11.One instrument relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Special Educational Needs and Disability (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/471), is drawn to the special attention of the House in this report (see pages 2 to 4 above)
12.This Order temporarily lifts prohibitions of certain types of anti-competitive activity, as set out in Chapter 1 of the Competition Act 1998 (“the 1998 Act”), in relation to independent and public healthcare providers in Wales. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) explains that the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee (a joint committee of Local Health Boards in Wales) has commissioned independent healthcare providers to provide extra capacity for the treatment of patients in Wales and that this Order aims to assist these arrangements. The Order mirrors the measures introduced in an earlier statutory instrument in relation to England. According to BEIS, the Order specifies the types of activities and agreements between the different providers that are temporarily excluded from anti-competitive behaviour provisions under the 1998 Act, such as sharing information about capacity, coordinating staff deployment or the joint purchasing of goods, facilities or services. The exemptions apply retrospectively from 1 March. BEIS says that the direct sharing of sensitive information relating to costs or prices or future business planning is not exempt, to ensure that competition law is disapplied only where this is necessary to deal with the current crisis. BEIS expects the exemptions to be in place for less than 12 months. The Order enables the Secretary of State to end the exemptions once health services are no longer disrupted. The Secretary of State will have to give a minimum of 28 days’ notice to enable the orderly winding down of any temporary arrangements. BEIS told the Committee that the “regulation of anti-competitive practices and agreements is a reserved matter and it will be for the Secretary of State to determine for the purposes of this Order when the ‘healthcare disruption period’ has ended”, but that “UK Government officials have worked closely with the Welsh Government in its development, and we hope to continue this co-operation through any monitoring and follow up”. The Department added that they “have made Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive colleagues aware of the order made in England but have not yet had requests for assistance in this area”.
13.This instrument extends the initial application deadline for Direct Payments for 2020 and the 2020 payment claim deadline for the Countryside Stewardship (CS), Environmental Stewardship (ES) and woodland grant schemes (WGS) from 15 May to 15 June 2020. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says that this extension will provide farmers and land managers with additional time to submit the necessary paperwork at a time when they may be unable to complete forms and gather evidence due to illness, to meet with agents because of social distancing measures or to hand in correspondence and supporting documents at the Rural Payment Agency’s drop-in centres which have closed temporarily. The instrument is linked to the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Act (Consequential Amendments) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/463) (see paragraph 20 of this Report) which had to come into force before Defra could use powers under the Direct Payments legislation to extend these deadlines.
14.The purpose of this instrument is to remove loans of £25,000 or less from the scope of the UK’s consumer credit regulatory regime, where these loans are made by commercial lenders to sole traders, unincorporated associations and partnerships of fewer than four people under the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS). HM Treasury (HMT) says that the changes are needed because the current highly prescriptive consumer credit regulatory regime is inhibiting lenders from granting loans to small businesses under the BBLS; the changes are intended to make it easier for small businesses to access BBLS loans during the pandemic. The instrument includes an exemption so that the existing regulatory regime continues to apply for the specific activity of debt collecting in relation to BBLS loans. According to HMT, the instrument will cease to have effect once loans made under the scheme have been satisfied.
15.This Order temporarily lifts prohibitions of certain types of anti-competitive activity, as set out in Chapter 1 of the Competition Act 1998 (“the 1998 Act”), in relation to UK dairy producers, traders and their logistic services providers. BEIS says that reduced demand from the hospitality sector during the pandemic has led to an over-supply of raw milk which cannot be processed into other milk products because of limited processing capacity. According to BEIS, this Order aims to support the dairy industry during the pandemic to ensure that capacity is maintained to meet future demand, while mitigating the environmental damage to land and waterways caused by the disposal of an oversupply of raw milk. The Order specifies the types of activities and agreements between the different providers that are temporarily excluded from anti-competitive behaviour provisions under the 1998 Act, such as sharing information about surplus milk quantities, stock and customer demand and coordinating staff deployment and the temporary reduction of milk production. The exemptions apply retrospectively from 1 April. BEIS says that the direct sharing of sensitive information relating to costs or prices or future business planning is not exempt, to ensure that competition law is disapplied only where this is necessary to deal with the current crisis. BEIS expects the exemptions to be in place for less than 12 months. The Order expires three months after coming into force and also enables the Secretary of State to end the exemptions once the dairy sector is no longer disrupted, giving a minimum of 28 days’ notice.
16.The National Health Service (Quality Accounts) Regulations 2010 specify the information which must be contained in the Quality Accounts of providers of NHS services in England. They also require providers to obtain assurance of their draft reports by the lead NHS commissioner (NHS England or the relevant Clinical Commissioning Group), Local Healthwatch, and the appropriate Overview and Scrutiny Committee by 30 April each year, publish Quality Accounts by 30 June each year, and send a copy to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. These Regulations suspend these requirements for the reporting year 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020 only. The Department for Health and Social Care states that revised timelines and guidance in relation to the production and publication of Quality Accounts for the reporting period 2019–20 are expected to be issued by NHS England and NHS Improvement as soon as it is appropriate to do so.
17.These Regulations make a permanent change to the law so that, in the time of a serious risk to health or a pandemic, the Secretary of State can make alternative arrangements for the issuing of certain controlled drugs by pharmacies in order to relieve the burden on GPs. This mirrors arrangements enabled by the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 for the emergency supply of prescription-only medicines, but does not extend to all controlled drugs. Following the announcement of a pandemic by the Secretary of State, this instrument would enable registered pharmacies to supply controlled drugs from Schedule 2 to Part 1 of Schedule 4 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 without a prescription, if the patient had been receiving them as part of on-going treatment. Although the power is permanent, its use would be geographically and time limited: the specified period must initially be for no more than three months, but may be renewed. The instrument has been laid by the Home Office but it is likely that the Health Secretary would be the person to activate this contingency mechanism if required.
18.This instrument adds the ability to make an electronic claim for State Pension Credit to the existing methods of claiming by post and by telephone. The ability to claim digitally on the Gov.uk website will relieve the strain that the Covid-19 outbreak has put on the Department for Work and Pension’s telephone system. It will also allow people to make a claim at a time of their own choosing and without having to leave their homes. This will be a permanent change.
19.The coronavirus pandemic has led to a reduction in the number of cases proceeding through the criminal justice system and courts, which has in turn reduced the income of criminal legal aid practitioners. In order to pay for work done and help improve the cash flow of the profession, this amendment will provide earlier access to hardship payments. These Regulations reduce the threshold at which a financial hardship payment may be made from the current amount of £5,000 to £450 and reduce the time interval before practitioners may claim from six months following instruction to one month following instruction. The Ministry of Justice will review the need for the instrument after six months.
4 Competition Act 1998 (Health Services for Patients in England) (Coronavirus) (Public Policy Exclusion) Order 2020 (), see: , Session 2019–21 (HL Paper 49).
5 The BBLS scheme helps small and medium-sized businesses to borrow between £2,000 and £50,000 for up to six years, with the Government guaranteeing 100% of the loan and no fees or interest due for the first 12 months.
6 National Health Service (Quality Accounts) Regulations 2010 ().
7 Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 ().