Wednesday 12 September 2018
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Today, I am introducing the Agriculture Bill into the House of Commons, fulfilling the Government’s promise to deliver a green Brexit. The Bill marks a decisive shift in our support for farmers. It ensures we will reward them properly at last for the work they do to enhance the environment around us. It will help them grow more high quality food in a more sustainable way, and it will ensure public money is spent more efficiently and effectively.
Nearly three quarters of England is farmland. For too long, Brussels has set the rules on how we maintain and enhance our distinctive environment, and how we grow crops and improve food production. The European Union’s common agricultural policy has held back Britain, economically and environmentally. Bureaucracy has stifled innovation. Subsidies have been paid based on the size of individual land holdings, not the contribution farmers make to society. Habitats have been lost and soil health eroded.
The Agriculture Bill sets out our new policy of paying public money for public goods. Its framework for investing money in wildlife habitats, clean air and water, and healthy soil—natural assets upon which our wellbeing and economic prosperity depend —will help reduce flood risk, prevent and mitigate the effects of climate change, and ensure that the public enjoy easier access to our countryside. The Bill will help us leave the environment in a better state for future generations, as set out in the Government’s 25-year environment plan.
On this, Back British Farming Day, the Agriculture Bill also sets out how we will support a profitable sector producing high-quality food, encourage innovative new entrants to this way of life, and help farmers get a fair price for their produce. In order to provide certainty, farmers will be supported over a seven year transition period as we as leave the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP). The Bill includes measures to incentivise more long-term thinking and investment, and help farm businesses become more resilient and productive. And we will be introducing transitional support schemes to enable on-farm investment, for example in equipment and technology to deliver public goods and to support new entrants to get into farming. This is an ambitious Bill—representing the first new domestic farming policy in nearly 50 years—which ensures that our farmers’ contribution to maintaining our countryside and producing healthy food will be greater than ever before. It is the first step towards a brighter, better and greener future for farming and our natural world outside the EU.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
EU Foreign Ministers Informal Meeting (Gymnich)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the bi-annual informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers (known as the Gymnich) on 30 and 31 August in Vienna, Austria. The Gymnich was hosted by the Austrian Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, Karin Kneissl, and was chaired by the High Representative and Vice President of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. Discussions centred on the Middle East, transatlantic relations, the Western Balkans, and multilateralism.
Foreign Ministers of the candidate countries joined EU Ministers over dinner on 30 August and during the morning of 31 August.
The format of the Gymnich is designed to allow EU Foreign Ministers to engage in informal discussion on a number of issues. In contrast to the Foreign Affairs Council (the next of which will be held on 15 October), Ministers do not take formal decisions or agree conclusions at the Gymnich.
Ministers held a broad discussion on the Middle East that covered the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP), Syria and Iran. Ministers reiterated that a two state solution was the only realistic option, confirmed the EU’s support for the United Nations’ and Egypt’s work on Gaza and commitment to continuing support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). On Syria, Ministers voiced concerns about possible military action on Idlib and the resulting humanitarian impact. Finally on Iran, Ministers agreed on the need to preserve the nuclear deal but voiced concerns about Iran’s actions in the region including in Syria. My right hon. Friend spoke about the risk of regional tension and the role of Russia in Syria.
Ministers noted that the EU and United States of America (USA) were close partners on a number of areas, and shared the same values. There were some policy differences but these should not overshadow other areas on which there is excellent co-operation. My right hon. Friend shared his thoughts following his recent visit to Washington.
Ministers discussed the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia that the EU is facilitating with the aim of reaching a legally binding agreement. Ministers noted the forthcoming elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina; they hoped the results would not cause a vacuum and the EU could continue to support work on the reform agenda there.
Ministers also touched on the referendum in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and expressed their full support for the agreement that was reached between Athens and Skopje on 17 June.
Any other business (AOB)
Under AOB Ministers briefly discussed the situation in Venezuela and Operation Sophia.
The Foreign Ministers of the Candidate countries joined EU Ministers for this working session. Ministers reaffirmed the importance of multilateralism given current risks to the rules-based international order, and the example the EU can set in this regard.
Non-Lethal Border Security Support to Jordan
In November 2015 and April 2017, my predecessors the Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) respectively, issued written ministerial statements setting out our plans to improve security along the border between Jordan and Syria by providing training and equipment to groups selected from the Moderate Armed Opposition (MAO) in southern Syria. That support enabled the interdiction of Jordanian citizens illegally entering Syria; stopped smugglers carrying money, weapons and narcotics from Syria to Jordan; and disrupted Daesh fighters operating across the border region, thereby denying them the freedom to (re)enter Jordan.
Since July 2018, the security situation in southern Syria has prevented us from providing additional support to the MAO. We intend, therefore, to re-direct existing resources to improve the security of Jordan’s borders from within Jordan itself. The grant in kind in this case is to the Jordanian armed forces.
The UK intends to grant to the Jordanian armed forces a number of vehicles and other equipment, acquired for the MAO’s border forces in southern Syria but now unable to be delivered to them. These include: unarmoured vehicles, day/night observation devices, radios, detectors to find and avoid improvised explosive devices, medical packs, uniforms, and load carrying/protective vests, to a total value of £5,061,028.46. These non-lethal capabilities are configured and optimised for border security, and it is for this purpose that the Jordanian armed forces have undertaken to employ them. The granting of this equipment and infrastructure will support the UK’s existing programme of support to the Jordanian armed forces. This option is most cost-effective to the taxpayer given that the vehicles are already stored in Jordan.
The assets have been scrutinised as required to ensure that their provision to the Jordanian armed forces is consistent with export controls and complies with our international obligations.
Westminster Foundation for Democracy: Tailored Review
My noble Friend, the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Lord Ahmad), has made the following written ministerial statement:
I am announcing today the start of a tailored review of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), an Executive Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB), sponsored by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
The principal aims of tailored reviews are to ensure public bodies remain fit for purpose, are well governed and properly accountable for what they do.
Established in 1992, the focus of the WFD’s work has been on strengthening democracy in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
Since its last review in 2014, WFD has expanded this focus to include open government partnership, civil society strengthening, electoral assistance, inclusive politics and women’s political empowerment.
The review will provide a robust scrutiny of and assurance on the continuing need for WFD—both its function and its form. If this process finds the Foundation should be retained in its current form and status, it will then consider how WFD can deliver on its core mandate more effectively and efficiently. It will also assess the control and governance arrangements that are in place to ensure that WFD and the FCO are complying with recognised principles of good corporate governance. The structure, efficiency and effectiveness of the WFD will be considered throughout the review.
In conducting this tailored review, officials will engage with stakeholders across the UK and overseas, including across the UK Government, devolved Administrations, civil society, as well as with Westminster of Foundation for Democracy’s staff and management.
The review will follow guidance published in 2016 by the Cabinet Office: Tailored Reviews: guidance on reviews of public bodies’: https://www.gov.uk/govemment/publications/tailored-reviews-of-public-bodies-guidance. The terms of reference for the review can be found on www.gov.uk.
I shall inform the House of the outcome of the review when it is completed and copies of the report of the review will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Health and Social Care
Learning Disabilities Mortality Review Programme Second Annual Report
I am today announcing the publication of the Government’s response to the recommendations of the second annual report of the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review (LeDeR) programme. The response is attached.
The LeDeR programme is the first national mortality review of its kind. It was established in June 2015 to help reduce early deaths and health inequalities for people with a learning disability. It does this by supporting local areas in England to put in place robust processes to review the deaths of people with a learning disability and to ensure that the learning from these reviews is put into practice. The programme is led by the University of Bristol and commissioned by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP) on behalf of NHS England.
The University of Bristol published its second annual report of the programme on 4 May 2018, which covered the period from 1 July 2016 to 30 November 2017. During that time, 1,311 deaths were notified to the LeDeR programme and 103 reviews were completed and approved by the LeDeR quality assurance process. In 13 of the cases reviewed, the individual’s health had been adversely affected by external factors including delays in care or treatment; gaps in service provision; organisational dysfunction; or neglect or abuse.
As I outlined to the House on 8 May (Official Report 8 May 2018, Vol. 640, Col. 545), the report makes a series of national recommendations that are aimed at NHS England, as well as health and care commissioners and providers.
The Government accept the review’s recommendations and we are publishing today our plan for making progress against each of them. The Government are already taking action, alongside its system partners, to address the concerns raised in the report. We need to promote universal awareness among health staff of the needs of people with learning disabilities, and we are taking steps to make this happen. By March 2019, we will complete a public consultation on proposals for mandatory learning disability training for all health and care staff.
This Government are committed to reducing the health inequalities that people with learning disabilities face, and reducing the number of people with learning disabilities whose deaths may have been preventable with different health and care interventions. The LeDeR programme was introduced to ensure local, evidence-based action is taken to improve support for people with a learning disability, and while we clearly have a great deal further to go to improve outcomes, it is resulting in commissioners focusing their attention on their local mortality rates and the reasons for them.
Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www. parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2018-09-12/HCWS951.
Housing, Communities and Local Government
Housing Land Supply in Oxfordshire
In March this year the Government committed to the Oxfordshire housing and growth deal, to support ambitious plans to deliver 100,000 homes by 2031. The Oxfordshire-wide joint statutory spatial plan to be adopted by 2021 will be supported by £215 million of funding to help deliver more affordable housing and infrastructure improvements to support sustainable development across the county.
Paragraph 217 of the national planning policy framework sets out that the Government will explore potential planning freedoms and flexibilities, for example where this would facilitate an increase in the amount of housing that can be delivered. Such freedoms and flexibilities are to be considered by the Government on a case-by-case basis. In this instance the Government have worked closely with the authorities in Oxfordshire to agree planning freedoms and flexibilities that will support the ambitious plan-led approach through a joint spatial strategy and the housing deal.
As part of the housing deal, Oxfordshire sought flexibility from the national planning policy framework policy on maintaining a five-year housing land supply. This policy supports the delivery of housing by ensuring sufficient land is coming forward to meet housing need. However, we recognise the ambitious plans in Oxford to deliver above their housing need in the long term. The Government want to support this strategic approach to supporting housing delivery through joint working. We have therefore agreed to provide a short-term flexibility which will support the delivery of the local plans for the area and ensure that the local authorities can focus their efforts on their joint spatial strategy. The Government recognise that in the short term this will result in fewer permissions being granted under paragraph 11 of the national planning policy framework but the Government believe that it is important to support these ambitious plans that will deliver more housing in the longer term.
Having considered the responses from a local consultation, which closed on 12 July 2018, I am today implementing a temporary change to housing land supply policies as they apply in Oxfordshire.
For the purposes of decision taking under paragraph 11(d), footnote 7 of the national planning policy framework will apply where the authorities in Oxfordshire cannot demonstrate a three-year supply of deliverable housing sites (with the appropriate buffer, as set out in paragraph 73). This policy flexibility does not apply to the housing delivery test limb of footnote 7 of the national planning policy framework nor plan-making policy in paragraph 67. If a local authority intends to fix their land supply under paragraph 74 they will still be required to demonstrate a minimum of five-year supply of deliverable housing sites, with the appropriate buffer.
This statement is a material consideration in planning decisions and applies to those local planning authorities in Oxfordshire with whom the Government have agreed the Oxfordshire housing and growth deal, namely Cherwell District Council, Oxford City Council, South Oxfordshire District Council, Vale of White Horse District Council and West Oxfordshire District Council. This statement applies from today and remains in effect until the adoption of the joint statutory spatial plan in each area, provided the timescales agreed in the housing and growth deal are adhered to. I will monitor progress against these timescales and keep the planning flexibility set out in this statement under review.
Road Scheme Update
England’s road network is a huge national asset and a cornerstone of our present and future economic prosperity. Across the country the Government are investing in this network, in order to open up new opportunities, improve productivity and connect people and businesses.
As part of this, after considerable consultation and review, the Government are announcing today the preferred corridor for the new Oxford-Cambridge expressway, accepting the recommendations of Highways England.
The expressway, which fills a major gap in the national road network, will work together with the proposed East West Rail link to revolutionise east-west connectivity. In so doing, it will help unlock the commercial development of up to 1 million new homes.
The expressway is projected to take up to 40 minutes off the journey between the A34 south of Oxford and the M1, so that hundreds of thousands of people will be brought within reach of high-quality jobs in centres of rapid growth such as Oxford Science Park. The preferred corridor identified today runs alongside the planned route of East West Rail, so that consumers have a variety of road and rail travel options.
This decision determines the broad area within which the road will be developed: the process of designing a specific route will now get under way, involving extensive further consultation with local people to find the best available options. Members of the public will be able to comment on the full set of front-running designs in a public consultation next year, and the road is on schedule to be open to traffic by 2030.
The choice of this corridor means that the Government have ruled out construction in the area of the Otmoor nature reserve, underlining their desire to protect the natural environment.
The Government also recognise that no one corridor can support every proposed development across the area. It is therefore commissioning England’s Economic Heartland to carry out a study of how to provide better connectivity across the wider area, so that places outside of the preferred corridor enjoy the benefits of growth as far as possible.
Between 2015 and 2021, the Government are investing £15 billion to improve the UK’s busiest roads. Already, it has opened the first all-motorway link from Newcastle to London; and after 45 years without change the Department for Transport is working with Transport for the North to develop three upgrades to capacity across the Pennines.
The Government are also spending billions to transform connectivity in the south- west with the dualling of the A303 and A30, and to create better access to and from our ports and airports through projects such as the Lower Thames crossing and upgrade of the A14 link between the Midlands and Felixstowe.
The common theme linking all these projects is the need to create and upgrade the UK’s infrastructure. So too it is here with the new Oxford-Cambridge expressway.
Work and Pensions
Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendment) Regulations 2018
On 12 July 2018, Official Report, column 47WS, I made a statement to the House about laying the child support regulations.
I wish to give notice that I intend to re-lay these regulations to clarify some minor points in regulation 2.
These are that:
The non-resident parent (NRP) can be either the sole, or one of a number of beneficiaries to an asset for the purpose of assuming a notional income from it.
The Secretary of State would make the decision as to whether the sale of an asset would be unreasonable or may cause hardship to the child of a NRP.
A minor amendment to the definition of virtual currency; and
The definition of asset will now include assets owned jointly by, or held in the joint names of, the non-resident parent and another individual or individuals. This is to ensure that a provision which was intended to offer protection to third parties cannot be exploited by an NRP by transferring assets into joint names.
The regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure and I look forward to discussing them with colleagues in due course.