Thursday 29 November 2018
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
General Affairs Council (Cohesion)
My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for State for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Henley) has made the following statement:
A meeting of the General Affairs Council (Cohesion) will be held in Brussels on 30 November 2018.
The General Affairs Council will discuss the legislative package for cohesion policy in the next multiannual financial framework. Ministers from member states will present their positions on the strategic context and priorities set out in the legislative proposals for post-2020, with a view to influencing the Commission’s proposals.
The Austrian presidency will provide an update on non-legislative and legislative items.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Draft National Policy Statement: Water Resources
Today I am laying before Parliament a draft national policy statement for water resources infrastructure. This is now subject to an eight-week consultation. This will guide planning decisions for water resources infrastructure of national significance, making sure we get the infrastructure we need delivered in a timely manner and to a high standard.
The statement sets out Government policy on what is needed to secure resilient water supplies to respond to future challenges including climate change, population growth and to better protect the environment. New water resources infrastructure, including reservoirs and water transfers, is needed alongside reducing demand and conserving water, to provide a plentiful supply of water for future generations.
The statement is accompanied by draft habitats and sustainability reports, on which we are also consulting.
The consultation is available on gov.uk and will close on 31 January 2019. The relevant period for parliamentary scrutiny of the statement will be from 29 November 2018 to 16 May 2019.
Agriculture and Fisheries Council
The Agriculture and Fisheries Council took place in Brussels on 19 November. The UK was represented by Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, and Lords Minister.
The main focus of the Council for fisheries was a Council regulation for fixing the fishing opportunities for certain deep-sea fish stocks for 2019 and 2020, for which a political agreement was sought. The UK was content with the Commission proposal and intervened to stress the importance of setting fishing opportunities in line with scientific advice. Following a series of trilateral meetings between member states, the Commission and the presidency, a unanimous political agreement was reached.
The primary focus for agriculture was a policy debate on the post-2020 CAP reform package, including two legislative proposals: the first on financing, management and monitoring of the CAP, the second on common market organisation (CMO) of agricultural products. On the first legislative proposal, member states welcomed the shift to a performance-based approach, but voiced concern about the burden monitoring and reporting would place on them. On the second item, most member states were content to maintain the status quo, while some member states suggested that new tools should be applied.
An exchange of views was held on the current challenges in the field of plant protection. Member states agreed with the presidency on the challenges posed by climate change and international trade in preventing the introduction and spread of damaging pests. The UK intervened, pointing out the UK’s long term plans and emphasising support for a precautionary approach on imports.
The commission also informed the Council about the present market situation which has been characterised by general stability. On the continuing issue in the sugar market, the Commission announced that it will be convening a high level group to propose action. A number of member states voiced specific concerns over pig meat.
The Council held another exchange of views on Task Force Rural Africa (TFRA) which included a presentation of the findings from the body’s forthcoming report by the Commission and the chair of the Commission’s Task Force Rural Africa. Some member states suggested areas for partnership with a particular focus on delivering UN sustainable development goals.
One item was discussed under any other business:
The Commission informed member states about the implementation of the European maritime and fisheries fund, pointing out the low uptake of funding by member states.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Foreign Affairs Council
My noble Friend the Minister of State for Defence, the right hon. Earl Howe, and I attended the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 19 November. It was chaired by the High Representative and Vice-President of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HRVP), Federica Mogherini. The meeting was held in Brussels.
The Council discussed Iran and confirmed its ongoing full support for the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) given that Iran continues to implement the agreement and notwithstanding the reintroduction of US sanctions on 5 November 2018. Ministers expressed solidarity with those member states where Iran had carried out unacceptable activities and confirmed their readiness to consider a targeted appropriate response. Ministers also touched briefly on the outcome of the international conference for Libya hosted by the Italian Government in Palermo on 12 and 13 November and the situation in Gaza, following the latest escalation of violence.
The Council discussed central Asia (Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) ahead of the 14th EU-central Asia ministerial meeting that will take place on 23 November in Brussels. Ministers noted recent significant changes in the region and the new momentum in bilateral and regional co-operation. They expressed a strong interest in stepping up EU engagement in central Asia on reform and economic development, as well as the promotion of sustainable connectivity and regional conditions for peace and stability in Afghanistan. Adoption of a new EU strategy on central Asia is expected in 2019.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Council discussed Bosnia and Herzegovina following elections on 7 October. Ministers underlined the importance of forming Governments at all levels as soon as possible to enable political leaders to focus on the reform agenda that was essential in responding to citizens’ aspirations. Ministers also agreed that electoral law reform should be undertaken.
The Council exchanged views on Yemen, in particular with regard to the EU’s political and humanitarian support. Ministers confirmed their strong support for the United Nations (UN) led process and the UN special envoy (UNSE) Martin Griffiths. Ministers agreed to send a clear message to all those involved in the conflict to consolidate de-escalation efforts, cease hostilities and engage in political talks led by Martin Griffiths.
The Council discussed the latest developments in Ukraine, in particular the situation in the Azov sea and the “elections” in the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” and “Donetsk People’s Republic” on 11 November 2018. Ministers confirmed their commitment to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, recalled that the EU did not recognise the “elections” of 11 November 2018 and confirmed their readiness to consider appropriate targeted measures in response. They also agreed that full implementation of the Minsk agreements remained essential and highlighted the EU’s continued humanitarian engagement in eastern Ukraine. Ministers touched on the EU’s support for the reform process in Ukraine; the EU and Ukraine will have the opportunity to review progress on reforms, bilateral and global co-operation, at the Association Council meeting scheduled for 17 December 2018.
Security and defence
The Council discussed a range of security and defence issues. Ministers welcomed the second tranche of projects under permanent structured co-operation (PESCO) and stressed the importance of agreeing arrangements for third country access by the end of the year. The Council welcomed the establishment of a civilian common security and defence policy (CSDP) compact, to improve civilian responses to security threats. It agreed to strengthen the role of the military planning and conduct capability, and to conduct a co-ordinated annual review on defence as a standing activity to provide an overview of defence spending, national investment and defence research efforts. The Council also adopted a partial general approach on the European defence fund.
Ministers discussed EU-NATO co-operation in the presence of the NATO Secretary-General, including on issues related to hybrid threats and military mobility. The Council underlined the importance of coherence and mutual reinforcement between the EU and NATO. It welcomed the second joint declaration on EU-NATO co-operation signed on 10 July 2018.
CSDP operations and missions
The Council had an exchange of views regarding CSDP operations and missions.
The Council agreed a number of measures without discussion:
The Council adopted conclusions on Ethiopia;
The Council adopted conclusions on Sudan;
The Council adopted conclusions on Afghanistan;
The Council adopted conclusions on Pakistan;
The Council adopted conclusions on water diplomacy;
The Council adopted conclusions on the establishment of a civilian CSDP compact;
The Council adopted an updated list of permanent structured co-operation (PESCO) projects;
The Council adopted its position (partial general approach) on the European defence fund (EDF);
The Council adopted a new EU strategy against illicit firearms, small arms and light weapons and ammunition;
The Council adopted an updated version of the EU cyber-defence policy framework;
The Council extended the mandate of EUTM Somalia;
The Council approved annexes for the military requirements within and beyond the EU;
The Council took note of the report submitted by the head of the European Defence Agency (EDA);
The Council adopted the guidelines for the EDA’s work in 2019;
The Council took note of the single progress report on the development of EU military capabilities in the period from November 2016 to June 2018;
The Council adopted a decision to promote capacity building in the member states of the League of Arab States;
The Council adopted a decision concerning support of SEESAC for the implementation of the regional road map on combating illicit arms trafficking in the western Balkans;
The Council approved the Commission’s conclusion of the EURATOM/KEDO agreement;
The Council approved the Commission’s conclusion pf the EURATOM/KEDO agreement (retroactivity).
Housing, Communities and Local Government
Hon. Members will be aware of the ongoing Grenfell Tower inquiry and the harrowing accounts from all those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire. I want to provide the House with an update on the Government’s ongoing work in response to the tragedy.
The Government have committed over £80 million to support the bereaved, survivors and the community following the Grenfell Tower fire. This includes rehousing costs, new mental health services, investment in the Lancaster West estate, and a community space.
NHS England has also announced that it will provide up to £50 million to fund long-term mental and physical health checks and treatment for those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.
Grenfell Tower site
I would like to update the House on progress towards the long-term future of the site. The Government have always been committed to working with the community to create a fitting memorial, with the Prime Minister giving her personal commitment that the bereaved, survivors and community will decide what happens to the long-term future of the Grenfell Tower site.
As part of this, I made a commitment in August 2018 that the Government would take responsibility for the Grenfell Tower site. I would like to update the House on the steps I have taken to put this announcement into effect.
I am pleased to inform the House that the Government will meet the ongoing costs of keeping the tower site safe and secure. This will deliver on my earlier promise to the bereaved, survivors and community that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) will take no role in making decisions regarding the Grenfell Tower site. Once ownership transfers, Government will make operational decisions, such as those on safety, security and access, until the long-term future has been determined by the community.
As we work towards responsibility transferring to Government, I want to reassure the House and the community that the independent site management team continue to closely monitor and inspect the tower and are responsible for ensuring that it is safe and secure.
I recognise that sensitive management of the tower site, working towards a fitting memorial, is of paramount importance to the bereaved, survivors and the local community. The arrangements that I am putting in place will ensure that Grenfell Tower will continue to be managed effectively and sensitively.
In taking responsibility for Grenfell Tower, I will become responsible for decisions about the tower site. I would, therefore, like to reassure the House and the community about how I intend to approach decision making. The principles I commit to include that:
most importantly, the community will continue to be engaged at each step along the way to a lasting memorial;
the health and safety of those living, working and at the school in the local area, as well those working on the site, will continue to take priority;
decisions that I take about the tower site will be evidence-based, informed by the advice of public authorities and technical experts; and that,
I will consult the police and the Grenfell Tower inquiry to ensure that decision making does not interfere with the path to justice.
The community-led Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission will develop a proposal for what happens to the Grenfell Tower site in the future, and will decide how the memorial site will be owned and managed in the long term. The Minister with responsibility for Grenfell victims, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service my right hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), continues to meet with members of the bereaved, survivors and wider community to discuss the process and the role of community representatives.
On 26 October 2018, I announced additional environmental checks will be carried out in and around the Grenfell Tower site to reassure the bereaved, survivors and wider community that any environmental risks to public health will be fully assessed and appropriate action taken.
This is an issue that I take very seriously, and my officials have been working closely with RBKC, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Environment Agency, NHS England and Public Health England to plan further environmental sampling of the site, including comprehensive soil analysis to check for any signs of contamination.
The new soil testing programme will take place alongside existing air quality monitoring which has been in place since the fire. So far, the monitoring has consistently shown the risk to people’s health from air pollution around the Grenfell Tower site to be low. Public Health England will continue to monitor this and publish the results on a weekly basis—alongside an explanation of the data in terms of potential impacts on health, at the following web link:
An expert multi-agency group which includes the Environment Agency, Public Health England, RBKC and NHS England has been set up to make sure soil surveying around Grenfell Tower is comprehensive and that analysis will be provided to the public. The Minister with responsibility for Grenfell victims recently chaired the first meeting of this group. As a result we have started procuring the relevant expertise and will appoint independent environmental specialists from a network of leading experts. Their work will be overseen by the multi-agency group.
Once selected, the specialists will proactively engage the community on the design and implementation of the testing process. This will take place in the new year.
Both the Government and the NHS share a resolute commitment to support all those affected by the fire. The NHS has run health drop-in events within the local area for those who are concerned about their health.
The Minister with responsibility for Grenfell victims and I are also committed to engaging local residents with the investigation process from start to finish and consultation workshops will begin in January, to inform the scope and locations of the main site investigation and sampling.
The Government remain committed to ensuring all survivors are permanently rehoused as quickly as possible.
Since my last update to the House in July, based on data provided by RBKC as of 26 November, 44 more households have moved into permanent accommodation bringing the total to 149; and the number of households living in hotels has reduced by 23 to 15. Out of 203 households, there are currently 26 households living in good quality temporary accommodation, 12 in serviced apartments and one staying with family and friends. Every household has had an offer of permanent or temporary accommodation, and 201 households (99%) have accepted an offer. A total of 194 of these households have accepted permanent homes, of which 149 have now moved in.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea continues its efforts to rehouse those who lost their homes in the fire, and improved progress has been made. While I recognise the complexities involved, the overall pace of rehousing has been too slow, and there remains a small number of households in hotels as we approach 18 months after the fire. I expect the council to do everything possible to speed up the rehousing process and ensure that the remaining survivors are permanently rehoused as quickly as possible.
It is important that the bereaved, survivors and wider community continue to be supported. My Department will continue to work closely with RBKC to this end. I would like to express my thanks to all those involved in supporting the survivors throughout this difficult process.
As well as the work set out above that the Government have done with their partners in respect of the recovery, we are determined to learn the lessons from the Grenfell Tower fire and bring about a fundamental change to ensure that residents of high-rise buildings are safe and feel safe. That is why we have set in train a programme of work to deliver that change by addressing the issues raised by Dame Judith Hackitt in her independent review of building regulations and fire safety.
Ban on the use of combustible materials
We recognised the strength of feeling on combustible cladding and having consulted, announced a clear ban on the use of combustible materials on the external walls of new buildings over 18 metres containing flats, as well as new hospitals, residential care premises, dormitories in boarding schools and student accommodation over 18 metres. Today regulations have been laid to give legal effect to the ban. As part of wider work on fire safety across Government, I will work with the Education Secretary to join up our reviews of fire safety guidance. I also welcome the Department for Education’s commitment to ensuring schools over 18 metres built as part of their centrally delivered build programmes will not use combustible materials, in line with the terms of the ban, in the external wall.
As of 31 October 2018, 289 private sector high-rise residential buildings have been identified as having unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding. We have made good progress in getting remediation completed (in 19 cases); started (in 21 cases); and with plans in place for 98 buildings. These numbers continue to increase, but we are taking decisive action to deal with the remaining buildings where owners are not fulfilling their responsibility to remediate unsafe ACM cladding. That is why, as part of our strong commitment to ensuring that residents of high-rise residential buildings are safe and that they feel safe, I am announcing measures to support local authorities to take action where remediation plans are not clear.
I am laying an addendum to the housing health and safety rating system operating guidance. This addendum provides specific guidance on the assessment of high-rise residential buildings with unsafe cladding. This will help local authorities to make robust hazard assessments and boost their ability to take decisive enforcement action.
Alongside this the joint inspection team, hosted by the Local Government Association, will provide support to local authorities in their assessments and give them confidence to take enforcement action.
I am also writing to local authorities with buildings where the owner refuses to remediate unsafe ACM cladding, to offer them our full support to take enforcement action. This will include financial support where this is necessary for the local authority to carry out emergency remedial work.
Where financial support is provided, local authorities will recover the costs from the building owner.
I am determined that building owners will not evade their responsibilities and that local authorities will have all the support they need to ensure that all high-rise buildings with unsafe ACM cladding are made permanently safe for the people who live in them.
Local Government: Northamptonshire
In an oral statement on 27 March 2018, Official Report, column 661, 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 he had received an independent inspection report on Northamptonshire County Council that found significant failures that could not be satisfactorily addressed within a reasonable timetable. I appointed commissioners on 10 May to bring stability to Northamptonshire County Council, and I am today publishing the first report from the Commissioners and my response. My right hon. Friend also informed the House that he would be inviting the eight principal councils in Northamptonshire to submit proposals to restructure local government in the county.
On 31 August 2018, I received such a proposal from seven of the eight councils to establish two new unitary councils. The legislation requires that before a proposal for local government reorganisation can be implemented, I must first consult every principal local authority affected by the proposal (except the authority or authorities which made it), and any such other persons as I consider appropriate.
Accordingly, I am today launching a consultation on that proposal. I am consulting all principal councils in Northamptonshire, principal councils neighbouring Northamptonshire, Northamptonshire chamber of commerce, South East Midlands local enterprise partnership, the Northamptonshire police and crime commissioner, local health bodies, the University of Northampton, and representatives of the voluntary sector. We also welcome views from any interested persons, including local residents and organisations.
The consultation period will run for eight weeks until 25 January 2019. The consultation document is available at:
and paper copies will also be available in public offices and buildings of all the Northamptonshire councils.
Once the consultation is concluded, I will then as statute provides decide whether or not to implement, with or without modification, the proposal that the councils have submitted to me. In taking that decision I will have regard to all the representations received from the consultation exercise along with all other relevant information and material available to me.
I am also announcing today that following a request from the eight Northamptonshire councils, I intend as soon as practicable to make and lay before Parliament an order under the Local Government Act 2000 to postpone district and parish council elections in Northamptonshire due to be held in May 2019 until May 2020. In deciding to make such a postponement I have had regard both to the importance of local elections as the foundation of our local democracy and ensuring the accountability of councils and to the risks of continuing with the May 2019 elections in Northamptonshire given the local circumstances.
These risks are, as the councils have highlighted to me, that if following the consultation I were to decide to implement the councils’ proposal and Parliament approves legislation establishing the two new unitary councils from April 2020 with elections in May 2020, district councillors elected in May 2019 would serve for only one year with their council then being abolished. Elections in such circumstances risk confusing voters and would involve significant costs that would be hard to justify. The councils have also stressed the importance of there being certainty by early December 2018 about the May 2019 elections.
Accordingly, I have concluded that irrespective of whatever my future decision might be on the restructuring proposal, the right course is to postpone these elections and make the necessary secondary legislation as soon as practicable. The councils have also requested on the grounds of practicalities that parish council and district council elections continue to be held concurrently and I intend to legislate for this, postponing any May 2019 parish council elections in Northamptonshire to May 2020.
Defamation and Privacy Costs Protection
The Government are committed to controlling the costs of civil litigation while allowing appropriate cases to proceed. Part 2 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012 reformed the operation of no win, no fee conditional fee agreements in order to address the high costs of civil litigation. In particular, section 44 of the LASPO Act provided that the lawyer’s success fee would no longer be recoverable from the losing party. This provision came into effect for the majority of cases in April 2013 but was delayed in respect of defamation and privacy claims pending the outcome of the Leveson inquiry. The then coalition Government accepted the Leveson recommendation that there should be a costs protection regime in place for defamation and privacy claims, before commencing the LASPO Act conditional fee agreement reforms. It consulted on a draft bespoke costs protection regime in 2013. In the event, there was opposition to the detail of that regime, and the then coalition Government did not implement the proposal.
Having considered the responses to the consultation, the Government have now decided on a different approach that will further control the costs of these cases and will also give effect to our legal obligations under the MGN v. UK judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in 2011. In the MGN case, the court concluded that the obligation for the defendant to pay a 100% “success fee” to the claimant was disproportionate, and that the conditional fee agreements regime was therefore in breach of the defendant’s rights under article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European convention on human rights.
The Government will therefore now commence section 44 of the LASPO Act in relation to defamation and privacy cases. However, the Government will keep in place, at least for the time being, the existing costs protection regime. This means that after the event insurance premiums will remain recoverable for these cases. After the event insurance covers the risks of having to pay the other side’s costs in unsuccessful cases.
This approach—of abolishing recoverability of the conditional fee agreement success fee, but retaining it for the after the event insurance premium—will protect access to justice, since parties with good cases can still benefit from recoverable after the event insurance in respect of adverse costs; after the event insurance discourages weaker cases as these are unlikely to be insured. This provision will come into force for new cases on 6 April 2019.
The Government have also published today their response to the 2013 consultation, “Costs protection in defamation and privacy claims: the Government’s proposals”.
At the Justice Select Committee on 26 June, I reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to building up to 10,000 modern and decent prison places to replace old, expensive and unsuitable accommodation, modernising parts of our prison estate.
Also at the Committee, I confirmed the intention to launch a competition to appoint a framework of prison operators from which we could select the operator for the new prisons including further prisons following expiry of current private sector contracts.
Today I can announce the launch of the prison operator services framework competition through a notice which will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) within the coming days.
Securing a framework of operators should reinvigorate the prison market by encouraging new providers to enter the custodial arena. It will also enable Ministry of Justice to more effectively and efficiently manage a pipeline of competition over the next decade. Once part of the framework, operators can choose to compete in shorter “call-off” competitions for the operation of individual prisons.
The first of these call-off competitions will be for the operation of the new-build resettlement prisons at Wellingborough and then Glen Parva. These are being built using public capital, with construction expected to begin in late 2018 and late 2019 respectively.
HMPPS will not bid in the competition but will provide a “public sector benchmark” against which operators’ bids will be rigorously assessed. If bids do not meet our expectations in terms of quality and cost, HMPPS will act as the provider.
This competition is not about the difference between the public and private sector. It is about driving quality and innovation across the system. I am clear that through this competition we expect bidders to provide high-quality, value for money bids that deliver effective regimes to meet the specific needs of prisoners. Our aim being to help them turn their lives around to prevent reoffending.
This Government remain committed to a role for the private sector in operating custodial services. The competition launched today will seek to build on the innovation and different ways of working that the private sector has previously introduced to the system. The sector has an important role to play, and currently runs some high-performing prisons, as part of a decent and secure prison estate.
We will ensure, through the procurement and contract management processes, that we have sufficient measures in place to have confidence in the delivery and maintenance of the contracted prisons over their lifetime.
A balanced approach to custodial services provision, which includes a mix of public, voluntary and private sector involvement has been shown to introduce improvements and deliver value for money for taxpayers.
The launch of the prison operator services framework underlines this Government’s commitment to reform the prison estate, build much needed prison places, improve standards of decency across the estate, and reduce reoffending.