Monday 12 July 2021
English Votes for English Laws
Today, I am informing the House that the Government intend to bring forward a motion for the House of Commons to consider whether to amend the Standing Orders to remove the English Votes for English Laws procedure from the legislative process in the House of Commons.
The English Votes for English Laws procedure, which was introduced in 2015, amended the legislative process for the purpose of providing MPs representing English constituencies—or those representing English and Welsh constituencies—the opportunity to have an additional say on matters that applied to England—or England and Wales only.
It also applies to legislation introducing a tax measure that affects only England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which must be approved by a majority of MPs representing constituencies in those areas.
The English Votes procedure does not apply to the legislative process in the House of Lords, although it is the case that amendments made in the Lords which apply to England—or England and Wales—only are subject to a double majority vote in the House of Commons.
The procedure was introduced as more powers were being devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Senedd but does not reflect the unique nature of the UK Parliament and the principle that all parts of the UK should be, and are, represented equally in the UK Parliament.
The introduction of the procedure in 2015 added additional stages to the legislative process in Parliament and in doing so introduced complexity to our arrangements and has not served our Parliament well. This Standing Order reform is a sensible change that will ensure the effective operation of the legislative process.
Removing English Votes for English Laws does not change the fact that MPs with constituencies in England—and indeed MPs who represent constituencies across the UK—have a strong voice and role in the UK Parliament.
It is a fundamental principle that all constituent parts of the United Kingdom should be equally represented in Parliament, and Parliament should deliver for the whole UK. The operation of this procedure—and the constraints on the role of certain MPs—does not support this aim.
Rather than maintain this procedure, the Government shall on 13 July bring forward a motion in the House of Commons so that MPs can debate whether the English Votes procedure should be removed from the legislative process.
Today, Ofqual and the Department for Education published joint consultations outlining detailed proposals for alternative arrangements for awarding general qualifications in 2022 and vocational and technical qualifications in academic year 2021-22.
These consultations, outlined in “Proposed changes to the assessment of GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2022” and “Arrangements for the assessment and awarding of Vocational and Technical Qualifications and Other General Qualifications in 2021 to 2022”, will end on 1 August for GCSEs, AS and A levels and on 26 July for vocational and technical and other general qualifications. These changes will be for one year only.
The Government have made clear its intention that exams and other assessments should go ahead in the academic year 2021-22. In order to ensure that they can go ahead fairly, however, we must recognise that students in the 2021-22 cohort have experienced significant disruption to their education, and we are proposing that exams and assessments in 2021-22 should be adapted to take this into account.
For GCSEs, AS and A levels we are proposing a package of measures that includes four elements: in those GCSE subjects where it is possible to do so without undermining the assessment, a choice of topics on which students will be assessed; advance information about how exams will be focused for the majority of GCSE, AS and A level subjects; reducing the burden of non-exam assessment in some subjects; and allowing students to have access to support materials in the exam room in a small number of subjects.
For vocational and technical qualifications and other general qualifications, the consultation sets out a suite of proposed measures for those qualifications that are included in performance tables including adaptions such as streamlining assessment, early banking of assessments and providing revision guidance. The consultation focuses on the impact of the measures proposed and updating the existing vocational and technical qualifications contingency regulatory framework to reflect our aim that exams and assessments should go ahead in 2021-22.
The consultation seeks the views of students, parents and carers, teachers, school and college leaders, FE colleges and universities, employers and others before decisions are made on final arrangements. We intend to announce decisions for GCSEs, AS and A levels early in the autumn term and for vocational and technical qualifications and other general qualifications in early August.
As well as these proposed adaptations, Ofqual is considering how best to grade qualifications in 2022 in a way that is as fair as possible to students in that year, those who took qualifications in previous years, and those who will take them in future. Ofqual has statutory responsibility for the maintenance of standards and for public confidence in qualifications, while taking account of Government policy. Ofqual will make a decision once 2021 results are known, and will announce its decisions in the autumn.
We are also continuing to work with Ofqual on contingency plans in case it does not prove possible for exams to go ahead safely and fairly in 2021-22.
Official Development Assistance Budget
The Government have acted on a scale unmatched in recent history in responding to the twin health and economic emergencies, with over £400 billion of total support for the economy since the start of the pandemic to protect people’s jobs and livelihoods, and to support businesses and public services.
But the damage inflicted on our economy and the public finances by coronavirus has been immense. We have suffered the biggest recession in 300 years. Last year we borrowed nearly £300 billion—equivalent to 14.3% of GDP—the highest since world war two. Debt as a percentage of GDP reached nearly 100%, the highest since 1962. This year we are forecast to borrow the second highest amount on record during peacetime—second only to last year. This is clearly unsustainable, and the economic damage of coronavirus cannot be fixed overnight.
That is why we have had to take difficult decisions to get borrowing down and restore the public finances—including by increasing corporation tax, freezing income tax personal thresholds and maintaining public sector pay at current levels.
As part of these difficult decisions, we took the decision last year to temporarily reduce the ODA budget to spend 0.5% of gross national income on overseas aid in 2021. The International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 clearly envisages situations in which a departure from spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA may be necessary: for example in response to “fiscal circumstances and, in particular, the likely impact of meeting the target on taxation, public spending and public borrowing”.
Spending at 0.5% of gross national income for this year means we will still spend more than £10 billion to improve global health, fight poverty and tackle climate change. In 2020 we were one of only two G7 countries to meet the 0.7% target, and the only one to do so each year since 2013. Based on the latest OECD data, spending 0.5% GNI as ODA in 2021, as we plan to do, would mean that the UK is still the third largest donor in the G7 as a percentage of GNI.
As we have made clear since that decision, this is a temporary measure and the Government are committed to the 2015 Act and to spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA once the fiscal situation allows. That is why we are today setting out the responsible fiscal circumstances under which we will return to 0.7%.
Consistent with the fiscal principles set out at March Budget 2021, and with the principles contained within the Conservative Party 2019 Manifesto, the Government commit to spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA when the independent Office for Budget Responsibility’s fiscal forecast confirms that, on a sustainable basis, we are not borrowing for day-to-day spending and underlying debtis falling, as explained in more detail below.
At the upcoming Spending Review the Government will set the ODA budget for 2022-23—and provisionally for later years—in line with these tests and the latest fiscal forecast.
Each year over this period, the Government will review, in accordance with the 2015 Act, whether a return to spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA is possible against the latest fiscal forecast. If it expects to meet the fiscal tests described above in the following financial year, the Government will increase overseas aid spending above 0.5% of GNI to 0.7% of GNI and such that these tests are still met. Once the Government have spent 0.7% of GNI as overseas aid in a given year, these tests will no longer apply to overseas aid spending and the Government will return to spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA year on year.
The Government will continue to act compatibly with the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, under which accountability is to Parliament. The Secretary of State will lay a statement in Parliament in accordance with section 2 of the Act in relation to each calendar year in which the Government do not spend 0.7% GNI on ODA.
A motion will be tabled by the Government alongside this written ministerial statement asking the House of Commons to consider this approach, for debate tomorrow. If the House approves the motion, recognising the need to manage the public finances responsibly and maintaining strong investment in domestic public services like the NHS, schools and police, then the Government will continue with the approach set out in this statement. However, if the House were to negative the motion, rejecting the Government’s assessment of the fiscal circumstances, then the Government would consequently return to spending 0.7% of GNI on international aid in the next calendar year, and with likely consequences for the fiscal situation, including for taxation and current public spending plans.
 By fiscal forecast, we refer to the final post-measures official forecasts by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) as published in their Economic and Fiscal Outlook.
 By “not borrowing for day-to-day spending”, we mean when the fiscal forecast shows a sustainable current budget surplus. The current budget deficit counts all receipts and all current spending, but excludes spending on net investment.
 By “underlying debt” we mean public sector net debt—excluding the Bank of England—as a % of GDP. PSND ex BoE is the amount of debt the public sector owes to private sector minus the amount of cash and other short-term assets it holds excluding the liabilities and the liquid assets held on the Bank of England’s balance sheet.
Work and Pensions
Employment and Support Allowance
I am pleased to confirm that the exercise to correct past Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) underpayments and pay arrears, following conversion from previous incapacity benefits is now complete. All cases have been considered, reviews completed where the information has been provided, and arrears paid where due1.
As set out in the final statistical publication published on www.gov.uk, as of 1 June 2021:
600,000 cases have completed the review process; and
118,000 arrears payments totalling £613 million have been made.
1 Completion rate is 100%, rounded to the nearest 1%. Fewer than 100 cases were outstanding as at 1 June 2021.