Thursday 1 November 2018
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
I attended the EU Environment Council in Luxembourg on 9 October. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), and Roseanna Cunningham, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, also attended.
I wish to update the House on the matters discussed.
Regulation on C02 standards for cars and vans
The main outcome of Council was reaching an agreed position (“general approach”) on the regulation on emissions standards for new cars and vans, as part of which the European Commission had proposed a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030. Council began with a full roundtable where Ministers set out their respective positions. The UK intervened calling for greater ambition in 2030 and stressing the importance of getting the package right as a whole. Following debate the presidency presented a revised proposal and called for an informal vote for agreement. Agreement was not reached in that round so a further presidency proposal was presented: the key elements included a higher level of ambition of a 35% reduction by 2030, strengthened incentives for zero and low-emission vehicles, a strengthened review clause and a continuation of the niche derogation for smaller car manufacturers to 2030. This was sufficient for Council to achieve a general approach although a number of member states could not support the text or abstained. Trilogue discussions have already commenced.
Adoption of conclusions on the preparations for the United Nations framework convention on climate change (Katowice, Poland, 2-14 December 2018)
The Council adopted conclusions on the EU’s priorities and approach for the negotiations at the 24th session of the conference of the parties (COP24) to the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC).
The conclusions focus on: the urgency of climate action, especially in the light of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC’s) special report, “Global Warming of 1.5° C”, published on 8 October 2018; completion of the COP21 Paris agreement work programme (PAWP), which constitutes the implementing rules underpinning the agreement; and the Talanoa dialogue, the facilitative process culminating at COP24 for taking stock of collective progress towards the long-term goals of the Paris agreement.
The UK intervened to underline the stark and sobering messages of the IPCC report, that current global efforts are insufficient, and that COP24 is crucial to making the Paris agreement a reality. The UK highlighted the action the UK is taking to address climate change, including hosting Green Great Britain Week, promoted greater climate ambition and the EU updating its nationally determined contribution (NDC) by 2020, and signalled the importance of continued collaboration on climate change. The UK also supported the inclusion of at least one net zero 2050 scenario in the EU’s long-term strategy on emissions reductions and the need for common time frames for submission of NDCs to the UNFCCC.
The conclusions highlighted the EU’s ambitious climate and energy policy framework to 2030 and acknowledged that recent increases to the EU’s 2030 renewable and energy efficiency targets will have an impact on the EU’s level of achievement. Ministers expressed that they looked forward to the European Commission’s proposal for a strategy for long-term EU greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the objectives and long-term goals of the Paris agreement, underlining that the strategy should include a 1.5° C scenario and at least one pathway towards net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the EU by 2050. The conclusions stressed that the EU is ready to communicate or update its NDC by 2020 and recalled the importance of striving towards common time frames for all UNFCCC parties’ NDCs.
Conclusions on the convention on biological diversity (Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, 17-29 November 2018)
Council adopted conclusions on the convention on biological diversity ahead of the 14th session of the conference of the parties in November. Member states stressed the need to prioritise action on biodiversity as well as climate. Minister Coffey called for 30% of the world’s oceans to be protected by 2030, highlighted the UK’s illegal wildlife trade conference, and stressed the importance of taking action on mangroves. Minister Coffey also argued that a holistic approach was required in order to overcome climate change and other environmental challenges going forward, including biodiversity.
Regulation on C02 standards for heavy-duty vehicles
The Council held a policy debate on C02 emissions from heavy duty vehicles, with the presidency seeking views on the level of ambition and incentives for low and zero-emission vehicles. Council was broadly supportive of the proposals, with some pushing for more ambition and others indicating they thought the Commission’s proposal struck the right balance. The UK indicated its support for high ambition to help meet our clean growth and climate change ambitions.
Directive on single-use plastics
All Member states, including the UK, strongly welcomed the thrust of the proposal, but views were mixed on scope and targets. The UK, alongside other member states, stressed the need for extended producer responsibility requirements to be sufficiently flexible. Minister Coffey also highlighted the importance of taking into account the context in which products were used, for example in a medical setting, and emphasised that any fishing gear regulations needed to be implementable.
Reports on main recent international meetings
The presidency and Commission updated Council on two recent international meetings:
67th meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC 67) (Florianopolis, Brazil, 10-14 September 2018
United Nations high-level political forum on sustainable development (New York, 9-18 July 2018)
Berlin declaration on nanomaterials
Minister Coffey welcomed the information from the German delegation, and noted that the UK is fully engaged, and working with the Malta initiative, the working party for manufactured goods at the OECD, and with other member states to develop test guidelines for nanomaterials, through research and expert input. Minister Coffey also stated that the UK is leading a series of Horizon 2020 projects which are positively inputting into the Malta initiate, with other member states.
Earth innovation forum conference and the second joint preparatory retreat of the bureaux of the UN environment assembly and of the committee of permanent representatives
Estonia updated the Council on its preparations for the UN environment assembly 4 (UNEA-4), which will take place in Nairobi next year. These preparations included holding a high-level “Earth innovation forum” in Tallinn on 5 September.
EU measures to tackle air pollution related to the import of used cars
The Council noted the Bulgarian, Polish and Slovakian proposal to restrict member states from exporting highly polluting second hand cars to other member states. Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Cyprus and Romania supported this proposal.
The clean air programme—to protect health, climate and environment—for co-financing of new heat sources and thermal modernisation of single-family buildings in Poland
Poland updated the Council on its clean air programme.
Capital Payment to an International Financial Institution: Contingent Liability
I am today laying a departmental minute to advise that HM Treasury intends—subject to the standard procedure for notification to Parliament of the assumption of contingent liabilities as described below—to make the Government’s fourth and fifth annual capital contributions of $122,180,000 (approx. £95.3 million 1) to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank at year end 2018 and year end 2019. This is in line with the authority provided by this House under the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (Initial Capital Contribution) Order 2015. Parliamentary approval for these payments will be sought in supplementary estimates for HM Treasury.
The UK’s overall capital contribution will total $3,054,700,000 (approx. £2.4 billion), of which five payments together will make up the 20% “paid-in” capital contribution requiring a cash transfer. The other 80%, $2,443,800,000 (approx. £1.9 billion), is “callable capital”—the AIIB has the right to call for payment for these shares if there is a crisis affecting the bank’s assets or liabilities.
The payment of the fourth and fifth instalments of the capital contribution will therefore incur additional contingent liabilities in line with the amount of callable capital paid. As such, the UK will increase its current contingent liability by $488,760,000 (approx. £381 million) to a cumulative total contingent liability of $1,955,040,000 (approx. £1.5 billion) after the fourth payment, and by a final $488,760,000 to reach the total of $2,443,800,000. This will complete the UK’s purchase of AIIB shares.
Although the AIIB has the right to call for payment of this callable capital incurred when the initial capital instalment was paid, no such instance has occurred in any multilateral development bank in the past. If the liability were to be called, provision for any payment would be sought through the normal supply procedure.
As is usual, a departmental minute has been laid before Parliament to give at least 14 sitting days’ notice of the intent to incur a contingent liability.
1 Exchange rate as of 29 October 2018
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Agriculture and Fisheries Council
Agriculture and Fisheries Council took place in Luxembourg on 15 October. The UK was represented by Katrina Williams, deputy permanent representative to the EU, and Rory O’Donnell, agriculture counsellor.
The main focus of the Council for fisheries was a regulation on fixing the fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2019, for which a political agreement was sought. Additional scientific advice for 2019 was presented and the deal received unanimous support from member states.
There was also an exchange of views on the EU-Norway annual consultation for 2019. The Commission highlighted the 2019 deadline for full implementation of the EU landing obligations and the 2020 deadline for all EU stocks to be fished at maximum sustainable yield. The UK mentioned the importance of maximising inward trades of fish species to help mitigate potential “choke” problems in the North Sea in 2019.
During an exchange of views on the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), some member states supported a move within ICCAT to progress the bluefin tuna recovery plan into a management plan. Commissioner Vella agreed with greater participation of small scale fishers but made it clear that the existing controls should remain in place.
For agriculture, the main item that was discussed was the progress report on the regulation on CAP strategic plans. Member states supported the new delivery model in principle but discussed making some of the requirements optional. In response, the Commission pointed out the importance of ensuring a level playing field.
The Commission debriefed Council on the G20 agricultural ministerial meeting that took place in July, highlighting that the conclusions reflected the EU’s position.
The presidency updated Council on the outcome of the informal process to identify a single EU candidate for the next Director General of the food and agriculture organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
A number of items were discussed under “any other business”:
The Italian delegation raised an item about the state of the European sugar market
The Spanish delegation informed Council of the upcoming electoral round for the Director General of the international organisation of vine and wine (OIV)
The Commission gave an update on the state of play with African swine fever (ASF). An informal ministerial meeting on ASF will be held in the margins of the AgriFish Council on 19 December.
International Whaling Commission
I was unable to attend this year’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC67) on 10-14 September 2018 in Brazil due to pressing commitments in relation to the UK’s exit from the EU. However, a strong UK delegation was present.
This meeting was particularly challenging, with a number of complex and controversial proposals tabled. These included a significant challenge to the long-standing moratorium on commercial whaling. However, I am happy to report that all UK objectives for this meeting were achieved and the strong global protection in place for cetaceans was maintained.
As always, the UK delegation worked tirelessly behind the scenes, supporting the EU presidency, analysing proposals, brokering compromises, and influencing crucial decisions, all with the aim of securing improvements to the conservation and welfare of cetaceans.
The UK also ensured its long-standing opposition to commercial whaling and whaling under special permit (scientific whaling) was made clear at every appropriate opportunity. As always, there was the need for careful diplomacy, with the UK working hard to ensure dialogue remained constructive and respectful despite the fundamental differences in views.
Of particular importance at this meeting was resisting the proposal by Japan to restructure the organisation to allow for the resumption of commercial whaling. This complex proposal sought to create a new whaling committee within the IWC to oversee a return to commercial whaling on abundant whale populations and relax the voting rules for amending the convention’s schedule (which contains the provision establishing the moratorium) from a three-quarter to a simple majority. The UK worked extremely hard on defending against this proposal, leading the co-ordination with like-minded countries to ensure a coherent and well aligned strategy. I was therefore extremely relieved to see that the proposal failed to secure sufficient support and that the critical commercial whaling moratorium remains in place. The UK will now use the intersessional period to reach out to countries on both sides of the debate to ensure that constructive engagement within the IWC is maintained.
I am pleased to also report that a number of other important agreements were reached, in particular with regards aboriginal subsistence whaling (ASW) which was a challenging but important proposal and one that the UK had been engaging closely on for several months prior to the meeting. The proposal sought to renew, and in some cases increase, quotas for indigenous communities reliant on whales for subsistence purposes. In addition, it also introduced expanded carryover provisions to allow greater flexibility for hunters and a mechanism to automatically renew quotas without the need for the IWC to discuss and agree providing the scientific advice was favourable and there were no substantive changes to the hunt or subsistence need. After a series of complex negotiations within which the UK was centrally placed, an eventual compromise was reached, a compromise that protects indigenous communities’ access to food, reducing the stress and uncertainty associated with returning to the IWC every six years to request food for their families, but crucially balancing this by ensuring the IWC maintains its important oversight role and protecting its decision-making power in the event that the status quo situation of the hunts changes. I am extremely pleased by this landmark decision for the IWC which clearly demonstrates the maturity and functioning nature of the organisation.
I was also encouraged to see a number of important decisions taken on tackling important threats to cetaceans, in particular the passing by consensus of resolutions on underwater noise and ghost gear. The Florianopolis declaration also passed following a vote, delivering a clear statement from anti-whaling nations on their vision for the future of the IWC; one that is rooted in conservation without the need for commercial or scientific whaling.
Important progress was also made on further modernisation of the organisation through institutional and governance improvements. An intersessional process was established to bring forward recommendations and develop a programme of work in time for the next biennial meeting in 2020. The working group tasked with delivering this will be chaired by the USA, with the UK taking on an important role as Vice Chair.
I was pleased to see how the discussions on special permits progressed following the report of the intersessional working group established by resolution at the previous biennial meeting. The UK participated in this group, expertly chaired by Australia, which delivered for the first time a clear and concise summary of the advice of the scientific committee and proposed conclusions for the IWC to adopt. Despite disagreements from pro-whaling nations, the IWC meeting report will reflect these conclusions as representing the view of the commission, with a statement opposing from those that disagreed. This represents a good outcome and for the first time provides significant clarity of position for the IWC on this matter.
Once again I am pleased to report that the UK, in line with the agreed position of EU member states, voted in favour of establishing a South Atlantic whale sanctuary. Unfortunately the proposal failed to gain the three-quarters majority required for adoption. I expect this proposal to be re-tabled at the next meeting in 2020, which, in the absence of any other offer, will be hosted by Slovenia.
Finally, I was pleased that the UK led work to develop a tool to assess the welfare implications of non-hunting threats to cetacean welfare and efforts to further strengthen the conservation work of the IWC received endorsement. We will continue working closely with NGOs and academia to maintain momentum and continue to deliver improved conservation and welfare outcomes for cetaceans.
In conclusion, despite the significant challenges faced at this meeting, this can be viewed as a success. We now turn our attention to the intersessional period and, following our successful nomination to the IWC bureau, begin building for the 2020 meeting. Integral to this will be our continued close working with civil society in delivering our shared goal of improving the conservation and welfare of cetaceans globally.
Serious and Organised Crime
My first priority as Home Secretary is to keep the public safe. Today I have published a new, revised and updated, “Serious and Organised Crime Strategy”. The strategy has been laid before Parliament as Command Paper (Cm 9718), and copies are available in the Vote Office and on gov.uk.
Serious and organised crime affects more UK citizens, more often, than any other national security threat. Its perpetrators ruthlessly target the most vulnerable, ruining lives and blighting communities. Their activities cost us at least £37 billion each year and have a corrosive impact on our public services, communities, reputation and way of life.
Since the previous strategy was published in 2013, we have made significant progress in creating the powers, partnerships and law enforcement structures we need to respond to the threat. The law enforcement community, and the National Crime Agency in particular, has an impressive and sustained track record of pursuing serious and organised criminals and bringing them to justice. But the threat we face has grown increasingly complex over the past five years. Criminals and networks are quick to exploit the rate of technological change and globalisation, whether it is grooming children online, using malware to steal personal data or moving illegal goods, people and money across borders. They have learnt to become more adaptable and resilient. Our response must continue to adapt to new challenges.
The revised strategy follows a comprehensive cross-Government review, led by the Home Office. It sets out the Government’s new approach to prevent serious and organised crime, build our defences against it, track down the perpetrators, from child sex offenders to corrupt elites, and bring them to justice. We will allow no safe space for these people, their networks or their illicit money in our society.
Our new approach will be to target the highest harm networks and the most dangerous and determined criminals exploiting vulnerable people, using all the powers and levers available to the state to deny them access to money, assets and infrastructure. But we will not achieve our aim through disruption alone. We will also work with the public, businesses and communities to help stop them from being targeted by criminals and support those who are; and we will intervene early with those at risk of being drawn into criminality.
We will invest at least £48 million in 2019-20 in law enforcement capabilities to strengthen efforts to tackle illicit finance, which will enhance our overall response to serious and organised crime, including additional investment in the multi-agency National Economic Crime Centre. We will pilot new approaches to preventing people from engaging in serious and organised crime and build community resilience against it. We will establish a new national tasking framework for law enforcement. We will improve engagement with the private sector, particularly the information and communications technology industry. We will also expand our overseas capabilities, including establishing a new network of overseas policy specialists.
The new strategy will align our efforts to tackle serious and organised crime as one cohesive system. We will equip the whole of Government, the private sector, communities and individual citizens to play their part in a single collective endeavour.
Housing, Communities and Local Government
In the written statement of 12 March 2018, (HCWS535), the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), told the House that there was consensus amongst the five Buckinghamshire councils that local government across the county should be reorganised, and that two alternative approaches for doing this were being proposed. He announced that he was minded to implement, subject to parliamentary approval, the locally-led proposal for replacing the current structures with a single new unitary council, and that he was not minded to implement the locally-led proposal for two new unitary councils for the same area. There followed a period for representations.
Since then I have received over 3,000 representations, which I have carefully considered along with all other relevant information available to me. I am clear that there is broad consent for change in Buckinghamshire. A survey, conducted by Opinion Research Services of a representative sample of residents, found that 75% agreed with the principle of reorganisation in Buckinghamshire, and overall 87% of the representations made to me supported change. Both proposals made it clear that retaining the status quo is not an option.
Having assessed both proposals against the criteria that we announced to the House on 28 February 2017 (PQ 65271), I have concluded that whilst both proposals meet the criterion for a “good deal of local support”, only the proposal for a single unitary council satisfies the criteria for “improving local government” and for “being a credible geography” and that in any event the proposal for a single unitary council is better able to meet the criteria overall.
The Government’s policy—as explained to the House by Ministers on 22 May 2018, Official Report, column 336WH, is that we will not seek to impose top-down solutions on local government; where there is a desire and a thrust for more change and innovation we will look to support those involved, according to the criteria we have laid out. Given the desire and thrust for change and innovation in Buckinghamshire, that the five councils agree that the current structures are not sustainable, and that the locally-led proposal for a single unitary is the only proposal that meets the three criteria, I am persuaded that the right course of action is to establish a new single unitary district council for Buckinghamshire.
Accordingly, I am today announcing that I have decided to implement, subject to parliamentary approval, the locally-led proposal to replace the existing five councils across Buckinghamshire—the two tier structure of Buckinghamshire County Council and the district councils of Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Bucks and Wycombe—by one new single unitary district council, and that I have decided not to implement the proposal for two new unitary councils.
Whilst I am clear that the single unitary proposal fully meets the three criteria, I recognise that some have questioned whether such a structure might weaken local democratic engagement at the most local level. To help reassure any who might be concerned on this, I intend to speak with the five councils to determine whether I should modify the proposal before implementing it, in relation to councillor numbers, perhaps providing for three-member electoral wards. I will also expect the new unitary council, and in the meantime the existing councils, to engage with their local communities about the appropriate arrangements for civic representation for towns and parishes. I similarly expect the councils to promote and help support the development of neighbourhood plans, as I consider these can be key building blocks for the successful implementation of change in Buckinghamshire that residents deserve.
In March, the then Secretary of State was clear that, in relation to establishing a single council, further steps were needed to secure local consent amongst the local partners. Further steps have been taken, with Ministers having meetings with council leaders. The great majority of local partners do support the proposal for a single unitary council including the police, the ambulance service, CCG, NHS trust, independent chair of the Adult Safeguarding Board, Thames Valley local enterprise partnership, and Bucks Business First. In addition to enjoying a good deal of local support, I am satisfied that the proposal meets the requirement for local consent set out in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016.
I now intend to prepare and lay before Parliament drafts of the necessary secondary legislation to give effect to my decision. My intention is that if Parliament approves this legislation the new council will be established on 1 April 2020 with the first elections to the council held on 7 May 2020. I intend to explore with the district councils whether they would like me to make and lay before Parliament an order to delay for one year the May 2019 local elections in Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Bucks and Wycombe, so as to avoid councillors being elected for only one year if Parliament approves the legislation establishing the new council.
From March 2019, the sunset clause means that the consent provisions in the process we are currently using for reorganisations fall away. In future, any proposal considered under the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act process will require unanimous consent from all councils. Alternatively, I may issue a formal invitation for proposals, and the specific circumstances in which I would do so will be set out in due course.