Thursday 7 July 2016
Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act 2012: Annual Report
The Annual Report to Parliament under the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act 2012 for the period 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016 has today been laid before Parliament.
The report is prepared in line with the requirements set out in the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act 2012 that the Government report annually to Parliament on the financial assistance given under the act.
UK Debt Management Office: Business Plan
UK-Turkmenistan Double Taxation Conventions
A Double Taxation Convention with Turkmenistan was signed on 10 June 2016. The text of the Convention has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs’ pages of the gov.uk website. The texts will be scheduled to draft Orders in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.
Communities and Local Government
On 11 January 2016, I extended for a period of six months the criteria for consideration of the recovery of planning appeals to include proposals for residential development over 10 units in areas where a qualifying body has submitted a neighbourhood plan proposal to the local planning authority or where a neighbourhood plan has been made (Hansard HCWS457).
I am now extending that period for a further six months from today but, in the light of the experience which has now accrued on neighbourhood planning, I intend to limit the criteria to include proposals for residential development of more than 25 units in areas where a qualifying body has submitted a neighbourhood plan to the local authority but the relevant plan has not yet been made. This change to the criteria would not however preclude Ministers from exercising their discretion to recover any other appeal which fell outside these parameters if they considered, it appropriate under any of the criteria set out in the written ministerial statement made by Mr. Parmjit Dhanda on Monday 30 June 2008, Official Report, column 41WS.
Submarine Dismantling Project
Today I am announcing that Capenhurst Nuclear Services (CNS), at Capenhurst in Cheshire, has been selected as the MOD’s site for interim storage of the intermediate-level radioactive waste (ILW) from decommissioned nuclear-powered submarines prior to disposal. AWE Aldermaston in Berkshire has been identified as a contingency site.
CNS will have the capability to store this ILW until it can be disposed of in a geological disposal facility, some time after 2040.
Like all the sites shortlisted, the operator CNS already manage radioactive materials, and were found to meet the submarine dismantling project’s requirements best, including value for money.
There are two options at CNS to store ILW. The option that MOD will be taking forward is to use an existing facility, with a second on-site contingency option of constructing a new store.
As put forward during the public consultation, we have also selected a contingency site. Should both Capenhurst options prove unsuitable, AWE Aldermaston will then be taken forward as the MOD’s preferred contingency site.
As a responsible nuclear operator the MOD takes seriously its duty to manage the submarine fleet throughout their operational service and during the disposal process. Today’s announcement reiterates my commitment that this activity will be undertaken in a safe, secure, cost-effective and environmentally sound manner.
United States Visiting Forces: Contingent Liability
I have today laid before Parliament a departmental minute to advise that the Ministry of Defence has received approval from Her Majesty’s Treasury to recognise a new contingent liability associated with potential redundancy payments to civil servants currently located at RAF Mildenhall, RAF Alconbury and RAF Molesworth, which are scheduled for closure under the United States Visiting Forces European Infrastructure Consolidation review.
In January 2015 the United States Department of Defence communicated their decision to withdraw from RAF Molesworth and RAF Alconbury with the activities undertaken there being consolidated at RAF Croughton. Additionally, they also announced their withdrawal from RAF Mildenhall. Currently, US plans are not yet sufficiently mature to say definitively when these stations will close.
There are approximately 470 MOD civil servants employed at these three stations. While staff will be supported in seeking to secure alternative employment in the Civil Service it is likely that some civil servants will be made redundant. The responsibility for the provision of redundancy payments is split between the UK and the US. I can advise you that Her Majesty’s Treasury have agreed a contingent liability of up to £6 million.
I can assure you that all MOD civil servants who are affected by these base closures will be managed in accordance with the MOD Civil Service terms and conditions and will be provided with advice and support to make decisions about their future.
Energy and Climate Change
Office for Nuclear Regulation: Annual Report
Later today the annual report to Parliament setting out the use of the Secretary of State’s powers exercised to the Office for Nuclear Regulation during the year, will be published. This is in accordance with Section 108(1) of the Energy Act 2013.
Committee on Climate Change: UK's Carbon Budgets
I wish to inform the House that the Government are today laying the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) advice on the compatibility of UK onshore petroleum with meeting the UK’s carbon budgets, as well as the Government’s response to that advice[i]. These are being laid before Parliament in line with Section 49 of the Infrastructure Act 2015.
The CCC’s report mainly focuses on shale gas extraction. The Government welcome the CCC’s conclusion that shale gas is compatible with carbon budgets if certain conditions are met. We believe that our strong regulatory regime and determination to meet our carbon budgets mean those conditions can and will be met.
The Government are committed to exploring the UK’s shale gas potential while maintaining the very highest safety and environmental standards. We are confident that the existing regulators have the right powers and flexibility to ensure that emissions are minimised. We will of course continue to work with the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and the Oil and Gas Authority to ensure this continues to be the case as the new shale industry grows.
Exploring and developing our shale gas and oil resources could potentially bring substantial benefits and help meet our objectives for secure energy supplies, economic growth and lower carbon emissions. We therefore welcome that the CCC shares the Government’s view that shale gas could make a useful contribution to UK energy supplies.
We do not yet know the full scale of the UK’s shale resources nor how much can be extracted technically or economically. There is therefore a clear need to seize the opportunity now to determine the full potential for shale development in the UK and we support the industry’s work to bring forward exploratory wells.
Having access to clean, safe and secure supplies of natural gas for years to come is a key requirement if the UK is to successfully transition to a low-carbon economy. The UK was the first country to set legally binding carbon budgets, and this Government are fully committed to them, as shown by the announcement of the fifth carbon budget level last week. We need gas—the cleanest fossil fuel—to support our climate change efforts by providing flexibility and helping us to reduce the use of high-carbon coal.
Section 49 of the Infrastructure Act requires the Secretary of State, when laying the CCC report before Parliament, to lay either regulations providing for the right to use deep-level land to cease to have effect, or a report explaining the reasoning for not doing so. The Government response explains why the Government believe that our strong regulatory regime will meet the conditions set out by the CCC, and therefore further regulations are not required. This meets the Government’s obligations under the Infrastructure Act. The Act requires a further report to be provided by the CCC in April 2021.
[i] These are available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/committee-on-climate-chanqe-report-and-government-response-on-the-compatibility-of-uk-onshore-petroleum-with-meeting-the-uks-carbon-budgets.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
June Environment Council
I attended the EU Environment Council in Luxembourg on 20 June along with my noble friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Lord Bourne). Roseanna Cunningham MSP also attended.
I wish to update the House on the matters discussed.
EU emissions trading system (ETS)
The presidency introduced its progress report on negotiations to reform the EU ETS, framed in the context of the Paris climate agreement. The Commission saw carbon leakage rules as a priority and cautioned against over-burdening national authorities and industry. The Commission called for more ideas from industry on how best to use the innovation and modernisation funds, and supported a focus on addressing the surplus of allowances in the system rather than direct price regulation.
In the ensuing policy debate, all Ministers supported the presidency’s progress report and proposals for next steps. The UK focused on the need to balance the reducing number of free allowances with appropriate carbon leakage support, protection of the market stability reserve, strengthening of the carbon price, and reaching agreement on ETS alongside the effort share decision.
Paris ratification: presentation from the Commission and Council statement
The Commission briefly presented its proposal for a Council decision on EU ratification of the Paris agreement, published on 10 June. The presidency then invited Ministers to endorse a Council statement calling for ratification of the Paris agreement by the EU and its member states as soon as possible.
Following proposals from other member states, the presidency presented a compromise statement which included references to climate finance, and which the Council agreed by consensus.
National emissions ceilings directive: state of play
The presidency set out the state of play of the negotiations. The presidency was disappointed agreement had not yet been reached, but noted good progress was made in the four trilogue meetings which had taken place. On the key issues of 2030 limits, flexibilities and the nature of 2025 ceilings, the institutions were still some way apart. Despite this, the presidency believed a deal was close and had been in contact with the European Parliament with a view to arranging a fifth trilogue meeting. The Commission fully supported the presidency’s efforts.
The UK along with other member states encouraged the presidency to make another attempt at a first reading agreement by the end of June. However there was some difference in focus between member states in terms of ambition and the need for realistic and attainable targets. A significant number of member states expressed a clear preference for an agreement built on the most recent presidency mandate.
AOB: NOx emissions by diesel
The presidency reported on recent discussion at Transport Council. The Commission reiterated its view that the main issue was member state implementation of the Euro 5/6 regulations. It noted the progress made on the adoption of the real driving emissions (RDE) and worldwide harmonised light vehicles test procedure (WLTP) proposals. The Commission called on member states to accelerate negotiations on the type approval regulations. The Commission said it intended to provide further guidance on the implementation of the Euro 5/6 regulations by the end of the year, but added this had to be based on a transparent exchange of information gathered during national studies.
The UK underlined the urgent need to resolve the issue to ensure health benefits and for member states to fulfil their legal obligations.
AOB: endocrine disruptors
The Commission presented its recently adopted package on endocrine disruptors consisting of a communication and draft Commission acts setting out scientific criteria in the context of EU legislation on plant protection products and biocidal products.
Council conclusions on Closing the Loop: Circular Economy
The Council adopted by consensus conclusions which responded to the Commission communication on an EU action plan for the circular economy. The UK welcomed the conclusions and, in particular, the call for EU action on microbeads which was supported by several other member states.
Council conclusions on illegal wildlife trafficking
Council adopted by consensus conclusions which responded to the Commission communication on an EU action plan against wildlife trafficking. The UK intervened in support of the conclusions and called for a robust EU commitment on trophy hunting at the convention on international trade in endangered species conference of the parties in September. The UK also called for action in working towards the closure of the Chinese domestic market for ivory.
The Council noted updates from the Commission on: negotiations on aviation emissions in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the outcome of which would have implications for the EU’s aviation emission trading system; the outcomes of the eighth Environment for Europe ministerial conference; and the UN Environment Assembly.
The Council noted presidency updates on: April’s “Make It Work” conference, an initiative which aims to improve EU regulation; April’s informal Council of Environment and Transport Ministers; and the recent “REACH Forward” conference on chemicals legislation.
The Council noted information provided by: the Commission regarding environmental implementation review; the German and Belgian delegations regarding the Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (BSal) virus affecting salamander and newt populations; and the incoming Slovakian presidency, who informed member states of the key environment priorities for its presidency—climate change, biodiversity, waste and water.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
St Helena and Ascension Island: Child Safeguarding
On 10 December 2015, Official Report, column 56WS, I informed the House that the UK Government had published a report by Sasha Wass QC on allegations surrounding child safeguarding issues on St Helena and Ascension Island. The report was independent and comprehensive, and I welcomed its conclusion that no evidence had been found of corruption or cover up in the St Helena police service, the St Helena and Ascension Island Governments, the FCO or DFID.
However, the report did find evidence of systemic failings by social services and police in the past. The report made a number of recommendations in relation to child safeguarding. The Government accepted all of its recommendations, and on 29 January 2016 the FCO appointed Ms Ginny Ferson to St Helena as UK Government special representative: Wass inquiry implementation. Ms Ferson went immediately to St Helena, visiting Ascension Island en route. She established good relationships with local Government officials, police and other stakeholders and worked alongside them on implementing the Wass inquiry recommendations. This included an analysis of previous reports commissioned by the FCO and DFID to determine which previous recommendations remained outstanding but valid. Those recommendations that remained valid but outstanding have now been implemented.
To ensure full transparency, the St Helena and Ascension Island Governments collated the recommendations of the inquiry report into a risk-rated action plan which has been published on their respective Government websites. Ms Ferson’s report will be available on gov.uk.
Good progress has been made in implementing the recommendations of the inquiry report. The UK Government have increased the funding they provide to the St Helena Government for child safeguarding and for health and social care more generally, and improved co-ordinated efforts are bringing about real change. For example, Jamestown hospital is undergoing a £2.8 million refurbishment of its medical wing, due for completion by the end of July 2016. In addition, a funding uplift has enabled the rebuilding of a dedicated community nursing team and re-opening of three local health clinics. The safeguarding directorate and police service have rolled out a locally adapted version of “Working Together 2015” based on the UK model. The Ascension Island Government have done likewise. All schools now have a designated child safeguarding lead. Most recommendations have been fully implemented, others are on course to being completed. One relating to secondments to a UK police investigations team will be implemented as soon as staffing levels allow.
It is important that the improvements are sustainable and Ms Ferson includes advice on future-proofing in her report which we, alongside the St Helena and Ascension Island Governments, have taken on board.
We are determined to build on this work on child safeguarding across our territories. The FCO’s child safeguarding unit has promoted the recommendations of the inquiry report throughout the overseas territories to maintain focus on continuing to strengthen child safeguarding measures. We have intensified our work with key UK departments and bodies such as the National Crime Agency, Crown Prosecution Service and social work experts, to provide additional expertise to territory Governments on improving safeguarding measures across the board.
Today the Government are publishing their response to the recent consultation on infant cremations, which sought views on proposals for a number of changes to the Cremation (England and Wales) Regulations 2008, and for improving other aspects of cremation practice.
Improving infant cremation legislation and practice has been a priority for me since I joined the Ministry of Justice last year. I am therefore very pleased to publish this document which sets out the changes we plan to make.
We consulted between December 2015 and March 2016 following consideration of David Jenkins’ report of June 2015 into infant cremations at Emstrey crematorium in Shropshire, and Lord Bonomy’s Scottish Infant Cremation Commission report of June 2014. These reports found that ashes were either not recovered following infant cremations, or were recovered but parents were neither consulted over what should happen to their babies’ ashes nor advised of the ashes’ final resting place.
Such practices caused parents already grieving the loss of their baby immense additional distress. Some parents will never know what happened to their babies’ ashes.
I have always made it clear that such practices should never happen again. It is my aim that the changes I am announcing today will ensure that no bereaved parent suffers in future as many have suffered in the past.
Following consideration of the responses to our consultation, we plan to make the following changes:
Introduce a statutory definition of ashes.
Amend statutory cremation forms to make sure that applicants’ wishes in relation to recovered ashes are explicit and clearly recorded before a cremation takes place.
Where parents choose a cremation following a pregnancy loss of a foetus of less than 24 weeks’ gestation, we will bring such cremations into the scope of our regulations, like all other cremations. I must stress that we have no plans to alter parents’ current choices following a pre-24 week pregnancy loss, so parents will continue to be able to choose between cremation, burial and sensitive incineration or they can ask the hospital to make all arrangements on their behalf.
Establish a national cremation working group of experts to advise us on a number of technical matters related to our proposed reforms, such as the detail of new regulations and forms, codes of practice and training for cremation authority staff, information for bereaved parents, and whether there should be an inspector of crematoria.
Copies of the consultation response document will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The response is also available at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/consultation-on-cremation.
Judicial Conduct Investigations Office: Annual Report
With the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice, I will today publish the 10th annual report of the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO), formerly known as the Office for Judicial Complaints. The JCIO provides support to the Lord Chief Justice and myself in our joint responsibility for the system of judicial complaints and discipline.
Over the past year the JCIO received 2,609 complaints and 662 written enquiries, with 43 complaints resulting in disciplinary action. A first substantive response was provided within 15 working days in 99% of all cases and regular monthly updates given to all parties in 98% of cases.
I have placed copies of the report into the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. Copies of the report are also available on the internet at: http://judicialconduct.judiciary.gov.uk/ publications.htm
Legal Services Regulation
My noble friend the Minister of State for Civil Justice (Lord Faulks QC) has made the following written statement.
The Government are committed to encouraging open and competitive markets. Well-functioning markets are key to the health of the economy and promote growth, innovation and efficiency. Competitive markets are also in the best interest of consumers, enabling consumer choice resulting in better and more affordable products and services.
The legal services market is not only an important contributor to the UK economy, but also to access to justice. The Government are committed to a strong, independent and competitive legal services market, which will promote consumer choice and quality services at lower prices, ensuring greater access to justice for all.
On 30 November the Government published, “A Better Deal: boosting competition to bring down bills for families and firms” which set out the Government’s approach to encouraging open and competitive markets, for the benefit of the UK economy and UK consumers. A key part of the Government’s approach is to ensure that the statutory frameworks underpinning regulatory regimes allow regulators to regulate in a way that is proportionate and promotes competition and innovation.
The “Better Deal” document included a pledge to consult on making changes to the regulatory framework for legal services to remove barriers to market entry, and regulatory burdens on, alternative business structures in legal services, and on making legal services regulators independent from professional representative bodies.
Today, I am publishing a consultation that seeks views on the first of these proposals. The Government intend to consider the detail and timing of a further consultation on regulatory independence, in the context of the preliminary findings of the Competition and Markets Authority study into the legal services market, which are due to be published shortly.
Since 2010, when alternative business structures were first licensed to provide legal services, over 600 ABS firms have entered the market. The introduction of ABS businesses, particularly those that have access to external investment and business and commercial expertise, has benefited the market more widely. Recent research has indicated that ABS firms are more likely to be innovative than other regulated legal services firms: https://research.legalservicesboard.org.uk/wp-content/media/Innovation-Report.pdf. These new, innovative providers have increased competition in the market, which we believe encourages a wider variety of legal services in the market that are more accessible and affordable to consumers.
As a result of concerns raised at the time about the potential risks of these new and unknown business models, the legislative framework for the regulation of ABS businesses, set out in the Legal Services Act 2007, is more onerous and prescriptive than that for traditional law firms.
In practice, ABS businesses have not been shown to attract any greater regulatory risk than traditional law firms and the Legal Services Board and front-line regulators suggest that the current statutory requirements act as a deterrent and an unnecessary barrier to firms wanting to change their current business model to a more innovative one, as well as to new businesses considering entering the market.
The proposals set out in this consultation aim to enable legal services regulators to reduce regulatory burdens on ABS, while taking a more effective risk-based approach to regulation.
Surveillance and Interception of Communications
I have today laid before both Houses a copy of the latest annual report from the Chief Surveillance Commissioner and a copy of a report by the Interception of Communications Commissioner on his oversight of directions issued under section 94 of the Telecommunications Act 1984. Both reports provide rigorous and independent oversight and scrutiny of the use of covert investigatory powers.
The Chief Surveillance Commissioner, the right hon. the Lord Judge, was appointed in July 2015 to keep under review public authority use of covert surveillance, covert human intelligence sources and property interference powers. The Chief Surveillance Commissioner provides statutory oversight to ensure that public authorities use correctly and lawfully the relevant provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 and the Police Act 1997. He heads the Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC) which supports him in the discharge of these statutory duties.
His annual report provides a detailed account of the way in which the OSC has provided this scrutiny, both through authorisation of deployments where prior approval of a Surveillance Commissioner is required by statute, and through a rigorous and comprehensive programme of inspections. The report also sets out the findings and conclusions that Lord Judge and his team have drawn from this process.
Covert surveillance powers are a critical tool for investigators dealing with terrorist and serious criminal activity, and the work of the OSC is essential to ensuring that there is public confidence in the way that such covert powers are used. I am pleased to note that the report finds the vast majority of public authorities are complying fully and conscientiously with the statutory requirements, and that the OSC are working actively to identify and address any issues that arise, and any cases that fall short of desired standards.
In February 2015 I directed the Interception of Communications Commissioner, the right hon. Sir Stanley Burnton, to oversee the use of directions given under section 94 of the Telecommunications Act 1984. The Commissioner has since carried out a comprehensive review of the use of section 94 directions, the extent of their use and the processes and policies that govern their use. I welcome the Commissioner’s support for the changes that we are seeking to make through the Investigatory Powers Bill which will replace the use of section 94 directions with a more comprehensive statutory regime for the acquisition of communications data in bulk or the issuing of a national security notice. Accompanying this new statutory regime will be codes of practice that will contain far greater detail and clarity around the policies, procedures and safeguards associated with the use of these powers.
I would like to thank both Commissioners, and the staff that work for them, for the continued diligence and rigour with which they undertake their oversight roles and commend these reports to the House.
HS2: South Yorkshire Update
Since the Government proposed that South Yorkshire should be served by a high speed station at Meadowhall in 2013, opinion among local stakeholders has remained divided. This has made the decision about where to best to locate an HS2 station in South Yorkshire very challenging. I would therefore like to thank Sir David Higgins, Chairman of HS2 Ltd, for the work he and HS2 Ltd have undertaken in re-appraising the options and welcome the report he has published today on this issue.
The report re-examines both the HS2 station location and route in South Yorkshire as well as alternative high speed city centre proposals at both Sheffield Midland station and the former Sheffield Victoria station.
There are two key recommendations:
That HS2 services should serve Sheffield Midland station in Sheffield city centre by running high speed ‘classic compatible’ trains into Sheffield via a dedicated link off the main high speed line. Under this proposition Sir David believes it would be possible to provide two trains per hour into Sheffield city centre and a new high speed service to Chesterfield.
That the high speed main line be moved further east, initially running parallel to the M18. Sir David suggests that this alignment not only avoids the complexities and risks associated with the Meadowhall route but also provides journey time savings to services heading to Leeds, York and Newcastle.
The report also notes that using the existing Sheffield Midland station for HS2 services opens up the possibility of running high speed trains from Sheffield to Leeds by building a link back onto the main HS2 line north of Sheffield. This link could deliver Transport for the North’s (TfN) ambition for a frequent 30-minute journey time between Leeds and Sheffield, and might also be used by Birmingham-Leeds HS2 services, allowing them to route through Sheffield. TfN are considering the Sheffield-Leeds corridor alongside other Northern Powerhouse rail schemes and I look forward to their advice on how the HS2 mainline can be utilised to help deliver their aspirations for fast and frequent city centre services across the north.
I appreciate that the recommendations set out by Sir David Higgins today will cause concern for those living along this newly proposed route and will also be unsettling for those living alongside the consulted route via Meadowhall. HS2 Ltd will now engage closely with these affected communities to provide them with the necessary support and information as quickly as possible. I would also like to reassure homeowners along both routes that they are eligible to apply to the Government’s exceptional hardship scheme from today.
Before I reach a decision about HS2 in South Yorkshire I will want to consider today’s report in detail. It is my intention to make an announcement on the HS2 Phase Two route, of which South Yorkshire is a part, later this year. Should I decide to adopt the report’s recommendations as my preferred option in South Yorkshire I will then hold a public consultation in order to allow local stakeholders and affected communities the opportunity to comment on the proposal, alongside a consultation on the property compensation and assistance schemes for the entire route.
Work and Pensions
Office for Nuclear Regulation: Annual Report
Later today the Office for Nuclear Regulation’s Annual Report and Accounts for 2015-2016 (HC 112) will be published. Having consulted the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change who is accountable for nuclear security and the Office for Nuclear Regulation, I can confirm, in accordance with Schedule 7, Section 25(3) of the Energy Act 2013, that there have been no exclusions to the published document on the grounds of national security.