Overview of the Bill
1 The purpose of the Coronavirus Bill is to enable the Government to respond to an emergency situation and manage the effects of a Covid-19 pandemic. A severe pandemic could infect up to 80% of the population leading to a reduced workforce, increased pressure on health services and death management processes. The Bill contains temporary measures designed to either amend existing legislative provisions or introduce new statutory powers which are designed to mitigate these impacts.
2 The Bill aims to support Government in the following:
● Increasing the available health and social care workforce
● Easing the burden on frontline staff
● Containing and slowing the virus
● Managing the deceased with respect and dignity
● Supporting people
3 The Bill is part of a concerted effort across the whole of the UK to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak. The intention is that it will enable the right people from public bodies across the UK to take appropriate actions at the right times to manage the effects of the outbreak.
4 As part of its contingency planning, the Government has considered what measures would be needed during a severe Covid-19 outbreak to reduce the pressure of key services and limit the spread of infection.
5 The action plan1 sets out options that can be taken as part of the response. This Bill ensures that the agencies and services involved – schools, hospitals, the police etc. – have the tools and powers they need. Each of the four nations of the UK has its own set of laws, and thus these tools and powers differ to varying degrees in each area. Consistency of outcome will be achieved by making the range of tools and powers consistent across the UK.
6 This Bill is just one part of the overall solution. It is therefore not necessary for each tool or power needed to address the Covid-19 pandemic to be covered in this Bill. Some exist already in statute. Some exist in some parts of the UK but not others. This Bill aims to level up across the UK, so that the actions to tackle this threat can be carried out effectively across all four nations.
7 These are extraordinary measures that do not apply in normal circumstances. For this reason, the legislation will be time-limited for two years and it is neither necessary nor appropriate for all of these measures to come into force immediately. Instead, many of the measures in this Bill can be commenced from area to area and time to time, so as to ensure that the need to protect the public’s health can be aligned with the need to safeguard individuals’ rights. These measures can subsequently be suspended and then later reactivated, if circumstances permit, over the lifetime of the Act.
8 The lifetime of the Act can itself be ended early, if the best available scientific evidence supports a policy decision that these powers are no longer needed. It is also possible to extend the lifetime of the Act for a further temporary period, again if it is prudent to do so.
9 This facility can be adjusted so that early termination (‘sunsetting’) can apply to some provisions; and further extension can be applied to others. The aim is to make sure that these powers can be used both effectively and proportionately.
10 These provisions also take due account of the UK’s devolution settlement in a way that enables swift action to be taken when and where it is needed. UK Government Ministers will control the use of provisions on matters that are reserved or England only. This is intended to be a streamlined system that is nonetheless consonant with the role of the Devolved Administrations.
11 The Bill includes provisions which relate to a wide spectrum of areas across the UK as explained below. However, they are all focused on responding to circumstances that may arise as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Emergency registration of health professionals
12 The Bill introduces new registration powers for the Registrars of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This is to help to deal with the increase in those needing medical care and any shortage of approved staff to help. On notification from the Secretary of State of an emergency, Registrars of the NMC and HCPC will be able to temporarily register fit, proper and suitably experienced persons with regard to an emergency, as regulated healthcare professionals.
13 The NMC registration will cover nurses, midwives, and nursing associates, and the HCPC registration will cover paramedics, biomedical scientists, clinical scientists, operating department practitioners and any other of the ‘relevant professions’ it regulates. There are existing legislative powers for the General Medical Council to register doctors in the UK, and for the General Pharmaceutical Council to register pharmacists in Great Britain, in an emergency. This Bill confers similar powers onto the NMC and the HCPC.
14 For Scotland, provision is made to modify the National Health Service (Primary Medical Services Performers Lists) (Scotland) Regulations 2004 to support the fast deployment of temporarily registered health care workers by the NHS. For Wales, the National Health Service (Performers Lists) (Wales) Regulations 2004 are also amended on the same basis. The modifications permit general practitioners with temporary registration under section 18A of the Medical Act 1983 (temporary registration with regard to emergencies) to provide primary medical services despite not being included in the primary medical services performers list of a Health Board in Scotland or a Local Health Board in Wales where they have applied to the Health Board or Local Health Board as applicable, and the application has not been refused or deferred.
15 As Performers Lists Regulations apply to all medical practitioners who are involved in primary medical services, under the current arrangements all temporarily registered GPs who are recruited to join the Covid-19 emergency response would have to be on the performers list of the Health Board in Scotland or the Local Health Board in Wales which recruits them. Scottish and Welsh Governments understand that the majority of GPs who leave the profession in Scotland and Wales also promptly leave the relevant performers lists to which they used to belong. This relieves them of their obligations under the Regulations, chiefly the requirement to submit to an annual performance appraisal. It is expected that very few, possibly none, of the additional GPs who are recruited will currently be on a Health Board in Scotland or Local Health Board in Wales performers list.
16 Action is therefore necessary to modify the requirement to be on a performers list in order to streamline the process. To ensure patient safety is not jeopardised , the Bill is to maintain the requirement to be listed in order to provide primary medical services, and continue to require GPs to apply in the usual way. To speed up the emergency response and prevent performers lists requirements from being a barrier, GPs who are temporarily registered will be permitted to provide primary medical services in Scotland or in Wales while their application is considered. This compromise allows the Health Boards in Scotland and Local Health Boards in Wales to gather all of the information which they would usually, and to have access to the powers they usually would in case of any conduct incidents, but would also enable GPs to act without undue delay. The National Health Service (Performers Lists} (England) Regulations 2013 make provision in relation to doctors registered under s.18A Medical Act 1983 in relation to practising in the NHS in England.
17 For Northern Ireland, the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (the Society) is the regulatory body for the pharmacy profession in Northern Ireland. The Pharmacy (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 sets out the powers and responsibilities of the Society including the criteria required to be registered as a pharmaceutical chemist (pharmacist) and the criteria required for a pharmacist’s entry in the register to be annotated as either a supplementary or independent prescriber. The Bill will allow for people who may have been prevented from registering under the 1976 Order to be registered when directed by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland that an emergency has occurred or is occurring. Groups that could be considered for temporary registration may include pre-registration pharmacists or recently retired pharmacists.
18 Medicines legislation in Northern Ireland requires a registered pharmacist to supervise certain activities, for example, the supply of prescription-only medicines from a registered pharmacy. In an emergency, the situation may arise where additional pharmacists are required, or additional pharmacists with annotations are required, to assist with the prescribing and supply of medicines. The Bill provides mechanisms which will help deal with such a situation.
Temporary registration of social workers
19 The Bill introduces emergency registration powers for the Registrar of Social Work England (SWE) and the Registrar of Social Care Wales (SCW). The registrars of SWE and SCW will be able to temporarily register fit, proper and suitably experienced persons with regard to an emergency, as social workers. The addition of emergency registrants to the registers held by SWE and SCW will help to deal with any shortage of social workers in the children’s and adult social care sectors as a result of increased staff absenteeism.
20 In Scotland, provision is also made to allow Ministers to direct the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) to temporarily register retired social workers, those on a career break and social work students, who are in their final year of training, in order to increase the pool of social workers available to deliver critical social services in Scotland due to the coronavirus.
21 The Bill will also provide that newly employed workers in social care services in Scotland will have a longer period of time to complete their registration, increasing this from 6 months to 12 months. This will help to reduce administrative requirements for new workers and employers and allow people to stay on the register after the initial 6 month period that will help deal with the shortage of social services workers in the care sector.
22 The Bill introduces a new form of unpaid statutory leave, and powers to establish a compensation scheme to compensate for some loss of earnings and expenses incurred by volunteers. These measures will enable relevant appropriate authorities (local authorities and relevant health and social care bodies) to maximise the pool of volunteers that they can draw on to fill capacity gaps by addressing two primary deterrents to participation: risk to employment and employment rights, and loss of income.
23 These measures will maximise the number of volunteers that are able to fill gaps in capacity, thus helping to safeguard essential services that could be at risk due to demand on services as a result of pandemic pressures.
Mental health and mental capacity
24 The Bill introduces temporary amendments to the Mental Health Act 1983, the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003, the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, the Mental Capacity Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 and associated subordinate legislation. The amendments allow certain functions relating to the detention and treatment of patients to be satisfied by fewer doctors’ opinions or certifications. Temporary amendments also allow for the extension or removal of certain time limits relating to the detention and transfer of patients.
25 Further provisions will temporarily amend current provisions in respect of defendants and prisoners with a mental health condition. It will reduce the number of doctors’ opinions required and modify time limits for detention and movement between court, prison and hospital. This will enable them to be admitted to hospital for treatment where there might otherwise be delay owing to shortage of qualified staff in a pandemic.
26 In Scotland and Wales, provisions will also permit the reduction in the number of members required to constitute a mental health tribunal and permit a tribunal to make a decision without holding an oral hearing.
27 In Wales, provisions will permit the nomination of a temporary deputy if the President of the Tribunal is temporarily unable to act in the office.
28 In Northern Ireland, provisions temporarily amend the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 and the Mental Capacity Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 to allow for social workers, other than approved social workers, to carry out certain statutory functions in relation to detention and deprivation of liberty. The provisions will also temporarily amend the timelines for carrying out examinations and reports and the operation of the trust panel.
29 Also, in Northern Ireland, further provisions temporarily amend parts relating to criminal proceedings and transfers from prisons to healthcare facilities, and longer time periods for assessment and detention in criminal and civil justice settings relating to mentally ill persons and persons who lack mental capacity.
Health service indemnification
30 The Bill includes powers to provide indemnity coverage for clinical negligence of health care workers and others carrying out NHS and Health and Social Care (HSC) activities connected to care, treatment or diagnostic services provided under the arrangements for responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. This indemnity is intended to act as a ‘safety net’ where clinical negligence arising from the provision of such services is not already covered under a pre-existing indemnity arrangement, for example under state indemnity schemes, private medical defence organisation or commercial insurance policies or through membership of a professional body.
31 Existing indemnity arrangements in England include the Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts and the Clinical Negligence Scheme for General Practice. Existing indemnity arrangements in Wales include state indemnity for clinical negligence indemnity provided by the Welsh Risk Pool and under the General Medical Practice Indemnity scheme. Existing indemnity arrangements in Scotland include the Clinical Negligence and Other Risks Indemnity Scheme. Existing indemnity arrangements in Northern Ireland include the Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts and indemnity arrangements for General Practice.
32 Other existing indemnity arrangements include indemnity provided to members of organisation representing certain professions, indemnity arrangements with medical defence organisations and insurance policies with insurance companies.
NHS and local authority care and support
33 Currently, patients with social care needs go through a number of stages before they are discharged from hospital. For some patients, one of these stages is an NHS Continuing Healthcare (NHS CHC) Assessment; a process that can take a number of weeks. The Bill will allow the procedure for discharge from an acute hospital setting for those with a social care need to be simplified.
34 There are also duties on Local Authorities in Part 1 of the Care Act 2014 to assess needs for care and support, and to meet those needs. The Bill will replace these duties with a power to meet needs for care and support, underpinned by a duty to meet those needs where not to do so would be a breach of an individual’s human rights, and a power to meet needs in other cases.
35 The Bill also allows that, if a Local Authority has not charged an individual for their care during the Covid-19 pandemic, they are able to do so retrospectively after the conclusion of this period subject to financial assessment.
36 The immediate operationalisation of these provisions will involve the ceasing of current practices and is intended to reduce operational burden so Local Authorities can prioritise the service they offer in order to ensure the most urgent and serious care needs are met.
37 In order to support Local Authorities in operating under the new powers, including making prioritisation decisions in a consistent, and ethical manner, the Government will publish guidance. The Bill will therefore enable Secretary of State to support Local Authorities by directing them to comply with this guidance.
Registration of deaths and still-births etc
38 It is important to ensure that the administrative processes relating to the registration of births, deaths and still-births can operate effectively during the Covid-19 outbreak as systems may be put under additional pressure and people may not be able to attend Registrars’ offices in person.
39 In England and Wales, the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 places a responsibility on the deceased’s doctor to provide a medical certificate giving, to the best of the doctor’s knowledge and belief, the cause of death. This medical certificate is given to the registrar and used to record the cause of death in the death registration. If the doctor is not able to sign the medical certificate, for whatever reason, the death has to be referred to the coroner for investigation. The Bill will simplify this and provide more flexibility in an emergency situation by enabling a doctor who may not have seen the deceased to certify the cause of death without the death being referred to the coroner.
40 Current civil registration legislation also requires a person, normally a family member, to attend the register office to register the death. The Bill will allow a person to register without attending the register office and will also extend the list of those people who can give the relevant information to the registrar to register the death to funeral directors.
41 These provisions aim to provide flexibility during a pandemic, and mitigate the spread of infection. Provisions will also be made for the necessary documentation relating to death registration to be transmitted by alternative methods, including electronically.
42 There is a legislative framework across the four nations which sets out when coroners need to be notified of a death and what medical certificates are required before a cremation to take place. This Bill enables the streamlining of some of those processes by temporarily modifying much of existing legislation.
43 The registration of births, deaths and still-births in England and Wales is governed primarily by the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 (the "1953 Act"), the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1926 (the "1926 Act"), the Registration of Births and Deaths Regulations 1987 (the "1987 Regulations") and the Registration of Births and Deaths (Welsh Language) Regulations 1987 (the "1987 Welsh Regulations"). The Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Scotland) Act 1965 is the main legislation governing the registration of births and deaths in Scotland. The registration of deaths and still-births in Northern Ireland is governed by the Births and Deaths Registration (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 (the "1976 Order") and the Civil Registration Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012 (the 2012 Regulations).
44 The Bill will make similar changes to the relevant legislation relating to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to streamline processes.
45 The Cremation (England and Wales) Regulations 2008 sets out the conditions that must be met before the body of a deceased person may be cremated. The Bill would allow cremations to take place without the need for additional medical practitioner oversight, reducing the burden on healthcare professionals allowing them to be available to support with other duties. It will also reduce the likelihood of delays to allowing families to be able to make cremation arrangements for the deceased.
46 In Scotland, a review of death certificates is established under the Certification of Death (Scotland) Act 2011. The review system requires that a random selection of death certificates is independently audited by a team of medical reviewers. Where a certificate is being reviewed the death cannot be registered and so funerals cannot proceed until the review has been completed. The Bill will enable the Scottish Ministers to suspend this system if, in consultation with the review service, this is considered appropriate to free up medical personnel and expedite the disposal of bodies.
47 The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 places duties on cremation authorities, funeral directors and local authorities to take steps to trace and contact relatives of deceased persons to make arrangements for the collection or disposal of ashes. The Bill will suspend these duties and the relevant bodies will be under a duty to retain the ashes. Once the provisions are re-instated the original duties to ascertain the wishes of the family will also be re-instated in relation to any retained ashes.
48 The Cremation (Belfast) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1961 set out the conditions that must be met before the body of a deceased person may be cremated. The Regulations require both a medical certificate giving the cause of death which must be given by a registered medical practitioner and a confirmatory medical certificate which must be given by a second registered medical practitioner, independent of the first, before a cremation may take place. The Bill modifies those Regulations to streamline this process and to remove the requirement for a confirmatory medical certificate.
Appointment of Judicial Commissioners
49 The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (the "IPA") creates the statutory basis for the use of the investigatory powers by the intelligence and law enforcement agencies, using warrants issued under the IPA. These warrants provide the agencies with the capability they need to protect national security and investigate and prevent serious crime. The Investigatory Powers Commissioner is the independent overseer of almost all investigatory powers. They also have oversight functions under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000, and the Police Act 1997. They are supported in this role by 15 Judicial Commissioners, all of whom have held, or do hold, high judicial office. A warrant under the IPA must be signed by the relevant Secretary of State (or, in relation to certain warrants, the Scottish Ministers) and then approved by a Judicial Commissioner for it to be lawful, which is known as the "double lock" (other than urgent warrants, which need to be approved by a Judicial Commissioner within three working days of being issued).
50 Section 227 of the IPA specifies the appointment procedure for a Judicial Commissioner. It requires that a Judicial Commissioner must be jointly recommended by the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, the Lord President of the Court of Session, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner before they can be appointed by the Prime Minister.
51 The Bill provides the ability to increase the number of Judicial Commissioners should the effects of Covid-19 mean that there is a shortage of Judicial Commissioners. Having a sufficient number of judicial commissioners is critical in protecting national security and preventing serious crime, given their vital role in the ‘double lock’ for warrants.
52 The Bill creates a regulation-making power to allow the Secretary of State to vary the appointment process for Judicial Commissioners at the request of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner where there are too few judicial commissioners available to exercise their functions as a result of the effects of Covid-19. The variation would allow the Commissioner to directly appoint temporary Judicial Commissioners for a term of up to 6 months, renewable to a maximum period of 12 months.
Urgent warrant process
53 Provisions in the IPA create a procedure for urgent warrants. This allows for ex post facto authorisation by a Judicial Commissioner within three working days of the warrant being issued. Such urgent warrants only last for a maximum period of five working days unless renewed.
54 The Bill creates a regulation making power to enable the timespan of an urgent warrant to be varied at the request of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, extending the period for ex post facto Judicial Commissioner authorisation and the lifespan of the warrant for up to 12 working days. This will ensure impacts on the warranty process from the pandemic can be mitigated and will ensure the safeguard of judicial approval within the lowest possible time frame after a warrant is issued continues, and the agencies are able to maintain their ability to protect national security and prevent serious crime during a period of potential widespread upheaval.
Extension of time limits for retention of fingerprints and DNA profiles
55 Biometrics (fingerprints and DNA profiles) are used daily in support of national security and – once taken or received in the U.K. – can only be retained for a specific period (save in certain circumstances where retention is permitted indefinitely). The material must be destroyed at the end of that period, unless a chief officer of police makes a national security determination to permit retention for a further period of up to 2 years.
56 A national security determination may be made if the chief officer of police considers that retention of the material is necessary for the purposes of national security; and must be made in writing. A chief officer of police may make further national security determinations in respect of the material, each for a maximum of 2 years.
57 The relevant provisions are:
a. the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984;
b. the Terrorism Act 2000;
c. the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008;
d. the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011;
e. the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995; and
f. the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.
58 It is anticipated that the impact that Covid-19 will have on the resources of the police will be such that chief officers of police will not be in a position to assess retained fingerprints and DNA profiles in the usual way, in order to determine whether it is necessary for these to be retained for the purposes of national security. The effect will be that fingerprints and DNA profiles that would otherwise be retained for the purposes of national security may fall to be destroyed.
59 It is vitally important that where the effects of Covid-19 restrict the capacity of chief police officers to consider the case for making or remaking a National Security Determination that biometrics are not automatically deleted.
60 Biometric material held using national security determinations is known in the past year to have led to the identification of individuals thought to have travelled to take part in the conflict in Syria or Iraq; linked individuals to other intelligence provided by overseas partners; linked individuals to unidentified crime stains; provided evidence of potential terrorist offences; and matched to potential visa and asylum applications, resulting in individuals being refused entry to the UK where it is appropriate.
61 The Bill confers a regulation-making power on the Secretary of State so that she may vary the statutory retention deadlines for biometric material (fingerprints and DNA profiles) taken under the Terrorism Act 2000 (TACT), Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 and Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (and similar legislation applicable in Scotland and Northern Ireland).
62 The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) holds UK Government Departmental responsibility for food as a Critical National Infrastructure sector jointly with the Food Standards Agency (FSA), with Defra being responsible for supply and the FSA responsible for safety. This includes planning for and responding to disruptions to food and drink supply chains, working closely with the food industry.
63 Defra has a long history of working collaboratively with industry and across Government to respond to food supply disruption, as do the Devolved Administrations. Defra and Devolved Administration officials work closely in this area, to ensure an aligned, inter-governmental approach. There are a number of regular engagement forums, including the Food Chain Emergency Liaison Group (FCELG), comprising Trade Associations from across the food supply chain, as well as Defra and Devolved Administration officials, which provides a conduit between industry and Government to plan for and respond to food supply disruption in any scenario.
64 The Government response to food supply disruption relies on information being provided to Defra and the Devolved Administrations by industry on a voluntary basis during the disruption, to enable them to assess the situation and scale of disruption. Intelligence from industry (for example on the nature of disruptions and their impact) allows Government to develop an overall assessment of the implications "on the ground", which in turn informs the industry response as well as a proportionate and effective cross-Government response.
65 As part of our response to the Covid-19 scenario Government has agreed a Data Sharing Protocol with food retailers to regularly gather information on a voluntary basis. The FCELG will also be convened on a more regular basis as a response to Covid-19. The information gathered through these methods will help Government to effectively support an industry-led response to any food supply disruption resulting from Covid-19, and inform a cross-Government response.
66 Whilst ongoing collaboration on a voluntary basis between Government and industry is anticipated, it is right and proper for a responsible Government to plan for every scenario. Therefore, a power is required to act if a member(s) of the food industry were to refuse to comply with voluntary requests for information in order to ensure Government has the necessary information to build a clear understanding of the situation, make informed judgements and respond effectively.
67 Under current legislation, the status of Covid-19 as a notifiable disease in England means that any inquest into a death where the coroner has reason to suspect that the death was caused by Covid-19 must take place with a jury.
68 This could have very significant resource implications for coroner workload and Local Authority coroner services, resulting in a possible 25,000 additional jury inquests even at the lower end of Covid-19 mortality modelling in England and Wales.
69 Although the inquests could be adjourned until the pandemic has passed, this would deprive bereaved families of swift closure and would, in any event, simply delay resource pressure for the future.
70 The Bill will modify the current legislation to disapply the requirement that coroners must conduct any inquest with a jury where they have reason to suspect the death was caused by Covid-19. In respect of Northern Ireland, the Bill makes corresponding provision, including in relation to inquests into a death in prison from natural illness.
71 The regulations governing social care service providers and independent health care providers in Wales include requirements relating to vetting procedures for staff before they are permitted to start work. These are provided for by regulations under section 22 of the Care Standards Act 2000 and under section 27 of the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016. The Bill will allow the Welsh Ministers to issue a notice disapplying or varying the requirements to provide increased flexibility for providers to enable them to take steps to address workforce issues in a more agile way.
72 Notices issued in this way must contain a statement by the Welsh Ministers, explaining why the step is appropriate and proportionate. Notices must not exceed one month though the Welsh Ministers may issue further notices as well as cancelling them.
73 In Scotland, the Bill will allow the Scottish Ministers to relax certain requirements under the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 to allow the disclosure service to better cope in an emergency and continue to support recruitment in key sectors.
74 To ensure that safeguarding is not compromised should its staff be seriously affected by illness, the Bill contains powers for the Scottish Ministers to reclassify certain types of disclosure application to allow faster processing.
75 Disclosure Scotland (an Executive Agency of Scottish Government) is also working to ensure that disclosure checks are not a barrier to fast employment and deployment of emergency health and care workers. With this in mind, the Bill will permit the Scottish Ministers to suspend certain offences which would otherwise apply if an employer appointed a person who was barred from working with vulnerable groups to do regulated work. It will continue to be an offence for a barred individual to take on regulated work.
76 There are currently requirements set out the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978 which provide that vaccinations and immunisations must be administered by medical practitioners or persons acting under their direction and control. The Bill will make modifications to the current legislation to allow a wider range of health professionals to administer vaccinations and immunisations (in accordance with existing regulatory provisions about the administration of vaccines in the Human Medicines Regulations 2012) in order to respond as flexibly as may be required to the pandemic.
Schools, childcare providers etc
77 Covid-19 presents particular challenges and risks to those operating in an educational or childcare context, whether children, students, teachers or visitors, because of the need or tendency for persons to learn together in groups and because of the harmful effect that any break in education may have on a young person’s development and progression to further study or employment.
78 The Government believes that what is in the best interests of those in the education arena will vary according to the level of risk which presents itself in a particular place at a particular time. Accordingly, this Bill seeks to take a suite of powers to enable Government to react flexibly to manage differing levels of risk.
79 The provisions would be in place for the period of time required to mitigate the effects of a Covid-19 pandemic. Some provisions will remain in force after the expiry of other provisions in the Act to deal with any residual matters.
80 The Bill includes three powers relating to education:
a. a power to require/direct temporary closure of an educational institution or registered childcare provider;
b. a power to make specified types of directions in connection with the running of the education and registered childcare systems; and
c. a power to dis-apply or vary specified existing requirements contained in or arising out of education and childcare legislation.
Statutory sick pay
81 Statutory Sick Pay ("SSP") was introduced in 1983. It is paid by an employer to an employee who is absent from work due to sickness. SSP is paid at a flat weekly rate and may be paid for a maximum of 28 weeks.
82 The legislative framework for SSP is set out in Part 11 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 ("SSCBA") and Part X1 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits (Northern Ireland) Act 1992 and associated regulations.
83 The current SSP system does not provide the flexibility required for the response to managing and mitigating the effects of a Covid-19 pandemic. In the event of a severe Covid-19 outbreak in the UK, the number of people off work would increase significantly. This would present a significant financial burden on employers through increased SSP costs. The legislative changes proposed are intended to provide the ability to provide relief to employers, with the primary focus being on small and medium size enterprises.
84 The Bill will enable the Secretary of State to make regulations regarding the recovery from HMRC of additional payments of SSP by certain employers for absences related to Covid-19. The ability to recover SSP is important so that employers are supported in a period when their payments of SSP are likely to escalate. It is also necessary to ensure that employees are incentivised not to attend work when advised not to do so for reasons of health security. There are penalties for employers who make fraudulent claims or who fail to keep the records required to support a claim.
85 Ordinarily, statutory sick pay is not payable for the first three days of sickness. These are commonly referred to as "waiting days". This may discourage people from taking sick days in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The Bill therefore allows for the temporary suspension of waiting days for those employees who are absent from work due to Covid-19, should this be necessary.
86 The approach to SSP needs flexibility and to align with the most up-to-date public health guidance. The Bill will allow the most recent version of guidance issued by Public Health England, National Health Services Scotland, Public Health Wales and the Regional Agency for Public Health and Social Well-being to be used when determining whether an employee should be deemed to be incapable of work by reason of Covid-19, for example because the employee is self-isolating. It is anticipated that the guidance will change frequently and it is necessary to ensure that employees who self-isolate in accordance with whatever is the current guidance are deemed incapable for work and entitled to SSP from day one.
87 It is important that restrictions on returning to work whilst in receipt of a pension do not act as a disincentive for healthcare professionals who wish to re-enter the workforce in order to assist the healthcare response to Covid-19. The Bill will therefore suspend certain rules that apply in the NHS Pension Scheme in England and Wales so that healthcare professionals who have recently retired can return to work and those who have already returned can increase their hours without there being a negative impact on their pension entitlements.
88 The Bill contains provisions to make changes for the NHS Pension Scheme in England and Wales, as well as corresponding changes in the respective NHS Pension Schemes in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Protection of public health
89 The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 (as amended by the Health and Social Care Act 2008) contains regulation making powers that enable a number of public health measures to be taken in situations such as the current Covid-19 outbreak. To increase consistency of the powers available across the UK the Bill includes new powers which are broadly based on the existing powers that apply in England and Wales, in respect of Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is noted that the Scottish Ministers already have powers under the Public Health etc. (Scotland) Act 2008 to make regulations to give effect to international agreements or arrangements, including World Health Organisation recommendations, and so that element is not covered in respect of new Scottish powers in the Bill.
Suspension of port operations
90 Protecting the border is a key priority for Government. In the event that there is a real and significant risk that, due directly or indirectly to Covid-19, there are, or will be, insufficient Border Force resources available to maintain adequate border security. The Bill will enable steps to be taken to ensure that arrivals are directed to key locations where there will be sufficient Border Force officers to process them.
91 Specifically, the Bill provides powers for the Secretary of State to direct a port operator (i.e. a person concerned in the management of a port) to suspend relevant operations, partially or wholly. The power will also provide for the Secretary of State to issue consequential directions to other parties if the Secretary of State considers it appropriate in connection with the primary direction.
Powers relating to potentially infectious persons
92 The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 were made and came into force on 10th February 2020, and provide for the detention, isolation and screening of, and other appropriate restrictions to be imposed upon, persons who have or may have coronavirus, or who have arrived in England from an area in which the virus is prevalent. The Regulations apply only in relation to England, and where the Secretary of State has made a declaration that the incidence or transmission of novel Coronavirus constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health (such declaration was made on 10th February 2020), and where the measures outlined in the Regulations are considered as an effective means of delaying or preventing further transmission of the virus.
93 The Bill will include similar provisions for the screening and isolation of certain persons, including powers to impose other restrictions and requirements, and will revoke the Regulations. In this way:
a. there will be a consistent, UK-wide approach, since the provisions will be capable of applying not only in England, but to the UK as a whole;
b. enforcement provisions for immigration officers (including Border Force officers) can be included, since these officers act across the UK.
94 The t majority of people are likely to comply with relevant public health advice. The policy aim of these provisions is to ensure that proportionate measures can be enforced if and when necessary. The proposals will provide public health officers, constables and (in some circumstances) immigration officers with the means to enforce sensible public health restrictions, including returning people to places that they have been required to stay. Where necessary and proportionate, constables and immigration officers will be able to direct individuals to attend, remove them to, or keep them at suitable locations for screening and assessment. These measures look to fill existing gaps in powers to ensure the screening and isolation of people who may be infected or contaminated with the virus and to ensure that constables can enforce health protection measures where necessary.
Powers relating to events, gatherings and premises
95 The provisions give the Secretary of State the power to prohibit or restrict events and gatherings, and to close premises, if the public health situation deems it necessary. This streamlines existing legislation in England and Wales, to ensure that powers to prevent events or gatherings can be deployed as quickly as possible in the event this is justified by the evidence. It also extends the power to Scotland and Northern Ireland too, where there is no equivalent legislation.
96 This can be deployed if, having had regard to the relevant advice, such a prohibition or restriction would:
a. prevent, protect against or control the incidence or transmission of coronavirus, or
b. facilitate the most appropriate deployment of medical or emergency personnel and resources.
Courts and tribunals: use of video and audio technology
97 The efficiency and timeliness of court and tribunal hearings will suffer during a Covid-19 outbreak. Restrictions on travel will make it difficult for parties to attend court and without action a significant number of hearings and trials are likely to be adjourned. In criminal proceedings, the courts have a duty to deal with cases effectively and expeditiously and that includes making use of technology such as live video links, telephone or email where this is lawful and appropriate. Video link technology is increasingly being used across the court estate enabling greater participation in proceedings from remote locations. The courts currently have various statutory and inherent powers which enable them to make use of technology.
98 The Bill amends existing legislation so as to enable the use of technology either in video/audio-enabled hearings in which one or more participants appear before the court using a live video or audio link, or by a wholly video/audio hearing where there is no physical courtroom and all participants take part in the hearing using telephone or video conferencing facilities.
99 Provisions are also made within the Bill to enable the public to see and hear proceedings which are held fully by video link or fully by audio link. This enables criminal, family and civil courts and tribunals to make directions to live stream a hearing which is taking place in this manner.
100 There are existing restrictions on photography and sound recording in physical courts. Section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 provides prohibitions on photography in courts. The Contempt of Court Act 1981 prohibits the making of unauthorised sound recordings. These offences were created to protect participants in court proceedings, but long before the concept of a virtual hearing was thought possible. Provisions in the Bill therefore create similar offences to protect participants and prohibit recording or transmitting live-streamed proceedings photography and sound recordings in the context of virtual hearings and live-links.
101 The Bill provides for restrictions to be imposed on individuals who are potentially infectious and that the decision to impose such restrictions can be appealed to magistrates’ court. The Bill therefore makes provision that such hearings should be conducted fully by video link, unless the court directs otherwise, given the person appealing the decision would be subject to restrictions, and there is the risk of passing on the infection if they were to travel to court.
Powers in relation to bodies
102 The Bill introduces powers of direction to give Local Authorities the necessary powers to direct those in the death management system to ensure deaths caused by Covid-19 do not overwhelm the system. National and Local Authorities across the UK will have, where necessary, additional powers to direct organisations to support the death management processes. This will ensure that deceased bodies can be stored, transported and disposed of with care and respect.
Postponement of elections
103 On Friday 13th March 2002, the Prime Minister announced that the elections scheduled for 7th May 2020 would be postponed until 6th May 2021. There are a number of polls scheduled for 7th May 2020 due to the ordinary cycle of such elections:
b. 40 Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections in England and Wales
b. 118 English council elections
c. 3 local authority mayors (Bristol, Liverpool and Salford)
d. 4 combined authority mayors (Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Tees Valley, and West Midlands)
e. London Mayor and Greater London Assembly
f. Parish elections
104 There are also other polls set to be run on that day and that will need to be postponed:
a. certain other local referendums that are planned for 7th May 2020
b. Local Authority by-elections for seats that would not ordinarily be completed on that day but become vacant by, for example, resignation.
105 Most of these polls were due to take place in England only, with the exception of PCC elections which were planned in both England and Wales.
106 The decision to postpone was taken following advice from the Government’s medical experts in relation to the response to Covid-19 and the advice of those involved with delivering polls (for example, a call by the Electoral Commission that the 7 May elections be postponed until the Autumn).
107 The need for the postponement arises from concerns that running a poll will be, at best, inadvisable and, at worst, impossible if candidates, campaigners, electors, electoral administrators and those providing supply and support to them are affected by either Covid-19 or the measures around it. Concerns have already been raised by electoral administrators that there would be insufficient staff available to them or their suppliers. Additional risks include polling station safety, the possible demands on Local Authority electoral staff to support other key services, and the impracticality or potential impossibility of campaigning activity. Attempting to run a poll in those circumstances could lead to questions as to legitimacy of the outcome and sets a context for legal challenge to the results and the more general question of why it went ahead in the circumstances.
108 There is no existing legislative provision that allows for any of the statutory polls scheduled for 7th May , or others around that time and which arise going forward, to be postponed. There are some powers to move poll dates by secondary legislation, but these are only available significantly in advance and can no longer be used for th May polls, or others in the future. The Bill will enable the postponement of the polls scheduled for 7th May. The legislation will also cover the handling of other elections and referendums (such as by-elections and local referendums) that might arise during the Covid-19 outbreak and may need to be postponed - for public health reasons - in a similar way. These include local elections (in England and Wales) and referendums (in England) that were required to be held in the period between 16th March 2020, but which were not in the event held during that period. The legislation will also provide for the postponement of the canvass in Northern Ireland - an exercise to create a new register of electors that happens every decade. The canvass will be moved from 2020 to 2021.
National Insurance Contributions
109 The Bill will allow the Government to temporarily modify the existing procedures around introducing national insurance contribution (NIC) changes, in order to respond quickly to the Covid-19 outbreak if required. The Bill will remove the statutory requirement that a report from the Government Actuary Department accompany secondary legislation implementing rate changes. The Bill also provides for the secondary legislation to be subject to the negative procedure in Parliament rather than the affirmative procedure. The temporary modifications will last for two years from the day the Act receives Royal Assent.
110 Sections 143 and 145 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 provide that orders may alter the rate of contributions payable by employees, employers and the self-employed. Section 5 of the National Insurance Act 2014 provides that regulations may be made to alter the amount of the Employment Allowance and who qualifies for it.
Financial Assistance to industry
111 Covid-19 is an unforeseen and exceptional pressure on the economy. The Bill makes provision to ensure that any expenditure to address the impact of Covid-19 does not affect the ability of the Government going forward to deliver more routine general economic policy and address economic shocks and investment needs as they arise.
112 Section 8 of the Industrial Development Act 1982 is the principal general power for a Secretary of State to provide financial assistance to business. The power is exercisable by a Secretary of State on a shared or concurrent basis with the Scottish Ministers and the Welsh Ministers. Subsections (4) and (5) impose an aggregate limit of £12,000 million (£12 billion) for financial assistance under section 8.
113 The Bill provides that financial assistance provided under section 8 of the Industrial Development Act 1982 does not count towards the £12 billion aggregate limit where it is "coronavirus-related".
114 The Bill gives HM Treasury the power to direct HMRC to create new functions in relation to Covid-19. Specifically, it will enable HMRC to pay grants to businesses to deliver the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Under this Scheme, employers will be able to contact HMRC for a grant to cover most of the wages of people who are not working but are furloughed and kept on payroll. The Scheme will cover 80% of the salary of workers retained, up to a total of £2,500 per month. It will cover the cost of wages backdated to 1st March 2020 and will be open initially for at least three months.
115 In addition to allowing HMRC to deliver the Job Retention Scheme, it also provides the flexibility for HM Treasury to provide further directions if necessary, as the Government continues to respond to the situation as it develops.
116 Unlike ministerial departments, HMRC is a statutory body established by the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005. This power is necessary as HMRC is a statutory body that only has the functions conferred by or under statute – for example the power to collect and manage a wide range of taxes.
Up-rating of Working Tax Credit etc
117 The rate of the basic element of Working Tax Credit for the 2020/2021 tax year was set at £1,995, by the Tax Credits, Child Benefit and Guardian’s Allowance Up-rating Regulations 2020, due to come into force from 6 April 2020. The Bill replaces the reference to £1,995 with a reference to the amount of £3,040 for that tax year.
118 Section 41 of the Tax Credits Act 2002 requires the Treasury to review each tax year the tax credits rates and thresholds to determine whether they have retained their value in relation to prices in the United Kingdom. The basic element of Working Tax Credit, as provided for in regulations made under section 11 of the Tax Credits Act 2002, is subject to review under section 41.
a. The Bill substitutes a higher amount for the rate of the basic element of Working Tax Credit specified in regulation 20 of, and Schedule 2 to, the Working Tax Credit (Entitlement and Maximum Rate) Regulations 2002. The higher amount will apply for the tax year 2020/2021 only.
b. The Bill will enable the basic element of Working Tax Credit to return to the 6 April 2020 baseline rate of £1,995 for the purpose of conducting the Treasury’s review of tax credit rates for the tax year 2021/2022.
119 It is also proposed to increase the Universal Credit standard allowance in a separate set of regulations. This clause therefore also enables the amounts of the standard allowance to be based on the 6 April 2020 baseline rates for the purpose of the review of benefit rates by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for the tax year 2021/2022.
Local Authority Meetings
120 Local Authorities are being asked to undertake a number of essential and unusual functions in order to manage the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. They are also expected to contribute to local resilience planning for the pandemic through Local Resilience Forums and continue the effective delivery of local services, including planning and licensing. The Bill creates a power to make regulations to relax some requirements in relation to Local Authority meetings for a specified period.
121 Along with the postponement of elections and by-elections this is intended to increase the Local Authorities’ flexibility over how they can respond and deploy their resources, minimise risks to their continuing conduct of business, and ensure their members and officers can act in accordance with official health guidance.
122 The need for these measures arises because meetings may generate significant work that would put a strain on Local Authority resources when they could be stretched or used elsewhere.
Extension of BID arrangements
123 Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are business-led partnerships which are created voluntarily to deliver additional local services and upgrade the local environment for the benefit of business. A BID is a self-defined area, in which local businesses vote to approve the BID arrangements; those arrangements include raising a levy on all businesses covered by the arrangements. This levy is collected by the Local Authority and used by the BID organisation to undertake projects that benefit the local area.
124 There is a legal maximum of five years within which BIDs can operate as set out in section 54 of the Local Government Act 2003. Any which operate for longer than the five year maximum without holding another business vote, or ballot, will place those BIDs operating at legal risk.
125 The overall policy intent is to support businesses, particularly in high streets and town centres across England, as BIDs have a role to play in high street regeneration: in 2019, 259 BIDs across England raised over £106.7 million through levy payments to invest back into their respective towns and cities. Their role will be even more important in the recovery phase from the current crisis.
Extension to ballots
126 The Government accepted the Electoral Commission’s recent recommendation to postpone local elections for a year due to Covid-19. The Government wishes to also include BID ballots within this delay to avoid local authorities making inconsistent decisions on whether to delay the vote.
127 At present, without a clear steer, some Local Authorities will interpret the delay to local elections as cause for delaying BID ballots, which will de facto lead to the extension of BID arrangements beyond the legal maximum of five years, as set out in, section 54 of the Local Government Act 2003, which will place those BIDs operating beyond the five year maximum at legal risk.
128 There is a risk that by legally forcing BIDs to go to ballot during the Covid-19 crisis they will not succeed, as businesses are concerned about the economic impact of Covid-19 and would be unwilling to pay the levy when they are at risk of administration or insolvency (which runs against the Government position of wanting to see more BIDs established due to their benefits to high streets, town centres and businesses).
129 The Bill temporarily extends the maximum duration of English BID arrangements. This is to ensure consistency of the BIDs legislation with the delay introduced for local government elections, to give local government, BIDs and local business communities certainty and clarity at a turbulent and disruptive time.
130 BID arrangements that are in place on the day of Royal Assent but are due to terminate on or before 31st December 2020 are to be extended until 31st March 2021. The purpose being to maintain the status quo to enable a further ballot to take place after the current emergency has abated.
131 The Government are proposing to temporarily extend the maximum duration of Northern Ireland BID arrangements. This is to ensure consistency of application of the 2013 Act with the delay introduced for local government elections, to give councils, BIDs and local business communities certainty and clarity at a turbulent and disruptive time.
132 BID arrangements that are in place on the day of Royal Assent but are due to terminate on or before 31st December 2020 are to be extended until 31st March 2021. The purpose being to maintain the status quo to enable a further ballot to take place after the current emergency has abated.
Residential tenancies: protection from eviction
133 It is necessary to ensure that tenants in the private and social rented sectors are protected from eviction for a reasonable and specified period of time, in recognition of the unusual circumstances arising from the Covid-19 outbreak.
134 Under the current legislative framework for both the private and social rented sectors, landlords are able to lawfully evict a tenant and gain possession of the property under a range of circumstances. To do so, they must usually serve on the tenant a valid notice of intention that they wish to possess the property and may be required to evidence their reason for seeking possession in court. These reasons can include when the tenant has accumulated rent arrears.
Business protection: protection from forfeiture
135 Forfeiture is a right to determine a lease by a landlord at an earlier date than the lease would normally end because of some default by the tenant. The right to forfeit is a contractual right rather than a common law or statutory right and most contracts contain express provisions for forfeiture.
136 Commercial leases may be forfeited for non-payment of rent. The Bill ensures that leases cannot be forfeited for non-payment of rent for a three-month period for all types of commercial tenants. This option encourages businesses that are in a position to make their rent payment to do so, whilst providing three months’ grace to those that are struggling.
137 This position is be in line with the Government’s previous announcement to bring forward primary legislation to prevent the eviction of private rented sector leaseholders.
138 The protection period recognises that commercial property landlords may in cases of rental arrears be deprived of an income stream for the period, and will be delayed in gaining possession of the property to sell or put to alternative use-it is aimed at being a proportionate response to both parties.
139 This Bill will provide that where non-payment of rent enables a landlord to treat a lease as forfeited, that right will not be able to be exercised for a period of three months (to 30 June 2020)-with a power to extend if it is needed.
140 Landlords will still be able to claim forfeiture after that the three-months period (either by peaceably re-entering the premises or by issuing a claim for forfeiture).
141 The protection will apply to all business tenancies within the meaning of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 (the "1954 Act"), whether or not they have opted out of the protections afforded by the 1954 Act. In Northern Ireland, it will apply all business tenancies within the meaning of the Business Tenancies (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 ("the 1996 Order") and to any tenancy to which the Order would apply if any relevant occupier were the tenant.
142 The 1954 Act allows a landlord to oppose the right of a protected tenant to renew where there has been a "persistent delay in paying rent". This could be a problem for a tenant who is relying on the moratorium against forfeiture whose lease comes up for renewal during the moratorium period. The tenant’s behaviour during the moratorium period could give the landlord a ground to oppose their renewal in future. This period will therefore be ignored for the purposes of section 30(1)(b) of the 1954 Act.
143 The 1996 Order allows a landlord to oppose the right of a protected tenant to renew where there has been a ‘persistent delay in paying rent’. This could be a problem for a tenant who is relying on the moratorium against forfeiture whose lease comes up for renewal during the moratorium period. The tenant’s behaviour during the moratorium period could give the landlord a ground to oppose their renewal in future. This period will therefore be ignored for the purposes of Article 12(1)(b) of the 1996 Order.
144 Landlords will be protected for the period of the forfeiture moratorium the non-collection of rent by the landlord during the period will not be treated as a waiver of the right to pursue rent.
145 The moratorium will only apply to non-payment of rent. Landlords should continue to be able to exercise other rights of forfeiture. For example a tenant would not be allowed to cause willful damage. However, some breaches may be linked to cash flow issues or Covid-19 problems; for example, the breach of a ‘keep open’ clause in the lease requiring the tenant to keep their premises open. In practice, the protections afforded by the Act should help protect such a tenant.
General Synod of the Church of England
146 The General Synod is the national assembly of the Church of England and is made up of the Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity (although the first two Houses are technically the ancient Convocations of Canterbury and York). It needs to pass important legislation in the coming months – including provision to implement recommendations from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse.
147 Primary legislation made by the General Synod is called a ‘Measure’ and requires Parliamentary approval and Royal Assent.
148 Like Parliament, the General Synod is elected for a five-year term (unless dissolved sooner). That five-year term is prescribed in primary legislation: the Church of England Convocations Act 1966 (an Act of Parliament) and the Synodical Government Measure 1969 (a Church Measure). The General Synod was last elected in the summer of 2015 and fresh elections were accordingly due to take place this summer.
149 Elections to the General Synod are conducted in each diocese of the Church of England (a diocese being the geographical area under the authority of a particular bishop). The officials in the dioceses who have the responsibility for conducting elections have informed officials at Church House, Westminster, that as all diocesan offices are now working remotely, some with skeleton staff, and it will be impracticable to prepare for and conduct elections in the present circumstances.
150 As matters stand, there is no legal power that enables the lifetime of the General Synod to be extended beyond five years. Under the Church of England Convocations Act 1966, the Convocations of Canterbury and York automatically stand dissolved at the end of five years (unless dissolved by Royal writs earlier than that). When the Convocations are dissolved, the General Synod is automatically dissolved under the Synodical Government Measure 1969. There is no mechanism in existence to enable dissolution to be postponed beyond the five years prescribed by the 1966 Act.
151 The Bill addresses that problem. It creates a power enabling Her Majesty, by Order in Council, at the joint request of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, to postpone the date on which the Convocations of Canterbury and York – and therefore the General Synod – automatically stand dissolved under the Church of England Convocations Act 1966.
152 Once the relevant Order in Council is made, and the postponement is in place, it will be possible for the Church to re-schedule the elections that were due to take place this summer.
Other administrative requirements
153 The functions of the Treasury are carried out by the Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Treasury (‘the Commissioners’). There are currently eight Commissioners; the Prime Minister (the First Lord of the Treasury), the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the Second Lord of the Treasury) and 6 Junior Lords of the Treasury.
154 By virtue of section 1 of the Treasury Instruments (Signature) Act 1849 (the "TISA"), where any instrument or act is required to be signed by the Commissioners, it may be signed by two or more of the Commissioners. It is crucial that the work of the Treasury can continue unimpeded during any Covid-19 outbreak and instruments are not delayed in a situation where Commissioners are not available because they are impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak. The Bill will provide flexibility on who can be considered Commissioners and reduce the number of Commissioners needed to sign instruments during any Covid-19 outbreak.