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Written Statements

Volume 671: debated on Wednesday 12 February 2020

Written Statements

Wednesday 12 February 2020

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Online Harms

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Baroness Morgan of Cotes, has made the following Statement:

DCMS and the Home Office are today publishing an initial response to the Online Harms White Paper consultation. This is an important step towards our aim of making the UK the safest place in the world to be online, and the best place to start and grow a digital business.

There is widespread public consensus that online platforms must do more to ensure their services are safe for all users, particularly children, while promoting freedom of expression online. Furthermore, a recent Ofcom report showed that 61% of adults and 79% of 12 to 15 year old internet users reported having had at least one potentially harmful experience online in the previous 12 months.

The White Paper set out world-leading proposals to tackle these issues by introducing a statutory duty of care. This will ensure that companies have appropriate systems and processes in place to improve the safety of their users. The duty of care would be enforced by an independent regulator.

We consulted extensively following the White Paper's publication. Today’s initial response reflects the views of a diverse range of stakeholders, including organisations, industry experts, civil society, academia, and the public.

In the response, we set out the direction of travel on a number of the key themes from the consultation. In particular, we are announcing that we are minded to appoint Ofcom as the online harms regulator. Ofcom is a highly respected regulator, possessing the expertise, experience and independence needed to take on this new role.

The Ofcom board have appointed Dame Melanie Dawes as its new chief executive. Given that the Government will be considering the detail of this new regulatory agenda and the role Ofcom will have, and now that the new chief executive is in place, the Government would like a chair to be able to oversee the successful implementation of any changes in full. Lord Burns has therefore agreed to step down to enable a new chair to be in place by the end of this year. He has also agreed to stay on until the new chair is in post to ensure a smooth transition.

The response also sets out some of the explicit safeguards and measures which the regulator will take to protect freedom of expression, and to ensure that the online environment remains one in which open and vibrant discourse can take place. As part of our proposals, we will ensure there are safeguards in the legislation to ensure companies and the new regulator have a clear responsibility to protect users' rights online. We will also introduce greater transparency about the removal of content, with the opportunity for users to appeal, which we are confident will help to safeguard freedom of expression.

Additionally, the consultation reinforced the importance of clarity and certainty for businesses. We are mindful of the need for proportionate regulation, and our regulatory framework will target those platforms which present the greatest risk. The “duty of care” will therefore only apply to companies that facilitate the sharing of user generated content, for example through comments, forums or video sharing. Our analysis so far suggests that fewer than 5% of UK businesses will be in scope of this regulatory framework. Moreover, business to business services, which pose a low risk to individuals and have limited opportunities to address harm, will not have requirements placed on them.

Our proposals will introduce higher levels of protection for children. We will expect companies to use a proportionate range of tools including age assurance and age verification technologies to prevent children from accessing age-inappropriate or harmful content. This would achieve our objective of keeping children safe online, and would also fulfil the aims of the Digital Economy Act to prevent children from being exposed to online pornography.

This is a complex policy area, and work is not yet complete. We will publish a full response to the consultation in the spring, setting out further policy details ahead of legislation. We will continue to engage with interested parties as we shape future proposals.

Our proposals to tackle online harms is part of the Government’s wider work to develop a strategic approach for governing digital technologies. We will ensure our overarching regulatory regime is fundamentally pro-innovation and agile, adapting dynamically to the rapid emergence of new technologies.

I am placing copies of the response in the libraries of both Houses, and it will also be available on gov.uk.

[HCWS113]

Education

Children’s Social Care

Children and young people who need a social worker, and who are in or have left care are some of the most vulnerable in our society. It is a priority for this Government that these children and young people have the support, protection and care they deserve. I want to update the House on recent developments in this space.

Review of care

The importance of children’s social care was signalled in the Government manifesto. We must challenge ourselves to do all we can in making sure every child who needs a social worker and who enters care has the best possible chance to succeed in life, realising the benefit to individuals and society of overcoming such adversity in childhood.

That is why we are committed to undertaking a review at the earliest opportunity. I can confirm that this review will be bold and broad, taking a fundamental look across children’s social care, with the aim of better supporting, protecting and improving the outcomes of vulnerable children and young people.

I can confirm that we are moving forward with plans for this review, and that it will be independently led. We will ensure the review reflects the experiences of those who have needed a social worker and been in care, putting children, young people and their families at its centre. We will set out further details in due course.

Reforms to unregulated provision for children in care and care leavers

The review will allow for careful consideration of challenges faced across children’s social care, and while it is an early priority, we will take time to get this right.

There are, however, issues that cannot wait and require immediate action. Every child and young person should have access to a stable and secure placement in accommodation that can meet their needs and, most importantly, keep them safe.

These placements are an important step towards independence for older children. However, we are concerned that independent and semi-independent settings are not always good enough, putting children and young people at risk. We are particularly concerned about increases in the number of children under the age of 16 being placed in this type of provision, with 660 children who were aged under 16 when their placement started placed in this provision during 2018-19. This is why we are consulting on banning the use of independent and semi-independent placements for children and young people under the age of 16.

Reform is needed as a matter of urgency to ensure this provision is being used appropriately and meets the needs of the young people placed there. I will today be publishing a consultation that invites views on a set of new measures to ensure appropriate use of these placements. The proposals include introducing new checks and balances into the system, including national standards for providers and measures to drive up the quality of provision.

Our proposals include:

banning the use of independent and semi-independent placements for children and young people under the age of 16;

driving up the quality of support offered in independent and semi-independent provision, through the introduction of new national standards, and ensuring that these standards are enforced, and that young people’s interests are appropriately represented by their independent reviewing officer (IRO);

introducing new measures so that local authorities and local police forces liaise before a placement in such provision is made; and

giving Ofsted new legal powers to act against illegal providers.

We are keen to hear views on the proposals and their impact. The consultation will be available at: https://consult. education.gov.uk/unregulated-provision/unregulated-provision-children-in-care/. It will be open for response until 8 April.

[HCWS110]

Health and Social Care

Learning Disabilities Mortality Review

Government response to the third annual learning disabilities mortality review (LeDeR) report.

Following the publication of the third annual report from the learning disabilities mortality review (LeDeR) programme on 21 May 2019, and the statement I made at the time, I am today pleased to be publishing the Government’s response to that report. A copy of the response can be found at: https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statements/

The LeDeR programme was established in 2015 to help reduce early deaths and health inequalities for people with a learning disability by supporting local areas in England to review the deaths of people with a learning disability and to ensure that the learning from these reviews lead to improved health and care services. The programme is led by the University of Bristol and commissioned by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP) on behalf of NHS England.

The programme has found that the quality of care offered to people with a learning disability sometimes falls short of the standards we expect. The existence of the LeDeR programme demonstrates our ongoing commitment to ensure that people with learning disabilities can access the best possible quality care and support.

The third annual LeDeR report covers the period 1 July 2016 to 31 December 2018, with a particular focus on deaths in 2018. From 1 July 2016 to 31 December 2018, 4,302 “in-scope” deaths were notified to the LeDeR programme. The majority of these, 2,926, were notified in 2018. In 71 of the cases reviewed, people received care that fell so far short of expected good practice that it significantly impacted on their well-being or directly contributed to their cause of death.

Based on the evidence from completed LeDeR reviews, the third annual report made twelve recommendations for the education, health and care system. As I said at the time of the LeDeR report’s publication, it is essential that we take appropriate actions to learn from the issues raised by the LeDeR programme. In the Government response, we have set out how we and our system partners are taking action to deliver the improvements to services that will make a real and significant difference to people's lives. Actions identified relate to reviewing guidance; publishing new data on the progress of LeDeR reviews and sharing best practice.

In November, we set out our most significant action in response to the third annual LeDeR report, when we committed to introducing the Oliver McGowan mandatory training in learning disability and autism for all health and social care staff. This training is named after Oliver McGowan, in recognition of his story, his family’s tireless campaigning for better training for staff, and to remember him and others whose lives were cut tragically short.

The Government remain committed to gather learning from deaths reviewed under the LeDeR process ensuring that measures are put in place to address the persistent health inequalities that people with learning disabilities experience. Since the start of the LeDeR programme, nearly 3,200 reviews have been completed and over 2,700 are currently in progress. Although increases in the number of reviews carried out is welcome, we acknowledge that the pace with which reviews are conducted needs to increase further.

The LeDeR programme was introduced to ensure that local, evidence-based action is taken to improve support for people with a learning disability, and while we clearly have a great deal further to go to improve outcomes, we must continue to build on the momentum of the past five years and work together to learn from the past. Our response, published today, sets out how we will do that.

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Home Department

Jermaine Baker: Public Inquiry

I am announcing today the establishment by the Home Office of an inquiry, under the Inquiries Act 2005, to investigate the circumstances of the death of Jermaine Baker during a Metropolitan Police Service operation on 11 December 2015.

Establishing an inquiry is important to ensure that all of the relevant evidence can be properly considered as part of an effective investigation into Mr Baker’s death.

The inquiry will be chaired by His Honour Clement Goldstone, QC. HH Goldstone is a retired senior circuit judge who was appointed by the Lord Chief Justice on 21 March 2019 to conduct the investigation and inquest into the death of Jermaine Baker. In accordance with section 3(1)(a) of the Act, this inquiry will be undertaken by HH Goldstone alone as chair.

It has been necessary to establish an inquiry so as to permit all relevant evidence to be heard. The inquiry will have the same scope as the current inquest, which will be suspended after the establishment of the inquiry.

I will place a copy of the terms of reference for the inquiry in the Libraries of both Houses.

The arrangements for the inquiry will now be a matter for the chair. The Home Office will provide support and ensure that the inquiry has the resources that it needs.

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Transport

Light Dues 2020-21

A strong and growing maritime industry is vital to the economy of the United Kingdom and it is critical that we treasure and protect this vital artery if we are to remain a world-leading maritime centre.

The work of the General Lighthouse Authorities, which provide and maintain marine aids to navigation and respond to new wrecks and navigation dangers in some of the busiest waters in the world, is crucial to underpinning that vision whilst maintaining our vigorous safety record and continuously improving standards of safety.

Reductions in the three General Lighthouse Authorities’ running costs have enabled the UK to reduce light dues on four occasions since 2014. For 2020-21 I intend to freeze light dues rates at 37.5p per net registered tonne. This will mean that light dues will have fallen by 30% in real terms since 2010.

Light dues rates will continue to be reviewed on an annual basis to ensure that the General Lighthouse Authorities are challenged to provide an effective and efficient service which offers value for money to light dues payers.

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