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Written Statements

Volume 655: debated on Wednesday 27 February 2019

Written Statements

Wednesday 27 February 2019

International Development

Jordan: Growth and Opportunity—The London Initiative 2019

I wish to update on the London initiative, a major international conference that the UK and Jordan will co-host here in London on Thursday 28 February 2019. The event will convene senior leaders from international Governments and the private sector, and will champion Jordan’s ambitious plans for economic transformation as set out within King Abdullah’s Vision 2025.

Jordan’s stability is inextricable from the UK’s global interests. The UK sees Jordan as a key ally, an island of stability at the heart of a turbulent middle east, and a partner with whom we have enjoyed a mutually supportive relationship for over a century. Jordan’s stability matters to the region; it has been a long-time host to the victims of its neighbours’ conflicts—some 670,000 refugees of the Syria crisis have made their home in Jordan. And it matters to the UK. Jordan has similarly played host to approximately 6,000 UK troops annually for essential training. Jordan matters as a stable buffer against encroaching threats posed by malign influences within the region. It was through the vital use of Jordan’s airspace that 5,000 UK aircraft flew in the fight against Daesh.

But Jordan’s resilience is being tested—not just by the influx of refugees from Syria that it has sheltered with characteristic generosity, but also by long-standing economic challenges which the global financial crisis only exacerbated: a surge in the cost of energy following the Arab spring; the loss of access to key export markets in Syria and Iraq as conflict brought a halt to trade flows; declining remittances and investment following the economic slowdown in the region; and rising interest rates that are pushing up the cost of borrowing and debt repayments.

Jordan’s efforts against these factors have been valiant. Successive Governments have implemented vigorous fiscal adjustments to rein in the size of the public deficit, at times testing the boundaries of the social contract which has held Jordan together since its independence in 1946. And yet, despite apparent political costs, Jordan has persevered, demonstrating a resounding commitment to economic transformation. And not without success—exports increased in 2018, supported by the re-opening of the border with Iraq, while tourism has grown strongly, and credit to the private sector has grown at solid rates for the third consecutive year. However, as Jordan confronts these challenges, the success of its new fiscal policies and macroeconomic reforms still relies on the backing of the international donor community and an upsurge in interest from international businesses.

In November 2017, the Prime Minister announced in Amman that the UK would be entering into a new long-term partnership to support and strengthen Jordan’s resilience in line with HM King Abdullah II’s Vision 2025 for economic transformation. The partnership is framed as a 10-year long relationship between the UK and Jordan recognising Jordan’s importance to the UK today and offering a “whole of government” effort to support the country’s resilience. This is why we are holding the London initiative, an international conference that will rally the international development and finance communities around a new approach to supporting Jordan; an approach that pivots the UK’s support for Jordan away from humanitarian-focused grants and towards developing sustainable economic growth, led by private sector investment and helping Jordan to continue to provide for its population, including its young people, women and refugees. That is not to say that the UK’s humanitarian support for Jordan ends here. The UK remains committed to its humanitarian support for Jordan, including to Syrian refugees, recognising the increased pressure a rising population puts on community services. However, the conference will rally the donor community around a new model for engagement in Jordan—one in which Jordan’s advances in reforms will unlock greater international financial support.

The London initiative will offer an opportunity for the Government of Jordan to demonstrate its commitment to economic transformation on an international platform, and will present Jordan credibly to international businesses as an opportunity for investment. In return, we will deploy an integrated UK “whole of government approach” providing technical expertise and establishing peer to peer partnerships from a range of UK Government departments. For example, HMRC is already working with the Government of Jordan’s Income Sales and Tax Department to design new methods of limiting tax avoidance, exposing tax havens, and improving data collection to better identify leakages in the Jordanian system; and the Department for Education, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Bank of England have additionally offered partnerships of their own. But the London initiative will also be a global approach. In keeping with global Britain, we, the UK, will use the full extent of our convening power to leverage global financial and policy backing behind Jordan’s reform vision.

Jordan is ambitiously transforming its economic model, reforming its labour, and taking the right steps to encourage vigorous private sector growth. At the core of its objectives, the London initiative sets out to champion the progress already made in all of these areas.

First, the initiative will be the driving force for the Government of Jordan to present a robust and realistic strategy for unlocking economic growth, underpinned by practical demonstration of its commitment to a package of necessary macroeconomic reforms, including those aimed at attracting private sector investment and increasing women’s participation in the workplace. Secondly, the initiative will invite partners, including the G7 and GCC countries, to promise collective political backing for this vision, following the UK’s lead on an initiative linking aid to reform implementation and unlocking larger volumes of concessional and private finance. Finally, the initiative will also be a showcase for some of Jordan’s most exciting, investment-ready sectors— particularly tourism, infrastructure, ICT and professional services—of which British businesses are already benefitting.

Britain, as a trading nation, relies on strong markets to thrive and through this conference, we are helping support an important ally’s stability whilst building a market of the future. The event will initiate new public-private dialogues championing the Government of Jordan’s pipeline of infrastructure projects ready for investment, new funding vehicles to assist their financing, and their commitment to investment climate and ease of doing business reforms.

As well as bringing together CEOs, international investors and Heads of State from around the world, the conference needs to have an impact that reaches the ordinary people on the streets of Jordan. In particular, it must provide opportunities for women and young people. Jordan’s young, educated and aspirational population has helped position the country as a pioneer in ICT, start-ups and creative industries. All of these, alongside the Government’s commitment to reforms, are reasons to invest in Jordan.

The London initiative on 28 February will be a staging post within the UK-Jordan partnership and the starting point of a long-term growth trajectory that will increase foreign investment and create high-quality jobs for all Jordanians. It should also provide a tangible demonstration of the UK’s leadership on the international stage and will be one of the clearest examples of the potential of global Britain.

Jordan matters to the UK and is a natural partner for a global Britain, a steadfast ally on the frontline of conflict and instability. The conference will be a demonstration of our strong relationship and will pioneer a new model for development in a vulnerable middle-income country, anchored squarely in UK national interest.



Banning Old Tyres: Consultation

Colleagues across the House will be aware of the potential dangers posed by ageing tyres. In that context I would like to update the House further about potential changes to legislation that the Government are proposing to improve the safety of buses, coaches, heavy goods vehicles and minibuses.

This country has one of the best road safety records in the world. But over 1,700 people were killed last year on UK roads, and we are determined to improve the UK’s road safety record still further. In my written statement to the House on the 13 June 2018 I reported on the progress made toward the ambitious goals listed in the Government’s 2015 road safety statement.

Penalties for using mobile phones while driving have been increased and commitments for police funding to tackle drug driving have been exceeded. Learner drivers can now gain valuable experience of motorway driving when accompanied by an instructor in a car with dual controls.

We are pioneering new mobile breathalyser technologies, supporting the use of photographic and video evidence in police enforcement, and going further than ever before in investigating the causes of road collisions.

However, in recent years the safety of older tyres on heavy vehicles has become a matter of serious concern to my Department, and to this House. This followed a tragic coach crash in 2012 in which three people from the wider Liverpool area lost their lives. Mrs Frances Molloy, whose son Michael was one of those killed, has campaigned unceasingly for a ban on the use of older tyres on buses and coaches.

She has been vigorously supported by the hon Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), who has highlighted this issue in a number of parliamentary questions, and tabled a Private Members’ Bill on this subject on several occasions.

Responding to public concerns, in 2013 my Department provided guidance to all bus and coach operators on how to establish the age of the tyres on their vehicles, and against the use of tyres more than 10 years old on the steering axles of those vehicles. This was updated and extended in 2016.

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency has also been monitoring compliance with the guidance on age: since June 2017 they have inspected 136,263 buses and coaches and found 82 to be non-compliant. I am pleased to say that this represents a non-compliance rate of 0.06% —that is, less than one tenth of 1% of over a 100,000 vehicles inspected.

But I, with the full support of the Secretary of State, have been determined to go further. In May 2018, in response to evidence that emerged from a collision investigation, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency introduced a change to roadworthiness requirements for tyres. In my written statement to this House on 23 November 2018 I announced further measures to address non-compliance with the tyre age guidance, and provide the basis for the Traffic Commissioner to intervene in cases of non-compliance.

Importantly, this guidance also covered the misuse of older tyres not only on buses and coaches, but on all heavy motor vehicles and heavy trailers.

A key constraint on this work has been the absence of robust and objective evidence as to the effect of age on tyre integrity. But we have addressed this issue too. In March 2018 I reported to the House that I had commissioned specialist research to investigate changes in the characteristics of tyres based on their age. I am pleased to tell the House that the investigative element of this pioneering work is complete, and we expect to report on the overall findings later in the spring.

Yesterday in the Coroner’s court there was another awful case involving an old burst tyre which cost the lives of several people. Independent experts came together to testify that here too age was a factor. Their analysis fits with the Department’s own emerging body of evidence.

The Government now intend to consult on options to ban older tyres on heavy vehicles, including legislation that could make it illegal for buses, coaches, heavy goods vehicles, and minibuses to have tyres more than 10 years old. We also intend to extend this consultation to taxis and private hire vehicles. Subject to consultation, we would expect antique and heritage vehicles to be exempt.

I would like to pay tribute to Mrs Molloy, to the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood, and to all involved in the Tyred campaign. Road safety affects us all, often in the most direct and personal and distressing way. As this legislation underlines, this Government are committed to ensuring that the UK continues to have some of the safest roads in the world.