Thursday 21 December 2017
Infected Blood Inquiry
As the Government announced last month, a full statutory inquiry into the infected blood scandal will be established under the Inquiries Act 2005, and sponsored by the Cabinet Office. The inquiry will have full powers, including the power to compel the production of documents, and to summon witnesses to give evidence on oath.
We are today setting out the next steps.
The Cabinet Office has now completed its analysis of the responses to the consultation on the format of the statutory inquiry into infected blood announced in July. In addition a series of roundtable meetings were held earlier this month with individuals and groups representing those affected.
The Government committed to making an announcement regarding the chair of the inquiry before Christmas, taking into account the views we have received. We are therefore announcing today our intention to appoint a judge to chair the inquiry. We will make a further statement on who that judge will be in the new year and we will be discussing with them the composition of the inquiry panel.
We would like to thank each and every person who took the time to respond to the consultation, and to share their views and experiences. We understand how difficult these issues must have been to describe and we are grateful for the frankness and honesty with which people have shared their experiences. The responses to the consultation have been carefully considered by Cabinet Office officials. We can assure the House and everyone who contributed that the findings will be passed to the proposed chair to help inform the discussions regarding the draft terms of reference, on which we expect there will be further consultation.
In accordance with the Inquiries Act 2005, colleagues in the devolved Administrations will be consulted as the terms of reference are finalised.
A further statement will be made in the new year.
Prosperity Fund Annual Report 2016-17
I wish to update the House on how the Government have been supporting poverty reduction and global and UK prosperity using the cross-Government Prosperity Fund (PF).
Details of the Prosperity Fund, its set-up, strategy, country and sector focus, and projects funded in 2016-17 are set out in the first annual report. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House and has been published on gov.uk The publication of this first report reflects the Government’s commitment to transparency in the delivery of official development assistance.
The cross-Government Prosperity Fund replaced the FCO’s Prosperity Fund in April 2016, as part of a new, more strategic approach to promoting prosperity globally in line with National Security Council objectives. The Prime Minister announced the creation of the £1.3 billion cross-Government Prosperity Fund in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). This has since been revised to £1.2 billion following revisions to aid allocations.
The Prosperity Fund is a key element of the UK Aid Strategy 2015. Using primarily official development assistance (ODA) resources, the fund promotes economic reforms in developing countries which will contribute to a reduction in poverty. The fund supports global and UK prosperity by removing barriers to trade, building prosperity partnerships, and creating opportunities for business, including UK business. It enables the UK to deepen relationships in countries across the globe.
Parliamentary accountability for taxpayers’ money spent via the Prosperity Fund is provided primarily through the International Development Committee (IDC) Select Committee. The IDC Sub-Committee on ICAI (Independent Commission for Aid Impact) is planning to take evidence from ICAI and Prosperity Fund officials in December.
The Prosperity Fund spent £63 million, of which £5 million was non-ODA, in its first year across targeted project interventions, capability and capacity building, research and analysis and knowledge transfer. Projects focused on countries with stubborn development challenges and were designed to help inform an effective strategy for running larger multiyear programmes from 2017-18 onwards.
Projects are helping partner countries develop the business environment, infrastructure, healthcare, urban planning, financial services and low carbon energy they need to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth. Projects also consider opportunities for promoting gender equality and inclusion. The Fund is monitoring and evaluating progress against Sustainable Development Goal 5, to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.
Communities and Local Government
Leasehold and Commonhold Reform
The Government’s housing White Paper, “Fixing our broken housing market” set out our commitment to promoting fairness and transparency for the growing number of leaseholders.
Leasehold has been part of the UK’s housing landscape for generations, usually put to sensible use in buildings with shared spaces and infrastructure, such as blocks of flats. But far too many new houses are being built and sold in this way. The proportion of new build houses that are leasehold has doubled over the past 20 years, accounting for 15% of all new build house sales today. In some parts of the country, it is increasingly difficult to purchase a new build home on any other basis.
Ground rents on many of these types of properties have also risen from historically small sums to hundreds of pounds per year. In some cases ground rent terms can spiral into very significant sums—literally thousands of pounds. Leasehold should not be a means of extracting ever more cash from the pockets of already overstretched house buyers.
The Government published a consultation over the summer, “Tackling unfair practices in the leasehold market”, which ran for eight weeks from 25 July to 19 September. I am very grateful to all those who have participated in this consultation and have provided evidence, including Members of this House and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Leasehold and Commonhold.
The consultation received an overwhelming response with over 6,000 replies, and the vast majority in favour of widespread reform. It is telling that people with experience of buying and living in a leasehold property are the keenest proponents for change.
It is clear from the responses that many purchasers did not make an active or informed choice to buy a leasehold house, and were not always aware of the medium and long-term costs associated with this. Far too many reported being surprised to find that their home had been sold on to a third-party investor, with the cost of buying the freehold having risen considerably—sometimes running into tens of thousands of pounds.
We also heard of consumers with very onerous ground rent terms who are effectively trapped in their own homes, unable to find a buyer. Some of these people have not been able to access redress, and do not know where to turn for support.
It is clear that the system as it stands is not working in consumers’ best interests. Even most developers and institutional investors on freehold accept that, in the majority of cases, use of leasehold for new build houses is entirely unjustified.
This has got to stop. As I have previously stated, as a Government committed to building a fairer society, I do not see how we can look the other way while these practically feudal practices persist.
Therefore, today I can announce that alongside publishing a summary of responses to the summer consultation, this Government are setting out a package of measures to crack down on unfair leasehold practices. This includes:
introducing legislation to prohibit the development of new build leasehold houses, other than in exceptional circumstances;
restricting ground rents in newly established leases of houses and flats to a peppercorn (zero financial value);
addressing loopholes in the law to improve transparency and fairness for leaseholders and freeholders; and
working with the Law Commission to support existing leaseholders—including making buying a freehold or extending a lease easier, faster, fairer and cheaper; reinvigorating commonhold to provide greater choice for consumers; and to take forward the work in our recent call for evidence on regulating managing agents (“Protecting consumers in the letting and managing agent market: a call for evidence”).
I also want to ensure there is appropriate support for existing leaseholders with onerous ground rent terms. We will work with the ombudsmen and trading standards to provide leaseholders with comprehensive information on the various routes to redress. But I also want to see developers and investors going further with their compensation schemes. I want to see this support extended to all those with onerous ground rents, including second-hand buyers, and for customers to be proactively contacted.
Given the Government’s position, we do not think it is appropriate for the help to buy equity loan scheme to support the sale of leasehold houses. It is not possible to impose new requirements on developers under existing contracts, but we expect them to work with us to take forward this change ahead of legislation.
I can announce that today I have written to all developers to ask them to stop using help to buy equity loans for the purchase of leasehold houses; to encourage them to take early steps to limit ground rents; and to ask that those who have customers with onerous ground rent terms provide the necessary redress as soon as possible. I will be keeping a close eye on progress and will explore measures that could be pursued to take action if necessary.
This is a highly complex area covering hundreds of pages of legislation and multiple Acts of Parliament. That is why we will work closely with the Law Commission as part of their 13th programme of law reform. We will prioritise making the process of buying a freehold easier, to support existing leasehold house owners, and will seek to bring forward solutions by summer recess 2018. This will be followed by bringing forward new legislation when parliamentary time allows.
In bringing forward legislation we will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure the best outcome for consumers. We want to ensure that our plans do not have an adverse impact on supply and will work with the sector to consider the case for exemptions. Where land is currently subject to a lease, developers will continue to be able to build and sell leasehold houses on that land. However, the Government will ensure that future legislation to ban the sale of leasehold houses applies to land that is not subject to an existing lease at the date of publication of this statement. We will consider the case for exemptions to the policy and its retrospective application, in particular to mitigate any undue unfairness. We will also make sure that where leasehold is necessary it is delivered on terms that are favourable to the homeowner.
It is important that we get the detail right. We are committed to ensuring that our reforms deliver a fairer and more transparent system for both existing and future homeowners, and to stamping out the abuses of the leasehold system which have existed to date.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Today I am updating the House on the implementation of the Government’s strategy to eradicate bovine TB in England by 2038.
The strategy continues to deliver results. Earlier this year, England applied to the European Commission for officially TB-free (OTF) status for half the country and a recent peer-reviewed scientific study showed a significant reduction in TB breakdowns after two years of badger control in the first two cull areas.
Bovine TB remains the greatest animal health threat to the UK. Dealing with the disease is costing the taxpayer over £100 million each year. In 2016 alone over 29,000 cattle had to be slaughtered in England to control the disease, causing devastation and distress for hard-working farmers and rural communities.
The Government are continuing to take strong action to eradicate the disease and protect the future of our dairy and beef industries. Today I am announcing plans to enhance and strengthen our disease surveillance programme, calling for applications to our badger vaccination grant scheme and introducing enhanced compensation arrangements for compulsorily slaughtered pigs, sheep, goats, South American camelids and captive deer.
The new plans will see the introduction of six-monthly routine testing for bovine TB for most herds in the high-risk area of England. The timing and communication of this increase in testing frequency will be discussed with the farming industry and in implementing it we will learn lessons from changes in the edge area of the country, where more herds will transition to six-monthly testing from January 2018. The changes will help vets identify and tackle infection in herds more quickly, helping to stop the spread of disease to new areas.
Although it does not provide complete protection or cure infected animals—which continue to spread TB—badger vaccination has a role to play. Therefore, applications for the “badger edge vaccination scheme” are now open, with over £700,000 of grant funding available to private groups wishing to carry out badger vaccination in the edge area of England. Groups will receive at least 50% funding towards their eligible costs and the scheme aims to create a protected badger population between the high-risk and low-risk areas of England, and prevent further spread of the disease.
New compensation arrangements for pigs, sheep, goats, deer and camelids which have to be slaughtered as a result of bTB will come into force on 2 January 2018. These will bring statutory compensation for non-bovine farmed animals in line with Scotland and Wales.
There is broad scientific consensus that badgers are implicated in the spread of TB to cattle. This year, effective, licensed badger control operations were completed by local farmers and landowners in 11 new areas and eight existing areas. This shows that badger control can be delivered successfully on a much wider scale than before. Alongside our robust cattle movement and testing regime, this will allow us to achieve and maintain long-term reductions in the level of TB in cattle across the south-west and midlands, where the disease is widespread.
The Government are also supporting farmers to take practical action to reduce the risk of infection on their farms, notably by awarding a contract to the Origin Group in September to deliver a new bTB advisory service. The easily accessible service offers clear, practical advice to help farmers in high-risk and edge areas to protect their herds from the disease and manage the impacts of a TB breakdown on their farm. This service is supported by the TB hub, which brings advice from farming experts, vets and government together in one place.
To ensure we have a successful and resilient industry as the UK enters a new trading relationship with the world, we are determined to implement all available measures necessary to eradicate this devastating disease as quickly as possible.
Copies of the cattle measures summary of consultation responses and way forward have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
December Agriculture and Fisheries Council
On 11 and 12 December in Brussels, I represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council alongside representatives from the devolved Administrations.
On fisheries, the focus of the Council was EU quota negotiations, involving decisions on fishing opportunities for the next year for quota stocks in the North Sea, Atlantic, the English Channel, Irish and Celtic Seas. Fishing opportunities are set under the rules of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy, which aims to have all stocks fished at sustainable levels by 2020 at the latest.
Prior to the Council, a number of negotiations take place with third countries, such as EU-Norway, which set fishing opportunities for certain stocks. The EU share of these opportunities are endorsed at the Council in December.
In setting out our objectives for the negotiation, the UK Government strongly supported the overall objective of fishing sustainably, based on the principle of maximum sustainable yield (MSY). We supported the aim to set exploitation rates consistent with MSY and to increase the number of stocks set at MSY compared to last year’s result. We also supported the introduction of a package of measures to further protect European eels. This package reflected a general concern that urgent action is needed to support recovery of this critically endangered species across its natural range.
As a result of the improving condition of many species, we were able to agree to increase the total allowable catch (TAC) for stocks of importance to the UK. I was, for example, able to secure additional quota for:
North Sea: cod +10%, haddock +23% and anglerfish +20%
Irish Sea: cod +376% and haddock +23%
Eastern Channel: sole +25% and skates and rays +20%
Bristol Channel: plaice +49% and sole +9%
Total fishing opportunities from this year’s annual negotiations for 2018 are worth around £754 million, which is nearly £50 million more than for 2017. This includes the value of agreements reached in negotiations between the EU and certain third countries such as Norway which were endorsed at Council. The EU-Norway negotiations included agreement on TACs for cod, haddock, saithe, whiting, plaice and herring in the North Sea.
The agreement means that for 2018, 30 stocks of interest to the UK will be fished at or below MSY. This is out of 44 stocks of interest to the UK for which MSY assessments have been made, and is an increase on 2017 at the EU level, the agreement means that 39 of 66 assessed stocks were exploited within MSY.
Where the latest scientific evidence supports it, the UK argued against unnecessary quota cuts proposed by the European Commission. As a result, this secured the same quota as in 2017 for many species, including anglerfish and pollack in the Celtic Sea and saithe in waters to the west of Scotland.
Challenges remain in areas like the Celtic Sea and on important species such as bass and megrim in the south-west, where action is necessary to cut fishing mortality in order to allow these stocks to recover. I was disappointed that we were unable to mitigate a reduction in TAC for nephrops in the west of Scotland which will concern small vessels working on the west coast. Where necessary, I argued against setting a total allowable catch (TAC) to zero because it would not reduce fishing mortality and would set an unworkable precedent for when such stocks come under the landing obligation. Instead I secured bycatch quotas for whiting in the Irish Sea and west of Scotland, and plaice in the Celtic Sea. The UK worked hard to secure an agreement that strikes the right balance for both our marine environment and coastal communities.
Further restrictions on commercial and recreational bass fishing were agreed. The UK specifically pressed for and secured the removal of a proposed ban on bass angling “catch and release” activity. We also helped ensure the agreement includes a specific undertaking for a review that would consider the scope to allow landings of bass in recreational fisheries in 2018, once the scientific evaluation method for the stock is updated by the end of March.
Finally, proportionate quota uplifts were agreed for demersal stocks subject to the landing obligation in 2018.
The agricultural focus of the Council was a Commission communiqué entitled the “Future of Food and Farming”, which prompted the first Council discussion on the Common Agricultural Policy post 2020. The communiqué highlighted the importance of improving the contribution of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) towards environmental and sustainability goals, and proposed greater member state subsidiarity. In response, I outlined that whilst the future CAP would not apply to the UK, I hoped that the UK and EU could continue to share and learn from each other in meeting what will inevitably be shared challenges. In particular, I noted the potential benefits in terms of simplification as a result of moving to a more outcome-based approach with increased subsidiarity.
Seven further items were discussed under “any other business”:
the European Commission informed Council of the outcomes of the “Modern biotechnologies in agriculture” conference held in Brussels on 28 September 2017
the Czech delegation informed Council of the outcome of the high-level conference on African Swine Fever held in Prague on 8-9 November 2017
the Danish delegation suggested measures to tackle African Swine Fever to the Council
the Slovak delegation presented to Council on Tackling Unfair Trading Practices with a view to achieving a more balanced Food Supply Chain and strengthening farmers’ position
the European Commission informed Council about the stakeholder conference on the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and its future: “Beyond 2020: Supporting Europe’s coastal states communities”
the Spanish delegation informed Council about implementation of the landing obligation, choke species risk in January 2019
the European Commission presented the outcome of the “Our Ocean 2017” conference held in Malta on 5-6 October 2017.
Public Health Grants: Local Authorities
Today I am publishing the public health allocations to local authorities in England for 2018-19 along with indicative allocations for 2019-20.
Through the public health grant and the pilot of 100% retained business rate funding for local authorities in Greater Manchester, we are investing £3.215 billion for public health in 2018-19. We will be investing over £16 billion for public health over the five years of the 2015 Spending Review until 2020, in addition to what the NHS spends on preventative interventions such as immunisation and screening.
The indicative allocation for 2019-20 will help local authorities to develop and extend their planning, including initiatives better delivered across more than one year. The grant in both 2018-19 and 2019-20 continue to be subject to conditions, including a ring-fence requiring local authorities to use the grant exclusively for public health activity.
Full details of the public health grants to local authorities can be found on gov.uk.
This information will be communicated to local authorities in a Local Authority Circular.
Public health allocations 2018-19,
Public health indicative allocations 2019-20.
The above allocations can be viewed online at:
International Commercial Settlement Agreements: Enforcement
The Government decided in August to opt in to this Council decision which involves the agreement of EU member states to an EU negotiating mandate which sets out the position of the EU in discussions in UNCITRAL on possible instruments on the enforcement of international commercial settlement agreements resulting from conciliation.
In July 2015, UNCITRAL agreed that work should commence to identify issues arising from the enforcement of international settlement agreements and to develop possible solutions. Negotiations to date have decided that there should be both a draft model law complementing the existing UNCITRAL model law on international commercial conciliation and a draft convention that should have similar provisions, adapted only to the extent necessary for their specific form.
In May 2017, the European Commission decided that the negotiations had reached a stage where there should be a formal EU negotiating mandate. This was adopted in September 2017 when the EU agreed to participate actively in the ongoing work, and authorised the Commission to negotiate the convention at UNCITRAL on behalf of the EU to the extent that the convention may affect or alter EU rules. The next session of negotiations is scheduled for February in New York.
Opting in to the EU negotiating mandate does not commit the UK Government to apply any agreed model law nor to accede to any future convention.
I am today announcing that new regulations regarding cremation in England and Wales have been laid before Parliament. The Cremation (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 will come into effect on 6 April 2018.
We are making these changes following our response to our consultation on cremation, published on 7 July 2016, in which we committed to make a number of changes to infant cremation regulations and practice.
The regulations laid today introduce new forms for use in applying for a cremation. They include a section for the applicant to confirm their wishes regarding the return of ashes following the cremation. The applicant will be able to amend their wishes in writing at any time after they apply for the cremation, including specifying what should happen to the ashes if they did not originally do so when they applied for the cremation. The forms also provide a new section to make applicants aware that in some rare circumstances, such as in the cremation of a stillborn or very small baby, no ashes may be recovered. These changes will provide clarity for bereaved parents at a difficult and stressful time.
There have been very rare occasions when the applicant for a cremation has later been implicated in the death of the person cremated, or has been convicted of a violent offence against the bereaved, such as the parent of a deceased child, and from their prison cell has refused the return of the ashes to the family of the deceased. To address this, the regulations provide a discretion for the cremation authority in exceptional circumstances to release cremation ashes to someone other than the applicant. We will provide guidance to cremation authorities on the exercise of this power.
These regulations allow for the first time for cremation forms to be issued in Welsh, supporting our commitment made in the 2015 St David’s Day agreement to ensure that forms relating to important life events and civic duties can be completed in Welsh. They also provide for the electronic signing of cremation forms, enabling the submission of cremation forms by electronic means. Finally, these regulations correct a cross reference to the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016.
I would like to thank the national cremation working group who have been working with the Ministry of Justice as we have progressed this work.