Reforming our Divorce Law

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. 

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 and on what people have said in response to the Government’s proposals. From my constituency advice surgeries I see how the attribution of fault leads parents to use their children as weapons in a continuing battle with their former partner. 

On Tuesday, a bill to reform our divorce law cleared its first hurdle in Parliament.  It responds constructively to the keenly felt experience of people’s real lives. While I am advocating more marriage advisory support to prevent divorce, I support this bill as I think that the end of a relationship should be a time for reflection, and not of manufactured conflict. 

It is 50 years since the Divorce Reform Act 1969 gave rise to the law we now have. It allows divorce only on the grounds that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The court cannot hold the marriage to have done so unless it is satisfied on 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 and the same applies to civil partnerships, except that the adultery fact is not available. But the “fact” that 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. 

First published in the West Briton 

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A Positive Change for UK Energy Efficiency

On Tuesday in Parliament I introduced a 10 Minute Rule Bill asking the government to publish a plan for meeting the domestic energy efficiency targets in the Clean Growth Strategy; to make provision for the monitoring of performance against milestones in the plan and to establish an advisory body for the implementation of the plan.

Securing such a motion is difficult, so why did I choose this subject? Over the last nine years, I have worked with Public Health Cornwall on an innovative partnership that has brought together businesses, Cornwall Council, health, care and emergency service professionals and many voluntary sector organisations to help people out of poverty and to live in warm homes. This Public Health approach has literally saved lives.

Cornwall’s Devolution Deal has enabled greater flexibility in tackling fuel poverty too. The partnership’s work has been funded by a mixture of public funding, Energy Company Obligation, business and voluntary donations. Over 20,000 people have been helped to live in warm homes, including those using energy efficiency measures. In addition, independent evaluation shows that the Winter Wellness Partnership has prevented more than 800 hospital admissions and helped 348 households remain in work or make progress towards work.

In Cornwall, over time, we have shown that working with people on installing energy efficiency measures improves people’s health and wellbeing as well as the environment. I want to ensure we can expand this work.

Home insulation may not capture the imagination as a standard bearer for the fourth industrial revolution in the way that electric cars do, but it will make a huge contribution to our reduction in greenhouse emissions from heating our homes. Energy saving is just as important as generating carbon free and renewable energy as we will need more electricity for new cars, buses and trains.

Last week the Government introduced legislation to end the UK’s contribution to global warming by 2050. This is not only the right thing to do but is both affordable and achievable.

As the Committee on Climate Change noted, a comprehensive energy efficiency programme should be the first and least costly step in getting towards this goal. Research from the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group shows that energy efficiency improvements to homes

could reduce the energy consumed in U.K. households each year by 25% and knock £270 off the average household bill of £1,100 – a saving of the equivalent of six nuclear power stations the size of Hinckley Point C.

There would be strong economic returns of a similar scale to other major infrastructure projects. Appraisal based on HMG methodology finds that the net benefit of this saving would be £7.5 billion – this excludes the wider health and productivity benefits. It has been estimated that for every £1 invested by the government, GDP would be increased by £3.20.

Policy exists for new homes, but we now need to turbo-charge our action on retro-fitting home energy efficiency into all homes, enabling everyone to live in a warm home. I hope my Bill will be the catalyst.

First published in the West Briton on 20/6/2019

Working Towards Net Zero

Over the last month the focus of my work in Parliament has been on Climate Change, highlighting the importance of not only the Government but every part of society playing their part in reducing emissions to net zero. During the Climate Emergency Debate, I challenged my MP colleagues to take up Truro based Luci Isaacson’s Climate Vision top ten pledges.

There is cross party support to step up our level of ambition and reach net zero carbon before 2050. I am part of the team of Backbench MP’s bringing in a bill to set this target.

The Secretary of State welcomed the support provided by Members on both sides of the House. He made it clear that the Government recognises the situation we face is an emergency. It is a crisis, and it is a threat that we must all unite to meet the challenge.

Although statistics are sometimes abstract, and the impact may seem distant, as individual citizens and as parents we all know that the next generation will face the consequences if we do not take action now to deal with climate change.

A warming world will result in the desertification of large parts of our Earth; with the transformation of previously fertile lands into lands that are incapable of generating food will result in population movement, which will create challenges—not just a security challenge for the global north, but a moral and ethical challenge for us all.

We in the United Kingdom must bear that moral and ethical challenge particularly heavily. We were the first country to industrialise, and the industrial revolution that was forged here and generated prosperity here was responsible for the carbon emissions that have driven global warming. The burden of that is borne, even now, by those in the global south, so we have a responsibility to show leadership. It is vital that we reduce our emissions, for the defence and protection of those in small island developing states who face the prospect of coastal erosion and damage to their economies. That is why the Government are committed to spending £5 billion every year on helping developing nations to deal with the prospect of climate change.

In the UK, since 2010, we have decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 nation; between 2010 and 2018, we reduced greenhouse gas emissions in this country by 25%; UK CO2 emissions have fallen for six years in a row, which is the longest period on record; and the UK’s renewable energy capacity has quadrupled since 2010. The proportion of UK electricity that comes from low-carbon sources increased from 19% in 2010 to almost 53% in 2018, which meant that 2018 was a record year for renewable energy; over the past year, we have generated record levels of solar and offshore wind energy; and annual support from the Government for renewables will be more than £10 billion by 2021. All that has come as a direct result of a shared ambition, with a Government who set stretching targets and are prepared to intervene where necessary, but who recognise that we need the ingenuity and enterprise of the private sector working in partnership with the Government to deliver change.

The safeguarding of our environment must not come at the cost of ending economic growth, because economic growth is vital to spur the innovation and secure the investment to make sure that we have the technological breakthroughs that can safeguard our environment.

Since 1990, under Governments of different parties, we have seen a 40% overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and we have also seen a two-thirds increase in growth. If we think in particular about the significant growth in renewables, of course solar energy initially needed subsidy to kick-start it, but as solar energy costs have diminished, so the need for subsidy is, as any economist would say, lesser. This is no criticism of any previous Government, but when we came into power, only 38.3 MW of power in this country was generated by solar; now, the amount is 13,000 MW, which is 13 GW. That is a 99% increase in solar power generation under Conservative Ministers.

It is also important, that we not only take action on energy, decarbonise our economy and recognise the global challenge that climate change presents, but do everything we can in our own country to adapt and to mitigate the effects of climate change. That is why this Government are committed to the planting of 11 million new trees. That is why the Countryside Stewardship and Woodland Carbon Fund has been created—to ensure that we reforest this country.

We are lucky in this country to have a concentration of blanket bog and peatland, one of the most effective carbon stores in the world, and this Government are committed to restoring more than 6,000 hectares of peatland to a state where they can play their role in acting as a carbon sink. All of these steps are part of the 25-year environment plan, which is intended to ensure that, for the first time, we hand on to the next generation a restored environment. This means more trees planted, more habitats restored to good or better status, more investment in clean air and water and, above all, more investment in making sure that the organic content of our soil is improved—a critical measure not just in improving fertility for future food production, but for dealing with carbon.

The landmark Environment Bill will mark a step change in how this country tackles the twin challenges of climate change and our broader ecological degradation is a test for us all.

The day after this important debate, the independent UK Committee on Climate Change published its response to the Government’s request to review our carbon budgets. The programme of carbon budgets, set up as part of the 2008 Climate Change Act, that the committee has set, has enabled us to make significant progress so far in the meeting of our obligations to the earth, but we all know that we need to do more.

Last October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made it clear that the Paris target of a 2°C temperature rise was, as the science showed, not ambitious enough and that we need to ensure that we slow the rate of greenhouse gas emissions and hopefully achieve net zero in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. After that IPCC

report, the Secretary of State for Business, immediately commissioned the Climate Change Committee to tell the Government what more we should do to meet that target. That level of ambition was endorsed by a range of different organisations, from the NFU, which says that we should try to have net zero in agriculture by 2040, to companies such as Tesco, our biggest single retailer, which have also committed to the net zero target.

The Government has welcomed the report and will carefully consider the recommendations. The Comprehensive Spending Review, that starts in the summer and ends in October, sets out government expenditure for the next three years and will be a good opportunity to commit the resources necessary to increase our investment in necessary changes. This report now sets us on a path to become the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely.

Setting this goal isn’t just about ending the UK’s contribution to climate change. Net zero is also a significant economic opportunity. The low carbon economy is growing two or three times faster than the rest of the mainstream economy, with almost 400,000 people working in these industries already. I fully support the Cornwall Local Enterprise Partnership’s Clean Growth Strategy that recognises this opportunity for many local businesses.

Finally, I hope that you will consider signing my petition, that I am presenting in Parliament on 19th June, for the U.K. to host the 2020 global climate change conference that will be so important to agreeing further global action. For your ease of reference, here is a link:

https://www.sarahnewton.org.uk/campaigns/climate-change-pledge-group

First published in The Falmouth Packet on 20/6/2019

My Domestic Energy Efficiency Bill

Committing ourselves to net zero carbon by 2050 means delivering a core Conservative value and a key manifesto pledge, to leave the environment in better condition than we found it for future generations. It is not only the right thing to do but has the potential to unite the nation in a common purpose. People of all ages and businesses from right across the U.K. support government action. 

As the crucible of the first industrial revolution it is right to maintain our leadership and endeavour to be the first major economy to transition to the hi-tech and carbon free fourth industrial revolution. While growing our economy, the U.K. is already amongst the leading economies in reducing our carbon emissions. 

This bold ambition requires a clear vision and carefully thought through plans to enable people, business and places to transition, and make the most of the opportunities that arise. In practical terms it means delivering the Clean Growth Strategy, a part of the Industrial Strategy, launched in 2017 and updated in 2018. 

While significant progress has been made, especially with consultations and evidence gathering, we now need to publish plans to give the clarity and certainty that businesses need to commit investment to deliver innovation and change to the goods and services that they provide. People want to know how they can make changes over time to play their part in this national endeavour. 

My 10 Minute Rule asks the government to publish a plan for meeting the domestic energy efficiency targets in the Clean Growth Strategy; to make provision for the monitoring of performance against milestones in the plan and to establish an advisory body for the implementation of the plan. Home insulation may not capture the imagination as a standard bearer for the fourth industrial revolution in the way that electric cars and autonomous vehicles do, but it will make a huge contribution to our reduction in emissions from heating our homes. 

As Antoinette Sandbach, the MP for Eddisbury, reported at a recent session of PMQs, enabling every home to be insulated to EPC band C would save the equivalent of six Hinkley Point nuclear power stations. We will, of course, need this electricity to power our electric cars. Energy saving is just as important as generating carbon free and renewable energy. 

There will be a huge impact on the quality of people’s lives too. Nearly half of my constituents live off the mains gas grid resulting in higher energy bills. Like the majority of people in the U.K., they live in homes with low levels of insulation and energy efficiency measures. It has been estimated that reaching EPC band C would save low income families between £200 and £400 a year. Average wages in Cornwall, while rising, remain significantly below the England average too and so we have high levels of fuel poverty. 

There are more benefits to living in an energy efficient home than keeping warm. Over the last nine years I have worked with Public Health Cornwall on an innovative partnership that has brought together businesses, Cornwall Council, health, care and emergency service professionals and many voluntary sector organisations to help people out of fuel poverty. It has been funded by a mixture of public funding, ECO and voluntary donations. Over 20,000 people have been helped to live in warm homes. In addition, independent evaluation shows that the Winter Wellness Partnership has prevented more than 800 hospital admissions and helped 348 households remain in work or make progress towards work. 

In Cornwall, over time we have shown that working with people on installing energy efficiency measures improves people’s health and wellbeing as well as the environment. Learning from this work and much more across the country, we need to turbo charge our action on homes energy efficiency and I hope my 10 Rule Motion will be the catalyst.

First published in the House magazine 13/06/19 

On climate change, the Treasury needs to count the cost of not acting

Through the pioneering Climate Change Act, through its G7-leading emission reductions and its successful innovation in clean technology, Britain can rightly claim to have been a leader in climate change ever since Margaret Thatcher called for a United Nations treaty 30 years ago. The scientific evidence base has developed significantly since then with commensurate commitment to take action. It’s essential that policy makers are guided by evidence – and it is now clear that the U.K. needs to move towards net zero emissions by 2050. As Isabella Lövin, Sweden’s Deputy Prime Minister, said last year, a nation cannot claim since the Paris Agreement to be a climate change leader if it does not have a net zero target.

If the arguments against taking action now seem familiar, that may be because we have been here before. A decade ago, to be precise, when the UK Parliament approved the world-leading Climate Change Act, some claimed that the move would will damage the economy, that other country would reduce its emissions, and that energy bills would go through the roof.

None of this happened. What occurred instead was a British success story. We grew our economy, and cut our carbon emissions by more than any other G7 nation. Employment is at record levels. Energy bills have gone down for a decade. Internationally, British leadership helped forge the Paris Agreement – the first time all nations agreed to curb their greenhouse gas emissions – and nation after nation is passing climate change legislation modelled on the UK Act. In fact, decarbonisation has proved so much cheaper than anticipated that cutting our emissions to zero is now forecast to cost the same as the 80 per cent cut was forecast to cost a decade ago.

The Treasury’s old orthodoxies need reconsidering. The Governor of the Bank of England has warned of the risks of climate change to our financial system. Now is not the time to delay, but proceed with carefully considered cross-government planning to reach net zero by 2050. All delay will do is to postpone Ministers making a decision that it will inevitably make anyway – inevitably because the scientific and political cases are unarguable. And by delaying, it will make implementation harder and more expensive. Business likes clarity; which is exactly why the CBI is urging government to make a decision now.

Yes, there will be challenges. But they are being met. To take one example; the Treasury officials warn that net zero means significant changes for farmers. Howeve,r the NFU has already set itself the ambition of getting to net zero agriculture – and by 2040, not 2050. Steel, aluminium, shipping – in all of the “difficult’ areas we find companies such as Maersk, Rio Tinto, Vattenfall and our own Liberty Steel stepping up with commitment and innovation.

Meanwhile, the Government recently took delivery of a comprehensive and detailed report from its statutory and expert advisors, the Committee on Climate Change. It concludes that the evidence for moving to a net zero economy by 2050 is overwhelming. It lays out how that can be done, shows the cost is eminently affordable, and demonstrates that the transition is more feasible and more affordable if we start now.

Politically, the risks of vacillating are huge. Net zero is already Labour Party policy. If the Prime Minister allows her plans to be diluted this week, the Conservatives will hand yet another electoral advantage to Jeremy Corbyn.

The appetite for action to reach net zero is huge amongst businesses and people of all ages. Leaving the environment in a better condition for the next generation is a core Conservative value. That is why alongside the CBI and NFU, scientists, a clear majority of MPs, faith leaders and doctors are among those constituencies calling for target to be urgently set.

Of course taxpayers’ money should be spent wisely. In reality, many solutions already exist and we must move forward in implementing them. Next week, I will introduce a 10 Minute Rule Motion, outlining the opportunities of a well thought through National Home Insulation Plan that would reduce emissions and save people on low incomes about £400 a year by upgrading their energy efficiency measures. As I have seen from Cornwall’s Winter Wellness programme, enabling people to live in warm homes improves their health and wellbeing, including supporting participation in education and employment. The models Treasury officials use need a more comprehensive set of measures to reflect the costs and savings of taxpayer investment.

We understand that the Treasury is concerned that a net zero target means a near-term increase in public expenditure. The UK already has to meet legally-binding carbon targets out to 2032, and those targets will not change. The Industrial Strategy’s Clean Growth programme of activity sets out the economic benefits. The Environment Bill and Agriculture Bill too. The Treasury’s economic modelling needs to look at a wider range of impacts, improved productivity, employment and exports as well as reduced NHS costs from cleaner air are some obvious ones.

Let’s be a bold Britain – we were the crucible of the first industrial revolution, let’s lead the fourth, high tech, clean growth industrial revolution. The Prime Minister is a great public servant and legislating for net zero emissions would be the best legacy she could achieve.

First published on Conservative Home 10/06/19

Sarah Newton: On climate change, the Treasury needs to count the cost of not acting

D Day Commemorations, Volunteer Week and the first year of the 25 Year Environment Plan.

Today, we remember the extraordinary achievement of the liberation of France during the Second World War. Members of the British, Commonwealth and USA armed services and those that supported them are rightly honoured today. We owe a great deal to those that made so many sacrifices in so many ways for the freedom we enjoy today. In commemorating them I believe we recommit to promoting peace today.

I am very much looking forward to visiting Trebah Gardens and their D Day commemorations, including remembering the soldiers that trained on our local creeks from which they set off for the beaches of Normandy. My father recounts fond memories of helping my godfather take care of the American soldiers billeted at his farm on Cowland creek.

I think it is important that our Second World War allies, who remain our strong allies today, the USA , are involved in the D Day commemorations. Many American citizens lost their lives in the liberation of France. It is disrespectful to the American people not to welcome their democratically elected leader to our country.

Whatever you think of Donald Trump, I think it is important to respect his office and value the friendship of our two nations.

Like any other relationship and particularly friendship it’s important to be able to disagree well. I am confident that Ministers will have used the opportunity of the President’s visit to promote the need for more and urgent action to tackle climate change and environmental degradation as well as promoting peace in regions of conflict.

If you are not at the table, prepared to discuss and challenge you can’t influence. Shouting from the sidelines might make you feel better but megaphone diplomacy has rarely achieved anything of note.

This week we are also recognising the extraordinary contribution of volunteers. Volunteer Week rightly celebrates the many local people who give their time freely for causes and purposes they feel strongly about and that make such a positive difference to our lives. Thank you to the award winners and indeed everyone who gives their time freely to others. I could not do my job serving this community without a small army of volunteers.

We are also evaluating the first anniversary of the 25 Year Environment Plan. Over the year much has been achieved including; a draft Environment Bill, the first in over two decades; an Agriculture Bill in which farmers are paid for their work to protect the environment and provide other public goods; the Clean Air Strategy, with ambitious plans to cut air pollution, while giving stronger powers to local authorities to control major sources of air pollution; brought in one of the world’s strongest microbeads bans and plans to extend the ban on single use plastics and introduce a tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content; committed to developing a Nature Recovery Network to create or restore 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside the protected site series and extended the network of Marine Conservation Zones.

First published in the West Briton on 6/6/2019

We can all be empowered to help tackle climate change

The harrowing scenes from David Attenborough’s ‘Our Planet’ documentary series clearly show the impacts humans are having on the natural world. While the scale of the global challenge facing humanity can feel overwhelming, the latest data shows a record 80 percent of British people are concerned about climate change and support taking action to tackle it. As a Member of Parliament, I meet many constituents of all ages and backgrounds who want to do more. 

Scientists from around the world have shown that we need to reach net zero emissions of harmful greenhouse gases by 2050. They warn that inaction risks the world reaching tipping points at 2°C warming that will see the melting of permafrost releasing greenhouse gases that have been stored for millennia. Furthermore, they say this will severely impact our food, water and air quality.  

The Government’s independent advisors, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), have recently published a report showing that it is entirely possible for the UK to reach net zero emissions by 2050 if we act now.  

This will require a rethink for many policies across Government to enable our public services, businesses, communities and people reduce harmful emissions. That is the task before politicians now. Work by leading businesses, engineers and the Bank of England has shown we can do this without wrecking our economy. In fact, if we carefully manage the transition there are opportunities to develop new technologies, products and services.  

Many of my constituents also want to know what they can do. 60 percent of the emissions reductions outlined by the CCC involve some societal or behavioural changes, so it’s vitally important to build on people’s interest in this challenge and involve and empower them to make a difference on an individual level too.   

In 2009, my constituent Luci Isaacson and her organisation, Climate Vision, set up the 10 Pledge Challenge working with ten local community leaders and people to reduce their emissions. Over four months, 3,000 tonnes of CO2 was saved. I learnt a lot about what changes we can all make to help. These choices don’t always need to be big and expensive like investing in an electric vehicle, although the total cost of ownership for an EV is now cost competitive, and they’re on their way to being cheaper up front too. I have recently retaken the pledges and they were relatively simple things that we can all do, like switching energy provider, walking more often and eating more local in-season produce.  

In fact research shows that more than half of us would be happy to reduce our energy use, avoid using cars or try to minimise food waste. It’s not just about helping tackle climate change – simple steps can also save us money, make us feel healthier and contribute to our local economy too. They don’t have to make life more difficult, as some sceptics would have us believe. I want to make sure that everyone has the right information at their fingertips to make informed choices.  

As the Government considers its response to the CCC and sets out policies to reach net zero, I want to ensure that we can make informed choices, by encouraging businesses to provide relevant information, transparently setting out where their products come from, how they got here, and their impact on the environment. For example, in addition to improvements to country of origin labelling, supermarkets could show how beef or lamb was reared, for example 100% grass fed. More than half of people say they would spend more on a sustainable product, but knowing what to choose isn’t always made easy. Information is power, and labelling has an important role to play.  

Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to reassess what information we expect businesses to provide on labels, as it previously fell under their jurisdiction. One of the most debated examples of this is plastic packaging, and making sure it’s clear what is recyclable, biodegradable and compostable. At the moment there is no legal definition for these terms, and a recent study by the University of Plymouth found that so-called ‘biodegradable’ shopping bags could still hold a load of shopping after three years in the marine environment. This can’t be right. If consumers are making the switch to buy supposedly more sustainable products, even at an increased price, then they must have confidence in what they are purchasing. 

In Parliament I set the challenge for every MP to take on the 10 Pledges, as leaders of their communities to encourage everyone who wants to play their part to make a difference. However, I know that we can’t expect anyone to do this without knowing how, and our job as policymakers is to give them those informed choices. It’s time to step up to the greatest challenge that we will face in our lifetimes to tackle climate change – internationally we can lead the world forward, nationally we must set a net zero target to end our contribution to global emissions, and individually we should empower people to make more environmentally friendly choices. 

First published in the Falmouth Wave June edition