Richard Burgon – 2019 Speech on the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill

Below is the text of the speech made by Richard Burgon, the Shadow Lord Chancellor, in the House of Commons on 25 June 2019.

I welcome the Bill. Labour supports the introduction of a no-fault divorce procedure, which we committed to in our 2017 general election manifesto, and we are pleased that the Government have acted, especially in the light of the troubling case of Owens v. Owens. We will therefore vote to support the Bill if a vote is called at this stage. We will use our time in Committee to amend the Bill, if need be, to ensure that it is the best law possible for those who are already going through a difficult time in their lives.​

The existing procedure and law managing divorce and the dissolution of civil partnerships is not fit for purpose and is in clear need of updating. A fundamental problem with the existing law, which is set out for divorcing couples in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and for the dissolution of civil partnerships in the Civil Partnership Act 2004, is that it requires people who seek a divorce to prove that the marriage has broken down, either by establishing fault on the part of one partner, or by showing that the couple have lived separate lives for a number of years. In reality, for those who cannot afford to live in two separate households for years in order to prove that their marriage has broken down, the only option currently available is to establish fault on the part of their partner. That is one way in which the current divorce law discriminates against women, particularly those on a low income, by reducing the options available to them to a fault-based divorce.

Establishing of one of the three faults—adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion—can be difficult, and often heightens tensions at an already stressful time. We know the hurt that such heightened tension can all too often cause. There are widespread concerns about the increased risk of domestic violence faced by women who go through this fractious process. Surveys of people who have gone through the divorce procedure show that in excess of one in four people who go through a divorce have cited a fault that is not in fact true, simply because it is their only way to secure a divorce. This is plainly an unacceptable state of affairs, and it is right that the Government are now acting to address it.

A conflictual process is deeply damaging to children’s life chances. Children will of course be better served by parents who co-operate, and if their parents have a constructive relationship. The law is a real barrier to that.

Mr Ivan Lewis

I reiterate the point I made earlier to the Secretary of State, who rightly talked about the impact on children of an acrimonious divorce. We need to protect children from the risk of abuse—everybody would accept that—but if a resident parent turns a child against a non-resident parent, that can cause massive long-term damage to that child. The current legal framework does nothing satisfactory to tackle that particular problem. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that now is the time to look again at what can be done differently in respect of the whole question of alienation and the impact on children?

Richard Burgon

My hon. Friend raises an important wider point. Further assistance and early intervention, which was mentioned by the Secretary of State, is required to protect all concerned.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)

There are very often issues with how the family courts go about these custody matters. I get lots of cases like this, as I am sure my hon. Friend does. It is an area that needs to be looked at. Equally, some lawyers—not all—can exacerbate the situation in the way they handle the case. I get lots of complaints about family courts, particularly with regard to who is right and who is wrong, and there is a lot of antagonism. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) said, this can be very damaging to children.​

Richard Burgon

That is why we are very supportive of mediation in family cases in general, and why we have made announcements in relation to legal aid and early family law advice. I hear my hon. Friend’s point about the role of solicitors not always being helpful, but there can also be problems when people end up being advocates for themselves.

The need to apportion blame and ratchet up the acrimony is one of the main reasons that so many of us want to see an end to this fault-based law—not least because of the impact on children. For example, the present divorce ground of unreasonable behaviour requires allegations that are hardly ever challenged and can sometimes be exaggerated by one spouse against the other, which can exacerbate tensions between them. It also makes it more difficult to agree arrangements for children. Indeed, one of the most urgent reasons for these reforms is to alleviate the harm caused to children, including to their mental health, by acrimonious separations. For a child of a divorcing couple, the divorce can be one of the most difficult times in their life. As the Secretary of State has indicated, the introduction of a no-fault procedure should mean that the whole process can be quicker and less stressful for them. At an emotionally traumatic time, such as a divorce or separation, parents want and need support in order to put the best interests of their children first.

This change to the law has public support and the support of family law experts. Margaret Heathcote— the chair of Resolution, which represents more than 6,000 family law practitioners and is a strong supporter of this change—said:

“Every day, our members are helping people through separation, taking a constructive, non-confrontational approach in line with our code of practice. However, because of our outdated divorce laws, they’ve been working with one arm tied behind their backs.”

In fact, the Secretary of State quoted her himself.

Professor Liz Trinder, who led the Nuffield Foundation’s 2017 research into divorce law, is also supportive of these reforms, saying that

“making people produce a ‘reason’ to obtain their divorce—as they are currently required to do—does not save marriages and instead just creates a meaningless charade that can create conflict, confusion and unfairness.”

And Christina Blacklaws, president of the Law Society, said:

“Making couples attribute fault…can escalate the differences between them in an already charged situation.”

The recent case of Owens v. Owens highlighted a particularly iniquitous aspect of our existing divorce laws: the possibility for one party to attempt to refuse a divorce by defending it.

Eddie Hughes

Does the hon. Gentleman think this change will in any way lessen the seriousness of the marriage contract? Will people entering into it feel that they can do so more lightly because, from a purely contractual point of view, escaping from it is made easier by this legislation?

Richard Burgon

I know that marriage is technically a contract, but it seems strange to think of it that way when it is such a personal and emotional thing. I do not believe that this change in the law, which is welcome, will lead to an overall increase in the number of divorces in the long run. However, I do think that it will reduce ​the unnecessary tension, conflict, distress and damage to children in those divorces, which would take place in any event.

In the case of Owens v. Owens, the family court judge refused to grant a divorce to Mrs Owens, who made the application for a divorce in 2015, despite finding that the marriage had in fact broken down. This was because she failed to prove, as required in the 1973 Act, that her husband’s behaviour was such that she could not reasonably be expected to live with him. Mrs Owens’s appeal was dismissed at both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, leaving her unable to divorce her husband until 2020—a clearly unacceptable case. The judges who heard the case at both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court expressed their dissatisfaction with the existing law, with Sir James Munby, the then president of the family division, suggesting that divorce law was based on a “lack of intellectual honesty”, and Lady Hale concluding that it was for Parliament to make any changes to the law. It is therefore right that Parliament is now able to take up this issue and make the reforms necessary to ensure that no one has to go through what Mrs Owens experienced in this case.

The new divorce laws that we are considering today should aim to secure a number of desirable outcomes. They should ensure that people can separate as amicably as possible, keeping conflict to a minimum, so that the chances of reaching agreement are maximised and the risk of domestic abuse is as low as possible. Where there are children, their interests must be paramount, and a safe, secure and sustainable outcome for them should be promoted wherever possible. Unlike the existing system, these new divorce laws should not discriminate against women, especially those on low incomes. The new divorce and dissolution laws must also protect vulnerable and marginalised groups throughout the divorce process. In particular, they must not weaken the hard-won rights of LGBT people.

One issue that has been raised by charities working to support victims of domestic abuse is that the Bill as drafted does not remove the bar on petitioning for a divorce in the first year of a marriage. This can leave women who are suffering domestic abuse trapped in the abusive marriage during that year. Will the Secretary of State address that issue during the passage of the Bill, and will he tell us whether he has met Women’s Aid and other charities to discuss these concerns?

Since 2013, legal aid for divorce cases in England and Wales has been withdrawn by the Government—in most cases as part of a wider attack on access to justice that has had a very detrimental impact on family law cases. Groups including Citizens Advice have highlighted how legal aid cuts add to strain on divorcees, and more widely it is lower income people and those with children who are more likely to be litigating in person than any other group. Resolution, which was mentioned earlier, has previously stated that providing legal aid for a single, initial meeting with a lawyer would provide separating couples with clear “signposts” about their legal options and encourage more people to use mediation as an alternative to courtroom confrontation.

Even with the welcome changes contained in the Bill, divorce will still be an often confusing legal process. There is a clear public interest in people being supported to achieve amicable resolutions to financial questions and arrangements for the care of children following a ​separation. Will the Government therefore commit to reintroducing legal aid for early legal advice for couples going through the divorce procedure?

In conclusion, bringing our divorce laws into the 21st century can form an essential part of the efforts to protect women from domestic abuse, limit the damaging impacts that fractious separations can have on children and encourage amicable separations wherever possible. For those reasons, I am pleased to support these overdue reforms.

David Gauke – 2019 Statement on the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill

Below is the text of the statement made by David Gauke, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, in the House of Commons on 25 June 2019.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Marriage will always be one of our most important institutions. It is vital to our functioning as a society, as we all know instinctively from our own lives and from the lives of family and friends. Rightly, then, none of us is indifferent when a lifelong commitment cannot continue, but it cannot be right for the law to create or increase conflict between divorcing couples.

I am encouraged by the many colleagues and others who have told me that the law must change to take unnecessary conflict flashpoints out of the legal process. Like me, they believe in the importance of marriage but see the destructive effects of what the law demands. People going through divorce already have to face more than enough emotional upheaval without the conflict that can be created or worsened by how the current law works.

I have reflected at length on the arguments for reform, on what people have said in response to the Government’s proposals and on the painful experiences we all know from talking to family and friends. I have heard from people who have been through divorce, from people who support divorcing couples through the legal process and from people who say they cannot afford to live apart for two years—without finally sorting out their finances—but, at the same time, cannot bring themselves to throw hurtful allegations.

The Bill responds constructively to the keenly felt experience of people’s real lives. This is a Bill for anyone who agrees that the end of a relationship should be a time of reflection, and not of manufactured conflict.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)

I warmly congratulate the Government and the Secretary of State on introducing this Bill. I think I have married more people than anybody else in this House, in the transitive use of the word. I was always painfully aware that, when two people come together, it may well be that, in the end, they need to part, but the idea that they would have to prove in court all sorts of reasons for why the marriage had fallen apart—relying on the common law understanding of adultery, for instance—is just nonsense and adds to the sense of pain that there could already be within a family.

Mr Gauke

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks, and this Bill is by no means anti-marriage. As he rightly says, this Bill seeks to ensure that, in those unfortunate circumstances where a marriage comes to an end, it comes to an end in a way that minimises the conflict between the parties. That, in my view, has to be a sensible way forward.

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)

There is undoubtedly fault in a divorce but, in my experience from continual exposure at constituency surgeries, the attribution of that fault leads parents to use their children as weapons in a continuing battle with their former partner.

Mr Gauke

My right hon. Friend makes a good point, and it is worth bearing in mind that, where children are involved, it is all the more important that we minimise ​the conflict. The current requirement incentivises that sense of attribution of fault, which does nothing to ensure that the relationship between the two parents can be as strong as possible, and it is the children who lose out in those circumstances.

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)

I have thought about this with care. Obviously, to practising Christians and those of other faiths, the end of a marriage is not to be taken lightly, but I am glad the Secretary of State has accepted the proposition put by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) that causing more conflict at the end does not help.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that in no other respects any of the protections for often the more vulnerable party to a marriage, the woman, will be affected by this measure, particularly in relation to financial arrangements and the custody of children, and that it simply removes the evidentiary requirement for a fault to be attributed to one side or the other?

Mr Gauke

My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Select Committee on Justice, is right. This is about the attribution of blame and fault, and no more than that. Indeed, the protections in place for the vulnerable party remain just as they are. It is often the vulnerable party who suffers most from the need to attribute blame, because that can be difficult. In the context of domestic abuse, for example, it is striking how the likes of Women’s Aid have been very supportive of these measures because of their concern that there might be women trapped in marriages who do not want to attribute blame because they feel that may result in a further deterioration in the relationship.

The truth is that when a marriage or indeed a civil partnership has sadly broken down and is beyond repair, it stops benefiting society and the people involved. At worst, continuing in a legal relationship that is no longer functioning can be destructive to families, and the law ought to deal with the reality of marriage breakdown as constructively as possible. The current law does not do that. The requirements of the divorce process at present can often give rise to a confrontational position, even if the decision to divorce is mutual. The incentive to make allegations at the outset, to avoid otherwise waiting for two years’ separation, becomes ingrained. Divorce is traumatic, and children are inevitably affected when their parents separate—that goes without saying. I agree that marriage has long proved its worth for bringing up children, but the reality is that not all marriages last. The law should deal with that reality as sensibly as it can. When a marriage has failed, we have to take a serious look at how to reduce conflict for everyone involved, not least for children. Research shows that it is conflict between the parents that has been linked to greater social and behavioural problems among children, rather than necessarily the separation and divorce itself.

Bambos Charalambous (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)

I very much welcome the proposals in this Bill. Getting rid of the fault-based approach to divorce and the conflict is a good thing, as is ensuring that people do not have to wait for two years. Does the Secretary of State agree with me and with Resolution, the organisation for family lawyers, that we also need to provide earlier ​advice for cohabitees who believe that common law spousal rights might exist for them? Legal advice on whether such rights exist would be beneficial. Does he agree that including provision for early advice in the Bill would be welcome?

Mr Gauke

Obviously, this Bill’s focus is on divorce for those who are married. There is a point about advice where we can have a wider debate. I will focus my remarks today on the contents of the Bill and the argument I am making about the problems with fault in the current divorce system, and I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support on that. Clearly, there is a debate to be had as to how we can provide support to couples, be that about reconciliation or in other contexts.

Whatever family structure children grow up in, they benefit most from stable, loving and caring relationships with parents and other close family members. We are clear that when parents have taken this difficult decision, children’s best interests are served by minimising conflict during and after the legal process, to support co-operative parenting and positive parenting relationships. This Bill is in the best interests of children whose parents are divorcing. It will therefore remove the harmful requirement for wives, husbands and civil partners in England and Wales to hurl blame or to go through the waiting limbo of separate lives. It will help them move forward more amicably and constructively. It will make a genuine difference to many thousands of children and families who each year, sadly, experience divorce.

It is 50 years since the Divorce Reform Act 1969 gave rise to the law we now have, and few of us will have known anything else. Some among us will have divorced under this law. All of us will be conscious of the bitter experience of friends and constituents who have. Even so, the existing law is not always understood. It allows divorce only on the ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The court cannot hold the marriage to have done so unless it is satisfied of one or more of what the law calls “facts”. Three of the five facts—adultery, behaviour and desertion—relate to conduct of the respondent. The other facts are two years’ separation and five years’ separation, the difference being that two years’ separation requires both parties to agree to the divorce—the same applies to civil partnerships, except that the adultery fact is not available. But the fact someone chooses does not necessarily bear any resemblance to the real reasons the marriage or civil partnership broke down. Those reasons are often subtle, complex, and subjective. Who, if anyone, was responsible is a question that can be answered honestly only by the people in the marriage.

We are probably all aware of situations where a couple have sadly grown apart over time and jointly agree to divorce The current law does not allow them to do so, unless they are first financially able to live apart for two years. They might be forced to present events in a way that serves the system; minor incidents become stretched out into a pattern of behaviour to satisfy a legal threshold, which then bleeds over into how a couple approach negotiations over arrangements for children and finances; or there may be a coercive relationship, where one partner is desperate to divorce but is too scared of the consequences of setting out the ​evidence of their partner’s unreasonable behaviour to the court. It should be enough that the relationship has irretrievably broken down.

I do know where people are coming from when they say the requirement to prove a fact is useful, because they think that someone must be held responsible for the break-up of the marriage and that this requirement lets the court determine blame for that. The court, however, cannot do so, and the law does not require it to. Instead, making allegations or having to live apart in a marriage introduces conflict or makes it worse—this conflict can continue far beyond the legal end of the marriage and hurt children’s life chances. That is the reason for this reform.

Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the careful way in which he is taking us through these proposals and for his indication of support for marriage. Will he look, perhaps in the context of this Bill, at supporting marriages before they have broken down irretrievably and providing support where couples are under pressure, in order to reduce marital breakdown by intervening earlier?

Mr Gauke

The last two words, “intervening earlier” are key. Once the point of a divorce is reached, it is likely—the evidence suggests this—that it is too late. The question is: can we provide support earlier? In all honesty, I do not believe that the Bill provides the vehicle to address that point, because if we try to provide that support in the context of the divorce itself, we will be too late. Clearly however there is an argument—one that I suspect is for the next spending review—as to what assistance can be provided to couples at an earlier stage in the process. I completely understand where my hon. Friend is coming from and I very much agree that the point is about earlier intervention, but where someone is going through the divorce process, making that process more difficult and confrontation is counterproductive.

Mr Ivan Lewis (Bury South) (Ind)

Does the Secretary of State understand the circumstances where a resident parent turns children against the non-resident parent where no abuse whatsoever is involved? That causes estrangement for the child, often for many, many years. Is it not time that we found a legal framework—early intervention is important in this respect—to tackle this problem? I have only recently become involved in this campaign on parental alienation, and I was shocked that hundreds if not thousands of parents are estranged from their children because the resident parent seeks to manipulate the child against a non-resident parent for no reason whatsoever.

Mr Gauke

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention on a matter that I suspect all of us have had experience of as constituency Members of Parliament as well as citizens. These circumstances are hugely difficult. To some extent, the existing divorce law can somewhat encourage that behaviour, because of the need to attribute blame, but he is right to suggest that this is a wider issue, one that is hard to address in the context of divorce. He is right to highlight the difficulties that can exist and how parents can be alienated from their children in what are difficult circumstances.

When I became Justice Secretary last year, I was able to take a deeper look at the issue of divorce. What became clear to me was that making allegations does ​not serve any public interest. It needlessly rakes up the past to justify the legal ending of a relationship that is no longer a beneficial and functioning one. At worst, these allegations can pit one parent against the other. I remain deeply concerned that what the existing law requires can be especially damaging for children.

The law on divorce and dissolution is out of step with the constructive approach that family law takes in other areas and that practitioners take every day. It is time to change that. Resolution is the lead organisation representing family lawyers who subscribe to a non-confrontational approach. Resolution’s chair, Margaret Heathcote, has said that

“because of our outdated divorce laws”

practitioners have effectively been working

“with one arm tied behind their backs.”

The Bill will change that.

At the beginning of my speech, I spoke about the confrontational position that the law sets up and about its harmful impact on children. That confrontational position undermines not only good co-parenting but any prospect of reconciliation. I understand concerns about people being divorced against their will. The reality is that under the existing law the court can refuse a divorce only if a legal requirement is not met, and never simply because one party wants to stay married. Only about 2% of respondents say that they want to contest the divorce. Hardly anyone continues contesting all the way to a court hearing. Marriages are not saved at all by the ability of a spouse to contest the divorce.

Eddie Hughes (Walsall North) (Con)

When I got married, as a Catholic I did not think the option of divorce was open to us. I genuinely thought that under all circumstances our marriage would be forever; my wife decided otherwise. That was a very emotional time. Does my right hon. Friend expect that when the change comes in some people will find it easier to divorce and that there be a spike in the divorce figures? A period of reflection sometimes gives people the opportunity to save their marriage, and that opportunity might be missed under the proposed changes.

Mr Gauke

I agree with my hon. Friend about a period of reflection. In fact, the Bill will ensure that there is a longer minimum period of reflection for people in a marriage to consider whether reconciliation is the right course. The evidence suggests that by the time things get to that stage, reconciliation happens very rarely, but we are extending that period, so it is not really about making divorce easier but about making it less confrontational.

On my hon. Friend’s point about whether we anticipate a spike in divorces, there is international evidence as to what is likely to happen following such a reform. I shall be open with my hon. Friend: there will be people who are currently waiting for two or five years for a divorce, and that divorce will be brought forward, so the likelihood is that there will be an increase because of that waiting list. However, the international evidence suggests that once that initial spike has been dealt with, in a steady state the divorce rate is unlikely to increase; it is likely to remain much the same. I hope it is clear to my hon. Friend that although we would anticipate that some divorces will be brought forward, the change is unlikely to increase the divorce rate in a steady state.​
Let me turn briefly to the measures in the Bill: it does not create a new process, but instead retains the framework of the existing law and removes those aspects that are considered to cause conflict. The Bill therefore retains the two stages of divorce and dissolution orders. The Government believe that the need to confirm to the court that it may make the conditional order, and to apply to the court for the final order, means that a divorce or dissolution is never automatic and that the decision to divorce is a considered one, with opportunities for a change of heart right up to the last moment.

The reform will retain irretrievable breakdown as the sole legal ground for divorce and dissolution. It will replace the current requirement to evidence irretrievable breakdown through a conduct or separation fact with a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage or civil partnership. For the first time, couples will have the option to make this a joint statement, to reflect some couples’ mutual decision to divorce. It will remove the possibility of contesting the decision to end the legal relationship, as a statement of irretrievable breakdown will be conclusive evidence to the court that the marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down.

The reform will introduce a new minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to the point at which the applicant—or applicants jointly—can confirm to the court that a conditional order may be made. I hope that that gives my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) some reassurance about that moment of reflection. Our proposal will make the court process towards a conditional order less rushed and give couples further time to consider the implications of the divorce. Between 2011 and 2018, around two thirds of cases reached conditional order in less than our proposed 20-week minimum period. That included approximately one in 10 cases within eight weeks, and four in 10 cases between nine and 16 weeks. The Bill also modernises language such as “decree nisi” and “decree absolute”, to bring terms in line with the more modern terms used in civil partnership law.

The reforms I have set out will deliver a system of divorce that is fit for the 21st century. It is time to end the blame game. The system we have now does not support the reality of marriage and civil partnership breakdown. It has been criticised as a system that

“is, and always has been, a sham”.

Those are the words of Sir Paul Coleridge, former family judge and chair of the Marriage Foundation, who, like all of us, believes strongly in marriage but sees that by reforming the law to remove from it unnecessary requirements that can fuel conflict, we will not undermine marriage and will support people to look to the future as they go through very difficult times. For that reason, I commend the Bill to the House.

Eddie Hughes – 2019 Speech on Ground Rents

Below is the text of the speech made by Eddie Hughes, the Conservative MP for Walsall North, in the House of Commons on 25 June 2019.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate ground rents charged on leasehold properties; to make provision for a cap on ground rents; to make property developers liable for the legal costs of leaseholders seeking to vary certain ground rent contracts; and for connected purposes.

Mr Speaker, imagine for a moment that you own a lovely one or two-bed apartment with your family, or perhaps even a recently built house. You have lived there quite happily for a few years, but you decide it is time to move, perhaps because of schools, for work or to move up the property ladder. You are primed and ready to go, but the estate agent asks for a copy of your leasehold agreement and there in the small print you get hit with the fact that you cannot sell your property—you are trapped. Tens of thousands of people across the country are in this position, and it simply cannot be right. This leasehold ground rent scandal needs attention right now. In many cases, developers have created leases with feudal ground rent clauses that have since fallen out of favour with lenders, leaving owners stuck with an unsaleable property because prospective buyers cannot get a mortgage to purchase the property.

In some cases, the ground rent doubles every 10 years. In others, it doubles just once. There are reports of lenders refusing to lend on what they deem as unreasonable or onerous ground rent clauses. Some will not lend if the ground rent exceeds 0.1% of the property value at any point during the lease. Leasehold campaigners argue that there are close to 100,000 people affected by terms that leave them with a ground rent in excess of 0.1% of the property value. I would argue that such circumstances are onerous. The result is an unsaleable property and, in many cases, the developer is long gone, having sold the freehold on to a distant investment company. They have, of course, made their money twice—not only from selling the leaseholds in the first place but from selling on the freehold.

Ground rents can, of course, be peppercorn or set at a reasonable rate, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government report shows that the market place is mixed, but it is important to clarify that ground rents have nothing to do with the maintenance of a building. They are simply an income for the freeholder. As the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler), who has responsibility for housing and homelessness, told the MHCLG Select Committee:

“One of the things I do find utterly fascinating is that a building might be beautifully maintained at a peppercorn ground rent or poorly maintained at £500 ground rent. The amount of ground rent payable is no indication of the quality of the maintenance and services provided.”

There is nothing wrong with a freeholder taking a reasonable ground rent, but when that ground rent becomes onerous and stops someone selling their home it becomes a problem. The rights between freeholder and leaseholder need to be redressed.​

As the Select Committee commented:

“Any ground rent is onerous if it becomes disproportionate to the value of a home, such that it materially affects a leaseholder’s ability to sell their property or obtain a mortgage. In practical terms, it is increasingly clear that a ground rent in excess of 0.1% of the value of a property or £250—including rents likely to reach this level in future due to doubling, or other, ground rent review mechanisms—is beginning to affect the saleability and mortgage-ability of leasehold properties.”

My Bill seeks to address this.

The result of developers selling on the freehold to investors is that some freeholders are remote and uninterested in helping their leaseholders. Those who are interested charge unfair fees and legal costs for what should be a simple solution. I know of one such scenario in which there is a £180 charge just to discuss terms with the freeholder.

The freeholder could of course just ignore the problem, or say no. There is currently no obligation on the freeholder to help to sort the problem out—except good will. It cannot be right that in 2019 we have leasehold properties unable to be sold because of ground rent clauses. Behind each problem is a person, an individual, a family, a couple or perhaps a small investor. They do not deserve to be forgotten and left high and dry, trapped indefinitely with their property.

What can be done? Currently, the law allows 50% of leaseholders in a block of apartments to get together to buy the freehold—quite a task, and a long and expensive process if you just want to sell your property. Leaseholders could try to extend the lease, but again there is an elongated process, with expenses running into thousands of pounds. There is also the possibility that the leaseholder negotiates a variation of lease with the freeholder. This is also costly, and there is no onus on the freeholder to do the deal. It is probably the simplest solution but, with prohibitive expenses and no obligation on freeholders to engage, we have a postcode lottery of failure and success.

The Select Committee noted:

“The options for leaseholders with onerous ground rents are limited. House owners are entitled to pay to enfranchise after two years of ownership, thus removing any obligation to pay ground rent, onerous or otherwise. However, this would only be possible if the cost of enfranchisement…is both reasonable and affordable for the house owner. Flat owners, similarly, are entitled to enfranchise, although this is a much more difficult process, requiring the ​consent of 50% of the owners in a residential block… Otherwise, leaseholders are reliant upon the benevolence of their freeholder to remove unreasonable terms.”

That is why I am proposing this private Member’s Bill.

I am aware that the Law Commission is currently contemplating a solution to the thorny issue of onerous ground rents on existing leases, but I propose simple solutions. First, we need to create a legal obligation on freeholders to grant a quick and simple lease variation to leaseholders where ground rent prohibits a sale. Secondly, it is important that ground rents are capped at the lower of £250 per annum or 0.1% of the property value.

I am also considering including an obligation on the original developer to foot the leaseholder’s legal bills in such situations. After all, why should families have to find a large sum to solve a problem not of their making? If the Bill progresses, I hope we will be able to shape it more specifically in Committee—I imagine that might be somewhat optimistic.

Systems and institutions are supposed to serve the public, and I hope we can all agree that we cannot have people unable to sell their property. Drastic and immediate action is required. I believe there is growing concern on both sides of the House about leasehold properties, and the Select Committee should be commended for its excellent report. I am also pleased to see that the Competition and Markets Authority has taken this issue on board and is looking at mis-selling in this arena. I hope both the Government and the Select Committee will keep this under further review.

I believe there is a wide cross-party consensus in Parliament on this issue, and the time for Parliament to intervene on the leasehold ground rent scandal is now. I hope hon. Members will help me to change the law to restore fairness in this sector and to stop people being trapped in unsaleable properties.

Therese Coffey – 2019 Statement on the EU Environment Council

Below is the text of the statement made by Therese Coffey, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in the House of Commons on 24 June 2019.

The next EU Environment Council will take place on 26 June, in Luxembourg. I will be attending to represent the UK.

On environment items, the main legislative focus will be a general approach on the regulation on water-reuse. In addition, there will also be an exchange of views on the environment implementation review (EIR), as well as the adoption of Council conclusions on a sustainable EU chemicals policy.

Any other business (AOB) will include information from the Commission and the presidency on four items:

Clean Planet for all: Strategic long-term vision for a climate neutral economy (information from the presidency);

A discussion on current legislative proposals (information from the presidency):

A discussion on regulation on LIFE; and

A discussion on shipping monitoring, reporting and verification.

Reports on main recent international meetings (information from the presidency and the Commission):

Triple conference of the parties to the Basel (COP 14), Rotterdam (COP 9) and Stockholm (COP 9) conventions (Geneva, 29 April-10 May 2019); and

Fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-4) (Nairobi, 11-15 March 2019).

Communication on the draft integrated national energy and climate plans (presentation by the Commission).

There are currently five member state led AOBs:

Workshop on the “Future environment action programme” (information from the Austrian delegation);

Possible European measures to support clean mobility and in particular, electromobility (information from the Bulgarian delegation);

Conference on carbon pricing and aviation taxes (information from the Netherlands delegation);

G7 Environment Ministers’ meeting (information from the French delegation); and

Work programme of the incoming presidency (information from the Finnish delegation).

Philip Hammond – 2019 Statement on ECOFIN

Below is the text of the statement made by Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the House of Commons on 24 June 2019.

A meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) was held in Luxembourg on 14 June 2019. ECOFIN was preceded by a meeting of the European Investment Bank (EIB) Board of Governors:

Annual EIB Board of Governors meeting

The meeting included: statements from the Chairman, President and Chairman of the Audit Committee; a governors discussion; a presentation on the annual report of the Audit Committee; and a vote for partial renewal of the Audit Committee. The UK was represented by Mark Bowman (Director General, International Finance, HM Treasury) during the EIB meeting.

Following this, EU Finance Ministers discussed the following at ECOFIN:

Early morning session

The Eurogroup President briefed the Council on the outcomes of the 13 June meeting of the Eurogroup, and the European Commission provided an update on the current economic situation in the EU.

Banking union

The Council endorsed the progress report on the banking union.

Financial transaction tax

The Council received a progress update in relation to the enhanced co-operation on financial transaction tax.

G20 follow-up

The Romanian presidency and Commission presented the main outcomes of the G20 meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, which took place on 8 to 9 June in Fukuoka, Japan.

European semester

The Council discussed a horizontal note on the draft 2019 country specific recommendations, and progress towards the Europe 2020 targets.

Stability and growth pact

The Council adopted Council decisions and recommendations on the implementation of the stability and growth pact.

Clean planet

The Council held an exchange of views on a strategic long-term vision for a climate-neutral economy.

Non-performing loans

Under any other business, the Commission provided an update on the implementation of the action plan to tackle non-performing loans in Europe.

Lisa Cameron – 2019 Speech on Smart Cities

Below is the text of the speech made by Lisa Cameron, the SNP MP for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, in the House of Commons on 24 June 2019.

The inspiration for this debate came from my visit to the mid-west USA last month with a cross-party delegation of MPs from the British-American parliamentary group. I admit to having been a bit of a technophobe prior to the delegation, and I still am a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to technology.

I thought 5G is about higher speeds—that was my understanding of what we should expect. However, it appears from our learning on the visit that there is so much more to 5G and to smart cities than just higher speeds. It is actually about transformative technology and its ability to connect not just people but things—5G is designed to increase connectivity. We are talking about smarter motorways, smarter factories, smarter homes and smarter cities, and I would like to see capacity for smarter towns, smarter villages and smarter rural areas, because connectivity must be inclusive across the whole United Kingdom and across all areas.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Smart cities is a wonderful programme, with Belfast leading the way in smart city urban innovation. Does she agree it is imperative that we share good practice and information throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to ensure that the UK, as a whole, is able safely and effectively to make the most of technology and to ensure that we are not at cyber-war with each other within the UK, at the expense of lost opportunities for everyone?

Dr Cameron

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that important point. It is important that smart technology is used and regulated appropriately, and that communities buy into the technology so that they can benefit collectively, rather than be in opposition to and competition with each other. The hon. Gentleman’s point is well made and I hope the Minister will reflect on it in his speech, because it is important that all areas benefit from this new smart technology. In my constituency, we are looking at redeveloping our new town, which was built after the second world war; it was new and shiny then, and it improved our lives and wellbeing dramatically. We are looking to develop smart technology and for us to have smart, sustainable East Kilbride moving forward.

With 5G, people will be able to control their home and car—everything—from a single device. I had always thought that autonomous vehicles were a bit pie in the sky, but having spoken to the technology leaders in the mid-west and internationally during the visit I know that this technology is already on the showroom floor and is now just being refined. So this is going to be happening. Autonomous vehicles—electric vehicles—can improve climate emissions, tackling CO2 , and reduce congestion, because we may be less likely to own vehicles in the future. We may have a share in these robot vehicles rather than own them, and they may come to our homes, take us where we want to go and then move on to the next person’s home and take them where they ​want to go. It will be like a robot taxi—that is how I would think of it. This would mean less congestion in our cities, because we will not all have to have cars and we might not all be travelling at the same time. Less car parking would be required in cities and in high streets, and we hope there would be a consumer benefit in terms of less cost. One question to the Minister is about consumer benefits and costs in the future, and how we make this beneficial for consumers.

Toyota is designing multifunctional vehicles, able to serve as not only a taxi but a hospital shuttle, delivery van or mobile co-working space. I therefore ask the Minister to ensure that determinations in this regard are fully inclusive and adaptable for those with special needs and disabilities. I chair the all-party group on disability, and I was thinking about the impact of these vehicles on the Motability scheme; it will be essential to ensure that vehicles can be adapted for wheelchairs and for people with special needs.

Space10 is the innovation hub run by IKEA and I understand it is piloting autonomous healthcare vehicles, which bring medical equipment and professionals to people’s doorsteps. I was reading in today’s The Times that 5G can enable hospital specialists to make a diagnosis remotely while patients are still in the ambulance, as faster connections can allow paramedics to perform ultrasound scans as clinicians watch live; it is happening in the ambulance and guidance can be offered on what to do through robotic gloves. This technology would boost survival rates by allowing more timeous diagnosis, reducing diversions to other hospitals. What often happens is that the initial diagnosis may change when the patient reaches the hospital and they then have to go to a different specialist hospital. This technology should the reduce the rate of those misdiagnoses and improve morbidity rates for patients, who will be able to get to surgery much faster.

We will therefore have to look ahead and alter our training—of paramedics, health professionals, doctors, surgeons, nurses and so on—to ensure that we capitalise on this technology. A whole-government approach will be needed. I do not expect the Minister to answer all those questions tonight, but it would be useful to find out how this is going to be co-ordinated in the future.

Jim Shannon

The hon. Lady is right about co-ordination, and perhaps the Minister will respond on this issue. It is imperative that the four regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are part of this, so that Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England are doing this together. Does she feel that when it comes to working on a policy and a strategy it is important that we all feel the benefits?

Dr Cameron

Yes, I absolutely think that. It is why, although this debate is on “Smart Cities”, I have placed such an emphasis on all areas of our populations—towns, villages and rural populations, too. That has to be right, both across the United Kingdom and internationally. Specialists in the health aspects I was speaking about can be international specialists from across the world, who are able to lend their expertise through this technology, so that it does not just connect the UK, but instead connects us to the EU—although some in this House are trying to disconnect us, following the vote—and right across the world. That is important to specialists internationally.​

Traffic management may be a particular issue that can also be improved—I am sure we would all be glad to hear that—particularly for those who have long journeys in the morning. I see lots of congestion in London when I am travelling to the House of Commons each day.

This technology may get people to the hospitals faster and police to critical incidents much more quickly. Our delegation heard in Chicago about how sensors on lampposts in high-risk areas are sensing gunshots in milliseconds, so that the police and emergency services can get to the area where someone has been harmed, both to apprehend those responsible and to treat those impacted much more quickly. So this technology is also aiding the police and emergency services, and such technology will also be expanded to look at sensors for fire and to respond to other types of difficulty that citizens can get into.

The data can also be used to convict those responsible. On the visit, we asked questions about data security and GDPR—the general data protection regulation. It appears crucial that any and all of these advances must be developed with community participation. That was what really helped this to work in Chicago. There was buy-in from the local community, who had experienced the gun-related deaths, wanted something to be done much more quickly and were then agreeable to the data being collected in this way and used to the community’s benefit. That participation must be at the forefront, with communities on board.

We all need education in this regard, as members of the community and as Members of Parliament and leaders within the community. We therefore need to make sure that our communities are aware of the new technology, understand how it might improve their lives and put in place appropriate consultation about the data usage that can come from it. I ask the Minister for training for MPs in this new technology and its implications for our constituencies, so that we will also then be able to try to improve training locally to make sure that all the agencies that will be affected should be on board and understand how to take this forward for the best benefit.

I also heard about how 5G will also allow technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality to become commonplace—so “Star Wars” fans may now be able to have their own Princess Leia moment. I even heard, in a local school I was visiting, Duncanrig Secondary School in East Kilbride, that a constituent who is an inventor has sought to bring holograms to children’s reading materials. They may soon be able to speak directly to Harry Potter when they turn the page and, thus, have a much more interactive experience with their reading development.

The delegation heard that 5G had vastly altered infrastructure projects in South Bend. For instance, they were going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new sewerage systems, similar to the billions being spent in London for the same reason.

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con)

Does the hon. Lady agree that the trip was worth while because a company in my constituency called InTouch, headed by John Walden, is now working with the sensor group EmNet on flooding logistics?

Dr Cameron

Yes, that is the value of the trip: we were able to make connections between the UK and the US, and between those who are developing the technology, to make sure that we share in the benefits seen in South Bend, which include the reduction of flooding through the use of new sensors in the sewerage system. The technology has save saved billions of dollars, because South Bend was going to have a whole new sewage pipe infrastructure but is now able to regulate the flow with the 5G and the sensors. These technologies are transferable to other areas of the world.

The hon. Gentleman is assiduous in representing his constituents and the first thing he said when he spoke to EmNet was that he would make connections so that the benefits could be seen in his constituency. The technology can save money, and in South Bend the money set aside for new infrastructure can be spent elsewhere. London might consider at least liaising with South Bend and the innovative agency EmNet, which provides the technology there.

I am pleased to be able to speak about these developments today. My concern, and my request to the Minister, is that the technology is made fully available in towns, villages and rural areas. Everywhere the delegation went, people spoke about smart cities, but the technology has to be rolled out elsewhere. In some areas of our constituencies, internet speeds are not at the appropriate level to enable children to do their homework, and we are still waiting for 4G in some areas. Rural areas in particular tend to be the ones that miss out.

On rural areas, I read a magazine article by Tim Hulse that says that Beard Hill farm, which is part of the UK’s agri-tech strategy, now has robotic milking, and it seems to be working well. I am not quite sure how it works—perhaps I will get to visit it—but it seems to be helping most by milking the cows when they want to be milked, rather than their being on a regime, thereby improving the quality of the milk and improving the cows’ welfare. The Government are involved in work that is already being done in some rural areas, and I would like to find out more about that. What type of consultation and communication does the Minister have with the devolved Governments throughout the UK to make sure that, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, the benefits are shared throughout the different countries of the UK?

I thank the Minister for hearing and responding to the debate. Will he ensure that we have not only smart cities, but smart towns and villages, and even smart small businesses? Big business is often able to capitalise on new technology, but how do we get it rolled out to small businesses so that they do not lag behind and can be competitive, too? Please do not forget our rural areas; they must benefit from the technology. What will the strategy be not only to ensure that technology is applied to things such as infrastructure, roads and autonomous vehicles, but to give us a good work-life balance and enable a focus on wellbeing? We should focus on wellbeing in the community, and the technology that is being developed will augment that. We have just had a debate on climate change, and the technology that is brought forward and in which we invest should improve our climate objectives, rather than undermine them. There are a lot of points for the Minister to answer, so I look forward to his response.​

Jeremy Wright – 2019 Speech to NSPCC Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Jeremy Wright, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport at the 2019 NSPCC Conference held on 26 June 2019.

Thank you for the introduction.

As most of you know when the internet began, it was a way for a relatively small number of scientists to talk to each other about their work.

Today the internet is a way for all of us to talk and to hear from the whole world, and is increasingly where we conduct our professional, social and family lives.

It follows that it is also a place where increasingly our children are growing up. As some of you will know 99% of 12-15 year olds are online, spending around 20 hours a week on the internet.

And as we live more and more of our lives online, it becomes less and less acceptable, less and less sustainable for the protections, and the restrictions on bad behaviour that we expect and require in every other environment not to be present online.

If in the society we want to live in, you couldn’t get away with it in print or broadcast media, or out in the streets, then you shouldn’t be able to get away with it online either. But right now, too often you can.

Many of you deal with the real consequences of that discrepancy.

And you have the right to ask us in government to act on the statement – if it’s unacceptable offline, it’s unacceptable online. I want to explain how we intend to do that and set out some of the challenges in doing so.

Now lets be fair, some of the online platforms have begun to hear the voices of those who advocate for children, like so many of you here today, and to take some steps to make the online world safer.

But it is not enough and it is far too reactive to tragedies, not proactive in preventing them. And many of these companies have themselves begun to accept that government must have a role here.

We cannot accept self-regulation anymore, or co-regulation come to that. So if Government is to regulate, how should it do so?

There are genuinely held and valid concerns about freedom of speech online and the need for innovation there to continue.

Genuine and natural fears of government deciding what is right and wrong on the internet. But I think we have to keep in mind our objective of protecting people from harm.

This is not about making rules for the internet that don’t exist elsewhere, it is about bringing the rules we live by to the world we increasingly live in.

Another genuine fear is that in an environment that changes as fast as the internet does, where the threat landscape is very mobile, the rules get out of date fast.

And that is why I believe the right way forward is a duty of care based model, which the NSPCC, among others, have so effectively argued for.

What it means is that online companies who deal with user generated content, and facilitate searching for it, or sharing it, must do all they reasonably can to keep the users of their services safe.

And of course the more vulnerable the users, including children, the more it is reasonable to expect.

There will be codes of practice to help explain what the duty of care might involve, but the key point is that the overarching duty sits above them and means that no online company can say – as harms manifest themselves in new ways, as we know they will – that there was nothing in the code of practice about it, so I did nothing to keep my users safe from it.

We expect, we deserve, and we will require that some of the cleverest companies in the world use their ingenuity to protect us, as well as to sell to us.

So we will set out that duty in law. The next question is – how will that duty be enforced?

There must be a regulator, independent of government, with the ability to administer the duty of care and the powers to sanction those who ignore it.

Those sanctions must be significant to influence the actions of the big international companies that so many of these online entities now are.

Significant in terms of the scale of fines, but also in other penalties and we will consider individual director liability or site blocking.

Government must act but we also expect and will require online companies to act. But the truth is we all have to take action to keep ourselves, and our children safe online. Nobody is going to uninvent the internet or social media.

And however effective the regulation I am proposing may be, it will not stop every piece of harmful content from reaching every one of us.

So we need the skills and techniques to keep ourselves safe, and we need to teach them to our children. And we should require the new regulator and the companies it regulates to do more to give us these skills and techniques. So there is much to do and we should approach it with determination, but also, in my view, with humility.

It’s important to listen to what people have to say about this White Paper and to make improvements where we can. We are consulting on it until the 1st July and I encourage you all to respond. It is also important for us to hear from young people themselves, and we have been doing that.

One of my officials recently had the unenviable task of explaining a regulator and a duty of care to a group of 8-year-olds.

But actually, they got it. And when asked what the punishment for a breach should be, one child said ‘a £100 fine’. Another, less forgiving student, said ‘No – it needs to be £500’.

Well I can reassure those students and all of you that fines will be considerably higher than that. And I’ve been hearing from them myself, from a group of year 10 students in Solihull, to the Diana Award’s anti-bullying ambassadors here in London.

And they all have experiences and interests to register in this process. It is in their interests most of all that we must get this right. It is also important to recognise that there is no comprehensive international model to follow.

What is proposed in this White Paper means the United Kingdom will lead the world and we should be proud of that not intimidated by it.

But we want others to act to protect other citizens of the digital world of all ages, so I am also speaking to policy makers and legislators in other countries to urge them to take a similar course.

In all of this I need your help, your passion and commitment to a safer online world for our children translated into effective legislation and regulation.

And I recognise the urgency of doing that, so I intend to publish the Government response to the White Paper consultation by the end of the year and to introduce legislation as soon as possible next year.

We are doing as much as we can now to bring Parliamentary consensus on that regulation when it is brought forward.

But even so, getting this right cannot be done immediately. And we should not wait for a new regulator to be established to take action on online harms. Neither should the companies which will become subject to that regulation.

We’ve set out in the White Paper some of the work we are doing now to protect children online. For example, the UK Council for Internet Safety has developed an online resilience toolkit for users. Helped by many of you in this room.

And government has funded the UK Safer Internet Centre to develop cyberbullying guidance which provides advice for schools on understanding, preventing and responding to cyberbullying, and an online safety toolkit to help schools deliver sessions.

And I know you are hearing from my colleague, the Education Secretary, later today on, among other things, what we are doing to incorporate online safety into the school curriculum.

We are making progress, but ensuring we are giving children the skills they need to go online is still a relatively new and emerging issue and there is more we could do.

That’s why government will produce a new draft code of practice on child online safety to set clear standards for companies to keep children safe online.

That will be published ahead of the new online safety laws.

The draft code will set our expectations about what is required to keep children safe and will examine existing resources available, including whether specific guidance should be offered to parents and carers.

And it will act as a one-stop shop for smaller companies to help them navigate the range of guidance already available, and fill any gaps if necessary.

This will make it as easy as possible for companies to take practical steps to improve safety ahead of new laws.

This work will complement the media literacy strategy which we announced in the White Paper.

In addition to that, I have commissioned new guidance about the use of technology by platforms to ensure that children are protected from inappropriate content.

This work will provide platforms with guidance establishing appropriate safeguards. We expect that guidance will be published in the autumn. So we recognise that our children are growing up in a changing technological world.

And significant harms are emerging that are unique to the online world – such as cyber-flashing, deepfake pornography or the trauma of having private sexual images disseminated across the internet.

We know from the NSPCC and others that sexting is a growing issue.

You then have deeply worrying group behaviours such as viral suicide games, or sustained and co-ordinated campaigns of online abuse directed against individuals by particular groups in society.

These paint a picture of an online world that I and you don’t want our children to grow up in.

I have talked about how regulation structures need to adapt to change that, but the criminal law needs to keep pace too.

So today, alongside colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, I have asked the Law Commission to review the current communications offences to establish whether the law is fit for purpose, and make specific recommendations about options for legal reform in this area.

It will consider whether the non-consensual taking and sharing of intimate images could be more effectively dealt with by the criminal law.

And it will also examine whether the legal framework around co-ordinated harassment by groups of people online is as clear and fit for purpose as it needs to be. This work will begin next month.

So there is plenty of work being done and plenty more to do.

Keeping our children safe online is complex because the online world is complex, and changing all the time.

My priority in the 12 months I have had this job has been the development of proposals now set out in the Online Harms White Paper, that I believe will make a real difference in making that online world safer.

I am proud of it. But I believe it can be made better.

I hope you will help me do that and that together we make the United Kingdom the safest place to grow up online.

Chris Skidmore – 2019 Statement on Climate Change

Below is the text of the statement made by Chris Skidmore, the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, in the House of Commons on 24 June 2019.

I beg to move,

That the draft Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019, which was laid before this House on 12 June, be approved.

It is an honour to be in the House debating this order less than two weeks after this seminal legislation was laid in Parliament. I should say that I stand here as the interim Minister for Energy and Clean Growth—as an understudy to my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry). It is a tribute to her efforts that we are debating this measure today. I am sure that she would have dearly loved to be at the Dispatch Box speaking to it herself. I pay tribute to her work, her industry, and, above all, her passion, which is testament to the legislation that is being taken through today.

The draft order would amend the 2050 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target in the Climate Change Act 2008 from at least 80% to at least 100%. That target, otherwise known as net zero, would constitute a legally binding commitment to end the United Kingdom’s contribution to climate change.

Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a sobering report on the impact of global warming at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. In that report, it made clear that a target set to limit global warming at 2°C above pre-industrial levels was no longer enough. It made clear that by limiting warming to 1.5°C, we may be able to mitigate some of the effects on health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth. It made clear that countries across the world, including the United Kingdom, would need to do more. The House has heard of the great progress we have made in tackling climate change together, cross-party, and how we have cut emissions by 42% since 1990 while growing the economy by 72%.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)

When Greta Thunberg was in Parliament a few weeks ago, she called on politicians to be honest at all times. Does the Minister agree that it is a bit misleading to suggest that we deserve great credit because we have reduced emissions by 42% since 1990, since we have done that primarily by outsourcing a huge amount of our manufacturing emissions to other countries? We do not account for our consumption emissions, and if we did, our success would look rather less rosy than he has just presented.

Chris Skidmore

The draft order builds on a framework of legislation set in 2008; I see the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) in his place, who introduced that legislation. We have always recognised as a country that we are on a journey towards reducing our carbon emissions. That journey includes ensuring that we show global leadership and demonstrate to other countries that are not cutting their carbon emissions the need to do so. Above all, we recognise the need to do so sustainably and to ensure that we can continue to grow our economy. The last thing we want to do is reduce our carbon emissions at the risk of increasing unemployment and shrinking the economy. We have taken the independent advice of the Committee on Climate Change, which has demonstrated how we can do so not only sustainably but, importantly, in a just transition. It is important for some of the poorest in society that we have a just transition towards net zero.​

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab)

Does the Minister agree that the Government, as the largest purchaser of goods and services in the country, should also be a net zero purchaser and provider of services? That means a root-and-branch change of the way that government— local, national and quangos—procure what they buy for taxpayers.

Chris Skidmore

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and for the leadership she has shown on the Environmental Audit Committee. I will come on to how the independent Committee on Climate Change produced its response, but it set out clearly a range of scenarios involving a net zero transition and what action would be needed in industry, within society and among individuals to go from 80% to 100%.

We have set carbon budgets 1 to 5 to take us to 2032. Carbon budget 6, which will lead to 2037, will be set by June 2021 at the latest. It is important to recognise that we all have a role. Government especially have a role not only in legislating today, to ensure that we set the policy framework for achieving net zero, but in demonstrating each and every one of its Departments’ commitment to net zero. Her Majesty’s Treasury will conduct a review over the summer, as we move towards the spending review, of the impacts on business, society and across the public sector of the need to decarbonise swiftly and securely.

As part of that progress and the pathway towards net zero, we will be publishing an energy White Paper in the summer. A variety of different documents will be published, but I take the hon. Lady’s point; when it comes to the public sector, we will need to show leadership. We will need to be able to explain or change and to set out how all different areas of society will meet future carbon budgets—whether that is carbon budget 6, 7 or 8—on the road towards net zero.

Dr David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)

Will the Minister give way?

Chris Skidmore

I have given way a significant number of times, and this will be the last intervention for a while so that I can make progress with my speech.

Dr Drew

The Minister will know that the NFU has set a target for earlier than 2050. At the very least will he look at options for bringing forward the date by which we should be able to meet the target of net zero emissions?

Chris Skidmore

We have obviously taken advice on the 2050 target from the independent Committee on Climate Change, which has suggested that at the moment 2050 is the earliest possible date for reaching net zero. Obviously, we are the first G7 country to make that commitment to 2050. Other economies, such as Norway, have committed to 2038. As part of the Government’s local industrial strategy, the Greater Manchester area committed, just last week, to a net zero target by 2038. I welcome the NFU’s commitment, but what we are saying as a Government is that all agencies across society will need to take action.

We welcome the NFU’s leadership on agricultural emissions and looking at how the agricultural sector can be decarbonised. However, when it comes to the framework of the Climate Change Act, as the right hon. Member for Doncaster North highlighted during the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary ​of State, the review mechanism is built into the legislation to allow us the opportunity to review the target in five years. When it comes to the overall cost—and some hon. Members may wish to reflect on the costs of going from 80% to 100%—the review mechanism is important. The Committee on Climate Change has recommended that the overall cost envelope of reaching net zero be the same as the 80% envelope, because since the original 80% target was set out, the costs of renewables and other technology have come down.

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con)

My hon. Friend is making a hugely important point. Earlier he talked about the need to balance the need to reduce emissions with concerns about jobs. Does he agree that we have already seen the creation of 400,000 low-carbon jobs in this country, and that by leading the transition to a clean economy—which will happen whether we like it or not—there will be even more opportunities for job creation in the future?

Chris Skidmore

I thank my hon. Friend for making that excellent point, and he is right. When we consider any impact on wider society of introducing this legislation over the next few decades, while we may see short-term costs from the transformation, we need to look at the investment opportunities that will be created by new green jobs, which are expected to rise from the 400,000 figure he mentions to 2 million by 2030, potentially creating an economy worth over £150 billion in the longer term. It is important that that investment is recognised, because we want the UK to lead the world in future technologies such as carbon capture and storage. The legislation today provides a catalytic moment for us to look at how we can achieve this target and to invest for the future. The Treasury review will lead into the spending review and we will wish to look at how we can continue to invest in clean growth as a technology.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

I congratulate the Government on bringing this proposal forward and assure him of my party’s support. I want to put that on record today. This issue is a topic of conversation every day in my office: it has become that sort of issue. Will the Minister outline how he intends to bring businesses along on the climate change agenda and ensure that they are encouraged, rather than forced, to make small changes that could make lasting changes globally? It would be great to bring small businesses along, as it would be a step in the right direction.

Chris Skidmore

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his leadership on the issue. We have had several conversations in the past few weeks on the legislation, but he is right that we have to take a whole of the United Kingdom approach to this. I know that it is more difficult for certain industries to make the changes that are needed, but for small businesses and those groups that we know will have questions or difficulties in making the transition, we will want to be able to set that out clearly. The energy White Paper will be published shortly, as the first in a series of documents to demonstrate the changes and consultations that we need. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that those consultations will allow the voice of small business to be heard in this debate. It is possible to achieve the changes, and we want to make sure that small businesses feel reassured of that.​

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend welcome the support of the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce, the NFU, the Royal Academy of Engineering and many household-name companies, because the legislation will give them certainty about investment so that they can benefit from the growth in our economy? It really is not only achievable to reach net zero by 2050, but affordable.

Chris Skidmore

I thank my hon. Friend for putting on record the wide range of support from many companies that have written to the Prime Minister and set out their own ambitious targets. I feel a bit like the BBC when it comes to whether I should name certain companies rather than others, but I know that many food manufacturers and retail corporations—big names on the high street—have already made the commitment to 2050. We are following in their footsteps as a Government and Parliament to provide the legislation today. My hon. Friend is right: the legislative framework will provide long-term security for those companies to begin their transitions.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab)

Within the Government, there are many different estimates of the impact on jobs and the cost to the Treasury. Why do we not have an impact assessment for this statutory instrument? That would be good regulatory and legislative practice.

Chris Skidmore

The way that the legislation from the Climate Change Act 2008 has been framed means that impact assessments are not needed specifically for the SI. We did not have an impact assessment when we moved from 60% to 80%, because the risk is incumbent on Government in making the legislation. The impact assessments that are needed under the framework of the Act arise through the carbon budgets themselves. We have already legislated for carbon budgets 1 to 5, to 2032. The framework for carbon budget 6 will be recommended by the independent Committee on Climate Change ready for next year: it needs to be implemented by June 2020. There will be a full impact assessment on the next period, 2032 to 2037.

Following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), it is the carbon budget process that needs the certainty in place for businesses and society to plan ahead. Any impact assessments that are made will reflect carbon budgets 6, 7 and 8. The Treasury is also taking forward its own independent impact assessment of the wider costs to business and society. That work is ongoing and will be presented at the time of the spending review.

Mrs Kemi Badenoch (Saffron Walden) (Con)

Many of my constituents, especially schoolchildren, will be delighted by this announcement, but others are rightly sceptical about the costs. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that the plan will be achievable and affordable?

Chris Skidmore

My hon. Friend is right that the legislation today is not simply about warm words or passing a law. We need to be able to demonstrate the action that lies beneath it. Action will come relatively quickly with the publication of an energy White Paper in the summer that will look at the future of our energy ​supply, at a household level and an industrial level, and the energy network itself. The White Paper will demonstrate the action that the Government are taking and it will lead to a series of future consultations.

In order to lead the debate on climate change and demonstrate the global leadership that the UK wishes to have, it is right that the process highlights the need for clean growth. That is not oxymoronic: we can grow the economy at the same time as removing greenhouse gases from our atmosphere and ensuring that new, greener technologies and more renewable forms of energy come on board. It is right that we lead that conversation, that we reassure those who may be concerned about the future, and that we take action to demonstrate to those businesses worried about any economic impact that this transition is both just and sustainable.

Sir Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con)

This measure is not long overdue but it is welcome, and I believe it will be very popular right across the country. Has my hon. Friend looked at the interim report of the all-party parliamentary group on British bioethanol, which proposes that E10 petrol should be introduced as standard in the UK, as it is in most parts of Europe, America and Australia? That would reduce carbon emissions from standard petrol by the equivalent of 700,000 cars; it would save jobs in the north-east of England, where the two British bioethanol plants are based; and it would be cleaner in terms of pollution. It would, of course, be a temporary measure while we introduce more electric cars, but is it not overdue?

Chris Skidmore

My right hon. and learned Friend has also raised that point with me in private, and I am happy to raise the issue of bioethanol with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which has responsibility for agriculture. It is important to reflect that, as part of a grand challenge in our industrial strategy, we have set out a number of missions on the future of mobility and transport in our cities, including the reduction of congestion, the introduction of electric vehicles and the adaptation of battery technology. I was delighted to visit Warwick Manufacturing Group on Friday, to discuss the advances it has made with lithium batteries. We must do that because of the need to reduce not just carbon emissions but air pollution; we know that tens of thousands of people are literally dying as a result of air pollution in our streets and cities, so the impact we make today is not just for 2050 but for now.

Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab)

The Government have committed to phasing out new sales of the internal combustion engine by 2040. My Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has recommended that the date be brought forward by almost a decade, if there is to be any chance of meeting the commitment of net zero by 2050. Will the Minister look again at the phasing out of the internal combustion engine, so that we can get more electric vehicles on our roads and bring down carbon emissions?

Chris Skidmore

I could not agree more with the hon. Lady: we want to see the greatest possible transition, as fast as possible, to electric and hybrid vehicles for the future, but we have to be able to do it in a sustainable way. We have to ensure that electric vehicle technology, including batteries and other opportunities, moves with ​us at the same time. Other countries have moved faster than us, and I recognise the points the hon. Lady makes, but what is important is that we begin this discussion about how we can achieve that. There are a number of policy measures by which we can do it. There is also a supply-side as well as a demand-side issue when it comes to electric vehicle technology, and we need to be able to work on both sides of that economic argument in order to increase the number of electric vehicles on our roads. There are issues about charging points, which I also recognise. We need to do it in a sustainable and affordable way that ensures that we can continue a transformation of the economy.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Ind)

I would really welcome an earlier shift towards electric cars and electric bikes, but is it not the case that, where possible, we really need to be getting people out of their cars altogether and encouraging greater use of cycling and walking? Will the Minister assure me that there will be increased investment in cycling and walking?

Chris Skidmore

I will get back to my speech in a moment. It is important that the Government are able to set out a pathway for considering the range of responsibilities across society, and that will encourage a range of individual actions. The Committee on Climate Change is the lead independent committee whose advice the Government have taken in order to legislate today. It has set out a range of future possibilities to reach net zero, many of which include individual actions for reaching the final 4%, but this is about system change and decarbonising our energy and heating systems, both domestically and industrially. There are a large number of areas where we will need to take action across society, and we need to be able to take that action now.

Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD) rose—

Chris Skidmore

I have been generous in taking interventions—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)

Order. If I might help the Minister and, indeed, the House, the Minister has been very generous in giving way and a great many Members have intervened on him. Perhaps the House is not aware that this debate has been allocated 90 minutes. That means that we will stop at 13 minutes past 7, which is only just over an hour away. Every time somebody intervenes, they take away the time of Members who have been sitting patiently, waiting to make speeches.

Please do not be angry with the Minister for not giving way. He has been very generous and I am going to encourage him not to extend his generosity much further.

Chris Skidmore

The Committee on Climate Change has told us quite clearly that ending the UK’s contribution to global warming is now within reach. It has advised that a net zero emissions target is necessary, because climate change is the single most important issue facing us; that it is feasible, because we can get there using technologies and approaches that exist, enabling us to continue to grow our economy and to maintain and improve our quality of life; and that it is affordable, because it can be achieved at a cost equivalent of 1% to 2% of GDP in 2050. As I have said, owing to falling costs, that is the same cost envelope that this Parliament accepted for an 80% target. That is before taking into ​account the many benefits for households and businesses—from improved air quality, to new green-collar jobs. I applaud the committee for the quality, breadth and analytical rigour of its advice.

Recent months and weeks have been a time of huge and growing interest in how we tackle the defining challenge of climate change. Calls for action have come from all generations and all parts of society—from Greta Thunberg to David Attenborough, from schoolchildren to women’s institutes. My message today is, “As a Parliament we hear you, and we are taking action.”

This country has long been a leader in tackling climate change. Thirty years ago, Mrs Thatcher was the first global leader to acknowledge at the United Nations

“what may be early signs of man-induced climatic change.”

Eleven years ago, this House passed the ground-breaking Climate Change Act, the first legislation in the world to set legally binding, long-term targets for reducing emissions. The Act, passed with strong cross-party support, created a vital precedent on climate: listen to the science, focus on the evidence, and pursue deliverable solutions.

Today we can make history again, as the first major economy in the world to commit to ending our contribution to global warming forever. I ask Members on both sides of the House to come together today in the same spirit and to support this draft legislation, which I commend to the House.

Ian Blackford – 2019 Speech on the European Council

Below is the text of the speech made by Ian Blackford, the Leader of the SNP in Westminster, in the House of Commons on 24 June 2019.

May I add my congratulations on the 10th anniversary in the Chair, Mr Speaker? I gather that many are asking for 10 more years. Whatever it is, let us hope that you are with us for a considerable period to come.

I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement and for her update. Of course we support the efforts to bring COP 26 to the UK. It is important that the EU summit extensively discussed climate change—the biggest challenge we all face.

The Prime Minister mentioned that she raised the issue of Iran in the margins of the Council meeting. I am somewhat surprised it was not a major issue for debate at the Council meeting. We know that the situation in Iran is challenging to say the least. Diplomacy must prevail. I have just come from meeting with Richard Ratcliffe, who has spent over a week outside the Iranian embassy, now on hunger strike in protest against the wrongful imprisonment of his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, in Iran, where she is serving a five-year sentence for espionage. Mr Ratcliffe has welcomed the fact that Iran and the UK are talking and has called for a swift solution, stating:

“We are obviously looking for a quick resolution and that’s why she went on hunger strike. It was to say enough’s enough.”

Surely enough is enough. So may I ask the Prime Minister to consider the plight of our citizens and to move to make representations, in the time that she has left, to assist the Ratcliffes in their campaign for freedom and justice?

The Prime Minister will also have seen the Foreign Secretary’s comments this morning on the possibility of military action. We must reduce tensions in the middle east. We will work constructively with her Government in supporting diplomatic efforts, but does she agree with Opposition Members that talk of military action at this stage in the diplomatic efforts is simply reckless?

It is also important to recognise that the statement from the Prime Minister was notably light on the details of the UK’s exit from the European Union. One would have ​thought that, at least in the margins, that would have been the topic of some debate. Let us remind ourselves of what President Tusk said, which was that we were to use the time wisely. The Prime Minister and both candidates to be her successor have all long promised that the withdrawal agreement can be renegotiated, yet just last week President Juncker said that the EU has repeated unanimously that there will be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement. Donald Tusk said the withdrawal agreement is “not open for renegotiation.” Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity today to clarify, for the benefit of her Back Bencher the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) that the implementation period is indeed part of the withdrawal agreement? Does the Prime Minister agree with the comments of EU leaders that the withdrawal deal is not up for renegotiation?

Will she confirm today that she will not vote for a Tory leadership candidate supporting a no-deal exit on 31 October? Will the Government not finally accept the reality and support a people’s vote? Prime Minister, this is your legacy, your last few days in power: use them to stop the hard Brexiteers in your party who have pushed you out and who want to push us out of the European Union at any cost.

Jeremy Corbyn – 2019 Speech on the European Council

Below is the text of the speech made by Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition, in the House of Commons on 24 June 2019.

Mr Speaker, I understand that it is 10 years this week since you assumed the Chair of the House. May I just say congratulations on the first 10 years and thank you for being such a popular Speaker and for taking the role of Parliament out to the public in a meaningful way, particularly to schools and colleges all over the country? That has made a big difference.

I thank the Prime Minister for her kind words about John Prescott. We all obviously wish John all the very best. I cannot wait to see him return to full activity and to hear that voice booming out of loudspeakers all over the country exciting people in the cause of Labour, which is what John does so well.

I thank the Prime Minister for giving me an advance copy of her statement.​
Last week, we came within minutes of the USA launching a military attack on Iran. Britain and other European nations must play a role in defusing, not raising, tensions, and that needs to start with the restoration of support for the Iran nuclear deal.

We note that there will be continuing EU-Morocco trade discussions. I hope that the United Kingdom Government will recognise that there is an ongoing territorial dispute over the Western Sahara and that those issues will be borne in mind during the negotiations.

I echo the European Union’s call on Turkey to cease its illegal drilling in the eastern Mediterranean; I welcome what the EU Council said on that.

I also welcome the EU Council’s discussion of climate change, which emphasises how important it is to continue to work with progressive forces to tackle the climate emergency, which this House declared on 1 May. I welcome the EU’s continued commitment to the Paris climate agreement and to deliver a practical plan of action to meet its obligations, and I also welcome the fact that COP 26 will be jointly hosted by Britain and Italy, with some events being held in London.

Yesterday marked three years since the EU referendum —three wasted years in which the Government’s deal has been rejected three times. We have endured three separate Brexit Secretaries, and we will soon have our third post-Brexit Prime Minister. It has been three years of chaos, in-fighting and incompetence. For too long, the Prime Minister allowed herself to be held to ransom by the wilder extremes in her party, instead of trying to find a sensible majority across this House—[Interruption.] Some of the wilder extremes have absented themselves today, but they are no doubt making their views known elsewhere. By the time the Prime Minister finally did reach out, it was a bit too late, and she was unable to deliver meaningful compromise or change.

Does the Prime Minister now regret that she continued to legitimise the idea of no deal instead of warning of its disastrous implications? The two Tory leadership candidates still say that if they cannot renegotiate the backstop, which EU leaders last week said was not possible, they would pursue a no-deal exit. Will the Prime Minister tell us whether she believes that no deal should be on the table as a viable option? What would be worse: crashing out with no deal in October, or putting this issue back to the people for a final say? Given the—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, it is normal for the Leader of the Opposition to ask questions of the Prime Minister, and that is exactly what I am doing.

Given the shambolic no-deal preparations so far, which were paused in the spring, will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government will not be ready to crash out in October? Neither of the Tory leadership candidates has a credible plan. One even claims that we can crash out on WTO terms and still trade without tariffs, which is interesting. The Governor of the Bank of England was clear when he said:

“Not having an agreement with the EU means that there are tariffs automatically because the Europeans have to apply the same rules to us as they apply to everyone else”.

Will the Prime Minister confirm whether the Bank of England Governor is correct on no deal? The former Foreign Secretary also told us that under his no deal plan he could​

“solve the problem of free movement of goods in the context of the Free Trade Agreement… that we’ll negotiate in the implementation period.”

Will the Prime Minister confirm that there will be no implementation period if there is no deal?

It is deeply worrying that those who seek to lead this country have no grip on reality. The Prime Minister said that the Council reiterated its wish to avoid a “disorderly Brexit”, but I am unsure whether it will have been reassured by the statements of her potential successors.

Labour put forward a plan that could bring this country back together, but the Prime Minister refused to compromise. Whoever the next Prime Minister is, they will barely hold the support of this House, so they will certainly have no mandate to force a disastrous hard-right Brexit on this country. I want to make it clear that Labour will work across the House to block no deal. Whatever plan the new Tory leader comes up with, after three long years of failure they should have the confidence to go back to the people to let them decide the future of this country.