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Written Statements

Volume 717: debated on Tuesday 28 June 2022

Written Statements

Tuesday 28 June 2022

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Energy Supply Company Special Administration Regime

Today I will lay before Parliament a departmental minute describing a number of contingent liabilities arising from the issuance of letters of credit for the energy administrators acting in the special administration regime for Bulb Energy Ltd (“Bulb”). These letters of credit replace previous ones provided, announced within past written ministerial statements, which soon expire.

It is normal practice when a Government Department proposes to undertake a contingent liability of £300,000 and above, for which there is no specific statutory authority, for the Department concerned to present Parliament with a minute giving particulars of the liability created and explaining the circumstances.

I have ensured that Parliament has been afforded the full 14-sitting day notification period to allow the proper scrutiny of these new contingent liabilities.

Bulb entered the energy supply company special administration regime on 24 November 2021. Energy administrators were appointed by court to achieve the statutory objective of continuing energy supplies at the lowest reasonable practicable cost until such time as it becomes unnecessary for the special administration to remain in force for that purpose.

My Department has agreed to provide a facility to the energy administrators, with letters of credit issued, with my approval, to guarantee such contract, code, licence, or other document obligations of the company consistent with the special administration’s statutory objective. I will update the House if any letters of credit are drawn against.

The legal basis for a letter of credit is section 165 of the Energy Act 2004, as applied and modified by section 96 of the Energy Act 2011.

HM Treasury has approved the arrangements in principle.

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Cabinet Office

Census 2021

The 22nd decennial census of population for England and Wales was taken on 21 March 2021. Today, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes the first results, which I have laid in a report before the House this morning. These results are just the start of an extensive range of Census 2021 statistics and analyses to be published during 2022 and 2023 and beyond.

Census 2021 was a great success. Delivered against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, the first digital-first census achieved response rates of 97%, with 89% of households completing it online. This household response rate far exceeded the ONS’s target of 94% nationally and local response rates were above the target of 80% in each local authority area. I thank the public for their response.

The figures published today show that the usual resident population of England and Wales on Census Day—21 March 2021—was estimated to be 59,597,300—56,489,800 in England and 3,107,500 in Wales; this was the largest population ever recorded through a census in England and Wales. The population of England and Wales grew by more than 3.5 million (6.3%) since the last census in 2011, when it was 56,075,912. The report laid before the House provides estimates of the population down to local authority level, broken down by age and sex, as well as the number of households, data on population density, and changes in population and households over time. The statistical datasets underlying the report have also been published today on the ONS website, along with other analysis and information.

Census data are critical to planning and delivering local services as well as informing decision making at national and local levels. Early data from Census 2021 have already been used to inform management of the coronavirus pandemic. Information on where Ukrainian communities are located in England and Wales has been used to inform our humanitarian response to the crisis. The huge range of high-quality data and detail from the census, combined with other sources, will ensure the changing needs of society can be understood and met.

Over the coming months, the ONS will publish data and analysis covering the range of topics and questions included in Census 2021, including the new questions on sexual orientation, gender identity and previous service in the UK armed forces. These will be followed by data releases which will allow users to conduct in-depth analysis using data across multiple census variables, as well as a range of ONS analytical publications exploring the data in more detail across the range of census topics. In total, these releases will include some five billion census statistics. Further detail of the planned releases and publications can be found on the Census 2021 outputs pages of the ONS’s website.

The ONS is producing a suite of tools to enable users of all levels of experience with population data to explore the results of the census. To maintain the privacy of personal census responses, strict measures of statistical disclosure control ensure that no individual person or household can be identified from the information released.

The census in Northern Ireland was conducted on the same day as in England and Wales. However, the census in Scotland took place in March 2022. The statistical offices of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are working together to ensure the production of harmonised statistics across the UK and to address issues arising from the census in Scotland taking place a year later.

Alongside the delivery of the digital-first census in 2021, the ONS is transforming the population and migration statistics system. This work will enable more frequent and timely statistics about our population using administrative data supplemented by surveys. In addition to Census 2021 outputs and regular mid-year estimates, throughout this year the ONS will continue to publish research updates, building towards “experimental” monthly age/sex profiles of the population relating to 2022. This will start with a proof of concept for admin-based monthly population estimates as soon as possible after the first Census 2021 results are released. As its methods mature, the ONS will embed these into its official estimates and move on from the “experimental” status. The ONS is continuing to develop its methods for producing population and migration statistics. It also aims to publish a proof of concept that demonstrates the feasibility of producing statistics from admin data combining two or more characteristics, starting with income by ethnicity, which builds on research published last year on admin-based income and ethnicity statistics. This new approach will inform a recommendation by the National Statistician in 2023 on the future of the census and population statistics in England and Wales.

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Defence

Countering State Threats: Call-out Order

A new order has been made under section 56(1B) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable reservists to be called into permanent service to prepare for, participate in, or support operations by Her Majesty’s armed forces to counter state threats.

States engage in and orchestrate overt and covert action which falls short of general armed conflict but nevertheless seeks to undermine or threaten the safety and interests of the UK, including the integrity of its democracy, its public safety, its military advantage and its reputation or economic prosperity. The characteristics of state threats are changing, diversifying and evolving. States who engage in hostile activity against the UK and our overseas interests are becoming increasing emboldened, asserting themselves more aggressively, to advance their geopolitical objectives and undermine the UK’s democracy, security, prosperity, resilience, values and global strategic advantage.

The Ministry of Defence is regularly tasked to support broader HMG objectives. As part of this support, reserve forces will be on standby, routinely as part of a whole force approach with regular services, to deliver a range of Defence outputs, including support to partners across Government. Outputs will be enabled by reserve forces providing capabilities such as—but not limited to—formed sub-units, individual augmentees and specialist skills.

The order shall take effect from the day on which it is made and shall cease to have effect 12 months from the date on which it is made.

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Education

Children's Homes

Today I am providing an update on the Department’s response to whistleblowing allegations made to Ofsted and the BBC by former employees of Calcot Services for Children. The allegations describe shocking abuse and safeguarding failures in children’s homes run by Calcot, including allegations of grooming, rape, sexual assault, and of Calcot cutting corners on staffing ratios. This is something that I, and the Department, take with the utmost seriousness. We expect all children’s homes to provide the right support, care and protection for children who live there—no organisation should exploit those in need.

Calcot runs eight children’s homes and three independent schools in Reading and the surrounding areas for children with complex emotional, behavioural difficulties and or learning disabilities. Ofsted is responsible for regulating children’s homes and ensuring that action is taken where homes are not providing good quality and safe care for the children they look after. I met Her Majesty’s chief inspector at Ofsted on 14 June to discuss my concerns about Calcot. In the light of the most recent concerns, Ofsted have further accelerated their planned programme of inspection across Calcot’s children’s homes and schools. Following recent inspections, the first inspection report was published on 21 June and the children’s home was rated as inadequate. Ofsted has issued the home with compliance notices and it is restricted from taking more children until it can demonstrate it has improved the quality of care.

As some inspections are still in progress, I cannot say more on the outcomes at this time. However, three further homes have had restrictions imposed limiting the number of children they can care for. If Ofsted find widespread and systemic failings, they will not hesitate to issue a notice to suspend the registration of the home and consider serving a notice to cancel the registration of the home if necessary. This action would be taken if Ofsted considered that the children were not safe and if they did not have confidence that the provider could make appropriate and sufficient changes quickly enough.

The safeguarding of the children in our collective care remains paramount and as these inspections progress Ofsted will update the Department, and both will continue to work with placing local authorities to ensure that appropriate and proportionate action is taken to safeguard children.

With regards to the three independent schools run by Calcot, the Department is working with the inspectorates to ensure they are meeting the independent school standards and keeping their children safe.

Independent schools should meet all of the independent school standards at all times. Where any school has serious failings or failings for an extended period of time, the Department may consider whether enforcement action is appropriate under its published regulatory and enforcement policy action, which can be found at the following link:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/attachment_data/file/809551/Ind_schools_enforcement_ policy_statement_post_consultation_13061

Separately, in January, the Education Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), agreed that the independent Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel should undertake a national review into safeguarding children with disabilities and complex health needs in residential settings. It will ask some important questions about how children with disabilities are safeguarded. Most importantly, it will seek to identify ways in which practice and policy might need to change to protect children better in the future.

We will consider all this information together with the findings from the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care and Competition and Market’s Authority market study, to inform our implementation strategy, due to be published later this year.

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Home Department

Nationality and Borders Act 2022: Implementation

In April, the Nationality and Borders Act achieved Royal Assent. This landmark legislation will help to deliver a fair but firm asylum system; deterring illegal entry into the UK, breaking the business model of people-smuggling networks and speeding up the removal of those with no right to be here. In turn, this will free up the asylum system so we can better support those in genuine need of asylum through safe and legal routes.

Today, new measures from the Act will come into effect, including:

Amended criminal offences with increased maximum penalties for those attempting to arrive in the UK illegally—from six months to four years—and maximum life imprisonment for people smugglers, including pilots of small boats in the Channel and others who dangerously smuggle migrants into the UK. In addition, we have increased the maximum penalty for Foreign National offenders who return to the UK in breach of a deportation order from six months to five years;

A suite of asylum reforms, with the central principle that those seeking protection should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. Our reforms also introduce a new differentiated approach, whereby those who did not come to the UK directly, did not claim without delay, or did not show good cause for their illegal entry or presence, may be given lesser entitlements than those who have complied with these requirements, for example refugees who have come to the UK via safe and legal routes. The different entitlements include a shorter grant of permission to stay—a minimum of 30 months instead of five years—no automatic right to settlement and access to family reunion only where a refusal would breach our international obligations.

An ability to impose visa penaltiesthis means slowing or stopping our services where countries pose a risk to international peace and security and those that refuse to take back their own citizens who have no right to be in the UK.

Nationality changes, creating fairer access to British nationality.

Changes to bail and returns, which includes strengthening the early removal scheme for Foreign National offenders to remove them sooner than was the case previously.

These reforms sit alongside other important changes, including a world-leading migration and economic partnership with Rwanda. Further reforms from the Act will be implemented over the coming months and into next year as we seek to build and deliver a fair but firm asylum and immigration system.

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International Trade

India Trade Negotiations

The fourth round of UK-India free trade agreement negotiations began on 13 June and concluded on 24 June. The negotiations, at official level, were conducted in a hybrid fashion, with some negotiators in our dedicated UK negotiations facility, and others attending virtually.

During this round, talks focused on draft treaty text. Technical discussions were held across 20 policy areas over 71 separate sessions, with draft treaty text advanced across the majority of chapters.

The fifth round of official-level negotiations is due to take place in July 2022.

We remain clear that any deal the Government strike must be in the best interests of the British people and the economy.

The Government will keep Parliament updated as these negotiations progress.

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Prime Minister

Machinery of Government: Arbitration Policy

I am making this statement to bring to the House’s attention the following machinery of government change.

Responsibility for private commercial arbitration policy and the Arbitration Act 1996 will move from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to the Ministry of Justice from 1 July 2022. This transfer will locate private commercial arbitration policy alongside other forms of dispute resolution policy. This will allow the Ministry of Justice to pursue a comprehensive and unified approach to the promotion and continued competitiveness of the UK as a world-leading destination for all forms of dispute resolution. The transfer of policy responsibility will also allow the MoJ to meet its responsibilities of working in the interests of all parts of the UK’s legal sector, of which arbitration is a vital component.

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UK Covid-19 Inquiry

On 15 December 2021, I appointed the right hon. Baroness Heather Hallett as chair of the UK inquiry into covid-19. Earlier this year, I published terms of reference for the inquiry in draft and asked Baroness Hallett to conduct a public consultation in order to inform refinements to those terms of reference. I am grateful to Baroness Hallett for the very extensive consultation she conducted and for the subsequent amendments to the inquiry’s terms of reference which she put forward as a result.

Having considered Baroness Hallett’s proposals carefully and consulted the administrations in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, I am content to accept her changes in full, subject only to a small number of clarificatory amendments put forward by the devolved Administrations and agreed with Baroness Hallett. The inquiry’s final terms of reference are set out in full below.

In appointing Baroness Hallett as the inquiry’s chair I confirmed that I proposed to appoint additional panel members in order that the inquiry has access to the full range of expertise needed to complete its important work. I can now confirm that I propose to appoint two such panel members, and that I propose to do so in the coming months.

The UK inquiry into covid-19 is now formally established and able to begin its important work. Its terms of reference are as follows:

“The Inquiry will examine, consider and report on preparations and the response to the pandemic in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, up to and including the Inquiry’s formal setting up date, 28 June 2022.

In carrying out its work, the Inquiry will consider reserved and devolved matters across the United Kingdom, as necessary, but will seek to minimise duplication of investigation, evidence gathering and reporting with any other public inquiry established by the devolved governments. To achieve this, the Inquiry will set out publicly how it intends to minimise duplication, and will liaise with any such inquiry before it investigates any matter which is also within that inquiry’s scope.

In meeting its aims, the Inquiry will:

a) consider any disparities evident in the impact of the pandemic on different categories of people, including, but not limited to, those relating to protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 and equality categories under the Northern Ireland Act 1998;

b) listen to and consider carefully the experiences of bereaved families and others who have suffered hardship or loss as a result of the pandemic. Although the Inquiry will not consider in detail individual cases of harm or death, listening to these accounts will inform its understanding of the impact of the pandemic and the response, and of the lessons to be learned;

c) highlight where lessons identified from preparedness and the response to the pandemic may be applicable to other civil emergencies;

d) have reasonable regard to relevant international comparisons; and

e) produce its reports (including interim reports) and any recommendations in a timely manner.

The aims of the Inquiry are to:

1. Examine the COVID-19 response and the impact of the pandemic in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and produce a factual narrative account, including:

a) The public health response across the whole of the UK, including

i) preparedness and resilience;

ii) how decisions were made, communicated, recorded, and implemented;

iii) decision-making between the governments of the UK;

iv) the roles of, and collaboration between, central government, devolved administrations,. regional and local authorities, and the voluntary and community sector;

v) the availability and use of data, research and expert evidence;

vi) legislative and regulatory control and enforcement;

vii) shielding and the protection of the clinically vulnerable;

viii) the use of lockdowns and other ‘non-pharmaceutical’ interventions such as social distancing and the use of face coverings;

ix) testing and contact tracing, and isolation;

x) the impact on the mental health and wellbeing of the population, including but not limited to those who were harmed significantly by the pandemic;

xi) the impact on the mental health and wellbeing of the bereaved, including post-bereavement support;

xii) the impact on health and care sector workers and other key workers;

xiii) the impact on children and young people, including health, wellbeing and social care;

xiv) education and early years provision;

xv) the closure and reopening of the hospitality, retail, sport and leisure, and travel and tourism sectors, places of worship, and cultural institutions;

xvi) housing and homelessness;

xvii) safeguarding and support for victims of domestic abuse; xviii) prisons and other places of detention;

xix) the justice system;

xx) immigration and asylum;

xxi) travel and borders; and

xxii) the safeguarding of public funds and management of financial risk.

b) The response of the health and care sector across the UK, including:

i) preparedness, initial capacity and the ability to increase capacity, and resilience;

ii) initial contact with official healthcare advice services such as 111 and 999;

iii) the role of primary care settings such as General Practice;

iv) the management of the pandemic in hospitals, including infection prevention and control, triage, critical care capacity, the discharge of patients, the use of ‘Do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation’ (DNACPR) decisions, the approach to palliative care, workforce testing, changes to inspections, and the impact on staff and staffing levels;

v) the management of the pandemic in care homes and other care settings, including infection prevention and control, the transfer of residents to or from homes, treatment and care of residents, restrictions on visiting, workforce testing and changes to inspections;

vi) care in the home, including by unpaid carers;

vii) antenatal and postnatal care;

viii) the procurement and distribution of key equipment and supplies, including PPE and ventilators;

ix) the development, delivery and impact of therapeutics and vaccines;

x) the consequences of the pandemic on provision for non-COVID related conditions and needs; and

xi) provision for those experiencing long-COVID.

c) The economic response to the pandemic and its impact, including governmental interventions by way of:

i) support for businesses, jobs and the self-employed, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, loans schemes, business rates relief and grants;

ii) additional funding for relevant public services;

iii) additional funding for the voluntary and community sector; and

iv) benefits and sick pay, and support for vulnerable people.

2. Identify the lessons to be learned from the above, to inform preparations for future pandemics across the UK.”

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Transport

Active Travel England

I am pleased to announce further progress on standing up Active Travel England, the new Executive agency which will help deliver this Government’s £2 billion commitment to active travel and creating a new golden age of walking and cycling.

A number of senior leadership appointments have now been made for Active Travel England. Chris Boardman MBE has been confirmed as England’s National active travel commissioner on a permanent basis. After his appointment as the interim Commissioner at the start of the year, he will continue to lead Active Travel England and chair the interim board which has now been established.

The Department expects to be able to confirm shortly the appointment of Danny Williams as Active Travel England’s chief executive, who will be starting full time in August. He will bring a wealth of experience to the role from successfully setting up and growing both large and start-up businesses and from his dedicated campaigning for improving walking and cycling provision.

Louise Wilkinson has been appointed as Active Travel England’s chief operating officer. She has a successful career in financial management for the civil service and local government and has most recently been a finance deputy director in the Cabinet Office.

The Department expects to confirm shortly the appointment of Graham Grant as its director of planning. He was until recently the assistant director of transport at Newcastle City Council.

Brian Deegan has also started as the director of inspections. He has successfully developed and delivered street designs for improving active travel in Greater Manchester and London and will work with local authorities to design high quality schemes. A small number of Department for Transport employees will also transfer to the new body.

Despite only having a handful of officers in place, Active Travel England has already started to deliver significant benefits, in line with the Gear Change commitment to deliver a step change in the quality of walking and cycling infrastructure. It has assessed and awarded £161 million of funding for 134 active travel fund projects, announced on 14 May 2022, which will deliver high-quality schemes in 46 authorities in England, outside London. This early work will enable 16 million extra cycling and walking journeys to take place each year. It has also developed a suite of tools which will help local active travel projects deliver high-quality infrastructure, and it has delivered training and engagement events for local authorities. Its work will significantly improve value for money of cycling and walking schemes.

Improved active travel provision has many benefits. It will play an important role in improving the health of the nation by reducing physical inactivity and it is vital to the Government’s commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Better walking and cycling provision will also help make local areas greener, healthier and better places to live.

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