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Written Statements

Volume 685: debated on Monday 7 December 2020

Written Statements

Monday 7 December 2020

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Paris Agreement: UK Nationally Determined Contribution

On Friday 4 December, the Prime Minister announced the UK’s new nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the Paris agreement. This commits the UK to a new ambitious target to reduce the UK’s emissions by at least 68% by the end of the decade, compared to 1990 levels.

This is a step forward in our ambition to tackle climate change over the next 10 years as we accelerate towards meeting our legally-binding commitment to reach net zero by 2050. Just as the UK led the way as the first major economy to legislate for net zero, our NDC raises the bar for global climate ambition by committing the UK to the highest level of emissions reductions by 2030 of any major economy, compared to 1990 levels. The level of the UK’s NDC is consistent with advice from the independent Climate Change Committee (CCC). It is a significant step up from the level of the UK’s previous target as a contributor to the EU’s NDC, which was equivalent to around a 53% UK reduction over the same time period.

As the UK looks ahead to hosting COP26 in Glasgow next year, in partnership with Italy, we are urging all countries to follow suit and come forward with ambitious new NDCs and transformational long-term strategies towards net zero emissions, in order to ensure that this will be a decade of ambitious climate action. The climate ambition summit on 12 December, which the UK is co-hosting with France and the UN in partnership with Chile and Italy, provides an excellent opportunity for countries to come forward with new commitments across the three pillars of the Paris agreement: mitigation, finance and adaptation.

Tackling climate change will remain a top priority for the Government. In November, the Prime Minister announced his 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution. Ahead of COP26, we intend to publish a comprehensive net zero strategy, setting out the Government’s vision for transitioning to a net zero economy, making the most of new growth and employment opportunities across the UK.

The UK intends to communicate its NDC to the UNFCCC by the 12 December climate ambition summit. This will include the technical annex, known as information to facilitate clarity, transparency and understanding (ICTU), which will set out the detail underpinning the UK’s headline 2030 target. The UK also intends to communicate an adaptation communication and finance biennial communication to the UNFCCC.

Once formally communicated to the UNFCCC, I will lay the NDC in Parliament and will follow up with letters to relevant Select Committees.



Armed Forces Covenant: Annual Report

Today, I am laying before Parliament the Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2020. The pandemic has seen our armed forces once again step onto the frontline to protect our nation, from leading mass testing in Liverpool to constructing NHS Nightingale Hospitals. Such contribution demonstrates that the armed forces covenant is as important today as it was in 2011 and we are therefore proud to lay this report before Parliament.

The Government have built their support for armed forces families in 2020 with the launch of a wrap-around childcare pilot at test sites across the UK. The Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust has also awarded £7.2 million to 60 projects for military families. As well as the MOD’S investment of £123 million to service families accommodation, we have committed an extra £200 million to improve MOD accommodation to support the regeneration of the UK economy in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic. We have also extended the Forces Help to Buy scheme until December 2022, giving more service personnel and their families the opportunity to buy a home of their own.

Partners across the UK, in the public, private and charitable sectors, have been working hard to support those who serve or have served, and their families, throughout the covid-19 pandemic. The private sector has continued to demonstrate its support for the armed forces community, with the total number of armed forces covenant signings rising to over 5,800 by the end of September.

Ensuring that all veterans’ healthcare needs are met remains crucial. The number of GP practices accredited as veteran friendly has more than tripled to over 800. The Defence recovery capability review made 42 recommendations about future Defence recovery pathways for our wounded, injured and sick personnel, and in April we launched HeadFIT, an important tool to support mental fitness in the armed forces and to promote the good management of mental health.

While progress has been made, both this year and in previous years, more still needs to be done. Next year, the Government will honour our manifesto commitment to further strengthen the covenant in law. The Government, with partners across all levels of Government in the UK, service charities and the private sector, will continue to mitigate disadvantage wherever it is found within the armed forces community, seeking special considerations where appropriate.

This report is a collaborative effort. I would like to thank colleagues across Government, the devolved Administrations and local authorities, and partners across the UK who are continuing to drive forward the work of the covenant. I am also grateful to the external members of the Covenant Reference Group for their involvement throughout the process and for their independent observations.


Housing, Communities and Local Government

Spending Review: Local Government Finance

The spending review, announced by the Chancellor on 25 November, contained significant announcements for local government. The Government confirmed that councils’ core spending power would rise by an estimated 4.5% in cash terms in 2021-22—worth £2.2 billion—a real-terms increase. This will support the services that the public relies on, including children’s and adult social care.

Alongside this, we announced a package of measures to support local government in its response to the pandemic. For 2020-21, Government have delivered on their commitment to apportion irrecoverable tax losses from this year, by confirming that they will compensate councils for 75% of such losses. For 2021-22 we will provide un-ring-fenced grant funding of £1.55 billion; £670 million in recognition of the additional costs of providing local council tax support resulting from increased unemployment; and we will extend the existing sales, fees and charges scheme to include the first three months of 2021-22. We have good reasons to be optimistic about overcoming the spread of the virus. Nevertheless, we will continue to keep the covid-19 package under review.

I intend to bring forward proposals for the allocation of this funding in the provisional local government finance settlement, before the Christmas recess.


International Trade

Free Trade Agreements: Transparency and Scrutiny Arrangements

I am today setting out transparency and scrutiny arrangements for our new international trade deals with the United States, Australia, New Zealand and for the UK’s proposed accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership (CPTPP). This includes a clear statement of intent by the Government and reflects our commitment to transparency and effective scrutiny of our trade agenda. Furthermore, my Department will continue to work closely with the International Trade Committee and the International Agreements Sub-Committee to review these intentions.

We have committed to publishing the objectives for new free trade agreements and scoping assessments at the outset of negotiations. The Government led a comprehensive public consultation before commencing its negotiations with Japan, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Just as happens in the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand systems, the Government have kept Parliament updated on negotiations as they progress, including close engagement with relevant Select Committees.

The Government will continue to keep Parliament and the public informed of progress for these negotiations through the publication of “Round Reports”. The Government will also continue to hold regular briefings for parliamentarians so that they are kept informed and can ask questions of Ministers. We will work constructively with the relevant Select Committees to keep them apprised of negotiations, including through public and private briefings with Ministers and chief negotiators.

The Government have further built on commitments to transparency and scrutiny through the recent announcement of the extension of the Trade and Agriculture Commission. The Trade and Agriculture Commission will now be placed on a statutory footing in the Trade Bill. It will provide advice on the impacts on farming and animal welfare arising from these new free trade agreements before they are laid in Parliament, under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 procedure.

In addition, the Government will work with the International Trade Committee and International Agreements Sub-Committee to ensure they have treaty text and other related documents or reports on a confidential basis, a reasonable time prior to them being laid or deposited in Parliament under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act procedure. This is to enable the Committees, should they decide to do so, to produce a report on these new free trade agreements. As with the Japan agreement, this will provide parliamentarians with an additional reference point on which to scrutinise what we have negotiated.

When a signed treaty text is laid in Parliament, it will be accompanied by an explanatory memorandum and the Government will publish an independently verified impact assessment which will cover the economic and environmental impacts of the deal. Parliament will then have 21 sitting days to scrutinise the deal. Should the International Trade Committee or International Agreements Sub-Committee recommend a debate on the deal, the Government will seek to accommodate such a request subject to parliamentary time. The Government want these agreements to be examined by parliamentarians and effectively scrutinised.

Widespread prior consultation and the publication of detailed impact assessments and objectives upfront allow informed debate at the start of the negotiations. Extensive stakeholder engagement on the detail of the negotiations as they proceed, and confidential briefing of relevant Committees, combined with the confidential sharing of text at the end of negotiations mean the Government will have provided Parliament with the information to provide effective scrutiny at all stages of the negotiations. This approach to transparency and openness to scrutiny by Parliament and other stakeholders is at least as strong as any other Westminster-style democracies such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

These arrangements are appropriate to the UK’s constitutional make-up and separation of powers. Ultimately, if Parliament is not content with a trade deal, it can raise concerns by resolving against ratification and delay any implementing legislation indefinitely.

This Government are committed to ensuring that no trade deal undermines key industries or lowers standards for consumers. The Government are concluding free trade agreements that benefit all parts of the UK by creating opportunities for our world-leading industries, and maintaining high standards while increasing choice for consumers.

To ensure that the arrangements set out today remain fit for purpose and enable the International Trade Committee and the International Agreements Sub-Committee to conduct their important scrutiny role effectively, the Government will work with the Committees to review further the detail behind these arrangements. For trade agreements beyond the scope of this statement, the Government will always ensure that the appropriate transparency and scrutiny procedures are put in place and will provide further clarification at the appropriate time.



Independent Human Rights Act Review

I am today announcing the creation of the independent Human Rights Act review. This review extends from our manifesto commitment and will take the form of an independent advisory panel which will provide the Government with options for updating the Human Rights Act (HRA). As Lord Chancellor, I am committed to upholding the UK’s stature on human rights. The UK contribution to human rights law is immense and founded in the common law tradition. We will continue to champion human rights both at home and abroad, and we remain committed to the European convention on human rights.

The HRA has been in force for 20 years, and therefore it is timely to undertake a review into its operation. The UK’s constitutional framework has always evolved incrementally over time, and it will continue evolving. We need to make sure that our human rights framework, as with the rest of our legal framework, develops and is refined to ensure it continues to meet the needs of the society it serves. The review will examine two key areas outlined in detail in the terms of reference, which will be deposited in the Libraries of each House. Broadly, the panel will consider the following themes:

The relationship between domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

The impact of the HRA on the relationship between the judiciary, the executive and the legislature.

The examination of the Act will consider the approach taken by domestic courts to jurisprudence of the ECtHR, and whether the HRA currently strikes the correct balance between the roles of the courts, Government and Parliament.

As part of its work, the review will also examine the circumstances in which the HRA applies to acts of public authorities taking place outside the territory of the UK, with consideration of the implications of the current position, and whether there is a case for change. The review is limited to consideration of the HRA, which is a protected enactment under the devolution settlements.

It is my intention that the panel shall consider these questions independently, thoroughly, and put forward options for reform to be considered by myself. The panel will report back in summer 2021 and their report will be published, as will the Government’s response.

The following people will become members of the panel. They have been selected on the basis of their wealth of experience, coming from senior legal and academic backgrounds. They have the breadth and depth of expertise required to consider the issues highlighted within the terms of reference effectively. The panel members are:

Sir Peter Gross—Panel Chair

Simon Davis

Baroness O’Loan

Sir Stephen Laws, QC

Professor Tom Mullen

Professor Maria Cahill

Lisa Giovannetti, QC

Alan Bates