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Written Statements

Volume 683: debated on Monday 2 November 2020

Written Statements

Monday 2 November 2020

Defence

Defence Update

In 1993, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) entered into a Government-owned contractor-operated (GoCo) arrangement with Hunting-BRAE whereby Hunting-BRAE operated the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) on behalf of the Government. In 1999, following a competitive tender, a new 25-year contract was awarded to AWE Management Ltd (AWE ML).

On 1 July 2019, the MOD triggered the successor arrangements clause with AWE ML to enable it to consider alternative viable management options ahead of the current contract expiration. Although the existing arrangements have brought stability to the organisation the MOD has concluded that AWE will revert to a direct Government ownership model.

Under the revised arrangements, AWE plc will become an arms-length body wholly owned by the MOD. It will continue to be managed by a world-leading team and a new board will be appointed by the MOD. The new business model will see AWE plc continue to draw on private sector specialist support to strengthen capability as well as playing a key role in managing capital projects and contracts. This approach is recognised as best practice in other major complex programmes.

The MOD, AWE ML and AWE plc will jointly manage the termination of the contract and the transition to the new arrangements, which are anticipated to be completed by the end of June 2021. This will be completed in close co-operation with workforce representatives, regulators, the supply chain and the local community.

The continued safe and secure operation of AWE sites will remain the overriding focus during the transition and under the revised management structure.

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Director of Service Prosecutions

Under section 364 of the Armed Forces Act 2006, the Director of Service Prosecutions is appointed by Her Majesty the Queen. The term of the current incumbent, Andrew Cayley QC, comes to an end on 2 November 2020.

I can inform the House that Her Majesty has appointed Jonathan Rees QC to succeed Mr Cayley as the next independent Director of Service Prosecutions. Mr Rees has practised from chambers at 2 Hare Court since 2015, prosecuting and defending serious criminal allegations of murder, terrorism, sexual abuse and corruption.

I should also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Mr Cayley who has served as director for the last seven years and worked hard with other service justice system stakeholders to improve the processes by which cases are built and brought to trial, while maintaining the necessary independence of prosecutorial decision-making. His efforts have ensured that the authority has retained its position as an independent and respected prosecuting body which has underpinned the operational effectiveness of the armed forces.

As he hands over his responsibilities to Mr Rees, I would like to express my personal gratitude for the important contribution he has made.

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Health and Social Care

Coronavirus Update

The Prime Minister has announced tougher national restrictions in England from Thursday. These restrictions will apply nationally for four weeks up to Wednesday 2 December. At the end of the period, we will look to return to a local and regional approach, based on the latest data.

The regulations will be debated in Parliament on Wednesday.

Subject to approval, from Thursday 5 November, everyone must stay at home, and may leave only for a limited set of reasons. These include:

For education;

For work, if you cannot work from home;

For exercise and recreation in an outdoor public place, with your household, support bubble or on your own with one person from another household (children under school age, as well as those dependent on round-the-clock care, such as those with severe disabilities, who are with their parents will not count towards the limit on two people meeting outside);

For all medical reasons, appointments and to escape injury or harm;

To shop for food and essentials;

To visit members of your support bubble;

And to provide care for vulnerable people, or as a volunteer.

In support of the regulations being laid in Parliament, we will be expanding our existing guidance to ensure the rules are clear for individuals and businesses. Single-adult households will still be able to form an exclusive support bubble with one other household, and children can move between homes if their parents are separated.

Non-essential shops, leisure and entertainment venues will be closed. Click and collect services can continue and essential shops, including supermarkets, will remain open.

People should work from home wherever possible. Workplaces should stay open where people cannot work from home—for example, in the construction or manufacturing sectors.

Shielding as practised in the spring will not currently be reintroduced. Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable should not only minimise their contacts with others, but also not go to work if they are unable to work from home.

The clinically vulnerable and those over the age of 60, should be especially careful to follow the rules and minimise contacts with others.

Overnight stays away from primary residences will not be allowed, except for specific exceptions including for work. This means people cannot travel internationally or within the UK, unless for work, education or other legally permitted exemptions.

Inbound international travel will continue to be governed by the travel corridor approach, and those currently on a domestic holiday will be allowed to finish their holidays, but are still subject to the requirements in England not to go out without a reasonable excuse.

Public services, such as job centres, courts, and civil registration offices will remain open.

Elite sport will be allowed to continue behind closed doors as currently.

The coronavirus job retention scheme, known as the furlough scheme, will remain open until December, with employees receiving 80% of their current salary for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2,500. The cost for employers of retaining workers will be reduced compared to the current scheme, which ends today.

To reflect the recent changes to the furlough scheme, the UK-wide self-employment income support scheme (SEISS) will be made more generous—with self-employed individuals receiving 80% of their average trading profits for November.

As the Prime Minister and Education Secretary have said, keeping young people in education is a national priority so early years settings, schools, colleges and universities will all remain open. Parents and carers should make sure their children keep attending school. However, universities and adult learning providers should consider increasing online provision where possible.

Parents will still be able to access registered childcare and other childcare activities where reasonably necessary to enable parents to work or access education and training. Parents are also able to form a childcare bubble with one other household for the purposes of informal childcare, for children who are 13 or under.

Ministers are also clear that it is vital to keep the provision for non-covid healthcare needs going. Unless clinicians tell patients otherwise, they should continue to use the NHS, get scans and other tests, turn up for all appointments and collect medicines and treatments.

We are also planning a programme of mass testing which will help us get on top of this virus. We now have the immediate prospect of using many millions of cheap, reliable and rapid turnaround tests.

As a result of partnerships with NHS and university labs, new cutting-edge testing innovations and a recruitment drive boosting the UK’s coronavirus diagnostic industry, NHS test and trace has rapidly expanded testing capability ahead of winter. The target of 500,000 testing capacity per day was reached on Saturday 31 October.

Introducing these restrictions is a difficult decision. But the public have the power to deal with this pandemic, working together with the Government and following the rules and guidance.

Update on recent changes to the local alert level

In order to reduce the transmission of covid-19, the following areas moved into local covid alert level high on 31 October: Carlisle, East Riding of Yorkshire, Kingston-Upon-Hull, North East Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire, Dudley, Staffordshire, Telford and Wrekin, Amber Valley, Bolsover, Derbyshire Dales, Derby City, South Derbyshire, the whole of High Peak, Charnwood, Luton, and Oxford City.

This means that for these areas, the following measures apply:

People must not meet with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place;

People must not meet in a group of more than six outside, including in a garden or other space;

People should aim to reduce the number of journeys they make where possible. If they need to travel, they should walk or cycle where possible, or plan ahead and avoid busy times and routes on public transport.

These restrictions remain in place until 5 November, when they will then be superseded by the new national restrictions.

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Housing, Communities and Local Government

Grenfell Update

The Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 was a national tragedy. 72 people died in the greatest loss of life in a residential fire since the second world war; many more mourn the loss of their families, friends, community and homes.

The Grenfell Tower inquiry published its phase 1 report on 30 October 2019. The report’s findings addressed the events of that night—the fire, how it started and spread, and the emergency response to it. Today I am updating the House on the progress and choices that the Government have made in implementing and acting on these recommendations. We owe it to the bereaved, the survivors, the community, and indeed all people living in blocks of flats around the country to demonstrate that we are making progress and their homes are being made safer.

The Government are delivering a comprehensive programme of reform on building and fire safety to ensure real and long-lasting change. In the past year we have acted on the recommendations of Sir Martin and the inquiry, in addition to our ongoing work in response to recommendations made by Dame Judith Hackitt in the independent review. We are addressing historic defects and delivering new legislation. This will bring about thorough regulatory reform; and ensure that people feel empowered and listened to and, more importantly, that they are safe and feel safe in their homes.

We recognised the importance of urgent action to remove unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding from high-rise residential buildings, and to date 77% of identified high-rise residential and publicly owned buildings have already been or are in the process of being fully remediated. We expect this figure to rise significantly by 31 December as the remaining residential buildings have a plan in place or have expressed their intention to remediate. As well as providing support, we will hold the owners of these buildings to account and keep residents safe in their homes.

We have worked with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and local health and education partners to help the community in its recovery: rehousing residents of the tower and of Grenfell Walk; providing funding to support refurbishment of the Lancaster West estate; and addressing local concerns about the impact of the fire on health and the local environment.

We want the views of Grenfell communities to be heard across Government, which is why the Prime Minister appointed the right hon. Nick Hurd, former Minister for Grenfell Victims, as his independent adviser to represent the views of Grenfell communities at the heart of Government. We know that the bereaved and the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire await the forthcoming social housing White Paper, and we anticipate publishing this in the coming month.

My officials are working with the Grenfell community and the people affected by the fire, including on the delivery of a fitting and lasting memorial to the 72 people who very sadly lost their lives. As well as continuing to provide regular updates to the community about the site and regarding the legislative programme, we will also ensure we provide further regular updates on progress against the inquiry’s recommendations.

Recommendations from the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report

The report made 46 detailed recommendations to improve fire safety, directed at a range of organisations including: the London Fire Brigade (LFB) and fire and rescue services more broadly, other emergency services, building owners, and Government. The Government are already taking forward a number of these recommendations, including: fundamental legislative change; working with fire and rescue services to support them in making the necessary improvements; starting specific projects on evacuation; working with local leaders and national bodies to ensure that action is being taken across the country supported by new funding; and identifying and remediating buildings with historic risks from unsafe cladding.

Building a safer future

Since December 2019, the Home Office has led on developing and introducing the Fire Safety Bill. That Bill will clarify the scope of the fire safety order (FSO) in multi-occupied residential buildings. In particular, it will place beyond doubt that in multi-occupied residential blocks the FSO applies to the structure, external wall systems and flat entrance doors, ensuring that fire and rescue authorities can confidently take enforcement action where building owners or managers are not compliant.

The Fire Safety Bill paves the way for secondary legislation which we propose to make after the commencement of the Fire Safety Bill next year. The fire safety consultation held this year set out Government proposals to strengthen fire safety in regulated buildings in England to ensure that people are safe from fire regardless of where they live, stay or work. These proposals are a practical and effective approach to address the risks the inquiry identified in phase 1. They will provide residents with greater assurance and deliver fire safety improvements in their buildings and hold responsible persons, including building owners and managers, to account. At the same time, the Government will be introducing the Building Safety Bill in 2021, paving the way for a strengthened building safety regime for buildings, with an even stronger regime for high-rise buildings.

Looking to the future, at the heart of the new building safety regime are two new regulators. The first, the building safety regulator, will implement the more stringent regulatory regime for high-risk residential buildings. It will also oversee the safety and performance of other buildings and support work to improve the competence of professionals across the industry. The regulator will be delivered by the Health and Safety Executive and began to operate in shadow form earlier this year.

We are also committed to further strengthening the regulation of construction products. Our draft Building Safety Bill includes provisions for a more robust regulatory framework that covers a wider range of products. It will strengthen the powers available to regulators; enforce the rules and lay the groundwork to establish of a national regulator which will spearhead the new approach.

The shadow building safety regulator, within the HSE, is already advising the Government on the new regime. Over the coming months, it will develop guidance to ensure that all regulators involved understand how this will operate, and what they need to do to prepare for it.

Together, the measures in the draft Building Safety Bill, Fire Safety Bill, and fire safety order consultation will improve safety standards for residents in all blocks of flats. Stricter regulations for high-rise buildings will make sure those living in them can feel safe and be safe in their homes—as is their right. Indeed, everything my officials do across the building safety programme in the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the fire and resilience directorate in the Home Office is driven by a shared determination to prevent the recurrence of a tragedy like Grenfell.

Fire and rescue services

The phase 1 report made it very clear that fire and rescue services should make significant improvements to their training; policies and practices; and their equipment and technology. We are seeking real changes demonstrated through an investment in the right types of training, leadership and equipment.

That is why the Home Secretary wrote to LFB, requiring regular reporting on its progress on implementing the recommendations. Although there is still more to do, we are encouraged that LFB continues to focus on implementing all the recommendations directed to them as well as those targeting services more broadly. The LFB has revised its policies, and through a programme of training is embedding changes in the approach to high-rise firefighting. The integration of different and new technologies such as the trialling of drones to improve situational awareness and support incident commanders, is encouraging. The use of smoke hoods and smoke curtains to assist with evacuations, trialled in large-scale operational exercises, appears to be a positive step. The Home Office continues to receive regular reports which have shown steady and concerted progress, even against a backdrop of the pandemic.

The Home Secretary has also commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) to review the governance and progress of LFB’s action plan to implement the recommendations from the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report. We anticipate the outcome of this initial review in January 2021.

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) is reflecting the inquiry’s recommendations in its ongoing review of national operational guidance and the development of national standards through the Fire Standards Board, which this Government established. The Minister of State for Building Safety and Communities last month hosted a roundtable for all fire chiefs and chairs, to ensure that local services were equally committed to making rapid and meaningful progress in order to protect communities.

To ensure that the lessons from Grenfell are learned and change is implemented at pace we have made available £10 million in additional funding in 2020-21 to drive change nationally and in local services. A further £20 million has been provided to support fire protection activity across England.

As with London, HMICFRS will provide independent assurance on the effectiveness of services in responding to the recommendations as part of its second cycle of inspection, which the Home Secretary has agreed will commence in the new year.

Fire protection

The independent review into building regulations and fire safety found the system “broken”. This broken system is being further revealed through the work of the Grenfell Tower inquiry. The phase 1 report found that a number of key fire protection measures failed to work as they should have at Grenfell. The inquiry identified failings in the way in which LFB fulfilled its obligations under section 7(2)(d) of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004. This requirement is in place to ensure that it had the information needed for extinguishing fire and protecting life at the tower.

Post Grenfell, we have seen other examples, which have further highlighted the importance of strengthening the overall protection capability and capacity of fire and rescue services. The work of HMICFRS, the independent review and the Grenfell Tower inquiry evidence the need for more to be done to ensure that people are safe and secure in their homes and that FRSs need additional support to deliver an improved protection function to help achieve this goal. It is important that people can feel safe in their homes and that is why we have committed to ensuring that all high-rise residential buildings are inspected or reviewed by the end of 2021.

Our first priority for the £20 million protection funding has been to ensure that fire and rescue services are able to review or inspect every high-rise residential building in England by the end of 2021. This is a major programme of work, overseen by the Fire Protection Board, which will set the foundation for the building safety regulator. The funding has also created a new leadership function in NFCC; and provides funding for fire and rescue services to have the capability and capacity to respond to risks in other potentially higher-risk buildings, including residential buildings under 18 metres, care homes and hospitals.

Both MHCLG and the Home Office have worked with services and the NFCC, through the Fire Protection Board, to ensure appropriate interim measures remain in place to protect residents in buildings with dangerous cladding, such as ACM. The revised NFCC simultaneous evacuation guidance, published on 1 October 2020, provides clearer advice which supports the fire and rescue services and responsible persons to fully evacuate as soon as a fire is detected. The guidance advises responsible persons to explore cost benefit options with leaseholders and residents. It also encourages the installation of common fire alarms systems which means reducing the dependency on waking watch wherever possible. The guidance also reiterates that interim measures should only ever be short term and are not a substitute for remediation.

In addition, the research to support the development of national guidelines for carrying out partial or total evacuations of high-rise residential buildings and building design requirements is progressing. Independent experts will support the research that will underpin this work, and review the means of escape provisions in blocks of flats, including use of the “stay put” strategy and evacuation.

Emergency services

The joint emergency services interoperability principles (JESIP) joint doctrine provides responders, at the scene and elsewhere, with a common way of working when responding to multi-agency incidents. Sir Martin recommended a number of amendments to the JESIP joint doctrine, including around communicating the declaration of a major incident.

The emergency services lead chief officers have committed to addressing, in full, these recommendations in the review of the JESIP joint doctrine currently under way. This work is forecast to be completed in spring 2021.

Early actions and remediating historic risks

Following the fire, the Government removed unsafe cladding products from the market and began dealing with historic defects. We banned combustible materials for use on new high-rise residential buildings and continue to work closely with local authorities, industry and regulators to identify existing buildings with dangerous cladding. Since then, we have continued to engage robustly with building owners, regulators and industry, to ensure the most dangerous forms of cladding are removed and replaced as soon as possible.

Building owners are responsible for building safety. But the Government recognise that funding is often a key barrier to remediation. That is why we are providing £1.6 billion to speed up the removal of unsafe cladding.

Despite covid restrictions, we made it clear that these circumstances could not be allowed to impede progress on ACM remediation. Working closely with industry, we made good progress despite the many challenges we faced. We have set out a clear expectation that all building owners, across all sectors, must start ACM remediation works on site by the end of 2020.

There is still some way to go, but it is important to recognise that homes are being made safer. To date, 351 buildings (77% of all identified high-rise residential and publicly owned buildings, including hotels and student accommodation) have already been or are in the process of being fully remediated. Some 148 social sector residential buildings—95% of that sector—have done the same. All remaining residential buildings now have a plan in place or have reported an intent to remediate.

Both I and the Minister of State for Building Safety and Communities have personally met local leaders and the fire service to support them in taking action where progress is slow.

Progress is reported through monthly data releases, and we have made clear that we will not rule out further measures in our mission to hold the owners of these buildings to account and keep residents safe in their homes.

Conclusion

In the year since the phase 1 report was published, the Government have delivered demonstrable progress on all fronts and remained resolute in their commitment to deliver the recommendations. In relation to London we have used our powers to ensure that real change is happening. Through the funding we have provided the NFCC we have bolstered the national leadership that will help all services to make strategic and meaningful change—both in culture and leadership and in practical operational delivery. We have worked with industry, building owners and regulators to ensure the most dangerous forms of cladding are removed and replaced as soon as possible. This work is not complete—we will continue to improve our services and the safety of buildings to ensure that the conditions that led to the tragedy at Grenfell Tower will no longer exist. The proposed legislative reforms will ensure there is absolute clarity on the regulatory framework, providing strong and comprehensive building safety so that residents can know their safety is assured.

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International Trade

UK-US Future Trading Partnership: Negotiations

The fifth UK-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiating round took place from 19 to 30 October 2020.

This was the most intensive round of negotiations held so far, with 38 sessions covering 19 different chapter areas.

Almost all chapter areas are now in the advanced stages of talks. A significant proportion of legal text has been agreed across multiple chapters.

The round included focused discussions on market access for goods, including negotiations around product specific rules of origin, which determines whether or not a product can benefit from preferential tariffs under the FTA.

We also held detailed textual discussions on a digital chapter and agreed much of the legal framework for a future agreement.

Following the significant progress made in talks to date, both sides are confident that we are on track for a comprehensive agreement which would provide a significant and mutual benefit to our economies. We believe we are in a good position to move forward after the US election.

We have agreed a programme for continued talks at official level for the weeks following the US election.

Below is a summary list of those workstreams discussed in the round:

Competition

Core text

Cross cutting services

Customs and trade facilitation

Digital

Environment

Financial services

Good Regulatory Practice (GRP)

Investment

Intellectual property

Market access for goods

Rules of origin and origin procedures

Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS)

Sectoral annexes

Services sectors—Professional business, transport and delivery services

State owned enterprises

State to state dispute settlement

Telecoms

Trade remedies

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Northern Ireland

Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol: Consent Mechanism Regulations

I am today laying before both Houses of Parliament a draft of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (Democratic Consent Process) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, which will, if approved, reflect in domestic law the consent mechanism set out in the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol and the UK Government’s unilateral declaration of 17 October 2019.

The consent mechanism ensures that articles 5 to 10 of the protocol will cease to apply if Northern Ireland’s political representatives conclude they are no longer desirable. The first consent process will take place in late 2024, and will be repeated every four or eight years depending on whether consent (if given) is given on a simple majority or a cross-community basis. Embedding that recognition of consent in the protocol was intrinsic to its acceptance by this Government.

The regulations implement both a default consent procedure, which will apply if a First Minister and Deputy First Minister are in office at the time notification of the start of the process is given, and an alternative consent procedure, which will apply if a First Minister and Deputy First Minister are not in office at the time notification of the start of the process is given. The alternative procedure enables any MLA to bring forward the consent motion in the absence of a First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

The protocol was specifically designed to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) agreement and the gains of the peace process. The principle of consent is central to it, ensuring that democratically elected local politicians make decisions for the people of Northern Ireland.

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Transport

Transport for London: Funding and Financing

The Government and the Mayor of London have agreed a second extraordinary funding and financing package for Transport for London for the period to 31 March 2021. It replaces the agreement signed in May. It will ensure the continued operation of public transport services in London and is proof of our commitment to supporting the capital and the transport network on which it depends.

As with the national rail network, the Government will make up the revenue which TfL has lost due to the covid-19 pandemic over the period. The new package comprises a central funding scenario of £1 billion—made up of £905 million grant funding and £95 million borrowing—with flexibility for changing the grant payment in response to changing passenger demand. Actual payments are likely to be greater than £1 billion because of the move to national covid-19 restrictions.

TfL continues to need substantial support due to the significant fall in revenue caused by covid-19. However, choices made in the preceding four years have made TfL less resilient to the impacts of the pandemic and this is why it is of vital importance that the Mayor brings forward plans to re-establish a trajectory to financial sustainability as soon as possible.

As well as the conditions in the package agreed in May, the new agreement therefore sets out further measures to put TfL on a sustainable financial footing as soon as possible. Over the next six months, the Mayor will impose fare rises of RPI plus 1% on all modes from January 2021; maintain the central London congestion charge at the hours and level to which it was increased in June; maintain the withdrawal of 60-65 Pass and 66+ Freedom Pass concessions in the morning peak; and make a further £160 million in year savings, additional to those already planned, with the exception of active travel, which will remain as in the first half of the year. TfL will co-operate with a Government-led review of driverless trains. The two Government special representatives will continue to attend TfL Board and panel meetings. A new Government-led working-level oversight group will be created. By 11 January 2021, TfL will produce a single, comprehensive management plan with options as to how a trajectory to financial sustainability by 2023 can be achieved.

Any grant from Government to support London must be fair for UK taxpayers. If the Mayor wishes Londoners to continue to benefit from travel concessions and or other benefits above those typically available elsewhere in England, he and TfL have recognised that the costs of these additional benefits will not be met by the Government and that they will meet these costs themselves, without recourse to additional borrowing, savings, service changes or deferrals. TfL and the Mayor have proposed that this could be done by an increased council tax precept from April 2021. They will submit their proposals by 11 January 2021, alongside the fiscal sustainability plan. The Government will take all steps necessary at the appropriate times to enable this proposal.

Extending the congestion charging zone to inner London has been ruled out by both the Government and the Mayor. National travel concessions including free travel to school for those who qualify under the 1996 Education Act will continue to be funded by the Government. The Freedom Pass for pensioners and the disabled will continue as now. It is not funded by TfL or the Mayor.

The full agreement can be found on the gov.uk website at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ transport-for-london-settlement-letter.

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