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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
14 January 2019
Volume 652

Written Statements

Monday 14 January 2019

Defence

National Shipbuilding Strategy

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As stated in the National Shipbuilding Strategy, Sir John Parker has agreed to review the progress that has been made on implementation. I am pleased to announce that Sir John has begun the review process and will report to the Secretary of State for Defence by the summer.

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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Clean Air Strategy

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Today, the Government published their ambitious Clean Air Strategy, building upon an extensive consultation process last year.

Air pollution is the UK’s top environmental risk to human health, ranking alongside cancer, heart disease and obesity in its impact. It causes more harm than passive smoking. The actions outlined in this Clean Air Strategy will save society £1.7 billion every year by 2020, rising to £5.3 billion every year from 2030.

This comprehensive strategy shows how we will tackle air pollution and meet our legal targets to reduce five key, damaging air pollutants (nitrogen oxides, ammonia, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter and sulphur dioxide) by 2020 and 2030. The new strategy also sets out our world-leading ambition to reduce public exposure to particulate matter in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. The Government are committed to halve the number of people living where concentrations of particulate matter are above this limit by 2025, but we want to go even further than this, and so we will set a new, ambitious, long-term air quality target.

Transport is a significant source of some types of air pollution, and we are already acting to tackle emissions from this source, with our N02 Plan, investing £3.5 billion in cleaner vehicle technology. The Government are also reaffirming their commitment to end the sale of conventional new diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040.

However, transport is not the only source of pollution; this strategy will reduce emissions coming from all sources. Burning wood and coal to heat in homes makes up 38% of the UK’s harmful particulate matter emissions. This is why we will ensure only the cleanest fuels will be available for sale and only the cleanest stoves will be available to buy and install by 2022. We will also make existing clean air legislation easier to enforce, and work with local authorities to increase the rate of upgrades of inefficient and polluting heating appliances.

The agriculture sector accounts for 88% of UK emissions of ammonia. Our Clean Air Strategy sets out the concerted action we will take to tackle ammonia from farming by supporting farmers to invest in infrastructure and equipment that will reduce emissions. We are also introducing new regulations which require farms to use low-emission farming techniques as well as regulations to minimise pollution from fertiliser use.

We will continue to support investment in clean air and, in partnership with UK Research and Investment (UKRI), we have launched a joint research programme worth £19.6 million to promote cleaner technologies. This will support the UK to continue to become world leaders in clean technology.

The Government want to help people live well for longer, and this strategy supports the Department of Health and Social Care’s prevention strategy, and the NHS 10-year plan. We have also improved how we count the cost of air pollution, publishing revised damage costs today, which show the cost to society of air pollution is greater than previously thought. These costs reflect our improved understanding of the long-term health impacts of air pollution, incorporating the costs of additional health conditions such as heart disease and childhood asthma. This new work means that the estimated benefits of this strategy are even larger than previously anticipated.

This strategy is a key part of our 25-year plan to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. The Government will shortly bring forward an Environment Bill which will include primary legislation on air quality.

Government cannot act alone in tackling air pollution and our strategy sets out how we will work with businesses, farmers and industry to implement lasting solutions to reduce air pollution, and the importance of each of us taking action and playing an important role in cleaning up our air for the next generation.

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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting: Update

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In April, the UK hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The summit was the largest of its kind in our history. Forty-six Heads of Government and 49 Foreign Ministers met and agreed a range of actions to build a Commonwealth that is fairer, more sustainable, more prosperous, and more secure.

As Chair-in-Office, the UK has continued to work with the three pillars of the Commonwealth—the Commonwealth Secretariat, its member states, and its organisations and networks to deliver on commitments made at CHOGM. To support this work, the UK announced over £500 million of projects under the four themes discussed at the summit. An overview of these commitments and projects has been placed in the Library of the House and I am pleased to report progress in a number of areas today.

To build a fairer Commonwealth, the UK is supporting nine Commonwealth member states to deliver 12 years of quality education for girls by 2030. I co-chaired the first meeting of the Platform for Girls’ Education with the Kenyan Education Minister, Amina Mohamed, in September. The Platform will work together throughout the UK’s period as Chair-in-Office and report on progress ahead of the CHOGM 2020 in Rwanda. The UK has also partnered with the Secretariat for Pacific Communities to launch the Pacific Commonwealth Equality Project, which will enable Pacific leaders to champion and advance human rights by strengthening the capacity of their countries to deliver on their international human rights commitments. Reinforcing the belief that effective Parliaments are one of the principal institutions of any functioning democracy, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association launched updated benchmarks for democratic legislatures in November. Following the offer made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, a number of Commonwealth countries have expressed interest in reviewing and reforming outdated legislation that makes it possible to discriminate on the grounds of sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. The Equality and Justice Alliance has held the first meeting of its Group of Experts, convened the first regional dialogue of high-level champions of reform, and has engaged national and regional civil society to support this work.

To build a more sustainable Commonwealth, the UK is delivering on the Commonwealth Blue Charter by helping member states protect and sustainably develop the ocean. Twenty-three Commonwealth countries have signed up to the UK and Vanuatu-led ‘Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance’ (CCOA) to tackle marine plastic pollution. Two of these countries joined the Alliance at the first CCOA Ministerial Meeting chaired by my noble Friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for the Commonwealth, in the margins of the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi in November. During her visit to Kenya, my right hon Friend the Prime Minister also announced a Young Leaders’ Plastic Challenge Badge to help an estimated 100,000 young people in the Commonwealth become leaders in raising awareness about reducing plastic consumption. In response to the challenge of climate change, the UK and New Zealand are also providing support for the establishment of a Regional Pacific Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) hub, which will help Pacific Island countries implement the Paris agreement.

To build a more prosperous Commonwealth, the UK is helping member states harness trade and investment as a means of delivering inclusive economic growth and prosperity. The Commonwealth Trade Facilitation Programme is helping member states implement the World Trade Organisation (WTO) trade facilitation agreement, creating more efficient customs procedures and boosting intra-Commonwealth trade. Scoping missions have already taken place in Eswatini, Tonga and Zambia; and technical support has already been delivered in Sierra Leone and Malawi. In October, Guyana became the first country to partner with the UK-funded Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme to develop a national maritime economy plan. The programme is supporting the sustainable development and growth of 17 Commonwealth small island developing states. To support inclusive and sustainable trade, the UK has partnered with the International Trade Centre to deliver ‘SheTrades Commonwealth’. The project aims to promote women’s economic empowerment by helping women- owned businesses to trade internationally. Following its launch in Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, over 2,300 women entrepreneurs have registered with the initiative and 518 companies have attended capacity building events.

To build a more secure Commonwealth, the UK is enhancing co-operation on cyber security by helping member states identify and address vulnerabilities and gaps in capacity. In support of the Commonwealth cyber declaration, the UK has partnered with the World Bank to deliver national cyber security reviews in a range of member states. We are on track to meet the commitment for every Commonwealth member state to voluntarily undertake a review by CHOGM 2020. The UK is also enabling Commonwealth countries to strengthen their national responses to modern slavery. This will include a legislative drafting seminar in March 2019 that will bring together parliamentarians from across the Commonwealth to consider how their legislation and wider national responses to modern slavery can be strengthened. Further training on how to tackle online child exploitation will be provided to 19 Commonwealth countries over the next 18 months.

Finally, we have sought to strengthen co-operation in international organisations. In Geneva, my noble Friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon hosted a meeting of Commonwealth Permanent Representatives to discuss greater co-operation between Commonwealth missions in advance of the Human Rights Council. New Zealand has hosted two similar meetings to discuss WTO reform. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also included a passage on the Commonwealth in her speech to the UN General Assembly. She spoke explicitly as Commonwealth Chair-in-Office on behalf of the Heads of Government of 53 Commonwealth countries—over a quarter of the UN membership—to reaffirm their shared commitment to work together within a rules-based international system to address shared global challenges.

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Health and Social Care

Patient Rights and Responsibilities

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I have today laid before Parliament a report on the effect of the NHS Constitution. The report has also been published on www.gov.uk, alongside an updated version of the handbook to the NHS Constitution.

The NHS Constitution, like the NHS, belongs to us all. It sets out the principles and values that underpin the NHS in England, and the rights to which patients, the public and staff are entitled, and pledges that the NHS has additionally made towards them. It also makes clear the responsibilities which we all have for supporting the NHS to operate fairly and effectively, and explanation of these has been strengthened in the handbook. We must all play our part in helping to make the NHS as good as it can be for ourselves, for our children, and for our grandchildren.

The report is based on an independent survey of staff, patients and the public. It describes how they view the impact of the Constitution, and its value in promoting and raising standards of care.

Many of us are increasingly turning to authoritative sources, such as the NHS website, for information on what they can expect from the NHS, how we can use it well, and how we can look after our own health.

In strengthening the patient and public responsibilities section in the Constitution handbook, which reflects our response to recommendations made in the House of Lords report on the long-term sustainability of the NHS and Adult Social Care, we have made clearer that patients and the public have a vital role to play in ensuring that the NHS remains sustainable, with its resources focused on those who need them most.

We have a dedicated NHS workforce, who work incredibly hard to deliver high quality care to all those who need it, when they need it. Despite the pressures they are under, they remain proud to be a part of the NHS, and firmly support the need for a Constitution. Awareness of the Constitution among staff is high, and among those who feel informed about the Constitution, more than ever said that it positively influences their day to day work. This highlights the Constitution’s ability to empower and enthuse staff to do their best for patients. As we work with the NHS to take forward its new long-term plan, published on 7 January 2019 and underpinned by a funding settlement that will see the NHS budget grow by £20.5billion in real terms by 2023-24, the Constitution continues to represent everything that the NHS stands for.

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Work and Pensions

Pensions Age and Working Age Benefits

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The Government’s reforms to the welfare system are designed to support those who need it and help people into work. We have reduced pensioner poverty to close to historically low levels and the triple lock on the state pension has helped lift the incomes of millions of pensioners. Since 2010, we have increased the annual level of the basic state pension by £1,450. In 2018-19 we will spend £121.5 billion on benefits for pensioners and by 2023-24 this rises to £143.5 billion.

In 2012, Parliament voted to modernise the welfare system to ensure that couples, where one person is of working age and the other person is over state pension age, access support, where it is needed, through the working age benefit regime. This replaces the previous system whereby the household could access either Pension Credit and pension age Housing Benefit, or working age benefits.

Pension Credit is designed to provide long-term support for pensioner households who are no longer economically active. It is not designed to support working age claimants. This change will ensure that the same work incentives apply to the younger partner as apply to other people of the same age, and taxpayer support is directed where it is needed most.

I set out to Parliament last year that this change would be implemented once Universal Credit was available nationally for new claims. Today I can confirm that this change will be introduced from 15 May 2019. The change is being brought into effect in Great Britain through a Commencement Order[1] under the Welfare Reform Act 2012. There will be an equivalent Order to introduce the change for Northern Ireland.

Couples with one partner under state pension age who are already in receipt of Pension Credit or pension-age Housing Benefit at the point of change will be unaffected while they remain entitled to either benefit.

In February 2017, Government published an employer-led strategy “Fuller Working Lives: A Partnership Approach”, which sets out the importance of fuller working lives for employers and individuals. It also sets out action Government are taking to support older workers to remain in the labour market.

[1] The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No. 31 and Savings and Transitional Provisions and Commencement No. 21 and 23 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions (Amendment)) Order 2019.

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