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Written Statements

Volume 704: debated on Tuesday 23 November 2021

Written Statements

Tuesday 23 November 2021

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Public Records: Landing of BA Flight 149 in Kuwait

Today the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) will release files covering the events surrounding British Airways flight 149 (BA149) to the National Archives. BA149 landed at Kuwait City on 2 August 1990 as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was beginning. The passengers and crew from the flight were subsequently held hostage by Iraq and mistreated. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) provided consular and diplomatic support to those involved from the outset, but there have long been questions about how much the Government knew of the situation at the time.

We now know that Iraq was beginning a full invasion of Kuwait on the night of 1 to 2 August. The files being released today describe how things looked to those involved at the time.

On 1 August the British Embassy in Kuwait told the local British Airways office that while flights on 1 August should be safe, subsequent flights were inadvisable. BA149 took off from London at 18:04 GMT on 1 August, almost two hours later than scheduled because of technical problems. Its ultimate destination was Kuala Lumpur with a short stopover in Kuwait. At about 22:15 GMT, during its flight towards Kuwait, the captain spoke to the captain of another flight which had left Kuwait for London that evening. The pilot of that flight reported nothing unusual in Kuwait and no reason for BA149 to depart from its planned route.

The files show that the British ambassador in Kuwait informed the Resident Clerk—the officer on overnight duty to deal with emergencies—at the FCO in London about reports of an Iraqi incursion into Kuwait around 00:00 GMT on 2 August 1990, while the British Airways flight was en route. The information was passed by the Resident Clerk to the Head of the FCO’s Middle East Department and also to No. 10, the Ministry of Defence, the Cabinet Office and the Secret Intelligence Service, but not to British Airways.

BA149 landed at Kuwait City at 01:13 GMT. Around 45 minutes later Kuwait City airport was closed and BA149 was unable to leave. Its passengers and crew were subsequently held hostage by the Iraqis, with the last hostages released in December 1990.

The Government have always condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the suffering that followed and the mistreatment of those aboard BA149. The responsibility for these events and the mistreatment of those passengers and crew lies entirely with the Government of Iraq at the time.

The files show that in the call to the Resident Clerk, the British ambassador in Kuwait was unclear whether the Iraqi move across the border was a limited or larger incursion. At that point, the evidence in the files suggests that it was not possible to say with certainty what was happening. Similarly, the Resident Clerk in the FCO would have had no knowledge of the timing of flights into Kuwait. At the time there appeared to have been no formal arrangements by which information about such events could be passed from the FCO to airlines or the Department of Transport. A procedure to deal with situations like this now exists involving Government and the airline industry.

There was also speculation at the time and since that the flight was used to carry members of UK Special Forces. The files are consistent with the then Minister for Europe’s statement in April 2007 that

“the Government at the time did not attempt in any way to exploit the flight by any means whatever.”—[Official Report, 27 April 2007; Vol. 459, c. 1217.]

The call made by Her Majesty’s ambassador to Kuwait has never been publicly disclosed or acknowledged until today. These files show that the existence of the call was not revealed to Parliament and the public. This failure was unacceptable. As the current Secretary of State, I apologise to the House for this, and I express my deepest sympathy to those who were detained and mistreated.

[HCWS410]

Health and Social Care

NHS Workforce and Technology Centralisation

Yesterday we announced to the House of Commons our intention to centralise NHS workforce and technology to prioritise better care for patients. Health Education England (HEE), NHS Digital (NHSD) and NHSX will become part of NHS England and Improvement (NHSE/I), putting workforce and technology at the heart of long-term planning. The plans will aim to see more patients benefit from the best possible care, with the right staff in place to meet patients’ needs.

Subject to parliamentary passage of the requisite powers within the Health and Care Bill, these changes will help ensure that service, workforce and finance planning are integrated in one place at a national and local level. They will simplify the national system for leading the NHS, ensuring a common purpose and strategic direction.

I have accepted the recommendations of Laura Wade-Gery, non-executive director at NHS England and chair of NHSD, including to merge NHSX and NHS Digital into NHSE/I. A copy of the summary report is being placed in the Library of the House. The recommendations build on the huge progress made on digital transformation during the pandemic and will improve co-operation between the key digital bodies of the NHS by bringing them under one roof for the first time.

NHSX has more than fulfilled the mandate it was given when it was set up, putting digital transformation right at the centre of the NHS’s future vision and driving effective delivery of key programmes such as the covid pass. NHS Digital has kept the NHS’s live services going, producing the shielded patients list, and run the technology that supported our vaccine deployment.

I would like to offer reassurance that in this new configuration the responsibilities for digitisation of the social care sector, and for ensuring the very highest standards of information governance and data privacy, will be retained.

Merging HEE with NHSE/I will put long-term planning and strategy for healthcare staff recruitment and retention at the forefront of the national NHS agenda. Combining HEE’s strengths with those of NHSE/I will help ensure that:

service, workforce and finance planning are properly integrated in one place, together with the work of the NHS People Plan, at national and local levels;

the changes to education and training that we need—to enable employers to recruit the health professionals they need to provide the right care to patients in future—are driven further and faster;

the record investment the Government are making in the NHS delivers for both frontline NHS organisations and patients through one national organisation, making it easier to ensure a single national strategy for the service; and

there is a simplified national system for leading the NHS, providing a single line of accountability for the whole of NHS performance.

This reform will build on the progress HEE has made and the vital role it has played during the pandemic, with record numbers of doctors and nurses currently working in the NHS.

I would like to pay tribute to colleagues at HEE, NHS Digital, and NHSX for the progress they have made, which we will continue to drive forward.

[HCWS414]

Home Department

Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre for Women

I am today announcing the opening of Derwentside immigration removal centre for women in County Durham. Detention plays a limited, but crucial role in maintaining effective immigration control and securing our borders. It is right that those with no right to remain in the UK are removed if they do not leave voluntarily.

This new, smaller immigration removal centre will replace Yarl’s Wood as the only dedicated immigration removal centre for women. In order to maintain operational flexibility, we will continue to maintain some limited detention capacity for women at Colnbrook, Dungavel and Yarl’s Wood. These changes will significantly reduce the overall immigration detention capacity for women.

Derwentside will be operated in line with the statutory framework established by the Immigration Act 1971 and the Detention Centre Rules 2001. The centre will provide safe, secure and fit for purpose accommodation for up to 84 women, with a full range of recreational and healthcare facilities tailored to women.

We are committed to ensuring the proper protection and treatment of vulnerable people in detention. Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of women is at the forefront of the new facility, and builds on the learning and experience of Yarl’s Wood. The new contract to operate the centre takes into account Stephen Shaw’s reviews of vulnerability in detention, with increased staffing levels and major improvements in the frequency, diversity and accessibility of educational and recreational activities.

[HCWS411]

Cabinet Office

Net Zero Estate Playbook

My noble Friend the Minister for Efficiency and Transformation (Lord Agnew Kt) has today made the following written statement:

I am pleased today to formally launch the new Net Zero Estate Playbook.

Decarbonising the public estate will play a pivotal role in our fight against climate change. With more than 300,000 individual properties, at a combined value of £515 billion, the UK public sector manages, by some distance, the largest property portfolio in the country.

Operating at this scale means that every decision we make and every improvement we implement has an impact. We must go beyond decarbonising our own estate, by leading from the front, setting an example, and bringing industry with us.

There is a very clear direction set out for Government property. We are steadily working towards creating a greener public estate. Since 2010, we have reduced carbon emissions by 50%, but there remains much more work to do.

We have made significant progress on encouraging collaboration and co-location between parts of the public sector. We are working to improve maintenance, insulation, and efficiency across the public estate. We are prioritising retrofitting existing buildings where we can, and adopting modern and sustainable methods of construction where we need new buildings.

This Net Zero Estate Playbook is about helping us go further, and faster. It’s a guide, to support every Government organisation. It takes best practice from around the UK, aligning with Government policy and bringing the best advice into one place to inform and improve sustainability strategies and simplify the path to net zero.

It provides, for the first time, a methodical step-by-step guide to help Government property professionals decarbonise their estate. A copy of the Net Zero Estate Playbook has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS412]

Transport

Driving Licences: Draft Legislation

A statutory instrument was laid on 16 September 2021 titled the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2021 (the “No. 2 regulations”) and was due to come into force on 15 November 2021. The substantive legislative changes proposed in the No. 2 regulations would have removed the need for a person to pass the “B+E” car and trailer test before they could pull a heavy trailer behind their car. This would have meant people with licences awarded after 1997 also no longer needed to pass a separate test to tow a heavy trailer.

This statutory instrument was not approved in time for the No. 2 regulations to come into force on 15 November 2021. Since such affirmative statutory instruments cannot be amended once laid in draft, we have taken action to lay the regulations afresh as the draft Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2021 (the “No. 5 regulations”).

To make rapid progress on this, we are seeking to make use of the urgency procedure under paragraph 14(6) of schedule 8 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. I am of the opinion that, by reason of urgency, the requirements for this affirmative statutory instrument (by virtue of paragraph 13(1) of schedule 8 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) to be made after being published in draft for 28 days, together with a scrutiny statement, should not apply.

Forgoing the 28-day publication period will allow earlier laying of the No. 5 regulations than would have otherwise been possible and strengthen the steps we have already taken to increase HGV testing capacity and ease supply chain issues as quickly as possible. Arrangements will be in place to ensure that the changes made by the No. 5 regulations are operationally effective as soon as they come into force.

[HCWS413]