Tuesday 1 October 2019
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Environment and Animal Welfare
Today I am notifying the House about recent announcements I have made on measures to enhance the welfare and protection of animals. These include proposals to address long journeys for live animals that are being transported for slaughter, and to restrict the import and export of hunting trophies.
First, I have announced that we will consult on improving animal welfare in the transport of live animals. Last year DEFRA issued a call for evidence in relation to future standards on welfare in transport, followed by commissioning external research, and inviting the farm animal welfare committee to conduct a review and make recommendations.
I welcome the farm animal welfare committee’s recommendations that live animal journeys should be minimised and that animals for slaughter should not be transported longer distances if suitable alternatives are available. FAWC’s report will inform a public consultation on this issue, which will be published in due course. The consultation is intended to take forward our manifesto commitment on restricting the live export of animals for slaughter.
Secondly, I recognise the concerns that have been expressed regarding the welfare of primates kept as pets, given the complex needs of these animals. Therefore, we will issue a call for evidence to better understand:
the scale of ownership of primates as pets,
how they are acquired, and
the merits and impacts of potential restrictions on ownership, sale, breeding and trade.
The call for evidence will be published in due course.
Thirdly, we will issue a call for evidence on compulsory microchipping for pet cats. Evidence will be sought on the benefits and impacts of subjecting cats to similar measures to those currently required under the rules on compulsory dog microchipping. The call for evidence will be published in due course.
Fourthly, we will launch a consultation on banning the import and export of trophies from the hunting of endangered species. This follows the introduction of the UK’s world-leading ivory ban in December 2018. A roundtable on trophy hunting was held in May 2019, with all sides of this debate represented. The views raised during those discussions will inform the proposed consultation on further restrictions on the import and export of hunting trophies. The consultation will be published in due course.
Alongside these measures, I have announced plans to create a new forest project in Northumberland to help improve our natural environment and respond to climate change.
Trees and forests need to play a vital part in our response to climate change. To start an ambitious new Northumberland forest, the Government have announced their commitment to create three new forests in the county, with up to 1 million trees to be planted in the period up to 2024.
We expect planting to begin next year to coincide with the COP26 conference. The Government will set up a new forestry partnership for Northumberland to help identify sites for afforestation and provide a forum to bring local stakeholders together to help take the project forward.
We expect these plans to pave the way for further woodland creation partnerships elsewhere in the country.
Housing, Communities and Local Government
Homelessness and Rough Sleeping
Today’s publication by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) on homelessness deaths in England and Wales in 2018 makes for sobering reading. The Government will continue to take strong action to address this vitally important issue.
This important report from ONS draws attention to the tragic deaths of those who are homeless. A 22% increase in deaths of homeless people from last year is simply unacceptable. One death on our streets is one too many. This is an issue we all find deeply concerning and this Government are working tirelessly to stop these needless deaths for good.
That is why we are investing £1.2 billion to tackle homelessness and have bold plans, backed by £100 million, to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027. This funding was further bolstered as part of the recent spending round announcements. This Government have committed a further £422 million in 2020/21 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. This marks a £54 million increase in funding from the previous year. I look forward to detailing precisely how we will allocate this funding in due course.
Much of this funding is already having an impact: the rough sleeping initiative (RSI)—a cornerstone of our ambitious rough sleeping strategy—has provided £76 million to 246 councils across the country to date. Councils are using this funding to support rough sleepers off the streets and into secure accommodation where they can get the help and the support they need. The RSI impact evaluation published last month, shows that the RSI has reduced the number of vulnerable people sleeping rough by 32%, compared to the number it would have been had the initiative not been in place. As a result, hundreds more people are in warm, safe housing tonight.
However, there is much more to be done; especially as the cold weather period is a particularly difficult time. That is why, in periods of severe weather, severe weather emergency provision (SWEP) is triggered. Local authorities work closely with charities to provide basic emergency accommodation during these weather conditions to minimise the risk of harm to individuals who are sleeping rough when the temperature drops.
To supplement this, the Government launched an additional £10 million cold weather fund last month. The fund will enable us to build on the successes of last year’s fund by increasing outreach work further and extending winter shelter provision.
The Government will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that we are providing advice and support so that people can escape the streets and get the comprehensive support they need to stay off the streets. That is why we introduced the landmark Homelessness Reduction Act and published a rough sleeping strategy last year. These efforts will put in place the structures that will prevent and relieve homelessness in all its forms.
I know that many people who sleep rough have significant health and care needs, including substance misuse needs. Indeed, as both data sets from this year and the previous year have shown, substance misuse is the leading cause of deaths amongst people who sleep rough.
That is why MHCLG is working closely with the Department for Health and Social Care, NHS England and Public Health England to further support these vulnerable individuals. This includes steps such as:
Securing £30 million funding from NHS England over the next five years to meet the needs of rough sleepers by providing better access to specialist homelessness NHS mental health support, integrated with existing outreach services;
a rapid audit of health service provision to rough sleepers, including mental health and substance misuse treatment;
launching a £2 million fund through Public Health England to test community-based models of access to health services for rough sleepers, including mental health and substance misuse services;
working with safeguarding adult boards to ensure that safeguarding adult reviews are conducted when a person who sleeps rough dies or is seriously harmed as a result of abuse or neglect, whether known or suspected, and there is a concern that partner agencies could have worked more effectively to protect the adult. Lessons learned from these reviews will inform improvements in local systems and services;
and new training for frontline workers to help them support rough sleepers under the influence of new psychoactive substances such as spice.
The NHS long-term plan sets out new funded action the NHS will take to strengthen its contribution to prevention and health inequalities; this includes action that will improve outcomes for people experiencing rough sleeping, for example through specialist mental health services.
The recently published prevention Green Paper “Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s”, recognises that: people experiencing rough sleeping, and those at risk, experience poorer health outcomes than the wider population, that living in a safe and secure home is a protective factor in good mental health, and that drug misuse and dependency is associated with a range of harms including homelessness. The Government will set out their plans to tackle these issues following the close of consultation in October 2019.
One death on our streets is one too many. I hope that what has been set out provides assurances of our commitment to tackling rough sleeping and protecting some of the most vulnerable people in society.
House Building and Planning
Building new homes is not just about bricks and mortar, it is about ensuring everyone, including developers, does their bit, to make swift progress, protect the environment, and give the next generation well designed, environmentally friendly houses that they can be proud to call home.
That is why, today, I have announced the publication of new guidance, including the “National Design Guide”, to drive up the quality of new homes. I have set out more detail on this guidance in the statement I also made today titled “National Design Guide”. “The National Design Guide” can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-design-guide
The Government have also launched a consultation on stronger building regulations that will pave the way for the future homes standard. These 2020 changes aim to improve the environment by cutting carbon emissions in new homes by almost a third, while keeping household bills low. The Future Homes Standard consultation can be found at:
Using new technologies such as air source heat pumps and the latest generation of solar panels, developers will need to ensure they are doing their bit to tackle the threat of climate change.
Views are being sought on how changes to building regulations can drive down the carbon footprint of homes built after 2025, including changes to the ventilation and efficiency requirements, as well as the role of councils in getting the best energy standards from developers. The consultation will run until January 2020.
The Government will consult on a new accelerated planning Green Paper that will provide the blueprint to overhaul the planning system to create a simpler, fairer system that works for everyone—from home owners to small and medium businesses, local communities to larger housing developers—ensuring councils work at pace to decide proposals.
Local residents will no longer have to contend with a complicated and outdated planning system, but a more user-friendly approach designed to simplify the process. Small developers will similarly benefit from the simplification of guidance, with the introduction of a new tiered planning system.
Application fees will also be reviewed to ensure council planning departments are properly resourced, providing more qualified planners to process applications for new homes and other proposals, but if councils fail to meet their targets then sanctions could be applied, including the potential for consumers’ fees to be refunded.
The Government have also set out its ambition to reduce planning conditions by a third, and will take forward proposals to allow homes to be built above existing properties as well as seeking views on demolishing old commercial buildings for new housing, revitalising high streets in the process.
The accelerated planning Green Paper will be published in the autumn.
National Design Guide
This Government have been clear that we must build the homes that this country needs. However, this objective must not come at the expense of quality. The places we create must be ones that communities can be proud of, both now and in the future. Places that look beautiful, work well and provide environments in which people and communities can thrive.
Too many homes currently being built do not meet this test. They are not well-proportioned, fail to reflect the character of their local area and form part of neighbourhoods which are equally poorly designed, both in terms of their street layouts and their lack of landscaping and street trees.
I am committed to addressing this problem and driving up the quality of new homes. It was for this reason, that this Government set up the building better, building beautiful commission to champion beautiful buildings. The commission has been tasked with making recommendations to the Government on how to promote and increase the use of high-quality design for new build homes and neighbourhoods. We have also hosted two national design quality conferences, bringing together industry leaders and Ministers to discuss how they can work together to ensure new developments across the country are well designed.
Today I can announce that we are going further and publishing new guidance, including the National Design Guide. This illustrated guide sets out the 10 characteristics of beautiful and well-designed places. This provides a clear picture for home builders of what is required of them to build homes of sufficient quality.
The National Design Guide is also capable of being a material consideration in planning applications and appeals, meaning that, where relevant, local planning authorities should take it into account when taking decisions. This should help give local authorities the confidence to refuse developments that are poorly designed.
The illustrated National Design Guide emphasises the importance of responding positively to context, creating locally distinctive character, building strong communities, responding to future issues such as climate change and ensuring places sustain their quality. Alongside it, we have published new guidance on the processes and tools that can be used to achieve good design, and how to engage communities to ensure that developments reflect local views.
To provide further clarity on the principles of good design, we will produce a national model design code in the new year which will set out recommended parameters for key elements of successful design. This will follow the building better, building beautiful commission’s final report due to be published in December and consider their recommendations.
The Government understand that quality design does not look the same across different areas of the country, for instance, that by definition local vernacular differs. The national model design code will therefore set a baseline standard of quality and practice across England. Local planning authorities will then be expected to take this into account when developing their own local design codes and guides and when determining planning applications.
The national planning policy framework makes it clear that authorities are expected to use design codes and guides to provide as much certainty as possible about what is likely to be acceptable in each area.
These design codes and guides should be developed as early as possible in the process, alongside the preparation of local policies, including neighbourhood plans, so that they are able to have the greatest impact on design. In the absence of local design guidance, local planning authorities will be expected to defer to the illustrated national design guide and national model design code.
We will consult on the content of the national model design code, including the factors to be considered when determining whether facades of buildings are of sufficiently high quality, how landscaping should be approached, including the importance of streets being tree-lined wherever possible, that new developments should utilise a pattern of clear front and backs, and that developments should clearly take account of local vernacular, architecture and materials.
All local authorities have a responsibility to ensure that the design of homes and places in their area is of a sufficiently high quality. This includes combined authorities and the need for elected mayors to consider design quality and beauty in relation to growth and placemaking. Looking to the future, I intend to consider what more can be done to ensure that quality and beauty are fully embraced in the vision and requirements that apply in each area.
The publication of this design guidance is an important milestone in securing a step-change in the quality of design. By working together with a shared understanding of the homes we want to build and live in, we can create beautiful places where communities can thrive, with homes they can be proud of.
The National Design Guide can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-design-guide
Alcohol Abstinence Monitoring Requirements
As part of the urgent review of the sentencing and release framework announced by the Prime Minister in August, we considered changes to sentencing for the most prolific offenders which could help break the cycle of re-offending. We know that these offenders generally have multiple and complex needs which are linked to their offending behaviour, in particular drugs, alcohol and mental health needs. If we are to break the cycle of re-offending, particularly for prolific offenders who cause significant public concern and harm to society, solutions will often lie in community sentences.
In order to address offending linked with alcohol misuse, I propose to introduce alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirements (AAMR) across England and Wales, starting in 2020, requiring offenders not to drink for up to 120 days. It follows successful pilots launched both in London by the Prime Minister in his former role as Mayor of London, and in the Humberside, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire community rehabilitation company (CRC) area.
This will form part of a wider package of reforms for community penalties which we are planning to bring forward that offer an appropriate level of punishment, while tackling the underlying drivers of offending through treatment. As we continue to develop policy and before legislation is laid, we will consider fully the impact of the proposals and have due regard to the requirements of Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.
Sentencing and Release Framework
Our current sentencing and release framework is failing to give victims and the wider public the confidence they should have in our criminal justice system. Too often, we are told, the time offenders spend in prison does not match the severity of the crime. The Prime Minister therefore announced an urgent internal review, focusing on the sentencing for the most serious violent and sexual offenders and the rules governing when and how those offenders are released. The review also considered changes to sentencing for the most prolific offenders which could help break the cycle of re-offending.
Based on the findings of the review, we will be bringing forward proposals shortly for a comprehensive package of legislative reform. This will include amending the automatic release point for the most serious sexual and violent offenders.
Under the current system, which dates back to the Labour Government in 2003, the majority of offenders receive a standard determinate sentence and must be released automatically at the half-way point, to serve the second half of their sentence in the community on licence. We want to stop this practice for the most serious violent and sexual offenders, who have committed offences such as rape, robbery and GBH with intent, so that they spend much longer in prison, protecting the public and giving greater confidence to victims. We shall therefore legislate to amend the automatic release point for the most serious sexual and violent offenders—where the offence carries a maximum life sentence—from the half-way point to two thirds of the sentence.
As part of our package of reforms, we also plan to bring forward proposals for community penalties that offer an appropriate level of punishment, while tackling the underlying drivers of offending.
Our proposals to reform the sentencing and release framework complement the raft of initiatives we are taking as a Government to fight crime and protect the public from its devastating consequences. As we continue to develop policy and before legislating, we will consider fully the impact of the proposals and have due regard to the requirements of s149 of the Equality Act 2010.