Thursday 9 February 2023
Customs Fraud and the European Union
In March 2018, the European Commission took the first steps towards infracting the UK, alleging that between November 2011 and October 2017, the UK had failed to prevent undervaluation fraud involving importations of Chinese textiles and footwear. On 8 March 2022, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) published its judgment, finding against the UK on most liability points.
The UK has argued throughout the case that it took appropriate steps to counter the fraud in question. However, since these infringement proceedings were raised, the UK has taken proportionate and increased steps to combat this fraud without impacting legitimate trade, including by liquidating suspect traders through enforcement action. The UK takes a comprehensive and dynamic approach to tackling customs fraud risk and evolves its responses as any new potential threats emerge.
Whilst the UK has now left the European Union and this is a legacy matter from before our departure, the Government are keen to resolve this long-running case once and for all and are committed to fulfilling their international obligations.
Throughout this process, the Government have also been conscious of the risk of further protracted legal proceedings, which could open UK taxpayers to not only a larger principal bill, but also continued substantial interest accrual. Considering this, in June 2022 the UK took the proactive step of making a payment of €678,372,885.63, which the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury set out in a statement to the House on 30 June (HCWS167). This represented the minimum, indisputable amount the UK considered due at that time in light of the CJEU judgment and, vitally, stopped interest accruing on this portion of the bill.
Following further discussions with the European Commission, on 13 January 2023, the UK made a final principal payment to the EU of €700,351,738.31. This constitutes the entire remaining principal due and the figure paid reflects the 12.43% share back that the UK is entitled to from its time as a member state.
On 6 February 2023, the UK made a final payment to the EU of €1,227,884,519.53, representing the interest due on the principal amounts paid. These are substantial sums but represent the final payments and draw a line under this long running case, with the UK fulfilling its international obligations.
Now that the UK is no longer part of the EU customs union, we do not have to remit any duties to the European Union, a tax that in 2021-22 represented a £4.9 billion contribution to the Exchequer. Outside the EU, we can set our own law, including tax and trade policies, that work for the UK. Furthermore, taking into account the financial settlement with the EU, the Government have determined how an additional £14.6 billion of spending by 2024-25 can be allocated to its domestic priorities, rather than be sent in contributions to the EU. This additional spending was already included in the overall spending plans that the Government set out at previous spending reviews.
Chemical Weapons Convention: UK Protective Programmes for 2020 and 2021
My noble Friend the Minister in the House of Lords (the right hon. Baroness Goldie DL) has made the following written ministerial statement.
The UK’s chemical protection programme is designed to protect against the use of chemical weapons. Such a programme is permitted by the chemical weapons convention, with which the United Kingdom is fully compliant. Under the terms of the convention, we are required to provide information annually to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. In accordance with the Government’s commitment to openness, I am placing in the Library of the House copies of the summaries that have been provided to the organisation outlining the UK’s chemical protection programme for 2020 and 2021.
The attachment can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2023-02-09/HCWS553/.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Air Pollution: Funding for Local Authorities
Today we announced our award of £10.7 million in funding to local authorities in England to help them tackle air pollution in their areas.
Across 44 different projects, we are helping local authorities to improve air quality in their local communities to benefit schools, businesses and residential areas and reduce the impact of air pollution on public health.
The air quality grants have been running since 1997 and since 2010, we have awarded nearly £53 million in funding.
This year’s grant has prioritised three areas:
Projects which reduce air pollutant exceedances especially in those areas that are projected to remain in exceedance of the UK’s legal targets;
Projects to improve knowledge and information about air quality and steps individuals can take to reduce their exposure to air pollution and minimise health risk;
Measures that reduce levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), including support for low-emission transport.
Schemes across England being funded include air quality education programmes for healthcare workers; traffic management schemes to reduce congestion and emissions; the funding of an e-cargo bike scheme for businesses to reduce their reliance on more polluting vehicles; and the implementation of a river freight scheme in London.
The air quality grant scheme will reopen for new applications in summer 2023.
Authority Value funded (£) Bedford Borough Council 36,332 Bedford Borough Council 113,071 Blaby District Council 573,701 Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole Council 120,309 Buckinghamshire Council 120,000 City of York 101,375 Colchester Borough Council 310,770 Cornwall Council 62,160 Derbyshire County Council 278,347 East Herts Council 126,408 Exeter City Council 367,428 Lancaster City Council Air Quality 454,576 Lincolnshire County Council (In partnership with councils for City of Lincoln, South Kesteven District, North Kesteven District, Boston Borough, East Lindsey District, West Lindsey District, and South Holland District). 58,180 London Borough of Brent 470,546 London Borough of Camden 170,645 London Borough of Enfield 223,500 London Borough of Havering 65,127 London Borough of Havering 35,139 London Borough of Islington 282,680 London Borough of Lewisham 248,021 London Borough of Redbridge 323,774 London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham 277,950 Maldon District Council 129,000 Medway Council—Environmental Protection Team 279,533 Norfolk County Council 171,545 Oxford City Council 192,993 Reading Borough Council 327,000 South Ribble Borough Council 53,244 South Tyneside Council 201,005 Southampton City Council 248,198 Southend-on-Sea Borough Council 256,285 St Helens Borough Council (in partnership with Warrington Borough Council) 405,227 Surrey Heath Borough Council 12,280 Swindon Borough Council 148,902 Telford and Wrekin Council 147,615 Tunbridge Wells Council (in partnership with councils for Ashford Borough, Canterbury City, Dartford Borough, Dover District, Folkestone & Hythe District, Gravesham Borough, Kent County, Maidstone Borough, Medway, Sevenoaks District, Swale Borough Council, Thanet District, Tonbridge and Mailing Borough) 175,675 West Midlands Combined Authority (in partnership with councils for Birmingham City, Coventry City, Dudley Metropolitan Borough, Sandwell Metropolitan Borough, Solihull Metropolitan Borough, Walsall Metropolitan Borough and the City of Wolverhampton) 918,531 West Northamptonshire Council 292,378 West Yorkshire Combined Authority (in partnership with councils for Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds City, and Wakefield) 220,457 Westminster City Council 72,521 Westminster City Council (delivered through Cross River Partnership, in partnership with City of London Corporation, London Boroughs of Ealing, Hackney, Hammersmith & Fulham, Islington, Lambeth, Lewisham, Merton, Richmond, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth and Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea) 1,000,000 Wirral Borough Council 171,200 Wokingham Borough Council 213,332 Worcestershire Regulatory Services (on behalf of councils for Worcester City, Wyre Forest District, Wychavon District, Malvern Hills District, Bromsgrove District, and Redditch Borough) 248,400
Value funded (£)
Bedford Borough Council
Bedford Borough Council
Blaby District Council
Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole Council
City of York
Colchester Borough Council
Derbyshire County Council
East Herts Council
Exeter City Council
Lancaster City Council Air Quality
Lincolnshire County Council (In partnership with councils for City of Lincoln, South Kesteven District, North Kesteven District, Boston Borough, East Lindsey District, West Lindsey District, and South Holland District).
London Borough of Brent
London Borough of Camden
London Borough of Enfield
London Borough of Havering
London Borough of Havering
London Borough of Islington
London Borough of Lewisham
London Borough of Redbridge
London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham
Maldon District Council
Medway Council—Environmental Protection Team
Norfolk County Council
Oxford City Council
Reading Borough Council
South Ribble Borough Council
South Tyneside Council
Southampton City Council
Southend-on-Sea Borough Council
St Helens Borough Council (in partnership with Warrington Borough Council)
Surrey Heath Borough Council
Swindon Borough Council
Telford and Wrekin Council
Tunbridge Wells Council (in partnership with councils for Ashford Borough, Canterbury City, Dartford Borough, Dover District, Folkestone & Hythe District, Gravesham Borough, Kent County, Maidstone Borough, Medway, Sevenoaks District, Swale Borough Council, Thanet District, Tonbridge and Mailing Borough)
West Midlands Combined Authority (in partnership with councils for Birmingham City, Coventry City, Dudley Metropolitan Borough, Sandwell Metropolitan Borough, Solihull Metropolitan Borough, Walsall Metropolitan Borough and the City of Wolverhampton)
West Northamptonshire Council
West Yorkshire Combined Authority (in partnership with councils for Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds City, and Wakefield)
Westminster City Council
Westminster City Council (delivered through Cross River Partnership, in partnership with City of London Corporation, London Boroughs of Ealing, Hackney, Hammersmith & Fulham, Islington, Lambeth, Lewisham, Merton, Richmond, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth and Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea)
Wirral Borough Council
Wokingham Borough Council
Worcestershire Regulatory Services (on behalf of councils for Worcester City, Wyre Forest District, Wychavon District, Malvern Hills District, Bromsgrove District, and Redditch Borough)
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
The UK and the Arctic
The Minister of State (Overseas Territories, Commonwealth, Energy, Climate and Environment), my noble Friend Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, has made the following written ministerial statement:
Today, the Government are publishing a new UK-Arctic policy framework, “Looking North: The UK and the Arctic”. This updates the UK’s current Arctic policy frame- work, “Beyond the ice”, published in 2018.
“Looking North” brings together all the UK’s policies and strategies relevant to the Arctic under a single, integrated framework, in line with the integrated review. It builds on the Ministry of Defence’s “The UK’s Defence Contribution in the High North” paper, published in March 2022. It outlines the full range of UK interests in the region, and sets out the long-term priorities and objectives which shape our engagement and actions on the Arctic.
This new framework is designed to represent evolution, rather than revolution, in the UK’s approach to the Arctic, underlining our long-standing interests in the region, particularly at a time of heightened tension in the region, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and amid growing competition from China. Our approach will remain dynamic, responsive to changes in the Arctic region and across the globe.
Our long-term strategic objective remains for the Arctic to be a peaceful and stable region, characterised by co-operation. The new framework reiterates that the UK will remain an active, influential and reliable partner in the Arctic.
In doing so, the UK will focus activity across four priority areas:
Partnering and collaborating—the UK is open to the world, with a global network of friends and partners, and with the opportunity to forge new and deeper relationships.
Protecting the climate, people and environment—the Arctic is, first and foremost, home to the people who live there. But climate change poses an existential threat to the Arctic as we know it, and to all who rely on its ecosystems and biodiversity.
Preserving security and stability—the Arctic has, for many years, enjoyed constructive international co-operation and has, historically, been characterised by low tension. The UK remains committed to the long-term stability and security of the Arctic region.
Promoting our shared prosperity—the UK aims for a prosperous Arctic, where economic and commercial development is achieved in a way that is safe, responsible and sustainable. The people who live in the Arctic should benefit from increasing prosperity in the region.
Through this new framework, the UK will take a whole-of-Government approach to the Arctic. Drawing on the diplomatic excellence of our diplomatic missions across the region, the defence capabilities of the UK’s armed forces, and the world-class scientific expertise of the UK Arctic research community, we will work with our partners and allies to help maintain the Arctic as a place that is safe, secure, peaceful, and well-governed, protecting its environment and the communities who call the Arctic their home. A copy of the framework has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Health and Social Care
Ambulance Services: Consultation on Minimum Service Levels
The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill requires the Secretary of State to consult with such persons as they consider appropriate prior to making regulations to establish minimum service levels for relevant health services in the event of strike action. The regulations must be approved by both Houses of Parliament before they are made. The consultation requirements may be fulfilled before and after the Bill receives Royal Assent. Minimum service levels will enable employers to issue work notices, ensuring adequate staffing for a minimum level of safety to be achieved in the event of strike action.
Minimum service levels aim to limit the impacts of strike action on the lives and livelihoods of the public and to strike a balance between the right of unions and their members to strike with the need for the wider public to be able to access key services during strikes.
This consultation focuses on minimum service levels for ambulance services, which the Prime Minister has identified as a priority, alongside fire and rescue services and rail services. Our proposal is that ambulance services should be covered in regulations as a priority recognising that disruption to blue light services puts lives at immediate risk. This consultation will help to inform a decision as to whether ambulance services should be covered by the regulations and if so the detail regarding the minimum service levels required in the ambulance service.
The consultation will open today, Thursday 9 February 2023, and will be open for a period of 12 weeks, closing on Thursday 4 May 2023.
Copies of the consultation will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.
Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch: Transition Update
I am making this statement to update Members on the Government’s time- table to establish the Health Services Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB) and the Maternity and Newborn Safety Investigations special health authority (MNSI). The programmes of national investigations and maternity investigations currently sit in the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB).
The Health and Care Act 2022 contains provisions that will, once commenced, establish the HSSIB as a non-departmental public body. On 26 January 2022, by way of a written ministerial statement, the Department of Health and Social Care announced that a separate special health authority would also be established to continue the independent maternity investigation programme, and that both bodies were expected to be operational in April 2023.
I am today announcing a delay of six months until October 2023 to the expected establishment of both bodies. I believe this further period will enable all the necessary work to be completed to ensure a smooth transition of these investigation programmes.
In the meantime, I remain committed to ensuring that the important work of the HSIB continues, both investigations and the maternity investigations programme.
Indemnity for the Liverpool Community Health Independent Investigation
It is normal practice, when a Government Department proposes to undertake a contingent liability in excess of £300,000 for which there is no specific statutory authority, for the Minister concerned to present a departmental minute to Parliament giving particulars of the liability created and explaining the circumstances; and to refrain from incurring the liability until 14 parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the minute, except in cases of special urgency.
I have today laid a departmental minute proposing the provision by NHS England of an indemnity that is necessary in respect of an NHSE non-statutory independent investigation into patient safety incidents and deaths at the former Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust.
This investigation follows an independent review chaired by Dr Bill Kirkup CBE into widespread failings by Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust. The review report, published on 8 February 2018, found that there were significant failings in the trust from November 2010 to December 2014.
It is important that these failings are investigated and that lessons are learnt to improve services. In response to the serious patient safety incidents described in the report, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care commissioned Dr Kirkup to conduct an independent investigation into patient safety incidents at the trust. The investigation’s terms of reference cover patient safety incidents that occurred in the same period as the initial independent review addressed—namely, November 2010 to December 2014. The investigation was originally intended to submit its report at the end of 2021, but a number of factors have come together to delay its work, including challenges related to information governance and electronic document management. We now expect the investigation to have reported by spring 2024 at the latest.
NHSE is able to obtain indemnity cover from NHS Resolution through the liabilities to third parties scheme—LTPS. The scheme applies to any liability that a member of the scheme owes to any third party in respect of loss, damage or injury arising out of an act or omission in the course of the carrying out of any relevant function of that member which is a qualifying liability.
The NHS resolution indemnity will cover any sums—including any legal or other associated costs—that members of the investigation team are liable to pay in relation to legal action brought against them by a third party in respect of liabilities arising from any act done, or omission made, honestly and in good faith, when carrying out activities for the purposes of the investigation. The indemnity will apply to any work carried out in accordance with the investigation’s terms of reference from the commencement of the investigation to its completion in 2024. The indemnity will cover the contingent liability of any legal action up to and following the publication of the investigation report.
The liability of the scheme for any proceedings brought against the member by virtue of section 13 of the Data Protection Act 1998, or any subsequent updating or replacement legislation (the “data protection legislation”), for all compensation payable to any claimant or any number of claimants in respect of or arising out of any one event or series of events consequent on or attributable to one source or original cause shall not exceed £50,000. Further, the maximum sum payable for such cases in any one membership year shall not exceed £500,000.
However, in view of the substantial fines that it is possible for the Information Commissioner’s Office to impose in the unlikely event of a data breach, NHSE considers it prudent for the £50,000 cover available under the NHS Resolution LTPS scheme to be “topped up” with a specific NHSE indemnity to £500,000. If the liability is called, provision for any payment will be sought through the normal supply procedure.
The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle. If, during the period of 14 parliamentary sitting days, beginning on the date on which this minute was laid before Parliament, a member signifies an objection, by giving notice of a parliamentary question or by otherwise raising the matter in Parliament, final approval to proceed with incurring the liability will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.
Biometrics Commissioner and Surveillance Camera Commissioner: Annual Report and Reappointment
I am pleased to announce that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is today publishing the Annual Report of the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner, together with the Government’s response.
The Biometrics Commissioner and the Surveillance Camera Commissioner are independent statutory roles, who are appointed by the Home Secretary under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. This is the first time the commissioner, Fraser Sampson, has submitted a combined report covering both roles.
The Report covers the exercise of the Biometrics and the Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s statutory functions over the reporting year. The Home Secretary has also reappointed Mr Sampson from March 2023 to continue in these roles.
I am grateful to Mr Sampson for this report, which we have published in full.
Copies of the report will be available from the Vote Office. The Government’s response will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Fire and Rescue Services: Consultation on Minimum Service Levels
On 10 January, the Government introduced the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill in Parliament. This is part of the Government plan to ensure the ability of the unions and their members to strike whilst giving confidence to the wider public that they can retain access to key services during periods of strike action.
The Bill gives Secretaries of State the power to use regulations to set a minimum service level in six specified sectors and also specify the “relevant services” to which they apply. Fire and rescue services are defined as one of the six sectors.
The Bill sets out that where a trade union gives notice of strike action the employer may decide to issue a work notice, in accordance with the minimum service level set, ahead of the strike day(s). The work notice will specify the individuals required to work in order to meet the minimum service level and the nature of the work that they must carry out.
Prior to using regulations to set minimum service levels for any of the sectors in scope of the Bill, the relevant Secretary of State is required to consult such people as they consider appropriate. The Secretary of State must also consult—before specifying in regulations—the particular services to which MSLs will apply.
Today a public consultation has been published on gov.uk to fulfil these requirements in relation to the fire and rescue services. In addition, Home Office officials will continue to engage with key fire and rescue service stakeholders. The consultation will run for 12 weeks from 9 February to 3 May 2023.
The consultation sets out that the essential services in scope of a minimum service level should be those required to deal with emergency incidents that pose an immediate risk to the public. This should include but not be limited to:
• Rescues (including, but not limited to, on the road network, water rescue or rescues at height). This includes actions to avoid further harm such as rectifying potentially hazardous situations to avoid future risk of fire and rescue, for example clearance of debris on motorways and major roads.
• Dangerous substance clean-up.
• Services necessary to carry out the above, including for example control room activities. Other activities undertaken by fire and rescue services, such as fire safety audits and domestic fire safety visits, remain vital but it is less arguable that there could be an immediate risk to life as a result of strike action by staff providing these services. We therefore do not consider that these services should be subject to a minimum service level at this time. However, the consultation asks respondents to consider any further services that should be brought into scope of the minimum service level, for example, in the event of prolonged strikes by fire and rescue service staff.
The consultation invites comment on five potential approaches for setting a minimum service level for fire and rescue services. These are:
• Requiring staffing levels or fire engine availability to remain above a specified percentage relative to business as usual.
• Requiring staffing levels to be shaped by the minimum resources needed to respond to specific risks, such as a major incident.
• Requiring business as usual staffing levels to be maintained during periods of peak demand on fire and rescue services. This could include days where we would expect greater demand on the service (such as Bonfire Night and its nearest weekends), periods of severe weather such as extreme flooding or wildfires, and/or periods when other emergency services are taking strike action.
• Asking local leaders and organisational input to provide evidence to allow the Home Office to decide what the minimum service level in each of the 44 fire and rescue service areas should look like.
• Setting a national minimum level of service to be provided by fire and rescue services during periods of strike action, and then providing flexibility for local leader and organisational input to decide whether to build on that minimum level in light of their local area’s needs and risk profile.
The consultation sets out that there is flexibility to use elements from different options in combination, to cover essential services.
This Government recognise the principle of workers and unions being able to negotiate over fair pay. However, the UK Government also have a duty to the public to ensure their safety, protect their access to vital public services and to help them go about their daily lives. The fire and rescue services provide a vital role in protecting the public and it is right that we seek to ensure the public can rely on these vital services during strike periods.
I will place a copy of the consultation document in the Libraries of both Houses.
Report on the Operation of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016
In accordance with my obligations under section 260 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, I am today laying a report on the operation of that Act, which was prepared between May and November 2022. Copies will be available in the Vote Office and on gov.uk.
I have additionally commissioned Lord Anderson to undertake an independent review into the operation of aspects of the Act, drawing on the areas identified in this statutory report. He will publish his findings later this year. Further information on his appointment is available on gov.uk.
Northern Ireland Executive Formation
Today, the Government is introducing the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, to extend the period within which the Northern Ireland parties can form an Executive to 18 January 2024.
Over a year has passed since the then First Minister of Northern Ireland resigned. Twelve months and one Assembly election later, it is disappointing that people in Northern Ireland still do not have the strong devolved institutions that they deserve.
The restoration of the Executive, in line with the Belfast (Good Friday) agreement, remains my top priority. I will continue to do all I can to help the Northern Ireland parties work together to make that happen. It was on that basis that we legislated in the autumn to extend the Executive formation period through the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2022. Since that period ended on 20 January 2023, I have once again been under a statutory duty to hold an Assembly election within 12 weeks (that is on or before 13 April 2023).
Having spoken to political representatives, businesses and communities in Northern Ireland, I have concluded that another election at this time is not the best course of action to facilitate the restoration of the Executive.
On that basis, this Bill will provide for a single retrospective extension of the Executive formation period of one year from 19 January 2023. That would mean that, if the parties are unable to form an Executive before 19 January 2024, I would again fall under a duty to hold an Assembly election within 12 weeks. The legislation will also enable the Government to bring this new period to an early end and move to elections sooner, if necessary.
Yesterday, in a meeting with vice-president of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič in Brussels, I reiterated that the UK Government are working hard to resolve the problems caused by the Northern Ireland protocol, and the desire to see an agreed solution with the EU. I was clear that this extension does not influence protocol discussions.
I remain focused on restoring devolved institutions as soon as possible and this Bill creates the best opportunity to do that. I will continue to do all I can to support the people of Northern Ireland in the meantime. I will also host Northern Ireland party leaders at a roundtable in Belfast today to urge them to restore the Executive as soon as possible.
I very much hope that the parties will recognise the importance of getting back to work, so that a functioning Executive can take the actions needed, to address the challenges facing public services in Northern Ireland.