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Written Statements

Volume 715: debated on Monday 23 May 2022

Written Statements

Monday 23 May 2022

Cabinet Office

Platinum Jubilee Civic Honours Competition

I am pleased to announce that Her Majesty the Queen has commanded that city status has been granted to Bangor, Colchester, Doncaster, Douglas, Dunfermline, Milton Keynes, Stanley and Wrexham and a Lord Mayoralty to Southampton to mark Her Majesty’s platinum jubilee.

Her Majesty’s Government have been delighted over the number of places across the United Kingdom, Crown dependencies and overseas territories which entered the competition. Irrespective of the final outcome, this is a celebration of not only the rich and diverse communities which make up the United Kingdom, but of communities all across the undivided realm which the UK, Crown dependencies and overseas territories constitute.

City status, Lord Mayoralties, and Lord Provostships are civic honours granted by Her Majesty acting on the advice of Her Ministers under the Royal Prerogative. The granting of these honours is rare and they continue to be highly sought after.

The competition received an extremely high standard of applications, and those unsuccessful applicants should not be disappointed. All valid entries received individual consideration on their merits and, for the first time, applications were also assessed by an expert panel, before Ministers made final recommendations to Her Majesty the Queen.

I offer my congratulations to Bangor, Colchester, Doncaster, Douglas, Dunfermline, Milton Keynes, Stanley, Wrexham and Southampton which have been granted these prestigious honours from an exceptional and vast field of applicants.

[HCWS43]

Education

Family Hubs Transformation Fund

Today, I am providing an update on the first wave of successful local authorities to be awarded funding through the £12 million Family Hubs Transformation Fund.

The Government are committed to delivering on the Best Start for Life: A Vision for the First 1001 Critical Days Report, and on our manifesto pledge to champion family hubs. Family hubs are a way of joining up locally to improve access to services, the connections between families, professionals, services, and providers, and put relationships at the heart of family support. They bring together services for children of all ages, with a great Start for Life offer at their core.

Family Hubs Transformation Fund

The Family Hubs Local Transformation Fund is a key part of this commitment and is funded through HM Treasury’s Shared Outcomes Fund, which aims to test innovative ways of working across the public sector to address complex policy challenges.

We launched the £12 million Family Hubs Transformation Fund last November to support at least 12 local authorities in England to open family hubs. The fund will enable us to learn more about the process of local transformation, to build our evidence base, and to create valuable resources and learning for those local authorities moving to a family hub model in the future.

The Family Hubs Transformation Fund will support LAs with the costs of moving to a family hubs model. It is different and separate from the Start for Life and Family Hubs Programme that was announced at autumn Budget, the eligibility for which was announced in April as part of a £1billion Government commitment to families. The Start for Life and Family Hubs Programme includes additional funding for services, which is not available to LAs as part of the Family Hubs Transformation Fund.

The application window closed in December 2021, and we received 84 bids from upper-tier local authorities. The volume of applications shows a real appetite for change, and the high quality of bids reflects the passion and dedication to delivering for children and families.

The first wave of successful local authorities are:

Brighton and Hove

Wirral

Stockport

Dorset

Solihull

York

Cheshire East

We expect to announce an additional five local authorities to receive funding through the Family Hubs Transformation Fund in the coming months.

[HCWS44]

Reducing Bureaucracy in Higher Education

Today I am providing an update on my commitment in September 2020 to reduce regulatory burden in higher education.

Bureaucracy has a direct impact on how well providers can do their jobs: every pound spent on unnecessary bureaucracy is a pound that is not being spent on teaching and research.

I am therefore pleased to confirm that the Office for Students has already:

reduced its enhanced monitoring by over 75%, removing 376 individual information or reporting requirements;

removed its requirement for detailed monitoring returns on Access and Participation Plans in 2022

streamlined its communications with HE providers and provided a direct contact for every registered provider.

In addition, I recently set up the HE data reduction taskforce, to bring together attendees from providers, arm’s-length bodies and other data experts across the HE sector to identify where we are putting overlapping data requirements on providers and where they could be reduced. The taskforce provides a real opportunity for all parties involved in data in the HE sector to discuss challenges and opportunities and, most importantly, to agree tangible actions.

Institutional bureaucracy

There is, however, more that providers themselves could do to remove internal bureaucracy which is not needed to comply with regulatory requirements.

I therefore want to use this statement to encourage HE providers strongly to look at ways that they could reduce this gold-plating. This should include:

Reviewing their own schemes of delegation to ensure that they are fit for purpose, and that regulatory decisions and activity are clearly delegated to the right level in the provider. Not every decision needs to go to the Board of Governors, or through multiple layers of governance.

Ensuring that they remain focused on the content of the decisions they are making and the reasons for the decision, rather than ensuring that it goes to multiple committees.

Carefully considering which processes, committees, activities and external subscriptions genuinely add value for students and which could be dispensed with, to free up academic time for teaching and research.

Unnecessary bureaucracy can take up time that could be spent focusing on the academic experience or quality of teaching which a student receives. This Government and the OfS will continue to focus on this, but providers also need to look internally to do the same.

[HCWS48]

Health and Social Care

Introduction of Additional Blood Donor Testing

I would like to inform the House that the Government have accepted the advice of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) and will be introducing additional testing to detect hepatitis B in donated blood from 31 May 2022. The Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive have also accepted the advice of SaBTO.

The safety of people donating and people receiving blood and blood products is the Government’s priority. We have robust safeguards in place that protect both donors and those receiving this potentially lifesaving intervention, which includes testing all donations for possible infections prior to use in transfusion.

In 2019, SaBTO established the occult hepatitis B infection (OBI) working group to consider options for further improving pre-donation testing for hepatitis B. The group considered different testing options to identify those donors who have undetectable levels of the surface antibody to hepatitis B, but do have hepatitis B DNA and a core antibody to hepatitis B. These donors are known as occult donors and have been shown to be able to transmit hepatitis B to blood donor recipients. The OBI working group recommended the introduction of core antibody testing, alongside the current testing, for all current donors once, and then all new and returning donors. SaBTO reviewed the findings of the working group and agreed with the recommendations.

The Government have reviewed the evidence compiled by the OBI working group together with SaBTO’s advice and has accepted the recommendation. The introduction of this new form of testing further improves the rigorous processes we have in place to ensure the health and wellbeing of donors and the safe and consistent supply of blood for patients.

The Department of Health and Social Care is working with NHS Blood and Transplant to implement this change and the overall impact of the changes will be reviewed in 12 months by SaBTO and the Government.

[HCWS45]

Monkeypox

Following announcements made by the UK Health Security Agency on 7,14,18 and 20 May, I am writing to inform the House that—as of 12 pm on Monday 23 May 2022—a total of 56 monkeypox cases, in three unlinked incidents, have now been confirmed in the UK. Further cases have been identified worldwide, outside the endemic regions of west and central Africa.

Monkeypox virus in the UK is extremely rare and the detection of monkeypox in unlinked cases indicates community transmission. Prior to May 2022, there were three previous domestically acquired cases—two household transmissions related to an imported case and one healthcare worker related to a separate imported case.

In the coming days, I expect that further cases will be detected by the UK Health Security Agency’s expert diagnostic capabilities, working with NHS services to ensure heightened vigilance among healthcare professionals.

The UK was the first country in the world to identify and report this recent emergence of non-endemic cases to the World Health Organisation, which continues to receive reports of further cases in other countries across the globe.

The infection can be passed on through direct contact with monkeypox skin lesions or scabs; contact with clothing or linens—such as bedding or towels—used by an infected person; and potentially by close respiratory contact via coughing/sneezing by an individual with a monkeypox rash. Monkeypox has not previously been described as a sexually transmitted infection, though it can be passed on by direct contact during sex. A notable proportion of cases have been among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.

The virus does not usually spread easily between people without close contact and the risk to the UK population remains low.

World-leading experts at the UK Health Security Agency, working in partnership with health protection agencies in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, are providing the latest scientific, clinical and public health advice. They are also providing testing capability at the Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory at UKHSA Porton Down and have stood up additional capacity at UKHSA Colindale. They continue to contact trace, rapidly investigate the source of these infections, and raise awareness among healthcare professionals. Any close contacts of the cases are being identified and provided with health information and advice.

UKHSA, and its partner public health agencies in the devolved Administrations, will continue to keep the scientific and clinical evidence under review to ensure that decisions are made on the best available evidence despite the fast-moving situation.

Individuals, especially gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, who develop an unusual rash or lesions—such as scabs—on any part of their body, but particularly their genitalia, should contact NHS 111 or a sexual health service. Individuals should notify clinics ahead of attendance and avoid close contact with others until they have been seen by a clinician. They can be assured that discussion will be treated sensitively and confidentially.

UKHSA has set up a dedicated helpline to support clinicians dealing with monkeypox cases.

Vaccination and treatment

The smallpox vaccine, Imvanex (MVA-Bavarian Nordic), although not specifically licensed for the prevention of monkeypox in Europe, has been used in the UK in response to previous incidents. This vaccine has a good safety record; it is made from a smallpox-related virus that cannot replicate and has been demonstrated to be highly effective at preventing infection—when given within four days of exposure—and reducing severe illness, if given between four and 14 days of exposure.

The vaccination of named close contacts of cases is under way, with vaccine eligibility being kept under close review. As of 10 am on 23 May 2022, over 1,000 doses of Imvanex have been issued or are in the process of being issued, to NHS trusts. There remain over 3,500 doses of Imvanex in the UK.

We are also exploring procurement options in case any specific antiviral treatment is shown to be effective against this virus; further details will be provided in due course.

I can confirm to the House that it will be kept abreast of updates as the situation evolves.

[HCWS49]

International Trade

Mexico Trade Negotiations

On Friday 20 May 2022, the Department for International Trade launched negotiations for an enhanced and upgraded free trade agreement with Mexico, with the first round of negotiations to be held in Mexico City in July.

The Department is publishing a comprehensive set of documents setting out the UK’s strategic approach for negotiations between the UK and Mexico. In line with our commitments to scrutiny and transparency, these documents have been published and placed in the House Libraries. The UK’s negotiating objectives for the upgraded agreement, published today, were informed by our Call for Input, which requested views from consumers, businesses, and other interested stakeholders across the UK on their priorities for enhancing our existing trading relationship with Mexico.

These negotiations follow our signing of the UK-Mexico Trade Continuity Agreement on 15 December 2020, which committed both parties to commence negotiations on a new, comprehensive and bespoke agreement by 1 June 2022.

An enhanced and comprehensive agreement with Mexico is a key part of the UK’s strategy to secure advanced modern agreements with new international partners, and upgrade existing continuity agreements in order to better suit the UK economy. Through these enhanced trade partnerships we can deliver economic growth to all the nations and regions of the UK and create new opportunities for UK business.

Mexico is an important trading partner for the UK, with trade worth £4.2 billion in 2021 despite the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic to global trade. Mexico is one of the world’s largest democracies and the 16th biggest global economy. Its population is almost double the size of the UK’s and is projected to reach 146 million people by 2035. Its demand for global imports is forecast to grow by 35% in real terms between 2019 and 2035 as its economy expands. The current agreement ensured reduced duties on UK exports in key industries such transportation, chemicals, and machinery manufacturing. These already popular products could face further demand in a growing Mexican market.

Our existing agreement removes tariffs on the majority of goods we trade. However, the agreement is outdated and not designed for a digital age, containing limited provisions on services, which employs 82% of the UK workforce. In these negotiations we will be advancing an upgraded trade partnership with cutting-edge services and digital provisions tailored to our unique strengths as the world’s second-largest services exporter and a leader on digital trade. An upgraded trade agreement with enhanced provisions can support UK trade across sectors of UK strength, including financial, creative, digital and technology services.

Forging stronger trade links with Mexico will also support the UK’s accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-pacific partnership, a free trade area with a collective GDP of £9 trillion in 2021, of which Mexico is an influential member.

The Government are determined that any agreement must work for consumers, producers, investors, and businesses alike. We remain committed to upholding our high environmental, labour, public health, food safety and animal welfare standards, alongside protecting the National Health Service.

The Government will continue to update and engage with key stakeholders, including Parliament and the Devolved Administrations, throughout our negotiations with Mexico.

[HCWS46]

Leader of the House

Review of Legislative Drafting

During the passage of the Ministerial and Other Maternity Allowances Bill, significant concern was expressed in both Houses about the Bill’s use of gender-neutral language in the context of pregnancy and childbirth. The Bill was amended so that gender-neutral nouns— for example “person”—were replaced with gendered ones—for example “mother” and “expectant mother”.

Ministers committed to consider and review the Government’s approach to drafting legislation on subjects that prompt these questions around language. The most obvious area is legislation relating to pregnancy or childbirth, but there will be other areas where similar issues arise. Ministers emphasised that “we must not countenance the erasure of women from our public discourse or our legislation”—Official Report, House of Lords, 25 February 2021, Col. 961.

Ministers also note that, academics writing in the journal, Frontiers in Global Women’s Health have warned of potential “adverse health consequences and deeper and more insidious discrimination against women” from de-gendered language such as “pregnant people”.

Previous context on stereotyping

In 2007, as recorded in the Official Report, 8 March 2007, col. 146WS, the then Labour Government stated their intention to draft legislation to avoid rigid stereotypes that only men could hold positions of authority. The approach adopted was to avoid the use of male pronouns on their own in contexts where a reference to women and men is intended. This Government agree with that approach. This statement addresses the separate issues of when it is appropriate to use gendered nouns such as “woman” and “mother”.

Each Bill is brought forward on its own merits and is drafted in a way to ensure legal clarity and in order to fulfil the Bill’s policy intent. Ministers believe it can be appropriate to use sex-specific language in legislation where such language delivers the desired policy outcome. This may include, for example, legislation which relates to the needs of men and women respectively, or areas of policy where biological sex is a relevant or pertinent concept. For example, the School Premises (England) Regulations 2012 explicitly require separate toilet facilities in schools for boys and for girls. This is different from the desire to avoid stereotypes on positions of authority.

Guidance moving forward

When drafting a Bill it is necessary to take into account the fact that a person may change their legal sex by obtaining a gender recognition certificate. The effect of section 9 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 is that a reference to a “woman” in legislation, without more, will include someone who is a woman by virtue of a certificate and will not include someone who is a man by virtue of a certificate. In some cases, this might be the desired result but in others it might not.

Ministers are aware that there is, in some quarters, opposition to section 9 of the 2004 Act. However, that provision is the law and so drafting practice must take it into account. This, however, does not mean that sex-specific language cannot be used.

A number of drafting approaches are available to deliver the desired policy outcome while still using sex-specific language. One approach is to use sex-specific language to refer to the main case—for example “women”, with the addition of further wording so that the provision also has the desired policy outcome for less common cases.

Other drafting options include using sex-specific language and then disapplying section 9 of the 2004 Act, something that is envisaged in section 9(3) of the Act, or using sex-specific language for both cases—for example “woman or man”. Sometimes an ungendered noun will be appropriate, even in contexts in which sex is relevant. For example, someone undergoing a medical procedure might still be referred to as a “patient”.

The drafting approach in any case also needs to take account of the pre-existing legislative context. An amendment of an existing Act that uses gender-neutral nouns might need to do the same; and an amendment of an older Act that uses gendered nouns in a way that would be interpreted as covering both sexes might adopt the approach of the older Act.

The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel will update its drafting guidance in light of this ministerial statement and steer.

Dignity, tolerance and respect

This statement should be read alongside the comments of the Prime Minister of 23 March 2022, Official Report, column 334: “We must recognise that when people want to make a transition in their lives, they should be treated with the maximum possible generosity and respect. We have systems in this country that allow that and have done for a long time, we should be very proud of that, but I want to say in addition that I think, when it comes to distinguishing between a man and a woman, the basic facts of biology remain overwhelmingly important.”

We believe that this statement sets out a common-sense and practical approach to ensure dignity, tolerance and respect for everyone. It will help champion the broader cause of equality by continuing to recognise the different needs and experiences of both men and women in our society.

[HCWS47]