Tuesday 8 June 2021
Platinum Jubilee Civic Honours Competition
I am pleased to announce that the UK Government are today launching a civic honours competition to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022. This includes competitions for city status and Lord Mayor (or Provost) status.
City status and Lord Mayor (or Provost) status are civic honours granted by The Queen acting on the advice of Her Ministers under the royal prerogative. The granting of both city status and Lord Mayor (or Provost) status is purely honorific and comes with no additional funding or powers. Since the 1970s, these awards have been granted through competitions and are usually held to coincide with jubilee years, most recently for Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee in 2012.
Entry guidelines and an application form have been published on www.gov.uk. In their applications, local authorities are being asked to give particular reference to their area’s:
Cultural infrastructure, interesting heritage, history and traditions;
Vibrant and welcoming community;
Record of innovation;
Sound governance and administration;
Associations with royalty; and
Other particularly distinctive features, age, residents or communities who have made widely recognised significant contributions to society and cultural infrastructure.
All local authorities across the United Kingdom who believe that their town or city deserves consideration for these rare honours are invited to apply. The city status competition will also be open to eligible applications from the Crown dependencies and overseas territories.
The guidelines specify a standard format for entries. Local authorities are urged to use the standard format, which is intended to limit the costs of entering the competition and to introduce a fair basis for comparison between entries. The closing date is 8 December 2021.
The honours will continue to be rare marks of distinction conferred, on ministerial advice, under the royal prerogative, rather than rights to be earned by the meeting of specific criteria. All valid entries will receive individual consideration on their merits and the Government look forward to announcing the results of the competitions in 2022.
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
I am pleased to announce the latest steps the Government are taking today to better protect and enforce workers’ rights, as we look to build back better from covid-19.
Firstly, the Government have today published their response to our 2019 consultation on creating a single enforcement body for employment rights. This Government have been absolutely clear that we will do whatever we can to protect and enhance workers’ rights, and this new body will help the country build back better by taking a smarter approach to the enforcement of employment law.
Today’s response to the consultation sets out the overarching details of the new body. Responsibility for tackling modern slavery, enforcing the minimum wage and protecting agency workers—currently spread across the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and HMRC —will be brought under one roof, creating a comprehensive new authority.
This “one-stop shop” approach will help improve enforcement through better co-ordination and pooling of intelligence, and providing a single, recognisable port of call for workers so they know their rights and can blow the whistle on bad behaviour. It will also make it easier for the vast majority of responsible businesses to do the right thing by their employees by providing clear guidance on their obligations.
Our consultation response also confirms that we will extend state enforcement to cover holiday pay and statutory sick pay for vulnerable workers and will regulate umbrella companies. The new body will also enforce financial penalties against organisations that do not meet requirements to publish modern slavery statements, as well as run the unpaid tribunal awards penalty scheme.
Protecting workers requires both support for business—so employers understand how to comply—as well as effective, visible enforcement action to deter irresponsible employers from undercutting the vast majority who want to do right by their workers. The body will have a spectrum of powers and responsibilities to achieve this, including compliance notices and civil penalties, as well as the power to prosecute.
The single enforcement body will be delivered through primary legislation and is the latest initiative in this Government’s wider efforts to protect workers’ rights. In the last year alone, the Government have boosted the minimum wage for around 2 million employees, protected furloughed workers’ parental pay, cracked down on restrictive employment contracts, and more.
Secondly, as well as modernising our enforcement regime, the Government are today publishing their consultation responses on bringing the Certification Officer in line with other regulators; these reforms will implement technical measures passed by Parliament via the Trade Union Act 2016, providing reassurance to union members and the wider public.
Our reforms will make the Certification Officer a more effective regulator, with powers and funding more in line with similar bodies, They will give the Certification Officer the power to proactively investigate issues without having to wait for complaints from union members, the power to issue financial penalties, and put their office on a more sustainable model of levy funding. This proper and fair regulation will ensure all trade unions and employers’ associations conduct themselves to the highest standards.
Thirdly, I wanted to update you on the publication today by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service of their report on “fire and rehire” and the Government’s response to the evidence it provides. I have asked ACAS to produce better, more comprehensive guidance to help employers explore all options before considering dismissal and re-engagement.
This Government have always been clear that we do not accept fire and rehire as a negotiation tactic. Workers up and down the country have worked flat out during the pandemic, carrying out essential work to keep our economy going. It is crucial that employers take their responsibilities seriously and act appropriately when it comes to discussions about changing employment contracts.
The report shows that the practice of fire and rehire includes instances where it has been threatened but not implemented, as well as companies dismissing and re-engaging employees. It is neither a new phenomenon nor is it concentrated in a particular sector or type of employer. While there is no quantitative data, there is a sense that fire and rehire had become more prevalent in the years before covid-19 as well as during the pandemic.
This is clearly a complex issue and we understand that sometimes, regrettably, employment negotiations will fail. In these circumstances, employers may feel they need to dismiss staff, and potentially re-engage them.
However, the Government want to send a crystal clear message to employers that all options must be exhausted before considering dismissal and re-engagement of staff. It is unacceptable to use the threat of fire and rehire as a negotiation tactic to force through changes to employment contracts.
The United Kingdom has one of the best records on workers’ rights in the world—going further than the EU in many areas—and we are determined to build on this progress. By protecting workers more extensively, supporting business to comply with the law, and preventing them from being undercut by a minority of irresponsible employers, we can continue to be a high-wage, high-employment economy that works for everyone as we build back better.
The geographic scope of the bodies being subsumed into the single enforcement body vary; the Certification Officer’s geographic coverage applies to Great Britain—there is a separate Certification Officer for Northern Ireland.
I will place copies of the Government response to Single Enforcement Body consultation, the Government response to the Certification Officer levy consultation and the Government response to the Certification Officer Enforcement powers consultation in the Libraries of the House.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
In 2019 the Government commissioned Richard Benyon to conduct a review of the potential role for highly protected marine areas (HPMAs). HPMAs are similar to the marine conservation zones already established. However, there is strict protection with a presumption against any activity involving extraction, destruction or deposition being permitted in those areas and strict protections on other damaging activities. The review reported last year in June 2020.
The Benyon review concluded that HPMAs would have an important role in helping the marine ecosystem recover. It concluded that there could be spill-over benefits for marine life in adjacent areas to highly protected areas. The review recommended that the Government pilot around five HPMAs to test the proposition further and test delivery. It also recommended that some or all of the pilot sites could be co-located with existing marine protected areas such as marine conservation zones, in effect to upgrade the status of some of those sites.
Today is World Ocean Day when, across the globe, people are taking action to protect and recover our global ocean. This Government are committed to ocean conservation and leaving our environment in a better state than we found it, including the marine environment. I would like to thank Lord Benyon and the panel for their work on the review, and the broad range of stakeholders who contributed to it. The Government welcome the report and accept the central recommendation that we should take forward some pilot sites.
DEFRA will begin introducing HPMAs by identifying a number of locations within English waters to pilot our approach. These may be inside or outside the existing marine protected area network, and in inshore or offshore areas, recognising that HPMAs must be in the locations best able to deliver protection and recovery.
However, the Government recognise that the strict protections implied by HPMAs will cause some concerns with other sea users. In particular, the fishing industry will be concerned about further displacement from fishing grounds when they are already being excluded from some areas ear-marked for offshore wind energy development.
We recognise that there is a balance in supporting sustainable industries in the marine environment while increasing marine protection to ensure a healthy, resilient and diverse marine ecosystem. In developing our response to the review we have engaged with a broad range of stakeholders. We will develop criteria for HPMA identification and create a list of potential sites this year, followed by designations of a number of sites in 2022. We will also set out how we will work with stakeholders, the governance and management of sites and how we will monitor and evaluate sites.
The Benyon review did not cover Scottish and Welsh waters but did include Northern Ireland’s offshore waters. We understand that DAERA wishes to have executive competence transferred to it in relation to certain marine functions, including designation and management of MPAs, in Northern Ireland offshore waters. Amendments to the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 made by the Fisheries Act 2020 allow DAERA to make orders to protect the marine environment from fishing activities in the offshore region. We therefore do not propose identifying any of the initial HPMAs in offshore Northern Ireland waters.
Copies of the Government response are being placed in the Libraries of the House.
Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans in High-rise Residential Buildings Consultation
My noble Friend the Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh), has today made the following written ministerial statement:
Today, the Government publish a new consultation on Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans in High-rise Residential Buildings which will be open from 8 June to 19 July 2021.
This new consultation contains proposals to implement the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report recommendations on Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans in high-rise residential buildings. These recommendations require a change in law to place new requirements on owners or managers of multi-occupied high-rise residential buildings.
This consultation supports delivery of two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 recommendations and is part of the Government’s package of reforms to improve building and fire safety in all regulated premises where people live, stay or work.
We are consulting on the following proposals:
Proposal 1: We propose to require the responsible person to prepare a personal emergency evacuation plan for every resident who self-identifies to them as unable to self-evacuate—subject to the resident’s voluntary self-identification—and to do so in consultation with them.
Proposal 2: We propose to provide a template to assist the responsible person and the residents in completing the plan, and to support consistency at a national level.
Proposal 3: We propose to require the responsible person to complete and keep up-to-date information about residents in their building who would have difficulty self-evacuating in the event of a fire—and who have voluntarily self-identified as such—and to place it in an information box on the premises to assist effective evacuation during a rescue by the fire service.
Proposal 4: We propose, in order to assist the responsible person and support consistency at a national level, to provide a template, most likely in a one-page format, to capture the key information to be provided in the information box.
Further details can be found in the consultation and its supportive documents available at: www.gov.uk/government/consultations/personal-emergency-evacuation-plans. A copy of the consultation will also be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Work and Pensions
Office for Nuclear Regulation: Corporate Plan 2021-22
My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Baroness Stedman-Scott) has made the following written statement.
Today I will lay before this House the Office for Nuclear Regulation Corporate Plan 2021-2022. This document will also be published on the ONR website.
I can confirm, in accordance with Schedule 7, Section 25(3) of the Energy Act 2013, that there have been no exclusions to the published documents on the grounds of national security.
Action on Climate Change: Pension Schemes
The UK was the first G7 country to legislate for net zero and it will be the first to legislate for the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures—ensuring we tackle climate change and deliver safer, better and greener pensions.
Today I have laid the draft Occupational Pension Schemes (Climate Change Governance and Reporting) Regulations 2021. These regulations are world-leading and will embed the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures into UK law.
Climate change is an existential challenge to our environment, but not only that: it poses a systematic financial risk and threat to the long-term sustainability of UK pensions. With almost £2 trillion in assets under management, all occupational pension schemes are exposed to climate-related risks—which could have a detrimental impact on their members’ future retirement income. Pushing forward our drive for greener pensions, I consulted on detailed requirements to allow more effective governance of climate risks and disclosure in line with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures’ recommendations in August last year. Further consultation on draft regulations took place earlier this year. We have worked directly with industry throughout this process, recognising widespread acceptance across the sector for the principle of more effective action on climate risk. The Government laid the legislative groundwork for these regulations in the Pension Schemes Act 2021.
These regulations will deliver world-leading change to the pensions industry, ensuring trustees identify, assess and manage climate-related risks and opportunities relevant to their pension scheme. As a result of our work, the vast majority of pension schemes members’ savings will be invested in schemes whose trustees have a specific legal duty to actively consider the risks and opportunities a transition to a low carbon economy brings.
I have taken the decision not to include a review clause in the regulations, invoking section 28(2)(b) of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015. I recognise the importance of monitoring and evaluating the initial impact of our regulations, which is why I have committed publicly in our consultation response to undertake a review in 2023. This will cover all the aspects normally required by a statutory review clause.