Monday 27 January 2014
Energy and Climate Change
Community Energy Strategy
The Government are today publishing the Community Energy Strategy and I will be depositing copies of it in the Libraries of both Houses.
This is the first ever Community Energy Strategy published by a UK Government. It sets out the role that communities can play in helping to meet the UK’s energy and climate change challenges, including supporting a sustainable and secure energy system; reducing UK greenhouse gas emissions; and lowering consumer bills. Publication of the strategy will meet a commitment in the programme for government to
“encourage community-owned renewable energy schemes where local people benefit from the power produced”.
Community energy covers many different types of community getting involved in different ways to help meet the UK’s energy challenges. The Community Energy Strategy sets out how communities are already coming together to generate electricity and heat, reduce energy use, save money on the energy they buy, and balance supply and demand.
The document brings together existing policies and initiatives with new actions to provide a coherent package of support across the spectrum of community energy.
Supporting communities to access finance
Access to finance can be a serious issue for community energy projects, and the strategy announces a new urban community energy fund, a non-rural counterpart to the existing rural community energy fund administered by the waste and resources action programme (WRAP). This new fund will provide communities in England with access to “at risk” finance for the early stages of projects, enabling community electricity and heat projects to progress to the point at which they can attract further investment and derive an income through the existing feed-in tariff (FIT) and renewable heat incentive (RHI) schemes.
The Government have already announced an increase in the threshold for FITs from 5MW to 10MW for community projects, and I will shortly be consulting on the details of implementation. Additionally, the strategy announces that the UK has recently opened discussions with the European Commission about the possibility of including small-scale onshore wind and small-scale hydro-energy sectors within the approved scope of operation of the green investment bank.
Helping community energy scale-up through strong partnerships
The strategy recognises the enabling role that partners such as commercial developers and local authorities can play, and seeks to encourage partnerships to increase the reach and scale of community energy. It announces our expectation that by 2015 it should be the norm for interested communities to be offered some level of ownership of new, commercially-developed onshore renewables projects.
Better information and advice on community energy
Currently capability and capacity barriers can hold back community energy. Therefore, we will be commissioning a new information resource for community energy in England. This will be developed with community energy groups using a business model that enables it to become self-sustaining. This follows the £500,000 community energy peer mentoring fund launched by the Cabinet Office in November last year.
Community action on energy saving and advice
The Government have already announced an expansion of the green deal communities scheme to £80 million. In addition, the strategy announces a competition to incentivise community groups to develop new approaches to saving energy and money and a package of community energy advice pilots to provide new support for community energy saving schemes.
Help to navigate regulatory barriers
The Community Energy Strategy lays the foundations for future work by my Department to support this sector. We have established several working groups to explore how to reduce unnecessary barriers to communities in navigating regulation related to community energy. I will also be establishing a dedicated Community Energy Unit within DECC to lead on this policy area.
Alongside the Community Energy Strategy, I am publishing a research report outlining the scale and geographical distribution of community energy in the UK.
Community energy has real potential to help keep energy costs down for consumers and tackle the rising cost of living. The package of support announced in this strategy will help realise this potential: supporting communities to take control of the energy they use, get a better deal on the energy they buy and cut bills by generating their own renewable energy.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Foreign Affairs Council
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 20 January in Brussels. The Foreign Affairs Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland.
Commissioners Füle (Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy), Georgieva (Humanitarian Aid), and Piebalgs (Development) were in attendance for some of the discussions at the FAC.
Foreign Affairs Council
A provisional report of the meeting and conclusions adopted can be found at:
On Syria, Ministers agreed conclusions which supported the Geneva II process and the national coalition’s decision to participate, condemned the regime for bearing the overwhelming responsibility for recent atrocities and blocking humanitarian access, and emphasised the importance of the participation of women in the Geneva II process. The Foreign Secretary said that the national coalition’s participation in Geneva II was indispensible for a transition to a democratic and pluralist Syria. He repeated his concern about the deepening humanitarian crisis, acknowledged the substantial humanitarian aid pledges made by the EU and its member states but stressed that more was needed.
Ministers also expressed concern about the destabilising effect of the Syria conflict on the region, in particular in Lebanon and Iraq.
Ministers took stock of the situation in Egypt, following the constitutional referendum of 14 and 15 January. Baroness Ashton issued a statement raising concerns over restricted political space, while welcoming progress on the road map, which can be found at: http://eeas. europa.eu/statements/docs/2014/140119_02_en.pdf.
The Foreign Secretary set out how decisions in the run-up to the referendum were not conducive to long-term political stability, and set out the importance of the EU continuing to raise concerns with the interim Government. He also urged the European External Action Service (EEAS) to send a full Electoral Observation Mission for the presidential and parliamentary elections.
Middle East Peace Process
Ministers discussed latest developments in the middle east peace process. The EU fully supports the ongoing efforts of the parties and of the US towards a just and lasting settlement for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Baroness Ashton is in regular contact with the key parties. The EU has said that it is ready to contribute substantially to post-conflict arrangements for ensuring the sustainability of a peace agreement.
The Foreign Secretary praised US Secretary of State John Kerry’s tremendous energy and commitment, and stated that following on from the December FAC conclusions the EU should focus on developing a truly unprecedented offer of incentives, and accompany this with significant public diplomacy efforts.
On Afghanistan, Ministers agreed conclusions that set out the priorities for the EU’s engagement strategy to 2016: promoting economic development, supporting democracy and human rights, strengthening the rule of law and fostering regional co-operation.
The Foreign Secretary expressed condolences for the deaths in Kabul over the weekend, including two British nationals. He said it was important for the EU to have a clear and realistic strategy for Afghanistan, and welcomed the priorities set out in the conclusions, particularly the emphasis on the rights of women and girls. The Foreign Secretary supported an electoral observation mission and suggested that there were grounds for relative optimism in terms of the technical preparations under way: the electoral roll was being increased and a third of recent registrations were by women.
Ministers agreed the revised Council decision and regulation which bring into force the six months suspension of relevant EU sanctions, as agreed in the E3+3/Iran agreement in Geneva on 24 November. This followed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmation that Iran had taken the steps they had committed to under the agreement. The US also brought into force limited sanctions relief on 20 January. However, the bulk of sanctions, including core oil and financial sanctions, remain in place. Baroness Ashton looked forward to negotiations on the comprehensive agreement which she expects to begin in February. The Foreign Secretary made a statement following the FAC welcoming the deal and reiterating that sanctions relief was limited. Pressure on Iran needed to be maintained in order to reach a comprehensive settlement.
Ministers discussed relations with Russia over lunch, in view of the EU/Russia summit on 28 January. The EEAS highlighted that the upcoming summit would not be treated as “business as usual”. The Foreign Secretary recommended the EU take a clear, confident and united approach to the EU/Russia relationship.
In the light of continuing anti-Government protests and recent violence, Ministers agreed conclusions on Ukraine which called on all actors to exercise restraint, on the authorities to protect the rights of protesters to freedom of assembly and speech, and for investigations into all acts of violence. The conclusions also expressed concern about the recent adoption of legislation restricting fundamental freedoms, and called on all parties to seek, through inclusive dialogue, a democratic solution to the current political crisis that would meet the aspirations of the Ukrainian people.
Central African Republic
Ministers agreed conclusions setting out the EU’s continuing concern over the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) and its readiness to support efforts focused on restoring peace and stability, including through Commission funding streams. They also approved the crisis management concept for an EU military operation, agreeing that accelerated planning should continue, subject to a Council decision and a United Nations Security Council resolution. The Foreign Secretary commended action taken by France and the African Union to date and highlighted the UK’s contributions, both to the French Operation Sangaris, and the £15 million of bilateral humanitarian aid provided to CAR.
In parallel, a high-level meeting in Brussels on humanitarian action in CAR, co-chaired by Baroness Amos, Head of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and Commissioner Georgieva, raised $496 million. Of this, $200 million would be dedicated to humanitarian and relief efforts with the rest funding longer-term development programmes. Commissioner Georgieva said that political support and a continued physical presence in the country were vital.
Ministers discussed the continued need to focus on the deteriorating situation in South Sudan and to lend full support to regional efforts to mediate a solution, including a readiness to consider targeted measures against individuals who sought to frustrate the political process. The situation of 4.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and nearly half a million internally displaced people living in dire conditions was outlined. The security situation was making it increasingly difficult to deliver assistance. Ministers welcomed the vital role played by the UN in co-ordinating the humanitarian response and agreed to continue pressing all parties to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access. Conclusions were adopted underlining the need for continued EU engagement and support for regional efforts aimed at securing peace and stability in South Sudan, and readiness to support such efforts.
Under AOB, Baroness Ashton noted that the Polish paper on Eastern Partnership financing that had been circulated, and said that this would be discussed at the February FAC.
In addition, Italy raised the case of its marines that had been under house arrest in India for more than two years without formal charges being brought, following an incident in which two Indian sailors had died.
Ministers agreed without discussion a number of other measures:
The Council approved a regulation concerning certain procedures for applying the EU/Serbia stabilisation and association agreement and the EU/Serbia interim agreement.
The Council adopted the provisional agenda for the first meeting of the EU/Iraq Co-operation Council, to take place on 20 January 2014.
The Council amended the regulation concerning restrictive measures in view of the situation in Libya. The no claims and the non-liability clauses were changed to bring them into line with the guidelines on the implementation and evaluation of EU restrictive measures.
The Council allocated €1.04 million to cover the expenditure of the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, Mr Philippe Lefort, for the period from 1 January 2014 to 30 June 2014.
The Council repealed the mandate of the EU Special Representative for the middle east peace process, Mr Andreas Reinicke.
The Council authorised the opening of negotiations with Georgia as well as with Albania for agreements between the European Union and each country respectively on the security of classified information.
The Council approved technical amendments to the EU restrictive measures against Belarus.
Legal Services (Red Tape Challenge)
The Ministry of Justice wishes to implement its policies in the most effective way, ensuring that the rules that oversee the justice system are proportionate and effective. However, it is always important that we balance this aim and ensure we do not place unnecessary burdens on business or hamper economic growth.
In May 2012, the Ministry of Justice launched the legal services theme of the red tape challenge to help us examine where we could improve regulation. We sought views from a broad range of stakeholders and the public on the governance of legal services and the regulation that underpins our system of justice. We asked whether these regulations were still necessary or whether they could be improved so that the overall system is easier to understand and navigate.
I would like to inform the House that the Government are today announcing the outcome of the legal services red tape challenge. Of the 189 substantive instruments considered, we propose to scrap or improve 69 statutory instruments: a significant number of these changes will create real benefits for business, the public or the taxpayer.
Through these planned and ongoing reforms we will simplify the legislation around bailiffs, setting out clearly what bailiffs can do under what circumstances, and the fees that they can charge, giving both business and the public clearer guidance on how bailiffs can behave. The rules that regulate claims management companies have been improved by introducing a ban on paying or receiving referral fees in personal injury cases and offering cash incentives or similar benefits to consumers to make claims. We have also introduced mandatory requirements for written and signed contracts with clients before any fees can be taken by those companies. These changes will help strengthen existing action to drive out poor practices, better protect consumers and go some way to addressing the compensation culture.
We will work with the Land Registry to simplify the process of searching for local land charges by making the legislative changes necessary to allow the Land Registry to have sole responsibility for maintaining a local land charges register, and for supplying local search results. This should make searching simpler as there will be one register of local land charges, rather than separate registers with different local authorities as at present. It will also enable the Land Registry to standardise the price of searches, turnaround times and the format of searches and will mark a significant step towards making the Land Registry a “one-stop shop” for property searches by April 2015. The Land Registry will continue to make the necessary changes to move towards “digital by default”, including enabling all applications to update/change the Land Register to be made electronically, should people wish to do so, by March 2014.[Official Report, 24 March 2014, Vol. 578, c. 2 MC.]
Addressing the concerns raised through the red tape challenge and the legal services review, the Justice Secretary will take forward further steps on legal services regulation in the coming months.
Many of these measures are already being taken forward and some have been implemented already. We hope to make the remaining changes by the end of this Parliament.
On the occasion of Holocaust memorial day I would like to inform the House of further details of the Holocaust Commission that I announced in September 2013.
I have established the Commission to investigate whether further measures should be taken to ensure Britain has a permanent and fitting memorial to the holocaust and meaningful educational resources for future generations.
Survivors have played a vital role in keeping the memory of the holocaust alive, but we will not always have these remarkable individuals with us. We face a real danger that, as the events of the holocaust become ever more distant, they feel increasingly remote to current and future generations.
The Commission will be led by Mick Davis, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council. Its work will be supported by two expert groups to examine issues around education and commemoration. The groups will be chaired by Commissioners Dame Helen Hyde and Sir Peter Bazalgette respectively. Dame Helen Hyde is headmistress of Watford grammar school and dedicates her time to educating people about the holocaust. Sir Peter Bazalgette brings a wealth of experience from his role as chair of the Arts Council England.
I am pleased that the Commission is cross-party with representation from the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) and the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes).
A public call for evidence begins today and will run until the end of May this year, with people across the country invited to submit their views. A number of regional evidence sessions will also be held to gather oral evidence. A young person under the age of 21 will be selected from responses to the call for evidence to join the commission as a youth representative.
I urge all members of the House to respond to this call for evidence and encourage young people and interested parties in their constituencies to also share their views.
I have asked the Commission to report its findings to me by the end of the year.
I am placing the terms of reference, full membership of the Holocaust Commission and expert groups, and the call for evidence in the Libraries of both Houses.
Work and Pensions
Social Security Benefits Uprating ( Correction to WMS)
I wish to inform the House that an error has been identified in the wording of the written ministerial statement tabled on Monday 9 December 2013, Official Report, column 4WS, on the subject of social security benefits uprating. The error was in the description used in the section of the table of rates for the benefit cap in universal credit (monthly). I wish to apologise to the House for this inadvertent error. The rest of the information contained in the written ministerial statement remains correct.
The extract below shows the relevant text that is incorrect.
In Housing Benefit (weekly rate)
Couples and lone parents
Single persons without children
In Universal Credit (monthly rate)
Joint claimants and single claimants with children
Joint claimants and single claimants without children
The correct wording should have been:
In Housing Benefit (weekly rate)
Couples and lone parents
Single persons without children
In Universal Credit (monthly rate)
Joint claimants and single claimants with children
Single claimants without children