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General Committees

Debated on Wednesday 19 October 2022

Delegated Legislation Committee

Draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Alterations to the Search Powers Code England and Wales and Scotland) Order 2022

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Julie Elliott

Afriyie, Adam (Windsor) (Con)

† Baldwin, Harriett (West Worcestershire) (Con)

† Dines, Miss Sarah (Lord Commissioner of His Majesty's Treasury)

† Eastwood, Mark (Dewsbury) (Con)

† Elmore, Chris (Ogmore) (Lab)

Hardy, Emma (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)

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

† Lynch, Holly (Halifax) (Lab)

† McDonald, Stuart C. (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)

Pritchard, Mark (The Wrekin) (Con)

† Richards, Nicola (West Bromwich East) (Con)

† Smith, Cat (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)

† Spellar, John (Warley) (Lab)

† Stewart, Iain (Milton Keynes South) (Con)

† Throup, Maggie (Erewash) (Con)

† Tugendhat, Tom (Minister for Security)

Turner, Karl (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab)

Ailish McAllister-Fisher, Guy Mathers, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 19 October 2022

[Julie Elliott in the Chair]

Draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Alterations to the Search Powers for England and Wales and Scotland) Order 2022

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Alterations to the Search Powers for England and Wales and Scotland) Order 2022.

It is a great pleasure, Ms Elliott, to be here under your chairmanship.

The draft order was laid before Parliament on 18 July. Following the horrific terrorist attack at Fishmongers’ Hall in November 2019, the then Home Secretary commissioned the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Jonathan Hall KC, to review the multi-agency public protection arrangements—commonly referred to as MAPPA—used to supervise terrorist and terrorism-risk offenders on licence in the community.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022—hereafter referred to as the 2022 Act—established three new powers for counter-terrorism policing: a personal search power; a premises search power; and a power of urgent arrest. Those powers were established in response to recommendations made by Jonathan Hall KC, following his review of MAPPA. The draft order relates to the new power of personal search, the creation of which was also recommended by the tragedy at Fishmongers’ Hall and its prevention of future deaths report.

The personal search power was inserted into the Terrorism Act 2000—new section 43C—by the 2022 Act. The new search power came into force on 28 June this year. As set out by the Government during the passage of the 2022 Act, the new personal search power applies across the United Kingdom, enabling the police to stop and search terrorist and terrorism-connected offenders released on licence who are required to submit to the search by their licence conditions, should the Parole Board determine that such a condition is necessary. The officer conducting the stop and search must be satisfied that it is necessary to exercise the power for purposes connected with protecting members of the public from a risk of terrorism.

Section 47AA of the Terrorism Act 2000 imposes a requirement on the Secretary of State to prepare a code of practice containing guidance about the exercise of search powers that are conferred by the Act. In June this year, Parliament approved regulations laid by the Government that amended section 47AA so that it extends to cover the new personal search power inserted into the Terrorism Act by the 2022 Act. This created a requirement for the Secretary of State to prepare a revised code of practice that includes guidance on the exercise of the power conferred by new section 43C. We duly prepared a draft revised code of practice, and the draft order seeks Parliament’s approval to bring into force the revisions we have made to the existing code.

I shall now set out the nature of the revisions that the Government have made. The primary update to the code of practice is the incorporation of the new stop-and-search power provided for by section 43C of the Terrorism Act 2000. The revised code sets out important parameters that govern the use of the section 43C power and provides clarity for officers on the power’s scope. That includes providing guidance on the thresholds to be met before the section 43C power can be used, scenarios in which it might be appropriate for use, and the powers of seizure associated with the search power.

We have also set out clearly within the revised code the limitations on the clothing that someone can be required to remove when the section 43C power is exercised by the police. In keeping with existing stop-and-search powers, police officers exercising the section 43C power may not compel someone to remove any clothing in public except for an outer coat, a jacket or gloves, and an intimate search may not be authorised or carried out under the new power.

The new section 43C stop-and-search power has been created specifically to manage the risk posed by terrorist offenders on licence who are assessed to be high or very high risk to the public. The Government plan to collect data from police forces on the use of this targeted power, as we routinely do for other stop-and-search powers, and to make such data publicly available through future statistical publications.

Given that the existing version of the code was brought into force in 2012, the Government have also made other minor changes to ensure that it accurately reflects current practice, legislation terminology and organisational responsibilities. The updated code reflects the creation of police and crime commissioners and structural changes to other policing authorities, including the creation of authorities overseeing combined police areas. We have also updated organisational names. For example, we have replaced previous references to the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Counter Terrorism Coordination Centre with up-to-date references to the Counter Terrorism Policing National Operations Centre.

The revised code also includes a new paragraph that references the Children Act 2004, and its Scottish equivalent, to highlight the need for the police to ensure that, in the discharge of their functions, they recognise the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of all persons under the age of 18. Although it is not new policy, when revising the code the Government considered it important for such safeguarding duties to be made explicit. We have made other minor but necessary amendments, such as updating links and contact details within the code. Those include refreshing the web address where the most up-to-date version of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy—known as Contest—can be found.

In the course of revising the code, the Home Office has consulted the Lord Advocate and other appropriate persons and organisations, including the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Counter Terrorism Policing and Police Scotland, all of whom are supportive of the approach. The revised code promotes the fundamental principles to be observed by the police, and helps to preserve the effectiveness of—and public confidence in—the use of police powers to stop and search under the Terrorism Act 2000.

As always, Ms Elliott, it is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair. I thank the Minister for setting out the merits of the proposals.

In June, we met to discuss the proposed changes brought about by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which allow for those released on licence for terror or terrorism-related offences to be stopped and searched in order to protect public safety. I made it clear that we felt the measures—which were recommendations made by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Jonathan Hall KC, following his review of the multi-agency public protection arrangements—were both proportionate and necessary.

That legislation committed the Minister to returning to Parliament with a refined code of practice containing guidance about the exercise of that new power, and I am glad that the Minister has been able to set that out today. The explanatory memorandum—the Minister knows that I am a big fan of them—outlines that the code has been amended to reflect other changes that have come into effect since it was last amended in 2012.

Those changes include the creation of police and crime commissioners, the establishment of the College of Policing and the latest version of Contest, as the Minister explained. I also welcome the emphasis on the need to ensure that appropriate safeguarding checks are in place to protect those under 18. By ensuring that the code offers sufficient guidance for law enforcement, we know that both children and law enforcement officials are better protected when undertaking that incredibly important work.

On that basis, we support the proposed changes. However, as the Minister knows from our exchanges on the National Security Bill, I find the work of the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation invaluable. With any extension of powers there can be unintended consequences, but equally missed opportunities, so I will follow closely Jonathan Hall’s assessment of the efficacy of these powers once they come into effect. We are satisfied that the changes are both proportionate to the security challenges we face and necessary if we are to reduce the risk of future attacks. We support the measures in the national interest.

Very unusually for stop and search powers, we are all on the same page today, so I will be brief. I think these are sensible, carefully limited measures that bring clarity for the police. Like the shadow Minister, I welcome the changes to recognise the interests of children and to safeguard them. As the Minister said, the Lord Advocate, Police Scotland and the Scottish Government have been consulted and are supportive. On that basis, we support the measures as well.

Given the cross-party support that the Minister was just celebrating, would it be useful for the Home Secretary to write to chief constables to remind them of the importance of the new powers, and to ensure that they are up to date on how they might be applied? It could be helpful, in the circumstances, to reflect the general consensus.

I will definitely take that back to the Home Secretary; I am sure that she will be delighted to do that. I am sure chief constables will be aware that the measures have cross-party support, and therefore the support of the whole country.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Merchant Shipping (Additional Safety Measures for Bulk Carriers) Regulations 2022 Draft Merchant Shipping (High Speed Craft) Regulations 2022

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: †Mr Laurence Robertson

Byrne, Liam (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab)

† Cruddas, Jon (Dagenham and Rainham) (Lab)

Duffield, Rosie (Canterbury) (Lab)

† Fletcher, Colleen (Coventry North East) (Lab)

† Frazer, Lucy (Minister of State, Department for Transport)

† Garnier, Mark (Wyre Forest) (Con)

Jones, Mr Marcus (Nuneaton) (Con)

† Kane, Mike (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab)

† Lewer, Andrew (Northampton South) (Con)

† Longhi, Marco (Dudley North) (Con)

McDonald, Andy (Middlesbrough) (Lab)

† Moore, Damien (Southport) (Con)

† Opperman, Guy (Hexham) (Con)

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

† Syms, Sir Robert (Poole) (Con)

† Vaz, Valerie (Walsall South) (Lab)

† Williams, Craig (Montgomeryshire) (Con)

Liam Laurence Smyth, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 19 October 2022

[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Draft Merchant Shipping (Additional Safety Measures for Bulk Carriers) Regulations 2022

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Merchant Shipping (Additional Safety Measures for Bulk Carriers) Regulations 2022.

With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Merchant Shipping (High Speed Craft) Regulations 2022.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson.

The draft Merchant Shipping (Additional Safety Measures for Bulk Carriers) Regulations 2022, which I shall refer to as the draft bulk carrier regulations, and the draft Merchant Shipping (High Speed Craft) Regulations 2022, which I shall refer to as the draft high speed craft regulations, relate to the safety of large sea-going bulk carriers and high speed craft. Bulk carriers are vital in the trading of world commodities. They transport unpackaged cargo such as cement, grain, coal and iron ore. High speed craft are, generally, UK registered rapid passenger craft or non-UK rapid passenger craft operating in UK waters. They include some twin-hulled vessels, hydrofoils and air-cushioned vessels such as hovercraft.

Both statutory instruments will be made under safety powers conferred by the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. Both are also subject to the enhanced scrutiny procedures under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 because they amend or revoke provisions in earlier instruments that were made under, or amended by, section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. Neither of the instruments implements any EU obligations.

The draft bulk carriers regulations and the draft high speed craft regulations implement the most up to date requirements of chapters 12 and 10 respectively of the annex to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974, known as SOLAS, affecting bulk carriers and high-speed craft. Both SIs bring UK domestic law up to date and in line with internationally agreed requirements. The draft bulk carriers regulations and the draft high speed craft regulations contain direct references to requirements of SOLAS. Future updates to those provisions will be given direct effect in UK law when they enter into force internationally. That assists in keeping UK legislation up to date with international requirements.

The bulk carriers regulations will replace the Merchant Shipping (Additional Safety Measures for Bulk Carriers) Regulations 1999 to implement the most up to date requirements of Chapter 12 of SOLAS affecting bulk carriers. The high speed craft regulations will replace the Merchant Shipping (High Speed Craft) Regulations 2004 to implement the most up to date requirements of Chapter 10 of SOLAS, affecting high speed craft. Chapter 10 gives effect to the High Speed Craft Codes 1994 and 2000, which contain the detailed requirements applying to high speed craft. As their names suggest, those codes were first agreed internationally by the International Maritime Organisation in 1994 and 2000 but have since been updated, most recently in 2020.

The regulations will further improve the safety standards for high speed craft, and will enable the UK to enforce those requirements against UK high speed craft wherever they may be in the world, and non-UK high speed craft when in UK waters. That provides a level playing field for industry. The amendments bring UK legislation up to date and in line with internationally agreed requirements.

The regulations will bring into UK law outstanding updates to SOLAS Chapter 12 concerning the safety of bulk carriers, which the UK has already agreed to at the IMO. Those requirements include damage stability and structural strength requirements, standards, and criteria for side construction, as well as standards for the owner’s inspection and maintenance of bulk carrier hatch covers. They also include a requirement for a loading instrument to provide information on the stability of a bulk carrier under 150 metres in length, and restrictions on bulk carriers of over 10 years of age from sailing with any hold empty. The amendments came into force internationally on 1 July 2006.

My Department held an eight-week public consultation on the draft bulk carriers regulations. One response was received, which was not contentious, and which raised a valid question seeking clarification on how the ambulatory reference provisions would work. A response to this was issued, as well as a post-consultation report, which was published on GOV.UK. We have 28 bulk carriers on the UK flag; these are all already compliant with the requirements of the draft bulk carriers regulations. Making the regulations will enable the UK to enforce the same requirements for bulk carriers as other states which UK registered bulk carriers are currently subject to when entering foreign ports; that will provide greater equality between UK shipping companies and foreign operators.

The updated requirements of SOLAS Chapter 10 set out in the High Speed Craft Codes 1994 and 2000, which the proposed regulations seek to implement, introduce both the new requirement for crew drills on entry to, and rescue from, enclosed spaces, such as machinery spaces, to be conducted every two months, and the recording of those drills alongside other similar records currently kept for fire drills and other life-saving appliance drills. Those updated requirements came into force internationally on 1 January 2015.

In addition, the regulations implement two further changes to the codes. First, they introduce updates to the requirements for life-saving appliances relating to rescue boats and life rafts. Secondly, they abolish the current monopoly on satellite service provision to ships, opening the market to any provider meeting the required standards. Both of those measures came into force internationally on 1 January 2020.

Those updated requirements are important for ensuring the safety and stability of high speed craft, and increase safety standards to align them with the international requirements. Introducing those requirements in these regulations will enable the UK to enforce those standards in respect of high speed craft in the UK’s waters. We have almost 30 high speed craft on the UK flag to which the new regulations will apply. We currently have no foreign flagged high speed craft operating in UK waters. The regulations will apply to all high speed craft, with the 1994 code applying to older vessels and the 2000 code applying to vessels built or substantially modified on or after 1 July 2002.

The regulations also make amendments to the Merchant Shipping (Fees) Regulations 2018 to enable fees to be charged for the inspection, survey and certification of high speed craft by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

I have highlighted the importance of both sets of regulations, including improving safety standards, meeting the UK’s international obligations and ensuring a level playing field for UK shipping companies. I hope that all Members will agree that the SIs implement important updates to SOLAS into domestic legislation regarding bulk carrier safety and the safety of high speed craft. I therefore commend the instruments to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I see that Bolton Wanderers are lying seventh in the championship, but they have a game in hand, so there is hope yet of promotion at the end of the season. I know that I am allowed to digress for one time under your chairmanship of any Committee to discuss such matters.

I can see from the expression on the faces of Conservative Members that they came into politics to talk about bulk carriers and high speed craft regulations. I can see that they are all on their mobile phones checking the current update on them or perhaps—

Are they tracking ships that sail in the night? Indeed. Enough of the nautical puns.

I genuinely welcome the Minister to her place; I have had to do that a few times now over the past few years. I thank the civil servants for their hard work in bringing Ministers up to speed so quickly, as is apparent today. It would have been nice if the Secretary of State, who directly answers for maritime matters, had been here, but the Minister is not a second preference and her presence is most welcome.

Let us get down to business. We are here to discuss the additional safety measures for bulk carriers. Of course we would never object to anything that improves safety and conditions for seafarers. We welcome the draft regulations to replace the Merchant Shipping Regulations of 1999. That will ensure that the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea 1974 is fully implemented.

As we all know, bulk carriers are vital in the world of commerce, as they carry unpackaged cargo such as coal and cement. Without those carriers and the brave work of those seafarers during covid we would not have kept our country stocked and supplied. The prime hazards associated with the shipment of solid bulk cargoes are those relating to structural damage due to improper cargo distribution, loss or reduction of stability during a voyage and chemical reactions of those cargoes. I note the updates relate to bulk carriers with empty holds and set standards to protect the watertight integrity of the ship, so ensuring that when loading there is an instrument that assesses the ships design and how its stability might be compromised during the process. That instrument was previously only required in bulk carriers over 150 metres in length. The updates bring in improved and updated standards on the maintenance and inspection of hatch covers, ensuring their integrity, and of single and double skinned carriers.

The primary aim of the bulk carrier statutory instrument is to facilitate the safe stowage and shipment of bulk cargoes by providing information on the dangers associated with said shipments. Those regulations will improve safety requirements and enable the UK to enforce them not just on UK ships wherever they set sail to, but to any non-UK ship when they are in our territorial waters.

Industry compliance is already high; all 29 UK flagged bulk carriers are already compliant with the standards outlined by the Minister. Given the size and nature of bulk carriers, it is vital they are safe, not only for seafarers but also for the environment. One only has to recall the bulk carrier that ran aground on a reef in Mauritius in July 2020, which then leaked oil, and caused an ecological disaster in the seas around the Indian Ocean islands. Four seafarers died while attempting to retrieve oil, and 1,000 tons of oil were eventually spilled into the ocean. More recently in waters off Gibraltar a bulk carrier ran aground and leaked oil into the oceans. Those accidents do happen but one must ask whether they would have been prevented had the additional safety measures been introduced sooner.

On enforcement, 10 regulations relate to enforcement and with one exception, they all apply to the owner and to the master. Will the burden on reporting failure to comply with the regulations under the merchant shipping legislation be placed upon the ports and harbours? Can the Minister confirm which agency will be responsible for carrying out any necessary enforcement? What are the penalties for failing to comply? If fines are to be imposed, what level of fines would be applicable? If the Minister cannot provide those answers now, I am happy to receive them in writing. Continuing with the theme of enforcement, can she confirm whether our international counterparts are aware of the forthcoming changes? In addition, were trade union representatives consulted while the regulations were developed?

The high speed craft regulations seek to make amendments to chapter 10 of the IMO’s International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea in relation to high speed craft. Those craft are typically rapid passenger craft but can also be cargo craft. Primarily, they operate domestically in UK waters, although some are known to operate between the UK and France. An example of a high-speed craft as defined in this SI is a Thames clipper. We can look out of our windows here on some days and see one. That category of vessel also covers hydrofoils and air-cushioned vessels such as hovercraft. I learned so much about pollution and hovercraft when we recently discussed a SI on the subject in this room.

We have many SIs to pass on account of a backlog, and I look forward to attending another one next Tuesday morning, and I am sure the Minister does as well.

The proposed regulations on high speed craft will further improve safety standards on those craft and will give powers to the UK to enforce those requirements against UK high speed craft, wherever they may be in the world, and also to use the same powers over non-UK high speed craft when in UK waters. Am I correct in assuming that theh international enforcement body is aware of the regulations, as I note there were only three responses to the consultation? Or perhaps it, too, was unable to distil the definition of the vessels affected because the formula was impenetrable to many. Indeed, in the explanatory memorandum the Law Society of Scotland asked whether the formula to determine whether a vessel is a high speed craft could be simplified. I share its concern.

I am assured that high speed craft know what they are, and are registered as such, and already compliant. Do the proposed regulations represent an international standard of which all high speed craft are aware? Is the criteria to determine high speed craft the same the world over? Are international high speed crafts aware they are in that category for enforcement purposes? If a high speed craft is found to be in breach of the regulations, I notice that the first option is a fine. There is no mention of the amount of the fine, so perhaps the Minister can apprise the Committee of that.

I welcome the opening up of the satellite service provider market that could drive down prices, but we would not want to see a reduction of standards. I raise the issue of standards because my attention was drawn to a line in the consultation that says that the risk-based assessment outlined in the legislation

“enables more flexibility for both industry and government in the application of safety standards.”

How and by whom will this be monitored ongoing? With that solely in mind, again were unions consulted? I have to say that the words “flexibility…in…safety standards” should send a shudder down all our spines.

We would never oppose anything that sought to improve safety standards on vessels, and for that reason, assuming we receive assurances from the Minister on the points I have raised, we will not oppose the measures.

As I have said in previous Committees, we have a backlog of a large number of SIs to get through. We are trying to clear that delegated legislation, and I would be interested to learn whether the Minister has any update on how and when we will clear the current backlog.

It was a pleasure to get a football update from the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East, and to hear his points and questions. I am very pleased to hear that the Labour party will not oppose these important and sensible safety measures.

The hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions, and although I will not be able to answer all of them, I will answer as many as I can, and of course I will write to him on any outstanding questions.

On the level of fines, they will be unlimited in England and Wales and subject to a statutory maximum in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Trade unions were consulted on the bulk carriers, and a reminder was also sent two weeks before that consultation closed. The hon. Gentleman asked whether there was an obligation on ports to monitor repeat offences, and that task will be undertaken by port state control officers. He also asked whether international bodies are aware of the proposed changes. I would remind him that the SIs are implementing an IMO standard, so of course other countries have agreed to that standard at international discussions.

On international enforcement, all maritime administrations will know about their requirements. All HSC operators and enforcement agencies will know that their vessels are HSC. Fines in relation to high speed craft, just as for bulk carriers, will be unlimited in England and Wales, and subject to a statutory maximum in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the delay in consideration of delegated legislation. The Government are very conscious that it is important that we implement our international obligations. Unfortunately, we have had to implement a large number of measures on account of covid and other matters, and there has been some delay. We apologise for that, but as my predecessor told the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, the backlog will be cleared by the end of 2023. That is currently on track to be achieved, so I hope that offers the hon. Gentleman some comfort.

For all those reasons, I ask that the Committee to agree the Statutory Instruments.

Question put and agreed to.



That the Committee has considered the draft Merchant Shipping (High Speed Craft) Regulations 2022.—(Lucy Frazer.)

Committee rose.

Draft Digital Government (Disclosure of Information) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Yvonne Fovargue

Anderson, Fleur (Putney) (Lab)

† Atkins, Victoria (Louth and Horncastle) (Con)

† Blackman, Kirsty (Aberdeen North) (SNP)

Bradshaw, Mr Ben (Exeter) (Lab)

† Brock, Deidre (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)

† Cairns, Alun (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con)

† Chalk, Alex (Cheltenham) (Con)

† Clarke-Smith, Brendan (Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office)

Foy, Mary Kelly (City of Durham) (Lab)

† Harris, Rebecca (Comptroller of His Majesty's Household)

† Hudson, Dr Neil (Penrith and The Border) (Con)

† Levy, Ian (Blyth Valley) (Con)

† Matheson, Christian (City of Chester) (Lab)

† Metcalfe, Stephen (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)

† Owen, Sarah (Luton North) (Lab)

† Smith, Julian (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)

† Trott, Laura (Sevenoaks) (Con)

Seb Newman, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 19 October 2022

[Yvonne Fovargue in the Chair]

Draft Digital Government (Disclosure of Information) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Digital Government (Disclosure of Information) (Amendment) Regulations 2022.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. The purpose of the draft regulations is to allow information sharing between specified bodies for the specific purpose of identifying and targeting funded early learning and childcare for families with eligible two-year-olds in Scotland. They amend the Digital Government (Disclosure of Information) Regulations 2018.

The public service delivery power supports public bodies to improve or target the important public services which they provide. The power is designed to give public bodies the information needed to provide early intervention and vital support for those who need it or, where possible, to prevent the problems that reduce people’s life chances. In order to exercise the public service delivery power, the Government must set specific objectives for data sharing via regulations, and those objectives must meet specific criteria defined in primary legislation.

The draft regulations seek to establish a new objective for data sharing under the public service delivery power in the Digital Economy Act 2017 for identifying and targeting funded early learning and childcare for families with eligible two-year-olds in Scotland. The objective created through the draft regulations will enable data sharing from the Department for Work and Pensions and His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to the Scottish Government, and the forwarding of that data to Scottish local councils. That will allow Scottish local councils access to the necessary information held by DWP and HMRC to enable them to identify households most in need, and then to directly contact those families to inform them of the support they are likely to be eligible for.

The territorial extent of the draft regulations is Great Britain, and their territorial application is England and Scotland. The draft regulations must be taken through the UK Parliament by the UK Government because information sharing under the proposed objective would involve disclosure and processing of data held by UK Departments: HMRC and DWP. The Scottish Parliament can only approve proposals for new objectives that solely involve specified Scottish bodies permitted to make use of the public service delivery power.

Legal gateways already exist in England and Wales to enable data sharing to support delivery of early learning and childcare. The draft regulations will bring Scotland parity of service provision with that already enjoyed by families in England and Wales. Data sharing is a vital and effective way of identifying individuals and households experiencing problems that reduce their life chances. Access to high-quality early learning and childcare is a key factor in determining life chances.

There are safeguards in place to protect personal data from misuse. The objective has already been subject to scrutiny by the Public Service Delivery Review Board, which oversees the use of the public service delivery power, as set out in the underpinning code of practice. The review board comprises specialists working in the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, as well as public representative bodies and civil society groups. Officials from the Information Commissioner’s Office also attend as observers.

The board is tasked with considering proposals for new objectives for data sharing under the public service delivery power and making recommendations to Ministers. The board’s recommendation to take forward the draft regulations was approved by the relevant Minister as they meet the criteria set out in section 35 of the 2017 Act for objectives under the public service delivery power, enabling the sharing of personal information to support the improvement or targeting of public services to individuals or households in order to improve their wellbeing.

Furthermore, the objective has been subject to public consultation. Responses to the statutory public consultation were decidedly positive, with up to 94% of respondents agreeing that the proposed data sharing would improve services and target them to eligible households, and 88% agreeing that data sharing would improve wellbeing for those households. Some 86% of respondents also agreed that the data sharing would deliver tangible benefits to households, including early-stage support to promote education, health and social equality. Importantly, 87% of respondents agreed that the personal data items to be shared, specifically including the customer name—that is, the parent or carer name—address and national insurance number, as well as the child or children indicator to confirm the existence of a child or children, are appropriate for early learning and childcare service delivery.

Parliamentarians have already approved the code of practice and the Digital Government (Disclosure of Information) Regulations 2018, which established public service delivery objectives. Sharing personal data will, understandably, tend to attract attention and scrutiny. However, the power, as with other data-sharing powers in part 5 of the Digital Economy Act 2017, must be exercised in compliance with the data protection legislation and UK GDPR.

There is an underpinning code of practice that sets out how the power must be operated, and this includes setting out how any data shared under this power must be processed lawfully, securely and proportionately, in line with data protection legislation. Anyone making use of any objective must have regard to the code. The code of practice also requires that information-sharing agreements are included in a public register of information-sharing activity under the powers.

I hope colleagues will join me in supporting the draft regulations. I commend them to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Fovargue. I apologise that the relevant shadow Minister cannot join us today: I will do my best to fill her shoes on this important issue. The Opposition welcome this instrument. We are grateful that the Government are making efforts to communicate better with working families across the UK. Sadly that is especially needed now after the pain that has been inflicted on them through the economic chaos of the mini-Budget that left many families wondering how they can feed their children, heat their homes and keep a roof over their heads.

Whatever lifts the burden and makes families’ lives a little easier is to be welcomed. It is especially crucial to have such engagement with families with regard to the education and care of small children. We will always support and advocate for more measures that help each child have a strong start in life. Therefore, we will not oppose the regulations today. I wish only to ask some questions and probe the legislation so that it is as strong as possible.

With that in mind, would the Government share in more detail how they intend to address concerns around data-sharing processes and how they will ensure that the data is not misused? I know the Minister touched on that issue, but given that we are talking about very young children and potentially very vulnerable families, it would be good if he could elaborate a little more on that important point. Can the Government also advise of any other objectives in England or any of the devolved nations that could be better served if information were shared by central Government using provisions under the Act? Will the Government review other possible avenues at a later date?

A significant criticism of the Government’s pandemic response was central Government not sharing data with local authorities for the purpose of things such as test and trace. Could a similar SI be laid in the future to ensure better communication between central and local government on objectives relating to public safety? Those are our questions at present, but as stated, we are content to see the regulations pass today.

I appreciate you taking the time to chair the Committee today, Ms Fovargue. I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the intentions behind the regulations. It is disappointing that the Scottish Government do not have the powers to do this ourselves. We do not have the information because we are not in full control of all of these things, including HMRC and DWP. We would certainly have a significantly better social security system than the UK has at present.

As a former local authority councillor—like my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith—I can say from experience that local authorities in Scotland are very used to working with a lot of highly sensitive data. They have responsibilities for social care, social work and nursing provision, for example. They deal with all that data in accordance with the law and treat it with the sensitivity with which it needs to be treated.

The regulations are sensible and should be passed, in order to ensure that councils have the information and can say to parents of eligible two-year-olds, “Here is your funded childcare place, please take it up and here is more information about how to access it.” Between September 2020 and September 2021, we saw a 25% increase in the number of two-year-olds taking up those places, and we hope to see that increase further so that all of those eligible can access those services if they choose.

Lastly, the provision of free and accessible childcare is important because it gives parents the opportunity to choose whether to work. I and others like me could not make that decision because we did not have access to the same amount of funded childcare as people across Scotland and, indeed, the UK now have. It has made a significant difference to the lives of families, and I am pleased that this data-sharing agreement will allow even more families to benefit from funded childcare.

I do not intend to delay you, Ms Fovargue, or the Committee for much longer.

I welcome the speech made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North. The purpose of the regulations is to improve funded childcare in Scotland, but I hope that Scotland will not have the same experience as we have had in England. In 2015, I served on the Childcare Bill Committee, which introduced the funded childcare arrangement. In the 2015 election, my party proposed a funded and costed policy for 25 hours of free childcare. The Conservatives, under the leadership of David Cameron, decided to trump that by offering 30 hours. It was a fine political move, but it had not been costed and they had not thought about it. Even by the time of the Bill Committee—Sam Gyimah, our former colleague, was the Minister—they had no clue where the money was going to come from or where it was going to go.

I am very concerned that we will put these regulations through—my party supports them and is not seeking to block them—but that Scotland will experience the same problems as those experienced by England and, I am guessing, Wales. The problem is that the principle will be agreed to, but without any mechanism or funding.

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we already provide funded childcare for two-year-olds. These regulations will allow us to address those who do not have the funded places for which they are eligible. The way in which local government in Scotland works means that a concordat is signed between the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Government about things such as how this will be delivered, and this is being signed as part of the concordat.

I am really grateful to the hon. Lady for that information, which reassures me a little. I only hope that the Government will now look south of the border to try to improve the provision of childcare in England, which is still chaotic and hit and miss.

I would like to address some of the points that have been made and to wish the hon. Member for Putney, who is unable to be with us today, a speedy recovery.

The hon. Member for Luton North made some sensible suggestions. First, on safeguards, we are aware of the risks regarding the misuse of people’s personal data. The data-sharing provisions in part 5 of the DEA include a number of robust safeguards. The most important, as we have mentioned, is compatibility with and strict adherence to the Data Protection Act 2018 and UK GDPR. The DEA also goes further. It includes a number of other safeguards, such as sanctions for unlawful disclosures, including custodial sentences in some cases. The public service delivery powers are permissive, which means that the authorities listed in schedule 4 can choose whether to use them or not, and that safeguarding prevents inappropriate data-sharing.

I appreciate the severity of those reprimands should data breaches take place, but could the Minister tell us how many people have actually received custodial sentences as a result of a data breach? We are talking about particularly young people’s data, so I want to ensure that the existing regulations are tight enough.

I am happy to write to the hon. Member with the exact figures, so that there is a record of them. I share her concern; it is important that appropriate enforcement action is taken.

As new public service delivery objectives are created by regulations under the affirmative procedure, new objectives will be defined before data sharing can commence, and that will follow public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny.

The public service delivery powers have not yet commenced in Northern Ireland; the policy does not apply there at the moment. The objective relates only to Scotland; however, our respective officials have engaged on the possibility of having equivalent objectives for Northern Ireland. We recognise that that would be contingent on the commencement of devolved government in Northern Ireland.

With regard to statutory instruments, the UK Government are taking the objective forward at the request of the Scottish Government. The territorial extent of the regulations is the UK, but the regulations apply in England and Scotland only. The Government are required to consult the devolved Administrations, and formal consultation was carried out with them. Furthermore, there is ongoing liaison at official level to ensure that the views of Welsh and Northern Irish colleagues are fully accounted for. On the point that the hon. Member for Luton North made about SIs, I am more than happy to provide information on where we are on that.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen North is clearly passionate about making sure that we deliver the funding to those who are eligible; that is what this is all about. We already get the relevant information from Scotland; it is important that we reciprocate.

The objective will benefit Scottish families with eligible two-year-olds by increasing their access to funded early learning and childcare. If eligible families were to purchase the funded hours, it would cost them around £5,000 per eligible child per year. Another benefit for families is the narrowing of the poverty-related outcomes gap for children facing the most disadvantage. As the hon. Member for City of Chester said, that is very important. We want to make sure that we support families. I have a young family and have benefited from various Government schemes. I do not know how our working family would have managed without them, so I speak from first-hand experience. I fully take on board what he said. As for other benefits, the objective will provide parents with increased opportunities to be in work, training or study, and will improve family wellbeing.

I thank the Committee for taking the time to scrutinise the draft regulations, which will enable more effective use of data, so that we can better support the most vulnerable in society and deliver better outcomes for our citizens. I hope that colleagues will join me in supporting the regulations, which I commend to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2022

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: †Judith Cummins

Anderson, Fleur (Putney) (Lab)

† Bhatti, Saqib (Meriden) (Con)

† Bonnar, Steven (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)

Brennan, Kevin (Cardiff West) (Lab)

† Clarke-Smith, Brendan (Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office)

† Colburn, Elliot (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)

† Gibson, Peter (Darlington) (Con)

† Goodwill, Sir Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)

† Greenwood, Lilian (Nottingham South) (Lab)

† Greenwood, Margaret (Wirral West) (Lab)

Harris, Carolyn (Swansea East) (Lab)

† Harris, Rebecca (Comptroller of His Majesty's Household)

† Kniveton, Kate (Burton) (Con)

† Lord, Mr Jonathan (Woking) (Con)

† Mackrory, Cherilyn (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)

Ribeiro-Addy, Bell (Streatham) (Lab)

† Saxby, Selaine (North Devon) (Con)

Jonathan Finlay, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 19 October 2022

[Judith Cummins in the Chair]

Draft Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2022

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2022.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins.

The purpose of the regulations, which were laid before the House on 18 July, is technical. They do not introduce any new policy, rather the main purpose is to update the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No.2) Accessibility Regulations 2018, so that they can continue to operate, given that the UK has left the European Union. The amendments do not add any burdens to the UK’s public sector, nor do they reduce any of the UK’s standards and support for disabled people.

The 2018 regulations were transposed from EU Directive 2016/2102 which requires public sector bodies to make their websites and mobile applications accessible, unless it would impose a disproportionate burden on the public sector body to do so.

According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People there are 340,000 people registered blind or partially sighted in the UK, and there are more than 2 million people living with sight loss. The statutory instrument is particularly important to them. I know from blind and partially sighted people that I have spoken to just how important it is to them that they are able to access websites and other technologies, such as mobile apps, for a range of things including shopping, accessing services and communicating with friends and family.

It is important that the Government lead the way on this, so what steps does the Minister intend to take to encourage companies more widely to ensure that their websites are accessible to people with disabilities, including those who are blind and partially sighted?

I share the hon. Lady’s passion for making sure that we can make things accessible. I have worked in my own constituency with organisations such as the RNIB towards that end. Existing regulations, such as those in the Equality Act 2010, aim to ensure accessibility. I will make sure that we not only enforce those regulations, but I want to see companies proactively implementing today’s proposed regulations without the Government having to get involved. From my perspective, I and, I am sure, my colleagues will continue to promote that work. The hon. Lady is absolutely right.

“Accessibility” refers to principles and techniques to follow when people design, build, maintain and update websites and apps in order to make them as easy as possible for people to use. That applies in particular to people with disabilities, and people who use assistive technology with their computers, tablets and mobile phones, such as a screen reader or screen magnification software. The regulations build on existing UK legislation and commitments such as the Equality Act 2010 in England, Scotland and Wales, and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland, which placed duties on service providers to make reasonable adjustments for persons with disabilities when providing services and exercising public functions.

The current regulations also place some obligations on the Minister for the Cabinet Office, including monitoring of the public sector to ensure the regulations are being met, and sending a report to the European Union every three years, detailing what has been found during that monitoring. Those obligations were harmonised, so that implementation was similar across EU member states and so that there could be comparison between countries. That harmonisation is no longer required, and the specified monitoring process has been inefficient to implement. The amendments move the monitoring process from being defined in a European Commission implementing decision to being set by the UK Government. The model accessibility statement that websites and mobile apps need to publish is also moved to be set by the UK Government. The first report was due to be sent to the EU in December 2021. Instead of this, the Minister for the Cabinet Office published a similar report on GOV.UK, and the proposed amendments alter the obligation allowing the same procedure to be followed in the future. That ensures that the monitoring, and the effectiveness of the regulations, are transparent to all.

The 2018 regulations used a European technical standard as the definition of the accessibility requirements placed on the public sector. That standard is controlled by the European Commission and is subject to its funding and timeframes. Practically, that standard mainly references an international standard called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, created and published by the World Wide Web Consortium. The proposed amendments would move the technical standard to that international standard, which is far more well known and used by digital accessibility experts, and is also open for all to contribute to.

The proposed regulations are made under section 8 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which allows a Minister to make regulations to resolve any deficiencies in law that arise as a result of the UK’s departure from the European Union.

The technical standard, monitoring and reporting methodology and the model accessibility statement were set through European Commission implementing decisions. The UK no longer adopts new implementing Acts so changes to those Acts no longer take effect in the UK. The SI removes the links to the Commission’s implementing Acts and replaces them with UK-set implementations, as mentioned previously. Three European Commission implementing decisions will be revoked once the amendments are made.

I hope that colleagues will join me in supporting the draft regulations, and I commend them to the Committee.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins.

I find myself in the somewhat unexpected position of speaking for the Opposition due to the ill health of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney. I am sure the Committee wish her a speedy recovery. I also welcome the Minister to his new position.

One in five people in the UK have a long-term illness, impairment or disability, and probably even more people have a temporary disability, which includes those with impaired vision, motor difficulties, cognitive impairments or learning difficulties, deafness or hearing loss. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West was right to highlight the importance of the regulations for very many of our constituents, including those with sight loss.

Accessibility is about more than just putting things online; it is about making sure that content is easily navigable for everyone, whatever their abilities or otherwise. It is important that they work for everyone. The Government’s own website, Understanding accessibility requirements for public sector bodies, has acknowledged that the people who need those websites the most are often those who find them hardest to use. As we know, when websites are made more accessible to people with disabilities, they are then often more accessible to absolutely everyone—they are faster, easier to use and reflect better use in search engines.

I was concerned to note from the same Government website that

“most public sector websites and mobile apps do not currently meet accessibility requirements. For example, a study by the Society for Innovation, technology and modernisation…found that 4 in 10 local council homepages failed basic tests for accessibility.

Common problems include websites that are not easy to use on a mobile or cannot be navigated using a keyboard, inaccessible PDF forms that cannot be read out on screen readers, and poor colour contrast that makes text difficult to read - especially for visually impaired people.”

Not only do we need to update the regulations to reflect the UK’s departure from the EU, but we need to ensure that the proposed regulations lead to what they are designed to achieve, namely improved accessibility for our constituents.

I have a number of questions. Is the Minister able to reassure us that the web content accessibility guidelines are of a comparable standard to those in the EU directive? When can we expect the first model accessibility statement from the UK Government? Does the Minister expect it to add to current obligations and make it more demanding of public sector bodies? Can he share more details about the monitoring methodology? Will it largely reflect the EU regulations, or will a different approach be taken?

This year, Parliament passed the British Sign Language Act 2022. That places a requirement on Government Departments to report on what they have done to promote and facilitate the use of British sign language in their public communications. I know from my own work in the House how BSL users often find that they are unable to access Government information because it is not suitably translated. Will the monitoring process capture information regarding the accessibility of websites and mobile apps to BSL users?

When can we expect the first monitoring publication from the Minister? As for the requirement to publish subsequent monitoring publications every three years, and given what it says on the Government’s website about many websites and mobile apps currently failing to meet accessibility requirements, would more frequent monitoring reports help to drive change and enable the Government to monitor better whether improvements are made as a result of the proposed regulations?

What level of accessibility is acceptable to the Minister? If as many as four in 10 local council homepages fail basic tests for accessibility, what is the picture across public sector websites and mobile apps? What assessment has he made of that? What is the target and how quickly does he expect to reach it?

I look forward to the Minister’s answers, because I am sure that many of our constituents with disabilities who experience not being able to use websites and apps effectively will also look for those answers. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney sent me a note to say that one of her constituents who was blind had written to her to say that they were unable to access covid travel guidelines at the height of the pandemic. What else will the Minister do to drive accessibility and ensure that the UK is a world leader in that respect?

I thank the Opposition spokesperson for her contribution. I recognised many of the issues she highlighted, because, as someone with dyspraxia, I had difficulties accessing things, certainly during my school examinations. It is something that has great personal meaning to me.

On the scope of the regulations, they are made under section 8 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, which allows deficiencies in regulations to be remedied now that we have left the EU. The UK has a strong commitment to supporting disabled people under the Equality Act and of course under the Disability Discrimination Act as well. The regulations only apply to the public sector, but the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will explore whether similar regulations could be introduced for the private sector. That policy has currently paused pending the outcome of the appeal on the lawfulness of the National Disability Strategy. I agree with the hon. Lady that we must encourage others to be onboard, not just the public sector.

On the enforcement of accessibility statements, the need to publish those was a new burden on the public sector and some grace has been given to it to enable it to publish them. Our monitoring shows that around 90% of sites have published a statement, and we will consider further future enforcement. The hon. Lady asked whether that monitoring was sufficient, and I can tell her that more than 900 sites and apps have been monitored so far across the public sector by the monitoring team in the digital service. The proposed regulations will allow that monitoring to focus on the sites and services that disabled people use regularly, and to use new technology to target the least accessible public sector websites.

As for the findings so far, the Cabinet Office published a report in December 2021 detailing the findings from accessibility monitoring of public sector websites and apps. Although accessibility issues were identified on nearly all tested websites, after sending a report to the website owner and giving them some time to fix the issues, 59% had fixed them or had short-term timelines for when the websites would be fixed. The main issues identified were the lack of visible focus on screen, which affects keyboard users, low colour contrasts on webpages, which affects visually impaired users and technical website construction issues that affect users of assistive technology.

I welcome the Minister’s response on that point, and obviously it is good news that when public sector providers were told that their website did not meet accessibility standards, 59% of them corrected it either immediately or in a short time. What did his Department do about the 41% that did not respond in that manner?

That is a fair question and is exactly why we are introducing the regulations, because they will enable us to take matters further. I mentioned National Disability Strategy and the appeal pending; I cannot give any further detail, but pending the result of that appeal, the strategy will also enable us to take matters further. The model accessibility statement is published on GOV.UK, and currently mirrors the EU version. We will look at improvements to make it more useful, and enforcement will play a part in that.

Given that arrangements have been in place for some time to improve accessibility, and the Minister has identified problems, what assessment has he made of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s ability to enforce the regulations? Is it sufficiently resourced to do so? Often, we place the onus on individuals to make complaints, when surely we should be more proactive in ensuring that websites and mobile apps are accessible in the first place. People should not be required to jump through hoops to raise concerns, and only then do we enforce.

I agree. We are being proactive by introducing the regulations, and formulating the strategy. We encourage the public and private sectors to get involved and not just wait to act on a complaint. The Government are actively pursuing the matter and identified cases have been passed to the equalities bodies for further compliance and enforcement work.

I am grateful to hon. Members for their contributions. The Government are committed to improve the everyday lives of disabled people, and access to public information and services is vital. The SI makes sure that the public sector remains accessible to all as it moves online.

May I ask the Minister again about the British Sign Language Act? Will the monitoring process properly capture what is being done to facilitate and promote the use of British sign language? If he is not able to answer me now, can he write to me?

I am more than happy to write to the hon. Lady. My mother is a BSL signer, so once again, this is something I deeply care about. I expect that such work will be implemented as part of the accessibility process.[Official Report, 25 October 2022, Vol. 721, c. 1MC.] I have already mentioned support for those who are blind or deaf, but of course everybody has a right to accessibility. We are committed to that. The EHRC also has set a strategic priority and will take action against public sector bodies that do not meet the regulations.

I commend the regulations to the Committee and I hope that colleagues will support them.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.