I have been asked how I voted on Amendment 7 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Let me be clear from the beginning, I voted, as I said I would, with the Government. After due consideration, I could not see that the amendment moved by the rebels had any merit or made any difference as I explain below. The House, largely for opportunistic reasons, took a different view but this is just the committee stage of a Bill in which the Government has won 34 out of 35 votes by reasonable majorities.
Amendment 7 was not about parliamentary sovereignty nor was it to give me a say over the Brexit Bill. I already have a continuing say over the Brexit Bill as I will explain later in this note. What the amendment, however, wants to suggest is that all we will be doing is voting on Brexit at the end of the process and that Parliament will have no role in the discussions up to that point. This is simply a misrepresentation.
Parliament has a continuing role in the process not least through the various Select Committees which hold Ministers and Departments to account and which are producing their own reviews of the impact of Brexit. My own Select Committee (the Justice Select Committee) for example has already done a review of Brexit on the legal system and has had a Government reply. We have also visited jurisdictions like Jersey and the Isle of Man to explore the effect Brexit will have on them. So, this work is not restricted to the Select Committee set up to review us leaving the EU and applies to us all.
I have already circulated a table illustrating how the EU Withdrawal Bill will deal with other measures to secure parliamentary approval during its passage. The use of Statutory Instruments (SI) in this is a normal and acceptable part of the way the House of Commons works and provides full scrutiny of the matters an SI covers.
I have quoted before the comments of a fellow Remainer in the constituency about amendment 7 – the so-called meaningful vote amendment. In his email, the writer accepts that Parliament will be given a meaningful vote as indicated by the Brexit Secretary but says that he wants a guarantee. Others have been more forthcoming and have said that the reason they wanted the amendment to succeed is due to the character and alleged actions of the Brexit Secretary.
This attack on an individual personality is what I found most unacceptable about the amendment and what I find, quite frankly, an abuse of parliament. A statement made by a Minister at the Despatch Box is absolutely valid regardless of whether the Minister subsequently changes. I find it unacceptable to use the parliamentary process to pursue a campaign against one Minister. In addition, of course, the Government has been very diligent at reporting back to Parliament by Statement after each major visit to Brussels. On the last occasion the Prime Minister spent almost 2 hours being questioned.
The Government has made it clear that there will be at least two agreements. A Withdrawal Agreement will be negotiated under Article 50 whilst the UK is a member of the EU. It will set out the terms of the UK's withdrawal from the EU as well as the details of any implementation period agreed between both sides. At the same time as we negotiate the Withdrawal Agreement, we will therefore also negotiate the terms for our future relationship.
However as the Prime Minister made clear the EU is not "legally able to conclude an agreement with the UK as an external partner while it is itself still part of the European Union". So the Withdrawal Agreement will be followed shortly after we have left by one or more agreements covering different aspects of the future relationship.
The Withdrawal Agreement will need to be signed by both parties and concluded by the EU and ratified by the UK before it can enter into force. The UK approval and EU approval processes can operate in parallel. In the UK, the Government has committed to hold a vote on the final deal in Parliament as soon as possible after the negotiations have concluded. This vote will take the form of a resolution in both Houses of Parliament and will cover both the Withdrawal Agreement and the terms for our future relationship. The Government will not implement any parts of the Withdrawal Agreement until after this vote has taken place.
Any treaty subject to ratification will need to be placed before both Houses of Parliament for a period of at least 21 sitting days, after which the treaty may be ratified unless there is a resolution against this. If the House of Commons resolves against ratification the Government can lay a statement explaining why it considers the treaty should still be ratified and there is then a further 21 sitting days during which the House of Commons may decide whether to resolve again against ratification. The Government is only able to ratify the agreement if the House of Commons does not resolve against the agreement.
If Parliament supports the resolution to proceed with the Withdrawal Agreement and the terms for our future relationship, the Government will bring forward a Withdrawal Agreement & Implementation Bill to give the Withdrawal Agreement domestic legal effect. The Bill will implement the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement in UK law as well as providing a further opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny. This legislation will be introduced before the UK exits the EU and the substantive provisions will only take effect from the moment of exit. Similarly, we expect any steps taken through secondary legislation to implement any part of the Withdrawal Agreement will only be operational from the moment of exit, though preparatory provisions may be necessary in certain cases.
Whatever their final form, agreements on the future relationship are likely to require the consent of the European Parliament and conclusion by the Council. If both the EU and Member States are exercising their competences in an agreement, Member States will also need to ratify it. In the UK, therefore, the Government will introduce further legislation where it is needed to implement the terms of the future relationship into UK law, providing yet another opportunity for proper parliamentary scrutiny.
Parliament will be fully involved throughout the process as will I. But I will be involved on the basis of my assessment of the facts rather than the somewhat clumsy attempts to bully me into supporting rebel motions because the constituency allegedly voted to Remain. Whatever the constituency voted, this was a national vote not a constituency one, and we must honour the outcome regardless of our own view as we would in a General Election.
Our new draft animal welfare Bill will mean:
The RSPCA have said:
"To include the recognition of animal sentience, as well as increasing animal cruelty sentencing to 5 years into the new 2018 Animal Welfare Bill, is a very bold and welcome move by the Government."
Battersea Dogs & Cats Home say:
"Battersea is greatly encouraged by the Governments willingness to see sentences for the most shocking cases of animal cruelty increase from 6 months to 5 years and today's announcement takes a significant step in that direction."
This is really good news and takes the issue on much further. It contradicts the false news being put out at the time.
The reality is that the banks are paying more in taxes now than when Labour was in charge.
We have introduced an additional tax on banks which will raise nearly £9 billion by 2022. In January 2016, we introduced an 8 per cent corporation tax surcharge for banks that is forecast to raise £8.9 billion over the next five years 2017-22.
Since the Autumn Budget, Labour have been asked 22 times how they would afford their borrowing binge – and failed to answer every time:
o 'You don't need a number'
o 'Minimal' (The Andrew Marr Show, 19 November 2017).
o 'Trite form of journalism... That's why we have iPads and advisers'
o 'What we would do is ensure that day to day spending is not serviced by borrowing'
o 'We're now at the stage where interest rates are so low we should be borrowing to invest'
o 'It pays for itself'
o 'It pays for itself'
o Talked over another question (Today, 23 November 2017).
o 'Not at all, you get, it's trite journalism walking into a studio and ask you to pluck a figure out of the air and all the rest of it' (BBC Radio 5 Live, 23 November 2017).
o 'The point I'm trying to get at is we do not want figures banded around about future investment, interest rates at a later date, that will then be used to frighten people off from properly supporting investment' (Peston on Sunday, 26 November).
o 'Because the debate is about whether or not it is cost-effective. And you know as well as I do soon as any figures bandied about...'
o 'No, no. There isn't a big hole in it... What we're saying is bring it into public ownership, it will be managed more effectively. It will pay for itself' (Paterson on Sunday, 3 December 2017).
o 'Cost us zero'
o 'It's impossible to say'
o 'You can't put a figure on that at the moment'
o 'You can't say... It will cost what it costs'
o 'It works through'
o 'People are getting ripped off' (no response)
o 'It's not difficult'
o 'You've got to get it right... it's impossible... the basic principle is utterly sound' (BBC Daily Politics, 6 December 2017).
The success of the Blue Planet series reminded me of the enormous amount of work we are doing to lead the way in making our oceans safe and to protect the creatures that inhabit them.
For example we are banning microbeads and looking at how a return scheme for plastic bottles might work. This will have a big impact on marine life. Extending the Blue Belt alone will protect about 150,000 rare seabirds.
As the chairman of Natural England, Andrew Sells, has said "Extending the Blue Belt gives vital new protection to some of our most precious coastal wildlife."
There have been questions over the planning challenges at the Thames Farm Site between Henley and Shiplake. Let me try to explain the issues for those who have been unable to read the judgements and decisions or the original submissions. This is both a national and a local issue.
A key and crucial measure in planning and development is the 5 year housing land supply (5YHLS). This is a measure which assesses whether or not the Local Planning Authority has set aside sufficient land to provide for planned housing in its area. Where an area is covered by a Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) the requirement is for a 3YHLS. Using accepted methodology, SODC can demonstrate a 4.1 year housing land supply. This means that where there is no NDP developers may be given permission on land not in a strategic plan, but, where there is an NDP the plan which the community has developed should be adhered to.
In the case of Thames Farm, the Planning Inspector came to the conclusion that SODC did not even have a 3 YHLS. As the site is in the area covered by the Henley and Harpsden Joint NDP (HHJNDP) this judgement and its divergence from the recognised figure is important as it seemingly undermines the HHJNDP. Hence the challenge to the Planning Inspectors decision.
Since the time of the Thames Farm decision, there have been two other appeals heard by two different Planning Inspectors and each has concluded that SODC does have a 4.1 YHLS.
Hence there is concern over the inconsistency of the decisions made by different Planning Inspectors. This is rightly being challenged through the legal system by SODC. I have also raised it with the Secretary of State and the Chief Planning Officer and in other ways. Both are taking these concerns seriously and investigating on a wider basis.
On the issue of affordable housing, when people say they want 'affordable' housing most often they mean low cost market housing to allow people to get onto the housing ladder. It is important to distinguish between this and social housing where residents are tenants of a Housing Association rather than home owners. There is, of course, some need for social housing but in this area there is greater demand for low cost market housing.
The National Planning Policy Framework sets the requirement for planning authorities to deliver a housing mix to need the local demographic need. It is the responsibility of the District Council to set the target numbers of affordable housing that can be built and to work with developers to deliver that as far as possible. It is not the responsibility of the MP. However, I have argued in Parliament that Neighbourhood Development Plans should have a defining say in the type of houses built not just the location. Such views are being looked at now and can't come soon enough.
We have a Plan-led Planning System which means that you cannot simply build what you want, where you want. Affordable housing has to be part of the whole mix. There is a strong role for younger people to get involved in a Neighbourhood Plan production group and make a contribution to the debate to ensure that their needs and views are heard and included in local planning.
Applications outside of the planning system makes a total mockery of the system and especially of local participation. This is why these issues are so important and we must have clarity and consistency.
I spent a very enjoyable day today in Wheatley. It was very good to be back in the village again and I was able to do and see a lot.
First, I started at the Merry Bells with a little surgery. It was very good to discuss ME with a constituent who reminded me of the article I had appeared in alongside campaigners. There is still much more to do here but we await new guidelines from NICE. While there I was also happy to help put up the Christmas tree and chat to some interesting people.
I then went on to Wheatley Fire Station where they had arranged a demonstration for me by firefighters of what they did and what equipment they used to deal with a road traffic accident. It was an excellent demonstration and it was good to see more women becoming firefighters. I was conscious of how quiet and calming it was around the demonstration – to keep those who might be trapped calm. In looking over the fire engine I was struck by the range of equipment a tender carries with it.
Finally, I called in at the village post office in its new location where a Barclays Bank had existed before. I was glad I was able to help with the siting of the post office and I was pleased to be invited to open it. It is a very good example of seeing how this sort of business thrives by keeping someone with business experience in charge.
This was a budget to recognise two things. First, it set out to recognise that we are on the brink of a technological revolution in which we can either embrace the future or fail in our attempts to take the country forward. Second, it is a budget that recognises that we need to raise our productivity. We have 3 million more people in jobs but we need to make sure that our productivity is equally high. There are several ways in which we can do this. One of them is by the provision of the right skills and training and this is why the budget contained important measures to increase our skills base. But one of them is by the provision of the right skills and training. That is why the budget contained important measures to increase our skills base. The budget for example launched a partnership between three organisations – the Government, the CBI and the TUC – to set out the strategic direction for a National Retraining Scheme which will give people the skills they need – not just now but throughout life – to get on and when changing jobs. This is crucial as over the next 20-40 years the risks of automation are going to hit many jobs. People have a choice here of upskilling for the future or being left behind.
Apprenticeships too have been a success. Within my own constituency a brand new electrical training centre has opened at the site of the Culham Science Centre. This provides a top class training location for learners in the Oxfordshire area. The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) Apprentice Training Scheme has been running successfully for the last 12 years at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. It is now expanding and diversifying to provide apprenticeships in a wide range of other areas to help UKAEA achieve its future talent needs and to support the Government's plans to increase apprenticeships throughout the UK. All of this is a major contribution to productivity and to skills.
This needs to be set in the context of 3.4 million apprenticeships since 2010 and government changes to the apprenticeship scheme. This all about focusing on increasing the quality of apprenticeships and allowing apprentices to develop their talents and progress their careers. That is precisely what is happening in my own constituency at the Culham Science Centre and the budget helps this.
The contribution that digital skills and improved technology can make to productivity is also important. In a question I raised in debate with the Secretary of State for Business it is clear that this is not just about providing our towns and cities with 5G mobile telephony and better broadband. It is also about picking up on the significant opportunities in many of our rural areas. We need to make sure that the progress we make in our towns and cities is shared with our rural areas. That is why the £30 million to test artificial intelligence is important and should be seen alongside the provision of Ed Tech on-line digital skills courses. I do think on-line course are the way forward to provide better access as will the new employer designed courses in construction and digital with the budget promised.
Finally, it is worth mentioning the changes to the education system. Increased investment will help to improve technical education to a level of ambition which matches our industrial strategy and can rival the best systems in the world. That is why the budget introduced the new T-level which will have real currency with employers and in the labour-market. The qualification will be awarded when the pupil has secured the technical qualification, work placement and English and maths. This will secure occupational competence in the relevant field and will address the existing skills gap may employers currently face.
I welcome the Government's investment of an additional £500 million per year in England's technical education system. This will ensure it creates genuine opportunities. Increased investment will help to improve technical education to a level of ambition which matches our strategy and can rival the best systems in the world.
Improving our skills base is one of the best long-term strategies for improving productivity. This is essential to ensuring our economy thrives post-Brexit. I think the budget addresses these problems head-on. It provides real opportunities for skills training right across life and will make a strong contribution to improving productivity and the life chances of individuals The consultation on the industrial strategy set out the education and training, particularly in maths, digital skills and other aspects of our technical education. There are skills shortages around the country, and what we have set out will provide enormous opportunities particularly to young people and to those who are changing career
As the Secretary of State said at the end of the debate: The industrial strategy and this Budget are about prosperity for all..... Our Budget takes us into the future."
I welcome and support the budget. In this briefing I set out a few of the big picture issues it addresses and some that relate to this constituency. The Government is continuing to stick by its fiscal rules and make the public finances more sustainable. The deficit has been reduced by three quarters from a post-war high of 9.9 per cent of GDP in 2009-10 to 2.3 per cent in 2016-17, its lowest level since before the financial crisis. The Government has also properly grasped the scale of the UK's productivity challenge and is making the investments necessary to address it. Borrowing this year will be significantly lower than previously forecast.
£6.3 billion of new funding for frontline NHS services and upgrades to NHS buildings and facilities has been announced. In addition, the government will fund pay awards for nurses and other relevant staff such as midwives and paramedics, provided they are part of a deal with the unions to boost productivity.
The NHS is a national issue which affects us all. The government had already endorsed the NHS's Five Year Forward View and funded it with £10 billion for the NHS by 2020-21. However, even with that funding, the health service remains under pressure with more people than expected using NHS services each year. That is why we are now providing the £6.3 billion of new funding as a significant increase to the NHS's budget. This will improve the service that patients receive in A&E, reduce waiting times for treatment after referral, and put the NHS on a stronger, more sustainable footing.
This funding should enable the NHS to:
It is worth recalling that in 2016-17 the NHS:
The 2016 British Social Attitude Survey showed overall satisfaction with the NHS remained at historically high levels, and the 2017 GP Patient Survey showed almost 85% of respondents rated their overall experience as good.
Action to improve air quality, including a new £220m Clean Air Fund, will be funded by targeted changes to company car tax and to vehicle excise duty for those buying new diesel cars. Drivers of petrol and ULEV cars, those who have already bought a diesel car, and vans and HGVs will not be affected, while all motorists will benefit from the Budget decision to freeze fuel duty.
There have been significant improvements in air quality in recent years, with nitrogen oxide emissions falling 19% between 2010 and 2015, and 69% since 1970. However, air pollution is still at harmful levels in some places including in Watlington and Henley in this constituency. The government published its National Air Quality Plan in July 2017. This required local authorities in England to draw up plans to improve air quality. In this Budget the government goes further with funding for a new Clean Air Fund to help people and businesses adapt and I hope this helps in the work the District Council is already doing.
In order to encourage manufacturers to bring the next-generation of clean diesels to market more quickly, the government is introducing a temporary levy on diesel cars. From April 2018:
new diesel cars will go up one Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) band in their first-year rate the existing Company Car Tax diesel supplement will increase by 1 percentage point
Neither charge will apply to next-generation clean diesel cars that meet the Real Driving Emissions Step 2 standard.
In support of the National Air Quality Plan, the government will use the money raised through these tax changes to pay for a new £220m Clean Air Fund. English local authorities with the most challenging pollution problems will be able to use this fund to support people and businesses to adapt as measures to improve air quality are implemented. This new fund is in addition to the £255m funding for the plan announced in July, and takes the total amount invested in air quality and cleaner transport to £3.2bn since 2010.
The government also wants to see fully self-driving cars, without a human safety operator, on UK roads by 2021. There are trials driving these at Culham Science Park. We will take action to ensure the UK is a world leader in electric cars, including: £200 million government investment, matched by the private sector. This is likely to have the single most major impact on air quality.
Together with the reforms announced in the Housing White Paper, the Budget puts us on track to raise housing supply to 300,000 per year, on average, by the mid-2020s.
The Budget makes available over £15 billion of new financial support for house building over the next five years, bringing total support for housing to at least £44 billion over this period. It introduces planning reforms to ensure more land is available for housing and that the country is maximising the potential of its towns and cities to build new homes.
The Budget also confirms: an additional £10 billion for the Help to Buy Equity loan announced in October to help 135,000 more people buy new build homes. It will also bring together public and private capital to build five new Garden Towns.
The planning system will protect the Green Belt, at the same time addressing the lack of availability of land in the right places for new homes and ensure the UK makes better use of underused land in towns and cities. To improve land availability for development, the government has begun considering intervention in 15 areas where there is not an up-to-date plan.
The government will continue to support those looking to buy homes now, through Stamp Duty Land Tax and the Help to Buy Equity Loan. It will run a competition to develop innovative solutions that help first time buyers ensure their rental payments are recognised in their mortgage applications. The government will also allow local authorities to increase the council tax premium on empty homes to 100% to make sure homes are kept in use.
We are committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022, and eliminating it by 2027. The government will also provide £20m of funding for schemes to support people at risk of homelessness to access and sustain tenancies in the private rented sector. To support Housing Benefit and Universal Credit claimants living in areas where private rents have been rising fastest, the government will increase some Local Housing Allowance rates by increasing Targeted Affordability Funding by £40m in 2018-19 and £85m in 2019-20. The government will also consult on the barriers to landlords offering more secure tenancies to those tenants who want them.
There is also a deal with Oxfordshire which I hope will provide infrastructure to accompany the houses councils have agreed to build (100,000). The consultation on the housing need figures I announced a little while ago continues but it does not prevent councils agreeing a separate figure for deals such as this. There are a lot of questions still to be answered on this which I am putting to our councils.
Universal credit represents the biggest modernisation of the welfare state in a generation. It supports those who can work and cares for those who cannot. Already evidence shows that under universal credit, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the previous system. Once it is fully rolled out it will boost employment by about 250,000.
There have been some concern on the delivery of Universal Credit, which I understand. I am therefore pleased that the Budget announced a £1.5 billion package to address these concerns. From February 2018, the Government will remove the seven-day waiting period so that entitlement to Universal Credit starts on the first day of application. From January 2018 those who need it, and who have an underlying entitlement to Universal Credit, will be able to access up to a month's worth of Universal Credit within five days via an interest-free advance. The period for repaying advances through reduced payments will also be extended from six to twelve months, making it easier for claimants to manage their finances. The Government will also make it possible to apply for an advance online. From April 2018 those already on Housing Benefit will continue to receive their award for the first two weeks of their Universal Credit claim.
The Government will permanently raise the price at which a property becomes liable for Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) to £300,000 for first-time buyers to help young people buy their first home.
This is to ensure that this relief also helps first time buyers in very high price areas like Oxfordshire, it will also be available on the first £300,000 of the purchase price of properties up to £500,000, meaning an effective reduction of £5,000. The relief will not apply for purchases of properties worth over £500,000. This measure will ensure a stamp duty cut for 95 per cent of all first-time buyers who pay stamp duty, and will mean no stamp duty at all for 80 per cent of first-time buyers.
Boost for RAF Benson
Under the terms of the budget, a further £36 million of banking fines has been committed over the next 3 years to support Armed Forces and Emergency Services charities and other related good causes. This completes the LIBOR Charity Funding scheme. The successful applicants will receive the funding from April 2018. Oxfordshire Play Association (OPA) will provide community support facilities to Service families at RAF Benson and Dalton Barracks in Oxfordshire and has been awarded £98,535. I am delighted that OPA has won this grant and that it can support children at RAF Benson with good quality play experiences. It is a great support to our Armed Forces and will be much enjoyed.
There were, of course, other issues raised in the budget including schools, fuel duty, alcohol duty, the personal allowance, and the National Living Wage. There were also other measures to support business on which I hope to write separately.
There have been some perverse comments on the action of SODC in trying to unscramble the decision taken by a Planning Inspector in the case of Thames Farm. Let me try to set out my position.
Thames Farm was not included in the Henley and Harpsden Neighbourhood Plan. I am not concerned with the reasons why it was not included. That is for those who produced and voted on the plan to deal with. Neighbourhood Plans are after all local planning documents. The planning application for Thames Farm was therefore rejected by SODC and went before a Planning Inspector. The application was not determined on the basis of whether a Neighbourhood Plan existed or whether the site of Thames Farm was included in the Neighbourhood Plan. It was decided on whether SODC had a three year housing land supply. I had helped change the rules on the housing land supply from one where councils needed to demonstrate a five year housing land supply to stop their policies being considered out of date to one where they needed to demonstrate a three year housing land supply where there was a Neighbourhood Plan.
The Inspector found that SODC did not have a three year land supply by 1 house per year in a judgment which many have found extraordinary and which flew in the face of SODC's calculation that it had a 4.1 years housing land supply. Most importantly, in two subsequent decisions by Planning Inspectors – at sites in Benson and Crowmarsh – the Inspectors accepted that SODC did indeed have a 4.1 years housing land supply producing a contradictory situation. It is quite right therefore that SODC is seeking clarity on the decision by pursuing this through the Courts. The fact that the development contains affordable housing does not mean that all planning rules are suspended and development can go ahead come what may, as some have claimed. The number of affordable housing is determined by the council and is included in its Local Plan.
I am working with Central Government to help determine this matter but we have to wait until the legal process has been concluded. Until then, the case remains sub judice. The decision also says a lot about the lack of consistency and of judgement on the part of the planning inspectorate and I am pursuing reform of the inspectorate in my role as chairman of the backbench Communities and Local Government Committee.
I went to an excellent animated poetry reading last night by Jeux D'Esprit in Henley called Something Wicked. It was an event for the Chiltern Centre for Disabled Children of which I am Vice Patron and a Friend. I was happy to speak at the end to try to raise money for the Chiltern Centre and the collection looked very generous. It is on all weekend. I would really advise you to go.