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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
17 May 2018
Volume 641

Written Statements

Thursday 17 May 2018

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Energy Policy

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The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) and I wish to reiterate the Government’s view that there are potentially substantial benefits from the safe and sustainable exploration and development of our onshore shale gas resources and to set out in this statement to Parliament the actions we are taking to support our position. This joint statement should be considered in planning decisions and plan making in England.

The UK must have safe, secure and affordable supplies of energy with carbon emissions levels that are consistent with the carbon budgets defined in our Climate Change Act and our international obligations. We believe that gas has a key part to play in meeting these objectives both currently and in the future. In part as a result of the UK’s diverse range of energy sources, which include natural gas, we have had competitively priced energy since 1990 while reducing carbon emissions across the economy by 49%—a leading performance among developed nations. Gas still makes up around a third of our current energy usage and every scenario proposed by the Committee on Climate Change setting out how the UK could meet its legally binding 2050 emissions reduction target includes demand for natural gas. As set out in the clean growth strategy, innovations in technologies such as carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) have the potential to decarbonise this energy supply still further and prolong its role in our energy mix.

However, despite the welcome improvements in efficiency and innovation from companies operating in the North sea, the ongoing decline in our offshore gas production has meant that the UK has gone from being a net exporter of gas in 2003 to importing over half (53%) of gas supplies in 2017 and estimates suggest we could be importing 72% of our gas by 2030. Our current import mix, via pipelines from Norway and continental Europe and LNG terminals that can source gas from around the world, provides us with stable and secure supplies. However, we believe that it is right to utilise our domestic gas resources to the maximum extent and exploring further the potential for onshore gas production from shale rock formations in the UK, where it is economically efficient, and where environment impacts are robustly regulated.

We also believe that further development of onshore gas resources has the potential to deliver substantial economic benefits to the UK economy and for local communities where supplies are located by creating thousands of new jobs directly in extraction, local support services, and the rest of the supply chain. A potential new shale gas exploration and production sector in the shale basins of England could provide a new economic driver. We also see an opportunity to work with industry on innovation to create a “UK Model”—the world’s most environmentally robust onshore shale gas sector—and to explore export opportunities from this model, a core theme of our modern industrial strategy.

But to achieve these benefits, we need to work with responsible companies prepared to invest in this industry as they proceed with the exploration process, to test the size and value of the potential reserves and to ensure that our planning and regulatory systems work appropriately while assisting local councils in making informed and appropriate planning decisions. So we are setting out a series of actions, including those committed to in the Government’s 2017 manifesto to support the development of shale gas extraction.

Planning

The UK has world-class regulation to ensure that shale exploration can happen safely, respecting local communities and safeguarding the environment. The development of the shale gas industry so far has already led to millions of pounds being invested in the UK, supporting businesses and the supply chain, and creating British jobs. We have recently seen four planning approvals for exploratory shale development. The Government remain fully committed to making planning decisions faster and fairer for all those affected by new development, and to ensure that local communities are fully involved in planning decisions that affect them. These are long-standing principles. No one benefits from the uncertainty caused by delay which is why, in September 2015, Government set out a range of measures to help ensure every planning application or appeal was dealt with as quickly as possible.

However, recent decisions on shale exploration planning applications remain disappointingly slow against a statutory time frame of 16 weeks where an environmental impact assessment is required. So we are announcing a range of measures to facilitate timely decisions. These measures only apply in England.

Planning policy and guidance

This statement is a material consideration in plan making and decision taking, alongside relevant policies of the existing national planning policy framework (2012), in particular those on mineral planning, including conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons.

Shale gas development is of national importance. The Government expect mineral planning authorities to give great weight to the benefits of mineral extraction, including to the economy. This includes shale gas exploration and extraction. Mineral plans should reflect that minerals resources can only be worked where they are found, and applications must be assessed on a site by site basis and having regard to their context. Plans should not set restrictions or thresholds across their plan area that limit shale development without proper justification. We expect mineral planning authorities to recognise the fact that Parliament has set out in statute the relevant definitions of hydrocarbon, natural gas and associated hydraulic fracturing. In addition, these matters are described in planning practice guidance, which plans must have due regard to. Consistent with this planning practice guidance, policies should avoid undue sterilisation of mineral resources, including shale gas.

The Government have consulted on a draft revised national planning policy framework (NPPF). The consultation closed on 10 May 2018. In due course the revised national planning policy framework will sit alongside the written ministerial statement.

We intend to publish revised planning practice guidance on shale development once the revised national planning policy framework has been launched ensuring clarity on issues such as cumulative impact, local plan making and confirmation that planners can rely on the advice of regulatory experts.

Planning decision making

To support a decision-making regime that meets the future needs of the sector we will progress our manifesto commitments by:

Holding an early-stage consultation, in summer 2018, on the principle of whether non-hydraulic fracturing shale exploration development should be treated as permitted development, and in particular on the circumstances in which this might be appropriate.

Consulting, in summer 2018, on the criteria required to trigger the inclusion of shale production projects into the nationally significant infrastructure projects regime.

Further, we will strengthen community engagement by consulting in due course on the potential to make pre-application consultation a statutory requirement.

Support for those involved in decision making

We are aware that the shale applications and the planning process can be complex for local authorities. Building capacity and capability within local authorities to deal with shale development is a vital step towards speeding up decision making. We will help achieve this by announcing today:

The launch of a new £1.6 million shale support fund over the next two years to build capacity and capability in local authorities dealing with shale applications.

The creation of a new planning brokerage service for shale applications to provide guidance to developers and local authorities on the planning process to help facilitate timely decision making. The service would focus exclusively on the planning process and will have no role in the consideration or determination of planning applications. The service will not comment on the merits of a case and will also have no role in the appeals process.

In addition, the Government recognise that early engagement with local authorities, including capitalising on formal pre-application discussions, is critical in building confidence in decision making and securing support for development proposals and set realistic timeframes for decisions. We expect this to be formalised by a planning performance agreement providing certainty for all parties. And we then expect all parties—including decision makers in local authorities—to stick to the timetable.

Opportunities for redress

While we are confident that the measures announced in this written ministerial statement will speed up decision making on shale applications, we cannot be complacent. Therefore:

We will continue to treat appeals against any refusal of planning permission for exploring and developing shale gas, or against any non-determination as a priority for urgent determination by the planning inspectorate, making additional resources available where necessary.

Under the written ministerial statement in 2015 the criteria for recovering planning appeals were amended to include proposals for exploring and developing shale gas. This was applied for a two-year period subject to further review. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has conducted a review and remains committed to scrutinising appeals for these proposals. We are therefore announcing that the criteria for considering the recovery of planning appeals are continued for a further two years. The new criterion is added to the recovery policy of 30 June 2008, Official Report, column 43WS.

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will actively consider calling in shale applications particularly where statutory deadlines have been exceeded. Each case will be considered on its facts in line with his policy. Priority timeframes for urgent determination will be given to any called-in applications.

The Government continue to commit to identifying underperforming local planning authorities that repeatedly fail to determine oil and gas applications within statutory timeframes. When any future applications are made to underperforming authorities, the Secretary of State will consider whether he should determine the application instead.

Shale Regulator

The UK regulatory regime for shale gas is considered among the most robust and stringent in the world. However, we acknowledge that it is also complex, with three regulators, the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and the Oil and Gas Authority, all with responsibilities for regulation. It is not always transparent to both the public and industry who is responsible for what. Therefore, the Government are setting up a shale environmental regulator which will bring the regulators together to act as one coherent single face for the public, mineral planning authorities and industry. We intend to establish the regulator from the summer.

We anticipate that the plans for the shale environmental regulator and future consultations will only apply in England.

Community Benefits

We strongly believe that communities hosting shale gas developments should share in the financial returns they generate. The Government welcome the shale gas companies’ commitment to make set payments to these communities, which could be worth up to £10 million for a typical site. Actions to support local communities are an important complement to the planning actions set out above. With that in mind, we want to go further, and we will work with industry to see how we can improve this offer.

In addition to this offer we also announced in the autumn statement 2016 that the shale wealth fund will provide additional resources to local communities, over and above industry schemes and other sources of Government funding. Local communities will benefit first and determine how the money is spent in their area.

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Education

Schools and Colleges Guidance

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This Government are committed to keeping children safe. All children, from whatever background and no matter what challenges they face, deserve a safe environment in which they can learn.

Today my Department is publishing the Government response to the recent Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) consultation. KCSIE is statutory guidance that schools and colleges must have regard to when carrying out their duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Children in this context includes anyone under the age of 18.

Alongside revised statutory guidance, the Department is publishing revised advice covering child-on-child sexual violence and sexual harassment.

The KCSIE consultation ran between 14 December 2017 and 22 February 2018. We were delighted to receive 311 responses. Officials have carefully considered every response and we have made additional changes to strengthen KCSIE as a result.

The most significant revision to KCSIE is the inclusion of a new part 5 to support schools and colleges to respond to reports of child-on-child sexual violence and sexual harassment. It is an important step in protecting children to include a dedicated part, covering this complex issue, in the statutory guidance. We were pleased that 87% of respondents agreed explicitly that schools and colleges holding more than one emergency contact number for each child was sensible. As such, we have included this in the revised guidance. Other changes include making the guidance even clearer that where staff have a safeguarding concern they should act on it immediately and providing more information about vulnerable children who may benefit from early help.

The sexual violence and sexual harassment advice has been strengthened to, among other things, be clear that it is relevant for all schools to be clear that child-on-child abuse can take place between children of all ages, provide more details as to what sexual harassment can look like and provide additional links to specialist support. The revised advice is published today and is available immediately to support schools and colleges.

As part of the Government response, we are publishing the revised KCSIE for information. This will allow schools and colleges time to consider any changes they might want to make to their policies and procedures before the revised guidance comes into force on 3 September 2018. Until the revised guidance comes into force, schools and colleges must continue to have regard to the existing KCSIE 2016 guidance.

Copies of the Government response, KCSIE and the sexual violence and sexual harassment advice will be placed in the Library of the House and are available on the Government website here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/keeping-children-safe-in-education-proposed-revisions.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/keeping-children-safe-in-education--2.

and https://www.gov.uk/education/safeguarding-pupils.

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Housing, Communities and Local Government

Building Regulations and Fire Safety

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Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Government asked Dame Judith Hackitt to undertake a thorough review of building regulations and fire safety, with a particular focus on multiple-occupancy high-rise buildings. Her final report is being published today. It is available at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/independent-review-of-building-regulations-and-fire-safety-final-report and copies are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses. I intend to give an oral statement to the House later today to provide further detail on the publication of the report.

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Planning Policy

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The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) and I wish to reiterate the Government’s view that there are potentially substantial benefits from the safe and sustainable exploration and development of our onshore shale gas resources and to set out in this statement to Parliament the actions we are taking to support our position. This joint statement should be considered in planning decisions and plan making in England.

The UK must have safe, secure and affordable supplies of energy with carbon emissions levels that are consistent with the carbon budgets defined in our Climate Change Act and our international obligations. We believe that gas has a key part to play in meeting these objectives both currently and in the future. In part as a result of the UK’s diverse range of energy sources, which include natural gas, we have had competitively priced energy since 1990 while reducing carbon emissions across the economy by 49%—a leading performance among developed nations. Gas still makes up around a third of our current energy usage and every scenario proposed by the Committee on Climate Change setting out how the UK could meet its legally binding 2050 emissions reduction target includes demand for natural gas. As set out in the clean growth strategy, innovations in technologies such as carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) have the potential to decarbonise this energy supply still further and prolong its role in our energy mix.

However, despite the welcome improvements in efficiency and innovation from companies operating in the North sea, the ongoing decline in our offshore gas production has meant that the UK has gone from being a net exporter of gas in 2003 to importing over half (53%) of gas supplies in 2017 and estimates suggest we could be importing 72% of our gas by 2030. Our current import mix, via pipelines from Norway and continental Europe and LNG terminals that can source gas from around the world, provides us with stable and secure supplies. However, we believe that it is right to utilise our domestic gas resources to the maximum extent and exploring further the potential for onshore gas production from shale rock formations in the UK, where it is economically efficient, and where environment impacts are robustly regulated.

We also believe that further development of onshore gas resources has the potential to deliver substantial economic benefits to the UK economy and for local communities where supplies are located by creating thousands of new jobs directly in extraction, local support services, and the rest of the supply chain. A potential new shale gas exploration and production sector in the shale basins of England could provide a new economic driver. We also see an opportunity to work with industry on innovation to create a “UK Model”—the world’s most environmentally robust onshore shale gas sector—and to explore export opportunities from this model, a core theme of our modern industrial strategy.

But to achieve these benefits, we need to work with responsible companies prepared to invest in this industry as they proceed with the exploration process, to test the size and value of the potential reserves and to ensure that our planning and regulatory systems work appropriately while assisting local councils in making informed and appropriate planning decisions. So we are setting out a series of actions, including those committed to in the Government’s 2017 manifesto to support the development of shale gas extraction.

Planning

The UK has world-class regulation to ensure that shale exploration can happen safely, respecting local communities and safeguarding the environment. The development of the shale gas industry so far has already led to millions of pounds being invested in the UK, supporting businesses and the supply chain, and creating British jobs. We have recently seen four planning approvals for exploratory shale development. The Government remain fully committed to making planning decisions faster and fairer for all those affected by new development, and to ensure that local communities are fully involved in planning decisions that affect them. These are long-standing principles. No one benefits from the uncertainty caused by delay which is why, in September 2015, Government set out a range of measures to help ensure every planning application or appeal was dealt with as quickly as possible.

However, recent decisions on shale exploration planning applications remain disappointingly slow against a statutory time frame of 16 weeks where an environmental impact assessment is required. So we are announcing a range of measures to facilitate timely decisions. These measures only apply in England.

Planning policy and guidance

This statement is a material consideration in plan making and decision taking, alongside relevant policies of the existing national planning policy framework (2012), in particular those on mineral planning, including conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons.

Shale gas development is of national importance. The Government expect mineral planning authorities to give great weight to the benefits of mineral extraction, including to the economy. This includes shale gas exploration and extraction. Mineral plans should reflect that minerals resources can only be worked where they are found, and applications must be assessed on a site by site basis and having regard to their context. Plans should not set restrictions or thresholds across their plan area that limit shale development without proper justification. We expect mineral planning authorities to recognise the fact that Parliament has set out in statute the relevant definitions of hydrocarbon, natural gas and associated hydraulic fracturing. In addition, these matters are described in planning practice guidance, which plans must have due regard to. Consistent with this planning practice guidance, policies should avoid undue sterilisation of mineral resources, including shale gas.

The Government have consulted on a draft revised national planning policy framework (NPPF). The consultation closed on 10 May 2018. In due course the revised national planning policy framework will sit alongside the written ministerial statement.

We intend to publish revised planning practice guidance on shale development once the revised national planning policy framework has been launched ensuring clarity on issues such as cumulative impact, local plan making and confirmation that planners can rely on the advice of regulatory experts.

Planning decision making

To support a decision-making regime that meets the future needs of the sector we will progress our manifesto commitments by:

Holding an early-stage consultation, in summer 2018, on the principle of whether non-hydraulic fracturing shale exploration development should be treated as permitted development, and in particular on the circumstances in which this might be appropriate.

Consulting, in summer 2018, on the criteria required to trigger the inclusion of shale production projects into the nationally significant infrastructure projects regime.

Further, we will strengthen community engagement by consulting in due course on the potential to make pre-application consultation a statutory requirement.

Support for those involved in decision making

We are aware that the shale applications and the planning process can be complex for local authorities. Building capacity and capability within local authorities to deal with shale development is a vital step towards speeding up decision making. We will help achieve this by announcing today:

The launch of a new £1.6 million shale support fund over the next two years to build capacity and capability in local authorities dealing with shale applications.

The creation of a new planning brokerage service for shale applications to provide guidance to developers and local authorities on the planning process to help facilitate timely decision making. The service would focus exclusively on the planning process and will have no role in the consideration or determination of planning applications. The service will not comment on the merits of a case and will also have no role in the appeals process.

In addition, the Government recognise that early engagement with local authorities, including capitalising on formal pre-application discussions, is critical in building confidence in decision making and securing support for development proposals and set realistic timeframes for decisions. We expect this to be formalised by a planning performance agreement providing certainty for all parties. And we then expect all parties—including decision makers in local authorities—to stick to the timetable.

Opportunities for redress

While we are confident that the measures announced in this written ministerial statement will speed up decision making on shale applications, we cannot be complacent. Therefore:

We will continue to treat appeals against any refusal of planning permission for exploring and developing shale gas, or against any non-determination as a priority for urgent determination by the planning inspectorate, making additional resources available where necessary.

Under the written ministerial statement in 2015 the criteria for recovering planning appeals were amended to include proposals for exploring and developing shale gas. This was applied for a two-year period subject to further review. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has conducted a review and remains committed to scrutinising appeals for these proposals. We are therefore announcing that the criteria for considering the recovery of planning appeals are continued for a further two years. The new criterion is added to the recovery policy of 30 June 2008, Official Report, column 43WS.

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will actively consider calling in shale applications particularly where statutory deadlines have been exceeded. Each case will be considered on its facts in line with his policy. Priority timeframes for urgent determination will be given to any called-in applications.

The Government continue to commit to identifying underperforming local planning authorities that repeatedly fail to determine oil and gas applications within statutory timeframes. When any future applications are made to underperforming authorities, the Secretary of State will consider whether he should determine the application instead.

Shale Regulator

The UK regulatory regime for shale gas is considered among the most robust and stringent in the world. However, we acknowledge that it is also complex, with three regulators, the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and the Oil and Gas Authority, all with responsibilities for regulation. It is not always transparent to both the public and industry who is responsible for what. Therefore, the Government are setting up a shale environmental regulator which will bring the regulators together to act as one coherent single face for the public, mineral planning authorities and industry. We intend to establish the regulator from the summer.

We anticipate that the plans for the shale environmental regulator and future consultations will only apply in England.

Community Benefits

We strongly believe that communities hosting shale gas developments should share in the financial returns they generate. The Government welcome the shale gas companies’ commitment to make set payments to these communities, which could be worth up to £10 million for a typical site. Actions to support local communities are an important complement to the planning actions set out above. With that in mind, we want to go further, and we will work with industry to see how we can improve this offer.

In addition to this offer we also announced in the autumn statement 2016 that the shale wealth fund will provide additional resources to local communities, over and above industry schemes and other sources of Government funding. Local communities will benefit first and determine how the money is spent in their area.

[HCWS689]

International Development

Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment: Aid Sector

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Following the written ministerial statement of 20 March, Official Report, column 11WS, I am updating the House on what the Department for International Development (DFID) is doing to protect recipients of UK aid and those working in the sector from harm—safeguarding for short—with our focus on preventing and responding to sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment.

Ensuring DFIDs programmes meet the highest standards

Around 60% of DFID’s funding is delivered through multilateral organisations. On 21 April I co-hosted with the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Co-operation a roundtable with senior representatives of international financial institutions—I am placing the list of names in an annex to this document in the Libraries of both Houses—and discussed how we can pool best practice and resources to tackle this issue across the sector. All 10 institutions signed a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to preventing sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation, both within their own institutions and their operations, many of which are funded by DFID. I will be pressing for them to translate this commitment into further concrete actions in 2018.

From my recent meetings in Washington it is clear that multilateral organisations are taking this issue extremely seriously and looking to learn from previous cases and improve their systems and processes. For example, the World Bank has strengthened its staff rules covering sexual misconduct and abuse and is rolling out staff training and a wider review of its human resources policies with respect to sexual harassment and exploitation.

The UN Secretary-General has made clear his zero tolerance approach to both sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment. In the past two weeks I have discussed safeguarding with the heads of the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. At the UN system chief executives board meeting in London earlier in May, Secretary-General António Guterres led a special session with the heads of 31 UN agencies, funds and programmes on addressing sexual harassment within the UN system. This included a new 24-hour helpline for staff to report harassment and access support, so fast-tracking complaints. I am pressing for agreement to a consistent UN-wide approach on reporting, investigation and outreach, and support when cases of sexual exploitation, abuse or harassment occur.

I am also pressing all organisations that DFID funds to learn from best and worst practice. Last month Save the Children UK withdrew from bidding for new UK Government funding while it looks to learn lessons and the Charity Commission carries out a statutory inquiry into its handling of internal cases.

Following my letter to DFID partners seeking assurances on their safeguarding policies and procedures, I have now received responses from our top suppliers, multilateral partners, development capital partners and research partners. This is a total of 283 organisations. I will publish a high-level summary of the returns on gov.uk later this month updating the information published on 20 March on the 179 charities directly receiving UK aid. I am including the link to that document in an annex to this document in the Libraries of both Houses.

Following the 5 March summit organised by DFID and the Charity Commission, DFID has convened four NGO working groups and an external experts group to develop concrete ideas. I met representatives of the working groups and the experts this week to discuss which of their initial proposals could make the biggest difference. The work is focusing on:

accountability to beneficiaries and survivors—prioritising those who have suffered and survived exploitation, abuse and violence, and designing systems of accountability and transparency that have beneficiaries at their centre;

how the aid sector can demonstrate a step change in shifting organisational culture to tackle power imbalances and gender inequality;

ensuring that safeguards are integrated throughout the employment cycle, including work on the proposal for a global register/passport; and

providing full accountability through rigorous reporting and complaints mechanisms, and ensuring that concerns are heard and acted on.

Ensuring all UK aid meets the highest standards

On 28 March I chaired a meeting of UK Government Departments that spend official development assistance (ODA). I updated Ministers on DFID’s work including the new safeguarding due diligence standards which I announced in March. Following a successful pilot, the new process will be rolled out to other programmes later this month. DFID will write to all other UK ODA spending departments with the details should they wish to adopt the same approach.

This month senior DFID officials have held further meetings with opposite numbers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Cabinet Office and the Charity Commission to discuss how we can raise our own performances on safeguarding and that of others in the aid sector.

I am in contact with the Ministry of Defence about pre-deployment training for peacekeeping operations, and DFID’s HR director has been working with colleagues across Whitehall to drive up internal HR standards.

Working with other donors to drive up standards

The Department is working closely with Canada as G7 presidency and at a meeting of G7 Development Ministers at the end of May I have been asked to lead a discussion on sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment.

DFID is now chairing monthly meetings of a group of 15 donors—I am placing the list of names in the Libraries of both Houses—to seek collective action including in our key implementing partners.

DFID is also working with the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to explore how to measure donors’ performance on sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment as part regular peer reviews. I plan to write to all DAC donors, observers and other major donors updating them on our work and seeking their suggestions.

The UK is leading the change needed on this issue. We have made good progress since March and I will use every opportunity possible in the coming weeks and months to push for much more. I will host an international conference in London on 18 October.

Attachments can be viewed online at:

https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2018-05-17/HCWS694/.

[HCWS694]

International Trade

Foreign Affairs Council (Trade)

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The EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) will take place in Brussels on 22 May 2018. I will be representing the UK.

The substantive items on 22 May will be: adoption of the negotiating mandates for free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand, adoption of conclusions on the negotiation and conclusion of EU trade arrangements, and follow-up to the 11 World Trade Organisation ministerial conference (MC11). There will also be an exchange of views on the EU-Japan economic partnership agreement, the EU-Singapore free trade agreement and the EU-Singapore investment protection agreement.

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Prime Minister

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe: UK Delegation

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My hon. Friends the Members for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) and for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Robert Goodwill) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) have been appointed as substitute members of the United Kingdom delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in place of my hon. Friends the Members for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), for Gordon (Colin Clark), for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) and for Erewash (Maggie Throup).

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Women and Equalities

Disabled People: Elected Office

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It is essential that our public offices, from the UK Parliament to local government, reflect the diversity of the UK population. Currently the disabled population of this country is not sufficiently represented.

If we want to inspire and encourage businesses and other organisations to place inclusivity at the heart of their work, then politicians should lead by example. Political parties also have a duty to ensure they encourage and support their candidates as well as support to their workforce and ensure a level playing field in recruitment.

The Government Equalities Office, together with the Office for Disability Issues and the Cabinet Office, will consult with disability stakeholders to undertake a programme of work over the next 12 months to help both major and smaller political parties best support disabled candidates.

The prime responsibility for this would sit with political parties themselves. However within this, there will be ways the Government can help too, for example by looking at extending the support we already provide in other areas such as employment to enable other activities such as volunteering or representing their communities.

Within 12 months we hope to have political parties offering and advertising support, as well as solutions to help independent candidates.

While this work is ongoing we want to ensure that disabled people can run for office, so we are announcing a fund of up to £250,000 to support disabled candidates, primarily for the forthcoming English local elections in 2019. We will set out further details about the scheme in the near future and any measures taken to ensure such costs are not considered to be part of a candidate’s election expenses.

Establishing this fund should not disincentivise political parties from continuing to develop their own measures. Instead, it should help them prioritise this issue and take action to ensure no one is disadvantaged in the democratic process.

I hope that the interim fund will also help us gather further evidence of what good practice looks like.

I will keep the House updated on further developments.

The Minister for Women and Equalities (Penny Mordaunt)

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Chloe Smith)

The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Sarah Newton)

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