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General Committees

Debated on Tuesday 30 November 2021

Delegated Legislation Committee

Draft Coronavirus Act 2020 (Early Expiry) (No.2) Regulations 2021

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: †Stewart Hosie

† Bailey, Shaun (West Bromwich West) (Con)

† Britcliffe, Sara (Hyndburn) (Con)

Champion, Sarah (Rotherham) (Lab)

Davies, Geraint (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op)

† Davies, Dr James (Vale of Clwyd) (Con)

Day, Martyn (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP)

† Double, Steve (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)

† Furniss, Gill (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab)

† Heald, Sir Oliver (North East Hertfordshire) (Con)

† Holden, Mr Richard (North West Durham) (Con)

† Logan, Mark (Bolton North East) (Con)

McDonnell, John (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)

† Norris, Alex (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)

Russell-Moyle, Lloyd (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)

† Simmonds, David (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con)

† Throup, Maggie (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care)

† Webb, Suzanne (Stourbridge) (Con)

Huw Yardley, Emily Unell, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 30 November 2021

[Stewart Hosie in the Chair]

Draft Coronavirus Act 2020 (Early Expiry) (No. 2) Regulations 2021

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Coronavirus Act 2020 (Early Expiry) (No. 2) Regulations.

This pandemic has touched every corner of our society and presented huge challenges to us all. The Coronavirus Act 2020 has been crucial to the Government’s approach to maintaining public services, including the NHS, and providing financial support to individual and businesses at this time of need. The Act has enabled the temporary registration of nurses, healthcare professionals and social workers to bolster the workforce. It has reduced administrative tasks that front-line staff have to perform during this time of pressure. It has also allowed the Government to provide an extraordinary level of support to people and businesses impacted by covid-19. That support includes the coronavirus job retention scheme, which supported 11.7 million jobs, and the self-employment income support scheme, which supported almost 3 million self-employed individuals.

As the course of the pandemic continues to change, it is right that we continue to assess the legislative powers that are in place. The Government are committed to ensuring that emergency powers are in place only for as long as they are needed. The most recent six-month review of the Coronavirus Act 2020 in September identified seven provisions, and parts of an eighth, that could be expired. The regulations that we are debating today will expire those provisions. That includes expiring powers under schedule 21 relating to potentially infectious persons, and powers under schedule 22 to issue directions relating to events, gatherings and premises.

Sufficient resilience has been built up within the system to expire power under section 23 to vary time limits in relation to urgent warrants under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 and, following an amendment to the Magistrates’ Courts Rules earlier this year, and upon expiry of schedule 21, powers under section 56 for live links in magistrates court appeals are also to be expired. We are also expiring powers under section 37 and parts of the provisions under section 38 relating to education, training and childcare. We will retain only those provisions that may be needed to ensure that we have relevant protections for individuals and the sector.

We are also expiring sections 77 and 78, which relate to time-limited powers and so are no longer needed, and a further provision on behalf of Northern Ireland. That means that Parliament will have been able to expire half of the original 40 temporary, non-devolved powers in the Coronavirus Act, ahead of schedule.

The 2020 Act continues to be a critical part of our country’s response to the pandemic. I acknowledge the concerns that have been expressed about how some of the powers in the Act have been used, but the Government have sought to use them appropriately and proportionately, with arrangements in place to ensure accountability, including to Parliament. We are grateful to members of both Houses and to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments for their helpful comments.

Following the third six-month review of the 2020 Act, the House confirmed that it was content for the temporary provisions to continue to support the Government’s ongoing response to the pandemic. The remaining provisions in the Act will help to support the NHS, individuals and businesses throughout the months ahead.

The pandemic is not yet over, and we know that there are challenges ahead, which is why we set out the steps we are taking in our autumn and winter plan. The virus has presented the greatest public health threat to the United Kingdom in recent history. I am sure that all hon. Members will join me in extending immense thanks to everyone who has made sacrifices and worked so gallantly in the fight against the virus, including our health and social care workers, all those who have volunteered in their communities, and those who have supported the vaccination programme and continue to do so.

It is a pleasure to start this parliamentary day just as I finished yesterday’s with you in the Chair, Mr Hosie. It is characteristic of this pandemic that we are discussing removing restrictions on the day that we will later discuss imposing other restrictions, but I am afraid that is how things move with it.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 was significant legislation. I am sure, like me, all colleagues received emails when we passed the legislation, and when we renewed it, from constituents who thought it overbearing and excessive and that it should not be renewed. I never agreed with that analysis. As the Minister said, the legislation contains important provisions relating to professional registration and people’s finances—those provisions remain crucial. However, I do not believe any right hon. or hon. Member missed the point that it was unprecedented legislation. When we were all standing for election three months prior to its introduction, I do not think any of us expected to be passing anything like it. However, extraordinary circumstances have called for extraordinary action. I always ask constituents to look beyond the endurance of the Act as an individual entity and down into the provisions, and to consider what powers have been expired. Post its renewal, the terms of the legislation are very different and much more modest in comparison with the law passed 18 months ago. If powers are not needed or are not being used, it is right that they should not lie on the statute book.

The Opposition will not divide the Committee on today’s regulations, and I hope that people across the country will welcome that some powers have been removed from the scope of the 2020 Act. Those powers include section 56 powers that relate to magistrates courts, schedule 16 and section 37 powers relating to the temporary closure of educational institutions and childcare premises. Those latter powers have not been used, and it is right that they should be turned off. Similarly, section 78 powers relating to local authority meetings are out of date and it is right that they are removed from the statute book. One of the concerns raised with me by constituents—unfounded in my opinion—relates to the powers to detain potentially infectious people. I do not believe there is any evidence that the state has used that power as a tool to be overbearing towards its subjects, nevertheless, given that that power has not been used greatly—only 10 times, and not since last October—it is right that it be expired. I hope that gives comfort to those who have concerns about the 2020 Act, and demonstrates that it is not being used in an overbearing manner.

The only provision I query is the element relating to the end of working tax credit. I and my Opposition colleagues have said that the Government have a blindspot to the financial pressures felt by people in the country. Turning off the universal credit uplift was a dreadful idea and has pushed families to the brink—our local food banks will vouch for that. The provision will cost the poorest £1,000, and I note that there is no impact assessment attached to the regulations. I keen to know from the Minister how many families will be affected by the change.

The explanatory notes probably get to the root of the Government’s misunderstanding. They note that the Act was about supporting individuals’ incomes during an unprecedented time, but the reality is that the pandemic has not shown that we need to provide temporary extra income to individuals but rather that in many cases personal income is far, far too low. That is even more apparent when set against the rising cost of living. Turning off certain support does not remove the fact that individuals will then return to living as they did before the pandemic—struggling to make ends meet and living with attendant health problems and injuries. I hope that the Minister will offer a reflection on that.

Given what we will debate later today, what consideration has the Minister given to whether powers will need to be turned back on at some point, or new powers sought? What is the Government’s current thinking on that?

I thank the hon. Member for Nottingham North for his constructive contribution to the debate. He is right that the majority of the measures that have been expired had not been used, or used very rarely. The Coronavirus Act 2020, however, continues to be a critical part of our country’s response to the pandemic. It has enabled the Government to provide help and support to people, businesses and our healthcare and public services.

As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the Act is underpinned by regular and careful reviews and parliamentary scrutiny. We are confident that the Act has been fundamental to facilitating a fast and effective response to the pandemic. During the most recent review, the Government assessed the remaining provisions to identify those suitable for expiry, while remaining mindful of the challenges that we may face over the winter and, as we have found out, the potential emergence of new variants of concern.

The powers outlined in the regulations for expiry are deemed as being no longer needed and each has a clear rationale for inclusion. The hon. Gentleman asked whether we may need to introduce further powers. The 2020 Act is enabling legislation and the majority of the other measures required were brought in under the terms of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. I feel that we have got it right in terms of the enabling ability of the 2020 Act.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the expiry of section 77 that allowed for the uprating of working tax credits for 2020-21. Throughout the crisis, the Government have sought to protect people’s jobs and livelihoods while also supporting businesses and public services across the UK. To that end, the Government announced a package worth a total of £352 billion in 2020-21 and 2021-22 to provide that support. The Government were always clear that the £20 increase was a temporary measure to support households most affected by the economic shock of covid-19.

During the recent Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced that since restrictions had been lifted, economic growth had exceeded expectations and the labour market was recovering strongly. In the light of that, the Government are focusing on supporting people to move into and progress in work. The Government’s comprehensive plan for jobs is helping people move back into employment, so that they can earn a regular wage, progress and increase their financial resilience.

Workers leaving the furlough scheme and unemployed people over the age of 50 will be helped back into work as part of the expansion of the Government’s plan for jobs, worth more than £500 million. Those on the lowest wages will also be helped to progress in their careers and existing schemes targeting young people will be extended into next year. That assistance is part of the new package of support that could help hundreds of thousands of people into work.

The Government are committed to keeping powers in force only where they are judged to be absolutely necessary and part of the Government’s response to the virus. As the hon. Gentleman said, a number of provisions have never been used since coming into force, and to maintain them on the statute book would be disproportionate considering the progress that we have made. Given the minimal use of the powers and the alternative measures available, the Government deemed it appropriate for the powers under schedule 21 relating to the detention of potentially infectious persons to be expired. Those powers have not been used since October last year, and nor have they been relied on to tackle some of our toughest challenges.

We have strengthened our defences against the virus even further, and therefore it is the right time for the powers listed in the regulations to be expired. The Government retain only those powers that are critical to our response to and recovery from the pandemic. The powers to be maintained include those that allow the temporary registration of healthcare professionals, which will help to support the NHS as we head into winter.

The Government urge everyone to be sensible and responsible and to continue to follow safe behaviours and measures now in place. People should get the covid-19 vaccine and the flu jab where eligible. That will help to protect the progress that we have made and protect the NHS in the months ahead. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed.

Committee rose.

Draft Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 (Continuation) Order 2021

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Christina Rees

† Cherry, Joanna (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)

Cryer, John (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab)

† Daly, James (Bury North) (Con)

† Elmore, Chris (Ogmore) (Lab)

† Green, Chris (Bolton West) (Con)

† Green, Damian (Ashford) (Con)

† Hayes, Sir John (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)

† Hinds, Damian (Minister for Security and Borders)

Hollern, Kate (Blackburn) (Lab)

† Holmes, Paul (Eastleigh) (Con)

† Kawczynski, Daniel (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)

Leadbeater, Kim (Batley and Spen) (Lab)

† McGinn, Conor (St Helens North) (Lab)

† Saxby, Selaine (North Devon) (Con)

† Tracey, Craig (North Warwickshire) (Con)

Trickett, Jon (Hemsworth) (Lab)

† Whittaker, Craig (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Nick Taylor, Stella-Maria Gabriel, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 30 November 2021

[Christina Rees in the Chair]

Draft Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 (Continuation) Order 2021

Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings and to maintain distancing as far as possible. This is in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room. I remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if coming in to the parliamentary estate. That can be done either at the testing centre in the House or at home. Members should send their speaking notes by email to hansardnotes@parliament.uk. Similarly, officials in the Gallery should communicate electronically with Ministers.

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 (Continuation) Order 2021.

Good morning, Ms Rees. Thank you for that introduction and for your reminders to us all. The order provides for the continuation of the Secretary of State’s TPIM powers, or terrorism prevention and investigation measures powers, for a period of five years.

The Government take all necessary steps to protect the public. The threat we face from individuals and groups who wish us harm is significant and enduring. It is vital that we have the tools necessary to keep our country safe. Although it is right that our first response to terrorism-related activity should be to prosecute or deport those involved, this is not always possible. This is why we continue to require the powers conferred on the office of the Home Secretary in the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011.

Section 21(1) of the Act states that the Secretary of State’s TPIM powers will expire at the end of five years from the date the Act was passed. Because of the continuing threat to the UK from terrorism, and following consultation with the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and the director-general of the Security Service, there can be no doubt that TPIMs remain an essential component of our toolkit to manage the threat from terrorism.

The Act provides the Secretary of State with powers to impose a TPIM notice on an individual if the conditions set out in section 3 of the Act are assessed by the Secretary of State to have been met, namely that she reasonably believes that the individual is, or has been, involved in terrorism-related activity, and that she reasonably considers that it is necessary, for purposes connected with protecting members of the public from a risk of terrorism, to impose such measures on the individual. In addition to the power to impose a TPIM notice, the Secretary of State has powers to extend and vary a TPIM notice that is in force, and to revive a TPIM notice that has been revoked.

Since the introduction of the Act in 2011, 24 TPIMs have been imposed. As of the last published set of figures on 21 October, five TPIMs were in force. If the TPIM powers are not extended, those five dangerous individuals will be at large without any measures in place to reduce the risk they pose to the public. TPIMs are imposed as a tool of last resort when the Security Service judges there are no other means, or that a TPIM notice is the only satisfactory means, to manage that risk.

It may be helpful for me to provide some background on the TPIM powers. They are civil preventative measures designed to manage the threat posed by individuals who cannot be prosecuted for a terrorism-related offence—or deported in the case of foreign nationals. There is no question but that TPIMs are extraordinary measures. That is why the 2011 Act provides for broad judicial oversight, including: a requirement for High Court permission to impose the measures, except in urgent cases, where the notice must be immediately referred to the Court for confirmation; an automatic review hearing in each case, unless the individual requests the hearing be discontinued; and rights of appeal for the individual against the refusal of a request to revoke or vary a measure.

The TPIM legislation also places a duty on the Secretary of State to consult on the prospects of prosecuting an individual before measures may be imposed, and a duty to keep the necessity of measures under review while they are in force. The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021, which amended existing and introduced new TPIM measures, also reintroduced a requirement on the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation publicly to report on the operation of the TPIM Act. The Act has been extended once already, in 2016. Unless a new order is made under section 21(2)(c), the powers in the Act will expire at midnight on 13 December. Just as was the case five years ago, it is essential that we have now all the necessary powers to protect the public from terrorism-related activity.

Having consulted as required by the Act, the Home Secretary has, due to the significant terrorist threat facing this country, decided to make this statutory instrument to provide for the continuation of TPIM powers for a further five years—the maximum period allowable in the legislation. It is essential that our counter-terrorism strategy enables us to tackle the full spectrum of activity. TPIMs have been endorsed by the courts and successive Independent Reviewers of Terrorism Legislation, while the police and Security Service believe they have been effective in reducing the national security risk posed by those subject to the measures.

Our message is clear: we remain steadfast in our determination to defeat terrorism and we will take every necessary action to counter the threat from those who hate the values that we cherish. The safety and security of the public is our No. 1 priority. I commend the order to the Committee.

Bore da, Ms Rees. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and opposite the Minister. It is important to say that the security job, both in opposition and in government—I see a former Security Minister here—is unique, because such is the nature of our Parliament and politics that we debate these matters robustly. The current Minister has been impeccable in ensuring that the Opposition are briefed on all these important measures. We appreciate that, and I hope we can continue to work together in that constructive spirit.

Although these are technical measures, the statutory instrument has important implications for security and keeping our citizens, their families and communities safe. That is the priority for all hon. Members across the House. As I said during the passage of the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021, we want TPIMs to be robust and impactful, but agile enough to adapt to fast-changing threats. TPIMs are, without doubt, a critical tool in our arsenal, but given the potentially far-reaching implications for subjects of a TPIM, we also recognise the need for them to be proportional, exceptional and imposed only where necessary, backed by the strongest safeguards and clear exit strategies.

We made important progress through amendments that we, with the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West, won during the passage of the 2021 Act, particularly on maintaining a higher standard of proof than was initially envisaged, on time limits for a TPIMs notice, and on vital additional oversight and review functions for the Independent Reviewer. Given TPIMs’ importance, we all agree it would be incomprehensible were we to let these powers lapse suddenly at midnight on 13 December, as they would if the instrument was not passed. We will not let that happen. We welcome the clarity the measures gives law enforcement, the security services and their partners, who work so hard on our behalf to protect people. We also acknowledge the support of the Independent Reviewer and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner.

I have a few questions for the Minister. Are the Government happy with the effectiveness of TPIMs and the level of the resources given to administer and monitor them? What impact have recent changes had operationally? As he said, as of October, there are five TPIMs in force, which is a relatively stable number. Does he envisage that continuing? We know that the terrorism threat is evolving in complexity, as we saw most recently in my region, Merseyside, at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital, and of course our tools must keep up. The impact of self-initiated, lone actor terrorism is growing rapidly. That is why we called on Ministers to look into that specifically and to publish their findings. I hope the Government will consider doing that. Tools such as TPIMs combat such threats and help to tackle individuals radicalised under the authorities’ radar—for example, online.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s early remarks and the tone of his speech. On lone actors, as he notes, there is a growing fear that people like the fellow in Liverpool—we acknowledge that the investigation is in its early stages—may not be known to the security services prior to their attack. How important does he think it is that we monitor internet activity closely, given that it is clearly being used by people to self-radicalise? These are very difficult and challenging matters, but that may well be the means by which we try to anticipate those kinds of activity.

The right hon. Gentleman makes hugely important point. That is the sphere that poses the fastest growing and most dangerous threat. I know the Government are bringing forward their draft Online Safety Bill, and I hope it will enable us to consider measures that directly address this threat. It is hugely important to ensure that our security services, the National Cyber Security Centre and GCHQ have all the tools they need to have at their disposal to monitor internet activity, but the truth is that it is very difficult, given people’s ability to remain anonymous, to self-radicalise and to plot acts of terrorism from a bedsit. I think we need to look at that alongside lone actor activity generally and specifically at how online activity is used. We will of course work with the Government however we can to support that, but the right hon. Gentleman makes a hugely important point.

We support the statutory instrument and the clarity the renewal of the powers brings. It would be a dereliction of duty were we to allow the tools to lapse suddenly, and we will act with the Government to prevent that. We will continue to hold the Government to account, working together in the national interest but scrutinising in the national interest too.

It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Ms Rees. I rise to associate myself with the comments made by the hon. Member for St Helens North and to thank him for the questions he asked the Minister. I will find the answers interesting and helpful.

I have consulted my colleagues and Scotland’s Justice Secretary about this matter. The Scottish Government are very content to support the continuation of the measures, as is the Scottish National party Westminster group. I have one question for the Minister, though. What ongoing discussions has he had with Scottish Government counterparts about these matters?

I thank all members of the Committee for being here today. I also thank the Opposition speaker, the hon. Member for St Helens North, not only for his kind words, which I reflect back at him, but more generally for his constructive approach and specifically for his and the Opposition’s support for this important measure. He is quite right that the Opposition’s most important role is to hold the Government to account and to make sure measures are subjected to scrutiny, whereby we end up with better laws and better public administration. We greatly appreciate that and we know it can be done constructively and co-operatively when it comes to matters of the utmost importance that affect our national security.

The hon. Gentleman says he wants TPIMs to be robust, impactful and agile. That sums up the objectives well. The 2011 Act was updated by the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021, as he mentioned, to improve our ability to monitor and manage the risk posed by terrorist offenders and individuals of concern outside custody. That allows for more effective intervention. As he also said, if the powers are not extended, those essential changes will not be effective and our ability to manage the risk posed by individuals will be severely compromised. Subject to the agreement of the Committee and the other place, the order will come into force on 13 December.

In response to the points raised by the hon. Member for St. Helens North and the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West, I reassure the hon. and learned Lady that officials are in regular contact, and rightly so. These are national matters of security that affect us all. I am conscious, however, that there is a different legal system and tradition in Scotland and we must always be mindful of that.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether we are happy with the regime’s effectiveness, and referred to the relatively small number of TPIMs in force. He asked whether that would continue to be the case. We are content with its effectiveness. The Committee will understand that I cannot comment on individual cases, but when the courts have renewed the imposition of a notice, they have all ruled that the TPIM has been imposed lawfully. The system continues to have the support of the Security Service, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. It remains a tool of last resort and is not something that any Government would want to use extensively. That said, we cannot predict the future and we must retain the flexibility and agility to do what is required.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about lone actors and how the terrorist threat has evolved and referred to the Opposition’s argument that one should look further into the development of lone acts. I reassure him that we are constantly looking at the evolution of the terror threat and its different aspects, part of which is the development of lone acts. We can make some of that analysis available to the Intelligence and Security Committee, if desired.

The hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings also referred to the online aspect of terrorist plots—pretty much every such plot has some sort of online angle these days. That is an incredibly important front of our resistance to terrorism and mitigating that threat. The draft Online Safety Bill is important landmark legislation that specifically contains important provisions to tackle terror content. Two categories of illegal content have been identified as priority legal harms to tackle through the legislation from the very start—there will be others—namely, child sexual abuse and exploitation and terrorism. The interim codes of practice have been published and are in effect.

TPIMs give the Security Service and the police powerful and vital measures to help manage the risk posed by people of national security concern. They are used as a last resort when prosecution or deportation is not available. The TPIM Act provides the Secretary of State with the power to impose measures on an individual where she reasonably believes that that individual is, or has been, involved in terrorism-related activity. I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to support this essential order to keep our country safe.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.