring the situation. They are also working closely with the Local Government Association, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, NHS England and Four Seasons healthcare group to ensure that individuals’ care and support needs continue to be met.

[HCWS1532]

Housing, Communities and Local Government

Building Safety: Combustible Materials

The Government’s building safety programme has focused primarily on immediate interim mitigation actions and permanent replacement of unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) panels on high-rise buildings because of the acute risks posed by such panels.

In addition, we have banned the use of combustible materials in the exterior walls of all new residential buildings over 18 metres in height and certain other new high-rise buildings. We have acted on the advice of the Government’s independent expert advisory panel (IEAP) and issued advice to building owners about the steps they should take to ensure the safety of their existing buildings with other external wall systems that do not incorporate ACM, reiterating that the clearest way to ensure safety is to remove any unsafe materials. This advice was first issued in December 2017 and updated in December 2018 in the Department’s advice note 14:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-building-safety-programme#advice-notes

The IEAP also advised the Department to establish a research project to test and improve the evidence available on the behaviour of a range of non-ACM materials used in cladding systems when subjected to fire. The Building Research Establishment (BRE), has been commissioned to undertake this project.

The materials to be tested are: copper and zinc composite materials; aluminium honeycomb panels; high-pressure laminate panels; brick slips; and reconstituted stone. Tests will be carried out over the coming weeks and are expected to conclude in early summer.

A number of parameters characterising the behaviours of materials in a fire will be considered. The aim of the tests is to provide comparative data to enable an assessment of relative risks. There is no simple pass or fail criterion for each test. A copy of the methodology has been put in the Library of the House.

A full picture of the outcomes of the tests can only be provided following a detailed analysis of all the test data. We expect this analysis to be completed in the summer and we will publish the conclusions of the programme thereafter.

If any tests suggest an immediate public safety concern, the Government will consult the IEAP urgently, consider appropriate action, and inform the House and public accordingly.

In the meantime, building owners should follow the advice set out in advice note 14.

[HCWS1533]

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Executive

This statement is issued in accordance with section 4 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 (EFEF Act). Section 4 of the Act requires that I, as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, report on a quarterly basis on guidance issued under that section of the Act. It also required me to report on how I plan to address the impact of the absence of Northern Ireland Ministers on human rights obligations within three months of the day the Act was passed.

The Act received Royal Assent on 1 November 2018. Following careful consideration of the sensitive issues section 4 deals with, and in consultation with the Northern Ireland civil service, guidance under section 4 was published on 17 December 2018.

The first report required under section 4 was published as a written ministerial statement on 30 January 2019. It is again worth reiterating that abortion and same sex-marriage are devolved matters in Northern Ireland, and neither the EFEF Act nor the section 4 guidance change Northern Ireland’s law in relation to these issues or enable the law to be changed by way of guidance issued in my capacity as Secretary of State.

I appeared before the Women and Equalities Committee on 27 February 2019 to provide evidence as part of its enquiry into abortion law in Northern Ireland. I welcome the Committee’s work on this important issue and the report it published on 25 April 2019. The Government will carefully consider the Committee’s report and recommendations and respond in due course.

As before, I have consulted the head of the Northern Ireland civil service in the preparation of this report. He has advised that the Northern Ireland Departments continue to note the guidance and comply with their legal obligations when exercising any relevant functions in relation to abortion and same sex-marriage. He has also confirmed that relevant Departments are also considering the Women and Equalities Committee’s report.

I continue to believe that the current absence of devolved government in Northern Ireland should not dislodge the principle that it is for the devolved administration to both legislate on, and ensure compliance with, human rights obligations in relation to such devolved matters. I would encourage a restored Executive to progress legislation on these issues as a matter of priority.

Restoring the Executive remains my absolute priority. As I announced on Friday 26 April 2019, the Government have agreed, together with the Irish Government, to establish a new process of political talks, involving all the main political parties in Northern Ireland, in accordance with the three-stranded approach. The aim of these talks, commencing on 7 May 2019, is to quickly re-establish the democratic institutions of the Belfast agreement so that they can effectively serve all of the people for the future. I am firmly of the view that the people of Northern Ireland need their elected representatives back in government to take important decisions on the issues that matter most to them.

As I have previously stated, I will keep the Government’s position on abortion and same-sex marriage under review in the light of the UK Government’s legal obligations, and in the light of any relevant emerging legal judgments, as appropriate.

[HCWS1530]

Transport

Heathrow Expansion

The Government welcome today’s judgments from the High Court in the judicial review of the airports national policy statement. Of 26 grounds, all were dismissed with 21 of the 26 not even held to be arguable. The positive outcome confirms my belief that Government undertook a robust process in coming to their decision to support a new northwest runway at Heathrow airport by 2030. This was one of the largest public law challenges of all time and I am pleased that the hard work of the independent Airports Commission and the Department has been shown in good light. In designating the airports national policy statement, this Government demonstrated their willingness to take difficult decisions, resolving an issue with which successive administrations had grappled for decades.

Heathrow expansion is more important than ever as we plan to exit the EU. Connectivity to our only aviation hub airport is vital to productivity, and expansion is critical if global Britain is to attract inward investment and increase trade with new and fast growing overseas markets. It would better connect the UK to the rest of world with an extra 16 million long-haul seats available by 2040. Heathrow expansion is a decision that benefits communities up and down the country—as well as the tens of thousands of local jobs it would create, expansion is expected to increase the number of domestic routes from our hub airport to 14; we have already seen the arrival of direct flights to Newquay, allowing easy access to the UK’s only hub airport from the southwest.

In addition to new international and domestic routes, we would expect there to be increased competition on existing routes, giving greater choice to passengers. Heathrow Airport Limited has also made good progress on its logistics hub proposals—these aim to leave a lasting skills legacy across the UK. Today’s decisions by the Court are another step towards realising these benefits.

This Government recognise that airport expansion cannot be at any cost. Expansion at Heathrow would only take place in compliance with air quality legal limits. For those communities impacted by the scheme, a world class package of mitigations would be provided and, despite the third runway, a future Heathrow would be quieter than it was in 2013 as new, quieter, planes come online and robust noise mitigations are rolled out. To get people to and from the expanded airport, Heathrow must ensure more people travel by public transport—supported by the expected development of western and southern rail links.

I want to address climate change where the UK continues to lead internationally. While international aviation emissions currently represent less than 2% of total global emissions, we recognise the challenge that decarbonisation of aviation represents. International aviation emissions are currently excluded from UK carbon budgets—this is consistent with the Paris agreement, which looks to the International Civil Aviation Organisation to provide leadership. The UK supports this approach and is continuing to lead negotiations on this issue. In coming to our decision to support expansion at Heathrow, the Airports Commission and the Department concluded that expansion is possible within the UK’s current climate change obligations and the Committee on Climate Change’s recommended limit for aviation emissions. We are clear that expansion would only take place if it would not materially impact the ability of Government to meet their carbon reduction targets now and in the future.

The Government are currently consulting on their aviation strategy Green Paper, which creates a plan for sustainable growth that benefits the whole of the UK to 2050 and beyond. In developing the strategy, we will carefully consider the Committee on Climate Change’s forthcoming advice on the implications of the Paris agreement for the UK’s long-term emissions reduction targets.

Next steps

Scarce taxpayers’ resources—on all sides—would be better spent elsewhere. If the Court grants permission for any appeals, we will seek to have them dealt with as quickly as possible. However, I urge all parties, particularly local authorities and community groups affected by the proposals, to move forward and engage closely with the planning process. As part of this, Heathrow Airport Limited has said it will undertake a consultation on its scheme masterplan in June. This will provide an opportunity for interested parties to give their views on the emerging scheme design. Heathrow would then apply for development consent which would be considered by the planning inspectorate, before a recommendation is made to Government.

Outside of the planning process, the Civil Aviation Authority will continue to work with industry and Heathrow to ensure expansion can be delivered in a timely, financeable and affordable manner that is in the best interests of the consumer.

This Government have taken the right decision, endorsed by a large majority of MPs, which had been ducked by other Governments for decades. The expansion of Heathrow is vital to our international connectivity and shows confidence in the future prosperity of global Britain. The Court’s decision confirms that the right process was followed throughout. We could not be more pleased with the outcome which will benefit people and businesses the length and breadth of the UK for decades to come.

[HCWS1531]